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.
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.
Is it really July already? For some reason, I thought June would continue on for a while longer. It was jam packed with so many special events and days. As usual, I need to take a moment to slow down and process all that has happened. From a family trip to the beach to my 35th college reunion where I had the opportunity to gather with classmates and hear astronaut Tom Marshburn talk about space as I shared about the experience of writing my book to the week of the summer solstice when so many people affected by Alzheimer’s joined together for #TheLongestDay campaign.
During June, Motherhood: Lost and Found also reached #1 on Amazon’s Bestseller List. This happened during the week of the anniversary of my mother’s birthday and my father’s death. And just before spending the last two days of the month in a wonderful writing retreat, I got a glimpse of the cover of my new book of poetry, The Beach Poems. Is it any wonder that I feel overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude?
None of this could have happened without the support of my amazing community – my family and friends, my publishers – Laura Ponticello of Divine Phoenix and Scott Douglass of Main Street Rag, my writing friends, my Alzheimer’s connections, even my new friends on Instagram and Twitter.
It has been such a gift to make new connections and renew old ones. At my college reunion, I found myself talking with people I had hardly known at school and feeling so grateful for the opportunity to find common ground.
I’ve been wanting to write a “gratitude post” for some time now. When you have a book that reaches wider circles than you ever dreamed, it only happens because of outside support.
A year ago, when my publisher Laura said she wanted me to become active on social media, I groaned inwardly. Instagram was something for younger folks, and I had no idea what a Tweet was.
Little did I know I would fall in love with taking photos of our horses and posting them, and that I would find a community of others who loved horses and animals and books. When they heard I had a memoir about my mother and my beloved Crimson, a grandson of Secretariat, (to my surprise) they bought it! And not only that, they wrote reviews, shared my posts and told their friends.
A special thank you to @fabfortykindnesschallenge, @leslie.jenny, @walkingfortheloveof books, @monasheeandme, @bellasdogtrot, @shelley.b.new.zealand, @dmjohnston54, @missmayaslife @originalteddybutton and @skyes.mom. These are just a few of the wonderful folks who have supported me. I know I’m forgetting some of you, and I apologize for that. But I won’t forget your kindness.
If you have an Instagram account, check out these lovely people and their accounts.
In my next post, I’d like to give a shout out to some wonderful connections I’ve made in the Alzheimer’s world.
*And coming soon, a post about my new poetry collection….
p.s. If you enjoy horse photos, I’d love to have you join me on Instagram. My account name is @horses_2nd_time_around.
The month of November has deep resonance for me. This year it is stronger than ever. Part of it is because it’s National Alzheimer’s Month and National Caregiver’s Month, two things I’m well acquainted with. And, the fact that my memoir, Motherhood: Lost and Found, has moved back onto center stage with the eBook being released and the audio version coming soon.
But there is more.
I don’t know how other people market their books. I am not and never will be a salesperson. So, instead of advertising in traditional ways, I find myself retelling my mother’s story – her descent into Alzheimer’s – along with my struggle with infertility, over and over again.
It took me 20 years to finish my memoir. That was not a typo. Twenty. Years. Of course, I didn’t spend every minute of that time writing. I set the book aside when my mother needed me. Many years into the writing process, when my daughter was born, I stepped away for large chunks of time. But I always came back. And I revised a LOT! Okay, I guess I’m a bit of a perfectionist. Still, 20 years is a long time to work on a story, especially when it’s a book about your own life. You’d think I might get bored with it.
That never happened.
Maybe it’s because relationships are endlessly fascinating to me. I didn’t have as many years as some do with their moms. My mother was 41 when she gave birth to me, so I had a lot of catching up to do on her life. And I was only 33 when she began showing signs of Alzheimer’s. That’s pretty young to begin losing your mom. Maybe working on the book was a way to feel close to her.
Even now, I treasure the hours when I am writing about her. I’ve produced press releases, magazine articles, guest blogs posts and more. I rarely send out a duplicate story. Each piece is an opportunity to relive those years with my mother, to understand her better, to reach deep into my being for the gifts she gave me.
And the life I’m currently living with my husband, daughter and animals on our farm serves to only amplify the relationship I had with my mother. My daughter and I have a similar age difference as my mother and I did. So, I find myself not only reliving my life with my mother as she slowly spiraled into Alzheimer’s. But I am also reliving my own teen years (and thinking of my mother’s response to me) as my daughter rides her horse, enters high school, gets her driving permit and stretches her wings.
At times, it’s as if I’m living in an echo chamber and the memories are reverberating like voices all around me.
It’s been seven weeks since Shady arrived on the farm. I’m happy to report that during the month after BarnStock, the gunshots and Foxie’s “walk-about,” the horses have gradually begun to get more comfortable with each other. Shady has suffered a few kicks and bites. Nothing too serious, just the occasional reminder from Foxie that she’s in charge.
More often than not, when I wander down to the barn or walk by the field, I see the horses grazing peacefully together.
Sometimes they keep their distance.
Other times they move closer together.
A couple of weeks ago, the girls had a lesson, and the horses were happy to be in the ring together. Halfway through the lesson, a rainbow appeared. I’m taking it as a good sign. 🙂
Back at the barn, Shady is learning when to keep his distance…
And when it’s okay to get close….
The next morning, as I walked down to the barn, I was greeted by this sight:
Somebody was ready for breakfast. I opened the big doors at the back of the barn and greeted Shady. I brought him into his stall to eat, and a moment later, Foxie appeared, ready for her breakfast. It was a lovely surprise as I had envisioned having to track down the horses by foot every morning, knowing that Foxie would just as soon stay out and eat grass rather than make the trek to the barn for the handful of grain she received during the summer months. Thank you, Shady!
While Shady was learning the new routine and Foxie was adapting to her stable mate, little did I know that there were still a few more challenges in store for us.
Intense heat was not unexpected for mid July, but the string of hot and humid days with heat indexes over 100 degrees were hard on the horses and people alike. After breakfast, I turned the horses out for an hour or two in a paddock where there were trees. But by mid morning, it was too hot for Shady to be outside because he would wander out of the shade and into the sunlight where the temperature was several degrees warmer. Even grazing in the shade, at times, his coat would be wet with sweat. So I brought the horses in around 10 or 11 a.m. each morning, and they stood in front of their fans, licking their salt blocks.
By 4 p.m., each afternoon, the barn heated up, and I felt it was more comfortable for the horses to be outside in the afternoon shade. The stalls had to be cleaned fairly quickly to avoid the fly population multiplying. I could feel sweat running down my face as I scooped up piles of manure in the near-100-degree heat.
Because the smaller shady paddocks were getting overeaten, it was important to move the horses into the big pasture for the night. But the big pasture was in full sun most of the day, until about 7 p.m. At that time, I turned the horses out to the bigger space.
Unfortunately, Foxie and Shady’s second night together was also the evening of Barnstock, an outdoor rock concert that was just down the road. Over the past several years, during the evening of the concert, it’s been hard to sleep at night as the music played on and on, sometimes through the wee hours of the morning. This year, the equipment must have been upgraded because the music seemed even louder. The horses were anxious as the music played on and on. Just before dark, my husband and I took a walk down the road to see what was going on with the concert. I also wanted to check on the horses. They were standing on the lower part of the hill where the music was slightly muffled. I imagined their sensitive ears were still ringing the next morning.
I was sure we had survived the worst of things when I walked down the hill to the barn the next afternoon. Suddenly, I heard gunshots. They were so loud, I wondered if should duck or call out in case someone was shooting near our woods. It felt like a bullet might come whizzing towards me at any second. Sunny, who usually likes to run ahead, pressed close to my side. The horses were anxiously pacing the fence line. I peered through the trees on the edge of our property and saw my neighbors in one of their fields. They own a large dairy farm, and, occasionally, I’d heard shooting coming from that direction. Perhaps a fox or a coyote was bothering their calves or maybe they were just having target practice. I had no idea what they were doing, but they were awfully close to us, it involved guns and I wanted it to stop. I brought the horses into their stalls, hoping to calm them. Shady couldn’t stop circling and Foxie, who normally carries her head low, was alert and anxious.
It wasn’t quite 7 p.m. and the big pasture was still mostly sunny and very hot, but I thought the horses might settle down if they were further away from the shooting. I led the horses to the back of the barn. Once there, they galloped up the lane and into the ring (which is in the middle of the big pasture). During the sunny hours, the ring is the hottest place on the farm, so I didn’t want to leave them there. The horses were too anxious to turn around and go back out the gate they had entered because that would mean they’d have to move closer to the gunshots. So I walked up to the ring to slide open the metal bars that were on the far side away from the noise. After I slid the top rail off, Shady trotted over and jumped the lower rail. Foxie waited until the second rail was open before joining him.
There was a patch of shade by the trees that was slowly expanding, and I hoped the horses might walk into it. By now, the horses were both covered in sweat, after running up the hill and then standing in the hot ring. The combination of heat and anxiety worried me. I didn’t want either of them getting dehydrated or suffering from heat exhaustion. I walked back to barn and grabbed a halter and lead rope. Back in the big pasture, both horses were still standing in the sun, heads high, as they looked towards where the gunshots were coming from.
I walked over to Foxie, put the halter on her and led her into the shade. Shady followed close behind. I stood with the horses enjoying the slightly cooler air. But as soon as I slipped the halter off of Foxie, she cantered right back into the sun, with Shady right behind her.
I grumbled aloud. The heat and their reactions were making me irritable. I wasn’t that surprised. They wanted to be as far from the gunshots as possible. And fear overrode discomfort. But I couldn’t leave them in the sun, their coats slick with sweat. I walked up to Foxie again and slipped the halter over her head. My plan was to lead her (with Shady following) down to the shady paddock. They would be a little closer to the gunshots, but at least they wouldn’t overheat.
I led Foxie down to the cooler paddock, and, as I suspected he would, Shady followed. I opened the gate and walked Foxie several feet in in order to give Shady room to enter behind her. Without thinking, I slipped the halter off of Foxie, preparing to walk over and close the gate. Typically, Foxie would stand still, drop her head and begin grazing. But at that moment, another round of loud gunshots went off. As soon as Foxie felt the halter clear her head, she whirled around, galloped past me, slipped out the gate and took off up the hill. Shady, of course, was right behind her. I stood there shaking my head, exasperated.
About this time, I heard my husband’s car coming down our hill. I hurried to the front of the barn to meet him, waving my arms to slow him down. He opened his window with a questioning look. I yelled: “Do you hear the gunshots? The horses are going crazy! I’m afraid they’re going to overheat! Can you call the neighbors?”
A few minutes later, my cell phone rang. Joel told me the neighbors were shooting skeet. He told them the horses were acting up, and they kindly offered to move to another field. I’m thankful that Joel made the call, as I know he was extremely cordial, acknowledging that they were on their own property and asking very politely for a favor. As I’ve said in the past, we have wonderful neighbors. But at the end of this long week, seeing the horses so upset and dangerously hot, I wouldn’t have been so polite.
A few moments later, thankfully, the gunshots subsided. The horses were still in the direct sun, so I didn’t feel comfortable leaving them there. This time I walked up our gravel driveway, hoping to call to them and encourage them into the shade, now that the noise had ended. But, of course, the horses weren’t ready to settle down and graze peacefully. They trotted around with their heads and tails held high. I had been reading lately about heat exhaustion in horses. The article warned of flaring nostrils as a first sign. I could see the pink of both horses’ nostrils.
I still had Foxie’s halter over my shoulder, so I went to the big gates along the driveway. I would slip through, halter Foxie and lead both horses to their stalls. That way I could give them baths and let them stand in front of their fans for a bit, cooling their body temperatures before turning them out again. A wasp was circling the gate, but I figured I could easily slip by it. I made it inside when the chain that kept the double gates closed fell to the ground. I leaned down to pick it up, then wrapped it around the metal bars. Unfortunately, I had to do this blindly, and being overheated and stressed myself, I was rushing. I felt two pin pricks on my arm. Ugh! The wasp! Maybe it wouldn’t be too bad. My adrenaline must have kept the pain down for a minute or two. Suddenly, I felt the intense sting that always comes with a wasp. It was accompanied by another wave of irritation … I knew better. I could have prevented this.
Foxie and Shady walked somewhat placidly down to the barn. I bathed them both and let them cool down in front of their fans before turning them out in the smaller paddock. In the wash rack, I ran cool water over the swelling on my arm. What could possible happen next?
Well, the next afternoon, Foxie showed signs of being in heat. I first noticed her pacing the fence line, then, after turning her out in the big pasture, she stayed by the barn, circling the small area at a trot. Shady, who had cantered up the lane to the big pasture, realized Foxie wasn’t behind him and slowly meandered back to the mare. As soon as Shady arrived, Foxie trotted back out to the big pasture. A few minutes later, she came trotting back to the barn and began circling again. She did this over and over…and Shady followed her back and forth. Foxie hadn’t turned into Super Mare, the way April did, but this was not Foxie’s normal behavior. She was in a stronger heat than I’ve ever seen with her.
I was beginning to wonder if the universe was conspiring against me and the horses. From Foxie escaping to the loud concert and gunshots to the unbearable heat, wasp stings and now Foxie’s strong heat. Shady was new and his presence at the barn had shaken things up. I was prepared for some activity. But usually horses transition to new situations within a few days. This wasn’t Shady’s fault. He was as much a victim as I was.
A part of me was frustrated and tired, but another part of me noted each unusual event with curiosity and interest. Horses and their personalities have always fascinated me, and watching how they reacted to new situations was like unraveling a mystery. I appreciated the opportunity to understand these wonderful animals at a deeper level. But I was tired…and ready for a rest.