Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Danger, Black Ice

I was really groggy when I took the dog out this morning at 6:30 am.  As I staggered onto the flagstone steps outside my front door, I slid wildly across them to the grass. Black ice.  Once Stella had taken care of business, I attempted to go back inside. The garage and back door were still locked, and as I tried to get up the front steps, I realized that it was too slippery for me to even put one foot down. I tried to wake up my sleeping daughter, the only other person at home, but she didn’t pick up my cell phone or the house phone or respond to my increasingly upset hollering below her bedroom window. 

Finally, I crawled.  Stella wasn’t sure what I was doing down on her level on my hands and knees.  She licked my face but then was scared to follow me because it was so icy that she could hardly stand up either.   Sitting on the floor in my front doorway, I realized that it had never seemed so far from the grass to the entry before.  It felt like someone had stretched the stony path and steps without my even knowing it.

As I gratefully sipped my first cup of coffee, I thought about the similarities between crawling to safety and what is going on all around me in our world.   I began considering the instinct to protect yourself.  And your home, your family, your loved ones, your country.  The protection instinct is so strong in all species of animals.  Right now, around the globe, for the two-leggeds, it is a reflex that is on high alert.  What will it take for us to feel safe and to trust each other again?  It seems like asking for the impossible.  I didn’t have the answer, but I knew that I couldn’t just sit and stew about it because there were two horses out there waiting to be fed.

It took a long time for me to dig out the “paw-safe” ice melt from the basement, and I got so frustrated.  I felt like everything that I knew I had and could rely on had gone missing.  Very cautiously, I made my way out to the barn.  The girls greeted me enthusiastically, and I especially appreciated the sloppy kisses from Siete that I got this morning.  I didn’t open the gate from the corral to the pasture because I was afraid it was too dangerous out there.  Maybe it will warm up soon, and things will go back to normal.

As I turned to go back inside, Silk suddenly stopped eating and rushed out into the corral to stand by the fence.  She focused on me intently, as if to say, “Don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye out to be sure you get home okay.”  Yes, I get it, Silk. As we navigate through this suddenly treacherous new environment, coming upon the patches of black ice,  let’s remember to watch out for each other and  hold out a steady hand.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Shapeshifting into a New Year

These are strange times. I can’t say that I’m looking forward to what 2017 has in store for us, but I’m certainly glad to see this old year pass away.  I’ve crawled into my shell for the last six months, wrestling with intensely painful knee and back pain, the rejection and disloyalty of a close friend, and the chaos and expense of renovating our kitchen. When I woke up this morning and trudged out to the barn to feed the horses, I didn't feel the sense of anticipation and hope that I usually feel on the first day of the year. Looking around me, I thought about how the trees and the rocks and the horses don’t fret about the passing of time or worry about the future the way I do.   I had a short talk with Silk while she ate her breakfast about letting go of my expectations.

The weather has been wreaking havoc in the corrals and pasture.  It rains, then it freezes, creating moon craters and small skating rinks. Often, it’s just too dangerous to let the horses go out anywhere beyond the edges of the barn.  I used to worry that they would get antsy and pent-up from being confined, but recently I’ve noticed that they don’t seem to care at all.  They accept whatever happens, gate closed, gate opened, and don’t go racing around, frantic to move just for the sake of movement, even if it is dangerous.  They know better.

“Maybe it will warm up enough that the ice will melt today and you can go out there,” I said to Silk.  She just kept eating her mash.  She wasn’t concerned about anything except licking every last crumb from her feed bucket.   I took the shovel and carefully navigated the black ice to begin to chop up the skating rink in the middle of the pasture so that I could open the gate for the horses. As I cracked the ice with the edge of the shovel, getting a good workout for my arms and shoulders, I considered the lessons that water teaches us. 

Water reminds me that sometimes it’s good to be a shape-shifter, to open up to change and to let go.  Water is unpredictable, flowing gently, rushing wildly, turning hard and sharp as stone. We humans are mostly water, and water is absolutely essential for all living beings on earth. It is also very endangered, as we are witnessing more and more often.  The recent confrontations at Standing Rock have taught me that women must be the guardians of the water.  The strength of being genuine, allowing our emotions to flow and raising our voices to express what others might be afraid to say makes us powerful as a great river.   I believe that water is connected to our feelings and desires, and it can show us many ways to express ourselves.

One thing that I have absorbed fully into my bones this past year is an appreciation of how inseparable I am from Mother Nature and how we never stop learning from her.  The ice thawed, the horses spent a sunny afternoon in the pasture, wandering through the big puddles and tonight, it will totally freeze up and be a slippery mess again.  But this too shall pass.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Brink of Uncertainty

A few months ago, I had a conversation with the young man who helps me do my barn chores. He’s a polite, well meaning neighbor kid whom I’ve know since he was six years old.  While I was mucking out one stall and he was mucking the other, he told me that he was looking forward to watching the first Presidential debate.  I admit that I was surprised since he doesn’t seem the least bit interested in anything outside his small, isolated world.  When I asked why, he eagerly announced that he was planning to vote for Donald Trump.  Startled, I stopped mucking.  I tentatively asked why, and he told me that he liked Trump’s economic and health care plans.  I bit my tongue. I said that I don’t discuss politics. I didn’t blurt out, “But he’s a racist and he’s a bully and he’s disrespectful to women!” I was afraid that the young man would decide that he didn’t want to help me anymore and quit working for us.

 It was the first of many instances where I didn’t speak up when people in my community said things – often hateful and bigoted – against Hillary Clinton and in praise of Donald Trump.   I kept telling myself that I didn’t want to make them mad at me since I had to live with them long after the election would be over.  At the same time, I felt my mother looking down on me, scolding me for not calling a spade a spade and defending my beliefs.  I was ashamed of myself for being silent.

There was a terrible dichotomy because some of these people, who were clearly not concerned about the racism and the misogyny being spewed by Trump and his surrogates,  were at the same time, good folks, good neighbors whom I genuinely liked.  It would all be fine unless we dug a bit deeper and uncovered this really ugly truth.  I felt that they didn’t give a shit about what happened to people who were different than they were.  They didn’t want to be connected to everyone else on the planet. They wanted to protect their little corner of the earth and justify their own beliefs, and they appeared to truly hate anyone who thought the way that I did.  I began to feel their anger and frustration radiating all around me. It scared me.

Yesterday was my birthday.  It did not go as I expected it would. I thought that I would be celebrating the first woman President’s hard fought victory.  I really wanted us to have a Mom-in-Chief so badly. Our country needs nurturing and healing and an end to the bullying, mean culture that has mushroomed like a nuclear bomb during this election season.  Instead, there is terrible fear that we will fall back into the dark days before civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, environmental rights, human rights were given to those of us who had been previously trampled and abused. 

Over the years, I can see that my young friend, who reliably and cheerfully comes to help me with my barn chores, has also grown to love my horses.  He had never spent any time around big animals before, but it’s clear that he enjoys being with them.  It is also obvious that he loves trees, plants and nature.  This morning, when he comes to muck the stalls with me, I will try to start a new conversation with him.  I have no idea what I will say, but I will attempt to find common ground, listen carefully and keep an open heart. I believe that we all need to do that starting right now.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Too Hot to Trot

As the temperatures soar this summer, I’m spending much more time in my day with my horses, trying to keep them cool so the heat doesn’t cause them to be too miserable or get sick.  I’m grateful that I can carve out these short interludes to be with them and that they are right outside my back door.  It’s obvious that the horses are also very happy that I can act as their personal cooling agent. How often does that happen? Lucky girls!

Silk likes to stand in Siete’s stall next to the fan with the water buckets right under her nose. Every couple of hours, I drop in to lightly spray both horses with the hose to cool them down. Yesterday, I sprayed my arm too and feeling the delightful coolness of the fan blowing on my wet skin, I just turned the hose on myself and got soaked. Then, Silk and I spent about fifteen minutes standing absolutely still together in front of the fan.

The absolutely still part is important too. Standing without motion is something that I notice the horses do when it is very hot and they want to conserve their energy. Alone, I would have begun to fidget, but with Silk to show me how to do it effortlessly, I was totally content to rest next to her.

This morning, I asked myself, if I were a horse, what would I need to be comfortable today?  Fly masks, non-toxic spray to make me not taste good to insects,  cool water, and tasty hay and other interesting things to eat like grass and carrots are at the top of the list.  We are down to the very end of our second cut hay, counting the days until the new second cutting is baled and ready.  I was able to score nine very nice, clover laced bales to get us through this week until the fresh stuff is available next Sunday.  The girls are so pleased, murmuring “Nmm, nmm!” loudly as I approach with more flakes.  I also make a “tea” for Siete, adding a little molasses and sweet feed to the bucket.  She’s not a big water drinker, so it keeps her hydrated when it’s this hot.

It seems like things aren’t going to cool down for another four or five days.  To my surprise, I didn’t feel discouraged by that news. It sure beats trudging out to the barn in two feet of snow.  “Don’t worry, girls, we got this one covered,” I told them last night. “Nmm, nmm!”

Saturday, May 28, 2016

One Year Ago Today

I wasn’t sure what today would be like when I woke up this morning. It’s exactly one year ago today that our friend, Paul Moshimer, died.  I stopped at the grocery store on my way up to Blue Star, just as I did on this day last year, and bought food that I thought Pam might eat, knowing that eating is not at all what one feels like doing when something like this happens. Still, eating is important.  Today, I picked out what I know she enjoys, and drove up to Blue Star, not having any idea what to expect but certain that I needed to be there.
A small group of us gathered under the big tree, next to Paul’s shrine.  There were a few really close, long-time friends and a few newer ones.  We sat on a blanket and had a picnic, and I thought about how brave my friend Pam is, and how amazing it is that she and the farm are still blooming and growing after this long, difficult year.
Suddenly, Frida, Pam’s German Shepard, found something in the grass. A baby bird had fallen from a nest in Paul’s big tree. Luckily, Suzanne, who is very skilled at saving wild animals, scooped up the tiny creature. We pulled the old pickup truck right below the nest, and Pam climbed on its roof. She reached the branch where the nest was and gently placed the little baby back with the others.   I looked up and realized that I could see at least four other nests in the enormous branches of the tree.  Life goes on. 

I have felt many things since Paul died.  Some were very painful, others were strong and beautiful.  And I have witnessed that when your heart breaks open, it can offer you a greater capacity to love. Pam and the horses show me how each time I am with them.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Mitakuye Oyasin

Just wanted you to know that the trees have been talking to me.  We had an ice storm yesterday, and last night around nine o’clock when I took the dog outside, there was an intense cracking chatter that filled the air as the tree branches jiggled in the wind.   At 4:30 am, when I got up to make coffee for my husband who had to leave on an early flight, the trees were still loudly rattling their branches probably in protest of the 20 degree temperatures.

Now, as the sun is up and the ice on the ground has melted enough for the horses to be safely allowed into the pasture, I walked back towards the house with the gentle cracking of the trees, still murmuring softly to me.  I thought about how much I’ve learned in the past year, and how connected I feel to everything around me.  It is a direct thread between the horses, my friendship with Pam and Paul at Blue Star, which led to my friendships with Native Americans that they know, and what these remarkable teachers have helped me see about the world around me. “Mitakuye oyasin”, they say – “All are related”. 

It seems like either you understand this or you will miss out on some of the most important things that might happen to you during your time here on earth.  I read a speech recently that Chief Phil Lane gave at the United Nations over ten years ago.   He talked about how his grandfather had a conversation with another elder who was an old friend and explained to him that scientists and researchers were beginning to become “ecologically conscious”:

“They have spent great amounts of money and studied Mother Earth for many, many years and they have recently made a new discovery.  They found out that everything is interrelated.  They found out that when you pollute the air which all living things breathe and pollute the water which all living things drink, you pollute all living things.  What do you think about that?”

The old man smiled knowingly and shook his head.  “I was wondering when they would get around to that!  Just look at what we do to our Mother Earth.  We cut her hair where it should not be cut up and rip up her skin where it should not be ripped up, then we drill holes inside her and suck all of her blood out and put things inside of her and blow her bones up.”  He then looked deeply into the eyes of my grandfather,  shook his finger and said,  “And what would happen if you did that to your mother?  She would die!  And this is exactly what is going to happen to all of us if we do not learn to respect and understand the spirit and teachings of our Mother.”

Yet, here we are ten years after he gave that speech, and we are still busy destroying our dearest treasure.  How do you teach more people to listen to the trees?  Or protect and honor the horses and other creatures? Or show kindness and care for one another like we are all part of the same family?  My friend, George, talks about building a  “tiyospaye”, a family that goes beyond blood relations and includes friends who have become relatives too.  And I watch those relations meet and join with other groups of people whose friendship I value, more people who listen to trees, love animals and care about each other.  As blind, foolish and narrow-minded as some folks might be, I believe that there are also many circles, many “tiyospayes” continuing to intertwine all around the world so that we can all feel the spirit, learn the teachings and look after our Mother.  I think that’s what the trees were telling me.