I came home from work one day, expecting to find Roz and Mr. Chips in their usual positions, grazing at the lowest end of the pasture, eking out the last possible moments of socializing with the horses next door. No one’s parents yelled “dinner time!” yet.
Roz was grazing in star-crossed angst, muzzle to muzzle with her favorite gelding. Separated by fencing. Thank god. Remove the fence and Roz’ favorite gelding would immediately be beaten to a pulp for looking at her wrong.
Fences. The difference between dating and marriage.
I drop the grocery bag and run. If you come home 362 days of the year, and your horses are always in the same spot, on day 363, when one is missing, you run.
I find Mr. Chips standing in the middle of the pasture, nose nearly to the ground. He’d been hidden from view by the barn. He nudges something. I see a flash of black and white in the sun-burnt grass, and start sniffing for scent. A dead skunk?
No smell that I can detect.
Oh no. A live skunk?!
I. Am. Gonna. Kill. Him. He’s nudging a live skunk? He’s had his rabies shot. I haven’t. I’m not going near whatever that is. Please tell me I have Nature’s Miracle Skunk Odor Remover in the cupboard. And mothballs. And sudsy Ammonia.
I turn to trudge back up the hill for homemade skunk Napalm, and wish again that I had a shotgun. (Yes, that statement came out of the mouth of someone who used to live in Berkeley. World Peace and We Are All One are great…until One of us has Rabies.)
I come back in a heavy yellow rain suit, rubber boots, industrial rubber gloves, a bucket full of old gym socks balled up and soaking in ammonia, and a bag of home-made hand grenades: nylon stockings cut into sections, stuffed with mothballs, and tied off. I stuck a couple of carrots in my pocket for good measure, to throw in the opposite direction, to separate skunk and annoyingly inquisitive pony before I throw the skunk grenades.
If I can just halter them and get them out of the pasture, I can call animal control (or my neighbor) and dispose of the skunk problem while keeping them safe.
This is how I ended up in the pasture in full winter-weight rain gear, on a 90 degree day in September, smelling like a Special Ops Guerilla Cleaning Service while staring at my Shetland pony nudging…a soccer ball.
Maybe my mother has a point. Maybe I need to work on the glass is half-full thing.
A soccer ball? In a locked pasture, far from the road, in the middle of No Where?
Mr. Chips lifts his head, delicately sniffs the air, and sneezes violently. He locates the source of All Evil Smells (that would be me), and wrinkles his nostrils in displeasure: Ew. Go away. You stink.
I trudge back up the hill with my odoriferous baggage, not exactly cursing the false alarm, but not exactly thrilled to be trudging up a hill in the hot sun while reeking of mothballs, ammonia and over heated rubber. I dump everything in front of the house in the driveway, peel off the yellow overalls, jacket, gloves and boots, and…go take a shower.
Now I’m glad I don’t have a rifle. I’d kill him.
When I go back down to groom and feed, Mr. Chips is still standing with his muzzle inches from the soccer ball. Staring at it as if it were something to be figured out. His nose twitches, and he glances up at me, wrinkling his muzzle on principle. Don’t do that again. GROSS smells. Gross.
Ignoring him, I toss hay in the racks and grain in the bin. Roz trots up the hill, completely oblivious to the panicked cries of the love-struck gelding, making a bee-line for her stall. Love is cruel.
I stand guard at the stall door, ready to use the Shetland pony equivalent of a cattle prod: a really really BIG carrot) to keep him from muscling past me to get her food. Roz stops short of her stall door, and we both peer over her shoulder. No pony. Huh. We look at each other. Then Roz steps into the stall and happily buries her head in the feed. I slide the door shut, and go to investigate.
Mr. Chips has assumed a Buddha-like position in relation to the soccer ball. He’s going to stare at it until it revels it’s secrets. He looks up. I hold out the carrot. He trots over, takes it, and trots back. Terrific. He has popcorn for his movie. He chews and contemplates The Round Thing.
This pony never ceases to floor me. Eventually he drifts over to his hay rack, reaches up, flips the quarter flake of hay out of the top of the rack so it falls on the ground, picks it up in his teeth and trots back to The Round Thing. Movie night.
I sigh. Go back up to the house to make my dinner. I’ll have to come back in an hour to let Roz out. Our routines are all geared around keeping Mr. Chips away from food.
After I’ve finished my gourmet bowl of Lucky Charms and do house-things, (which includes ignoring the mess of smells in the driveway) I return to let Roz out for the night. She ambles out into the beautiful evening light.
Mr. Chips, fortified by food, is no closer to solving the puzzle. It’s clear he expects The Round Thing to do something.
For some inexplicable reason, this makes me cranky. “It’s not going to tap dance and sing 42nd Street”, I say. His return look says: human. You know nothing of the mysteries of the world. I will ponder this baffling equation that is clearly above your comprehension.
That’s it. It’s hot, I tried to save his butt, I looked totally stupid, and it’s not one of the great mysteries of the world: it’s a soccer ball.
I march over, and kick it lightly with the toe of my boot. It rolls and bumps away from him. Instantly, I feel ashamed, as if I exposed Santa as a complete fraud to a five-year old. I blush. What is wrong with me?!?
Mr. Chips looks up at me with wonder bordering on awe: Human! You unlocked the secret! He trots excitedly after the ball, then glances back: aren’t you coming?!
Fine. Fine. I’m coming. I follow Mr. Chips as he follows the bumping ball. It stops in a rut. He nudges it. Nada. He thinks for a moment, pulls back his chin, and shoves the ball hard with his nose…like the toe of my boot did. It bounces out of the rut and careens down the hill. Mr. Chips looks at me with happiness, then takes off galloping after the ball.
At midnight, I’m in the pasture with a flashlight, trying to find the source of why each outraged squeal and thundering gallop is louder than the next, inciting dogs all over the valley to bark furiously. For hours. Oy.
I’m cranky, Roz is cranky, and Mr. Chips is in sheer pony heaven. A flash of white streaks by, followed by a thundering midget horse, trumpeting like a stallion. Oh God. He’s learned to KICK the ball.
I finally take possession around 2 am, my first and only goal of the night.
It’s a big pasture.
When I come home from work the next day, an animal control truck is parked in my driveway. An officer in uniform is squatting next to the mothball-filled nylon stockings, and ammonia-soaked gym socks. He’s knocked over the bucket to let it drain. The yellow overalls and jacket are hanging on my fence.
I try to smile my best Hi! This is normal, why are you here? smile. It falls a little short. He pulls out a metal clipboard box.
“We’ve had some complaints…” he pauses, looking at me to judge my potential guilt. “Seems like your neighbors heard what they believe was an animal being beaten, around 1 am?”
Nope. That’s later, I think.
“Mind if I take a look around?” he says, scanning the area for hidden threats.
“Please”, I say, unlocking the gate and motioning him through, “feel free.”
By the time I’ve explained the soccer ball I mistook for a skunk, my obsessive pony, and held up the battered ball with little hoof prints on it, he’s looking…doubtful.
I sigh. Ask him to follow me. I unchain the Fort Knox pasture, explaining that cute little pony can open all the gates, and drop the soccer ball in front of Mr. Chips.
Mr. Chips looks at the ball with puzzlement. He pretends he’s never seen it before.
Oh. I’m being punished. For taking it away at 2 am. Great.
Genius strikes. I kick the ball. Mr. Chips can’t resist. IT’S MOVING. He gallops off after it with a war cry that sounds like two maddened pigs attacking each other. He stops the ball with his nose, flips around, looks back over his shoulder to focus on the ball, lifts a hind leg and kicks hard, sending the ball soaring across the pasture. He trumpets again, squealing and bucking, and pounds after the ball, ears pinned, head close to the ground.
I look back at the Animal Control Guy. He’s vibrating, with a huge grin on his face.
I say, “It just…showed up…in the pasture yesterday. I couldn’t get it away from him until 2 am.” I pause, knowing he’s trying not to burst out laughing. “But if you want to impound it and charge me with soccer ball abuse, I understand.”
All the while, Mr. Chips is zooming around us like a demented Futbol player on crack, squealing and screaming. Roz is ignoring him.
“You need to call your neighbors” Animal Control Guy says “And I’d impose a curfew on ball playing if I were you.”
“Can I take a picture? They’re never going to believe this at the office.”
That’s how Mr. Chips ended up on the wall of the Humane Society, next to photos of the 10 Most Wanted.