After the Eclipse

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.

 

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August Sky: Preparing for the Eclipse

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.


Finding Myself at the Beach

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!


The Heart of a Vet

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.

Dr. Bob (photo credit: Mobile Large Animal Vet Service website)

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.

Dr. Mary (photo credit: Mobile Large Animal Vet Service website)

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.

 


Peace on the Farm

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.

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A typical scene on the farm.

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Sometimes they keep their distance.

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Other times they move closer together.

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And closer….

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. 🙂

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Back at the barn, Shady is learning when to keep his distance…

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And when it’s okay to get close….

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Transitions at the Farm, Part I: Saying Goodbye to April

The last week and a half has been full of transitions in our little horse world, and I have been holding the tension of two opposites within me: grief over saying goodbye to April, a horse who has come to mean much to our family, and celebration over the welcoming of a new gelding for Sydney’s friend Lauren-Kate.

 

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Sydney enjoying riding April.

 

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April with her new halter and Sydney.

 

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When April first arrived, Misty always stayed between her and Foxie.

April played an important role in my daughter’s development as a rider, and she became a fixture in the pasture beside our beloved Foxie. April and Foxie spent this past winter together in a paddock at Runneymede, and when they returned home, it was as if they were attached at the hip. I took so many photos of these two mares, delighting in their companionship.

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A lovely sight…that always filled me with peace.

April was the horse whose head would lift each time I called out to the horses, and she would come walking, sometimes trotting over to see me, with Foxie lagging behind. Sydney and I noted how April and Foxie stood together under the shade trees head to tail, brushing flies off of each other’s faces and nibbling at the itchy places on each other’s backs. Foxie, with her typical Quarter Horse build, often stood next to, usually a little behind April, with her head lowered, as if she were hiding. While April, with her thoroughbred/Welsh Pony breeding raised her head with curiosity and friendly interest each time she saw us.

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Foxie and April hanging out under the trees.

We first met April last July, on a 100-degree day near Charleston, SC. Our family was returning home from a beach vacation and we’d heard of this horse, a sweet mare whose “default was whoa,” according to her owner, who had worked with Jo, a dear friend of ours. Sydney had been riding Foxie and was head over heels in love with her. But Foxie was taking advantage of her inexperience and taking off at the canter with her. I figured with a little training, I could break Foxie of her habits and Sydney could gain confidence by riding a horse that she would be comfortable learning to canter on. April was that horse. I knew the first time Sydney rode her, on that 100-degree day. A couple of weeks later, Deirdra, a friend of mine from my old days as a riding instructor delivered April to our farm. Sydney began riding April several times a week, and within a few weeks, she was cantering with confidence and ease. By the end of the year, she was back riding Foxie and enjoying her again, thanks to April.

It’s always hard to board horses when you’ve been used to taking care of them yourself. But Sydney’s intense school and basketball schedule left little time for horse care in the evenings, so we knew it was the right thing to board them through the winter.

Sydney’s friend, Lauren-Kate, took over riding April when the horses moved to Runneymede, and the girls had many great lessons there together. They also had a taste of trail riding when it was clear both horses were getting bored with ring work.

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Lauren-Kate and Sydney letting April and Foxie graze at Runneymede after a riding lesson.

 

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The dry lot where the horses spent the winter.

In the spring, when the horses returned home, their joy was palpable. They left the winter dry lot pasture behind and discovered their familiar paddocks, lush and green with new grass. They dropped their heads to the tasty tufts and never looked back. They even seemed to love their stalls – where they could stand side by side or look out their back windows towards another field of green.

 

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April and Foxie home again after being boarded through the winter.

 

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As the horses grew accustomed to the grass and were eased into 24/7 turnout, I delighted in seeing them each day as I walked. They were always in close range of each other, always moving in time; if one started walking, the other lifted her head and began walking too. There was never a scratch on either horse…they watched out for each other, never fought, always enjoyed the other’s presence. Having been around horses for most of my life, I know how rare this is. But I believe these two horses genuinely loved each other.

 

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We often joked that April was a person inside a horse body because she was so curious and interested in people. Every day she greeted whoever came to the barn – whether it was a person or Foxie – with a whinny or a nicker. She was truly present. And how she loved food! She never left a speck of hay in her stall, even if she’d spent the last 24 hours eating grass. If she didn’t want to do something she’d let you know…stopping on a hot day, after a longer-than-usual lesson, turning around to look at you if you tried to urge her to go, as if to ask, “Are you serious?” then capitulating if you meant business and brought out the whip.

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April slurping up her new salt block.

Sydney and I had discussed how April would be leaving the barn sometime during the summer because our year lease was ending. About a month before our lease was up, we learned that Lauren-Kate had found a potential horse for herself. I was in communication with April’s owner and knew that she felt that the mare had more good years in her as a school horse, and I agreed that she would be a benefit to the right program. But I knew it would be hard to say goodbye. I went down to the barn to talk with April. I told her what was going on, that she would not be staying with us, but that I loved her and hoped we would find a special home for her where she could help other students gain confidence in their riding. To my surprise, I had a sense that April, though deeply connected to Foxie and appreciative of our farm, was aware of her role and ready to accept whatever her new assignment might be. She met my gaze with her perpetual friendly and open curiosity and what felt like a sense of trust. I believe this sense of trust came from her owner’s firm belief in her talents and a sense that our family would oversee this transition.

A week or two later, April had her hooves trimmed, and I remember watching her blissful face as the farrier worked on her. It was as if she was enjoying to the fullest every last experience with us on the farm.

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April fully enjoying her pedicure.

It’s been a wonderful year with April. Thank you, Kelly, for sharing her with us. We will always have a warm spot in our hearts for this sweet mare. I’ll finish this post with some of the lovely sights we were blessed with during this past year.

 

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Foxie loved hiding behind April.

 

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These two were never far apart.

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No matter how much room there was in the pasture, Foxie and April were always close together.

Coming soon: Transitions at the Farm, Part II: Welcoming Shady

 


Fall Leaves

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It’s a beautiful fall day, crisp and cool, and the sun shines brightly through amber, maroon and burnt orange leaves. I suddenly had to grab my camera and take photos of the horses with this new scenery. The horses are beautiful all the time, in all weather and with every background…but the changing seasons reminds me of the glory of these animals, the natural setting they inhabit, the farm we are blessed to call home.

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Fall is a time of change, the outer world is shedding itself, leaves that are no longer living flutter brightly through the air. Remember me! Remember me! they seem to call out, the way my own memories flash and twirl through my mind. My mother’s awe at the water-colored sunsets on the coast, the winking of gold and silver in the waves, the bleeding of peach into lavender cloud. My daughter’s glee at turning five, the birthday she’d dreamed about for a year, asked every afternoon after preschool, Is it here yet? Yes, my sweet one, it’s here and gone…and here again as the leaves of memory circle and float.

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I will cherish these memories and loved ones as long as possible, yet, at the same time, I must open my hands, release my grasp on things that are not mine to hold. Eight years ago next month, my mother stepped beyond my reach into a golden glow. That same day, my sweet girl rained flower petals down the aisle of a church, paving a path of fragrance for Emily, the bride.

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Yesterday, Sydney slipped behind the wheel of my car to practice driving up the dirt road to our house. When she was a flower girl, I never dreamed her feet would reach the pedals. But they did. And the years have passed. She stepped tentatively on the gas, braked when necessary. Her long, golden hair flowed gently over her shoulders.

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My own hair is greying…and the days keep moving. One day soon the branches will be bare and the frost of winter will set in. But today it is late October and the woods are glowing. The muzzles of horses are buried in emerald grass. They don’t look ahead or worry, just simply feel the warmth of autumn through their coats. And the sun shines brighter each day through the shedding forest.

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