"To live in the world without becoming aware of the meaning of the world is like wandering about in a great library without touching the books.".....The Secret Teachings of All Ages

Sunday, March 20, 2011


I was born and grew up in Southern California, where there are three seasons—hot, hotter, hottest. That’s a slight exaggeration, because we did get rain occasionally, or episodes of three to four days of Santa Anna Winds, which drove everyone crazy, especially firemen. I loved fall, because I knew it meant there would be four months of cooler weather with little or no smog. When it did rain, I would curl up on the couch with a good book and enjoy the sound of it pelting the roof of the house. If it were a summer rain, I’d open all the windows so I could enjoy the scent of rain-washed plants and trees. Wouldn’t it be grand, I thought, if I lived in a place where it rained a lot. Where I could curl up on the couch, with a fire going in a fireplace (I had never lived in a house that had one), and lounge around in sweaters, sweatpants, and socks.

Be very careful what you wish for.

In 1991 my husband and I moved to Southern Oregon. In March. It was raining. At first I thought it was kinda fun. That feeling lasted about a week. I had three horses that were used to nice, warm, cozy stalls bedded in pine shavings, and hanging out with the other horses at the stable where we kept them. They suddenly found themselves transported to a gloomy place in the middle of a forest, where they had open pipe corrals, no roof over their heads, and within a day, were standing in mud, not pine shavings. Yes, they all had water-repellant blankets on, but the faces that greeted me every morning were not happy ones.

My husband stayed working in California for several months, driving up every other weekend, so I was left on my own to deal with...everything. While painting the walls of the house and getting our things settled in, I also attempted to shovel mud out of the horse pens. That was a lost cause. Since we had a wood stove, I slogged around the property looking for anything that might burn. Yeah, right. It had been raining for months. Every stick of wood on the place was soaked. I was rapidly coming to the conclusion that dealing with rain on a daily basis was a big pain in the butt.

Jump twenty years. I still think dealing with rain for months and months is a big pain in the butt. Forget the nice cozy couch by the fire, forget the lounging around in sweatpants and sweaters, or hanging out reading a good book. That scenario works for me for about two or three days, then I’m climbing the walls. I now detest fall, because it is the early warning sign that six months of rain are just around the corner. Six months of gloom, fog, rain, snow, hail, and more rain.

It starts in November, and continues until May. By January, I have turned into the monster grouch, longing for sunny beaches and drinks with cute little umbrellas in them. I start begging my husband to buy tickets to Aruba. He just rolls his eyes. It doesn’t help that he loves winter weather and doesn’t quite understand my mania. A few years ago I discovered I suffer from LDS, or Light Depravation Syndrome. That was actually a relief, since there were times I thought I was going crazy. At least now I understand why.

When winter arrives, I still cringe. I still rant, complain, bitch and shake my fist at the heavens. Every morning when I slog through six inches of water, where the path to the barn has become a tributary to the creek, I grumble. At least our current horses have a nice covered barn and cozy stalls. But the turn out areas still become mud the consistency of cooked oatmeal, and the ground way too slippery to ride on. When we do want to ride, we have to trailer the horses to one of the two local fairgrounds where they have large covered arenas.

At one point my husband wanted us to eventually retire to the Oregon coast, specifically Coos Bay, where we keep our boat. Since I had dragged him to Oregon, where many of my family members had already immigrated to from Southern California, I figured it was his turn to pick the place we moved to next. If he wanted to live on the coast, well (cringe), okay. Never mind that it rains twice as much there as it does in Southern Oregon. Never mind that everything there has moss growing on its north side, or that storms roll in with 75-80 mph winds, or that it’s a major tsunami zone. Yeah, never mind all that, I’ll be fine...really.

He has abandoned that plan. I suspect it’s because he didn’t want to come visit me in whatever institution I ended up in.

In twelve year he’s due to retire. He has twelve years to find a place that isn’t insufferably hot in the summer, and doesn’t rain all winter. He’s a smart guy. He’ll figure it out. I want to enjoy the fall season again, without thinking of it as the prelude to six months of gloom, fog, rain, snow, hail, and more rain. That, and I have no desire to be institutionalized.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Equine Madness II — Mind vs Body

Remember the days when your brain could tell your body to do something, and your body would snap to it, saying, “Right! Got it. No worries!” I do. Back when I was in my late thirties, riding usually four to five days a week, and working with a riding coach once a week, my body was constantly in a low-level state of soreness — in a good way. It told me I had worked, used muscles, and my body had done, or tried valiantly to do, anything my little brain had asked. That state of being, my body totally in tune with my brain, made it possible to be in tune with the mind and body of the animal under me. Well, okay, maybe not all the time. But those times when my gelding, Tristan, seemed to know what I wanted before I asked, and we seemed to be sharing one body, are the most sublime moments I’ve ever had on a horse. You can’t describe the feeling to anyone. Seriously, you could use a thousand words, and it wouldn’t come close to describing that measure of connectedness to another creature. It rocks your world.

Jump two decades, add a ten year hiatus from riding, a new horse, and you have a totally different story. And, lest you get the wrong impression, I’m still in pretty good shape for my age. I’m not overweight, have no health issues, and work outdoors in a large garden. But that’s not riding. Riding is balance, sensitivity, and the constant search for that illusive connectedness. When you haven’t done it for a long time, and you start again, things get frustrating. Your brain, reaching back to previous experiences, starts yelling at your body, “Do this...no, no, you idiot, this, this!” Your body, asked to use muscles it hasn’t twitched in years, whines back, “Huh?...Whah? Oh, move these legs where? Are you sure?” Body procrastination.

In the meantime, my poor horse, Delight, is wondering what the heck is going on up there. And I must admit, our first ride did not start off auspiciously. After a few turns around the round pen, me flopping like a beached flounder, my saddle went sideways and I ended up on the ground. Delight stood there looking at me like I was a total imbecile, falling (pun intended) for the old “bloating like the Goodyear blimp when she tightens the girth” trick. Okay, lesson learned.

We’ve had many rides since then, and I have started working with two different coaches when I can, but I’m still waiting for my body to catch up to my brain. May take a while. My brain remembers how things should feel, where legs, seat, hands should be. Body...not so much. It’s coming back, slowly, and when we’re out of the winter weather, which makes riding hard because the ground is so slippery, things will improve quicker as I put in more saddle time.

But even with the riding I have done so far, the change in my body is already clear. My upper body strength is improving (all that stall cleaning, wheelbarrow pushing, horse grooming), my leg strength is better, and answering “the call” a bit quicker (currently that may be wishful thinking on my brain's part), and I’m starting to feel the first inklings of that constant, low-level state of soreness, which tells me this old body is still willing to work.

Actually, this old body is pretty damned happy. I still have a LONG way to go. My balance is still precarious. I still get frustrated when I know where a leg, hand, or my balance should be, and I can’t quite get there. Or worse, get it there for a nanosecond, but can’t hold it. Delight is still waiting for me to catch up, and gets understandably annoyed when she tries to give me what she thinks I’m asking for, when I’m actually asking for something else but giving mixed signals. I admire that she tries.

Come summer things will improve faster. Better weather means more riding time at home, going to events, and getting out on the trail. Soon my brain will snap to my body, “Do this, this, and this, and then this!” And my body will answer, ‘Right! Brilliant. Great idea!”

Delight will be thinking, “Gawd, it’s about time. I was beginning to worry you’d never catch up.”

(Note on the picture. It's a sketch I did in a journal, and the red text is bleeding through from the back side of the page. But I thought the drawing fit the subject, so posted it anyway, faults and all. The handwritten title slightly cut off reads, "Self-Portrait With Manure Fork")