Saturday, July 25, 2015

More precious than gold

By Gayle Carline
Horse Lover and Author


This is Rags. She's one of our lesson horses. We don't know a lot about her, except that she's a breeding stock Paint Horse and her registered name is supposedly Batteries Not Included. I joke that she's a repo horse - her owner walked away from her board at a friend's ranch. My trainer, Niki, needed a new lesson horse and she was a likely candidate.

She proved to be a perfect lesson horse. Nearly bombproof, she toted kids or adults around the arena, doing her best to figure out what their wiggling seats and flapping arms were trying to tell her. Her jog was slow and steady, and she's the only horse I knew who could actually sleep-walk through a beginner lesson. Her only problem was when you asked for the lope. She only knew two speeds, a slow gallop or a fast gallop. Loping, even cantering, was a pipe dream.

This picture was taken this week. Isn't she pretty? So fat and shiny. Too bad, she's foundering.

It started with what we thought was an abscess. She was walking, or should I say, limping, on her right front toe. Niki did the usual soaking, farrier, Bute treatment and Rags improved. And then she got worse again. The vet came out, and prescribed anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, etc. Rags improved again, right before she deteriorated.

The vet returned to take x-rays, the last resort. They told the complete story. Rags' coffin bone in both front feet had turned to point down. Fuzzy areas on the x-rays showed the bone pulling away from the interior of the hoof. In addition, her right suspensory ligament was shot. The suspensory might heal with enough layup, but nothing would make those coffin bones stop their descent. Her shoes were evening her out and supporting her in all the right places, but they couldn't reach inside and level out her bones.

No wonder she was limping.

Niki doesn't have a lot of options for Rags. Perhaps we could find a pasture somewhere, but Rags tends to be aggressive with other horses and kicks at them, especially around mealtime. Since she can't have her shoes removed, she might injure someone. And retirement would not help her hooves. She'd still need daily medication and someone watching over her. I'm not even sure that would extend her life.

We're making Rags comfy with Bute right now and letting everyone say their goodbyes. Niki will probably make The Appointment in a week or two.  Send tissues. We'll all need them.

Here's the thing about an old lesson horse: they are worthless and priceless. You can't insure them, they're typically scruffy, and not very well put-together. You'd never mistake them for a highly trained show horse with perfect confirmation. And yet, finding that horse with a good attitude, a quiet mind, and and understanding heart, one that will teach a new rider confidence, is like searching for that pearl among the oysters.

Once you find them, you never let them go. 

How I wish our old horses would never die! Or at least, they'd introduce us to their replacement. 



Rest well, dear Rags. We love you.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Is It Worth It?


                                                by Laura Crum


            (Believe it or not, this rambling post is at least partly about horses and writing—for those who wish I would return to the theme of this blog.)


            “Truth is, everybody is going to hurt you; you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for.” --Bob Marley


            A friend of mine posted this quote on facebook and it made me think. There is a lot of truth there. The way I often phrase this concept to my son is, “Nothing worth doing is ever easy.” I find this to be true of people, animals, and pretty much everything else in life. I guess it depends on how you define the word “suffering,” but my experience has been that all the good things in my life have also been a very real struggle at times.
            Take motherhood. Every mother out there knows exactly what I mean. I don’t really have to say more. There is nothing more rewarding and yet there is also nothing more frustrating. Two halves of a whole. You definitely suffer—you shed tears, are miserable, get angry…etc. But you know from the bottom of your heart that it is entirely worth it. Your love never falters. (I wove all my insights about this experience into my tenth novel—Chasing Cans—for those who are interested.)
            My relationship with my much-loved husband wasn’t always easy either. We were both strong people; we butted heads when we disagreed. But there was no moment when I didn’t know that whatever pain came to me from our struggles, Andy was and is entirely worth it. My love never faltered. I don’t believe his did either.

            “If she’s amazing she won’t be easy; if she’s easy, she won’t be amazing.” Another quote from Bob Marley.

            I can’t say I’m amazing, but I can say for sure I’m not easy. And yet Andy and I were very happy together. At the end of his life, when I apologized to him for all the ways I was difficult, he told me that he wouldn’t change our past even if he could. “You’ve been a good wife to me,” he said. (Of course, this was a guy who liked a challenge. I don’t think he ever would have chosen an easy woman. He never chose the easy road in any part of life. As he put it, “I like scary things. I’m the guy who likes going downhill fast on a bicycle.” And he was also the guy who chose to learn to play the bagpipes in his fifties—after never having played any musical instrument to speak of. Yep, not one for the easy route…)

            The more I think about it, the more this concept sinks in for me. And yet we are taught that being “nice,” being “easy to get along with,” is the right thing. Being “difficult” is the wrong thing. I still remember a friend telling me that my mother had once said to her (talking about me), “My oldest daughter can be difficult, but she has a very loving heart.” The friend thought I would be touched by the “loving heart” part, but what I heard was the “difficult” part. Once again branded, as I have been my whole life—as “difficult.”
            Yep, if you speak the truth, you are difficult. If you don’t go along with the crowd, you are difficult. If you stand up for what you think or feel, you are difficult. If you don’t knuckle under when pushed on, you are difficult. If you defy authority when authority tries to bully you, you are difficult. If you follow your dreams when others find this inconvenient, you are difficult. So yes, I am difficult. But maybe that’s not so bad?
            When it comes to horses, I have known my share of difficult personalities. Perhaps the best horse I ever rode (Flanigan), was rejected by his previous owner for being difficult. (In fact this owner tried to starve the horse into submission and almost killed him—reducing him to skin and bones.) Flanigan was cinchy and he would buck. He also wasn’t friendly and would pin his ears at you and scowl ferociously. But if you handled him appropriately, he would do anything you asked, and he was an immensely strong, competent horse that could perform in amazing ways. I was able to do many things in my life that I can’t imagine I ever would have done without this particular horse (compete effectively at team roping, cross the Sierras numerous times over some very rough passes…etc). I loved Flanigan. But he was undeniably difficult in many ways. A strong, honest, opinionated personality—with a heart of gold. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing?
            I was sitting in my barn one evening pondering my many faults and being sad for all the times I was/am difficult for those that I love. My little yellow horse walked up to the fence and nickered at me.  And then, suddenly, for a brief moment, I really got it.
            Because Sunny is the personification of difficult. Those who have read this blog for a while may remember my numerous posts about the way this horse wants and needs to test his owner/rider/handler. Sunny will periodically try to evade being caught, offer to kick, offer to nip when cinched, try to step on your foot when being saddled, try to evade being wormed or fly sprayed, refuse to load in the trailer, try to balk when he’d prefer not to go a certain way, crow hop when he’s feeling resistant…etc. Sunny doesn’t do any of these things in a very determined way—if you are firm with him he knocks off the cross grained behavior very quickly. But he always needs to try it occasionally—it’s just part of who he is. The thing is that I don’t mind it at all.


            I’m quite willing to conflict with Sunny when he asks for it, and set him straight on who is the boss in our relationship. I’ll wallop him any time he needs/demands it. But I’m not angry with him. I like him. His ornery ways just make him interesting. And it is this very same tough-minded attitude that makes him such a steady, confident, reliable trail horse—and it is for this reliable-ness that I love him.
            Because I do love Sunny. I love him because he’s come through for me over and over again—every time it counts. He’s kept me intact and helped me keep my son safe in all kinds of situations that could have gone the wrong way. I trusted him and my trust was not misplaced. I love him for what he’s given me and I will take care of him for the rest of his life out of love.
            Would I have loved him more if he was easier and sweeter? I don’t think so. It is his tough mindedness that gave him the ability to be so confident and reliable. And it is his funny, ornery personality that makes him so interesting. I love him the way he is—his cranky ways don’t bother me. And in the moment when this truly sunk into my mind, I understood that maybe Andy felt that way about me.
            Because for all my cross grained ways I am reliable as Sunny is reliable. I came through for my husband and son in every way that I knew how—I was and am completely devoted to them. Maybe being difficult is not just a negative? Sunny’s ornery, opinionated ways are honest and open—he’s not afraid to show who he is and how he feels. I like that about him. I like his strength of mind. Whatever frustration he’s caused me, he’s been entirely worth it.
            Sunny and Flanigan were and are two very strong individuals—and it is that very strength that caused me to love them. Just as it was the huge strength of character in my husband that drew me to him. Strong beings aren’t often easy. And maybe love is partly about feeling free to express who you are--even when it is difficult for others--and trusting that you will still be loved. As I say to my son, "Nothing worth doing is ever easy." Perhaps I should add, "Love isn't about what's easy, either."
            This has been true (for me) not only concerning personalities and relationships, but also events, activities, disciplines…you name it. Finishing my first novel wasn’t easy. It took persisting in the face of much undermining by “well meaning” friends and family members. Getting published by a major publisher wasn’t easy. It took years, lots of struggle, and many dark moments. Learning to train horses and compete effectively at cutting and team roping wasn’t easy. Ditto the years, struggle and dark moments. Creating a garden in these dry California hills complete with veggies, greenhouse, rambling roses, fruit trees, swimming pond…etc—yep, took years of struggle and constant effort. Not easy at all. But all those things were entirely worth it.
            So I guess my take home message is that maybe we should look past what is easy. In horses, and people and life pursuits. Instead of looking for what’s easy, maybe we should look for what’s worth suffering for. Any takers?
           
           
           
            

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Magical Books


                                                            by Laura Crum

            And no, I don’t mean my books. I’m not even talking about “horse books”—sorry Equestrian Ink members and followers. I know fiction about horses is supposed to be our theme here. But the books I am writing about today are the ones that have spoken to me lately. And, as you all know by now, lately I am only interested in “what counts.” Life seems too short to me at this point to seek entertainment for entertainment’s sake. Though I will admit that some of the books that have helped me “see the light” have also been entertaining. (And I have read horse books that seem pretty magical—there have even been a few fans of my books who thought that my own mysteries were magical—so I’m not discounting horse fiction here.) Also, I am enough of a writer to find a poorly written book so annoying that no matter how touching the subject matter I can’t get through the book. (Certain self-published books come to mind-- my apologies here to all the authors of excellent self-published books, because I know you are out there, too, but some self-published books are just nightmares to those of us who wrote under the guidance of the incredibly picky and experienced editors in large publishing houses. And I also grew very frustrated with several “mass market” type self help books that were clearly written quickly in order to make the author a little more money.) But some books have been truly magical—and a great gift to me at this time.
            The first magical book I want to mention actually came to me in a magical way. Or so I see it. Several people had mentioned a book called “Proof of Heaven” by Eben Alexander to me on facebook. I was familiar with the concept of the book. A neurosurgeon who does not believe in God or heaven has a NDE and becomes convinced of the truth of the afterlife. I wasn’t actually too interested in this book. I had no intentions of reading it. But lo and behold, when a box arrived from Amazon one day, this book was in it—along with some shampoo that I distinctly remember ordering. I do not remember ordering the book.
            Of course, I could have ordered the book after a couple of whiskey and sodas—and might not remember. But I ordered the shampoo one afternoon—completely sober—and Amazon doesn’t usually put things in the same box unless you order them close together. Go figure. I don’t know how I came to receive the book, but once it was here I read it. And it was magical.
            I know books about NDEs are relatively common—but I haven’t read very many of them. This book touched me in several ways. The author’s obvious sincerity most of all. The fact that the book confirmed many things that I have believed for a long time also resonated. But the bottom line is simply magic. The book spoke to me of the real magic that underlies this world. And that was so helpful. I recommend it highly.
            The next magical book was given to me by a new friend. I am not a Buddhist and neither is she. But the book is a collection of writings by a Buddhist nun. (“The Pocket Pema Chodron”) Many of the concepts were rather disorienting to me. But the book makes me think. It opens my mind. It speaks to suffering and loss in a different way from the western notions we are accustomed to hearing. And my husband did much Buddhist training and practice, though I don’t think he would have called himself a Buddhist exactly. He didn’t much care for labels. (I believe when he was asked his religion on a hospital form he wrote “Evangelical Druid.”) In any case, the Buddha is said to have told his followers, “Don’t listen to me. Go have your own experience.” And this is a sentiment that resonates for me.
            I recommend this tiny book of Buddhist insights—a lot. I don’t agree with everything in it. Heck, I don’t really get a lot of it. But it helps me to open my mind. It helps me move toward peace.
            The third magical book was recommended by a friend and I ordered it. “The Alchemist” by Paolo Coelho. This book really is about magic. A magical novel. It’s also about animals and wisdom and following your dreams and God and love. In short, all the real things. I liked it so much that I am now reading what is described as the companion volume-- “The Pilgrimage” by the same author. This book I think I like even better (so far). It is a memoir rather than a novel, and tells the story of a pilgrimage that the author made—a trek that taught him about the real magic in the world and was the foundation for his novel, “The Alchemist.”
            I just finished “Hannah’s Gift” by Maria Housden—a book written by a woman whose three year old daughter died of cancer. It is an astonishingly uplifting book about magic and faith and joy—as well as great grief and sorrow. The two halves of the whole…
            Besides these books, which have truly moved me, I have read quite a collection of other books given to me by friends or recommended by friends. Some of these spoke to me more than others, but I will list a few here, in case they help someone else. “Gift of the Red Bird” by Paula Darcy—story of a women who lost her husband and infant daughter in a car wreck and her path to healing. “A Grace Disguised” by Jerry Sittser—story of a man who lost his wife and daughter and mother in a car wreck and his path to healing. “H is for Hawk” by Helen McDonald—story of a woman who lost her beloved father to a sudden heart attack and who embarks on a path of healing through a hawk. “The Art of Stillness” by Pico Iyer—an international travel journalist’s exploration of going nowhere and doing nothing—and the magic to be found in such stillness. All of these books offered insights that I found helpful.
            I re-read “A Grief Observed” by CS Lewis—a book I have read many times before. His clear, direct expression of his terrible grief at the death of his wife from cancer is deeply honest and moving. His faith is equally honest and inspiring.
            And I read, a little at a time, my husband’s blog ("Begonias in the Mist"--inspired by his job of raising the tuberous begonia crop for Golden State Bulb Growers--which he did for over thirty years)—to hear his steady, humorous voice, and see the magic he always found in the world. Here is a link to one of my favorite posts, "Names for Fog"  The photo below shows a display of begonias at Andy's workplace that was created in his honor.



            If any of you have recommendations for books that illuminate the magic in this short mortal life that we live, please add them in the comments. I would appreciate it very much.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

I'm not really here

By Gayle Carline
Horse lover, author, and apologetic blogger

I'm so sorry. Mea culpa. Let the flogging begin.

I am normally on-track and on-schedule for my writing deadlines. Even "just a blog post" deserves my attention--I signed up to write a post, so I'm gonna write a post, dammit. I'm usually scheduled here the first Saturday of the month. Imagine my horror when I awoke to the email telling me to post on the last Saturday in June.

You see, I'm not here. I'm in San Francisco at the American Library Association convention. It's a crazy weekend here, with the decision from SCOTUS that gay marriage is legal in all states AND Gay Pride weekend at the same time. I'm staying in a hotel that's pretty close to the parade. You have no idea how torn I am. Should I go to the convention and learn how to use crowdfunding to raise money for my library, or should I go to the parade (and possibly watch history being made)?

Decisions, decisions.

One thing I am signed up to do is hang out in the Sisters-in-Crime booth at ALA and hand out copies of my mystery, MURDER ON THE HOOF. Hopefully, these copies will go to libraries that will hopefully include the book in their inventory. Hopefully.

I know it's not a mystery, but I'm also giving copies of Snoopy's book, FROM THE HORSE'S MOUTH: ONE LUCKY MEMOIR. It's a book for all ages, so libraries might be more likely to stock it.

At any rate, I hope you are all doing something fun or relaxing or meaningful this weekend. Hanging out with your horses would be nice. If I wasn't here, that's where I'd be!

Stop by and leave me a comment if you'd like, to tell me how you spent your Saturday and Sunday.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Magic...and Death, Dragonflies and chickens


                                   
                                    by Laura Crum

            Yes, more stories about magic. It seems that the more I open my eyes to it, the more I see. Magic everywhere. Is it all in my mind? Perhaps. As Albus Dumbledore said, “But why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

So the other day I was floating in our little pond. I have written about the pond before and some of you may remember. Andy and I built it together—we chose every stone, we supervised every moment of the construction. And we filled it with water together and played in it together and planted the water plants together. We battled the algae together. Since Andy died the pond has been a huge comfort to me. Along with my son, our animals, the garden, and a few very good friends, the pond has been one of the biggest comforts in my life.



            I sit by the pond and watch the light change in the reflections and ripples, I pour a cocktail for myself and for Andy in the evening and sit by the water and toast him and us—just as we used to do together. I talk to him and I feel that he talks to me.



On warm days I take a dip and I float in the pond for hours at a time—watching the clouds in the sky, watching the water lilies open their blossoms—pink and creamy yellow and white—and watching the dragonflies. Floating on the water always soothes me—no matter how sad I am in that moment. And watching the dragonflies comforts me.


Our little pond attracts all kinds of life. Frogs and lizards and birds and bats…and dragonflies. I have written before of the amazing dragonfly life cycle, and we have observed this first hand. From the creatures mating, and laying eggs on the water, to the underwater nymphs, which look like beetles, to seeing these same nymphs crawl out of the water and transform into dragonflies—within about an hour. It really is amazing to watch the once-underwater-being fly away into the sky on wings of coppery translucency—now a creature of the air. It has always seemed to me to be a clear paradigm for our earthly lives. And the other day I got another lesson from the dragonfly.
            To understand this, you may need to understand that dragonflies have always been a particular symbol here. Andy liked them—he drew them on his bike jacket, we have images of them everywhere on the property. We were all delighted when dragonflies came to our new pond last summer. One dragonfly—a bright red one—was the most common here. Andy looked it up and said he thought it was called a “flame skimmer.” (Dragonflies seem to have the most wonderful names—flame skimmer, pond hawk, blue darter…etc)
            The male flame skimmer is a brilliant scarlet red; the female, as is so sadly common in nature, is a duller orange-y brown. The males swoop above the pond and perch on nearby branches overlooking the water—defending their territory and mating with the females. They are lovely vivid creatures, easy to spot as they skim through the air. But…
            When the dragonfly perches on a branch of the apple tree, as he often does, he is very hard to spot. His slender three inch long body just looks like a reddish twig. If, however, you, like me, have spent hours by this particular pond, you know exactly where to look for him, and your eyes are accustomed to sorting him out. And thus I can glance at the apple tree twenty feet away and see a red dragonfly perched on the branch overlooking the water.



            I didn’t realize how much familiarity aids me when it comes to doing this, until the other day when a friend was here. I said something idly about the dragonfly, and she said, “What dragonfly?”
            It did not matter how hard I tried to point him out, she could not see him. In the end she laughed and said, “I don’t believe you. There’s no dragonfly there.”
            So I got up and walked over to the branch. The dragonfly flew away at my approach, and then, of course, she could see him.
            “Oh,” she said. “He WAS there all along.”

            And in that moment I kind of got it.

            If you teach yourself to see magic—by looking for it and spending time in magical places just being observant—you will learn to see it. And you will find that others can’t see it. They haven’t taught themselves how. That doesn’t mean the magic isn’t real. Just like the perching dragonfly, it’s real all right. But not something you can see unless you learn how.
            The thing is—anyone can learn how. Spotting a perching dragonfly is available to all. You just have to spend the time, you have to pay attention, you can’t be ceaselessly distracting yourself with phones and computers and TVs and social events…etc. You have to be willing to sit quietly by the water watching dragonflies. For a good long while. And you will learn to spot them when they are sitting still. In time it comes to you quickly and easily to spot them; it is as natural as breathing.
            You will be able to see what others insist is not there. This, I think, is what magic is really like.

            And then again, maybe magic is like my chicks.
            You see, if you know about chickens you know that there are things that they do and don’t do. Sort of like horses or dogs or cats. But once in awhile they’ll do something that you would say that they definitely DON’T do (again like horses or dogs or cats—in fact like the cat who defended the little boy from an attacking dog—in that video that I think everyone I know has seen). Is this magic?
            People who know about chickens know that when a hen goes broody on a clutch of eggs, it takes about three weeks for the eggs to hatch. Depending on how good of a “sitter” the hen is, you will get a more (or less) complete hatching of the eggs (if they are all fertile). The eggs normally hatch in a two day window, even if they were (as they usually are) laid over a two week or more period. The chicks actually talk to each other and the hen (by peeping in the egg) as they are getting ready to hatch. And then, over 48 hours or so, all that can manage to hatch do so. Not all chicks make it out. Some are too weak to hatch, some aren’t made right. But after about two days the hen will normally take what brood she has away from the nest and seek food and water for the chicks, knowing that the remaining eggs won’t hatch. That’s what chickens do. Except when they don’t.
            So what happens when they don’t? Maybe magic?
            I had a hen who was sitting on a clutch of eggs that had been layed rather piecemeal—by several hens. The sitting hen eventually hatched one chick. It was bright and lively, but days passed and there were no other chicks. My friend Wally—who knows a lot about chickens—told me to throw the rest of the eggs out—they wouldn’t hatch. But the hen continued to sit on the eggs. She mothered the one chick she had, but she also kept sitting. I put food and water near the nest and left her alone.
            A week after the first chick, a second chick hatched. And still the hen continued to sit on the eggs. Wally and several other chicken owning friends were sure I should throw the rest of the eggs out and let the hen get on with raising her two chicks. But I kept food and water by the nest and left her alone.
            A week later a third chick hatched—and still the hen sat. And sure enough, a week later a fourth chick hatched. After that the hen abandoned the two remaining eggs—so I threw them out. And this hen now has a healthy little family of four chicks—all of whom were born a week apart—so that the oldest one is a month older than his youngest sibling.
            To those who know nothing about chickens, this might not seem much like magic or a miracle. But Andy and I kept banties out here the whole seventeen years we were together, and no hen has ever done anything like this. It is something I would have adamantly assured you would NOT happen. But it did.
            And so perhaps many other things that people will assure you “cannot” happen can also possibly happen. When the time is right. Maybe magic is like this? You just pay attention to the signs and keep an open mind and suddenly something miraculous happens.

            Finally, maybe magic is sometimes very simple and ordinary. Like watching a water lily open or close. The water lilies are very lovely—and they open and close their pointed buds in a short period of time. One evening I was sitting by the pond with a young friend. We were drinking whisky and soda and talking about life in the agricultural world, but we were also sitting quietly watching the water—watching the water lilies, watching the dragonflies. And after a particular quiet moment this young man turned to me with a big smile on his face.
            He pointed at the most spectacular of the water lilies, a biggish peach pink blossom with a crown-like shape, and I saw that it was closed. “I watched it close,” he said. “Watched it go from open to closed. I’ve never seen that before.”
            I could tell that he felt that he’d seen something magical—and I agree with him. But the thing is—such magic is readily available. Ordinary magic. Found simply by sitting still and paying attention. Doing nothing. Going nowhere. Watching the evening light on the pond.


Maybe magic is like that?
           
           
           
            

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Horses and Writing (Now)


                                                by Laura Crum


            That’s what this blog is supposed to be about. I have deviated—A LOT-- from the theme, I’m afraid. My interest lately is all about what counts…what in my life is worth focusing on in the light of mortality. Ever since my husband died, my life has changed in many ways. And most of all in the sense that I only give my time to what needs to be done to take care of our little life here, and to what I do out of love. I still love my horses and I still write—I think these things are part of what counts for me. So I can give an update on my horses and my writing, I guess, if anyone is interested.
            Since I’ve owned horses all my life and I don’t dump them when their using life is over, I have (no surprise) a bunch of old horses. My horse property accommodates four horses easily, five is OK, and I’ve squeezed six in at times (not good). The way I feel these days, four horses is plenty. So I have my retired horse, Plumber (26), my son’s horse Henry, still a good walk/trot riding horse on level ground at 27, though no longer comfortable climbing hills, and my Sunny, somewhere between sixteen and twenty and still sound and a good trail horse.


 And I also keep my friend Wally’s Twister—19 and still going strong as a team roping horse. I’ve promised to take care of Twister just like he was my own if Wally dies. I don’t plan to acquire any more horses. My Gunner lived to be 35, and at that rate I have a lot of years of horse care ahead of me with these guys.



            All of the horses I have here have been with us many years. I broke Plumber as a three year old, and trained him to be a rope horse. He carried my son and me when my boy was little, and took good care of us.


 Sunny and Henry took us on hundreds and hundreds of trail rides and gathers for seven straight years—on the beach, in the hills, and in the mountains—without one bad moment.



             We owe these horses and I am glad to repay them by giving them the best life that I can. But my interest in riding isn’t very high right now. I’ve ridden a couple of times this spring with my son and we both enjoyed it. I’m still not drawn to make much effort in that direction. Our horses seemed to enjoy being ridden after such a long break, and I think they would be pleased if we rode a little more often, but I just don’t have the emotional energy to devote to this pursuit.
            Don’t get me wrong. I loved to ride and I’m so glad that I spent many years horseback. I don’t regret it at all. But I see now that the space and freedom that I had to give my energy to exploring horseback pastimes came a great deal from the content and security I felt with my husband. Even though he was not a horseman himself, he supported me (financially and emotionally), and his support gave me the freedom to enjoy my life with my horses in the way that I did. Thank you, Andy.
           
            My energy now goes into tending the garden (by which I mean not just the veggie garden but the entire property), making sure all critters are well cared for, and that my son’s life stays good. There just isn’t any energy left over for other pursuits. So though I sometimes feel sorry for the horses, and think they look a little bored, I have to tell myself (and them), life isn’t perfect for any of us right now. And their life is pretty good.
            They have plenty of room to run and play, they get fed grass/alfalfa hay three times a day, there are shade trees and sunny spots and soft ground for rolling, shelter from the rain, and plenty of equine companionship. Their feet are trimmed, they are wormed as needed, and we get them out to be groomed and to graze as much as we can. All of them are at a good healthy weight, pasture sound, and seem to feel fine. There are many worse lives that they could have as older horses.
            So that’s my horse life. Not too exciting perhaps, but I do enjoy having the horses here, I am grateful for the many years of reliable riding service each horse has given us, and I plan to take good care of them all until they die. This is what love means to me when it comes to horses. And they give me back love in return—just by their presence in my life. The nickers when I come to feed, meeting me at the gate to be caught, the soft sound of hay being chomped as I sit in the barn, the look, smell and feel of these big, gentle creatures. The willingness to carry me on their backs any time I choose to ride. Horses are still magical to me.  I can’t imagine living here without horses.


            As for writing, well, I still write. Like the horses, I can’t picture my life without writing. I don’t write novels these days, but I write these blog posts and I keep a journal, and I have written several memoir pieces. I posted one of them (My Life With Horses) in installments on this blog, and I have finished another one (Ordinary Magic). I’ve begun one about my husband’s life. Not sure what the ultimate goal/fate of these pieces is. I wrote them to please myself, but some of you said you enjoyed the Life With Horses story, so maybe I will eventually put the others up on this blog. We’ll see. You can let me know what you think—if you’re interested.
            I’m often asked if I’ll write more novels. The short answer is that I don’t think so. I wrote twelve novels in my mystery series featuring equine vet Gail McCarthy, and a dozen novels was always my goal for that series. If you are interested in my thoughts about horses and life in general, I wove many of my insights into this mystery series, which covers twenty years in the life of one woman—and took me twenty years to write. Serendipity. The series also covers different aspects of the horse business that I’ve been involved with—from cutting and reined cowhorse competitions through ranching, team roping, horsepacking in the mountains, breaking and training young horses, and trail riding here in the hills and on the beaches of the California coast. Not to mention raising a child with horses. So if you’ve enjoyed my blog pieces I think you’ll enjoy the novels, which are readily available on Amazon.


            And yes, that last bit was blatant self-promotion. I don’t bother with this sort of thing much any more. I don’t really need the money and I understand (from the little bit of local fame that I’ve experienced) that the admiration of strangers isn’t something that I need or crave. But the truth is that I DID put a huge amount of creative energy into my books—any little insight I ever had about life and horses got added to one book or another. My husband and son make appearances in the latter part of the series, and many friends and acquaintances have turns as villains, victims, or suspects. (I often cast people I really like in the roles of victims or villains because if a victim or villain is not a truly interesting character, the story will fall flat.)


            Anyway, for those who read my blog posts or have friended me on facebook—if you like my writing here I’m pretty sure that you’ll enjoy my novels. If you read on Kindle the books are very inexpensive. And if you don’t read on Kindle, I was able to buy the first book in the series for a friend (used hardcover in perfect condition) for less than four dollars on Amazon.


            The series begins with thirty year old Gail McCarthy beginning to practice as a horse vet in Santa Cruz, California, and ends with now fifty year old Gail deciding whether its time to retire from practice. Every single book has lots of horseback action and all the details were drawn from my life spent with horses. The order—for those who haven’t read the books and want to read them in order-- is:


            Cutter (cutting horses)
            Hoofprints (reined cowhorses)
            Roughstock  (roping and endurance)
            Roped (ranching and roping)
            Slickrock (horse packing in the Sierra Nevada Mountains—and overall reader favorite)
            Breakaway (trail riding and training a colt—also the darkest of my books)
            Hayburner (breaking a colt and finding a partner)
            Forged (trail riding on the coast and marriage)
            Moonblind (TB layup farm and pregnancy—non-moms don’t usually like this one)
            Chasing Cans (barrel racing and raising a baby—non-moms same as above)
            Going, Gone (an auctioneer and trail riding in the hills)
            Barnstorming (yet more trail riding and life choices)
           
            

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Rug


                                                            by Laura Crum


            I’m talking about the “rug” that gets jerked out from under your feet. It can happen to anyone. I just read a facebook post by Sheryl Sandberg. (Sent to me by a facebook friend—thank you Maryben Stover.) Sheryl Sandberg is facebook’s COO and was married to the CEO of Survey Monkey. They had children, they were no doubt quite wealthy, they knew lots of famous people, they were apparently well liked and a happy couple. They had, in short, all that the material world could offer in terms of happiness and security. And yet, Sheryl Sandberg had the rug jerked out from under her feet, just the same as if she had none of these benefits. Her husband, who was only 47 years old, died suddenly in a freak accident.
            Her post about her grief and her struggle to carry on touched my heart. So many of the things she said resonated for me, and remind me of my own struggle since my husband died. Many of her insights resemble my own. Her sense that she wanted to share her thoughts in case they might help someone else is the exact reason that I have also written about my grief and my journey. In short, I am not alone. None of us who walk this path of deep loss are alone. We just feel alone.
            Sheryl Sandberg and her story remind me to be grateful for what I have been given. My husband lived to be 64. We had seventeen years together as a happy couple. We also had some warning that he would die and so were able to prepare a little. He was with our son until our boy was fourteen. And he left us financially very secure, which helps us to go on with our life now. Of course, none of this takes away my grief, but for a fact, gratitude does help. The more I remember to be grateful for the happy life I have had, and for the gifts that I still have because of Andy, the sweeter and cleaner my grief becomes.
            And more and more I am aware that the rug gets jerked out from under everyone eventually. It’s just a matter of when. Whether your spouse dies or your child or your parent that means the world to you or your beloved dog—even if you live to a good age and NONE of this happens to you—eventually you face the loss of your happy life. And this is assuming that you (like me) are lucky enough to consider your life happy. Because if you live to a ripe old age untouched by tragic loss, you will face the loss of your health and independence.
            A certain wealthy old man that I know is just now (in his 80’s) dealing with moving from his longtime home into assisted living, and his sadness is palpable. The independent businessman, the world traveler, the happy gardener…these are no more. Ill health, doctor visits, giving up his beloved house—this is the stuff of his daily life. His wife is gone, his girlfriend is gone. His grown children visit him—but he doesn’t smile to see them. He doesn’t smile much at all. And this is a man nearing the end of a very long life in which he had all the benefits that the world can offer. But the rug is still being jerked from under his feet.
            Slowly but surely my own woe-is-me-why-did-this-happen-to-me emotion is being transformed into gratitude for what I have been given and love for what is here now. Along with understanding that this is part of the basic human condition. I am always reminded of the woman who went to the Buddha because her son had died and she could not bear losing him. She begged the Buddha to bring him back to life.
            The Buddha said he would do this if she would bring him the ashes from a house fire in a home that had not known death. The woman went to every house in her village, but everywhere the answer was the same. “No, my mother died-- no, my husband died-- no, my sister committed suicide…etc”
            In the end she understood. She went back to the Buddha accepting that her grief was part of the human condition. I’m pretty sure that didn’t change how deeply she missed her son. But it does change the bitterness of woe-is-me-why-me.
            For me the truth comes down to facing my loss and trying to walk the path I’m meant to be on. I believe that my husband’s spirit transcends his death and that our love for each other remains. I believe that our relationship continues—but in a different form. That’s my belief, and it comforts me. But whether or not I’m right about this, there is one thing I know for sure.
            I am not in control of much of anything. None of us are. As I started out to say, the rug can be jerked out from under anyone at any time. You can lose your spouse, your child, your health, your financial security, your home…etc. At any moment. Without warning. There is NOTHING you can do or achieve that will protect you from this basic truth of life.
            Equally you can believe anything you want about God and spiritual reality…etc, but you cannot make or prove these things true. You have to trust. You have to walk in the dark.
            But there is one thing you can be sure of. One thing you are in control of absolutely. This is what I have discovered and I tell myself every day.
            I can choose to love. I can choose to love my husband and our son and this little life we’ve made together. No matter what happens I can choose to love. As long as this entity exists that I recognize as myself, I can love those that I love. Not even God can do anything about this—except by causing “me” to cease to exist. As long as I exist I can love what I choose to love. No one can stop me. It is absolutely in my control.
            This truth is a great comfort to me. When I feel most lost I repeat it to myself. I can love my husband and son and this life we’ve made together. Even if I am given not one more single message or sign that Andy is with me, I can still choose to love him. I can still choose to trust that he is with me. Even if my world collapses around me, even if the asteroid wipes out the planet, as long as I exist in any way that I recognize I can choose to love. And so can we all.
            Not that making this choice transforms me—or anyone else—into some kind of saint. I may choose to love, but like everyone else in the human condition, I have my baggage. I am quick to anger; my chain is jerked by anxiety. I may be sorry, every single day, for the ways I have failed to act loving. And circumstances beyond my control may make it impossible for me to protect and care for those I love the way I would wish. I can do nothing in the face of many disasters but remain true to my choice to love.

            This is one rug that cannot be jerked away.


            I love you, Andy.