Monday, July 18, 2011

Turning Katie's Page

"Free to Good Home: Aged mini-mare, great for companion horse, personality plus, no health issues."

We had acquired Katie as a freebie in 2009 for a companion for Cass after Ginger had been put down. Now that we had Thunder, we had to remind ourselves that we had really wanted to be a two-horse homestead.  Katie has always struck me as the type who would benefit from a job to do.  In other words - she thought too much.  Katie was all of 38" high, older than mud (our best guess was 28, although ponies live forever), and all attitude.  Her personality from the get-go was "I am not here to be your friend," and she made it clear that it was our privilege to have her.

I put an ad on Craigslist and and then proceeded to say all the good things about her while leaving out anything negative, but I was honest about her cough.  I felt like I was selling a used car, trying to paint the best possible picture of her.  Larry said, "We’ll have that pony for another year."

I immediately began getting numerous emails of interest. Keeping track of them was like doing the on-line dating thing – keeping track of whom I had told what, who seemed serious, who had potential, who sounded like a bit of a nut job, who was interested in a date.

Katie knew that something was up. She was spending too much time in her stall (where she was held prisoner until potential owners came to look at her), and the boys were wondering what was up. People came and looked, poked and prodded, led and petted.

In the end she was adopted by Shannon of Plattsburgh, sight unseen other than the photos I had emailed her. She had a small horse that her eight year old daughter was a bit intimidated by. She was looking for something she would be more comfortable with and thought Katie would fit the bill. We emailed back and forth all week; she didn’t have transportation, so I asked a favor of an acquaintance who had minis and had actually looked at Katie. I knew she had a truck and trailer – would she be interested in making some quick money for a road trip? Fortunately for all of us, Jan said sure.

We made final arrangements to bring Katie to her new home yesterday, about an hour and a half away. Jan came with truck and trailer; she asked how Katie would trailer. I said I had no idea, but I bet we’re gonna find out. Like all equines labeled "pony" and not "horse," Katie walked on the trailer without a moment’s hesitation. When she saw there was nothing to eat inside, she began to have second thoughts. By then the butt-chain was up (which made no difference, because she could walk right under it) and the door was closed and off we trundled down the road. She squealed on occasion, but otherwise traveled well.

Halfway up the Northway we stopped at a rest stop to check on how she was doing. I opened the side door and she whinnied and strained to look out the door. She seemed fine, not breaking a sweat, comfortable within the space. As she stuck her nose out the door and made some Katie noises, an older couple with (presumably) their grandson, who was maybe five years old with thick glasses and perhaps some cognitive limitations, said "Oh, maybe the nice lady will let us look at the horse!" They came over and Katie was all eyes and ears, as was the little boy. "Her name is Katie," I said to him. "She’s going to her new home in Plattsburgh." Everyone was very impressed with her. I remember being a little kid traveling on the Northway to Lake George and craning my neck every time we came across any type of horse trailer. Every glance was magic, to see a head! A tail! I have never forgotten the people who took the time to let me see, pet or visit with their horses when I was a horse-crazy little brat. I try to do the same now for any interested kid.

A half hour later we parked in the road in front of a modest home situated at the top of a little crest, where I could see a shed-like structure and wire fencing to the side. Katie, who had had quite enough of the trailer by now, thank you, hopped out, and looked around. At that moment I saw, at the top of the drive, a little blonde-haired girl, in a tee shirt, shorts, and cowboy boots, who began waving frantically. I waved back and walked Katie around to the driveway.

Suddenly the little girl squealed "WOW!! Is that her?" We walked to the top of the driveway and were met by Shannon. Her husband, an amicable sort who was holding the halter of their large pony, a lovely Appaloosa mare who was unimpressed by all the goings on, smiled and said "My wife’s the one with the horses. I just do what I’m told." A sullen teenager picked manure out of the paddock ("He’s grounded," Shannon said. "That’s why he’s on manure duty.") and a little boy about the age of the one at the rest stop was busy with a Tonka truck in a mud puddle, completely ignoring us.

"What’s your name?" I asked the little blondie. "Isabelle," she said. "Is Katie for you?" "Yes!!" "I guess I should give the reins to you then," I said, and handed the lead to her. Katie, who hadn’t given me a second glance once she started digging into their lawn, was happily led away by Isabelle, who chattered away. "Oh! You are so cute! You’re so shiny! But you’re kinda dirty, I’ll brush you off!"

I gave Shannon all the pertinent health and feeding info for Katie, and we made horsey small-talk. She said that ponies and minis had become all the rage in their area, and she was hoping that Isabelle would get interested in 4-H and maybe do a little showing with Katie next year. At any rate, the goal was for Isabelle to gain confidence and experience with Katie, since she found the Appaloosa a bit much. I think once she gets older and bigger, the Appaloosa will be a great fit for her.

I gave Katie a last scratch behind the ears. "Be a good girl," I said, but Katie just kept ripping the grass out by the roots. So much for a sentimental send-off. Really, what did I expect?

I watched Isabelle practice leading Katie. "Have fun with her," I said as I turned to leave. "Oh, I will!" Isabelle said, and I have no doubt that will be the case.

I had run the gamut of emotions all week – sadness, hopefulness, frustration, concern, more than a little guilt – but as Jan and I walked back to her truck I could hear Isabelle chirping away to her new pony. I said, "You know, I don’t think I could have asked for anything better." "Nope," Jan agreed, and we headed home.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Price of God's Country

I was enjoying the company of two good friends last night, overlooking Schroon Lake, swatting at the black flies and feeling the warm breeze on my face, watching the mountains on the east side of the lake illuminate with the setting sun.  One friend is a former Schroon resident, now living in Florida but spending most summers up here working.  He made a comment about how the people up here are different in that they have a toughness and resiliency to them, more so than people in other places (he was referring specifically to Florida), where social services and welfare is looked on as income by a large part of the population, and that we as a demographic tend to “take care of business” and not look for handouts quite so much.

The people of this area (specifically the towns within the Adirondack Park) are a resilient bunch, to be sure.  Even between the short distance of, say, Schroon and Glens Falls or Saratoga, the vibe around here is different.  Unless you are well-off and/or a second homeowner, you do what you can to make it work.  We watch our neighbors/friends/business people work hard all year long, trying their best to capitalize on whichever season primes the pump best for their particular business.  For most of downtown, it is summer with the hard-driving tourist season from 4th of July through Labor Day.  (I used to say Memorial Day, but once I started paying attention, I realized people aren’t really up here until school is done at the end of June.)  Doug King of Flanagans comments how they are a business in the summer and go into hobby mode the rest of the year.  Winter can bring a certain amount of skiers and snowmobilers, but that is contingent on the cooperation of snowfall.  I’ve seen the annual snowmobile races cancelled due to a lack of snow and/or the lake not freezing sufficiently.  Places like Witherbees Restaurant, which is right on the snowmobile trail, need a decent early snowpack to enable the riders to get there. 

Which leads me to my point.  People around here make it work, many working more than one job.  Lots of folks scrape and scrabble doing this job or that.  The Park is full of communities of multi-taskers, out of a sense of survival.  That is due, in large part, to the severely depressed economies of these small communities.  Yes, I’m going to point fingers here – New York State and particularly the Adirondack Park Agency make it extremely difficult for our towns to have any sort of sustainable industry.  I don’t know why they don’t get it – it is nearly impossible to float a town solely as a tourist destination.  It sounds nice, but it is no longer the 1940’s when places like Scaroon Manor flourished.  Times have changed, tastes have changed, society and culture and what constitutes a summer vacation have changed.  As to our residents, our school districts have consistently declining enrollment and young adults don’t stick around.  Oh, they’ll come back to climb a high peak and go out to dinner, but that’s hardly going to help our tax base.

To be fair, we do have some political folks who are trying to get things moving within the blue line, but it’s an uphill battle.  And before you start throwing eggs at my truck, of course I realize that this area is a geographic gem and you don’t want wildly uncontrolled development turning the area into Clifton Park.  But we need to strike a happy medium.  I don’t have a cell phone so I could care less about cell service, but I have to say Verizon has done a great job of blending towers in with the landscape.  The environmental idiots who freak out over them should just get over themselves.  I think the towers as designed are an excellent compromise. And making broadband available to all areas of the park – that seems like a no-brainer.  You have to enable businesses to keep up with the rest of the world.  Have you worked on dial-up lately?  If the environs had their way, there would be NO people in the Adirondack Park to spoil their view.  Oh, nirvana! they’d say.  When there are no gas stations or stores or drivable roads anywhere in the park, let me know how that’s working out for you.  News flash:  you need communities to provide services, but you can’t expect them to live year round on 60 days worth of moderate income.

So while we wait for the wheels of progress to slowly turn, people get things done.  They manage to pay their bills and buy food and put gas in the car.  We watch new businesses come in and watch some go.  We try to be good neighbors and help each other out.  It doesn’t mean that everyone works that way, but I think it’s true of the vast majority.  It is part of what makes living in a small town like this bearable in a state that is not.