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.



Saturday, March 12, 2016

It's a Good Day to Be a Horse


“It’s a good day to be a horse!” I sang to my girls this morning.  There was promise in the air.  Mist rising over the cedar grove, warm breeze, birds singing a Spring song. What’s not to love?   When I opened the stall doors, Siete shot out like a firecracker and took a few joyful laps around the pasture. It’s frisky weather, for sure.

It may not sound like much, but my greatest recent accomplishment has been to round out Silk’s butt.  When the temperatures fell this winter, Silk began to dramatically lose weight, as older horses often do.  Her full Quarter Horse bottom suddenly hollowed out and her spine showed, and I got really freaked out.  I added hay stretcher pellets to her diet, but I knew that I needed to do something more.  When our dear friend, Grandmother Nancy, lost her wonderful 33-year old companion, Solitaire aka Spanky, in January, she gave me four bags of a very special food that Spanky had loved called “Pure Hunter” (made by Babington Mills).  She explained how to make up a warm porridge for Silk. 

I improvised a few additions that I knew my horse would appreciate, like adding a scoop of Triple Crown senior feed, a teaspoon of molasses and a sprinkling of chopped carrots.  The Pure Hunter looks like a finely chopped salad that expands and gets much heavier as you add water to it. It smells so good.  Even though Siete doesn’t need to gain weight, I also created a “lite” version for her dinner.

Silk wolfed it down, but it took her quite a while to finish off the bucket. Her daughter got jealous that Mama was still eating long after she had finished. She began banging against the wall of the stall that separates them, so I came up with a special dessert for Siete.  I made a “tea” of warm water and a small scoop of senior feed that I presented to her with great ceremony after she finished her food.  Getting her to drink a whole bucket of water was a really good idea since she doesn’t drink nearly as much as her mother, and during the last month, when the temperatures fluctuated wildly up and down, keeping the horses well hydrated was important. Now, Siete eagerly slurps down her “tea” each night.

The other day, when it was warm enough to pull off their blankets, I was delighted to see how full and round my darling old red mare looked. Her mane and tail are also really lush and lovely. As I carried out the dinner buckets, Silk showed off with two galloping circles and a couple of flying lead changes in the pasture before she leaped over the ditch by the corral and pranced into her stall. She was moving like a five year old. Hmm, I wonder if I can add some Pure Hunter to my salad tonight.


I have certainly learned another good lesson from my horses:  You are what you eat.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Ah, the Country Life

I confess that this snowstorm might be all my doing.  Really. You see, I asked the Universe and the Spirits on the hill who live in the cedar trees behind the barn to not let there be any snow until we finished all the work on our house.  Since November, we’ve had workers here almost every day, rebuilding old rotting walls and replacing the roof and re-siding , transforming our battered white Cape into a pristine grey and white home that I can hardly recognize.  Less than twenty-four hours after they finished, we are getting snowed in with this epic storm.

Of course, my husband took off for the balmy West Coast yesterday on a gig, leaving me and my daughter to batten down the hatches.  I put on my Pioneer Woman alterego and got to work.  Growing up outside of Chicago, I have been well seasoned with winter snow protocol.  Now, it’s my duty to pass down these survival skills to my daughter.

She’s not enjoying this lesson.  Complaining loud enough to be heard in New Jersey, she has been helping me shovel, watching her paths disappear as more snow continues to cascade down and obliterate them.   I keep explaining that this is fluffy white stuff now, but if we don’t get a jump on it and it turns icy, we’ll be very sad tomorrow morning.  While I dragged hay and feed and water to the horses and mucked and tucked them in for the night, she moaned and groaned until I told her that I couldn’t stand the complaining, and she should just go back in the house.  She left, and I enjoyed the silence as I finished up the barn chores. 

When I turned towards the house, I was astonished to see that my grumpy child had carved a series of magnificent paths from the house to the hay garage and to the barn. She even shoveled around the front so we would be able to take the dog out easily.  What a champ!

“I’m never going to live in the country again,” she announced as I stumbled in the back door like the Abominable Snowman. “Are you going to go back to California?” I asked. “No, I’m going to live in New York City where they have people who do this kind of thing for you.”


When I was my daughter’s age, I ran as fast as I could from the country to the city, but life is a spiral and I’m happy to be back in the country again. Tomorrow morning, at dawn, when I get up to feed the horses, I will let my daughter sleep in.  I’ll just tie a rope to the knob on the back door and around my waist, like the Pioneer Woman that I am. 


Monday, January 11, 2016

Without David Bowie


For my 25th birthday, my ex-husband arranged that I interview David Bowie.  We were friends with his managers, and I was working at the television division of Newsweek,  and I loved everything that David Bowie did.  I’ll never forget meeting him. Oh, those blue eyes!  When I woke up this morning at 6 am and read that Bowie had passed away, I felt myself instantly transported back through the decades to that suite at the Pierre Hotel.

Bowie was warm and charming and very humble during the time we spent together.  He had just returned from a trip to Africa with his young son, and he was eager to tell me about it.  He felt very drawn to the African people and was honored that they had been able to meet with some Masai tribesmen.  He told me that it had been hard to arrange since a group of tourists had gone there and caused trouble.  He said that the Masai believed that if you took their photograph, you would steal their souls, so the tourists had agreed to not bring any cameras. One man secreted his Instamatic in his jacket and took a photo of one of the warriors, who smashed the camera, stabbed the tourist and tried to kill him.  Bowie and his little boy had a very different, positive experience, and were welcomed by the tribe.

He proudly went into his luggage and pulled out a Masai spear to show me that they had given him a special present to show how he was their friend.  I was captivated by him, by his stories and his graceful aura. He was so delicate and slim and wrapped himself elegantly around a chair, smoking cigarettes and pouring tea for me.  I decided that David Bowie was everything that a rock star should be, with a strong dash of debonair gentleman thrown in for good measure.

About a month later, my ex and I had dinner with his parents, who had just returned from a safari trip to Africa.  They brought us a gift.  I was astonished when we opened our present and it was a spear just like the one that Bowie had shown me.  “Oh my god, where did you get this?” I asked excitedly.  “Why, all those Masai were selling them along with other trinkets on the street corner outside our hotel,” my mother-in-law told me, “We thought it would be fun to bring you something different for your apartment.”

I still don’t know what to make of it.  Let’s just say that I was bewitched by David Bowie, and leave it at that. “There’s no smoke without fire.”  Now, one of the great masters of mystery has left this world, and while his legacy of music, film and theatre remain, we will miss his fabulous flame.

My favorite Bowie song: 

Just when I'm ready to throw in my hand
Just when the best things in life are gone
I look into your eyes, uh, uh
There's no smoke without fire, uh, uh
You're exactly who I want to be with, uh, uh
Without you
What would I do
And when I'm willing to call it a day
Just when I won't take another chance
I hold your hand, uh, uh
There's no smoke without fire, uh, uh
Woman I love you, uh, uh
Without you
What would I do

David Bowie, “Without You”