Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sharing Territory

I almost didn’t sit in the paddock with the horses today. Even though it was sunny and warmer than it’s been, the wind was really strong. It was the kind of wind that really swirls up your mane and makes you kind of spooky. I decided to try sitting and reading a book and if it was too much, I could always stop.

The horses ignored me at first, as they usually do, and just ate some hay near the water bucket. I moved my chair up near the fence so I wouldn’t blow over. The wind was gusting around 25 to 30 mph and the sound of the trees blowing was like waves in the ocean. It was pretty intense. Siete ambled over to visit me and sniff my knees. I ignored her, as I’m supposed to, since part of what this first Waterhole Ritual does is set personal boundaries for the horse and re-inforce a core code of conduct that the herd follows. I’m sitting, without expectations or an agenda, but there’s a surprising amount going on in my interactions with the horses.

Anyway, I turned my attention to my book, "The Exquisite Risk", by poet Mark Nepo. I almost fell off my chair when I read this: “So what does it mean to be real? I would suggest that it involves both an outer commitment and an inner commitment: an outer commitment to live as close to our experience as possible, and an inner commitment to keep our individual spirit aligned with the soul of the world, an outer commitment to stay transparent until what we experience is what we feel, and an inner commitment to stay transparent until who we are is joined to the source of life, the way a drop of rainwater joins the ocean. As well, to be real involves an acceptance of being cleansed of everything false and extraneous… So where are you in this endless journey? Where are you in your struggle between isolation and relatedness, between nothing and everything? Where are you in your struggle to align your spirit with the soul of the world? Are you strengthening your will or your connections? Are you thickening your walls or making yourself transparent? Are you holding your breath or breathing your way through?”

Carolyn Resnick says that “every day with a horse is a new deal.” I’m really glad that I made the choice this afternoon to sit with Silk and Siete and let the wind blow me awake.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Slow Adventure

I’ve embarked on a new journey that is taking place in my backyard. For the last couple of months, I’ve been feeling disconnected from Silk and Siete. As you know, taking care of them during all the rain and flooding was not fun. Often, I was so exhausted and cold and wet that all I wanted to do was run back to my warm house. I could feel the two horses bonding closer to each other and growing more distant from me. I was blaming myself for not spending more time with them and feeling guilty that I didn’t have more time to give.

Once again, in the amazing way that it can revitalize me, some of my favorite blogs brought me around to a new way of looking at my world. It began with Kate at A Year With Horses, posting a thoughtful and caring piece about whether she was ready to take a break from her horses. Although I totally understood how she was feeling, when I looked at my own relationship with Silk and Siete, I realized that right now, I really needed them to help me hold onto myself and remind me of who I am. Doing what I do for them to make the barn safe and comfortable, to keep them fed and happy is really a way of taking care of my soul and honoring what’s important to me.

Then, I watched a video that Carolyn Resnick posted on her blog that lifted my heart. It was one of her students, Robin Gates, dancing with her horse, Fresco. I couldn’t stop looking at it over and over. I knew that right now, I don’t want to ride my horses, I want to dance with them. I was, however, a bit intimidated at the prospect of getting out there and actually trying it. Like a perfectly timed answer from the blogosphere, I got the nudge I needed when Carolyn decided to offer her Waterhole Rituals course again this Spring. I signed up and received all kinds of help and encouragement instantly as I was able to listen and download an insightful interview with her and phone conversations teaching me how to start this adventure of better communication with my horses. It’s just what Siete and I need to do together right now, and it begins with doing nothing.

The first ritual is to share space with your horse. I sit in a chair in the paddock for an hour each day reading a book while Siete is there with me. “Spending time doing nothing leads to something that would otherwise never have happened.” Carolyn says. On her blog, there are comments from other people all over the world who are doing this same course and having incredible experiences with their horses. It lifted me up to find so many other horse lovers out there making these same deep connections with their own animals. I’m not alone in my feelings about my horses, and through the Internet and Carolyn’s efforts, something really remarkable is happening. I’m so glad to be part of this community, and it reaches beyond just the horse world.

I often read Jon Katz’s blog, Bedlam Farm Journal, and I’ve been very interested in his plans for a new book about grieving over animals who have died. He quoted from a book called “Twins” by Dorothy Burlingham, about how a child’s love for animals can come out of loneliness and solitude: “The two share everything, good and bad experiences, and complete understanding of each other; either speech is not necessary, or they have a secret language. The understanding between them goes beyond the realm of consciousness.” That’s what I’ve been feeling with Siete. It’s the relationship that I already have with her mother, and I’ve been longing for it with my little horse.

Spending an hour sitting in a chair with my horse isn’t easy for me. Time is a precious gift, and I never have enough of it. My mother and my husband look out the window at me and shake their heads. I’m glad that I’m in the solitude of my own backyard so I can avoid anyone’s judgment or ridicule. To force myself to slow down to a total halt and do nothing brings me to the same level of awareness that Siete has as she’s grazing next to me. I feel one with her. It’s a huge commitment to slow down.

I just learned the term “slow blogging”, coined by Todd Sieling a few years ago. “Slow blogging is a rejection of immediacy. It is an affirmation that not all things worth reading are written quickly.” he says. As you’ve probably noticed, I’m blogging a lot less than I used to and find that many of my friends in the blogosphere are too. I was feeling a bit guilty about it, worrying that everyone would forget about me. Now, I see that there’s an ebb and flow we all follow. I’ll be mentioning my new slow adventure with Siete here on my blog as we make our way along. One of the things that I love is that Carolyn insists that there should be no agenda. Every day is simply taken as it comes, and that’s what makes it so wonderful. I was in New York for two days last week and by the time I came home, I was dying to be with my horses. I missed them so much. My love for them is being renewed, just like the lilacs, tulips and the other flowers are beginning to bloom again.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

RIP Chief

I don’t mean to bum everyone out with a sad story. I even thought about just not mentioning it, but it’s kind of amazing that one white rooster would have such an impact on so many people. I’m not usually fond of chickens, as I’ve told you before, but our neighbor, the Chief, really captured my heart. And now, he’s gone.

It was very weird. I saw the rooster and his girls coming over to our yard from across the road yesterday. I was on my way next door to my other neighbor’s house to use her fax machine, but I ran back to the kitchen and grabbed the bag of bread scraps and corn chips that we save for them. The little band of birds had already crossed over and were gathered in the bushes between our house and the one next door. They like to root around in the dirt and take naps over there. Two of the hens saw me sprinkle the goodies next to my forsythia bushes. I thought it was odd that the Chief didn’t come running with his funny hop-along, wait- wait- I’m-in-charge-here gait like he normally did. I went into my neighbor’s house and didn’t really think about it again.

Ten minutes later, she and I walked outside, and I could see that all the hens were eating in my yard, but the Chief was still in the bushes. I had a bad feeling. My neighbor went to check it out, but I couldn’t go look. “He’s a goner,” she announced. He didn’t appear to have suffered, just fallen asleep and passed away. I started to cry. Of course, the people who own him and their three little kids were even more upset than I was. We had a little funeral by the henhouse. My daughter, my 95 year old mom, several neighbors, and the immediate family attended. We were all very sad.

Why do I need to tell you this and why am I so touched by a gimpy white rooster? I’ve been seriously considering what made him so special. He was loved, and he knew it. Everyone treated him with kindness and respect. The children played with him like they would with a dog. He watched after his harem and if one of the hens wandered off, he’d run right over and push her back with the others so she didn’t get hurt. He would eat corn chips, his favorite treat, out of my hand and let me stroke his smooth feathers. On Monday afternoon, I was down by the barn when he came over to spend some quality time with his ladies under my forsythia bushes. He crowed to me, and I waved my arm to welcome them. What he did in response made me laugh with delight. He lifted himself up and flapped both his big wings at me, as if he was waving back. Who would have thought that a simple chicken could touch and connect so many people? Each one of us had our own favorite stories and routines that we shared with this personable fellow.

A good rooster is hard to find. They’re going out today to hopefully find a new one, but he’s got some big clawprints to fill. We’ll all miss you, Chief.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Dry Ground

We might finally be drying out around here. When I went out to feed the girls this morning, I was happy to feel solid ground under my feet in both stalls and the corral. Siete’s side was the worst, and she’s been a very unhappy little horse. All the wood pellet bedding that I dumped into her stall to absorb the ground water that was coming up from underneath the barn has made the footing very deep. For a while, when the horses walked, their hoofprints would be filled with water oozing up. It was driving me crazy because I couldn’t compact the material enough to soak up the moisture.

Siete was getting really surly about it. One evening last week, she absolutely refused to go back into her stall for dinner. I was rushing and her resistance to leave her mother’s side of the barn really aggravated me. I tried to force her to go, but she wouldn’t budge. In frustration, I walked back to the house, leaving her dinner in her stall and both doors open, in case she changed her mind. Then, I realized that if I were Siete, I wouldn’t want to go in there either.

I felt bad for her, but the problem was that with both horses in the same stall all night, Silk wouldn’t have room to lie down. She needs to get off her feet at night with her arthritis. Siete didn’t want to lie down either, and as a result, off and on these past two weeks, I’ve been treating a hoof abscess in her back right foot. I couldn’t, in good conscience, force Siete to stay in her stall that night. When I went back after it got dark to check on her, she was still with her mom. As soon as they saw me, both horses ran into Siete’s stall and stood there together in solidarity. Nope, we’re not going to let you lock her in this place. I looked at their hoofprints in front of me, by the door, filling up with the ground water, and wanted to cry. There seemed to be no way to fix this problem. It was also starting to rain again. We had over 14 inches of rain in less than a week. As I left them, the girls headed back to Silk’s drier bedding on the other side of the barn.

The next night, Siete ran right into her stall as soon as I approached with the dinner buckets. I was glad I hadn’t forced the issue, and she seemed to accept that things were what they were. Even though I was doing the best that I could do, I felt so stressed out that I couldn’t fix the problem. I really believe that my horses are as calm and happy as they are because they have safe, comfortable stalls where they can get off their feet at night. Fortunately, the situation has been steadily improving now that we’ve had sunny warm weather for almost a week. Now, I know that we shouldn't anthropomorphisize our animals but... The strange thing was that every day, I’ve been telling Siete that she needs to lie down again to rest her feet. To my astonishment, when I fed her last night, she actually dropped down on her side and rolled around in her stall while I was standing there, as if to show me that it was okay again. That’s my girl.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Tale of 3 Babkas

My mother is Polish, and as she approaches her 96th birthday, she is increasingly drawn to things that remind her of her heritage. A few weeks ago, she told me a story about how the women in her home baked a sweet bread called babka around Easter time. The children weren’t allowed in the kitchen for several days as the babka was rising and in the ovens because it couldn’t be disturbed. She loves these high-topped loaves, even though no one else in our family likes to eat them.

I found a Polish grocery store about forty-five minutes drive from our house and took her there. She was unimpressed. They had babka, but she insisted, speaking Polish to the woman behind the counter, that it wasn’t REAl babka. It wasn’t round, and there were no raisins, and it had cheese and strawberries. The woman replied that there are many types of babka. My mother sniffed contemptuously, but I bought some anyway. It wasn’t eaten by anyone in our house, and when I tore up the remains and fed it to the birds, only the crows would touch it. I told my friend who owns the UPS store about the search for real babka. She’s Polish and said that her mother makes it at this time of year. Yes, it had raisins in it and was tall and round. She offered to ask her mother to bake some for us. I came home and told my mother, thinking that the search for babka was over. No such luck. Every day for over a week, my mom would ask me again and again when that woman was going to bring the babka. Finally, I was at the Stop ‘n Shop buying groceries, and lo and behold, they had babka for sale! It looked like what my mother had described, so I bought it. Unfortunately, our resident babka expert proclaimed it was too dry and not sweet. Again, I sprinkled the remains for our neighbor’s chickens and other birds, but this time, only the squirrels ate it.

My mother grew more and more disappointed that the lady who promised to bake the babka didn’t deliver. Another friend suggested that I look on-line at Martha Stewart’s recipes because her mother was Polish and they were deliciously authentic. Sure enough, there was a video of Martha’s mom making babka. I decided to try it, even though the recipe called for yeast and I have a fear of anything that calls for yeast and rising and punching dough. My daughter offered to help, and together we toiled in the kitchen for several hours the night before Easter. Just as we were finally ready to bake the three loaves of babka, my oven broke. It was now about ten o’clock at night.

Luckily, I have a neighbor who plays backgammon on-line until the wee hours. We schlepped the three babkas to her house and put them in the oven. They were supposed to bake for a half hour, but it was obvious that they weren’t done and we were awkwardly sitting in her living room when she clearly didn’t want to be entertaining anyone. Martha Stewart’s mom said that you know that the babka is ready if it makes a hollow sound when you knock on it. My neighbor offered to call me when she had knocked and heard the babka’s appropriate reply. About twenty minutes later, the phone rang and we went back to retrieve our bread so she could go to bed.

The babka looked golden brown and very pretty, plus at this point, I’d been involved in this baking experiment for over six hours. I glazed the loaves with a sugary frosting and called it a night. After taking my mom to a Polish church to hear mass on Easter Sunday, we came home to eat the babka. As soon as I cut into the first one, I knew there was trouble. It wasn’t cooked all the way through. I tried the other two but they were also not baked enough. I promised my mother that I would try again once the oven was fixed. She said that enough was enough and this was a good babka recipe that we could make again next Easter.

I have to admit I was relieved to have a whole year to rest up before I tried it again. As I stood looking at a table full of chopped up half-baked babka, my neighbor’s rooster, the Chief, crowed outside my window. He’s a special guy. I confess he’s won my heart, so I crumbled up a whole babka and presented it to him. He wolfed it down, chasing away the hens when they tried to join in the feast.

At least someone loves my babka.