Monday, August 25, 2008


I've taken to enjoying a nocturnal stroll around Howell Farm most nights before I retire to bed — which is actually a queen-sized air mattress on the floor of my living room.

The farm is a superior course in this regard in that it is very dark. On a foggy or cloudy night, one might be the last man on earth as he trods the dirt path around the fields. And on a clear night, such as last night, I can see straight up about a hundred million miles.

Several visitors to the farm who have needed to cross it at night have remarked to me it's kind of spooky. But I've come to think just the opposite. I've become much better at startling the night animals I stumble across than they are at startling me. For the most part.

Last night, I wasn't so much strolling as traveling, as I walked across the barnyard up to the farm's visitor center. I like to hole up in the visitor center when it's late and I have some serious writing to accomplish. It's like being in an empty newspaper office, which is also an excellent place to write.

I nearly jumped out of my skin when a giant horse-shaped animal ran right past me and back into the shadows. The horses spend their summer nights out in the fenced pasture, not roaming the barnyard, so that meant this fellow had gotten lose.

A little reconnaissance helped me determine that the offender was Ben, a horse who is new to the farm just last week. I haven't worked with Ben at all yet, and the only thing I've heard about him is that he gets antsy if he's left alone. Intern Peter said Ben broke out of his stall last week when Blaze went out for the night and Ben thought he was getting left behind.

The late hour being nearly pitch black, and Ben being a stranger, I approached the horse with caution (and with a handful of hay to offer as a getting-to-know-you present.) Ben didn't seem comfortable either, and he walked in the other direction as I got near. Fortunately, I waited a minute and Ben made his way over to one of the water barrels to get a drink. When he was distracted with the water, I snuck up behind and grabbed his halter. I then led him back into his stall and clipped him in to his rope. Since I didn't know how he had gotten out of the pasture, I thought I'd leave him in for the night.

Ben was pissed about this decision. He kicked the walls of his stall as I walked away.

A few hours later I returned back through the barnyard, having made some progress with my writing. What happened next? I nearly jumped out of my skin when a giant horse-shaped animal ran right past me and back into the shadows!

It was Ben again, and this time he made it clear he wasn't letting me anywhere near him. So I walked to the gate of the pasture where he needed to be and opened it wide. Then I circled back and tried to scare Ben in that direction. This worked, to my amazement, but Ben didn't just stroll. He took off at a wild gallop, disappeared into the dark of the pasture, and, by the sounds of it, he didn't stop running for a few hundred yards.