“We need another and a wiser and perhaps more mystical concept of animals. In a world older and more complete than ours they moved, finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the sense we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time.”
— Henry Beston, naturalist.
It has been said a time or two that our home can sometimes resemble a small zoo, brimming with life and activity.
Thrown in to this mix, though, is the tranquility that comes in sharing life with some great animals. My aging white Pekingese, Spanky, is lying at my feet, deep in sleep. Having celebrated his 15th birthday in November, this is now what he does best.
Behind me, and occasionally bumping in to me with gusto, my young pair of Westies play tug-of-war with a toy. Their play could sound somewhat vicious to the untrained ear, but I have raised enough puppies over the years to know this as joyful, all-out play. The two are happy and healthy enough for the rumble and tumble of such gymnastics.
It is obvious that the old Peke is completely deaf, as none of their spirited bursts of glee cause even so much as a stir. Once in awhile, Spanky lets out a grumble of protest when they try to engage him in their games. Soon it will be time for an outdoor run so the young ones can burn off their seemingly endless energy.
The young dogs find the snowy cold invigorating, the farm shepherds run and lie about near the pasture fence as if it were a June morning, but Spanky would prefer to be carried to a sunny patch of grass.
He tells me this with his cloudy black eyes when I open the door to take him outside. He sometimes balks and turns away, lying down on his favorite rug as if to say he is just not in the mood to brace against the cold. He no longer accompanies us to the old bank barn, and his movements are increasingly stiff and feeble.
The barn is filled with life even in this gray season. The horses perk up in their stalls, knowing it is feeding time, and quietly nicker for attention. Their body heat, held in by the hay mow overhead, keeps the sturdy old barn surprisingly warm.
The goats, gathered together as the herd animals that they are, cry out in a way which sounds as if they are calling for me: “ma! ma!”
One little fainting goat should have been named Houdini, because she can slip out of the tightest-built pen, and is often roaming free inside the barn. She creates a ruckus, wanting to be fussed over but uncertain of a desire for ongoing freedom over a tasty grain mix. She allows herself to be picked up and placed back in the pen, but lets out a shriek of protest every time.
The barn cats begin to appear — every color, shape and size imaginable is represented here. The leader of this pack and the friendliest of the bunch is a strikingly big tiger with a white chest and white boots who I named Cookie after a life-long pal who was a friend to all.
Cookie accompanies me through the barn, wanting to make up to the Holstein calf as though they were similar creatures. One morning Doug found this cat curled up against our English Shepherd, both sleeping that winter sleep so deeply they didn’t even hear him open the barn door.
The promise of Spring is knocking at the gate. Daylight is lengthening, and in spite of the snow that seems to fall without end, we know the white will soon be replaced with greening pastures. It is that knowing that keeps us going, looking forward, the chill and starkness of winter soon behind us.