Tied Up in Knots

Deep in the grip of the midwinter cold 
The stars glitter and sparkle. 
All are asleep on this lonely farm, 
Deep in the winter night. 
The pale white moon is a wanderer, 
snow gleams white on pine and fir, 
snow gleams white on the roofs. 
Only tomten is awake.

Rubs his hand through his beard and hair, 
Shakes his head and his cap. 
Turns at his own command, 
Turns to the task at hand.

He must appreciate what life he’s got
By finding ways to tie time’s knot.

The ponies dream on in the cold moon’s light, 
Summer dreams in each stall. 
And free of harness and whip and rein, 
Tomten starts to twist and twirl each mane
While the manger they drowse over 
Brims with fragrant clover.

Still is the forest and all the land, 
Locked in this wintry year. 
Only the distant waterfall 
Whispers and sighs in his ear. 
The tomten listens and, half in dream, 
Thinks that he hears Time’s endless stream, 
And wonders, how can its knots be bound? 
Where will its eternal source to be found?

~adapted from “Tomten” by Viktor Rydberg

It is hard to say exactly when the first one moved in.  This farm was distinctly gnome-less when we bought it, largely due to twenty-seven hungry barn cats residing here at the time,  in various stages of pregnancy, growth, development and aging.  It took awhile for the feline numbers to whittle down to an equilibrium that matched the rodent population.  In the mean time,  our horse numbers increased from three to seven to over fifteen with a resultant exponential increase in barn chores.   One winter twenty years ago,  I was surprised to walk in the barn one morning to find numerous complex knots tied in the Haflingers’ manes.  Puzzling as I took precious time to undo them, (literally adding hours to my chores), I knew I needed to find the cause or culprit.

It took some research to determine the probable origin of these tight tangles.  Based on everything I read, they appeared to be the work of Gernumbli faenilesi, a usually transient species of gnome called “tomtens” preferring to live in barns and haylofts in close proximity to heavy maned ponies.  In this case, as the tangles persisted for months, they clearly had moved in, lock, stock and barrel.   The complicated knots were their signature pride and joy, their artistic way of showing their devotion to a happy farm and trying to slow down time so they can stay in residence eternally.

All well and good,  but the extra work was killing my fingers and thinning my horses’ hair.  I plotted ways to get them to cease and desist.

I set live traps of cheese and peanut butter cracker sandwiches, hoping to lure them into cages for a “catch and release”. Hoping to drive them away, I played polka music on the radio in the barn at night.  Hoping to be preemptive, I braided the manes up to be less tempting but even those got twisted and jumbled.  Just as I was becoming ever more desperate and about to bring in more feral cats, the tangling stopped.

It appeared the tomtens had moved on to a more hospitable habitat.   I had succeeded in my gnome eradication plan.  Or so I thought.

Not long after, I had the distinct feeling of being watched as I walked past some rose bushes in the yard.  I stopped to take a look, expecting to spy the shining eyes of one of the pesky raccoons that frequents our yard to steal from the cats’ food dish.  Instead, beneath the thorny foliage, I saw two round blue eyes peering at me serenely.   This little gal was not at all intimidated by me, and made no move to escape.   She was an ideal example of Gernumbli gardensi, a garden gnome known for their ability to keep varmints and vermin away from plants and flowers.  They also happen to actively feud with Gernumbli Faenilesi so that explained the sudden disappearance of my little knot-tying pests in the barn.

It wasn’t long before more Gardensi moved in, a gnomey infestation.  They tended to arrive in pairs and bunches, liked to play music, smoked pipes, played on a teeter totter, worked with garden tools, took naps on sun-warmed rocks and one even preferred a swing.  They are a bit of a rowdy bunch but I enjoy their happy presence and jovial demeanor.  

As long as they continue to coexist peaceably with us and each other, keep the varmints and their knot tying cousins away,  and avoid bad habits and swear words, I’m quite happy they are here.   Actually, I’ve given them the run of the place.  I’ve been told to be cautious as there are now news reports of an even more invasive species of gnome,  Gernumbli kitschsi, that could move in and take over if I’m not careful.

I shudder to think.  One has to consider the neighborhood.

She lingered in that charming little garden to say hello to the gnomes, such a glorious infestation!  How few wizards realize just how much we can learn from the wise little gnomes-or, to give them their correct names, the  Gernumbli gardensi.
‘Ours do know a lot of excellent swear words,’ said Ron…
~J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

A Hornet’s Nest in Your Lap

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Ever have one of those days when it doesn’t really matter what you do, what you don’t do, what you say, what you don’t say—you find yourself sitting on top of a hornet’s nest, and at the slightest provocation, you’ll get nailed, but good.

The hardest reality of all is that you may have actually invited and fostered the hornets that are now ready to attack you.  You offered them shelter, a safe haven, a place to come home to and what happens in return?  You’re stung because you happen to be there, perched in a precarious position.

What difficult lessons life tosses at us sometimes.  And this little drama is happening in my own backyard.

As I headed to the barn for chores and walked past our happy little gnome, I gave him my usual smile, wave and morning greeting, but something was different and I looked a little closer.  He looked suddenly anatomically correct.  And the look on his face had taken on a distinctly worried cast.  How had he gotten himself into this predicament of harboring a hornet’s nest in his lap?

He reminded me we should be worried too.  When we’re feeling very hospitable, welcoming and willing to share what we have with others, it can be the best feeling in the world.  There is a sense of graciousness and gratitude in being able to give something of one’s self, and a distinct “need to be needed” that is rewarded.  Yet it is often no selfless sacrifice, this “offering our lap”. We give because it feels good to give; share because we feel rewarded by gratitude, or because it is the “right thing to do”.  Perhaps we even expect something in return for our kindness. Indeed, that is the problem—often there is no acknowledgment or gratitude and that can hurt a lot.  I too occasionally share space with “hornets”, sometimes unwittingly, until I get stung and am sorely reminded of just what I’ve sat down in.  I’m rewarded, all right, and I get exactly what I deserve.

Yet what should worry us even more is that sometimes we’re the ones building a nest in an opportunistic place where we have been invited to take refuge.  In our most selfish moments, we’re looking for that lap to settle in where we can have the most control either by threat or worse.   We’re ready to sting at the slightest provocation, or perhaps for no reason at all.   How do we get ourselves into such a predicament that we sometimes hurt those that harbor us and who have been generous to us?

My little backyard friend is in a dilemma, pleading with his eyes to be saved from his agony.  I’m planning a stealth rescue mission.  Without warning, in the dark of night, I’ll turn a hose on that nest, sweep it to the ground and crush it, hornets and all.  A “take no prisoners” approach to a gnome held hornet-hostage.

We at least have been warned about our life’s precarious perch and to not sting the lap that holds us.  When we offer up ourselves, it must be without expectation, simply pure gift.  And every time I look at my gnome’s gracious cheerful face I will smile too, knowing that our rescue is at hand.

Postscript:

I didn’t execute the “save our gnome”  rescue mission soon enough.  While I was foolish enough to mow the grass under our swing set today, the offending hornet nailed me in the neck.  I walked right into it, forgetting there was a hornet hazard over my head.  One ice bag and benedryl later, I dispatched hornet and nest to the great beyond.

There are times when we need to be an active participant in our own rescue…

 

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photo by Tomomi Gibson

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Infestation of Gernumbli gardensi

She lingered in that charming little garden to say hello to the gnomes, such a glorious infestation!
How few wizards realize just how much we can learn from the wise little gnomes-or, to give them their correct names, the Gernumbli gardensi.
‘Ours do know a lot of excellent swear words,’ said Ron…
J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

 

It is hard to say exactly when the first one moved in.  This farm was distinctly gnome-less when we bought it, largely due to twenty-seven hungry barn cats residing here at the time,  in various stages of pregnancy, growth, development and aging.  It took awhile for the feline numbers to whittle down to an equilibrium that matched the rodent population.  In the mean time,  our horse numbers increased from three to seven to over fifteen with a resultant exponential increase in barn chores.   One spring over a decade ago,  I was surprised to walk in the barn one morning to find numerous complex knots tied in the Haflingers’ manes.  Puzzling as I took precious time to undo them, literally adding hours to my chores, I knew I needed to find the cause or culprit.

It took some research to determine the probable origin of these tight tangles.  Based on everything I read, they appeared to be the work of Gernumbli faenilesi, a usually transient species of gnome preferring to live in barns and haylofts in close proximity to heavy maned ponies.  In this case, as the tangles persisted for months, they clearly had moved in, lock, stock and barrel.   The complicated knots were their signature pride and joy, their artistic way of showing their devotion to a happy farm.

All well and good,  but the extra work was killing my fingers and thinning my horses’ hair.  I plotted ways to get them to cease and desist.

I set live traps of cheese and peanut butter cracker sandwiches, hoping to lure them into cages for a “catch and release”. Hoping to drive them away, I played polka music on the radio in the barn at night.  Hoping to be preemptive, I braided the manes up to be less tempting but even those got twisted and jumbled.  Just as I was becoming ever more desperate and about to round up more feral cats, the tangling stopped.

It appeared the gnomes had moved on to a more hospitable habitat.   I had succeeded in my gnome eradication plan.  Or so I thought.

Not long after, I had the distinct feeling of being watched as I walked past some rose bushes in the yard.  I stopped to take a look, expecting to spy the shining eyes of one of the pesky raccoons that frequents our yard to steal from the cats’ food dish.  Instead, beneath the thorny foliage, I saw two round blue eyes peering at me serenely.   This little gal was not at all intimidated by me, and made no move to escape.   She was an ideal example of Gernumbli gardensi, a garden gnome known for their ability to keep varmints and vermin away from plants and flowers.  They also happen to actively feud with Gernumbli Faenilesi so that explained the sudden disappearance of my little knot-tying pests in the barn.

It wasn’t long before more Gardensi moved in, a gnomey infestation.  They tended to arrive in pairs and bunches, liked to play music, smoked pipes, played on a teeter totter, worked with garden tools, took naps on sun-warmed rocks and one even preferred a swing.  They are a bit of a rowdy bunch but I enjoy their happy presence and jovial demeanor.   I haven’t yet heard any bad language as we have a “keep it clean” policy about bad words around here.  They seem quite hardy, stoically withstand extremes in weather, and only seem fearful when hornets build a nest right in their lap.

 

As long as they continue to coexist peaceably with us and each other, keep the varmints and their knot tying cousins away,  and avoid bad habits and swear words, I’m quite happy they are here.   Actually, I’ve given them the run of the place.  I’ve been told to be cautious as there are now news reports of an even more invasive species of gnome,  Gernumbli kitschsi, that could move in and take over if I’m not careful.

I shudder to think.  There goes the neighborhood.

photo by Tomomi Gibson
photo by Tomomi Gibson

When Light is Put Away

photo by Tomomi Gibson
photo by Tomomi Gibson

We grow accustomed to the Dark – 
When Light is put away –
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Good bye –
 
A Moment – We uncertain step
For newness of the night –
Then – fit our Vision to the Dark – 
And meet the Road  – erect – 
 
And so of larger – Darknesses –
Those Evenings of the Brain –
When not a Moon disclose a sign –
Or Star – come out – within –
 
The Bravest – grope a little –
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead –
But as they learn to see –
 
Either the Darkness alters –
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight –
And Life steps almost straight.
~Emily Dickinson
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photo by Tomomi Gibson of reflected sunset (facing east)

Tied in Knots

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One of my favorite things about my Haflinger horses is their long lovely manes–the whiter, and wavier, the better. I enjoy everything about that long hair — except sometimes the maintenance involved. It usually doesn’t take a lot of fuss, but this time of year, when the air is moist and there is frequent rainfall, I find that those long manes come in from the fields all a-tangle and frequently in elaborate tight knots. Not just uncombed dreadlocks, but tight, cinched up and truly snarled knots.

I have two theories about how these knots and tangles happen: Most likely, I suspect the Haflingers tend to toss their heads and shake their necks more in the rain, to shower off the raindrops that are dripping down their faces. There is something about this repetitive movement that causes the long mane strands to knot and then flop and fold back into themselves with each neck shake, so that there are sometimes three, four or five successive knots tied in a collection of strands. A second theory involves one very agile Haflinger mouth, tying knots in her unsuspecting pasture mates’ manes. I haven’t witnessed this personally, but this theory is suggested by the fact that I have several horses who always come in with knotted manes and one who never does. The “knotter” and the “knottees?” Perhaps….

My Scandinavian friends tell me there is a little gnome named Tomten in a gray coat and red cap who lives in the barn and ties knots in pony manes as a way to show how much he is caring for the farm. I haven’t seen him at work, as my little Tomten gnome swings on a swing in our back yard and I have yet to see him do anything except smile and make me happy when I look at him. But I like the thought that he may be responsible for these tangles.

So these wet evenings, I find myself working down the barn aisle, releasing all these knots that have formed during the day. This can be a bit time consuming and not a little aggravating, but necessary if I hope to keep these three and four foot manes intact and growing. So far I’ve not had to take scissors to any, but that is only because in matters of Haflinger mane, I’m extremely motivated and patient. Long white flowing wavy manes are part of the “fairy tale” that Haflingers embody. They are sadly being lost in some of the modern bloodlines, as the trend is toward a lighter weight hair that is more easily hunter braided and thinned, more like a warmblood type sporthorse’s minimal mane. True, all the long Haflinger mane can get tangled in the reins or the lines and represent a hazard, and though there is always the question of just how much a Haflinger can actually see through all that forelock, nevertheless, I want the hair to stay, and it kills me to even cut a bridle path.

What is the good of all that hair besides aesthetics? It surely is an outer protective layer in the harsh weather conditions to which Haflingers had to adapt long ago, and it is amazingly effective at keeping the head and neck warm and dry. The double manes are incredible umbrellas, allowing the rain to drip down that top oily layer of hair and drop to the ground, never touching the fur and skin underneath. But what a sauna it creates in the heat of summer!

There are times I wish I wore such a “veil” myself–able to hide my face when I need to, and impervious to the harshness sometimes flung my way– the “slings and arrows” of every day life. But when things heat up, it can be quite a liability with the heaviness and uncompromising barrier it creates.This is a difficult trade off for the potential comfort of privacy and protection risking smothering, knotting and tangling. Like the Haflingers, I can only hope that when I’m all tied up in knots, someone will care enough to untangle me gently, smooth me out, and braid me up so I feel relief in the midst of the heat, respecting me enough to not destroy something that helps define me.

So I keep caring for those manes, knowing their loveliness has its downside, and recognizing they are part of what makes my horses “Haflingers”, the fairy tale horses that dance in my dreams, which are part of what makes me who I am.

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