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

Incomprehensible Tangles



I had been told how the old-time weavers, all the while they were making their beautiful and intricate patterns, saw no more than the backs of their shawls. Nothing was visible to them but a tangle of colored threads. They never saw the design they were creating until they took the finished fabric from their looms.

The parallel to the mortal lot is plain. Human experience appears to us – as the shawls did to the weavers – to be no more than incomprehensible tangles of colored threads, whereas in fact life represents the ordered threads in a great design – the design being woven daily on the loom of eternity.
~Ernest Gordon from Miracle on the River Kwai


“Although the threads of my life have often seemed knotted,
I know, by faith, that on the other side of the embroidery there is a crown.”
~Corrie Ten Boom in My Heart Sings


What does it say about me that I’ve covered the back of countless embroidery projects so the tangles are no longer visible?  There is a sense of shame in that hiddenness of the messy side of existence, the not wanting to admit how really chaotic life is at times.

Yet out of the incomprehensible comes beauty.  Out of the mess comes order and harmony. What appears knotted and tangled and makes no sense becomes grace on our heads, like a crown.



Tangled Up


It did seem odd this morning during my barn chores that our six year old Haflinger gelding stood facing the back wall as I opened his stall door to give him his hay.  For a moment I wondered if there was a problem with his appetite as he usually would dive right into his hay as soon as I threw it to him.  A closer look told me the problem was with his hind end, not his front end:  his heavy white tail was wrapped snugly around a J hook hanging on the stall wall meant to hold his water bucket.  Instead now it held him — and wasn’t letting go.  He had apparently been itching his butt back and forth, round and round on the handy hook and managed to wrap his tail into such tight knots on the hook that he was literally tethered to the wall.  He was very calm about the whole thing only maybe just a little embarrassed.

He turned his head to look at me, pitiful. How long he’d been standing there like that through the night was anyone’s guess.  I bet he no longer was itchy.

I started to work at untying the tail knots to free him and found them wound so tight that loosening them required significant cooperation from my 1200 pound buddy.  Unfortunately, any time I managed to almost unloop a knot over the hook end, he would pull forward, snugging it even tighter.  Out of desperation I pulled out the scissors I keep in my barnjacket pocket.  I cut one knot hoping that would be sufficient.   Then I cut through another knot.  Still not enough.  I cut a third big knot and thank God Almighty, he was free at last.  He sauntered over to his hay now with a chunk of his tail in my hand and a big gap in what was still left hanging on him.  It may take a year to grow that missing hair back out.  But hey, it is only hair and at least someone kind and caring came along with a set of shears to release him painlessly from his captivity.  We aren’t all so lucky.

I know what it is like to get tangled up in things I should probably give wide berth.  I have a tendency, like my young horse, to butt in where I best not be and then become so bound I can’t get loose again.   It can take forever to free myself,  sometimes painfully leaving parts of my hide behind.

So when I inevitably get tied up in knots again, I hope someone will come along to save me.  Better yet, I hope someone might warn me away from the things that hook me before I foolishly back right into them.  I’ve got to loosen up and quit pulling the knots tighter.

It’s best to always have a detangler handy.  You never know when you might need one.

Tied in Knots


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.