Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Memory Lane

I heard a door bell ringing next to my bed. It was pitch black and an unnatural hour to hear anything, let alone a door chiming in the wrong place. Then I remembered that was the ring tone for my alarm meant to wake me, gently, but get me up. I am not an early morning riser but we were heading to Georgia to see my mare, Cistine, being ridden in the Dutch Warmblood Keuring, or inspection, a graduation of sorts. I had higher motivation than usual for this and so the door bell did its job and set me in motion.

Coffee brewed, dogs fed then let out to hang on the front porch ‘til we returned, off we drove into the stillness and dark of the dawn. Slowly we made it out of the tricky turns in our driveway, down the bumpy thing they call our county road, and finally found the interstate heading towards Atlanta and pressed on.

As we drove along I realized that in nearly every inch along that road there is a memory of my having passed there before, and usually it was having gone to a horse show at this exit or that. How many times have I loaded up a horse and gone to shows, driving eastward on this road, like today, in the wee hours of the morning to make an early entry for the day’s show? There is no telling or counting.

My poor kids would get dragged out of their beds at ungodly hours and be put in my truck to finish their slumber while I drove across the time zone to our destination show grounds. They soon learned to be good troopers about the sleep disruption and learned to navigate their way around a horse show. At one show my youngest found that she could make a good day’s profit by selling my carrots to the other riders, and one time actually sold some rocks she had found to some bemused folks. My eldest daughter had her first show aboard Pollyanna the pony, at some small farm along the route. Of all the shows I think I was most stressed about hers, but it was good in the end.

There were shows held along the route at places like Big Bear Farm, Flat Creek, the Gosch’s place, Midland, Chateau Elan, and farms with no officially remembered name but at these places, one show at a time, is where I learned to compete with my horses, and made so many fond memories. 

At the very bottom of the learning curve to my show career was on this road just across the Georgia state line. My friend Cissy and I wanted to do combined training so badly and we both had horses that were not especially well suited for the job, but that was tough and their karma to have come along to us when they did. Chief, her horse was a big burly bay that would not stay in the dressage arena if asked to canter. Wisely we strategized to simply take the zero for not doing the movement instead of instant elimination if he left the scene.

I was on a midget named Nairn, (Scottish for “nothing”), a Quarter Horse crossed with a grade Walking Horse that my grandfather had given me. Less than 14.2hh, I was a bit under mounted but totally undaunted by such details. We were terrible, but we somehow managed to get us some ribbons, and had a blast doing it. I think Cissy broke her arm there too, but that may have been later at the Gosch’s place.  Memories are so much like water colors, constantly all running together. The thing was that we had a great time and we were now really on the circuit. We were true equestrian competitors for real, or so we thought.

Years of weekend journeys on this road continued the learning curve. Cissy eventually gave Chief needed time off, since cantering in the arena was never his thing, and so I went alone or with the kids and Mark.  I think finally at some point, Mark must have gotten embarrassed at my comical horse paring and managed to figure a way for us to afford a little bit nicer, and larger, horse for me. With the purchase of Jason, a former QH racer who was too slow on the sprint but who could fly once he figured out where his legs were, we started going to bigger shows at fancier farms and jumping bigger and better fences. Jason had many things for him, while jumping into water wasn’t one of them, he could make the speeds on cross country and jump the moon and we finally started winning, a lot. 

Jason later gave way to Limerick, my first warmblood. Back in the day, the dark ages, hardly anyone had one and they stood out so blatantly better in quality of the general Thoroughbred mixes that competed then, that winning became a pretty usual thing for whoever rode in on one. They were better suited for an all round sport like combined training with strong dressage scores pushing them to the front. Limerick either won her day, or, bucked my butt into the stratosphere. It was first or last, a blue or nothing.  

 Yes, the memories hang thickly up and down this road. There is the spot near Hogansville where as I was driving alone to a show, in the rain, my left trailer tire comes loose at nearly seventy miles per hour, passes me, and takes a horrifying, huge bounce across the median towards on coming cars. Fortunately no cars were hit and I limped into Newnan where my horse, Kowaliga, and I spent the day waiting on new lug nuts to be shipped in. There was no getting to the show early on that day, and the good thing was that of all the horses to have been hauling, Kowaliga was the best. The boy was totally nonplussed at having to shift over in the trailer out on the interstate to ride on the side that still had two tires, waited patiently for hours for the repair, and finally upon getting to the show grounds straight up went to work. He was a good boy.

There was the show at Midland, no, Flat Creek, where I had my first clean cross country round, still on my midget then, but was throwing up my toenails in the cross country start box having learned I was newly pregnant the day before and was feeling the news pretty heavily in many ways. There was the show that my youngest got herself stuck in a thick mud puddle and quite literally had to be plucked out of it by some nice fellow, while I was off riding a test and was oblivious to it all. Her boots, which had frog faces on the toes, came out separately and were rinsed off for her before she put them back on. Some one pointed out to her that she had them on the wrong foot since the faces were pointing the wrong way. She looked down and appraised the situation and simply crossed her feet. Problem solved. I am sure there were more such occasions that I didn’t learn about, but those are my kids’ stories to tell.

The day’s drive to and fro was spent in pleasant retroflection revisiting these places and times. The reason for the journey, Cistine, was presented well and won a large blue banner to wear around her neck. It was great to see a young horse that I had helped land in this life, grow up and become a lovely, well behaved, and very rideable mount. Gratification comes in many forms and this one is especially nice. She is Joline’s last filly and there will be no more.

Another memory and another ribbon to add to the string....  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11 Eleven Years On

Everybody remembers where they were when something huge happened, like the first step on the moon, JFK shot, and 9/11, among many. Today is the commemoration day for 9/11, now an amazing eleven years back. That day changed our world, and not for the good in any way that I can see. I do remember that surreal day unfolding, the incredulity of it all. How? How could something so horrific be happening? It did. The amazing bubble of the imaginary safety net surrounding the USA was popped, and there is no going back to such a delusional innocence. 

That day began for me with a phone call  telling me to turn on the tv to see the unfolding news, that the Trade Tower had been hit by the plane. Details were sketchy and the terrorist attack thought was not really jelling by then. It seemed a random plane crash into one of the nation’s most recognizable buildings, and it was now chaos.

I watched the news for a bit then needed to call a company in Pennsylvania that, where a few weeks before, I had placed an order with for my new carriage. There were a few changes that I needed to make on the design and I knew that the family who actually made them at their factory in Poland, was there in the shop in PA for a few days. When I called I talked with the owner of the shop to relay the changes I wanted, the news from there was more chilling.

By this time of the day the airliner that was highjacked and was crashed on purpose to avoid greater loss of life, had crashed very close to their store and things were dicey to say the least. The owner told me they were all scared but that the family from Poland were about to flip totally out. They had lived through the reality of having their country invaded and taken over in a not to distant past, and now here they were in another country right in the middle of it getting attacked. Everyone was scared and confused, but they were terrified. In the craziness of the moment we did get the carriage business done and a few months  later my beautiful carriage arrived from Poland, it having been thoroughly caught up in the new security screenings on imported items and was held for quite some time before I could receive it.

Today seeing the date and remembering that day now eleven years back, gave me a quick reality check on just how fast time has flown since then. For various reasons, like a set of broken ribs, I had not put the harness on my mare in probably over a year and a half, nor hooked her to the carriage. In commemoration, and the fact that it is today a nice day with an easy breeze, I thought I would drive my carriage to acknowledge the memory. Ordinarily I would have used caution and waited for help with hooking and driving her first time back in a long time, but I had conviction that fear/caution would not stop me today. It was time to try. So after wiping the dirt dauber nests off the harness and brushing the spider webs from the carriage I put the harness back on my trusty mare.

She stood as she is supposed to, still and not moving a foot, while I attached the traces and the shafts. I stepped aboard to put on my gloves and she could stand it no more, anxious to hear the command to “walk on” and was shifting around in front of me, wanting to go. I stopped her a time or two but choosing not to pick a fight I let her move on and put on the gloves as we walked the driveway up to the field by the road. There was enthusiasm in her step and I was feeling pretty confident that my decision to drive was a good one, when out of the woods in front of us came two bouncy fawns, bouncing this way then that towards us, then away, undecided and nervous. Their long white tails were perched way high and my mare Sunset was getting a really good look at them but was holding her on. Finally they made their path into the woods again and on we went.

It was a nice drive, the mare was not in shape for it so we walked and trotted a bit, nothing too hard. I took this shot of her, one of my favorite views, the horse out in front, happily doing its job. We headed in and called it a day and I stuffed her full of carrots and gave her a pat, marveling at how just that little bit had her muscles so pumped up. Driving is such a workout compared to riding, well not for me anyway, but for the horse yes. There are many magic moments I remember with horses, riding, training etc, but the best have been in a carriage with a truly working horse.

Later today I was looking in a book for some notes I had written and found this little sketch I had made years ago. I was stunned at the date, 8-23-01. Eleven years ago I had drawn this sketch from seeing this same view/image from the box seat, only weeks before the fateful  9-11.

What an erie coincidence, and what a reminder of what a difference a day can make. The day I drew that sketch the idea of terrorists blowing up buildings on US soil had not entered my brain, and why should it have. I was in a place of bliss that day, new to driving then and having such a pleasant time, oblivious to the future. Today, I do know the past, and I remember the uncertainty of the moment. In truth, though, all moments in the future are uncertain and each could be the last, but each must be lived with a boldness, contrived if necessary, to not let fear and caution win and keep us tied down and cowering. I think,  if I can, I will use a carriage drive on future September 11ths to keep reminded of just this, and just keep “walking on”.   

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Second Sunday

It is the second Sunday after the beginning of college football Saturdays. We are all sitting on the front porch, Mark in the swing, me in the white wicker, Gracie in the next chair down, and Heidi on the floor beside her. It is so pleasant to be out here thanks to a cold front that blew in yesterday afternoon, which kindly dropped a good bit of rain, then blew in a heavenly dose of cooler and much drier air in behind it. 

It is amazing to me just how much easier it is to live when the temps give you a break after enduring the misery of summer here. It is as though life has resumed again, and all of those things that I have put off for fear of heat stroke I can now think about getting them done. Maybe, tomorrow. For the rest of this afternoon this is enough, simply sitting and writing and listening to the hummingbirds' chirps and to the shot gun blasts of the near by dove hunters blasting the sky with pellets in an attempt to bring down a small grey bird or two for their dinners. 

Dove are probably the most expensive form of meat there is, between the cost of land to shoot them over, the sometimes outrageously expensive shot guns, equipment to manage the land to grow the grain to attract the birds, and the endless amounts of ammunition it takes if one is not a very good shot at them. The list of other stuff that is largely a matter of choice and is not required, but admired if had. By the time the cleaned bird (assuming one is good enough to hit a few) is thoroughly gone over to make sure all of the pieces of shot left in the breasts is taken out, and then floured and browned, simmered in gravy til they are soft and moist, one has had quite a full day and one has amassed quite an investment in your tiny meal. 

There are infinitely more easier ways to get a meal, but sitting on the edge of a browned field in camouflage on a day like today, maybe with a good retriever next to you waiting with anticipation that you might actually hit something it can go bring back to you, with friends stationed not to close and not to far away around the perimeter of the field can be quite a wonderful experience. Back when my eyes weren’t such an issue and my right shoulder had any hope of not falling off with the recoil of a well aimed gun, I used to enjoy the drama of the day’s hunt and it was a good thing to be a true hunter gatherer and bring a batch of birds home to cook. Today though I am content to just listen to their shots and to the lingering echos as the sound travels across our farm. 

Yesterday amid the preparation for watching our team play its second game, and watching other teams win and lose, I happened to glance out of the window which faces south to the pasture where Frank, Joline’s two year old colt lives now. Since we have lived out here my daily glances out of the window has taught me much about what the horses are normally doing at different times of the day, where they tend to hang out, and such.  Any abnormal behavior is like a red flag to me now. Frank was not acting normal.

 I watched for a few more minutes before heading out to go see what was going on. At the barn I grabbed a halter, and the tube of Bannamine (first line of defense against colic, it is a smooth muscle relaxer and pain reliever), and was saying some hail marys as I walked towards a strangely quiet colt that he was not going to be heading into a full blown colic.

Sometimes it sure would be nice if horses could speak english or that I was better at hearing what they are saying. Frank greeted me with an unenthusiastic sniff of my hand, then resumed his head lowered position ignoring me. That, was way out of character. Ordinarily if I walk to and from the barn Frank gallops to the fence to join me. He also plays with toys and generally amuses himself by staying busy or letting himself out of the field or stall to check out life outside of the fence.

This boy was not right so I began checking other visuals. His breathing was fairly normal for the heat, his pulse was a slow squish through the vein which crosses under his jaw, and he did not look to be in pain, just very very quiet and dull. I kept the medicine in my pocket and chose to give him a bit more time to show something more for me to go on, and turned to walk back to the barn and house. He made a slow few steps to follow but declined and went back to the shade of the persimmon tree.

I came back in and periodically watched for signs of distress, and called my vet who advised to go ahead with the Bannamine just in case. I did, and began to wait, for him and for the game which was about to start about the same time the oncoming front was beginning to loom heavily over the horizon rumbling as it came nearer. The rains came and the medicine must’ve been a good plan, because my repeated trips to the window showed that Frank was hanging out with the mares under the shed, and looked much more lively. That was a good thing too, just in time for the game to start. The game was a shutout for our team as victors, once again, so that also made for a good night.

It has been generally a good week on the farm, heat excluded, especially for Gracie the mighty Yorkie, now referred to as Little Big Dog, or the terror. One day this week she disappeared for a while, longer than usual, so I called her to see where she was. Up she sprang from the edge of the pond carrying an unidentifiable thing which was flapping as she ran. Closer exam of her prize was a slightly stiff but not yet too stinky Bream, a panfish, and she was proud of her find. It took some doing and chasing but I finally convinced her that I really needed it and she let me take it away, in time before she rolled on it. 

Gracie also met up with another fun toy, a Great Blue Herron, who had landed or somehow gotten into our yard and could not get off the ground to fly. This was good chase for the little dog who didn’t come up to the giant bird’s ankles, but who bravely tried to bite the wing feathers and barked viscously at the disabled flying dinosaur. I had to call her off the bird for fear of her being speared by the long rapier beak of the poor bird. Gracie removed, the bird meandered down the path of the pond dam and hopefully  will get over its plight and fly away.

Today was pleasant enough for a good bike ride so we rode our miles in the bright blue sunshine, jumped into the still warm pool afterwards and met the kids in town for brunch at the marina. The grand kid was great and charmed us all of course. Another Sunday almost done I am finding myself looking forward to the many possibilities of stuff to get done with a cool week ahead. It is a long list but, to conquer it, will be great.