Saturday, November 6, 2010

On the Way to the Barn

by Laura Crum

All of us who keep our horses where we live are familiar with the magic that just the everyday chores can bring. I have written before about sitting in the barn listening to my horses munch hay and watching them graze along the driveway and the myriad of small ways in which living with horses delights me. Even if I could no longer ride, I would still take great pleasure in owning horses.

So today I want to write about another joy that comes of having horses to feed. Its called “What I Saw on the Way to the Barn.” Because I feed fairly early—usually between seven and eight-- every morning, as I step out my door and sniff the fresh air, I’m aware that I might see something special.

I live in a hollow of the brushy California coastal hills—the same hills that I trail ride through so often. My house and barn are surrounded by wild land, where the wild critters live, and I see them all the time. Some mornings it’s a buck with a six point rack, or a spotted fawn (in the spring). Sometimes its Cooper’s hawks mating in the top of a pine tree, sometimes it’s a coyote stalking my chickens. Even if its only a flock of California quail, or Cinders the barn cat climbing down from the liveoak where he spent the night, its always something.

Yesterday morning I saw something so unique and special that I just have to write about it, even though I guess its not directly horse related. But then, some of what I get from my horses is the peripheral stuff. And this was great.

Because when I stepped out the door I saw a bobcat walking up the driveway toward me. I knew this bobcat. She’s been living on my place all summer and I see her often. She is tall, for a bobcat, and more spotted than most of them are. I suspected she’d been raising her kittens out here. She’s certainly taken a good many of my chickens, climbing a tree and diving out of it with a rooster in her jaws (plummeting 20 feet to earth), in her most spectacular kill (that I witnessed). So, yeah, I knew the bobcat.

As she came toward me (adult bobcats don’t tend to be much afraid of you) she meowed several times, which is unusual in my experience. I have heard bobcats growl and snarl, but she was meowing just like a domestic cat—mewing. And then I saw why.

Behind her trotted her two small, grayish kittens, following mama on an expedition. Their paws were a little too big for them and they still waddled a bit, their fur was fuzzy. They toddled after their mother, stopping to sniff things or gambol about from time to time. I froze, wishing I had my camera. I called my son, who came to the porch and stood with me. And together we watched Mama Bobcat lead her children in a procession up the hill and into the brush.

It sounds so simple and unimportant, written down like that. It might sound to some that I should be angry because the bobcat had taken at least a dozen of my chickens. But the truth is it was magic. It makes me feel like I’ve been given a sign or a blessing. Call me silly if you want, but my property has sheltered (among many other things) two young bobcats who are now making their way out into the world. How cool is that?

In the dawn light, with little wisps of fog drifting by the oak trees, the two kittens followed their mama up the hill. And I was there to see it. I like to think she knew I was there and paraded her babies past on purpose. Who knows? Though she certainly saw me standing on my porch.

Anyway, that’s my topic for the day. What delightful things do you see in the course of feeding your horses? For me, that’s one of the greatest joys of horse ownership.


Francesca Prescott said...

What a wonderful experience, Laura! Lucky lucky lucky you! I've never seen a bobcat; I don't really know what a bobcat is... Is it like a mountain lion? Or maybe a lynx? Lyxnes are mega rare where I live, and I've never seen any, in fact I think very few people have. In fact, I think some moronic hunters may have killed the last Swiss lynx a while back. We may have a couple of wolves in the Alps - they seem to be immigrating here from Italy. The shepherds don't like them very much...

I'm rarely at my stables uber-early in the morning unless something dramatic is happening (competition or trip to the vet!), so I'm not sure what sort of magic is out there - although I know we have wild boar, deer, hares, rabbits, fox and all sorts of wonderful birds. I've seen mama foxes with seriousoy cute babies, and baby bunnies, and deer hotfooting across meadows (so beautiful!) and lots and lots of adorable hedgehogs!

Laura Crum said...

Francesca--Yes, a bobcat is a lynx. And we have mountain lions where I live, though I have never seen one (in the wild, anyway). Many people I know have seen them, though, including several of my neighbors. And I have seen horses that were jumped by mountain lions and bore the scars (the downside of wild critters). What we don't have are hedgehogs, which I would dearly love to see. I wish you and I could swap locations for a couple of days. I loved my time in Europe, though I was not in Switzerland, but I am sure I would love it there, too. And your stable looks wonderful. Ah well, maybe some day.

Fantastyk Voyager said...

WOW, how exciting!!!
One winter I went out in the early morning and saw a little masked face peeking out at me from the bottom bales of the haystack. It was a black footed Ferret. I was thrilled and alas, cameraless. I ran back to the house to fetch my camera and she/he? darted away and I never saw her again. I did find a mummified rabbit carcass on the top of my haystack later that summer so I know I wasn't imagining it.

Anonymous said...

Bobcats and kittens! How magical. I see all sorts of wonderful things when I feed in the mornings, from coyotes hunting in the pastures, to hawks, to owls and on and on . . . I love the mornings.

Susan said...

Seeing the bobcat family is awesome! There are supposed to be bobcats near here that people trap. We see wildlife almost every day. One time a coyote chased a fox across the hill and once a coyote flushed a rabbit that got away. We see eagles and snowshoe hares and even elk a couple of times. The dogs help keep predators from away from the house and barn. We've lost a couple of ducks, but no chickens since we've been here.

Joy said...

When my horse was at the stables it was surrounded by a lot of wilderness. I saw bobcats, coyotes, owls, hawks. The best one though was the time I saw a mama fox with 7 kits. It was crazy. I loved reading about your experience. It sounds amazing!

Anonymous said...


One winter, the husband of another boarder called us out to the outside row of stalls. We watched a herd of elk cross the pasture.

Day before yesterday, I watched a pair of kestrels play while Mocha and I took our "trail ride" (alongside the road) for her to cool out. A pileated woodpecker sometimes also visits.

I'd hate to board in an urban area...though one time, when hand-grazing a horse at one such barn, an ambulance passed by, siren wailing...and echoed by a huge pack of coyotes up on the hillside.

That is the nice thing about barn life, though...keep your eyes open and you see neat stuff (one time we did have a baby mink come galloping into the barn and take a tour--not afraid of anything!).

Alison Hart said...

Great Post Laura, and folks who replied are obviously also animal lovers. One of my great experiences was the red fox kits born in our brush pile. We watched them grow and play. Mama finally left them and it took them awhile to venture off on their own.

Jami Davenport said...

That is so cool. The only thing I see at my barn are barn cats.

Funder said...

Oh wow, that's absolutely magical.

I haven't been sleeping well lately, so I'm feeding even earlier than usual. (Dixie approves of early breakfast.) I don't see much, because we're in a subdivision, but I hear plenty. If it's very early, I might hear the coyotes in the hills or the Great Horned Owl that hunts the subdivision. And in the afternoon, I hear the California quail the owl is hunting, or the pair of crows who live nearby.

A nearby neighbor has a high-percentage wolf hybrid in her backyard - that's not magical and wonderful anymore, just kinda cool. "Oh, the wolf's howling again." Funny how you get used to stuff!

Shanster said...

Very cool - I love seeing the wildlife around us... coyotes every now and again - we hear them but they are ellusive visually most times and foxes... our neighbor did see a mountain lion and has had tracks at his place tho' I've never seen/heard one.

How incredibly special it was to see the bobcat and her kits!

Laura Crum said...

Thanks, all, for your comments. It sounds like the rest of you love seeing (and hearing) the wild things as much as I do. This morning I saw a big coyote cross my riding ring--while I was still in the house, sipping my tea. I've had numerous adventures with the wild animals out here--if I ever run out of horse stories for my blog posts, perhaps I'll resort to wild critter encounters(!)