Saturday, August 11, 2012

Dog (again)

What the heck am I doing writing about another new dog? Yes, well, you may ask.
So once again, our daughter brought a dog into my life.
I said "no way" and "you know this is your dog, he is a pain in the a**" and "now you gotta deal with it..." so the next thing I know he moved in for a month. Actually, she moved "back home" between apartment leases, and somehow the little dog just made himself at home.
The cats ran for the hills. Literally.
So here I sit, looking at the little darling, feeling badly about having to put him in his kennel overnight.. He has his good points: has never chewed a shoe (immediate suspension in this household) or bitten a kid (happened with a friends dog- not recommended! Even when it is the kids fault...)
But as he has already shown that he will fight the big dog over a chew toy, into the kennel he goes.
Maybe the cats will sneak in for a bite of kibble n bits.

Turning 40

The big 4-0 was approaching. My children were moving on, the years had flown by and I felt like I had misplaced my "self" along the way.
I could not imagine how to go forward.
Then I got an invitation from my mom: "Horseback riding in the South of France...?" I missed being with her, she lived far away and we both loved to ride.
I still need her inspiration and want her approval (although for the most part I still ignore her advice...) so with visions of mild fall weather, fields of lavender and sunflowers, a casual meander through vineyards, great food (a little wine) and quality time spent together, we sent in our money and booked our flights.
I have always loved to travel. When I finished High School I had planned and prepared to go off and see the world. Having kids and getting married was not part of that program; we had a second child and moved to the country.
Over the years I waitressed, bartended, picked apples, taught kindergarten, worked in a hotel and sold real estate… any job to pay the bills yet still allow me to hang out with my children. They had brought me hope, joy and meaning, but having reached the point when it was time to let go, encourage them find their own way, I also had to move on. I had a good marriage and a beautiful home. What more could I want?
I still yearned for adventure; a riding trek in the south of France could be the perfect opportunity for me to reflect on my life and to look ahead at what might come next.
Mom and I met at Charles De Gaulle airport, and made our way to Paris on the Metro. European travel is so much more interesting when using public transport, especially since I had packed far too much. Of course, I needed my riding stuff: boots, chaps, helmet, pants, gloves and a good light jacket. I had decided against bringing my foul weather gear, assuming a plastic rain poncho would do. Besides, we were going to be in Paris and Florence... fitting in lots of nice clothes and a cute pair of sandals was more important, I thought at the time.

turning 40 chapter 2

After several days of good food, lots of wine, shopping, art and music in Paris we took a train south through France to Carcassone, a picturesque medieval fortified city, where we were met by the owner of the tour, and taken to her farm.
Our first day of riding was my 40th Birthday, and a guide came along to assess our ability and common sense. Could he trust us alone to care for their horses and find our way for the next five days? I had filled out a form outlining my riding experience, and mailed it along with my fee. They matched me with a skittish little mare named "Personne" ("Nobody".) I hoped she would settle down. She did not feel particularly trustworthy. Admittedly, it does take a while to get to know a horse, and for the horse to get to know the rider. I should know, because when I was a little girl, my first pony would head straight for low tree branches, brushing me off. My second pony would trot along briskly, and with no fair warning, she’d dip her head to grab a quick mouthful of grass, at which point I would usually tumble down her neck and land right in front of her. Fortunately she was small, and I did not have far to climb, so I’d get right back on and keep going.
In France we were able to ride for days through private lands, from town to town, tie up our horses and wander through historic sites. Such a ride would be very difficult to organize back home. As we rode up a narrow track with columns of cypress trees on the right and a tower of stone in the meadow to the left our guide told us that the area had once been called the “Center of the Celestial Universe.”  The entire region was home to ruins enhanced by local stories and legends, and our route was to follow the mountain trails formerly used by Cathars who were fleeing religious persecution.  I appreciate ruins, envisioning the untold stories of hopes, fears and dreams. The ruins we passed were most likely rebuilt from other, more ancient ruins.

Turning 40 chapter 3

After lunch, as we made our way back, the guide shouted out and his horse took off. Of course our horses followed suit, nimbly down the rocky decline. The brush at the edge of the path became sparse and the meadow appeared, and my horse made a break for the open, at full gallop. I could only hold on and pray. The next thing I knew, she had veered one way and I went the other, landing hard, no breath, seeing stars. I lay there and wondered if I could just quit and go on to Florence. What a way to celebrate my 40th Birthday, flat on my back… so this is what they meant by the “Center of the Celestial Universe”! My mom had caught the reins and brought my horse back to me.  When I could breathe again I had no choice but to get back on. What other possibility? We were hours from the farm. My body ached, I was close to tears, I was pumped with adrenaline, and the horse named "Nobody" stood calm and ready, ("...What? ...Who me…?") I managed to drag my self back in the saddle, and we continued on.
Apparently we had passed the skills test, because they said we were ready to go off on our own the next day. In retrospect, I’m not so sure about that conclusion. We still had plenty to learn! In any case, we set out briskly. I had the narrative describing our route, and was happy to lead. My horse was peppy and alert, walking out willingly. Nothing is more frustrating than a slow unwilling horse, I thought at the time.  Some of the trek was to be on busy roads, but we had been told that these horses had done this route numerous times... they pretty much knew the way... just pay attention... no worries.
It was a beautiful day, and despite my aching tailbone, I felt good. As a motorcycle came towards us, my horse’s ears perked; she tensed and whirled, ready to bolt back to her barn and safety. I clamped my legs and held one rein, low and tight, circling her and holding until she settled a bit, and the bike was long gone. This was not going to be the stroll through delightful meadows that I had expected, and I was sitting on a firecracker. "What on earth were we thinking?" my mom said, the first of many times one of us said that specific phrase during the next few days. The other fun phrases we may have used cannot be reprinted here.
A little later, as we rode up a steep and muddy track, I thought that we must have missed a turn because the trail was just too dangerous. There was a pipe sticking up in the middle of the trail, from which came a loud hissing and gurgling. You can guess what happened next. The sound put my horse in a frenzy. She tensed, tried to turn and run, and since there was no way to stop and dismount, with the others close behind, I coaxed her past and we continued on. The air was fresh and she remained skittish, jumping at every new sound. Our narrative said that we were to come to a clearing with a water trough, as it was a critical time to water the horses. We found the clearing, but the trough was empty, the pump broken, so we continued on. At that point, if nothing else, we had found a landmark and could assume we were on the right track.

Turning 40 chapter 4

Our lunch stop was remote and deep in the forest. There was a stone building, a small hut and several trucks parked nearby. The smells of wood smoke and grilling steak and the sounds of loud and lively conversation were coming from a group of people in the hut.  We tied the horses to a log rail, and found a working pump to water them. 
One of my favorite things in France is great food and wine, and we were invited to join the group for lunch. They were roasting snails over the fire, had steaks on the grill, and were drinking a vile smelling liqueur. I passed on both the snails and the liqueur; we had packed a nice red wine. They were thoroughly friendly and wanted to know all about our trek and where we were from. They were setting out to hunt wild boar. Apparently the way to hunt wild boar is to sit in a truck and drink until the dogs have chased a boar close enough to shoot. The resulting meat would be inedible, but it was a sport, after all. They warned us that their dogs could startle the horses, and that the boar could be very dangerous. By then I knew that anything could startle my horse, and how could little pigs be dangerous?  
My mom was worried about the wild boars. I had no reference, growing up in the States. I remember one time when I was little, while in Germany, we had to walk on a high stone wall to avoid the wild boars. It was a game. I had no fear. Wild boars were just pigs.
Later, as we took a brief rest and heard their distinctive sounds, I grabbed a rope and went toward them, swinging my arms and hollering "…go away little piggies..." They ran. My mom was so relieved to see them go; she and I laughed until our stomachs hurt. An observer would question our sanity at that moment. What on earth were we thinking? What a pair: my mom, with her fear of wild boar and me with my fear of heights. We could be sipping wine in a café in Paris! We had our own horses back at home! What on earth were we thinking?  I once had a professor who told me that anything worthwhile would have moments of chaos, at which time I would have to make my own way through, and if I could do so, I would have accomplished something really amazing.

Turning 40 chapter 5

The next day was damp and overcast. Our trail led downhill, overgrown and mossy green on all sides. Ahead and to the left were the tumbledown stones of an ancient ruin. Here, on the trail of the Cathars, may have been a place of refuge. I took a picture, but my camera could not possibly capture the misty eerie feel of the place. It made me think of the stones in secret magical places, a place that C.S.  Lewis would use as a doorway to another world, a place that Tolkien would fill with elves and fairies. Awareness overwhelmed me at that moment: I was not alone in my search for meaning; it was part of the human condition to hope and fear and dream.
The most challenging day of all was near the end. It was to be the longest day, and although we had spent each night in comfortable Bed and Breakfast accommodations, I was missing the comforts of home. It figures, I had to go to the other side of the world, ride somebody else’s horse, and get lost in the mountains to realize just how good I had it right back at home.
We were riding across a high plateau, very remote, covered with grassland and small shrubs. Herds of cattle grazed here and there, none coming too close, thankfully. The last thing we needed was another wild ride. Already that morning, having made our way down a precarious trail, we were on a nice level sandy track, with fields on one side, woods on the other. It seemed like a good place for a nice canter. We saw two dogs ahead, playing in the dust, and continued forward until the dogs noticed us and started to bark. A split second was all it took for my horse to wheel around and set off dead gallop towards the others. The other horses picked up on the panic, and off we scattered full speed right back the way we had come. When we finally managed to slow the horses we had backtracked almost to the place we started. I dismounted and led my horse until she thoroughly settled down.

Turning 40 chapter 6

The weather had become blustery and it was beginning to rain. How I wished I had brought my rain gear! My light poncho was no match for what was coming and cute shoes would do me no good at that point. My horse spooked with each new gust of wind, my tailbone ached from the fall, I had twisted an ankle and my knee felt out of joint. I was a little dreamy, having taken plenty of Ibuprofen to keep going. And there we were, in remote mountains, following barely marked trails, no towns or people, the ruins we passed long abandoned. I felt like a time traveler, out of place, out of century. Either we were riding more slowly than our narrative suggested, or we were lost again. I was cold, wet and exhausted.
We reached our lunch destination, ruins of a village where several roads converged, nothing left but old stone walls and fallen roofs. I took some pictures, too dangerous to go inside. We knew the stop would have to be brief, and we had hours to go.  
We had been told of a group who, at that place, had turned onto the wrong track. When they ended up, evening falling, far from where they were supposed to be, they decided to quit, and give up the trek. They had called the farm owner and asked her to come pick them up. "Are my horses hurt?” She asked. No. "Are you hurt?"  No.  Then she arranged a truck and trailer to take them to that evening’s intended destination, and they continued as planned.
We found the right track, and finally made it to the final night’s destination, a remote resort with great hot showers and fabulous food. Our young hostess was taking over her father’s business, and she spoke about her hopes and fears and dreams for her future. Her fiancée lived far away, and they were struggling to find their way to make a life together, each feeling committed to their homes and families. It reminded me of challenges Jim and I had faced when we decided to move to the country and buy our little farm.

The weather was beautiful on the last day of riding, and as we rode we talked about the various intense and satisfying moments we had experienced on the trip, and we laughed about our original naïve expectations. It became clear to me that my mom, by example, had given me the answer to one of my questions: the way to go forward as a mother is to embrace every opportunity with my children; of course they would still need me. The answer to my other question: time to get busy living my life with a greater appreciation for everything good my husband and I had created, including the place I love most.
I had gone in search of myself, for meaning and inspiration, only to realize that the Center of my Celestial Universe would be found right back at home.

Friday, August 10, 2012


I recently got a new horse, an older untrained gelding named Magellan.
I also bought his half sister Moriah.
What on earth was I thinking, buying two more horses?
Maybe they would be great trail horses? Maybe I would teach them to drive, a perfect matched pair.
Maybe I would breed the mare, and raise her foal?  
Maybe they just needed a home.
I had been looking for a good all-around trail horse. When I went to see him he was pastured in an isolated field and looked half wild. A classic old style Morgan, with solid legs, big head and wild mane and tail, his eyes were well spaced and expressive, and his jaw was broad enough to fit my fist, which  means there is good space for a brain, according to horseman lore. His sister Moriah was even more characteristic of the classic solid work horse.I called my husband and said I had found the perfect new horse but that he "has a sister..."
I nicknamed them "thing one" and "thing two," brought them home and put them in pasture right behind the house. They quickly became comfortable around us, watching us as we worked in the garden and quickly learned how to gauge when feeding time was near.
Yesterday, the weather was perfect, a light breeze. I wiped Magellan with fly repellant. He hates to be sprayed, thinks I'm about to kill him when he hears that squeech- squeech sound. I saddled him, and after leading a little, watching how he moved with the saddle, I got on and sat quietly.
He flicked his ears, paying attention, not in irritation.
And so we meandered easily in the pasture, towards his half sister, then a little circle away. "Walk-On" and a little squeeze, a kick to follow if needed. "Ha-Ho," a gathering of the reins, a good full stop.  
Such little moments of success contribute to my daily happiness.
As I sit on my porch and write these words, the thunk and rattle of an acorn falling on the metal barn roof reminds me that another summer is almost over. I will add this to my list of "another perfect day."