Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Snowy Night

Last night, an owl
in the blue dark
an indeterminate number

of carefully shaped sounds into
the world, in which,
a quarter of a mile away, I happened
to be standing.

I couldn’t tell
which one it was –
the barred or the great-horned
ship of the air –

it was that distant. But, anyway,
aren’t there moments
that are better than knowing something,
and sweeter? Snow was falling,

so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more

than prettiness. I suppose
if this were someone else’s story
they would have insisted on knowing
whatever is knowable – would have hurried

over the fields
to name it – the owl, I mean.
But it’s mine, this poem of the night,
and I just stood there, listening and holding out

my hands to the soft glitter
falling through the air. I love this world,
but not for its answers.
And I wish good luck to the owl,

whatever its name –
and I wish great welcome to the snow,
whatever its severe and comfortless
and beautiful meaning.

~ Mary Oliver ~

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Holiday Wishes

I hope you all are having a wonderful week of holiday fun! We spent a lovely day with my mom on Saturday, and friends came by our house in the evening to sit in front of a roaring fire and laugh and talk. Then, Mother Nature dropped a big present on us. The snow from the blizzard was well over my knees when I struggled out to the barn yesterday morning. I could hardly see where I was going with the wind blowing stinging white pins in my face. The horses were very happy to see me, and it took all my determination to leave the dry barn and furry warmth of Silk’s greeting to crawl back up to the house.

We spent about five hours shoveling once the snow stopped falling. Our tractor is broken, so we don’t have a plow this winter. Fortunately, one of the neighbors took mercy on us and lent his monster snow-blower once he had finished clearing his place out. That baby is a real tank, relentless and indestructible. We cleared all the paths to the barn and back to the poop bins, the front corral and a small landing pad in the pasture. Oh yeah, and the driveway and the walks around our house too, but as usual, my main focus was on the area around the barn. My neighbor grew up in a family that raised horses, so he had great sympathy for my concerns. I pointed out to him that it’s days like this that make me really glad I have horses, and he laughed so hard that he had to sit down on the back of his pickup truck.

Siete is a snow bunny, but her mama will always be a California princess. Silk is very disdainful of the white stuff and only tentatively ventured out to the small clearing in the pasture for a few minutes. Siete bounds around and buries her head in the snow joyfully. If a horse could laugh, she would be. I started to play with her, running back and forth and clapping my hands and she bounced in the drifts following me. I got tired of this game faster than she did. Finally, I had to lure her back to the barn with some treats because I was afraid her feet were getting too cold. First thing this morning, she was out there again, making huge looping patterns, running across the white blanket of the pasture.

From our winter wonderland, we ‘re sending you good wishes for a happy week!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Lesson of Love

I waited a little longer this year than I usually do to put the winter shoes with borium cleats on the horses. I confess I wasn’t looking forward to it. Last time, Siete had been very antsy, and it felt like it took forever for my old farrier to wield the borium onto the shoes and fit them. So, the other day, I bundled up with long underwear and an extra pair of wool socks and some cut up bits of carrots to keep the horses happy and prepared myself for a long ordeal in the frigid pasture.

Right on time, not just one, but two big pickup trucks with trailers full of the farrier’s equipment pulled through our gate. Four guys got out, and my new farrier sort of sheepishly explained that even though he was only in his 30’s and in really good shape, he had a heart attack a month ago. His doctor said it was really unusual, caused by a random blood clot, and this was the first week he was back at work. He introduced me to his dad, and two of his best friends who were also farriers that were there to help him.

His dad was an old cowboy, and kept joking about how his son was teaching him new tricks. He was learning to be a farrier so he could go out with Johnny and keep an eye on him. He told me with great detail exactly what had happened when his son had the heart attack. All the while, he was prepping Siete for her trim. My farrier was in his truck getting the shoes ready, and his friend stepped up to work on Siete’s feet. I was amazed that my little horse appeared to be completely calm and was enjoying all the attention that these new guys were bestowing on her. They knew the good spots to scratch. and took a moment to get to know her before they grabbed her feet. Almost before I knew it, they were done and I was bringing out Silk. She is always good as gold when anyone works on her feet, but they were also very aware of her age and her arthritis. They had a special low stand for older horses that meant they didn’t have to lift her leg and hoof so high. Again, we were finished in less than half the time it took with my old farrier.

As we all stood around, working and watching in the bitter cold, I found myself getting really emotional about the warm relationships between these men. Johnny’s dad was so proud of him and obviously worried about his boy. The affection and concern and respect that these four men had for each other was palpable. When I met Johnny a couple of months ago, I immediately felt he was an honest man who obviously cared deeply about horses. Now, I said a little prayer that this good guy would stay healthy and live to help his kids the way his own dad was. As they were leaving, he thanked me for letting him bring so many people to help him. He said that some of his clients didn’t like it. I can’t imagine why. It gave me an unexpected lesson about love.

With the holidays approaching, I’ve become particularly aware this year of how many of my friends seem obsessed with the stuff they are buying. It feels like there’s more of a frenzy of shopping than usual. Who would have thought that a visit from my farrier would have reminded me of the strength of the love of family and friends? Yet, after they left, the memory of Johnny’s dad and his friends being so protective and caring stays with me and reminds me of the real meaning of all this celebrating.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mud and Growing Up

Yesterday, my husband told me that I needed to improve my outlook because all I was doing was sending out bad energy. Easy for him to say, sitting in the sunshine in California with the rest of our family enjoying themselves on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I was engaged in a battle of the elements here on the East Coast. We were getting two inches of rain, which was flooding the corral and our basement. Tonight, it’s supposed to be followed by temperatures in the 20’s and lots and lots of ice. The horses don’t have their borium shoes yet, and the farrier can’t come for another four days.

Once again, I was feeling sorry for myself that we were having bad weather with all its drama when my capable, strong, hard-working partner was out of town. It seems to almost always happen this way. Over and over, every couple of hours all day, I bundled up and shoveled and drained the ditch and cleared the water out of the basement with some small assistance from my very grumpy fifteen year old daughter. We also put up the Christmas decorations and hung the ornaments on the tree by ourselves, missing my mom, our dog and our kitty. It took all my effort to keep going, dragging along a child who wished non-stop that we were with Daddy and everyone we love in that warm, sunny place where we used to live.

I could hear the rain all night long, waking up at 4 am with all of my worries to keep me company. I got up expecting the worst: a flooded barn, more water in the basement. Instead, my labor had paid off, and it was dry downstairs. The corral drained well, and the frozen moon craters were soft enough that I can smooth things down before the freeze tonight. Siete didn’t want me to pick out her hooves, but instead of forcing the issue, I left her alone to eat her hay. A few minutes later, I came in through the back door of her stall, and she very willingly let me take her hoof and clean it. At that moment, I had this interesting realization.

All of this challenging physical work helps me and my daughter hold onto an important part of who we are. I’ve never been very coordinated or strong, so small victories like I was experiencing this morning mean a great deal to me. It reminds me that I don’t need someone to help me make it be okay here. It keeps me from getting too attached and dependent on my husband, but at the same time, it helps me appreciate the things that he does for me when he is around. It teaches my daughter that she can make it through difficult situations on her own. Most important, as the rain stopped, so did my bad energy.

I listened to a conversation that poet David Whyte had with the founder of “Sounds True”, Tami Simon, on the Internet this morning. He was talking about creativity and originality. He said, “Start close in. Don’t take the second step or the third. Start with the first one, close in, the step that you don’t want to take. “ He believes that it is the only way to find the courage to “get into the fierce center of the conversation”. He encourages us to open up to vulnerability. “Once you actually turn toward vulnerability, not as a weakness but as a faculty for understanding what’s about to happen, you can transform your life in a way which is quite extraordinary.” I feel like I faced the deluge this weekend, in full awareness of my weaknesses, and it didn’t drag me under. Now, if I can extend that acceptance of my vulnerability to other areas of my life and do the best I can as the situation unfolds, I might actually be able to look back and learn from it. I guess I'm not done growing up yet.

Friday, December 3, 2010


When we moved into our house in Vista, California, in 1999, the lady who was selling it left two cats behind. One was black, and one was grey. We already had our orange and white cat named Velcro and our dog. Pepper, so we really didn’t want two more cats. I told this woman, “You can’t just leave them. It’s not like they’re plants. “ But she did. I was able to find someone who would give them a new home, but first I had to catch them. That wasn’t so easy since they lived wild in the backyard, existing on whatever they could catch. As the moving van was being unloaded, I put down some bowls of food to see if I could lure them. I had two cat carriers waiting in the wings.

My husband left on a business trip the day after we moved in, and I was a little nervous to be in this new house on the edge of the woods. That night, around 2 am, I woke up feeling like someone was staring at me. There were two small windows on either side of our bed. I sat up and looked over my shoulder. In the window, sitting on the fence post was the black cat, just watching over me. The next morning, I got up and found the grey cat stretched across the front door mat preventing anyone from coming in the house. I called my husband and told him that the cats were totems and they were staying. We named the black one BK, as in Black Kitty, and the grey one was known as Grey Man.

The house had laundry room and attached office next to the garage, so the two cats lived in there, going outdoors when they chose. I fed them and took care of them, but they still enjoyed hunting in the woods. My husband, who doesn’t really like cats, developed a great affection for the little old curmudgeon, Grey Man. The cat drank out of his cereal bowl each morning and slept curled up next to his computer. When he got too old to hunt, his buddy, BK, would bring him presents of mice and other treats. Sadly, the coyotes caught Grey Man one night. The next night, I climbed up on our roof and coaxed BK to come in the house. He’s been with us ever since.

It was a big battle with Velcro, who always considers himself to be the King. But we learned that when you put two cats in a van with a dog and four people and drive them three thousand miles across the country, they will bond. So, Velcro has been like BK’s evil little brother for many years. BK comforted my mom as her dementia came on, sitting on her lap or sleeping with her in bed. This cat had such a big motor that when he purred, you could hear it all over the house, and he purred a lot. He was such a happy, forgiving, generous guy. He always perched just above my head while I slept, whether it was on the couch for a nap or in my bed above me in the pillows, guarding me. About two years ago, BK developed thyroid disease. As he grew older, he got thinner and lighter. There were more and more trips to the vet. This summer, I was sure he was ready to go, but he rallied again and again. I learned the true meaning of a cat having nine lives.

Four days ago, he suddenly stopped eating. I couldn’t tempt him with baby food or tuna soup, and the vet told me not to give him his medication anymore. For months, I had been asking BK to let me know when it was time. Remarkably, he did. He became very cuddly, spending literally hours sleeping on one lap after another for three days. Yesterday, when I woke up, he wasn’t sitting next to my bed as usual waiting for me to feed him breakfast. I found him curled up in his little cat bed, but he could hardly walk. I held him for over an hour waiting for the animal hospital to open and then, he snuggled in the armchair while I called the vet. Velcro climbed up and settled in next to him. They stayed together that way until my daughter came home from school. We all said our goodbyes, and I held him wrapped in a blanket like a baby, as my husband drove us to the vet. We love the vets at this animal hospital. Everyone in their office cried and hugged us like we were family. They knew BK well, and he passed away peacefully with grace.

We buried BK last night on the hill above the barn next to our grove of cedar trees. I always think of it as the sacred part of our yard. The horses stood with their heads peering out of the stalls. They knew what was going on. I could feel it. The night was clear, and there were a million stars. Our house is very empty. One of my guardian angels is gone but I know that his spirit is watching over me.