Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Home Alone


I faced a dark night of my soul last night.  Others may make fun of the hype and drama of the blizzard of the century, but being home alone in one with horses to care for out in the barn was pretty high on my list of things I’d rather avoid.  My husband called me from a business trip on Sunday night to light the spark of my anxiety when he saw the weather forecast.  The generator and the monster snow-blower stand at the ready in our the basement, but I’ve never had to set them up and use them all on my own.  Monday morning at 6 am, I drove my daughter back to college and got home just as the snow began to fall. I’m the only one here who can take care of me, I thought.  I wasn’t sure if that made sense, but it did rattle me to be in our silent house, full of nervous anticipation.

“It’s like Hurricane Sandy with snow!” one TV weatherman gleefully warned.  Visions of the enormous pine tree in our front yard falling down during that disaster,  and nine days without power flashed before me.  I contacted my neighbor who promised to plow my driveway and a path to the barn before he leaves for Florida for a week’s vacation on Wednesday morning. I filled extra water buckets and put double the amount of hay in the horses’ stalls and asked the Native American spirits who were wintering there in my backyard to watch over them.  I brought in extra firewood, found the lanterns and flashlights, and ran the dog around extra long so she would be tired enough not to want to go out again. 

I decided to sleep on the couch in the living room because I have a very real fear that the old beech tree next to my bedroom might come crashing through our roof in hurricane force winds.  My faithful sidekick, Stella, curled up on my feet, and the waiting began. Several times in the night, I got up to look out the window to see how bad it was. Snow was swirling in huge vortexes in the light from the front porch.  The wind was howling in a high pitched whine like someone singing off-key.  At 5 am, my neighbor began plowing my driveway in the dark, and I resigned myself to being awake and made a pot of coffee.  An hour after he drove away, it looked like he had never been there.

Wisely, I brought a big bucket of hay into the basement yesterday, so when the sky lightened up, I dragged it upstairs and ventured out to the barn. Snow was blowing up under the hood of my parka,  and it was hard to see, but the drifts were fluffy to push through.  The horses had finished all their water and hay. I refilled and gave them breakfast to a chorus of  “Nmmm! Mnnnnmmm!” They were so glad to see me that it made the trek worth it.


As I thaw my numb toes in front of the fire now at the end of the day, I give thanks for good neighbors who came to plow me out, a warm puppy to snuggle me, and the joy of only getting 20 inches of snow.  There should be some satisfaction or pride in getting through it on my own, but instead I am simply very relieved and sleepy. As our governor, Dan Malloy, put it: “There is no bad news in not everyone getting three feet of snow.”

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Wintering Ground


Yesterday, I was in a store in town where I started talking to a tall, thin man who began explaining about clearing bad energy out of a house.  I told him that it wasn’t a problem for us because we lived on land that I thought had a unique and sacred peacefulness in it.  He looked down and hesitantly said he could feel that. Almost apologetically, he told me that he is a medium and that I live on land which was the wintering ground for a group of Native Americans. He told me that they were speaking to him right now. There was a strong female energy contacting him, and that they wanted him to tell me that they watched over us.

When the weather gets warm, they leave to go to the Hudson River for the summer, but they come back to our property every winter.  He suggested that on the Spring Equinox, I might want to honor the Native American women with some kind of blessing ceremony to thank them.  I promised that I would do something special for them.

I asked him if they had horses with them. He said, of course, but you know that the horse is your spirit guide, don't you?  I told him that I had kind of figured that out.  There are Native American horses buried in your land, he said. They stay to watch over you when the other spirits go to the water in the warm weather. I thanked him for telling me all of this.


Not at all what I was expecting when I went to the store, but it made my day. It snowed last night, and when I got to the barn this morning, I looked up at the cedar grove and said good morning to my new friends.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Practicing My Coping Skills


I am usually one of those people who just goes out and gets it done, whatever “it” may be. Yet, for some illusive, mysterious reason, I have been stymied over and over for the last few years in my attempts at getting the flooding and drainage fixed in the barn, corral, and recently, the pasture.  

Anyone who has known me for long has heard me lament about sump pumps and stalls full of mucky water and now, ice and more ice.  It’s not fun to listen to me complain. I don’t even like to hear myself doing it. And most people have given me very good advice about what they would do to fix it.  The sad truth is that it is going to cost quite a lot of money to make things right.  I diligently save and save, and just as I get to the point where I can afford to go ahead and get it done, Fates always seem to conspire to come up with a more urgent problem or emergency that requires my carefully hoarded cash.

Since December, I have protected my little secret stockpile while I anxiously attempted to get my friend, Sam, who is an expert at grading and drainage, to bring his excavator over and make things right.  The ground had not frozen before Christmas, and even though it was a muddy mess in the corral, I could just feel how relaxed and happy I would be once the new footing and French drains were in place. When I close my eyes, I can see it so dry and unmuddy. Except Sam’s schedule is backed up, so he can’t get here, and now the ground is horribly frozen, and we had two inches of rain on Sunday. Yes, two inches on top of ice makes for skating rinks everywhere. 

There was really nothing I could do to make a difference on Sunday, watching my world get frozen solid.  I woke up yesterday to find that miraculously, the barn did not flood. Still, the poor horses have been trapped inside for almost a week since I didn’t want them to slip and fall on the ice.  Come hell or frozen pastures, I was determined to do something to make things better.  So, I found a guy who knew a guy who was able to bring a pickup truck full of stone dust over this morning, and we spread it on the ice.  We were both pretty amazed by how well it worked.

The horses went out and stood around, which was psychologically and emotionally just what they needed. I hovered nearby, just in case anyone slipped or got stuck somewhere dangerous. Siete did walk out on some ice and get scared.  I had to show her that she would be okay if she just backed up.  After that, I put some treats in their buckets in the stalls to encourage them to come back inside. Siete did not hesitate, but Silk wasn’t ready.  I went out and explained to her that my fingers and toes were numb, and I couldn’t go in until she did. Then, I turned, and she just followed me right into the barn, sweet girl.

It may all ice up again tonight. What matters with all this is that the big change is in me, even though no one would notice. Before, when the horses had to stay inside, I would feel agitated  thinking that they were upset, that it was harmful for them not to move around more, that once they did get out, they would run around like crazy and hurt themselves. And like an electric current, the horses would get zapped by all my anxiety, which made them get fired up.  This winter, I have remained unusually relaxed and accepting of all the weather challenges that Mother Nature is throwing at me.  Spring will come and so will Sam with his excavator.  The horses are not upset. They have some delicious hay with clover and a bit of alfalfa to keep them happy.


For the first time, deep in my bones, I can feel que sera, sera – what will be, will be. And as February approaches, when it snows ten inches while my husband is out of town, and I’m facing a blizzard all on my own, I’ll let you know how sanguine I can be about all of it.



Sunday, January 11, 2015

Finding Peace of Mind


My husband has been urging me since my mom died to please put together all the information that he will need to know what to do when we reach the point where Silk is ready to leave this earth.  She is going to be 27 years old, and horses usually don’t live to be more than thirty.  He also believes that I will be a wreck when it happens, so he wants to be prepared to handle things in a way that I won’t later regret.  I know he’s right, but I’ve really been avoiding taking the steps I need to be able to figure out what the plan will be.  I can’t help it, I just wish my four-legged soul sister would live forever.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been sadly watching a number of my friends lose their family members and beloved animals.  It’s weighed heavy on my heart, and I know that I owe it to Silk to get better prepared.  Clarissa Pinkola Estes, being the wise elder that I love, talks about the time during which we find ourselves “rowing one’s loved ones out…to the place where they go ahead, while we stay behind.”  I’ve been in that boat often enough, with my parents,  my dear friends and my faithful four-legged companions.  Each situation is an entirely unique crossing, and brings with it such meaningful lessons about when to let nature take its course and when to grab the reins and take charge.

About ten years ago, when we first moved here, I almost lost Silk. She stopped eating, and our vet was out of town, so one of her partners came to the barn. He thought that Silk was about to colic, so for two days, we treated her for that. She wasn’t improving much, and while I was reluctant to leave her, I had an important meeting that I needed to go to on the third morning. Almost as soon as I got there, my husband called me and told me to come right home because Silk was lying down. On the way, I contacted the receptionist at the vet to see if someone could come immediately. Fortunately, our regular vet was back but she was out on a call about 25 miles away. I was in pure panic. When I ran frantically into Silk’s stall, she looked into my eyes and I could sense that she was drifting away. I begged her not to leave me, to get up and walk with me.  It took every ounce of will and strength, but I saw her make the decision to find the will to live, and she stood up.  And we walked and walked for twenty minutes until the vet came flying in. 

She took one look at my horse and said, “Silk’s been bitten by an Ehrlichia tick. She’s not colicking”.  She ran to the truck and came back to give her a massive dose of tetracycline.  Within a few minutes, it was clear that Silk was feeling better.  It was really a miracle that she knew what was wrong and what to do. I had never heard of an Ehrlichia tick, which is an evil cousin to the dreaded Lyme tick.  I hugged Silk, I hugged the vet, I hugged Siete, I hugged my husband, and I cried because I saw in that look my horse had given me that she loved me as much as I loved her.

So, last Thursday night, I got up my nerve and I called the only people who do horse cremation in this state.  We have two horses buried here already on our property, and I don’t think that this is going to be our forever home.  Wherever I go, I want to take Silk’s ashes with me, crazy as that may sound. I spoke to a very kind man who told me that they are a family who began doing this after his dad’s beloved draft horse died.  He explained to me in detail what would happen and how much it would cost. He told me that they go out of their way to show respect, treating each horse as if it were their own. He said that while it might seem weird, what he has learned over the years is that there are a lot of really good people who take care and love their horses, and his family is proud to be able to help them.  It didn’t seem weird to me. It seemed compassionate. When we ended the call, we both agreed that we hoped I wouldn’t be calling him back for a long time.

As I wrote out instructions for exactly what my husband would need to do, I was flooded by a warm sensation of relief. Now, I will be able to focus entirely on Silk and be with her to row her over when the time comes. I am so grateful that this family is devoted to helping horses and owners and give them the dignity and respect that they deserve.  It can’t be an easy job, but they are deeply committed to it.  And I have peace of mind now, not dread or anxiety when I think about it.

Silk was trotting around happily in the snow today, spending many hours with her daughter, Siete, enjoying a very fine bale of hay laced with clover and alfalfa. She’s a happy horse, with all of the past mistreatment she endured before I met her replaced by a trust and affection for people that I am so proud to have fostered. When I got her, a wise horsewoman told me, “You know, no matter what they did, no one could ever break this horse’s spirit”.  That’s how I knew I had met my soul sister and we’ve been celebrating that strong spirit together ever since.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Finding the Space of Possibility


Sometimes, a recurring thought wave begins to travel through the small quiet moments that I have, sneaking in between all of the mundane things that I do, like mucking the stalls or cooking dinner, as if a secret dispatch is coming to me from some mysterious messenger. At this time in the holiday season, there’s a blizzard of reflections flying around the media about what’s happened in 2014.  I’ve been trying to ignore it because this has not been an easy year for us.  Yet in spite of trying to keep my screen blank, I have been receiving over and over some unexpected communications about the life force that is in all of us.

Some people seem to naturally come equipped with a strong life force, while others appear to develop it in those times that test our souls.  My mom demonstrated throughout her life that she had a will to live that defied all odds. My father did not have it and gave up quickly, no matter how hard I tried to convince him to fight. For the last two years, since his accident, I’ve watched my husband soldier on without complaining despite enormous pain. His life force radiates out around him, inspiring others. Even my horse, Silk, has proven to me over the eighteen years that we’ve been together, that she has a goodness and a spirit that will never be broken. I have tried to raise my daughter to believe that she comes from a long line of strong women who shall not be defeated. 

Still, deep in myself, I am a worrier and a doubter, a strange combination of a timid, cautious soul and a blazing risk-taker. When we lived in California, my old cowboy friend, Joe, used to tell me that a little fear was a good thing.  Especially around horses.   Maybe it’s just since I have grown older and my bones began to creak that I’ve felt much more vulnerable than I used to, or perhaps the world has speeded up too fast and people have grown a new seed of hatred that often appears to be impervious to human kindness.   Whatever the reason, I find myself fighting off small twinges of fear that never used to be there.

As I sat in front of the fire on the night after Christmas, I had this urge to see what the Tarot cards would predict for me in the new year. Only I couldn’t find my deck, and in searching for it, I re-discovered in my bookcase a different kind of message from a gorgeous set of cards created by Linda Kohanov and artist Kim McElroy called “Way of the Horse”. What kept coming up over and over in my reading was the concept of honoring “the sacred space of possibility”.  It is an expression used by Kathleen Barry Ingram, an Equine Facilitated Learning therapist who helped Linda start Epona equestrian workshops in the 1990’s (http://eponaquest.com). “It’s an active form of patience unattached to outcome, allowing someone in a place of uncertainty to feel supported through the darkest night of the soul.” In other words, when facing fear or grief, don’t put on your armor or try to control reality, just let your heart accept whatever happens and support those who need it, regardless of what the outcome is. I've always like the word "possibility" since it keeps open the door for hope.

Since I am a “recovering perfectionist”, it requires a big leap of faith for me to just allow what is happening to take its course. Living with my horses, day in and day out, definitely encourages me to not get attached to the outcome but simply learn from it.  My four-legged sister, Silk, especially like to remind me to trust the life force and stay curious about its mystery, even if it means that I am traveling off the map. For some reason, that seems to occur more often than it used to around here.