A good friend, Nancy B, recently posted a 'Don't give up on God; God has not given up on you!' message. Well, Monday afternoon, it was drilled home to me that indeed, God has not given up on me ... not given up tormenting me, anyway. Now, don't get me wrong ... I don't question God's judgment, at all. God is 'right on target', as far as my deserving the torment. But I certainly do question God's sense of proportion ... I mean, honestly! I deserve punishment; but hey, if I'm not mistaken, Osama Bin Laden is still out there, somewhere! Can't God pick on OBL, for a while, and just leave me on a back burner, simmering, instead of a front burner in full boil?
Here's the thing ....
Last November, my tractor was put out of commission by a thorn in an inner-tube. Not such a big deal, of course - but hey, have you ever tried to jack up a tractor that has a front-loading bucket, and remove lug nuts that have been in place since the first time Cain planted crops? Well, perhaps not quite all that long; but still, without the aid of - gasp - a 'guy', it's a real challenge, for me to remove the tractor's tires. But I digress ....
Okay, that aside; I know I'm a terrible procrastinator. But, as the tractor was not really needed during the winter, it sat - with said flat. Until the fields began to grow again, this Spring. Without regular mowing, the poison ivy, the multi-flora rose, and the sweet gums try to take over the flat grasslands, here at the Elk River Ranch. Soooo - last week, I finally gave in, called the local truck tire place, and arranged for them to send a guy out to remove the wheels, and take them to the shop. I was planning on having the two front tires filled with a 'foam' which makes the tires impervious to such things as thorns. Once they were at the shop, however, I was advised that the cost to foam fill was fairly exorbitant - $130/tire!! Instead, I went with a simple tube replacement (the shop advised that the cost of repairing the tube was not much less than the cost of a new tube - so new is the way we went ...).
When he arrived to take the wheels, the tire man and I tried to start the tractor, that we might use the front loading bucket to lift the front end of the tractor off the ground - but the starter wouldn't. (Start, that is ...). However, I did get up on the tractor's seat, and gave it the old college (U of HK *) try. To no avail. I got off the tractor, and the tire man used his own portable hydraulic lift to get the weight of the tractor's front end off the ground. He then removed the wheels, lowered the tractor's front end down onto two cinder blocks and 2 x 4's we'd put in place under the wheels' now naked front end brakes, and went on his merry way. (*University of Hard Knox, of course ...)
Now, here's the thing; about the tractor's seat. This tractor has, as most do, a metal cradle - with regularly spaced 1/4" holes (rain drainage?); a very slightly contoured metal cradle (with two shallow swales that tend to correspond to the human posterior - well - somewhat), onto which can be attached a separate cushioned seat. The cushioned seat that came with the tractor is about 12"L x 14"W x 5" thick; spring construction; excelsior and cotton batting padded interior; a black vinyl covered metal-plated version of a seat pad; in, considering the disregard I've shown for its care (leaving it on the tractor through all weather conditions), moderately decrepit state (the vinyl has cracked in several places, where it meets the metal plate). In the normal world, said seat would be attached to the tractor by means of nuts and bolts. In the Elk River Ranch world, said seat is, as is the CC&BW* here at the ERR, unattached. The weight of the individual operating the tractor keeps said seat in place. On the day the tire fellow visited the farm, when he was finished, I (in a rare moment of foresight) decided to take said cushioned seat into the white hay shed. The idea was to keep it from getting wet during rainy days, since the black vinyl (due to its numerous cracks) does not prevent the excelsior and batting cotton from getting saturated. But, in a typical moment of procrastination, instead of getting as far as the white shed with the seat, I placed it, vinyl side up, on the deck of the rotary cutter, which was attached to the tractor at the PTO and 3-point hitch bars; and I proceeded to become distracted by some other-and-now-forgotten additional chore. (*Chief Cook and Bucket Washer - aka 'I', of course ...)
The padded seat sat (pardon the pun), for about two weeks - from the time it was taken off the cradle, to the day that my friend, John Dvorak, stopped in to assist with getting the tractor started. The tire man had already returned the wheels to their appropriate place about a week earlier. John had a chance on this past Monday afternoon to swing by and get the tractor started. I picked the tractor padded seat off the rotary cutter's deck, and placed it on the tractor seat cradle. To start the tractor, John first tried the conventional means - using jumper cables from his F350 diesel to the tractor battery, and giving it a go - but no, it was clearly not so much the lack of jolt from a battery, as it was a starter that wouldn't. (Start, that is ....). John tried 'thumping' the starter (don't you just love that Y chromosome-based logic ... and here's the thing - it often works! But in this case .... no.). So, he then ran a heavy duty chain from his F350's hitch to the tractor's front fork, and instructed me to climb in the F350, and pull the tractor forward about 10' at a 'comfortable walking pace' - whilst he would be aboard the tractor, doing something they call a 'push start' - this, it seems, bypasses the starter, and just gets enough compression in the motor to start the machine. Voila. Worked like a charm. John climbed off the tractor, disconnected the chain, and said he'd mow the first two sweeps of the big field, just to make sure the tractor was going to keep running. He did - it did. He climbed down, I climbed up; he gave me a brief refresher on the clutch, the gear shift, the throttle, the PTO engagement, the brakes, the front loader boom lift and bucket tilt levers, and he watched me start off ("High first" is the most agreeable gear combination, for this tractor, speed-wise, when mowing). John made sure I was 'okay' with the machine, then went on his way.
I was delighted to be mowing - it's amazing how little it takes to keep me amused - smilin', even! This IH tractor is sooo much easier to operate than its predecessor, the old Ford 8N - the IH turns easily, and even the seat is far more comfortable than was the old un-padded metal seat of the Ford. The day was 'mixed', weather-wise - that's why John was off, in the first place - the morning was a bit on the intermittent rainy side. But by now, 4 p.m., the skies had some broken areas of clear blue, some areas of high 'cumulus' clouds, and some lower clouds that suggested the possibility of an occasional light sprinkle. But, no worries - I mowed, and mowed. A few times, I'd shift my leg positions - getting comfortable by putting a right foot up on the arm of the front loader, or a left foot up on the gear box. I mowed from 4:00 p.m. until 5:15 p.m., when I noticed a significantly darkened cloud gathering force, and moving deliberately toward the sky directly over the field in which I was mowing. This was no common rain cloud - this bugger was charged. All around it, blue sky - but I was sure this cloud had nefarious intentions. I waited and mowed a bit longer, thinking, "nah - she'll move toward the north, and by-pass me" - but no. When the cloud was just beginning to clear the trees that are on the eastern border of the field, I decided against tempting fate; I figured I'd best drive out of the paddock, and park the tractor for the day. I was disappointed, as I really had perhaps another 15 to 20 minutes, tops, of mowing to go, to be finished the paddock - but 15 to 20 minutes in a thunderstorm, sitting on a tractor in a field ... not such a good idea, I figured.
I disengaged the PTO and put the tractor in H 4th, to hightail it out of the paddock - but high 4th was a bit too fast, to be approaching the fences and gate! Back to high 1st, as I could not get the shift to take 2nd or 3rd - and out of the field I went. I swung back to the 'parking' spot in which the tractor had been sitting, all winter. Shut her down just as big fat droplets began to hit the ground, from the big dark cloud. Thinking ahead, I decided to grab the seat, and this time for sure take it to the shed. I lifted the padded seat off the cradle - and what do you suppose was lying there, now exposed, on the metal cradle?
An infant mouse. By infant, I mean, just the beginning of a coat - tan-gray dorsal, white ventral 'fuzz'; but ears and eyes still tightly shut. And tiny. Sooo very tiny - body not the length, from the tip of its nose to the dock of its tail, of the first digit of my thumb (the thin strip of a tail about equal length to the body, of course)! Not dead, mind you - no, that would have been too logical, and too easy. Alive and breathing, and squirming when I scooped it up into my left palm. I could not believe it! I knew where it had to have been, at first - in the cushioned seat. Sure enough, a closer examination of the seat showed that the cotton batting had a place that was 'hollowed out'. There was no evidence of any other mice - no momma, no siblings, not alive or 'squished' - but clearly, it had been the home sweet home of a white-footed field mouse and her pups. But how in all that is Holy could this little mouse have survived not only both John and I on the seat, when we were trying to get the tractor started; then the both of us humans on the seat when mowing the field; and then not less than two hours of such activity, at that - without being crushed, or being jostled off the seat all together, to die a quick death in the field?
Now what? Well, what else? Brought mousie inside; found (astonishing!!) my stash of pipettes; and looked in the freezer - but remembered I'd finally thrown away the canister of KMR that I had there for about 4 years. So, I got the half-n-half out of the fridge, mixed a few drops with some warm water, filled a pipette - and put a droplet on mousie's muzzle. The response was a reflex reaction backward jerk, at first - but then, the muzzle moved, and the droplet was sucked inward. Mousie was willing to try, if I was willing to help.
I didn't go right to the pet supply - as I certainly thought mousie would be dead in an hour or so. No such luck. So, I found (astonishing!!!) one of my otherwise useless knit 'sports bras', put it on, and dropped mousie 'in the valley' - warm; a heartbeat; had to be better than dying between two clumps of dirt formed by a tractor's tires, no? Spent the remains of the day giving mousie a droplet or so of half-n-half, throughout the evening and into the morning. Daybreak, and mousie was still alive.
A few days earlier, I'd agreed to meet a friend, Katie K (who was traveling from the Boston Mass area back home to the Richmond Va area) for lunch, Tuesday afternoon. Mousie went with me. I arranged nice accommodations for Katie at a local hotel (the Hawthorne - very nice, although not the novelty of staying at one of Chesapeake City's B&B's - but Katie wanted to be close to I 95 for her morning departure. The Hawthorne is at the 'easy on and off exit', but no so close that you hear the traffic all night, or are bothered the fumes from passing traffic). We had a nice lunch at the Cracker Barrel, then enjoyed a little shopping excursion in a town called 'North East', Maryland, which has some interesting 'antique and 'what have you' shops. We stopped a few times to allow me the chance to give mousie some half n half from the pipette. I decided, by 4 p.m., that if mousie could make 24 hrs. on half n half, I might as well bite the bullet, and invest in a can of formula - so picked up such, as well as a bottle of Pedialyte, at Wally World.
Mousie did okay on her second night with me. In the morning, the original plan was to have breakfast with Katie, who would then be on her way - but Katie mentioned she might just stop in at Baltimore's Inner Harbour, to see the Aquarium. So ..... why not? I'd already gotten the horses and dogs situated, for the day. I drove my pick-up, whilst Katie followed in her car, to Baltimore, getting off I 95 at Exit 59, Eastern Avenue; parked my pick-up at a stupidmarket lot just off the exit; then traveled in Katie's car straight along Eastern Avenue about 5 miles, not more, right to the Aquarium. Had a wonderful time at the aquarium - something for which I'm very grateful to Katie, because I know I'd never have made the trip alone. Enjoyed a salad lunch at the aquarium, and also gave mousie some formula, there. Watched a dolphin show, and also had the fun of watching aquarium personnel diving in the ray exhibit , where they were making some repairs, as well as giving the lovely sea turtle her lunch (lettuce!). The aquarium is well worth the visit; now that I know how accessible the inner harbour really is, I am eager to take my niece, Elyse, there, next time she visits here in Maryland. But I digress ....
The point of this elaborate epistle is, God just thinks I don't have enough to do. Right, of course ... but was it really, absolutely necessary to send that rain cloud, to stop my mowing, in time to 'save' this white footed mouse? Would the world really be a poorer place, for the loss of this white footed mouse all of six to twelve months sooner than other events would likely have taken her, even under optimal conditions? God certainly has not 'given up' on me - on tormenting me, anyway ... I think I'll call her 'Willie' (for my Dad, Louis Sutton. Why not 'Louisa'? Because my Dad's buddies always called him 'Willie', for Willie Sutton, the notorious bank robber of the 30's - 50's) .... Willie (Wilhelmina) Whitefoot, The Mouse of the Elk River Ranch and Raccoon Refuge ....
P.S. Thursday, May 27, 2010 Winnie is now with me for three full days; her ears have opened. She is doing reasonably well, but she's a long way from out of the woods (pardon the pun). The change in her diet, from momma's milk to half-n-half to KMR is beginning to show, in her feces. While it was at first difficult to manage to stimulate her to pass any feces at all, now, she's a bit too soft. Such loose stool can also suggest bacterial infection, or any number of other problems. Still, she wakes, grooms, looks for some motherly attention, grooms some more, then sleeps some more. There is nothing so endearing as the soft little squeaks and flinching of a dreaming creature - rodents often 'talk in their sleep'. I hope she makes it - but in the long run, even if she does not survive to a release stage, I think it's always worth the effort to try to help - don't you?
P.P.S. Saturday, May 29, 2010 Willie is now with me for 5 days - this morning, her eyes were open. I could hear her thoughts: "Oh, my gawd! No wonder that milk I've been getting has a funny taste! Look at the source!" I think it made her a bit suicidal - she tried to jump out of my left palm, this morning, when I tried to give her some milk from the pipette. It reminded me of the scene from 'Last of the Mohicans', where Alice Munro, rather than accept the extended hand of the savage Magua, leaps off the precipice of the palisade, to her death! But, Willie soon settled down, and is consuming a full pipette and a half, each feeding. The KMR is offered any time Willie begins to stir from sleep, and squeak. Willie is still so very tiny, but her fur coat is coming in nicely, now more grey than tan. Her head is beginning to lose its 'roundness', and becoming a bit more pointed, in the muzzle. With any luck, by the 4th of July, Willie will be celebrating her own independence - and I'll have something resembling 'a life' once again!
Wednesday, June 2, 2010 Eureka! Willie is drinking from a bottle cap filled with diluted KMR! (Pardon her disheveled look, above - she was getting a bit of a salt water steam bath, sleeping in my shirt; I didn't get her quite dry, before snapping the photo.) Willie may be out of the woods, after all! Willie is still sleeping on my person, when I've got some time to waste; but I can also situate her in the bathtub - with an old and worn knit tee that she snuggles into - and don't have to worry about her dehydrating. Willie still comes to my extended palm, and snuggles into my fingers, but she's gaining a sense of independence. I've been bringing her the seed heads of the various grasses that fringe the fence-line, here at the Elk River Ranch, as well as some flower heads from both white and red clover. Willie is gnawing on pieces of walnut, and pine nuts (out of the shell). Tonight, I'll be putting some sunflower seeds in with her. Willie is showing signs of an improvement in her bowels, and is quite fastidious - something she clearly comes by genetically, not geographically. (rotf,lmho). You can see that her muzzle has lost its infant roundness, and no longer is her head bigger than her body. Yet Willie is still not as long as my thumb - and not as wide, either! The delicacy of her limbs is astonishing - but she is gaining strength, in her ability to jump. The bathtub has a towel across the bottom, so Willie has good traction for getting some exercise. Speaking of which, now that I can leave her home alone, I think I'll go take a bike ride! click here for page two of Willie Whitefoot's story