Late spring, usually warm, almost always a sunny day, May 23 is a day I have spent at the barn (with the exception of a few years while I was in college and the barn was 900 miles away).
The morning would begin with a carrot – she would usually find it before I was ready to give it to her, nosing around the pocket of my blue jeans and pushing her heavy head against me until I shared it with her. Then she would munch contentedly, her eyelids at half-mast, as I walked around her with a soft brush, removing the layer of fine dust to reveal the deep red coat underneath.
She would stand with her ears drooping to the sides like an airplane as I bent over each foot with the metal hoof-pick, its red rubber grip long since worn off. Her weight would shift without my even asking, and she would lift the foot and gracefully bend her leg so I could extract the mud, pebbles – and other things – from the triangular space between the hard hoof wall and the soft, sensitive frog.
Three feet cleaned without a hitch, but the fourth – the right rear – was the one for which she had a tradition: as I leaned against her hip and bent to lift her leg below the hock, she would resist and kick the foot back slightly. She never did so maliciously; it was something she had done from the very first time I groomed her, back in 1980 when she was just a baby.
Next, I would pull my wide-toothed metal comb from my tack bag and gently work the knots from small sections of her tail. Without fail, she would swat at flies, the swish-swish sound comforting, although occasionally the heavy hair would catch my bare skin and sting just a little. Section by section I would work my way from the bottom to the top, releasing the knots, removing the burrs and bits of hay, until her tail was thick and flowing like a deep red waterfall.
I repeated the action on her mane, pulling those tiny sections that were long or unruly, my hands marked by blisters if I pulled hairs from the entire length
of her long, graceful neck.
Ending with a pass through her thin red forelock, I would comb it all to one side and, like an embarrassed teenager, she would snort and shake her head as if to say, “Mom – puh-lease!” Then I’d brush her face with the soft brush and she would lower her head so I could plant a kiss on the small star that marked her forehead – her only marking, an angel’s kiss…
Most May 23rds, I would saddle up and we would take a short ride around the farm. One year, we rode down the long dirt driveway to the pond and the shack, well-hidden from the road. If something rustled in the underbrush, her ears would prick forward, until she realized it was a bird or some other small animal.
We would stand at the barbed-wire fence near the back end of the trail in the woods, where tree line met with hilly pasture, where other horses and cows grazed on the hill. The breeze would lift the strands of her mane as she held her head high, nostrils flaring as she took in their scent, and I could feel the intensity of her beneath me, beneath the saddle.
Then we would ride back to the barn and repeat the grooming process in reverse, ending with the chilly water from the hose washing away the marks from saddle and “horse lather” (an insult to call it mere “sweat”) that marked her body, and leaving her coat dark red, with tiny prisms of sunlight gleaming in its luster.
When she was dry – a task accomplished with me standing nearby, holding the thick lead-line in the yard where the grass (and clover) grew thicker than the pasture – I would fish another carrot from the pocket of my tack bag (somehow, she always knew it was there, and would wait patiently until I offered it to her), remove her halter and watch at the fence as she walked, then trotted to a sunny spot in the middle of the paddock.
She would turn, look at me (the horse equivalent of thumbing her nose), and lie down gracefully and groan in ecstasy as she kicked her legs in the air and rolled in the grass and dirt. Twice on the right side, twice on the left, then return to the right side and stand up – grunting as she did so – and shake, sending grass and dust flying in all directions.
Cleanliness is overrated when you’re a horse.
Ah, how I miss that tradition.
Happy Birthday, my dear Brat.
I am the fortunate facilitator for a number of writing courses whose students include individuals with lifetimes of backgrounds in fields other than writing, and ranging in age from a ninth grade student to retirees who are genteel enough not to reveal their ages.
With a mere eight weeks to assist them in extracting their stories from their memories and sharing them both on paper and aloud with the class, we start writing on the very first day. I remind them that this isn’t a theory class, but a writing class, so having them listen to me speak does no good without putting what is discussed during the lecture into practice.
I warm them up with a white board full of notes. They furiously copy things into their notebooks: my name, the name of the course, my email address and phone number, as well as the topics for each of the eight weeks of study.
Then we do a little exercise that includes them providing a brief introduction: name, where they came from (because it’s rare in Georgia to find anyone who was born here), their family, career background, why they chose this course.
Finally, I announce it’s time to write, and I must admit that I get a little thrill seeing all those deer-in-the-headlights looks of terror.
I reassure them that they’ve already told us a story, when they shared their introductions, and that they are each more than capable of writing a brief story or essay.
Groans, eye-rolls, heavy sighs ensue, then I “soften” and say, “How about we answer some questions first?”
Nods. Smiles. Sighs of relief.
I ask eight or ten questions – sometimes more, depending on my mood – and ask for a volunteer to share what they’ve written, reading each question in the form of a statement. For example, if I asked the name of their elementary school, they would say, “I was in the first grade at Midwestern City Elementary School;” followed by my question about who their teacher was, and they would read, “My teacher was Mrs. Smith;” and so on.
By the time we’ve gone all the way around the room, they’ve shared a nice little eight- or ten-line story and I smile. “Congratulations,” I say. “You have just written your first memoir.”
We all write, but writing well takes commitment. I encourage my students to make their tools available at all times: a comfortable writing pen, a notebook or journal that appeals to them. Their task is to jot down thoughts as they come to mind, with a commitment to longer and longer “jot sessions” each day.
Writing your story is a commitment to the relationship you have with yourself, I remind them.
Without fail, they have each WED their writing (although sometimes it could be more of a “WaED”): they Write (almost) Every Day.
Sometimes luck is with you, and sometimes not, but the important thing is to take the dare. Those who climb mountains or raft rivers understand this. ~ David Browe
Let me preface this post by stating that I have a very cautious personality, so rafting was never high on my to-do list. I’ve ridden horses for decades, which struck some of my boat-mates as crazy, since horses have minds of their own… but I might argue that the river does as well. At least I can understand a horse, walk up to it, rub its nose, decide from its response whether it had a mind to cooperate or aim for the first low-growing tree limb.
A river has no psyche… or so I thought.
My palms began sweating profusely as we climbed the hill from the parking lot to the check-in counter, so when I settled into my helmet and life jacket and we learned about proper oar handling from one of the instructors, I felt certain that my sweaty palms meant one of my raft-mates (likely my husband) would lose a couple of teeth – or an eye!
Strapped into an impossibly tight life jacket and barely able to breathe, I felt claustrophobic and nearly chickened out. There was a play table in the lobby with a bunch of Lincoln Logs, and I thought I could have a pretty good fort assembled by the time my team returned from the river…
Having converted me from sometime-exerciser to someone addicted to daily workouts, my Boot Camp instructor, Stacy Ward, handed me a yellow wrist band etched with the words, “I Can Do This,” with the advice to glance at it each time I felt my resolve starting to melt. I put it on my left wrist, the side I’d be looking at as one of the left-side paddlers.
At the river’s edge, we were introduced to our guide, Jesse, who encouraged us to “get acquainted with our raft” by jumping into the chilly water while hanging onto the ropes. I informed Jesse that I was a “river virgin” and scared out of my mind, and he assured me I’d have a pleasant experience.
We boarded the raft, and I was told to sit with one “cheek” on the edge of the raft, and the other on the “seat” then wedge one foot under the side edge and the other under the “seat” in front of me. Jesse had me sit in the back – probably so he could grab my life vest if I passed out.
Like lemmings heading toward a cliff, the entrance to the river was filled with rubber rafts of five or six people and a guide, all headed down a 4.5-level rapid. Our raft went down sideways and I began to scream, resulting in a mouth and nose full of water. (It was the last time I screamed on the river).
After the butterflies (and probably a bunch of parasites I picked up from the gallons I swallowed in that first dip) settled down, I focused on the river ahead and Jesse’s instructions to “paddle forward” or “two strokes back” or – most important – “get down – paddles up!” (I was good at that one – even did it a few times without prompting!)
By the time we reached the calm water where the rest of my raft-mates ditched for a leisurely swim, I had bonded with the raft and decided to stay put. And I must say, even the last bit of rapids, where we hit our final 4.5-rated water, was exhilarating, even fun.
We climbed back on the bus and I removed my helmet, unfastened the straps to my impossibly tight life jacket and took my first deep breath in more than two hours. “I did it!” I smiled and handed the wrist band back to Stacy, thanking her for the reminder that boosted my confidence throughout the ride.
I don’t even like the log flume ride at Six Flags, so I was certain I would not like whitewater rafting – and I’m not saying I’ll volunteer to go on another trip anytime soon. But I’m grateful for the feeling of accomplishment, of doing something I feared, leaving the river with wobbly knees and a smile on my face.
Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if you can’t breathe the air and drink the water. Don’t sit this one out. Do something. You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet. ~ Carl Sagan
Though tempted by the Lincoln Logs in the lobby, I’m glad I didn’t sit this one out!