Most of those who know me understand that my lifestyle is dictated by three basic tenets, bearing equal importance on my day to day happiness. Actually to state them as tenets is a mistake, as they are not really laws of living, but closer to laws of avoiding. It is a daily goal of mine to never be cold, tired and hungry simultaneously. If you see me and I have failed in one of those three categories then I will be an unhappy camper, but still a civil minded, functioning human being. If I am suffering from two of the three afflictions in being, then I am foul and am possessed with an urgency to remedy the situation that cannot be ignored. I will talk of nothing else and you will back slowly away. Now it has only happened a few times in my life, but if I am cold, hungry and tired all at once then I fly into a Shining-like rage where I am axing down doors in search of a doughnut and blanket and a nap. Woe on those who stand in my way.
Now let us transport ourselves back to Santa Fe, a time in my life where I was challenged as never before to fulfill my three basic laws of happy living. Before moving to New Mexico I knew very little about the state. It was a place that I knew to be the desert and had the word ‘Mexico’ in the name of the state. I also knew it was next door neighbors with Arizona. All of this facts led me to believe that Santa Fe would be a state of warmth and perpetual sunlight. I anticipated too much sunlight and being forced to wear life guard sunblock on my nose whilst riding. Oh how wrong I was.
Santa Fe is situated in a climate known as the high desert and this means, thunderstorms, hail the size of golf balls and very, very cold winters. One morning I woke and found outside it was no degrees. Zero degrees. According to my weather widget there was an absence of weather. This offended me. I was born and raised in southern California. I grew up in San Diego. I went to college in Orange County. I lived in Los Angeles for a time. And now I was being flung into a climate for which I was not adequately prepared.
And now fade in on the hounds. If you have not read my other blog posts on my dealings with the hounds click here and here. To supplement my meager working student income I took a job as kennel girl at the Santa Fe hunt club, caring for over thirty hounds at their top number and over twenty horses. This meant that I woke well before dawn to trudge out into the elements and complete my morning chores before heading to the barn to ride and teach. As I have already dwelt on my horse-related chores, I will write now on my morning hound ritual.
Every morning I would wake up in a rictus of cold, as I slept in a converted barn loft over the bitch kennel. Some people who know me might find my placement rather fitting. But I would crawl out of bed, which was a mattress on the floor, and head immediately to put on my ‘toast coat’. A month earlier a client had taken pity on my sad, California clothes and had given me an immense down jacket. The thing was a hideous, brown, figure masking rug of a coat that went down past my knees. It was more akin to wearing a sleeping bag than an actual jacket and I loved it. Despite being named the ‘toast coat’ because I looked like a brown, square piece of toast, I love it. It fulfilled one of the three requirements despite it being five in the morning, well before sunrise, with four inches of snow on the ground.
On went the toast coat. On went the snowboarding pants. On went my thermal snow shoes and winter gloves. On went the neck warmer. And now, without anything else to procrastinate with, out I went into the darkness.
Because the hunt club bred their own hounds, none of them were spayed or neutered. This led to the males growing to being the size of german shepards and not at all shy at throwing their weight around. They lived in group kennels at around six hounds to a kennel and in that small territory there was a LOT of territory marking. Just as your dog pees on a choice lamp post after smelling another mystery dog’s scent, so did the hounds. Everywhere. Including their water. I tried to hang their buckets above a pee arching trajectory but somehow, by the next morning, these charming fellows had found a way to soil their water yet again. And so every morning I had to dump and refill five twenty gallon buckets of water. I am torn as to what my favorite aspect of this chore was, as I recollect. It might have been the golden waters that greeted me every morning. Or perhaps it was that these waters were frozen solid by the time I got to them. Or maybe it was that I had to lug the buckets to the spigot itself for two months because the hose was frozen. After a few weeks there were interesting and rather beautiful (if you are interested in abstract art) ice formations by the spigot from all of the frozen water buckets I had overturned and emptied. It looked like a small city of golden igloos and because the days never got above freezing, the city grew and flourished.
After adding a new igloo to the metropolis I was creating, I filled the bucket with new, fresh water and carried it over the icy snow back to the kennels and again attempted to hang the bucket out of way of aiming hound genitalia. The aspect that required the most finesse was getting the buckets in and out of the kennels without the hounds coming along for the ride. If a jailbreak occurred the hounds usually made a straight shot for the horizon. Luckily the few times this did happen my dog Stella was there to intercept any male hounds with her beautiful blue eyes and high play drive. This allowed me to desperately run at them and attempt to tackle them. I must have looked like some sort of angry she-bear on the attack, with my big brown coat and primal growls I emitted.
Finally I had all five buckets re-hung and I was ready to feed and clean. I will tell you, if you want a rocking body you just need to take care of thirty hounds in freezing temperatures. My arms have never been as toned as when I had my seven day a week bucket lifting regiment.
And as for the feeding and the cleaning, I will leave that to a future post. But you know, one of the things I enjoyed most? After everyone was fed, watered and cleaned, it was quiet. I was out in the middle of the countryside and there were no ambient city sounds. I would sit for a moment on the lip of the hayloft and in the quiet of the morning would watch the sunrise. The colors were always softer, rosy pinks and golds, and it was just me and the animals with no other humans for miles around. That was one beautiful silver lining.
If you enjoyed reading this, you might also enjoy The Grinch’s Heart Grew Three Sizes That Day.