The evening after the eclipse, Sunny and I take a walk. The sky is mostly clear, except for a few dramatic clouds hovering behind the tree line. The horses are grazing as usual, their coats covered in fine sweat that is just beginning to evaporate as the heat and humidity slowly lift. It is 8 o’clock, four hours after the sun and moon finished their dance through the sky.
Joel, Sydney and I went down to the barn and watched the eclipse from there. We did the pinhole through the cardboard trick and used eclipse glasses to take short peeks at the scooped out sun.
Sydney and I let the horses out because they seemed eager to enjoy the grass under a slightly cooler sky. The temperature gradually dropped from 91 to 87°.
At one point I brought a chair and sat in the shade under a tree. I was surrounded by the shapes of crescent moons created by the sun filtering through the leaves.
As the moon covered 97% of the sun I looked and listened for anything that might be a sign. The cicadas continued chanting, a single bird chirped behind me, the horses eagerly cropped grass. Sydney noticed that one of the cows from next door was looking at us and the herd was slowly making its way toward the neighbor’s barn. Maybe the unusual light made them think it was time to come in.
And suddenly the crescent shapes shifted from one side to the other, and the scrim over the sky seemed to lift.
I thought of all the people looking up – friends and family in the mountains, at the beach, in town, in faraway states. For that one moment, we were linked. Held together by a celestial ribbon, an awareness perhaps of the beauty of our sun – its strength and fragility.
When the eclipse was over, I was exhausted and empty, as if a part of me had been scooped out. I hadn’t expected to feel that way. Actually, I hadn’t thought about what would come after. Maybe I was picking up on the collective sigh from our country.
Tonight, I am grateful for the presence of horses grazing in the fields, the dog who walks by my side, my family and friends who share this wide world with me and the glorious colors left behind by the setting sun.
Three days before the eclipse and the sky is on fire. Not in the west, like it normally is when the sun is going down, but in the east. What does it mean?
Sunny and I were heading back up to the house. But the glow was so beautiful it stopped me in my tracks. We had taken a walk, and I finished the barn chores while Sunny patiently waited for me.
I wasn’t in a rush. I had spent the day with writing friends. It was early evening and the air was still warm and humid. My skin was slick with sweat. Once you step into a barn and the dust settles on you, there’s nothing to do but surrender and enjoy being dirty.
I’d walked up to the ring to check the water for the horses. I caught Foxie rolling and Shady studied me with his ears pricked up, alert.
Earlier in the day I had read a funny strand on an equestrian site about horses and the eclipse. A woman was wondering whether she should do anything special to protect her horses during the event. Several people responded jokingly: “Buy the extra extra large eclipse glasses,” “Have you ever seen a horse look up at the sun?” I couldn’t help but laugh.
I remember a partial eclipse I witnessed back in 1984 in Charlottesville, VA. The sky darkened slightly, as if storm clouds had gathered. But they hadn’t.
William E. Schmidt, a reporter for The New York Times, described the eclipse in Atlanta, where it was close to full. “The temperature dropped six degrees, flowers closed their petals, dogs howled, pigeons tucked their heads under their wings as if to sleep and the whole city was bathed in a kind of diffused light….”
“As the light from the Sun passed through the leaves of trees,” Schmidt continued, “it projected on to the sidewalk pavement tiny wedgelike images of its own crescent silhouette.”
Thirty-three years ago I was on a farm in Virginia, and I noticed those crescent silhouettes sprinkled around in the grass under the trees. So many years later, they are still vivid in my mind.
On Monday, we will experience a 97 percent solar eclipse here on the farm in North Carolina. I don’t believe that horses need special sunglasses or that the world is coming to an end. But maybe the glow in tonight’s August sky and the coming eclipse are simply reminders. The world is full of incomprehensible beauty. The least we can do is pay attention.
The beach has always been a place of deep nourishment for me. When my mother passed away, after living with Alzheimer’s for 14 years, I was physically, emotionally and spiritually depleted. I fled to the coast in search of the parts of myself I had lost.
Each morning, I got up early and walked the damp sand, studied the shore birds, listened to the roar of the waves and inhaled the salt breezes. My mother had always loved the ocean and images of her inspecting shells or pointing out dolphins gradually began to float back to me.
As I remembered and grieved for my mom – the woman I had lost, the mother whose physical form had departed this world – tears filled my eyes and slipped down my cheeks.
At the same time, descriptions and words filled my head. and I began jotting down lines of poetry that turned into poems. In this period of solitude, I gave voice to the myriad emotions that came to the surface.
Little by little, a lightness began to permeate my soul. It was as if my grief had been clogging the pathways to joy. And as I gave my feelings permission to take flight through words, a sense of the sacredness of life filled me. Gradually, I awakened to some of the day-to-day blessings I had been blind to over the years as I numbly cared for my mother.
I’m excited to share my journey from grief to joy in my new collection of poetry called The Beach Poems. It will be available through Main Street Rag Publishing Co. The list price is $12. But If you live in the U.S. and you order now, you will receive the pre-publication discount of $6.50 (plus shipping).
Click here for your pre-order discount. The collection will be mailed to you upon publication. Thank you for your support, and may your beach days be blessed!
As someone who has lived through a parent’s Alzheimer’s, I have deep appreciation for AlzAuthors and the compassion of its authors. I traveled a lonely path, caring for my mother whose memory began slipping when I was in my early 30s and trying to become a mother myself. Mom’s slow dance with Alzheimer’s lasted for 14 years.
Most of my friends had no idea what I was living through and, as a writer myself, I was hungry to read about the personal experiences of others who had gone before me.
I have a memory of standing outside my barn, feeling a light breeze as I watched the horses graze. I had no idea what was ahead on my journey with my mother, but I somehow knew that it would be important for me to share my own story.
Good books have always inspired me, and I wanted and needed to know how people not only survived this disease, but thrived in the midst of the grief and exhaustion of caregiving.
I remember spending hours late at night with a laptop perched on my knees searching every site that had the word Alzheimer’s in it. Twenty years ago, there was very little information and few books available for people like me.
Thankfully, all of that has changed. At AlzAuthors, caregivers can find a wide array of supportive resources – from handbooks on caregiving to memoirs about caring for parents, grandparents, spouses and other loved ones to fictional stories with characters who suffer from dementia to books explaining Alzheimer’s to children and more.
Part of my role on the management team will be to expand the reach of AlzAuthors on Facebook and Instagram. You’ll be able to find us here on Facebook, and I’ll keep you posted about the upcoming Instagram account.
I’m honored to help spread the news about this wonderful resource. Let me know if you have any questions or ideas that might help get the word out to those in need.
You can find “Alzheimer’s Support, Part I: Spreading the Word” here.
I was recently invited to join the volunteer management team of AlzAuthors, an online site that has gathered resources for people dealing with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Currently, AlzAuthors offers information about books (including memoir, fiction, nonfiction and poetry) and blogs written by over 100 authors. Each of these authors was touched by Alzheimer’s or dementia in some way and desires to give back.
AlzAuthors was founded in 2016 when four daughters of dementia (Jean Lee, Vicki Tapia, Shannon Wiersbitzky and Marianne Sciucco) who had written books met over the internet. They formed a friendship and a mission to create a space where caregivers could find support, and authors with stories about Alzheimer’s could connect with an audience in need.
Shannon Wiersbitzky is no longer active, but Kathryn Harrison has stepped in as the group’s Art Director.
The site says: “We share our experiences to bring knowledge, comfort, and understanding to others on this journey.”
I had the privilege of sitting in on a five-way conversation this week with the managers of AlzAuthors. It was inspiring to see how Jean, Marianne, Vicki and Kathryn work together, leaning on each other’s strengths and dedicating themselves to their mission. I was warmly welcomed into the fold and treated with kindness and respect. I’m honored to be joining this big-hearted management team.
My first project is to create and administrate a new Facebook page for AlzAuthors where we can showcase the great books and resources for those living with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. Take a peek by clicking here and feel free to like and follow! We hope you’ll share this page with anyone who is in need of this kind of support.
Coming soon: “Alzheimer’s Support, Part II: A Window Into Caregiving” where I share some of my own story.
Today we had the vet out for the horses’ annual shots. It was a routine visit, one that snuck up on me as I had scheduled it weeks ago. But what surprised me even more was the emotion that came over me after the visit.
The story actually begins back in the spring. That was when I heard the news that the large animal vet that we usually use was no longer practicing. I was sorry to hear this because he was someone we liked and respected, and (as a horse owner) it’s a big decision to find a new vet.
A few weeks later, I learned that Dr. Bob Gochanauer, a dear friend and wonderful vet, had passed away unexpectedly. My heart ached for his family who used to have a farm just a few miles away from us. Dr. Bob had also been my primary vet for Crimson for 13 years.
Between the time that Crimson passed away and we purchased Foxie for Sydney, Dr. Bob and his family moved further out in the country, about 45 minutes away. He was still practicing, but because of the distance, I had decided to use a closer vet for the sake of convenience.
After our other vet left the practice, I took some time researching vets. I’d heard it said that we had a “shortage of vets” in the area.
I decided to call Dr. Mary, who is Bob’s daughter. Yes, their office was farther away, but something tugged at me.
She and her assistant pulled up to the farm today in their big truck. I hadn’t seen Dr. Mary since she was a kid, when I used to give her riding lessons. Her face held the same open kindness that I remembered. We embraced for a long moment, and I whispered in her ear that I was so sorry about her dad. She nodded and smiled, her eyes filling.
When she entered the barn, I was blown away by how much she reminded me of her dad. Her mannerisms around the horses were spot on. She stood like him; she asked questions; she wasn’t in a rush. He had been an old country vet with gut wisdom about animals and true kindness.
I had forgotten how deeply I felt connected with him when he worked with the horses. Shady tends to get nervous around new experiences, and Dr. Mary helped him through his rotation of shots calmly and beautifully. Then she went on to treat Foxie, who stood quietly in her stall.
Before Dr. Mary left, I gave her a copy of Motherhood: Lost and Found, and told her there was a chapter that included her dad. He had euthanized Little Bit, one of my school horses, and he did it in such a gentle and loving manner that it always chokes me up when I think of it.
I’d been wanting to give her a copy of my memoir for some time, but it was one of those things I hadn’t got around to. (She lived far away, I didn’t know her address, yada yada yada.) She held the book to her chest and her eyes filled with tears. We embraced again, and I cried with her.
Later, with the horses turned out to graze, after their non-eventful vet visit, I found myself still full of emotion, thinking of Dr. Mary – on the road treating horse after horse, today and every day, the way her father did. I am so grateful for the kind of compassion they bring to this world.