Tag Archives: dreaming

of pigs and ponies, and urban cowgirl dreams

chicagohorses

I was biking back from the Peggy Notebart Nature Museum, after dropping off my final paperwork from the weatherization program I help out with each year, and decided to take a different route home, just following the grid and the sun-compass roughly in the direction of home, when I stopped dead in my tracks. I was in a pretty dense, high-dollar northside neighborhood, but here in a large well-fenced but empty vacant lot were two enormous horses. They had obviously spent a lot of time here, not just appeared- there were two half-full, half-frozen water troughs, some hay, and a deflated ball to kick around. The ground was frozen, but pockmarked with hoof-prints. Of course, I had to get closer and say hello! The gelding near the fence stuck out his muzzle in greeting, and I gave him a soft pat as he munched his hay. I stood for a moment, breathing in that intoxicating horsey perfume that anyone who’s ever loved and been near horses knows all so well, while I cleared space in my camera phone memory bank to snap a photo. I had to send one to my friend, who’s ridden and worked with horses far more than I could have ever dreamed growing up… we’ve got this probably pipe-dream about a horse or two (I really just want a large pony, or a small horse, trained to ride and drive… not much to ask, right? haha) kept nearby. It works in North Philly… so I’m not utterly in fantasy la-la-land, right?
This American Life: Horses in North Philly

Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club

Stormy Moon- what a pretty boy, no?

Stormy Moon- what a pretty boy, no?


I technically have a horse, but he’s an ancient sway-backed Arkansas pasture ornament, and after over a dozen or more years away in the city, and possession being nine-tenths of the law, he’s my dad and stepmom’s pet by all rights. Overcome by teenage romanticism, I named him Stormy Moon, though Stormy was all anyone ever called him. He was the result of years and years of reading, dreaming, and talking horses… of saving my allowance and birthday money and babysitting cash… of combing the swap-ads at the local filling station, until finally finding and buying the first horse we saw, the first one I could afford that almost met all my requirements. Of course, I knew the CARDINAL rule of horse buying (“don’t buy the first horse you see”) but it was such an ordeal to coordinate and cajole my parents into the idea that I didn’t want to risk it not happening again… I was in high school, planned to go away for college (somehow) so I was running out of time for this particular dream. He was a grey gelding, part-Arab, and to my eyes, the most beautiful thing in the world. He came with tack, or at least a western saddle and some assorted gear. I already owned an english bridle, and other horsey accoutrements. I learned early that putting the cart before the horse is not necessarily a bad plan… and made inspiring wall decor until it could be useful. The Mennonite family that sold him to us said he was gentle and that their kids rode him, but didn’t ride him enough so he needed a new home. He was gentle, from the ground, and as it turned out, more green-broke than kid-broke… My horse experience up to that point was mostly seat-of-the-pants, thick on book-learning and a bit of bareback trail-riding on a friend’s older sister’s bombproof retired show horse. Misty, also dapple grey, was a Quarter Horse that had won trail and halter classes, and competed in barrel-racing and pole-bending before a pasture accident ended her ring career and left her with one eye- she was dead-calm and kid-proof in spite of the affliction, and she carried my friend Jeanie and I, riding double through blackberry hollows, fields, and roadsides without incident. For Stormy and I, our combined inexperience was a bad combination indeed.
And an ornery little bugger...

And an ornery little bugger…

My cowboy cousin-in-law Stacy helped haul him home, saddled him up, and said to hop on. Unlike his rodeo horses, which were used to trailer travel and unfamiliar situations, this guy was rattled and already a little out of his element… but I mounted, and set off downhill into the pasture at a walk, then a brisk trot. My poppy (grandpa) and other cousin were baling hay that day, and Stormy caught an eyeful of a square bale ejecting from the machinery and tumbling out onto the field, and decided that this tractor-demon was very dangerous indeed. He sped to a run, whirled and reared, and I went flying. After a mid-air backflip, I broke my fall with my left arm outstretched over my head, and half-broke a bone in the process. Everyone came running as I sheepishly and painfully dusted myself off. True to form, cowboy cousin says “get back on the horse”, which I did with a leg-up, and rode to the back of the hill, where the house and bags of ice were. Spent six weeks in a cast with what the doc called “a greenstick fracture” as one of the two bones in my forearm had bent and snapped on one side but not the other under the strain of the landing… a lucky break, and it healed well… but I never rode that horse much either. I’d spend time with him, and brush him, but we didn’t have the girl-and-pony mind-meld and endless adventures I’d dreamed about for years. I loved him, and admired his beauty and power, but was also more than a little intimidated by it, and more than a little afraid to climb back up there and try again. I was in over my head, and it’s not the last time I learned that kind of lesson. Riding lessons would have helped both of us… or should have been essential, but there was no budget for such things. Someday I’d like to try again, with some guidance and groundwork first. And a dead-broke schoolmarm of a horse. And a helmet, haha. My bones aren’t as pliant as they were back then… but I’d like to think I’ve learned a lot of lessons about falling. And getting back up.

In other news, our pig is ready, at the locker in Chenoa, IL, waiting for us to drive two hours, pick it up, and start turning it into delicious bacon and sausages. I consider it a good omen that my friend, who works at the Spice House, just brought us a jar of their italian sausage seasoning, and didn’t even know about our pig purchase. The fates are with us! He was one of four raised on pasture by a woman in Lemont, on a diet of organic feed, food scraps, and acorns. If he’s half as delicious as the pig I raised in FFA, we’re in for some great meals. 241 pounds of great meals- we requested pretty much “everything but the squeal”. Who wants to fry up some pork rinds with me? We have to render the lard first…

Have more realistic urban livestock dreams, but not sure how to get started? There’s an Urban Livestock Expo event at the Garfield Park Conservatory on February 16th… come learn about chickens (the gateway drug), bees, rabbits, and goats, and meet other current and aspiring urban farm folk; talks and Q&A to follow! It’s being put on by folks from Advocates for Urban Agriculture, Chicago Chicken Enthusiasts (two great list-servs that I’m on) and Angelic Organics Learning Center, among others I believe? I’m hoping to attend if I can wiggle my work schedule… it’s 10 am-1 pm, which might make it tough. Looks to be a fun event, so put it on your calendars now!

sweet dreams

If wishes were horses…


I just finished taking an online class with Sharon Astyk called “Adapting in Place”. I’d highly recommend it, or any of her classes! Lots of hard questions from Sharon and informative discussions with the other folks in the class. One of the wrap-up prompts was, “What is your dream? What would you want if there were no constraints?” At about the same time, Jenna from Cold Antler Farm posted again imploring readers to write down their dreams and carry them around with them, and not to be afraid to ask for the moon and take small steps to get there. So here we go…

City mouse, country mouse dreams- city mouse: First, finish our little cabin- with lots of insulation, LED lighting and energy efficient appliances, and reused materials wherever we can find or employ them so we can stay warmer in winter, cooler in summer while using as few resources as possible. The first floor is open and you enter into a broad space with the fellow’s wood barrister bookcases and the rolling library ladders surrounding the wood stove lined with all our favorite books, the big barn wood dining room table in the center and the kitchen in the back all open to each other… a small bathroom added and a big pantry where the old bathroom was so we can feed all our friends. Good music, good food, and a trickling stream of good company fill our days as our friends stop in to say hello. The front bay window is a captain’s bed nook where our friends who’d like to stay longer or who came from afar can crash out…

We somehow buy up a bunch of the vacant homes in our neighborhood (there are a LOT of them), do energy-efficient retrofits and rehabs on them, and rent them inexpensively to other urban homesteaders willing to commit to growing at least some of their own food, reducing their car usage, and interested in learning real life skills and building a resilient and vibrant local community of all colors, ages, and avocations. Actually start teaching the classes that I’ve been dreaming and debating about for years- cooking from scratch, canning, food storage, backyard farming, brewing, soap making, etc. etc… Organize a goat-herd co-op, where member-neighbors take turns tending a small flock of Nigerian Dwarf goats and grazing them on vacant lots with portable fencing. Start a store that sells actual food in our neighborhood- bulk staples and fresh produce, canning jars and tools, not bags of chips and ho-hos, white owls and mad dog. Reach out to the neighbors we already have, who we’re starting to get to know better, and bring them along on the crazy ride.

Country mouse? At least ten acres, mix of wooded and tillable land, preferably with a clean canoeable river either bordering it or within walking distance (or rather, portaging distance), and/or a large lake nearby. The fellow has had his canoe stored in his parents’ garage for years, and I’ve never been out on a small craft, though I grew up a short bike ride from a lake where we spent most of our summer nights. Nothing is more freeing or refreshing on a hot night than floating and splashing, working up a shark-like appetite, and then cooking a simple dinner on an open fire on the bank. Somewhere with more stars than you can count on two hands. Same goats, chickens, bees, gardens, and classes… plus I can have a large pony or a small horse and learn to ride, oh, bliss! We’d have room to grow veggies and staples- potatoes, onions, even a pancake patch (we’ve been joking down at the Plant about planting a pasta tree… but everyone knows that bread comes from grass. I think Whitman told us that… bread is life, and all flesh is grass).

We park a shipping container or two for storage if the property doesn’t come with outbuildings, and put up a yurt while we build a strawbale or earth-sheltered house if there isn’t already an old farmhouse to restore… or if it’s near the Catskills, our cousin can build us an Earthship… if we have an invisible zoning/building inspector forcefield, that is. Hey, we’re dreaming here, we make the rules! For that matter, we could have 100 acres, divide it up, and recreate the family farm where I grew up (now mostly sold except for my dad’s parcel), hopefully somewhere with a better climate and bring everyone I love together. Reaaal hot down in the southern Ozarks now… and I’d get to see my family more than once or twice a year, work with them, and watch my baby nieces and nephew grow up in real life and not just in facebook photos, to really be a part of their lives and not someone they see at holidays.

This land would be within ten miles of a liberally-minded small to medium sized town with a good coffee shop, a cafe or three, and two small grocery stores. A theater would be nice, and a small college with a big library. It snows enough for snowshoes (and sleds! and sleigh rides!) but not all the time. The spinach and kale are sweet and fine in the shelter of the hoophouse, and it gets hot enough in the summer to grow good tomatoes and a tan. There are other farmers nearby using “real” horsepower who will teach us to farm with drafts… my grandpa (“Poppy”) had a mule but it was long before my time. My dad remembers it, but he was barely old enough to walk behind the plow and search for arrowheads, and it was retired for a tractor while he was a small boy- I have a few of these hand-hewn sharp points of flint and lime, and I treasure them- a link to the past even older than the hundred or more years my family farmed that land… a reminder that others once lived off of and loved it too.

Ok, someone pinch me. What’s your dream? Your perfect place? What would you do if there were no one to tell you no, no budget woes, nothing between you and your ideal life? And what can you do to start making it real?

For us, starting small- we’re holding open studios, a space for exchange of goods, ideas, and good will, starting this Sunday, Sept. 2nd from 11-4. The next will be on the 16th. And we’ll continue every first and third Sunday assuming all goes well. Possible BBQ afterward at the farmhouse… let me know if you don’t know where we are and want to stop by!