Riding & Writing

Circle of Flowers

Gina McKnightIt will be two years this December that my husband was diagnosed with stage four CLL — chronic lymphocytic leukemia — a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell). His first symptom was obvious: a large swelling on the left side of his neck. His lymph nodes were trying to combat the chaos going on in his body. After a bone marrow biopsy and extended tests, he began aggressive daily chemo infusions at our local hospital.

When he returned for his second chemo treatment, blood tests revealed that the chemo was having no effect on his cancer. Infusion was stopped and his oncologist called The James Cancer Hospital, Columbus, Ohio.

Within a few weeks, we were seated in a new oncologist’s office reviewing my husband’s diagnosis and a plan to make him better. After several months of "chemo wash" — getting the first rounds of chemo out of his body — he began a new chemo infusion treatment at The James.

The oncologist and nurses at The James are amazing. No question unanswered, no problem too small. They have specialists for every type of cancer. There are 12 types of CLL alone — the same cancer, but with small differences. We learned a lot about CLL and the treatment of cancer.

The James’ facility where my husband takes treatment is new and state-of-the-art. The infusion rooms are designed to keep the patient and family comfortable during treatment. The rooms are clean and bright; rooms on the perimeter of the fifth floor look through large windows to the manicured courtyard below.

On the wall of every room is a single picture: a circle of colorful flowers, framed and matted in pure white. The art draws me in every time and takes my mind back to the flowers in the field. The artist meticulously placed each petal, leaf, flower, and bud, so that the colors draw you in and calm the storm you are feeling inside.

With the passing of summer, the flowers outside are waning, some turning into stick-me-tights, some already back to seed. Passing through the meadow, I decided to create my own circle of flowers.  My choices were blooming "weeds" along the creek bank and resident wildflowers along the edge of the hay field. Gently pulling each flower from its stem, I placed them in my satchel and took them to the barn. I couldn’t find a white mat, so I used a bench.

circle of flowers

Even though my mind raced with things to do — cooking, cleaning, writing, work — I took the time to lay each petal down and place them neatly in a circle. I suppose the artist of the circle of flowers at The James used tweezers and tools to make their flower circle perfect. Mine is kind of out-of-round, a little serendipitous, but beautiful still.

Flowers fade and life has twists and turns. Enjoy the moment. I encourage you to make your own circle of flowers. Take the time to see the beauty in weeds that we take for granted. Feel the softness of each petal and soak in the beautiful hues. Winter is coming. 

circle of flowers

Riding Monday Creek

Gina McKnightATVs are great for hauling hay, moving feed buckets, and getting from one place to another quickly on the farm. The assortment of ATV implements for farm work is incredible – manure spreaders, sprayers, tillers, and more! Any farmer will tell you that their ATV is used daily and for multiple purposes.

Whenever my mare, Zubedia, hears an ATV, she thinks it's dinnertime and comes running through the pasture, mane and tail flying, hoping to get something to eat. She is always disappointed when it’s just me going from one barn to another.

Living in the snow-belt, ATVs are great in the winter when it’s too cold to walk to the barn. They are also great to pull a sled (or two) through the drifting snow! If you are like me, with a rural newspaper and mailbox a half a mile away from the house, using the ATV to get the current news is convenient. I guess I take my ATV for granted sometimes.

When the work is done and it’s time to play, there is nothing more thrilling than riding an ATV on the long, dusty trails through Wayne National Forest. Where we live in the heart of the Ohio Valley, there are ATV towns where you can ride right down Main Street. People travel from far and wide to camp and ride.

Monday Creek Trail Head Ohio USA 

Since the trails border our farm, we can easily take a ride through the canopy of towering birch and sycamore trees just about anytime we like (when the trails are open, that is). The National Forestry Service maintains the quality and integrity of the trails. For a 45-dollar yearly riding pass, we have access to hundreds of miles of scenic hills and byways.

Passage to Wayne National Forest

Some of the trails are for more experienced, rugged riders (not me), while other trails are designed for riders who like to take it easy and enjoy the scenery (that would be me). In the spring, peepers swim in and out of mud puddles while florescent butterflies mingle like angels in the air. In the fall, the changing of the leaves to vibrant oranges and yellows is a favorite sight.

Monday Creek Trails

Back on the farm, the ATV becomes a workhorse once again. If you are looking to purchase an ATV, do your research and choose one that fits your workload. Find a National Forest close to you that allows ATVs, and enjoy the beautiful scenery. You won’t regret it.

Loving Cherokee

Gina McKnightIn July of last year, Cherokee, my prize Curly-Quarter Horse cross gelding, developed a bony growth on his cheek. The lump seemed to come overnight. I look my horses over daily and make sure they are in great condition, so the bony growth was unexpected.

Cherokee, summer 2015

That same summer, Cherokee, who always had a semi-wooly coat — an inherent characteristic of the Curly breed — grew a coat that was so thick I had to trim him twice within six weeks. I knew something was wrong.

By August, Cherokee was experiencing breathing problems and would stay in the barn all day, over the water tank. Fans did not help. Hosing and soothing him with cool water did not help. Cutting his double mane that flowed to his chest did not help. Cherokee was miserable.

I immediately called my veterinarian, Dr. Abfall. The blood test for Cushing’s Disease came back negative, but Cherokee continued to show all the symptoms; lethargy, heavy coat, and respiratory distress. My veterinarian prescribed medication. The medicine helped a little, but Cherokee was just not himself. When the bony growth appeared, my vet said to call Dr. Jeff Reiswig, DVM, one of the top equine dentist’s in Ohio.

The first time Dr. Reiswig came to my barn, he brought his experienced assistant and a veterinarian intern from Ohio State University. The three looked Cherokee over and, after thorough probing, Dr. Reiswig diagnosed Cherokee with equine periodontal disease, another symptom of Cushing’s Disease.

Dr. Reiswig removed two of Cherokee’s teeth to relieve the pressure from the growth, hoping the growth would subside and return to normal. The skill and finesse that Dr. Reiswig used when treating Cherokee will always be appreciated; when your horse is ill, it’s heartbreaking.

Dr Reiswig DVM
Dr. Reiswig DVM vetting Cherokee

In October, Dr. Reiswig returned, sedating Cherokee once again to look into his mouth. “He has signs of periodontal disease on the other side of his mouth as well,” Dr. Reiswig said. “We’ll have to remove those teeth soon.”

With continued medication and cooler weather, Cherokee seemed to be getting better. Through November and December, he was almost back to normal. Almost.

January came and Cherokee was getting along okay. Then, one day, overnight, he stopped eating. He always enjoyed his food, was a good eater, but nothing could make him eat. It was Sunday. I thought if he could make it through the night, he would be okay. Denial. I was in denial.

I placed him in a stall by himself with a scoop of feed and plenty of water. I knelt and prayed that God would surely give us a miracle. I reluctantly left Cherokee Sunday night, standing in his stall, eyes glazed and far away.

I couldn’t sleep that night and returned to the barn at 4 am Monday morning. Cherokee was my good friend and pal. I had him for only six short years; he could never leave me.

He was down. I couldn’t get him up. He was trying to get up. I placed a blanket under his head and called the vet. “I’ll be right there,” Dr. Abfall said. On Monday, January 25, 2016, Cherokee crossed the Rainbow Bridge. He was 26 years old.

My mare and I still miss Cherokee. He is buried along the fence line of his favorite meadow. Tears flow easily remembering his beauty and kindness. Even now, when I pass his grave, my heart breaks. As Tennyson said, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” All the clichés and quotes about loving and dying are true — even for horses.