The View from Mattie’s Pillow

Thinking of the Beatles’ song with the words, “marmalade skies”. As I head out mornings to feed the horses, I step out of the house to face the sunrise over the hills beyond the corral. The other day, the clouds were orange, smudged with a smoky purple, and the light in the sky shaded from a deep yellow below the clouds to a watery aqua where the sky met the hills of the Alaska Range. I searched for a word for what I was seeing and thought of marmalade—my favorite on toast—then remembered and understood the words to the song.

We are having an unusually warm October. The last bit of tomato vine abandoned in the greenhouse when we had the hard frost weeks ago is still alive, though a bit pale in its five-gallon planter. The pansies have started blooming again, and even the small white petunias, the bells, are putting out new white flowers. I want to re-plant the garden, but it’s an illusion. Night comes on earlier each day, and with the clear weather we’re having, there’s a splash of Milky Way across the black sky, with occasional meteorites streaking down. The moon’s a thumbnail now, a shaving of its former self. It rises later and spends more time at the horizon, flame colored through the dense air.

We spent the weekend pulling out moldy bales from our hay pile. I did some research on line and found that we had the perfect conjunction of events to make our pile mold—a later cutting with more sugars in the leaf; cut and cured on ground that had had lots of rain previously, taking more time to dry; baled as the weather was getting cooler, which meant not enough hot sun to dry thoroughly; then our hay crew stacking the bales too tightly in our barn; then the unexpectedly long warm spell so that the mold kept on spreading. The mold is already on the grass leaf. One source I found said that the mold counteracts bacteria on the living plant, but grows and spreads on the cut and wilting leaf, which is why the best hay weather is hot and dry so the hay dries before the mold can start growing. We found a cow farmer who could feed the hay to his cows—cows don’t get respiratory diseases from mold, it seems, and they have all those stomachs and tongues long enough to lick their own noses.

It could have been an unpleasant task, and the discovery of the mold and figuring out what to do were no fun. But my son and I and Peter from our horse club (and his mother Marina) and the two sons of our Nepali friend put on dust masks and went at it. The weather was clear and warm, the company pleasant and playful, and we had three trucks to carry the load. Mattie grabbed a few mouthfuls as we maneuvered the trucks past the corral fence, and it was gone. Now there’s a big empty space to fill—another puzzle, as the haying season is over here—and I’m getting plenty of suggestions from horse friends about where to find replacement hay. As for me, I’m mostly relieved not to be risking giving Mattie and Sam hay that’s a noseful of spores. We didn’t lose as many bales as I at first feared.

The weather won’t last, but no one’s complaining except the skiers. Even the dog mushers are enjoying exercising their teams harnessed to four-wheelers, running down the trails. The leaves are nearly all gone, though. It won’t be long.

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