Mid-winter blues at Misfit Mares

Out at the ranch where I live, the family I'm a part of and the horse herd I take care of has gotten a bad case of the mid-winter blues. In fact, it's the worst case I've seen in some time at Misfit Mares. And I've been here for a lot of years. I...

Out at the ranch where I live, the family I'm a part of and the horse herd I take care of has gotten a bad case of the mid-winter blues. In fact, it's the worst case I've seen in some time at Misfit Mares. And I've been here for a lot of years. I go before the parole board next month, but I'm guessing my sentence will be continued.

The problem is there isn't much to do in the way of fun around the homestead right now. Between the cold and the snow we're a little cooped up. Farm people don't really appreciate being boxed inside like our city brethren seemingly do. No offense intended.

Sure, we still have barn chores to do, hay to haul, water tubs to tend to and snow to move. We still get outside. But when we're done we can't linger at the fence scanning our kingdoms, a stalk of straw in our teeth, like we can in the summer. Resting on the sofa with a piece of straw in your mouth just isn't the same. We prefer the outdoors.

See, city people are accustomed to the thrill of sitting around in the living room staring at one another in the evenings, watching Wheel of Fortune and discussing who should be voted off on Survivor. They play board games, cards and talk. It's what they do.

Country folk prefer to be outside, away from one another. Someone gardens, someone mows the field, someone mucks the barn and there certainly isn't any talking. That's why we get along better as a whole than city people; we don't see each other as much. It's what we do. In the summer.


At our place right now the snow is just a tad too high for the kids to get outside, they're little legs just aren't strong enough to propel them off the beaten path and into the towering white drifts that rise above their little heads. And they tell on me when I throw them in. Accordingly, running up and down the driveway is only so much fun for so long.

Earlier this month we did get some sledding in on Dead Man's Hill, back by the big barn.

"Daddy, why do you call this Dead Man's Hill?" little Gracie asked smilingly, as she and her tiny brother piled into their giant black rocket sled. Before them stretched about 350 yards of ice-covered downward slope.

"Because of the dead guy that we found down there at the bottom of the hill, back before you were born." They both snapped their heads around.

"Was there really a dead man?" the innocent little girl asked again, her face twisted into a puzzle.

"Yep. His name was Crazy Jim. He lived down the road with his parents, until he snuck over here one day and went sledding down the hill by himself. On a day very much like today. In this very sled. He probably started from right here. Poor Jim.

"Anyhow, you ready for a push?"

I'm not sure if they were screaming for joy or not, but they hollered all the way down the hill. I stood watching, a piece of hay between my teeth.


Sometimes when the kids do go outside, the winds that howl across the frozen fields just about blow them over to the neighbors, which I don't really mind. I can use the break from time to time and urge them out when the winds pick up. But the neighbors -- Crazy Jim's parents -- get a bit upset with the constant interruptions.

So, Grace and Jack have been whiling away a few weeks inside, watching TV, playing games, and trying to discuss the issues of the day with me. Like, who do I prefer, Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse? And have I ever eaten worms? And who would win in a fight, Batman or Superman?

I think of Crazy Jim at those times, and wish I'd had gone sledding with him.

Believe it or not, horses even get a little claustrophobic in the winter. I don't care how many acres a guy might have fenced in, if the hay is in a five-foot square that's where the horses are going to be. So, their world shrinks accordingly.

And when the hay has been eaten and is gone, horses turn their attention to fences, posts, boards, barns, and each other. Chewing on anything and everything they can reach. They reach everything.

Which only leads to more work for those who are supposed to be in charge. I mean, farm people like being outside, but we don't want to have to do anything while we're out there.

I tried getting the horses into the rocket sled and sliding them down Dead Man's Hill, but they are smarter than the kids. The wind isn't strong enough to blow them away.

So it's water, feed and muck for a few more months. If our ranch was an island on Survivor, it's me that I hope would be getting voted off.


Darrell Pendergrass of Grand View, is director of the Washburn Public Library. A collection of his stories appears in his new book, "Still Out There: A life afield," is available for $18 at: Darrell Pendergrass, 52405 Otto Olson Road, Grand View, WI 54839.

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