Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mustang Sally and Snow Daze

Today, Wednesday, is our second snow day. The weather channel alarmists had said earlier that we might get several inches of the white fluffy stuff but when the storm track shifted, we got rain, and then icy sleet, followed by about a half inch of snow. The dusting of white is covering a solid crunch of ice as I walk back and forth from the barn. Slick and hard, everywhere is an awesome opportunity for busting one’s bum. The horses have lived in their blankets now since this  all began, and are warm and cozy despite the midday temps still in the low twenties.  

Monday, by stark contrast before the storm, was a balmy sixty degrees or so, sunshine and blue skies. So as no to waste such nice weather and, having heard the forecast for the next few days, I ventured out to ride my mare, Sunset. We were walking along heading to a trail head, when another of my hilarious horses came galloping up behind her as we strolled down the lane next to that horse’s pasture. The other horse’s intent, of course, was to incite Sunset to gallop with her, and throw in a few bucks. Sunset bounced and jigged, and she felt like a powder keg about to blow, but didn’t. With a bit of distance away from the galloping trouble maker and we went on and had a nice ride from there. It was a pleasant ride with no plans for any real training for the day, just a
jaunt to see what was out and about, a stretching of the legs and a chance to go to a peaceful place for my brain, if, I didn't get  myself bucked off. 

I rode to a piece of the farm that we rarely visit now, the site of where we once parked a mobile home when we first moved to the land, now twenty years ago. Small saplings grow there now, our temporary house on wheels long gone away. Thick underbrush surrounds these small trees and narrow game trails lead deeper into the brush from the field where we stood. A good number of these small trees had their bark rubbed off from some male deers that had scratched their antlers upon the trees, either relieving an itch or marking a spot, I am not sure which. 

After my ride with Sunset, I figured on a bit of multitasking to prepare for the upcoming snow days. After all it was being hailed to be a declared state of emergency by the governor and one does need to prepare for such. I gathered the empty gas and diesel cans I could find and loaded them in the pick up. I figured to stock up on fuel, wine and other basics, and also to take the stacks of cardboard boxes and bags of paper and plastic to the recycling center.

This particular recycling center that we use, was opened many years ago to help create some
jobs for the handicapped, the mentally and physically challenged, people in our area. There was no formal recycling done in those days as it all went into to the dump, or the side of the road. And so the center was opened for those who wanted to voluntarily recycle, but who had no where to do so, and thus it provided jobs for these challenged people to sort through and process all of the enormous amounts of stuff that could and should be recycled. It was a win win back then in many aspects, and still is.

Over the years though, I have taken our recyclables to this place many times, and have always felt guilty about feeling an unease in being around the workers, these people. When I drove up,  always, every one of them would look at me with blank faces and unrevealing eyes. Their blank stares unnerved me, this lack of connection. Having been taught it is impolite to stare, I avoided their eye contact, uncertain of what to say or do. I always felt a relief to have been done with it and be gone. The awkwardness I felt, was unpleasant.

That changed one day when I drove through the building as always, and stopped where the unloading place was. I turned off the truck and stepped out to my surprise, to hear a radio playing “Mustang Sally”. Joining in on this song were twenty or so folks of varying mental capacity, all singing at the top of their lungs, dancing, and wearing smiles that covered their faces with joy. I felt humbled by their being so incredibly, unabashedly, deliriously happy in this unexpected moment. They were in a place and time that I could not go to, and I drove away that day questioning my feelings of guilt at my intellectual superiority and, my vastly superior life, or was it. I had to wonder, who was in the better realm of consciousness.

In truth, I realized, in ways I envied them. Like little children who have not yet learned the real truths of life, when the fairy tales have been not been stripped of their magic, and all things are still good and pure, they seem to live in a world of a limited vision to the reality of most “normal” peoples”  and seem to be happy and oblivious. Their innocence is sweet, and theirs is a place they will never leave. They will live in childhood for their entire lives, never leaving Never Never Land, or the land somewhere over the rainbow.

One of the fellows there is a friendly guy who always introduces himself and extends a hand for me to shake, every time he talks to me. This is just before he asks “Who was That Girl?” referring to the sitcom in the 70’s. Marlo Thomas was the correct answer for that one, and I generally get that same question asked several times in the brief time I am there. What I have come to learn, though, is that he is a walking encyclopedia of the 70’s sitcoms and their actors, a savant of sorts of some rather obscure information and he is very entertaining.  

Another fellow there always is decked out in clothes, and hat, emblazoned with the University of Alabama logos. He says “Roll Tide” frequently to himself and to no one in particular while he does his work unloading the bags of stuff I have brought. When I recently echoed his call with another “roll tide” of my own, he smiled and squirmed with delight and repeated yet another enthusiastic call for the tide to roll.

Yesterday as I drove into the lot of the center several of the guys were standing outside, perhaps waiting on a bus or something. As soon as I stopped, they began to approach the truck with their usual zombie faces. I got out of the truck and said with a smile, “Hey guys! How’s it going?” To which most of them smiled back and answered something, others were quiet, but all seemed delighted that I noticed them and spoke to them. My friend who is the 70’s sitcom genius, introduced himself, again, shook my hand and asked me some more questions that I should have known, but had forgotten answers for. "Who is Lindsey Wagner?"

I drove away from there on Monday, with a smile on my face.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Clear Blue Sky Without a Cloud

From Thanksgiving until the week after New Years, I have always felt a disjoint from my day to day routines, and primarily from my horses. Yes I do see them, feed them twice a day, but the regular riding part just doesn’t seem to get to happen. There is all the family time and getting together and all of those distractions, but also, this time of year is when the weather begins changing in significant ways, first turning hot, sticky, and humid and then stormy, cold, and blustery, followed by a few nicer days, in repeating weekly patterns. This year, I think the last time I got on one of my beasts was the week before Thanksgiving, until yesterday.

Horses are not like cars that one can park for months, get in and turn the key on, and drive away. They revert, they become less broke, less engaged with human interaction, and here this means me. They get a look in their eyes that is distant as though they were observing life out in the beyond. They get a bit disrespectful of my space as I lead them to feed, or take out to pasture. Nothing rude, but I just become a non important part of their world for a while. The coming back from “Christmas Break” is part that I dread. I know ahead, from experiences passed, that I will have a bit of reintroducing myself to do. I usually have to pick a duel, or do something to get them to notice me again. The weather looked to be taking a break so yesterday I intended to get reacquainted my horses finally.

Yesterday was one of those January days that bloomed as the remnant of a cold front that had come through and gone, leaving behind a pleasantly cool, dry, crystal clear blue sky, with only a slight breeze. Out in the pasture before I brought them in to feed, all three of my mares stood together with hind legs cocked each resting a massive hip, ears relaxed, and lips loose. They were mentally asleep soaking in the sweet feel of the warming rays of morning sunshine.

I heard the scream of a Red Tailed Hawk overhead and stopped to look up. Against the backdrop of the dark blue cloudless sky circled, not one, but three hawks. Their white bellies glowed from being lit by the low January sun, their red tails showed a pale pink, and their wings were strongly rimmed in black. Slowly they circled together until drifting from my sight, a signal that spring thoughts are already happening in their world.

After they had eaten, I took Kitty out of her stall first. She is the oldest and the self appointed queen of the herd, of royal lineage doing time in a south Alabama barn with little to do than cart me around the ring when I saddle her up. I bought her and broke her when she was three, and in the fourteen years since she has never done anything in bad intent to me. Her one and only bucking episode was once when I was walking her through some very tall grass near the pond. Out of no where, she suddenly welled up like a rising balloon, and jumped into the air with a very unexpected explosion. I desperately grabbed every and any thing I could and miraculously stayed somewhere near the saddle as she came back to earth, all the while mulling the what just happened thoughts and whys. Later, when I ran the tractor through that tall grass to cut it, I revealed what she had jumped from. A huge, big fat black, water moccasin was laying there arrogantly defying my tractor and the cutter behind it. She must’ve smelled it and  jumped away from it nearly unhorsing me in the process. It’s a very good thing that I did not land on it. Anyway that snake did not live to scare her or me again after being fricasseed by the bush hog. 

We had a short and very pleasant ride, picking up pretty close to where we had been, given that she is older and is not as fit as she once was, but neither am I, so it was good. Next to go was Sunset, Kitty’s pasture mate and ardent admirer, a  heavy girl, and a strongly opinionated red mare with lots of chrome and a partial blue eye.  

I had had my come to Jesus ride with her the day before when I had ridden her up to the front field and we were confronted by the sight of my neighbor’s cows grazing what they could of the dry brown grasses that remained across the road. Her head came up and she turned to stone as she gazed in horror at these strange black aliens. I was oblivious to her at this moment, of course, and planned my response at what I already knew was coming, the part where she takes a direct flight home. As she turned to leave I pulled a right rein and there she found herself in a circle, going nowhere. Once that activity became boring, and the cows had ceased to be the focus of her universe, she turned an ear towards me and life was good again. We finished with a nice ride with the cows giving us casual glances from time to time and we strolled on a loose rein back to the barn. I had guessed that, after our previous day’s warm up ride, I might have a nice ride with her yesterday and did, covering the basics and a few tricks too, and were done.

My next real surprise ride was with my youngest mare Cistine, who I had anticipated to be full of beans and who might need some quality time on the lunge line before I put my toe in the stirrup. I took her out to the ring to let out the gas, and she responded by quietly doing my bidding, with no bucks, pronks, or silliness. I got on and had the most pleasant ride with her I have ever had. Who would have thunk it?

As I turned the horses out after our rides I opened the stall gate for Kitty. Instead of walking out, she turned and gently placed her entire head on top of mine  softly resting her thick jaw bones there, cradling my skull.  I obliged by scratching her under her jaw. We stood there for many minutes communicating in that special way that two totally different species can do through strong silences and touch.

It is my close interaction with my horses that has always kept me grounded and sane and is the thing I miss the most when it is interrupted by holidays, weather, and distractions. Yesterday just came as an unexpectedly wonderful time catching up and getting reacquainted with my mares. As Steinbeck once wrote, “Life was back in greased grooves again”. A balance regained, a day enjoyed, and the sunshine absorbed. Maybe my horses liked it too.