Friday, December 27, 2013

In Closing '13...

When I reached for my coffee cup this morning, my right upper arm, quite unexpectedly, screamed a silent “OUCH!” to me. What had I done to deserve this new pain, I wondered. Oh yeah, I reflected, it was the kid. Quality time baby sitting it was. In trying to help out our daughter suffering with a sniffling, sneezing, head stuffed up cold, we had offered to keep little Margaret for a few hours yesterday. The few hours turned into an over night visit, which is great because it takes time to get past the point where its all about hello and what do you want to eat, play with, watch on tv, etc. When the rhythms of her day become settled, well perhaps that is not the right word as settled is seldom her thing, but when she allows the time to sit and be read to or to be held, that is sweet. But back to my screaming arm and why and how it came to be. Holding her of course.

In a post afternoon nap stupor she wanted to be held. In a cuteness that can not be described with any level of reality, she looks up, holds her arms to you and says, “I hold you” with a strong emphasis on the “I” then “hoed you”, and you comply, of course. Little Margaret is now two, and nearly, or maybe there, at thirty pounds, and while I am used to lugging heavy feed sacks and pushing thousand pound horses around, I have long been out of training for holding a thirty pound kid on one hip for long periods of time. So yesterday, as her cobwebs cleared, and while she watched her grand dad, Uno, introduce her to the wonders of Play Dough, I held her. I finally gave up when my arm was dead, finger tips numb, and my thigh muscles were in spasms, and put her on a stool to continue the Play Dough session with her Uno.

Later, last night, I wondered why my arm shook when I reached to the ice maker with my glass, and noticed an unexpected and uncontrollable quivering to my hand as it waited for the clear cubes to drop in. My arm has never been the same since a rowdy horse pulled it from its roots years ago now, dislocating the top of the arm to the middle of my sternum, blowing the joint to shreds, pulling and pinching nerves to their end, changing my daily life forever. Surgery tried to amend but came short, so I have learned to cope with a defective limb, but was surprised at this new level of trembling and quivering. This morning, my pain reminds me of the source of this strain,  the holding of the kid, and it is a sweet pain.

We talked last night, Mark and I, of how the seasons have come to pass so quickly and how there really isn’t any point in taking the Christmas tree down because next week will be Christmas again. Margaret is now two, having passed this milestone in early December. She is now the self proclaimed “Dr. Super Margaret” having gotten both a super girl cape and a toy stethoscope from Santa. It was, only yesterday that we opened the door to the delivery room to find her newly born laying on her mommie’s chest. Now, she is a toddler, running on tippy toes through the house and around the farm yard, squealing, laughing, and bringing us joy as we follow her and try to keep her away from all of the things that might hurt this precious package of life.

So today our house is a wreck, and now sadly quiet, with her gone. I have this morning’s oatmeal in my hair and everything below waist high in the house has been relocated at least three times. The piano bench has been painted yellow and her toys lay strewn from room to room, and, my arm hurts. The fact that our band has a gig tonight and I, as the drummer, and will need it to be semi-functional for a few hours, is going to be interesting. In all though, this grandparent thing with the exclusion of having to change some really special diapers, is good.

And so the year is closing out with a new one hot on its trail. Birthdays have come and gone and Santa’s visit was brief as they all seem to be. This year’s Christmas had a few more elements of chaos than normal, but that begs the question, “what is normal?” Certainly none for me have ever been the same. The family changes with births, deaths, and with marriages and with them, the traditions. Traditions are a nice framework to go by, but they all morph as the need directs, and I suspect that next year will have its own significant changes in many ways.

One very big change we know of and are waiting on, is a new addition to the grand kid pool. Our youngest daughter is expecting a girl on Ground Hog day. The new baby is to be named Marilyn after Mark’s mother, the grand mother who our daughter never got to know having been born years after Marilyn had died. A recent 3-D ultrasound picture we saw, showed baby Marilyn to be quietly resting, floating in time, waiting for her grand entrance into life. Another human, another being, unlike any other.

Life in a continuum, goes on. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


I had an assignment this week, to fill in some blanks on a mailing list for an upcoming post holiday, party. In these modern days of Face Book events taking the place of formal invitations it was refreshing to be a part of a slower, and more personal way of doing something, but  I had no clue where to begin finding some of the snail mail addresses for a few. Sadly, I actually had to resort to a quick trip to FB and a few instant messages, and there I found the answer to several of the puzzle pieces. The others were remaining elusive, and then, I remembered, my address book.

I imagine that every kitchen has one, the over stuffed drawer where everything from thousands of unsharpened pencils lay in chaos with lip balm, staplers, glue, business cards, stamps, and vast amounts of whatever. I prowled through this hopelessly over crowded drawer and pulled it out. It has long since lost its cover, one that used to have a bunch of cats floating with balloons perpetually drifting down the page. Now the plastic spiral bound bunch of pages hung tenuously to the rings, some better than others. I opened the archaic contact list and began to scan.

The front page was dotted with long forgotten names with attached telephone numbers, land lines and no emails, most in pencil, hurriedly written as notes. The next page was the emergency contact form filled out with the pediatrician and childhood dentist’s numbers of my now adult children. Various school contact numbers were scribbled, all numbers which I have not called in decades. Then I turned to the “A”s and read the list of names.

It very quickly came to my attention that in this archaic form of contacts, was a history lesson, and one that made me realize how long it had been since this had been my main source for information, and how disconnected I have become from a great many folks who at one time I was friends with, worked with, was associated with, or just needed to keep up with on occasion. The first entries had long passed, the next were divorced, the next had moved, and on it went with pretty equal numbers of dead and divorced entries. And with some, who were once close friends, it was stunning to remember the last time we had even spoken. It was a sober revelation that, time indeed, stands still for no one. Life goes on, and life changes, for us all.

For many years this little address book was the primary source for the generation of my list for our annual Christmas party, which was part Christmas party but also birthday party in celebration of Mark’s unfortunate timing of having been born on the 19th of December. His entire life had been “happy birthday and merry christmas” rolled into one gift with birthday being slid under the main stage of Christmas. So for many years we hosted large parties out here at the farm to celebrate these two separate, but conjoined events. This little book had the history of who I invited,  and of those that came.

But, it made me remember the parties. The parties sort of grew into a being of its own. If you were on the list of the invited, and came, then it became expected that the same thing would happen next year, and did for nearly two decades or so. People would send me changes of their addresses so not to miss the coveted invite to the event. It became a bit of a Gatsby affair with the folks attending being from the strange and diverse cross section of folks we knew and called friends, but it always worked like magic.

With all the candles lit marking the way down the driveway, and others floating adrift  in the pond, I would lay out a spread of food, covering the dining table, kitchen counter, and any unused surface around the open spaces of the kitchen, dining, and living room. The main attraction were the venison meat balls in a sweet and sour barbeque sauce. At the other end of the table was the huge bowl of shrimp, marinated in a tarragon vinegar mix of herbs and spices, and tossed with artichoke hearts, mushrooms, broccoli, cherry tomatoes. Surrounding these were various veggie dips, cheese boards, chicken spreads, and various stuff enough to fill a hungry, and seriously imbibing crowd. My deal was, first come first serve. Once the dishes were on the table that was all there was going to be, and complying crowds showed up early and often.

They also showed up late. There was one night that we had said goodbye to what seemed to be the last guests standing, somewhere in the very wee hours of the night, when to our surprise, we see in the long drive to the house, a set of headlights heading our way, guests just arriving. There was the night after the party, when the entire troupe of the Shakespeare Theatre Company had called to say they were heading out to the party, which they had unknowingly missed the previous night. We turned out every light in the house and hid, and hoped they would miss our house, and go somewhere else. We never saw them so I guess that they did.

Once we began playing music as a band it became a later in the party thing to
play some music. The first year we did this was really special. We knew three songs that we could play, and we did, to a small crowd of very enthusiastic listeners all crowded around our feet in the room that is now serving as Mark’s studio. Giddy as hell after the first three, we took a break, and bounced like puppies on a walk to the barn in the dark of the night. We asked our much more experienced singer and leader, Ham, what we were going to do to appease the requests of more music to be played, and his response was simple. Play those three songs again. We, did, and no body cared. It was the moment that we all shared of mystery, excitement, and we all shared the rhythms of the evening.   

We have not held the party in many years for various reasons to many folks’ regret and sadness. It was a huge under taking to put it on, and expense, with all the food and open bar, but it was great fun to see all of those people having such a great time together under our roof. I do miss it and maybe at some point might revive the beast, but for now a simple Christmas is best.

Tomorrow I will make Mark’s once a year, birthday cake, a decadently rich, German Chocolate cake and fire up his candles for him to try to blow out with a wish. It is so divine that it is sin incarnate, but seriously incredible. I hope he enjoys many more birthdays to come, and many more cakes that I can help him with. 

So in closing out, here’s to wishing my hubby and best friend ever, Mark, a very Happy Birthday, and I am sending all, best wishes for a very Merry Holiday Season.

May the magic of Christmas  always be with you. Ho!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Hay Project

Yesterday morning I lay snug in bed, looking out of my window to the woods just behind the house. The rising, low November light was beginning to strike the south facing bark of the trees and it was giving a rich and warm, golden glow to the remaining leaves that still hung to the branches. The slight breeze made these leaves shake and rustle with a melancholy, and wistful sound of change. The captain’s clock in the hallway ticked and tocked and chimed the hours and half hours in timely fashion, the minutes marching on unleashed. A cool breeze from my open window cooled my face but I lay in the warmth of my cocoon of blankets with my puppy, Gracie, curled up next to me, burrowed deeply into the covers. It was going to be a hard place to leave, and I was pissed.

I had been listening to that damned clock for a good long while, since three o’clock am, in fact. Then had come three thirty, four, four thirty, five, etc, etc etc. until, here it was at six am and I had not slept a wink since that three o’clock chime and I had to get up soon to go buy and move some hay for the horses. Insomnia is not my best friend and I do not do especially well on the brain fog of sleep deprivation, but this uninvited insomnia had not gotten the memo that I had early and important plans for the day. Grudgingly, I pulled back the covers and my feet felt the floor to begin the day.

My neighbor and I had previously conspired a joint effort to go to buy hay for both her farm and for my farm from a nearby fellow who had some nice hay for sale. She had a big flat bed trailer and I had the truck to haul it with. She also, most importantly knew where to find some strong fellows with functional shoulders to toss and stack these not so tiny bundles of dry grasses. We were both looking to buy as much as could be put on the trailer and safely hauled back home, and figured it to probably require multiple loads to do so. And so, despite my need for sleep, the greater need was to follow our plans and to go get this hay, regardless of my mental state and humor, or lack thereof. 

Fall signals many things with its cooler temps and colorful leaves, but chief among them is the pleasant temporary semi-retirement of the lawnmower and its weekly hours spent keeping the yard where one can see the snakes in the grass before one steps on them. Regrettably, this also means that the grass in the pastures go dormant and the horses have no more grass to keep them well fed and happy. This is where the importance of having hay for the winter comes in. One simply must have an adequate amount of hay to make it through the winter until spring grasses return.

This need for hay, the guessing of how much one should buy to make it through this gap and put away, must be similar to what a poor squirrel feels when making the guess on how many nuts to gather and store. It is stressful to look at an empty hay room, and know it must be filled before the farmers run out of hay they have cut. It is also stressful transporting it, handling it, paying for it, and protecting it until it is used. But, when it is all done, and the hay room is full, there is a deep relief from the stresses from the process. Knowing that my horses will be fed a good grass to stay healthy as possible is a very good thing.

Two years ago, after the point in time when the do do had hit the fan with the world economy, and our personal one was right there with it, it came the time of year to buy hay. I then had zero funds to do so with and I was seriously stressing over how in the world I was going to feed my animals for the coming year.  About this time I had gone one day to visit my ailing father, and in his typical generous self, he asked me how I was and what could he do to help me. Here is my father, about to die, with me there attempting to comfort him, and he is asking me how he can help me. I was a bit embarrassed to say so but I told him about my situation with no hay and no funds. He quickly wrote me a check, feebly written but solid as a rock, given with love and no strings, to cover the cost of the hay. This was his last and final gift to me, and it was not just about the hay. It was a most precious gift, one of the removal of the deep stress and worry about my horses that he knew I loved and cared about so much.

 Daddy died not  long after I had used that check to buy some hay, and I just recently fed my horses the last few bales of it. His sweet gift  has kept them fed and that worry off my back for two years. It was time now though, to refill the hay room again and with the recent sale of Frank, my beautiful gelding who is now going under the alias of Encore, this was thankfully, going to be possible.

So, yesterday, a very pleasant day was had in this project of moving hay. The scenes of the rural landscape as we traveled back and forth with our loads reminded me of the Wyeth's paintings of Maine. Vast fields rolled beside us as we drove. The hills were dotted with cows and large round hay bales and all were bathed in subtle hues of golds and reds, accented by deep burnt umber shadows. I watched a female Kestrel ambitiously stoop at a Meadow Lark several times before flying off, and Buzzards slowly circled overhead in a sky of broad  wash strokes of soft blues and grays.

I did not have to touch a bale thanks to our helpers, which was a good thing after my previous day’s massage followed by a session with my chiropractor. There were a few glitches here and there in the course of the day. There always are in anything to do with farm world, machinery, tractors, logistics, heavy things, and figuring the math to make it work, but we did both make it home with two loads of hay. My hay room is now filled with the sweet smell of well cured grass again and my shoulders have dropped, and my insomnia, was forgotten.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Another Day in a life....

The day began like most yesterday, with coffee making, decaf, but the idea is the same. It is the ritual of awakening that sets the day in motion. I plugged the plastic disc thing into the coffee machine that is then, supposed to magically spit out coffee, a modern convenience that I have found to be cold, heartless, and alien to the process of morning arisings , but too convenient to be dropped, just yet. Something was not right with the little plastic pouch that housed the pre-ground coffee and soon my entire counter top was covered in brownish water and bits of grounds, and there was no coffee in my cup. I turned the eye on the stove to heat some water and found a tea bag, leaving the mess to writhe in its own failure to produce a cup of coffee. After feeding the dogs and downing the tea, it was time for a trip to the barn.

It is finally sweatshirt weather in the mornings, and the day was bright but soft with a thin veil of clouds filtering the morning rays as I walked with Gracie to the barn. I got there first as she had so many distractions to take in, so many smells of unknown critters who had crossed the yard in the night to check out. Following a routine that is fixed in my brain from years of doing the same thing, every day I pour out the feed, to the few remaining horses in my barn, peel off flakes of hay and toss under their stall gates, check the water tanks, close the feed bins, and walk back to the house, squinting because I forgot my sunglasses. Back inside, a load of laundry started, the dishwasher loaded,  the bed made, another cup of tea made, it was time for my trek next door to help my neighbor with her horse.

Marianne is a face of smiles. She is full of energy and spunk, but, having gotten hurt in the past by a bad fall from a bolting horse, she is reticent about taking her new, and relatively young, horse out on trails, or out of the safety of the ring. My job at her request, has been of late to help her, and him, to be able to, as safely as possible, do what horse and rider are supposed to be able to do, just get along and go for a ride. For a few weeks now, twice a week I have traveled across our fence lines to coax and cheer her along, trying to share with her the distillation of the many years of my experiences, some good and some not so very good at all. In these few weeks that we have been working together she, and her lovely golden gelding, have made out standing progress.
It is just so nice to see her smile and be so happy at the end of each ride, and it is gratifying to me that some of that hard earned horse sense of mine is doing someone else good and is not going to be a complete waste when it goes with me to the happy trails in the sky.

When our lesson was done I came back to our farm and since the weather was still so nice in the middle of the day, I saddled up my big mare, Cistine, and worked for a while in the dressage arena in a leisurely fashion just to keep what we had worked on the day before fresh in both our heads. It was one of those early fall days and it felt great to be outdoors again after summer’s now fading strangle hold. After her, I put a halter on Sunset and got her all harnessed up and ready to hitch to the carriage.

Last week I had gotten the carriage out from back of the barn and gave it a thorough cleaning from a summer of dust and no use. I am not a big fan of driving in the heat and humidity being chased by flying blood sucking bugs, so the carriage gets a bit of time off from about May until the weather starts to change like it has now. Sunset, too, gets a bit rusty from not being driven and so the first times back out are always interesting.

We headed down the driveway and turned at the edge of the pond dam down into the grassy field below. Right when we hit the shade of the trees she began swishing her tail in serious ernest attempts to rid herself of some unseen attacker. Her panic was rising as she clamped her tail down and it was looking like her next move might be a bit overly theatrical. I hollered at her and sent her onward. Whatever it was did not follow us and we made our way around the edge of field on the mowed path surrounded by waves of the wild flowers in bloom. A fawn that had been resting in the tall grasses panicked, jumping to its feet right in front of us, and bounded away with its white tail bouncing along until it was out of sight again.

We had a very nice, but short drive, so as not to stress her too much, being out of shape for pulling heavy loads too long. Pulling with just me and the weight of the carriage to deal with left Sunset huffing and puffing but hopefully soon it won't take me long to get her back in shape again, enough to pull a full load of passengers, and especially our grand daughter, around. 

Last weekend the kids came out to play farm and we introduced Margaret to the idea of climbing onto the carriage, with no horse hooked, so that she would be comfortable with the idea when the time came. She was sitting in the front with her mom when her big strong daddy, with the help of granddaddy, Uno,  grabbed the shafts and began to pull them both around the barn yard. Margaret liked this idea and wanted more rides but daddy and Uno were done after a few times around the big oak tree, but I do think she is going to really like it when there is real horse in front of her. 

After putting Sunset away in her pasture, the afternoon was finished off with a quick trip to town to see my bone crunching, good witch, Dr Maryann. Once realigned, and few groceries were loaded up, it was retreat time back to farm world. When Mark got home we set on the front porch with a glass of wine and watched, as the long shadows filled the pasture, small groups of deer slowly coming out of the woods and moving across the pasture.

The first doe out of hiding is crippled, lame on her right hind leg, and she limps badly. This summer she lived in the thick brush in front of the house and ate pears off the trees in the yard. She seems to be getting along well enough despite her lameness, but one has to wonder how well she will be able to do as it gets colder and there is less food around.

There was another doe with twin fawns beside her that I have seen several times lately, and the fawns have got to be a male and a female. Their behavior suggests this, as one of them.... is very naughty and very high spirited, much to the disconcertion of its mother. But, there are few things in this world as cute as two spotted fawns playing, jumping, and taking off in wild bursts of speed, turning and doing it all over again. Other does and fawns soon joined these three and they moved as a group to the line of oaks on the fence line, and began grazing on fallen acorns. 

The light finally faded until we could see them no more and we retired to the house. Another day, done.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Climbing L'Alp Pintlala

Yesterday morning looked to be a fine morning for going on a bike ride, to get a bit of the weekend sludge moving around the veins and breathe some fresh air. The sky was blue and the temperature nice.  So, after feeding the horses and doing a bit of farm world work, we donned our flattering padded seat pants, loaded up the bikes, and headed off to one of the rural roads that is one of the occasional ones we take a journey on. We parked the car at the Pintlala Babtist Church, over in the corner of the lot so as not to get in the way of the church goers,  snapped on our helmets, and from there, headed west. 

The first mile or so of this ride is pleasantly downhill to Pintlala Creek and is a good way to get the wind in your face and enjoy the speed of the bike with very little effort. We rode along, mostly coasting, taking in the scenery as we did.

The lush colors of the summer countryside have changed now. No longer the color of spinach, the landscape has muted to a more subtle pallet of soft olive greens, browns, yellows, and rust. It is a quieter background, lighter in feel,  and drier. The grasses are browning and rattle now when the wind blows them, and crisp leaves float through the air.

The plants that bloom now and into the fall, grow casually scattered among these browned grasses, along the sides of the road, and out in fields that have not been mowed recently. Blamed for allergies, the goldenrod with its tall mops of a garish deep yellow plumes rise tall above the grasses. Then there are purples of unknown named flowers in deepest violet to a softer pale lavender. Pinks, whites, and softer yellows blend in. I  am more partial to the changing colors because they indicate summer is leaving, or has left, and it is easy to equate them with cooler times ahead.

We rode over the bridge that crosses the creek. It is a dark area of tall old cypress trees with knobby knees rising out to the mud. Oak trees, covered with clumps of hanging Spanish Moss, stand tall among them and palmettos cover the ground below. Sand banks have built up in the bends of the winding stretch of water and the log piles and sticks piled up on them make perfect habitat for the wild things, snakes. I didn’t see one there as we quickly passed, but they are there. After the turn to Ray Scott’s place we rolled along passing some horses munching on the last shoots of green they could find, oblivious to us.

Rolling hills began giving us a bit more of a challenge but we both were hitting a pretty high speed and were feeling good. It was the fun of being a kid on a bike, wind on the face, sunshine, blue skies, and browned leaves crunched under our tires as we sped along. There are some days that are like that. You feel great like you could climb a mountain, and some that are just hard work, from either muscles being tired or attitude, or whatever. But not this day, it was all good.  We reached the end of the road where we needed to head back, and turned back around to the east.

What I had not really paid attention to on the way out, going down hill at first, and going fast, was, that there was indeed a very good breeze blowing and on the first part of the trip we were going with it, having it push us along like kites. When we turned back around, though, we were rather astonished to find that the same kindly breeze that had pushed us down the road, was now blowing like a gale right in our faces. Suddenly the little rolls in the road now became massive climbs, and there was little relief going down the other side of the hill because the wind pushed so hard that we had to peddle downhill even then for distance. We once again crossed the shady bridge and in about a mile began the long rise to the top of the hill where our car sat waiting for our now, panting selves. 

To just glance at this hill is to barely notice its rise and fall. If one were to stand, though, at the top and survey the distance one can see off down into the creek valley below, then you get a scale of how high and how long the drop actually is. It is in its deception that makes it hard to gauge, and harder to conquer. Now, add that to a stiff wind blowing straight at us from the top of the hill. I had shifted down to the highest gears I had to try to ease the pain but it was still brutal.

It reminded us of once when we were snow skiing in a blizzard, a total white out, and while crossing a long bowl, we couldn’t tell if we were moving. The wind in our face said we were, but there were no visual indicators to say one way or another. With a good pole plant we learned that were standing still in skiing position, not moving. This wind and this long incline were about doing that to us. I think it was the slowest I have ever ridden on a bike, without training wheels, and kept upright.

When we finally reached the top of Alp Pintlala, with legs burning and chests heaving for air, we coasted past the school and then the volunteer fire department. I had not noticed the flag there when we had gone out the other way. If I had I would not have felt so smug about how well we were riding along to begin with, knowing it would be a factor on our return. The red white and blue stood absolutely straight out in the wind, no ripples or pops, just straight like it had been dipped in starch. We loaded our bikes and collapsed into the seats of the car and drove home. Piety achieved, for at least one day. 
The breezes that blew so hard yesterday, were ushering in a cold front, which has left today refreshing and pleasant, and me, a bit tired. It has been a long time since the sky has been filled with little tuffs of clouds that are high up in the atmosphere and are blown into wisps and curls. Tonight just might be the first fire if it continues to go down, temp wise. We had a fellow deliver a nice stack of oak on Saturday and it sits waiting for use. The woody smell of the split logs is drifting through the screen on the back porch and brings back the scent memories of fall, and of the getting ready for the changing season ahead. I am ready. Gracie is too.

For those interested in keeping up with Frank, (Frank is the gelding I wrote about last epistle who has gone to a new owner) word is that he has gone to boot camp for sixty days to learn how to be a horse one can ride and stay on. The word from the trainers is that he is intelligent and sweet, but, I already knew that. I will post more as I hear of his progress. Meanwhile the barn world sure misses his pretty face.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Goodbye to Frank

Yesterday, thirty years ago now, I began a bit of an uncharted journey in the pursuit of a better riding horse for myself. I knew, as a somewhat competitive person that I know myself to be, that to win, I needed a better horse than what I had and I needed one better than what I could immediately afford, and thus I turned to breeding horses to get to my goal in stages, one foal at a time, a leap frogging up the quality scale.

My first foal was a cross between a grade Walking Horse and a racing Quarter Horse. The resulting mare was only 14hh but she was my first competition mount that I raised, broke, and trained. Fast forward thirty years and I have since then bred, trained, and sold some incredibly good horses during these years, primarily of the Dutch Warmblood breed for dressage and sport. I have even had one colt shipped to Holland as a stallion prospect, in a kind of “carrying coal to New Castle” situation, where a breeder over there wanted the gene pool I had to go back to Holland.

The gene pool carrier that I had was in the shape of one of the loveliest mares I have ever seen. She was Joline, an imported Dutch mare of such refinement, intelligence, athletic ability, character, and beauty, that she was incomparable. During the time I had the privilege of knowing her, she produced a string of some of the best young horses, all around, that I could have ever imagined, all of them sharing her quality and beauty. 

Somewhere along the way, my pursuit of a better horse for myself also became a boutique business to produce and sell these animals, and since my foals were so nice, they sold quickly, usually as babies and a few that I started and then later sold. I always thought that I would pick one that would be the one that I would keep as my most likely last mount, not necessarily to show but to keep and ride for my own pleasure as a lifetime reward for a job well done. Three years ago Joline foaled a colt that I thought was to be the one.

On an early misty morning when the sun was beginning to rise and as a bright full moon was sliding below the tree line to the west, she delivered what I didn’t know then, her last foal, a colt. This colt was culmination of all of my years of studying pedigrees, statistics on bloodlines, culling and infusing the herd as I went. This colt was perfect. After a bit of confusion on his sex at birth, a story written in another previous blog, he was named Fandango. “Fandango” proved to be way too much for my vet to remember and so the boy became, simply, “Frank”, and Frank, was perfect.

Lanky and long legged, but perfectly balanced from the moment he stood, he was eye candy. A rich carmel color with a broad white blaze and three white socks, flaxen mane and tail; he was gorgeous with a prettiness almost too much for a colt and was mesmerizing to watch as he played in his paddock with his mom always nearby, keeping an eye on her boy. His early days were spent in happy hours of playing with imaginary creatures that were to be stomped on, kicked, and then run away from, only to return to them to repeat until he became too tired or hungry, or both and did what babies do best, sleep.

Having spent the many years raising these babies, teaching them to lead and be handled, later breaking them to ride it has been impossible not to form deep bonds with them.  It was always hard to sell any of them. Reality is quite real at times, and when the bills said it was time to sell, I did, and so I sent them on to new owners and turned back to the breeding shed to make another to replace it.

After Joline had Frank I had decided that, with her advancing age and his being the one that I had chosen to be my keeper, I would retire her from breeding. I let her have a year off but looked at her the next year and said what the heck, try it again. So I bred her to the same stallion as Frank, as that cross had been the most perfect of all of her wonderful foals to date. She carried the foal to term but in a tragic glitch in foaling, I lost both the foal and this incredible mare. Frank was the last to be. The factory, and my enthusiasm and stomach for risking another mare’s life in foaling, was gone.

For three happy years Frank grew up, doing the things that young colts do before they are introduced to the idea of work, which is not much, besides being a drop dead pasture ornament and he excelled at that. Always polite, easy to deal with, engaging and friendly I was eager to really get to know him as a riding horse. The “for sale” sign has long loomed over my barn and with Frank living under it, I knew that there was always a possibility that in case of reality I might need to sell him. A call came for someone to see him and I knew then that my plans were going to be rerouted as far as his life with me.

Over the course of my years of sadly saying goodbye to my horses, I have tried to limit how deeply their moving on touches me, but I can’t, and haven’t. I have been so lucky to have found so many great homes for my horses and they have had great lives and careers. And in truth I could never have ridden them all, but there is always a big empty place in my heart and in the barn yard every time one leaves. 

Frank was different though. He was the last colt of a truly great mare, and I really didn’t want to see him go. Reality again, proved to be the winner on the decision and I delivered him on Monday to his new owner and, it was tough. 

Finding consolation can be hard sometimes but this time I was able to find it in the fact that out of the two of the people that I would have ever imagined having wanted to have this colt if I couldn’t, one of them called me about him. A very long time friend and an excellent rider and trainer was the lucky person who will now take this fellow along, and I know that he is in the best of hands  and that he will be treated with superb care. The fact too that he is only across town in nice so that I can go and see him and give him a scratch when I feel the need. It will be fun to watch him fulfill his genetic destiny of being a competition horse, which I probably would not have done, with his new owner and I feel sure they will do very well.

My barn is quieter now, down to my last three mares and Tony the pony. My ritual in my feeding has not quit measuring out Frank’s feed before I remember his absence and pour the feed back in the can. In time, it will, I know.  In a way, though, it is nice to be out from under the pressure of the years of breeding, marketing, training, riding them all every day, and maintaining the farm. The farm maintenance remains in place but perhaps now I can do some catch up to some of the things that have been pushed aside for so long. The road is still open.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Being Here Now

It was Tuesday afternoon that I finally realized that my attitude had changed. I had relaxed. It had taken me several days to get there, but in one sigh and in an involuntary sinking of my shoulders, it dawned on me, that I was finally really unburdened by nearly everything that I generally carry with me through my days. Leaving far behind the thoughts and worries of what I know still awaits me back home, for the moment, I was simply here.

This place, this lodge built on what many deem as holy ground, a magical place of beauty, grace, and simplicity brings this out in all who come here long enough to settle into its power. “Be here now” is one of my favorite little koans but is in real life, so hard to do. In the day to day of home, work, and life the worries that stretch out in front of us keep us glued and almost addicted to the “what’s next?”, the “why did that happen?”, and “how did I get here and how to do I get off this ride?” that when these nagging thoughts are not given power to be acted upon, they disappear. Poof, they are gone. 

In reality I know that my time here is limited. We will leave tomorrow to return to home, and our life, but since Tuesday afternoon when I was able to shrug it all and go with the flow, it has been a superb vacation. The time spent here has been what a vacation is supposed to do, slow time down. Days have become longer, dinners have been lingered over, and the night sky has provided the entertainment instead of a flat screen. Conversations with strangers, and with old and new friends, have been sincere and unguarded. It has been a long time since we spent hours playing new card games or dominoes, and the time spent doing it here just rolled by with no awareness of its passing.

Who knows the source of the power of this old lodge to take the type “A”s of the world who come here seeking its ability to release them from themselves, but it does. Perhaps     it’s the massive timbers that hold the structure of this building together, which grew on this land and were cut and shaped to define the spaces for those who pass under their load, that are a source of energy. The stones, too, that make up the chimney, the walk ways, the foundation of the building itself, also have an energy that is palpable and strong. 

This lodge, on this site, has a very real life to itself. It is a wise and ancient being, that feels like the best of embraces as soon as you enter the place. If these hallowed walls could speak, ah the stories that they must know but they will never break their code and will not divulge their secrets. This is a sanctuary in the highest form.

And then their are the mountains, the view from this lodge. It is a mesmerizing thing to sit and look out upon their rises and falls from this perch of a bit of heaven. They change like a kaleidoscope as the sun rises from the left and settles to the right. Clouds and passing rain showers give drama that at some times define the shapes of the hills and at others obscure and give mystery. 

How is it that being at this place gives me the permission to sit and stare at the beauty before me, to read with no time restraints, to draw, to chat and listen, to build stone cairns in the chilly waters of a nearby stream, to simply, relax? Perhaps the better question might be, why am I not able to live that way when I am not here? Certainly day to day life is filled with all of the things that must be done, and I do know that this time spent here is isolated from all of those responsibilities, but how can I take just a smidgen of the focus on being in the moment home with me so that I can learn to relax fully even for a few stolen minutes each day? How can I drop the feeling of guilt of not doing the most productive thing possible at every moment? Don’t know, but it does make me so painfully aware of how jacked up life is and maybe, it really doesn’t have to be like that all of the time.

Mark has spent the week teaching a group of wonderful folks, who met by coincidence last year and who took his class. They returned this year all as dear old friends and again, eager students, most  of whom admitted that they had forgotten most of what they had learned last year. They have already rebooked a return for next year’s workshop and most have gone back to their homes with new photos they are excited about having taken here, and an excitement for taking more.

I have read, sketched, walked up and down steep hills and feel reenergized, eaten three fabulous meals each day, and enjoyed the wine. I have spent time chatting, playing games,  and watching the changing scenery. We built cairns in the stream only to have a passing rain knock them down with the rising water it dropped, and will rebuild them perhaps this afternoon. I spent an afternoon photographing a swarm of swallowtail butterflies flitted about and drank together in the moist sands by a beautiful stream.

It has been good. It has been great. It has been a wonderful way to celebrate my birthday week. I have relaxed into a state that, I must remember revisiting more often. 
For a few more hours, I am here, now.   

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Return, again

We have returned to the place where first visited decades ago, back then drawn by a desperate need for a bed and food after wandering around the mountains for days, sleeping in tents and eating freeze dried food. Back then we stumbled upon Snowbird Mountain Lodge by accident after dark, fairly late at night, to find the dining room had closed. The kind inn keeper fed us anyway and gave us the last room available, a tiny closet in the far corner of an outside building away from the lodge, now a utility closet. The next morning our sack lunches were packed and ready for us to pick up to take on our journey for the day. Our stay had been brief but we had felt the strong healing spirit of this place then and it made for the best of brief memories. Decades forward we are here again, a new inn keeper is in charge, the place has changed little, and the spirit that induces rest, is still here. 

Anytime I leave the farm, the animals, and all of the daily responsibilities that tie me to the place and my way of daily life, it is hard. As the deadline to leave gets closer I feel my stress levels rising in anticipation of all of the possible things that can go wrong while I am away and spend my time trying to find ways to divert their happening, or if they do, I leave numbers and instructions on how to deal with the situation. It is a pointless waste of my energy but it can’t be helped. I can not stop that which might happen despite my wishes and best efforts to counteract them. At some point I have to realize that the only thing left to do is to pack my things, and leave. On Saturday, we did.

We drove north, by north east, stopping by a water fall in north Alabama on the Little River. This not so tiny river flowed through a deep canyon which had been carving out the rocky sides for centuries. Now a National Reserve it has been made more access able to those who aren’t so adventurous to climb down slippery trails to get to see the beauty of the place. Above the falls on the flat slow moving water with scattered deeper pools families were enjoying the cool water, children splashed, and adults basked on the rocks.

They were sitting on an uplifted geological story book. The hard rock that I stood on had obviously been many things in the time since it began to be. Layer by layer it had been formed and in each layer the story of its incarnation was revealed. The lower levels of this sedimentary book showed primitive shells of varying types and shapes of a time when this ground was under ocean water. A strata above that showed evidence of fallen trees and acorns or some type of round nuts imbedded into what was then perhaps a marshy forrested place. Each layer was different and laden with different clues as to what changes this ground had seen. Now it was a massive rock formation which defined a fall line and was the precipice for the water fall that we had come to see. The air rising off the falling water was cool and refreshing in stark comparison to the feeling in the parking lot which was thick, hot, and damp. We got in the air conditioned car and drove on.

Mark was scheduled to teach a workshop at Snowbird Lodge for the week ahead. Our check in was Sunday night, and so we headed towards the cooler mountains, and the place we were revisiting, again. It was my birthday, again, and having this destination as the place to be spending and celebrating the occasion at, made the day’s driving a gift in it self.

Over the course of the day I had occasionally checked my phone to see if all was well back at the farm, and was amazed at the kind good wishes for a happy birthday on my FaceBook thing. It really was a bit humbling to find so many had even noticed, and had responded to the FB alert and so many had sent a plethora of sweet messages. Most of my days are spent in semi hermit like reclusion, not because I don’t care to be around folks, its just that maintaining the farm, riding the horses, and such take a lot of time and we live a good ways from town. There are many days where I feel a bit alone and friendless, so to find such an overwhelming bunch of happy birthday wishes was wonderful and a very nice gift to have received from all. Top that off with a week ahead at Snowbird, it was the icing and the candle complete.

There is always a magical feeling when we drive into the narrow drive at the bottom of the hill on which the lodge is sited. The open road gives way to deep shade and then suddenly bright green colors appear in a vivid and shocking glow from the trees above and the bright mosses on the ground below. A tiny stream meanders from the right, under the road, and disappears around the curve of the hill. There is small house shaped box to the left which looks all the while like a troll might peek from behind it and demand a toll, but hasn’t yet. With a turn to the left the car strains to rise up the steep drive, and once out of the car at the top the gravel crunches softly under my feet as I walk to take in the mountain view. My shoulders always drop with a big sigh, and for here and now, life is good.

In the pattern of the Neal Simon play where Alan Alda and the actress, whose name I can’t remember just now, met at a lodge each year for a weekend together, each time being a scene of their lives together at this place, we caught up with our friends that we had met here many years ago and again, renewed our friendships over wine and dinner.  Afterwards I was brought a hunk of chocolate yumminess with a single candle on it and I blew it out, but forgot to make a wish. A good night cap and a game of dominoes and we called it a night and fell into a deep sleep. It was an excellent birthday and great start to a week ahead.

Mark is teaching his workshop now while I take the luxury of time to write and enjoy the lack of responsibility of doing absolutely anything. It is a tough job, but somebody has got to do it. I am just glad it is me. Life will have its say when I get home as it always does, but for now, older and questionably wiser, I am relaxing.   

Friday, July 26, 2013

On Norman Bridge Road

written on Wednesday....

About three pm yesterday, it was getting darker as clouds approached and I hurried to get the horses fed in a gentle mist that was being dropped by the leading edge of yet another rumbling afternoon storm.  Back in the house again, the lights, not surprisingly, flickered and went out. The skies opened wide and began dumping more rain on the already water logged ground below. Lightening cracked and thunder rolled in yet another in this summer’s month long pattern, but this one was different.

News got to us that the charming neighborhood in nearby Montgomery, Old Cloverdale had been hit extremely hard by a wind sheer from the storm and that many of the ancient giant oaks had gone down. Roads were blocked, houses totaled, cars smashed, and power lines lay strewn everywhere. Our daughters both live in this neighborhood of charming cottages and oak covered lanes, as does my brother and his wife. They all escaped harm and damage, but  all around them, was devastation. Today I learned that my grandparent’s old house, also in this neighborhood, had been totaled by a fallen massive oak, a tree which had shaded the yard that my father grew up in and where I played in as a little kid. 

Since I haven’t seen the scene, I don’t know which of the oaks it was. It could have been the one by the sidewalk that we walked by each time we came to visit. Or, it might have been the one in the back yard with a thick horizontal branch to which long ropes were tied to hold a simple wooden board swing that my grandfather spent hours pushing me high up into the sky on. There were others in their yard, but these two stand out in my memory as the largest and most stately. 

It makes me incredibly sad to think of this house in ruins and one of the big trees laying atop it with its roots ripped from the ground. There is so much that I remember about that yard, and that house, and the wonderful times I spent there with my family and cousins. It was a tiny house with strange hallways and doorways, but it was full of mystery and charm, and mostly it was filled with the unconditional love of my grandparents.

The yard was my grandfather Bibb’s, pride and joy. It too was tiny but I never knew it until later when I viewed it with adult eyes. It was full of wonderful plants and flowers that Bibb tended like a zen master. A narrow sidewalk of coarse old red brick lay in a cross hatched pattern running from the garage to the back door steps and gave definition to the yard. Red roses grew on the side of the garage and I used to play a game of hopscotch on the bricks, jumping to make my feet echo their pattern. Mature camellias of varying shades of color and shapes were dotted around the yard and I would walk with Bibb as he examined them for bugs and scale, and just to admire them. But always, there was the presence of the towering oak trees passively, shading, cooling, and standing guard.  

The one by the street leaned a bit towards the house and its image is clear when I remember the day we had an urgent call from Miriam that something terrible had happened. Miriam stood crying under that leaning tree as we drove up. Their little white house had caught fire and the contents of the porch/library had all been lost. The crisp white walls of the house were charred and streaked with soot and everything was still dripping with a sickening sound of water from the firemen’s hoses. I had never seen my grandmother cry or be upset by anything and this image of her so distraught frightened me and made me cry from my lack of understanding. 

 I learned later that, having lived through the Great Depression my grandmother held no confidence in banks and that here, all of her saved up money, in cash, had been tucked into the pages of the books in her library, hidden and safe.  In a deja vu moment of earlier times, this money of hers had vanished in a puff of smoke, fire, and water. 

My aunt Mimi, Miriam and Bibb’s daughter and my father’s sister, used to come home from Atlanta and I would go and
spend the night at their house when she came. There were two small bedrooms upstairs and we would sleep in hers, the one on the right with the deep purple wall paper that covered the walls and ran up the slanted form of the roof above. Looking out of her window she taught me “Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are....”, and she taught me to make a wish on a star, the biggest I could find in the dark night sky.

Under the stairway was a dark and narrow closet that I loved exploring when the grownups were busy talking and I was forgotten. It was Bibb’s shoe closet. Bibb wore a suit every day of his life that I know of, and all those suits had to have shoes. Wing tips and spats, formal laced up leather shoes of every style and color rested in this dark seclusion in all of their original boxes. 

There was a drawer that Miriam kept her snap together beads in, white plastic beads to snap together into long flapper style strands, short chokers, or any length desired for the occasion. There were antique toys, wire mesh baskets that could be shaped into different things, a paddle that held a group of wooden chickens that pecked the paddle by string and a pendulum that spun in a circle, making click, click, click as it spun. My favorite was the Pick Up Sticks can filled with
thin colored wooden sticks that one twisted into a bundle and then let them fall into a pile on the floor, with the aim of picking them up one by one without moving any in the pile.

All of the games, the toys, the yard, the swing, the trees, the very mood of the house that sat on the corner of Norman Bridge Road and Park with all of the people who lived there and who enriched my life, simply made time slow down. What a precious ability this was, to make life last by the moment, savoring each delicious second as though it were the only one that mattered. It was a haven for my soul and it taught me how important it is to remember to go there.........

written today...Friday

Today I went to town to see the sad remains of the old house and, to my surprise I drove up to, not only finding it standing, but relatively unscathed. There were workers sitting under the shade of the carport which was covered by a huge blue tarp and there was evidence of huge limbs from trees that had fallen on it but had been cleaned up. The new owner was there and after introducing myself, he happily showed me the remodeling he had done on the place. It was great fun seeing the changes, a hallway closed up and wall taken out to open spaces, newer paint and new bathroom downstairs fixtures, and the old sink that Bibb used to shave at every morning in his sleeveless t-shirt was upstairs. Mostly, though, it was the same. In looking down the stairway that looked exactly the same I half expected to see my grandfather walk through the front door, cigar in
mouth and newspaper in hand.

I was thrilled also to see that the leaning tree was still standing, wider in girth from the years, but the owner said that the tree that had held my swing had been gone before he had bought the house. It did make me happy to see the place again, and it being not too much worse for the possible damage that could have happened. It has been a nice ride down memory lane for the past few days, thinking about it and remembering nice times in connection with this house and these trees.

Our grand daughter stayed with us last night and I watched her in a new reflection of my own surge of memories jogged by the storm, as she played and explored her grandparents house. I wonder what she will remember of this house and what it felt like to be here, years from now when she is older and we are perhaps gone. If she is lucky she will have wonderful memories if they are half as good as mine. I hope so.