Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Summers' Reflection

It’s hot. It’s humid. It sucks to be outside, unless you are over your neck in water, and that makes working horses a bit more than tough. This is life in the south in the summer and we are used to it, and grudge our way along from late April to somewhere along about October, whining and moaning, but dealing with it. My laundry bin by the end of a week reeks of damp clothes begging for a wash from the multiple changes I go through in the course of my daily chores. The horses stand in their run in stalls by day with fans cooling their faces and the dogs hide in dark corners of the air conditioned house, until the sun sets around eight pm and the air offers some relief.

When I was in seventh grade, my parents decided that they really wanted a place at the close by Lake Martin, a lake of beautiful water and landscape, with relatively little traffic, at that time. They wanted a cabin in this yet to be discovered paradise for a family get away. Search, they did, and they found the perfect place. In that late May, we packed up our clothes, and dogs, even my horse, "Pig", and the maid/cook/my cooking mentor/and best friend, Frances, and off we moved to stay at the lake for the entire summer. It was heaven. Finally there was a solution to living in the south in the summer. In retrospect we seemed to have lived there for centuries, but, in reality it was only three months a year for maybe ten years or so, but it was the birthplace for a life time of memories and much of the molding of my adolescence.

Our cabin was at the back of a slough and our vista from our covered pier could take in most of the far off afternoon thunderstorms as they approached, until the lightening became a bit too close and we sought refuge in the house until it was over. There was a pole for housing for Purple Martins on the end of the pier and for the early part of the summer their chatter blended with the sound of gently lapping waves hitting the sides of the floating dock. There was very little to do. Television was limited to three boring channels, and one particular summer was a total bust because the only thing running was this Watergate scandal thing. The alternative was to get in a boat and either ski or explore, so we did a lot of both.

My brother Wilson taught me to ski on a slalom ski. One day I guess he had had enough watching me cruise around on two and said that it was time to move on. Eventually I figured it out with his patient guidance and loved it. There was a sheer joy of cutting a sharp turn across the wake of the boat ahead of you, jumping the wake it was leaving, and then turning sharply, at a distance dictated by the length of the tow rope, to once again jump the wake going the other direction, each turn trying to make it as sharp as possible laying your shoulder down almost touching the smooth water.

When there is something that you do everyday for hours on end, because there isn’t that much else to do, makes you get better fast. After skiing on one ski got boring, we starting improvising on anything else we might defy gravity and ride on top of the water with, including paddles, boards, and anything with a surface flat enough to stand on and slide through the water on. We took some spectacular falls on occasion, but heck, when you are young and haven’t been hurt you take risks, and continue to do so, until one bites you.

My brothers always had multiple friends of theirs up to visit for a week and I had my buddies as well so the house was nearly always full of voices and music playing through whatever eight track contraption was around. The music of the seventies was what I was going through my high school years hearing, and my older brothers and their friends introduced me to the bands that are still my favorites, The Allman Brothers, Pink Floyd, the Moody Blues, Creedance, and gosh knows how many more. It was a great time for the creative part of Rock and Roll, and I feel lucky to have been on the part and space in time where that music was new and unknown.

That lake house was a refuge, a source of peace for the soul, a generator of mountains of memories of great times, and some that were not so great, but etched memories all the same. Gradually as my brothers went off to college, our time at the lake was diminished, about the time that a real estate company was just beginning to “develop” some of the land around the corner from us. My dad had been told when he rented the cabin from the Russell Land Corporation, that it was a lease for a lifetime, not to be messed with or worried about. It soon became apparent that the mighty dollar was stronger in the minds of the owner of the land and we were told that we would have to buy the land the cabin was on, buy what was to be turned into three lots and have to build a mansion on. Oh, and we would have to take down the pier because it stretched out too far into the lake. That was the end of our lake place, as ours, and back to town for summers, it was.

A few years ago, we happened to be visiting another person’s cabin up there and took a short ride to visit the place of so much of my youth and history. The cabin was gone, the pier did remain, and everywhere I turned there were memory ghosts that just overwhelmed me. There still were hooks in the big pines where Daddy had hung in the hammock, with all the dogs laying underneath him. All of the landscaping my mother had worked so hard on were still there, the gardenias still in bloom. It all lay before me like I was in a dream. My brother David, who had died just before his twenty first birthday away at college, was here, his memory strong in the events that had occurred on this site. The brick patio still was there, the pear tree, the sandy beach my dad put in for our daughter to play on, the vision of the table where the “Add-ult” lemonade jug sat waiting to fill red plastic cups, coolers of ice and beer, Frances fishing on the edge of the sea wall, all of these memories flooded me and I was stunned, and missed it so.

One of our final parties up there was for one of Dad’s birthdays and nearly everyone who had graced that cabin at one time came up for it. The grill was loaded with Ribeye steaks, and the lemonade flowed freely. I think we all knew then that the gig was up, and there was a poignant sharing of this special place and time, that was a rich thing in our hearts.

Summer would never be the same, but how wonderful it is to have those memories stuck somewhere still in my head. They remain the same.

Friday, July 22, 2011

How Can We Know the Dancer From the Dance?

Friday came, as the beginning of a weekend usually does, but this time with a misting of cooling rain and much nicer temps than had been earlier in the week. Our Friday night plan was to head into town at the invitation of some new friends who had asked us to share a table with them at the upcoming Ballet on the Green that the Montgomery Ballet was putting on, an evening of ballet and sort of picnic on the lawn of the museum grounds. We said we would love to come, mainly to be with them, and the folks we knew who would be there as well. The idea sounded fun in general, this one being outside with food and wine, unlike the years of sitting through our daughter’s recitals in formal theaters with parched throats.

The rain and clouds that were moving around the area during the later part of the afternoon, unfortunately, were making for an if’y probability of this performance but, were also making for some very dramatic skies and scenery. Mark and I climbed into the car and took off in the general direction of town, taking the back roads in search of a pretty scene or two to take a photograph of along the way, figuring the cell phone call would soon come telling us the event was canceled.

We first stopped at the Trotman Ranch, east of our farm, one of the few remaining huge rolling fields uncut by fences, buildings, or anything, just a big lovely meadow with grazing cows off in the distance. The sky beyond the field was dramatic and volatile with a mixture of dark clouds hanging heavily and bright white puffy ones floating on the backdrop of deep periwinkle blue. Beams of light were shooting between them like a William Blake painting, and these beams lit the tops of clouds below them, making for a ridiculously gorgeous scene. Then like in a Hollywood movie, on cue, out came the rainbow to further this visual feast along.

Finally time was pressing us to make it on time to the ballet, and so we left this lovely field and headed on. I noticed that the further we went the rainbow began to disappear and it made me think, the obvious and the trite, of, duh, rainbows are totally a thing to see only if you are in the right place and time with the right conditions. It is simply a matter of perspective to enjoy the magic. Once on the other side of the apparition, it disappears, or does it really stay there but it is veiled. It’s kind of like the question that if a tree falls in the woods with no one to hear it, does it really make noise? Does the rainbow even exist if one isn’t there to see it?

We made it to the museum grounds where people were huddled under umbrellas, the white table cloths were drenched, and the box lunches on tables under a tent were stacked but also wet. The stage with all the lights were waiting for the dancers, but since dancing on pointe shoes is difficult enough on dry stages, the inevitable was called. The dancers would dance but it would be back at the studio. Everyone grabbed a box lunch and got in their cars and drove to the indicated place.

Our poor hostess was so bummed and was apologizing profusely, as tho the weather was her responsibility. We all tried to reassure her that is wasn’t and we were flexible. The dancers I am sure were disappointed at missing the chance to be on a large stage, but they too had be flexible, and deal with the moment and the rain. Costumes and shoes loaded, it was back to their work space.

Once fed and dried off we were told to come to the room where they worked on a daily basis, a  mirrored walled room which now had chairs lining the edges. Everyone sat and the ballet mistress said her thanks to all who had stayed and not gone home to dry off, then the dancers began.

It was quite a snug fit with all of the chairs and people in the room, and I wondered at how they would have to change their choreography from the larger stage to now this abbreviated space. The dancers made it look seamless. Most of the dances were more of a modern style, and the costumes were simple yet very elegant and complimented the music and the dances. With the scaling down of the room for their leaps, twirls, and flourishes the dancers were sometimes almost in our laps, and when they left the “stage” they merely passed between two chairs and left the room and stood and waited for the next dance.

From my many years of carting our own daughter to ballet and seeing a little bit of the behind the scene amount of work they are doing, I still had never seen a ballet performance in such a close up, very personal view. With grace and power these dancers moved and swayed, and they poured sweat and took great gulps of air when they left the stage. What they were making for us, art in movement, did not get there by chance. Ballet is not a sissy activity as it sometimes gets accused of, at least not on the level of proficiency of these dancers.

To see up close, a ballerina(and I’m not talking tiny, slim yes but..) being carried above her partner’s head all the way across the room, with him making her look like she could just as easily float up and away, is an amazing thing to watch. These were people at serious athletic work, which made their sharing of the many hours of practice it took to get them to this level, a real gift, and made even more special because of a rain cloud that drew us together into venue, and this space and time.

It was a very nice surprise to have such an experience, and it would have been little more than a social picnic in the original site of the evening. The rain that brought disappointment for some that day, brought beauty to the skies, much needed water to the fields, a rainbow, and a marvelous intimate ethereal experience in watching these dancers and being there with them and our friends. Nice.

O body swayed to music,
O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
Wm. Keats

the nice photos of the dancers courtesy of Mark Dauber, regrets that i can't include the lovely scene shots that i took. i am not tech oriented enough to get them to jpegs.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Snap,Crackle, Pop

On Tuesday I went to my chiropractor for my regular visit to see if, once again, she could put me back together, and pop, pop, pop, she did. She sent me on my way and said to call if I got slammed by a horse and needed another repair before my usual monthly fix. Little did I know just how soon that might be.

So yesterday, feeling fairly mobile and agile, relatively speaking, I went to the barn to work some horses. The current weather pattern remains muggy and hot but I just needed to get on a horse and go for a walk at least. I got on Sunset, my Hummer of a mare, and walked the driveway down to the field below the dam, letting her graze along the way, the grass there being tall and lush. I felt very much like one of the poor kids in a Thelwell moment where the fat little pony eats for distance, despite the tugs and pulls on the reins, but it was ok, and I obliged her passion for the grass. We walked, did a few round of trot and were both drenched, and so headed back to the barn.

Next to go was Cistine, my 17 hand high young mare that I have been training for a while now. Grooming done I went to bridle her and she opened her mouth to accept the bit and I slid my right hand around to place the top of the bridle over her right ear. I never saw it coming, but suddenly I was flying thru the air down the aisle of the barn still holding the bridle. I landed with a resounding thud and a real puzzlement, got up and assessed damages which didn’t feel too bad, and knocked the stuffings out the mare just in case she thought this was a fun new game and had meant to be wicked. I re-approached her and tried again. Again, I suddenly went flying into the air as she hurled her head into my face. This time I managed to catch myself a bit and didn’t make it all the way to the concrete floor.

I may be dumb, but I am not stupid and I did not try for third time. The sheer physics of the weight of her big head on the end of a long neck, being slung into my body at a very high speed was not an equation to be further reckoned with. Something was quite wrong and needed to be figured out before this pattern killed me. I carefully touched her left ear and she was fine, but the right ear drew a very quick withdrawal from my hand, and a threatening look shot from her eyes, so I now knew her objection to the bridling attempts. I could not see anything in the ear but clearly she felt something. I called my vet and made an appointment for the next day, today. My other mare, Kitty had been complaining about ear issues too, so it would be a nice chance to let him fix them both, or at least identify the issue. After they both had their doses of happy juice, a flashlight and probing revealed two large ticks in Cistine’s right ear, and a scab in Kitty’s where one had been.

Ticks, I hate ticks. They are nasty little blood sucking buggers, and obviously are a very painful passenger in a horse’s ear, along with being carriers of all sorts of not so nice diseases. We live on sandy soil and are not usually bothered by these villains, so this had come as a bit of unexpected drama. The dogs are kept of meds which kills whatever bites them but the horses have no such stuff other than topical ointments applied to the ears and faces. So the entire rest of the herd got a swiping of Swat ointment and hopefully this will suffice so that I don’t get bowled again.

We are in a different weather pattern this week, one with an every afternoon thunderstorm and rain that pop up on the radar like popcorn. We have badly needed the rain and that is welcome but the lightening shows have been awesome and some strikes have been close enough that there is no counting how far away it is, no one thousand-one, just a flash, crack, boom. Just now one cracked the air and it rattled the dishes in the sink. Marley, the ordinarily quite brave Yorkie is under my chair and shaking. I am not sure whether her fear is noise related or having had a touch of electricity zap her as she stood around on her well grounded little paws. A glance out the front window shows all horses still standing, grazing and unconcerned.

Yesterday it had just begun alight rain and I asked Mark if he could run out to the pool to get something that did not need getting wet. There was already rumbling in the distance, but didn’t think the storm was too close for the call. The door closed as he came in at the same time lightening bolt flashed and cracked right over the house. Scary to think I nearly got my sweet hubby knocked off by running a little errand for me. The fright deserved solace and nerves needed settling, and so the ‘tini shaker came out early.

We sat a sipped our frosty drinks and listened to the rain pouring down and the continual strikes from both far away and some still close at hand. After a while it calmed and we gave thought to enjoying the remaining storm from the front porch which has a wide view of the fields to the barn and on around to the pond and driveway. We walked out and tried to decide which chairs to sit in as it was blowing a mist on the ones at the end where we usually perch. We took a sip in contemplation of this dilemma, then, out of nowhere, from the heavens above, came yet another rouge flash, crack, sizzle, BOOM. Reflexively I jumped up off the floor and we both headed for the front door, but skillfully did not spill a drop of the chilly elixir.

We spent the next couple of minutes safely glued to the sofa. I picked up a magazine and began to read an article about a group of hikers that had gotten caught on top of the Grand Teton Mountain range in super cell of a thunderstorm in which the group all got zapped many times over and over, some hanging by ropes as they began the descent. One was knocked completely off the cliff to his death and several  nearly died before a very dramatic rescue came and got those who survived it. Their tale was harrowing and sobering, especially in light of our most recent encounter with Thor’s thunder bolts, and there was a good bit of aside information about lightening facts.

Lightening, it said, is initially formed by the friction of millions of ice crystals high in the clouds, is the hottest natural force on the earth, and can range in form and strength from a mere 100 amp flicker to a monster 300,000 amp explosion which can reach a temperature of 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit-five times hotter than the surface of our sun. It kills many people each year, many of them golfers and farmers (and probably fools on horses,) and many survive being directly struck but many are shocked by electricity running thru the ground to hit them. I have experienced the indirect type walking over a wet golf course one day and it scared the bejeebers out of me, like hitting a hot wire fence ten fold. That day, the storm had long passed and the sky was cloudy but looked ok to go out. Wrong.

Our storm for today has moved on in intensity but I think I will give it a bit longer before heading out to feed in barn world, just in case and maybe check the radar. It’s not wise to mess with Mother Nature after all and I certainly don’t wish to be a statistic to add to the list.

The canning, and freezing, and putting up of the summer produce, from both our garden and a local market continues. The peaches from our tree made it to the house this year without being stolen by a masked marauder, and have become a smoked chutney. Tonight I will blanch the lady peas I just bought, and freeze them. The kitchen is staying well used this month, but it’s good because I know that come winter I will be eating pure summer goodness. The work done now will be worth it, and the process is a sort of meditative activity, so it’s good for both my brain and my body.Oooooohhhhmmm.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

July's Beginning

It’s been a rough week or two to be able to sit down to blab. The garden suddenly was exploding with produce and that has meant, blanching, freezing, storing, and consuming vast quantities of corn, tomatoes, squash, and beans. I have made gazpacho, cream of tomato soup for my dad (his favorite), corn fritters, corn bisque, squash casserole, sautéed squash, and on and on. When it all happens at once it can get a bit overwhelming because I certainly don’t want any of it to go to waste. It takes too much sweat, labor, and horse manure to get the stuff here. Now the peaches are ripening and the okra is thriving. More freezing and chopping to do. Next is pear relish time. Ah, the fruits of the harvest.

A large black pot of grease sits on my stove top waiting for the crunchy morsels of okra to cook every night recently. The cast iron pot is well used and old. It belonged to my great grandmother and was cast by a foundry in Alexander City, Alabama, who knows how long ago. This foundry cast a thinner gage cast iron than most and is lighter and absorbs heat quickly. I have to wonder how many chickens it has fried, or stews simmered, and what meals it was used to prepare, before the pot made its way to my kitchen. If only a pot could talk…

It is impossible to believe it is now July. The fourth was last weekend, a very nice long and relaxing holiday with little to do besides eat all of the above veggies. By accident we found a watermellon that was perfect and sweet that had grown outside of the garden fence, unbeknowst to us or to the horse who lives in that field. We did fire the mortar I got Mark for Christmas a few times just for the patriotic symbol of the reason for the holiday. The horses are just about bomb proof now and don’t run with too much enthusiasm to the far end of their fields when they hear the ka-booms, but I suppose they feel the need to stay a good distance away in case we might aim at them.

We visited my parents on the fourth and they shared an apple pie a nice friend had given them. They were both decked out in red, white, and blue and the pie was served on red plastic plates. Topped off with a bit of ice cream, it was absolutely delicious. Both of them looked to feel so much better than they had when they were so sick in the recent months and it was nice to chat and share the day, and the pie.

My dad served in the Korean Conflict, way before I was born, and on his wall above his desk is shadow box of all the many medals he won for bravery and valor. One is the French version of the USA Medal of Honor, the Le Croix de Gare, and for what particular thing he did to earn it, I am not even sure. I should ask before it’s too late, and the story is gone. There are many others in the box as well, each one represents a story and they too should be told and recounted. My brother will most likely inherit these baubles, as Napoleon used to call them, and his son after him. These medals are symbols of courage and character, and those traits should stay in the front of our minds, because they so well represent my dad, and all of the other brave men and women who have fought for us so that on this holiday weekend I can sit by my pool with a cool beverage and not worry about invading armies coming down the driveway. Neighbors are a different matter..

Our pool sits in the shadows of surrounding oaks and sweet gums, between the house and the pond, much of the day in the shade, making for refreshing cooler water than our previous pool at another house we lived in. The water at that pool sat in the baking sun all day and by June the water was tepid and useless to cool a would-be swimmer. By august it was a hot tub, but not in a good way. We even went so far as to buy some ice to cool it down but that was a futile effort. So now we put up with cleaning out fallen leaves, all of which find their way, probably several times over, into the present pool and enjoy the being able to actually cool down when the temperature is so friggin’ miserable, and dangerous. It is nice to sit by its edge and watch the passing birds fly by, or watch the several varieties of bats that come out at dusk and perform amazing aerial tricks as they hear the tiny bugs they are busy gobbling up. We have seen Bald Eagles from there, right over our head, and one even stayed for a while and fished our pond, and stood tall in the snag of an old oak across the waters.

For a strange and unexplained reason, when I walk down the stairs to get into the water, the dogs do not even raise their eye lids, as they lay under the various chairs and benches on the deck. When Mark goes to jump in, however, things change dramatically. Suddenly they are up, barking, and studying his every move so they can follow him to the jump in point, then go totally bonkers when he jumps, and intently circle the pool after his head pops up out of “water bowl”. Heidi, the Nazi Shepherd, has fallen in once and takes care now not to lean too far over lest it happen again. Marely, the Yorkie Monster trots around, also barking and nipping at the other dogs with her scissor cut shaggy coat bouncing like she is wearing flannel pajamas. Jack, too, equals this performance and then, its over and they go lay down again. We have tried Dog Whispering to no avail. When it gets too obnoxious a face splash of water seems to quicken the quieting part. Memphis, the Lab, just smiles and seems to think their behavior stupid, and just lays and pants.

Friday night, will be our one year anniversary at the Dauber Gallery, our project begun last year to see what would happen, if more than just a few folks actually got to see Mark’s incredible photography. It has been a quite varied and interesting journey so far, primarily because of the people who have graced our doors, who have told stories, who have taken the time to see and study the work, and have been moved enough to take it home or to their offices. Mark now has works hanging literally all over the world. It is pretty hard to pick my favorite of his because he somehow keeps making even more incredible ones.

So the idea is to celebrate the occasion with friends and folks, have some wine, and play some music. It is a rough job but someone has got to do it. Our band, the Fabulous Moonshine Cherry Band, will ring the halls and hopefully, hail the beginning of a second year of success in the Gallery. Cheers.