Podcast: Straight from the Horse’s Mouth

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In last week’s post, I talked about how the process of marketing Motherhood: Lost and Found has added new layers to my story. Each time I prepare for a presentation, sit down to write a press release or have an interview about my memoir, I have the opportunity to look at my relationships anew.

I treasure this time spent in contemplation about my mother and the depth of her influence on my life.  While Alzheimer’s shifted the course of our relationship in unexpected, painful and challenging ways, it also taught me to slow down, release expectations and open myself to the gifts within each moment.

My perspective has changed, of course, with my mother gone. It is much easier to see that while the care taking and the grieving seemed endless at the time, it was but for a season. I am reminded that all of us lead lives that are a series of seasons, seasons that in the conglomerate make up who we are, seasons that lead to our final act.

I have transitioned from a childless woman in her early 30s to a mother in her mid 50s who has laid her own parents to rest. Time has evaporated. The reason I continue to share the story about my mother’s Alzheimer’s and my own infertility is to provide a message for those who have suddenly become stranded on their own island of grief. My hope is to reach out a hand, to let my readers know they are not alone.

I hope you find meaning in this podcast. Thanks for reading and listening!

Click here to listen to the podcast.

To order a copy of Motherhood: Lost and Found, click here.


The Horse Story Behind My Memoir

* In honor of my horse Crimson, I’m giving away a copy of the Kindle version of Motherhood: Lost and Found. For a chance to win, leave a comment at the end of this post. Be sure to include your email address. A winner will be selected next week. Good luck!  

* Two winners have been chosen. Thank you for your comments.

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Motherhood: Lost and Found tells the story of my struggle to have a child at the same time I was losing my mother to Alzheimer’s. For those of you who don’t know me, the back drop of this story is my love of horses.

During this decade of loss, I was deeply involved in the horse world. Most mornings I could be found at the barn grooming or riding my horse Crimson. My afternoons were spent teaching dressage and hunter/jumper to a group of riding students who I adored.

Crimson was a very special horse. He happened to be a grandson of the great Secretariat. An Appendix Quarter Horse, I learned that Crimson had won one race before his career at the track ended. I purchased him as a green six-year-old when we lived in Houston, and trained him to jump. We transported him to North Carolina when Joel and I moved back home to be closer to my parents.

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Crimson and I at a horse show in Houston.

A chestnut gelding just shy of 16.2 hands, he looked a lot like Secretariat. And he had the heart of a champion. Crimson was the kindest horse I’ve ever known. When I was overwhelmed with the grief in my life, I went to him.

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Crimson, my steady boy, carried me through so many hard days.

Some days when the sorrow was too much to bear, I would go down to the barn and watch him grazing with the other horses. Other days, I could do nothing more than lean against Crimson and rest my head against his neck. He would stand like a statue absorbing my emotions.

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Crimson grazing with a pasture mate.

My mother’s illness lasted for over 10 years before she died, and for much of that time, Joel and I remained childless. Because my mother required constant care, I had to board Crimson at other farms for months at a time. It was heartbreaking to let him go. But I sensed that he understood. I was also fortunate to have wonderful horse friends who helped care for Crimson while I was away.

After my daughter was born, I was finally able to bring Crimson home. It was a gift to have him at the barn. His kind and gentle nature always lifted my heart. Each morning, I did chores – cleaning stalls and filling water buckets – while Sydney rode in a pack on my back. It was hard work taking care of a mother with Alzheimer’s, a young child and Crimson. There were long days when my mother was sick, Joel was out of town or my daughter had been teething throughout the night. But Crimson’s presence gave me strength and peace.

During those years, I didn’t have much time for riding. But occasionally I would hop on just to feel the rhythm of Crimson’s gaits, his rocking canter. I remember one day wanting to share this wonderful feeling with Sydney. She was delighted when Joel lifted her up on the horse in front of me. Crimson was a perfect gentlemen, as I knew he would be.

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Crimson taking Sydney and me for a ride.

I’ll always be grateful for the time I spent with this wonderful horse. Crimson passed away in 2003, after a serious attack of intestinal colic. He was 19, the same age his grandfather Secretariat was when he died. We laid him to rest on the farm near the magnolia tree given to me by my friend Lyn in honor of my miscarriages.

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To order a copy of Motherhood: Lost and Found, click here. I’m so thrilled that it has been No. 1 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases for Eldercare. For more information, please see my website: www.anncampanella.com.


Transitions at the Farm, Part II: Welcoming Shady

During the same weeks as I was processing my grief and acceptance over April leaving, I was beginning to celebrate the fact that Lauren-Kate, had found a horse that seemed to suit her. I’ve been teaching Lauren-Kate riding lessons since we first brought Foxie to the farm over a year ago, last spring. And she and her mom, Karen, helped us clean up the barn and have been sharing chores with us since that time. Karen showed me the video of Lauren-Kate riding Shady, and as I heard her talk about him, I had the sense that this horse could be “the one.” They had been patient in looking for the right horse. Lauren-Kate had leased Misty, a sweet paint mare for several months last year, and she had tried out a handful of other horses. For good reasons, none of them had been quite the right fit. But Shady, this new gelding, seemed like something special. He was an elegant chestnut Quarter Horse (though he didn’t have a typical Quarter Horse build) with a sweet face and a kind temperament. He also had some dressage training in him.

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Lauren-Kate trying out Shady.

I couldn’t help but take in the similarities to my old horse. Crimson, the same color, had been an Appendix Quarter Horse gelding with build of a Thoroughbred. He also had a laid-back temperament, and I had ridden him dressage for years.

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My old horse Crimson. He and I competed in many dressage shows over the years.

Lauren-Kate took a couple of lessons from Jennifer Flowers, a wonderful dressage trainer at the barn where Shady was, and I went up to watch them together. Shady’s low-key and willing attitude, his previous dressage training and his steadiness seemed to be everything Lauren-Kate was looking for. The smile on her face when they were together told the story. When Karen asked me what I thought, I couldn’t help but say, “He seems like a good fit.”

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Shady and Lauren-Kate

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I watched Lauren-Kate as she cantered on Shady.

Shady had been donated to Race2Ring, a rescue organization Lauren-Kate volunteers for that also matches up qualified horses with new owners. The adoption process was a smooth one, and on Tuesday, July 12th, Shady was delivered to our farm by Erica, a friend of Karen and Lauren-Kate’s and one of Race2Ring’s board members.

It was a typical warm July day. Sydney was at a basketball camp, and Lauren-Kate and I went to bring in the horses, so that Erica could pull her large truck and trailer into our big pasture to turn around. Foxie and April were grazing in their usual fashion, and I asked Lauren-Kate to lead Foxie to the barn, knowing April would follow, so that I could open the gate near the road. April followed Lauren-Kate and Foxie from the pasture into the ring, but then she paused as if she was unsure if she should continue as she watched me walk toward the gate. Typically, April sticks close to Foxie, so I couldn’t help but notice this behavior. If it had been another horse, I wouldn’t have opened the gate. But I knew April would never try to leave Foxie. Surprisingly, April waited for me, letting Foxie get out of sight. After swinging open the gate, I walked towards April, and she and I continued to the barn. In their stalls, I threw each horse a flake of hay, turned on their fans and made sure their water buckets were full.

Within a few minutes we heard the low rumble of Erica’s diesel truck. We hurried up to the big pasture to greet Shady. He was nervous as he backed off the trailer and was covered in sweat. He lifted his head high looking around to see where he was. After a few moments, Erica handed his lead rope to Lauren-Kate. She was beaming as she led him towards the barn. Erica, a friend who had driven with her, Lauren-Kate’s mom and I all followed.

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Erica’s trailer (with Shady on board) pulling into the pasture.

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Erica leading Shady off the trailer.

Lauren-Kate filled with joy as she takes ownership of Shady.

As we entered the barn, there was a flurry of nickers and neighs…and I noticed that April was lying down. My first thought was, “She must be enjoying a little nap in her stall,” since she’s out most of the time. April got up quickly and stretched her neck towards Shady. Her nostrils fluttered as she nickered. Shady answered her back.

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Foxie and April showing interest in Shady as he comes into the barn.

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Lauren-Kate, Shady and Eric

Once in his stall, Shady circled a few times, then stood with his head over the door looking towards April and Foxie. I asked some questions about Shady’s feed and turnout schedule, his shot records and other miscellaneous horse info. After a bit, everyone except me headed back to the trailer to pick up Shady’s tack that had been donated. Karen offered to give me a ride back to the trailer, but I declined wanting Lauren-Kate and Karen to have a few moments with Erica. I was also glad to have a brief moment of quiet in the barn so that I could observe the horses and begin to process some of the emotions of this transition. This was a big day. I couldn’t help but remember how excited I was when I bought Crimson many year ago and when we brought Foxie home to the farm last spring. Buying a horse is like welcoming a new member into your family. Your relationship changes. The horse becomes more than an animal you ride and groom for a few hours a week. He becomes an animal you think about on so many levels from feeding to turnout and everything in between.

The horses seemed to appreciate the moment of quiet also. I heard gentle snorting and munching sounds as they nosed through their hay. I walked over and looked at each horse. Shady was alert, dropping his head to grab a mouthful of hay, then popping it back up so as not to lose sight of the other horses. Foxie was her usual calm self, a tiny tear of sweat dripping from one eye. I noticed that April’s coat was sweaty. Without thinking much about it, I pulled her out of the stall and hosed her off. I knew the barn was warm, and the horses were used to being outside where there was a slight breeze. April’s eye had a dull look to it, but I attributed it to the heat.

A few minutes later, Karen and Lauren-Kate returned to the barn and began putting away Shady’s tack. I made another quick check of all the horses. I expected to see April looking more refreshed as she stood in front of the fan after her bath. But, instead, her head was drooping slightly and her eyes were glazed.

“April doesn’t look good,” I said, unlatching her stall and slipping on her halter. My eyes immediately went to her belly, which was distended. She’d developed a grass belly over the summer. So it was hard to tell if it was bigger than usual. But I thought it might be. I checked the color of her gums and put my hand on her flank to see if there were any distinguishable sounds. Because of their physiology, horses aren’t capable of throwing up, so there should be a constant low rumble as grass makes its way through the intestines.

“She may be colicking,” I said.

“What should we do?” asked Lauren-Kate.

“It doesn’t seem serious.”  Less than an hour ago, she’d been in the field with Foxie eating grass as usual. “I’m going to walk her a little bit and see how she does.” I took her out to the field behind the barn where there was lots of shade and watched April as I walked her. She was definitely not herself. Her head was lower than usual, and she wasn’t paying any attention to the new horse. She didn’t even seem to care that she couldn’t see Foxie, something that would normally upset her. Lauren-Kate and Karen followed us. Suddenly, April’s legs buckled, a sign that she was about to lie down and roll, a dangerous move for a horse who is colicking because she could accidentally twist a gut, which could cause the blood supply to be shut off to the intestines.

My own horse, Crimson, had died from colic over a decade ago. I had found him one rainy morning just outside the barn, in the same paddock I was now walking April. Unbeknownst to me, he had colicked during the night and spent hours rolling, attempting to alleviate the pain in his gut. The vet, Dr. Strong, had treated him throughout the day, but wasn’t able to save him. Eventually, he was in too much pain, and the decision had to be made to put him down. All of this flew through my head as April’s legs buckled. I went into action, waving my hands along with the lead rope, yelling at the mare to keep her upright. My movements startled April and she quickly straightened up. We continued walking.

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Me with my sweet boy, Crimson. I still miss him.

I made the immediate decision to call the vet and handed April off to Karen and Lauren-Kate, with instructions to keep her moving. My heart was racing as I pulled out my cell phone and looked up veterinarians in the area. Maybe I was being over cautious. After all, April had pooped in her stall and a few times while walking, another good sign that showed her system was in working order. But she still wasn’t herself. And the last thing I wanted to do was lose another horse in that paddock.

I had Dr. Strong’s number in my contact list. I called the office and texted him directly. When there was no response, I looked up other vets. With colic, early and fast treatment can be critical, so I wanted the vet who could get here the quickest. I was on the phone with a vet who was 45 minutes away when Dr. Strong texted me that he was on his way. I cancelled the other vet and felt a wave of relief flow through me.

I was due to pick up Sydney at her basketball camp as all of this was happening. Karen offered to get her, and Lauren-Kate said she would stay to help me walk April. I was so thankful for their help.

Within a short time, Dr. Strong’s truck pulled into the barn. I walked April into the aisle and he gave her a shot of banamine for pain relief and to reduce inflammation. Her vital signs were “pretty good,” and I wondered again if I was being “over cautious.” Dr. Strong put a tube down April’s nose, pumped mineral oil into her stomach and continued monitoring her vital signs. Her heart rate, which had not increased much, decreased during the treatment – another positive sign. But she had few, if any gut sounds. Basically, we had to wait until the banamine wore off to see how she was. In the meantime, I spent time on the phone with April’s owner, Kelly, updating her.

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Dr. Strong treating April.

Dr. Strong’s assistant was surprised at how long April stayed under the effects of the banimine. Her head was drooping and her eyes were half-closed. I felt as if the ghost of Crimson was with me as we waited for April to wake up. I remembered clearly how he had stood, bearing the pain of his colic with a quiet strength, and my chest ached at the thought. Imagining how hard it must be for Kelly to be miles away from a horse she loved, waiting for updates, I took a few photos.

Gradually, April began to come around. The vet suggested letting her walk in the pasture, as long as she didn’t roll, to see if she wanted to eat. Even though she was still sleepy, I could see an immediate change in April. She had energy in her walk, and interest in grass. She even called softly for Foxie.

April, upon waking from the sedative, looking more like herself.

I asked the vet if I could turn the two mares out together. He said, “Sure. Whatever it takes to keep her moving.” Foxie was happy to join April, and the two horses started walking side by side, then April began trotting around the pasture. To my eyes, April looked not only good, but great! It was as if she had gone from a horse with a bellyache to a horse who was fully aware of her magnificence and grace as she pranced around the field. It was an amazing transformation.

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After the mares were turned out together, April starts trotting. She appears to feel great!

During the vet’s visit, Shady had been eating hay and watching the action unfold from his stall. We decided to turn him out to let him stretch and see how the mares would respond to him. April, who has always been submissive to Foxie, turned into Super Mare, rushing over to Shady, squealing and turning her rear to him. Foxie, patiently stepped away from April and seemed to watch the whole interaction like a wise mother.

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Foxie and April greeting Shady.

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April turns into Super Mare and moves between Foxie and Shady, staking her claim.

I spent much of that afternoon and evening watching the horses – to make sure April’s colic didn’t return, to see how Shady and the mares reacted to each other and to see how Shady settled into his new environment. I had the sense that my presence was calming to the horses, almost as if I was the experienced older mare, setting a tone of quiet security for the rest of the herd. At the same time, being with the horses calmed me. I brought a chair out into the field and placed it where I could view all the horses. I needed time to simply be and breathe, to let go of my old anxiety and grief over losing Crimson and absorb the joy in seeing April recover so quickly and easily. I also wanted to observe Shady and begin to get to know him.

Later, Sydney, Karen, Lauren-Kate and I discussed what had happened. It seemed as if Shady’s arrival may have initiated a strong heat cycle in April, possibly causing her to colic. And when she came out of it, she was “another horse” for a few days. When I researched heat cycles in mares, I learned that sometimes mares who have not been around male horses for several months can go into strong heat. April had never exhibited any signs of heat throughout the year we’d had her, even when she was boarded at Runneymede, so this made sense. Mares typically only go into heat during the spring, summer and fall months, and April was boarded during the winter, the non-heat months.

We also talked about how the timing of Shady’s arrival was a blessing, in that we were able to be with April, notice her symptoms and care for her right away. If there was some reason for her colic (other than her going into a strong heat), we might not have discovered it until several hours later.

During the early evening after April colicked, Foxie and April retreated to the far end of their paddock. They stood head to tail, resting and swishing flies off of each other. I felt a little bad for Shady, who paced the fence, calling loudly to them. The mares acted as if they wanted nothing to do with him. Eventually, Shady settled down and started grazing. Perhaps (like me) the mares needed some time to process the change in their lives.

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In the early evening, Foxie and April stand at the far end of the field (away from Shady).

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The mares rest, swishing flies away from each others’ faces.

Before going to bed that night, I drove my car down to the barn to check on the horses one last time before morning. It was dark and I couldn’t see the horses at first, so I kept driving along the fence line of the paddock. The mares were no longer in the far corner. As I turned the car around, and the headlights swung across the field, I caught a glimpse of their shadowy figures. Shady was standing by the fence, his neck in an arc, as April pranced in front of him and Foxie romped close by.

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“Hey, what about me?” says Shady.

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Later in the evening, the herd will come together again.

For Transitions at the Barn, Part I: Saying Goodbye to April, click here.


Painting: an Evolution

I love our barn. It was built by John Black, our neighbor who sold us our land and who used to run a dairy farm. Our barn is sturdy, built with strong wood and care. Most of the wood came from June Washam’s old sawmill. June, who has a road named after him, and was recovering from open heart surgery when we knew him, came over and helped John in the building process, even though he wasn’t able to stand up straight. He has since passed away, but the quality of his wood and our barn still stands. John Black says, “Everywhere there should have been four nails, I put five.” Craftsmanship like that is a rare gift. And I am so thankful.

But ever since our tack room was built, I’ve wanted to paint the outside wall of it. It’s made of pressed particle board and has the brand stamped in black running in a diagonal line across it.  I’ve always been someone who likes the idea of transforming ugliness into beauty…so, using some old paint that I had around the house and the barn, I began the process.

I enjoy painting, but I don’t consider myself a real artist. My brother Bill was the artist in our family. His watercolor scenes and portraits mesmerized and amazed me. He could perform magic with his brush. My attempts at drawing nature and wildlife were enthusiastic, but typically the trees and the animals were somewhat ill-formed and oddly shaped. But there was something exciting about the process.

These days I enjoy the idea of transforming a plain wall into something magical. Not that I have any misconceptions about my talent. I know it’s raw. Maybe more than raw. But there is joy in the process … the idea of creating something new.

So I went to work on the outside wall of the tack room. I started by painting over the particle board with a tan color. It was a hot day, close to 100, and I had to stand on a stool, then a chair to reach the top of the board. Covering the particle board in paint proved harder than I had imagined. After about an hour, I had less than a quarter of the wall painted and I was drenched in sweat. A wasp crawled out of the wall and circled around me. I held my breath and it flew away.

I stepped back every 10 minutes or so and surveyed my progress, promising myself I would stop … after I was one-third of the way done, then halfway, and finally, gradually, I only had the top left corner to finish … so I persevered.

Then the wind kicked up and the temperature dropped from 98 degrees to the mid 80s and it felt positively cool. I went up to the house as the first rain that we’d had in weeks began falling. But after a few minutes, I thought to myself…Why am I here when it’s finally cool? So I scrounged around the house for some blue craft paint that I could add to the partial can of white paint in the barn. I found some and returned to the barn to paint the sky.

It was a pleasure to paint as the wind stirred through the barn. I could hear the horses rustling behind the barn and the occasional stomping of hooves. The coat of blue went onto the particle board a bit easier.

A few days later, when I had a few hours to myself, I began painting the green that would be the pasture. It took me a while to turn the pale blue paint into green. I don’t like to waste anything, so I stirred yellow into what remained of the pale blue paint. When I tried it out, I could tell that the sky and the pasture would be almost the same color. It took a lot more yellow and some dark green craft paint to finally come up with something dark enough to pass for a pasture.

I was most excited about adding horses to the scene. My plan was to paint each of the horses that are currently on the farm…and possibly add Crimson (looking down from a cloud). I painted Foxie (a palomino), Smokey (a grey Shetland  pony) and Misty (a paint) using silhouettes of horses I found on the internet as a guide. It was fun to add their distinctive coloring. I still need to add some shadowing on Smokey as he looks a bit ghost-like.

After painting the horses, I added some fluffy clouds and then… as is often the case… my time was up. I still hope to add Crimson and some trees and a Bible verse that I discovered as I was contemplating the dream of having horses back on the farm.

The mural on the tack room is still evolving. It’s a long way from perfect. But then so am I.

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Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Psalms 37:3

 


Memorial for my Mom

IMG_3427 For three-quarters of a decade, I have kept these dried flowers on a bureau in the hall, in a place where I could see them from my office. For a period of time they gave me comfort. They reminded me of my mother, who loved nature and the outdoors. I would glance at them as I was working on my memoir and think of her. But a year or two year ago, I began to feel like it was time to clear out the old and replace it with something new. It suddenly started feeling a bit morbid to have dead flowers from my mother’s funeral still in the house. Every week or so, I wiped away another handful of disintegrating dry petals from the surface of the bureau. My mother died in 2007.

But I didn’t want to just throw them away. I knew the flowers were a representation of my mother, not her ashes. But still I wanted to “let go” of these dried bouquets in a way that would honor her. So, during one of the cold days of winter, I came upon an idea. I held it in my mind for a while, caressing it for any rough edges. My idea was this: On Mother’s Day I would take the dried flowers to the graveyard on our property. We have several animals buried there: a beloved kitten named Spunky that wandered into our barn when it was first being built, three horses — including my beloved Crimson — and various other pets (some owned by others). At the back of the graveyard is a magnolia tree that Joel and I planted. It was a gift from my dear friend Lyn after one of my miscarriages. I imagined sprinkling dried petals around the base of this sweet tree that blooms each spring.

As the days gradually warmed, my idea evolved. I would take some of the flowers and leaves and distribute them around our farm. After all, Mom was (and is) ubiquitous in my life. I remember her walking around the property, waving her arms and exclaiming at the beauty of the woods the same way she exclaimed over the beauty of her beloved Lake George. I spent 20 years writing a memoir about her. And, yet, there is so much more to say. Her kindness, her gentleness, her tender heart are all things that bring me to tears.  I missed them after she had died and still do. Even though, over 10 years before her death, she had descended deeply into Alzheimer’s, her gentle spirit was always present. But, still, it took time before I remembered the mother who had been there before the illness.

Gradually, as the weight and exhaustion of care taking lifted, the layers of who she was began fluttering through my mind like loose leaf pages. She was disorganized, but spontaneous. Ready for an adventure at a moment’s notice. She continually expressed pure awe at God’s handiwork. She was at home on the water. She loved sailing and canoeing, watching the sun set over the glistening waves. She enjoyed the occasional mountain hike or a roadside overlook, encouraging her children to pause and take in the views, listen to the birds. She was a lover of words — writing weekly feature stories for her town’s newspaper for years. As I think about it, one reason I think her stories were so appreciated by the community was that she really and truly wanted to know her subject. She found people endlessly fascinating and complex. But she approached them with no judgment whatsoever.

That quality of “wanting to know” may be what I most miss about her. To have a parent truly “want to know” you is a gift. My mother listened intently, cared deeply. She did not always “get” me. I suppose that is not unusual, maybe even a necessary stage in the mother/daughter relationship. And I realize, all these years later, that I was not exactly someone who was easy to know. But she tried, and she was always present to whatever was going on between us. Is it any wonder that I tend to idealize my mom? Maybe it’s no wonder that I kept the dried bouquets from her funeral on my bureau for seven and a half years.

So, finally Mother’s Day arrived. I looked at the dried flowers half dreading, half thrilled to be getting rid of them. I had told Joel a few days earlier that I wanted to save the pink contoured vase holding one of the collections of dried flowers. Both the color of it and the curves delighted my eyes. I also loved knowing that caring friends or family members had bought this particular vase filled with flowers and given it to us during the time of my mother’s death.

Joel presented me with a beautiful bouquet on Mother’s Day morning, and the roses would look gorgeous inside the vase. Our family went to church that morning, then Joel and I spent a leisurely afternoon — napping and taking a walk. Sydney, who wasn’t feeling well, went to bed early. The sun was just beginning to go down when I remembered that this was the day I wanted to dispense with the dried flowers. I smiled to myself, thinking that my mom — who rarely followed a plan that was laid out — would understand. Still, I didn’t want to wait another year!

So, I quickly emptied the bouquets into two plastic grocery bags. Then I had to put the flowers Joel had given me into the pink vase. Voila! They looked as beautiful as I had imagined.

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As I stepped out of the house, I wandered around the foliage in our yard, placing a dried bud here, some disintegrating leaves there. I walked down the driveway in the gradually fading light. I dropped a few flowers into the woods, knowing I’d forget where they were, but liking the idea that they were there…or at least the remnants of them would finish decaying on my well-worn path.

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I paused at the creek and sent a few dried petals floating to wherever the creek empties, knowing my mother, although tied down with a military husband and four children, also enjoyed her freedom.

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I stopped by the barn and placed a dried flower in the door of Foxie’s stall, thinking of how my mother had loved my pony Cochise and that she must be smiling down on Sydney and her horse. I continued on, stopping here and there, including at the big rock we jokingly call “Joshua’s Rock South” in honor of the place “up north” deeply connected to my mother’s family’s heritage.

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Eventually, I got to the graveyard. I had forgotten that Joel had not yet mowed it this year. I was in shorts, and prickers and Poison Ivy were everywhere. Once again, I remembered how my mother would toss her head when coming to an obstacle and light-heartedly move in another direction. She would understand, I thought, as I left a small bouquet at the entrance of the graveyard. IMG_3434

On the way back to the house, I paused at the places I had been, smiling and sighing. It felt good to relieve myself of these dead flowers, to spread their husks into the world, allowing them to be remade over time into something new. As I was approaching the big creek, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. It was a bird. Not just any bird. A robin.

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The bird was dusky with a definite tint of orange on her breast. My mother loved all birds and would exclaim over every cardinal or blue jay or purple martin that she saw. But robins were what I considered “our birds.” My middle name is Robin. And each time she spotted one, she said it was “Little Robin Red Breast,” and mom would look at me tenderly, as if the bird and I were one. Over the years we spotted many robins during our spring, summer and fall walks, or my mother would call to me when she noticed one outside her kitchen window. There were many sightings.

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This little robin on the driveway was a messenger, a gift, a reminder of my mother’s love and the fact that her spirit can not be contained in a few bouquets of dried flowers. I needn’t feel bad that I was letting this tangible reminder of her go. Reminders were everywhere. The woods were full of them. And somehow setting myself free from the burden of holding on, allows me to feel the joy of her life. In the darkening light, the robin stayed with me, never more than a few yards ahead, as I walked. I thanked God silently for this amazing little bird and for my mother, all that she was and always will be. When I reached the house, the robin flitted towards a tree (for safety or to build a nest?) as the dog came running up to greet me the same way life rushes in.

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Friendship

 

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My friend Jo lives above a barn in what has always seemed to me to be a storybook setting. She is an artist and a lover of all animals. But Jo has a special connection with horses and an exquisite ability to capture their beauty and majesty through her artwork and animal portraits.

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I first met Jo many years ago, after she stopped by my barn and left a note. Later, she told me that she had been looking for a friend who might share her passion for horses, and she felt that God had led her to me. At one time, Jo kept her white Arabian named Pride at our barn. We rode together, attended clinics and she cared for the horses at our barn when I was out of town.

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Jo eventually bought her own small farm, and I remember being thrilled that it was 3.5 miles away. I could drive there in about 5 minutes. As the barn and her living space above it were being built, Jo painted this lovely signpost of places that were important to her or places she dreamed of going. I was so honored to be on it! I remember us discussing how horses keep a person tied down, but she hoped that this sign would bring travel into her life.

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Perhaps it did. Jo traveled to Panama a few years ago on a mission trip. I had lived there for five years during my growing up years. It’s the place where I was first introduced to horses.

I’ve had the privilege of sharing more than horses with Jo. In addition to her amazing artwork, she is also a poet and writer. Several years ago, Jo tentatively shared with me a beautiful poem that she had written and illustrated, that I hope will one day be a child’s picture book. We have wonderful conversations about creativity, and being with her inspires me.

Jo also knows my history. She listened and cared for me and my animals as my mother slowly descended into Alzheimer’s. She knew about my many miscarriages. And she was there to celebrate with me when Sydney was born, bearing a gift of artwork…a beautiful collage of fabric made into a bucking bronco. I had seen it before and loved the energy it exuded. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was the perfect metaphor for a 40-year-old woman learning to embrace motherhood.

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Once I became a mother, I didn’t see Jo as often as I would have liked. But we continued to stay in touch. When another horse friend and I put together a collection of work called, Riding Out: Poems of Grief and Redemption, Jo allowed us to use her beautiful painting of Pride as the cover, and she displayed this amazing piece and other horse artwork during a series of readings we did.

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“The King’s Horse” painted by Jo Rissanen

 

When Crimson died, Jo came over and said a prayer at his grave. When she was considering buying or selling a horse, she would give me a call to talk things over. When I saw on Facebook that her beloved Pride had died suddenly, I picked up the phone.

We sought out opportunities to stay connected. Over the years, Jo became an art teacher for Sydney and a succession of her homeschooled friends. During art class, I took walks down her dirt road, often with one of her dogs, sometimes with a friend and sometimes alone. There was always a special peace during those walks.

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Jo helped both Sydney and Lauren-Kate create covers for their books. Under Jo’s warm and inspiring tutelage, Sydney, in fact, just finished painting the artwork that will grace her third book cover. (for more information on these books, go to www.thebridgebooks.com)

Before I began this journey back into the horse world, I talked with Jo. She knew my fears and desires: that I didn’t want to be overwhelmed, that I wanted to move slowly and that it was important to me to be in touch with the Spirit. Each step of the way Jo has supported me and offered help. Her gentle listening ear heard each of my concerns.

About six weeks ago, Jo and I had a rare chance to visit and share our hopes and dreams with each other for the future. We both seemed to be on the brink of something new (with horses) in our lives, and we were both unsure of how to proceed. Jo became a prayer warrior for me, and I have tried to keep her covered in prayer also. This is one of the rare gifts that a long and special friendship provides. It also provides perspective. And hope.

Knowing that Jo has been praying for my dreams has helped me to embrace expectancy. I am able to connect the dots, trace the path that is being laid down before me. And believe that all will be well.

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Note: I have been blessed with many special friends and family members. Each one is different and unique. I am filled with gratitude for these dear people who play such an important role in my life.  


Preparations vs. Packing: a Contrast

Two days ago we had a delivery of hay, and yesterday a truckload of shavings arrived. Today is the big day. Foxie and Smoky will arrive. The farm is ready for new life.

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I can’t help but think about the day, over a decade ago, that I prepared to send Crimson away. I knew it was the closing of a chapter in my life.

In this excerpt from my memoir, Motherhood: Lost and Found, I describe a very different time:

Crimson leaves tomorrow. I have already packed his brushes and tack in my Blazer. In the morning, I’ll load a bag of feed and two extra bales of hay in the trailer. Does he sense a change coming? I’ve told him I will miss him, that I’m not sure when I’ll be able to bring him home.

When I walk up to the big pasture I find him lying down. Instinct tells me to check for signs of colic. His stomach is normal, not bloated. He isn’t biting at his flank. Usually, if he is resting, he gets up as soon as he sees me and gives his body a shake. But this time he stays on the ground and watches me approach, with his front legs curled into himself.

He looks like a large dog or, with his chestnut coloring, a doe. It is a cool, clear day and he is on the lower part of a knoll, just out of the wind. His head slowly droops so that his muzzle rests on the grass and his eyes close. He appears to be enjoying the November sun.

As quietly as possible I sit down crosslegged beside him. His eyes open slightly and his head jerks as if he has fallen asleep and woken himself up. Gradually he lets it sag again. I’m not sure how long we stay here. The sun warms my knees and the earth’s dampness creeps through the denim of my jeans. I reach out my hand and feel warm puffs of air from Crimson’s nostrils. He extends his legs as if he is about to stand. I tense, preparing to move out of his way. But he rolls over on his side, stretching his neck against the cool grass. Instead of scratching his back and immediately getting up, he stays motionless.

Is he savoring his last full day on the farm? I watch the barrel of his stomach swell and recede. Slowly I lie down beside him, so that my head rests an inch or two from his half-closed eye and my body less than a foot away from his bent legs. I know the danger, how an unexpected noise could cause him to flinch, strike out with his hooves in an effort to quickly right himself, how his thousand pounds could crush my ribs. But I stay here, matching my breath to his, staring at the blue expanse of sky.

Crimson’s legs remain still, defenseless. A long sigh quivers through the length of his body.

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painting of Crimson by my friend, Joanna Rissanen

I’m so thankful that today is a very different kind of day.

 

(For more information on Motherhood: Lost and Found, see http://www.anncampanella.com.)