The pasture is fenced with two strands of barbed wire attached to poplar fence posts. There is a technique for getting through the wires without tearing clothing or drawing blood, although the best tutor is a nasty gash in the leg. Along our western fence is the entry hole of a gopher snake. This snake can grow to two or three meters and fortunately is on the shy side – even docile. They might bite you if you surprise them, but their bites are not poisonous. Their fondness for gophers does give them some pasture and field “cred”. Yet some farmers will kill them when they get the chance.
For all its beauty and variety the pasture is also a “killing field”. I and my siblings are taught how to trap or corner and kill gophers. During the day hawks take their share of rodents and sometimes treat themselves to one of our chickens. At night owls and coyotes hunt in order to feed owlets and pups.
The mysteries of the woods and the glades are intoxicating to my little brain – the chattering of aspens, the strange rustlings in brush piles, the raucous calls of ravens and crows - and two horse skulls in a far corner of our little aspen forest combine to create an eerie and out of world aura for my ramblings. The skulls belong to Lizzy and Ned, two of Dad’s horses that died of old age before my time. Why are the skulls still there? Dad says it’s because animals dig things up. I plop myself down on the grass beside the largest skull, legs akimbo and look into the vacant space that once held an eye. I put my hand on the skull and whisper, “Dad says you were one of his best horses.” He could saddle you up for a ride or harness you with Lizzy to do farm work.
In the real time of 2018 my backyard is my “pasture” –smaller, less diverse – no skulls but still a source of wonder. Each year as I extend beds I find shards of old plates, arrow heads, marbles from a long gone Chinese checker set, lost cutlery and rusted garden tools. The previous owner was a dedicated organic gardener but I know nothing of who occupied this space before him. Late this summer I discovered an enormous hornet nest high in the crab-apple tree that partially shades our pond. How could I have missed it? It was right beside a much traveled path. I stood in wonderment at its beautiful construction. I marveled at the patient work that must have gone into it and I re-imagined it as an alien space craft, landed and carefully anchored in a tree close to a source of water, an oasis through a hyper dry summer in the middle of a garden full of pollinator plants. Then the tornado came through. In our area the roaring winds did little damage and miraculously the hornet’s nest remained intact. Later though, a heavy rain downed it and I reverently composted the remains for next year’s garden. I hope the hornets will rebuild in 2019 so that I can have a replay of their wonderful architecture. This time I will be waiting for them.