Sunday, June 03, 2007

A Glorious Day on the Farm

Some friends of ours have an absolutely beautiful little organic farm in the wilds of Southern Oregon, where they grow wine grapes, vegetables and flowers and keep a tidy little group of chickens, three horses a dog and at least one cat. We live less than two hours from their place, but somehow, unfortunately, we haven't managed to make it out there to visit in a long time.

Saturday was our day. We got up at the crack of dawn, slathered on sunscreen, packed our swim suits, loaded up the dogs and headed for the hills. We spent the better part of the day out there -- horseback riding, swimming in the pond, enjoying a delicious al fresco lunch, drinking good wine, engaging in stimulating conversation and soaking up the spectacular beauty of the Illinois Valley. It was a vacation in a day and all of us, dog and human, had a fantastic time.

Baxter had been to the farm before, so as we pulled into the driveway, he started whining in eager anticipation. Kirby started whining too, of course. He had no idea why, in particular, but if Baxter was excited, it had to be good. Bax knew what was coming...

A day at our friends' farm is a day in canine heaven-on-earth. With acres of territory to explore and the freedom to run unleashed, Baxter and Kirby spent the entire day playing, swimming and napping in the shade with their friend Willa, the very sweet resident dog. (Baxter and Kirby both know Willa from her visits to the city with her humans, but I think they would all agree that meeting on Willa's turf is a heckuva lot more fun.)

As far as Kirby goes, I think it's probably safe to say that Saturday just may have been the best day EVER for Kirby. Not only did he get his first taste of farm-dog freedom, he discovered horses (with whom he got along very well) and had his very first swim.

We humans had a lot of fun as well. My friend and I went for a morning horseback ride (a real treat for me because I don't have the opportunity to ride very often). When we returned, my husband and I rode around the farm for a while, which Kirby and Baxter both found very interesting.

Following Willa's lead, the dogs did a pretty good job of staying out of the way of the horses, with the exception of one attempt at a group photo that took a bit too long. Kirby got tired of sitting in the sun and decided go for the shade under the horse. He calmly curled up around the horse's right front hoof. Fortunately, the horse, Avatar, who is a beautiful, sweet, soulful Arabian, was used to having dogs around and didn't seem very concerned.

Next came swimming, which felt wonderful on a hot day. First Willa, then Baxter, then my friend went into the water. Kirby waded in up to his belly, and looked longingly as the other dogs chased sticks. My husband gently picked Kirby up and put him out just ahead of where his little feet could touch. He started paddling, but quickly circled back to safety. So I went in and started calling to him. With a little encouragement from us and a bit of whining, he steeled his resolve and waded back in. He started paddling those little legs and swam all the way out to where I was treading water in the middle of the pond.

We were proud of the little guy. My previous experience with a terrier and water was not pretty. Katie, our little cairn terrier, just never got the hang of it. Baxter, on the other hand, has always been a natural in the water. He took a bit of coaxing the first time in as a pup, but his swimming technique (aided by webbed toes) looked quite professional from the start.

I was worried that Kirby, being more of an "earth dog" like Katie, might have a similar tendency to sink like a stone. He did start out a bit awkwardly, listing to port, then starboard. But once he figured out the right rhythm, off he went. Soon he was swimming after the other dogs and eventually he started using his tail like a little rudder, wagging it back and forth as he swam. Honestly, he looked a bit like a baby otter.

We all enjoyed our cool dip, dried off and headed for the yard where our friends had set out a beautiful lunch with fresh greens from their garden, fruits, cheeses, wine. Not being much for conversation, the dogs sacked out in the shade under the table. Kirby and Willa curled up next to each other (those two really hit it off).

Just when I thought I couldn't eat any more, they brought out coffee and ice cream with strawberries. The whole meal was delicious, and enjoying it in that setting was a slice of heaven-on-earth for the humans as well. As we sat there, I could see the horses grazing in the pasture in the background. It felt so peaceful.

There's something about watching horses graze that has a calming effect on me. It's a deep-seated thing, almost an instinctive response. Perhaps it is that signal to some more primitive part of the brain that says "hey, if the horses are calm, there must not be any predators around." Whatever it is, it's beautiful.

And I'd have to say the same for that entire day. I'm sure Baxter and Kirby would agree.

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