Monday, March 17, 2008

By Carolyn Haines
(That's Miss Scrapiron and her best friend Mirage----)

Some great writer once said that air conditioning would be the death of great literature in the South. Because of the life I live, I don’t disagree, at least not totally. When we as humans disconnect from the natural life, we lose something extraordinary and marvelous, something that informs our sense of place and character.
That said, I need to unplug from nature. Fast. For about three weeks. Baring that, I need an intervention. Or at least a hired hand. Or convict labor.
Frankly, I need help.
This past winter, while perhaps not noticed by those of you who live indoors, has been unusually difficult. Normally, it’s summer that I dread. The humidity, the flies, the humidity, the horseflies, the humidity, the gnats. You get the picture.
I have eight horses living on my property. And eight cats and five dogs. As the author’s note in my newest book (WISHBONES, out this July by St. Martin’s) says. Author Haines has “more animals than she can keep up with.” I didn’t write that. Still, it’s true.
With few exceptions, all of these creatures are strays or rescue. And I have undertaken to care for them.
When they are young and healthy, this is not a great burden, either financial or physical. But as my horses and pets age, my life has become ruled by the whims of nature.
My oldest horse, Miss Scrapiron, will be 31 in May. We share the same birthday, and I’ve had her since I saw her, starved and forlorn, in a field. She was three and unbroken, and I pawned my Epiphone guitar to buy her. (My parents were delighted that the guitar was gone—endless renditions of the Eagles’ “Desperado” can send a parent into seizures.)
Since I am living this life of feed and hay and rain and worry, I’ll fill you in on a fun equine factoid. Horses teeth continue to grow (and must be filed down annually) until the horse reaches the mid-twenties. Once they reach this elder age, their teeth wear down and keeping weight on them becomes more and more difficult.
Rain and wind and cold—something a healthy young horse handles without a problem—becomes potential killers for an older equine.
This past winter, I’ve been in the barn at 6 a.m., at 4 p.m., and again at close to midnight to either blanket, unblanket, deliver a hot molasses and bran mash, or simply to sit and fret. Miss Scrapiron is my old, dear friend, and I intend to be there if she needs me.
Normally our winters are mild with a dry January, a colder, wetter February, and springtime by March. This winter, though, the weather gods have kicked my butt. It’s been wet, wet, wetter, and cold. Hence the many days and nights of worry and barn pacing.
But today, Spring has arrived. The new grass is up. Dewberries have blossomed and soon the tart, thorny little devils will tempt me out to pick them. Miss Scrapiron’s heavy winter coat is blowing out, and beneath the ugly, long reddish hair will be her beautiful mahogany bay coat.
Because I’ve spent so much of this winter out of doors, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my relationship with the climate and the earth. Many of my friends are unaware that this winter was so vastly different from those past. In their centrally heated homes and offices, their nice cars, they go to and from work and the grocery and their daily lives. Weather isn’t really an issue for them.
My writing has suffered this winter—primarily because of my compulsion to watch the freaking weather channel, which I think should be rated DDH (dangerous, debilitating and hysterical!) When I was lucky enough to be in the house with a cup of hot coffee, I parked in front of the TV and plotted the next wave of gruesome weather marching toward me from the west.
But while I didn’t write as much as I would like this winter, I did renew my connection to Mother Nature. Despite the fact that I whine, I am tremendously thankful that man has not yet learned to manipulate the weather. Should that ever occur, you can kiss our planet goodbye.
And that, my friends, is a conflict worthy of any writer. Man against nature is one of the classics, and I’ve been living it this winter.
Without air conditioning in the summer, I could not endure the South’s humidity. I’d begun to believe that I was softer than my grandmother, less study than my parents. But maybe not. When they were alive, the South had about 80 percent less pavement and 80 percent more trees. (okay, okay so I made those statistics up, but I know I’m close!) It was a cooler place with the rain coming in July and August, when it was useful to cool us down. I spent the winters and summers out of doors playing football and baseball and hide and seek—because I loved it outside.
I think back to those long days and evenings spent among the pines and hardwoods with the insects and wild creatures, the dogs and cats and horses, and I know how much that time in nature shaped me into the person I am today. Especially into the writer I am. And now, with the redbuds blooming and the dogwoods sprouting, and Miss Scrapiron munching on the tender shoots of new grass, I am eager to write.
Happy Spring.
Carolyn Haines is the author of the Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery series, Fever Moon, Penumbra, and Revenant. She is a native of Mississippi and has 21 horses, dogs and cats and is an animal rights activist. Find out more at


Aleta said...

I agree with Carolyn, the seasons have changed. Winters here in the South are wetter, colder and just downright uncomfortable. Summers are strange. I remember not too long ago, (25 years) I could set my watch everyday by the two thirty summer rainstorm. Not so anymore.
Perhaps taking note of Nature will help us all be better writers, keeping us on our toes to be in touch with our surroundings.
Aleta B.
Author and farm hand

Ron O'Gorman said...

Oh, for the smell of fresh cut grass!