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.
           
           
           




Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Story of the Statue --and the Bizarre Truck (Walking in Darkness)


                        by Laura Crum


            So sometimes I walk in darkness. I am endlessly sad and I miss the form of my happy life that used to be. My husband has been dead for six months and in many ways it is harder now. The friends who gathered round and made great efforts to support me initially have less time for this (I know this is inevitable—I’m not complaining or bitter—just saying what is happening), and are busy with their own lives. My good friends try very hard to be there for me. But I feel so deeply the loss of my companion and partner. It is hard to face each new day without his physical presence here in our home.
 I have done my best to put our finances and the garden/property/household in order, and have gotten this done. There is a lull—in which I am so very weary of being sad. I had a very happy life for the last seventeen years with Andy. I accept the sadness—I try to open my heart to it. But I am unused to this form of life. It feels like walking in the dark.
            I try to trust. Trust in love, trust that Andy is with me, trust that I am being led down the path where I am meant to go. Trust that this is true, even when I can’t see or feel it. It is sort of like riding a horse in the pitch black.
            I remember doing this with Gunner. Riding him up a hill under some big trees on a moonless night. I could not see a thing. I held up my hand—six inches from my face—and I could not see it at all. It was the strangest feeling. I could not see Gunner’s neck or head in front of me. But I could feel him underneath me, carrying me through the utter dark. I had to trust that he could see, that we would not run into a tree, or plunge off a bank. And sure enough, eventually we came out from under the trees and I saw the lights of the barn up ahead (for those who are interested, I worked that experience into my novel, ROPED).
            So now it is the same. I try to trust that Andy is with me, carrying me along, even though I can’t feel or see his arms around me. I have to trust in signs and messages. I have to trust in what is here now. It’s not an easy task. At least not for me. I’m not good at trust.
           


            And yes, this is another weird story of the insights that come to me about life and death and magic. I’ve noticed that some friends seem to shy away from the notion that Andy is still with me and that magical stuff happens to show me this is true. There is a pronounced silence when I bring such things up, and I can hear the inward rolling of the eyes. The friend tries to change the subject and assures me things will get better in time. This does nothing but make me aware that the person and I are not on the same page. You don’t have to believe any of the things I believe—I don’t care in the least—so if you don’t care for this stuff, please click on the “x.”


            The thing about magic, which I always understood, is that it is always present. We just aren’t aware of it. My son said that he wanted magic like flying broomsticks in the Harry Potter books, and the funny thing is, I think I’ve experienced things just as magical. (The totem animal dream I had at Burgson Lake comes to mind.)
            But magic doesn’t look like what you expect it to look like. That’s where my life and Harry Potter’s life are different. His life is obviously magical. (He exists in a magical novel, of course.) My life looks like anybody else’s life. Just normal, my son would say. But I don’t think normal exists at all. Magic happens—and its up to you to choose. Will you see this or not? Will you choose to see the magic happening or will you dismiss it as coincidence…etc.
            The story of the statue is a good example.


            The little statue by our pond—I call her the madonna—has been there many years. Andy and I picked her out of a catalog not long after we got together. She is a copy of a Frank Lloyd Wright statue and her actual name is “Garden Sprite.” Andy and I liked her and we put her by the pond and there she has been for almost twenty years—but not without changes.
            One year the deer knocked her over and she broke in half. I put her head in a flower bed for awhile—her bottom half lay toppled and concealed by a huge bush. Things were like that for a few years. But the bush died and was cut down and we found the statue and set her back up again, gluing her head back on. And there she stood.
            Her head is downcast and she looks serene, but pensive.



            So the other day I was walking up the driveway feeling very sad—and worn down with feeling sad. Just so tired… What am I supposed to do, I asked Andy. I had reached the little goldfish pond and I glanced over at the statue. Something was different.
            I stared, wondering if I was imagining things. Because the statue was looking right at me, her head tilted slightly back; her expression—in this pose—appeared calm and confident, rather than tranquilly sad. It was a very slight change—no one who didn’t live with her would ever have noticed. But it jumped out at me.
            I stared and stared. And it dawned on me that she had been shifted slightly—probably due to a deer bumping into her—and the broken top half was tipped back a little. I could see the crack. But how odd, I thought. She hadn’t been knocked over (which had happened several times) or had her head knocked off. She had merely been posed differently. Serene and regal—looking out at the world, rather than down.
            In this moment I felt my question was being answered. Andy wants me to be OK, to be serene and confident, to enjoy my life here in my garden. He wants me to make the same shift as the statue has made. From downcast and sad to calm and looking outward. She even seemed to be smiling—perhaps a trick of the angle and the light. But the message came through to me.
            Is this magic?


I think it all depends on how you choose to see it. For instance, like the truck…
The other day I pulled onto Highway 1 to take my kid to his nine o’clock class—and the stop-and-go traffic was in full commute mode. I happened to end up behind a truck—a very odd truck. I had been crying all morning and was just trying to drive through my tears, but this truck was bizarre enough to cause me to stare. My son stared, too. “Look at that,” he said.
The truck was some sort of tank truck—perhaps used to pump out septics or porta potties. It was not new—it was nothing regal or glamorous. But the back of it was painted with a very intricate and elaborate design. There were no words and no obvious connection between the design on the back and the purpose of the truck. The more we stared at it, the more puzzling it was.
The background was golden yellow and there was a round mandala shape with various symbols. They were nothing that I understood—I had no idea what system of thinking they might belong to. In the center was a painting of a god-like looking male figure with a golden headdress carrying a female figure who appeared to be asleep or passed out. The male figure looked powerful, his head was up and looking out, he was bathed in light and wore some sort of ceremonial clothes. The female figure wore a long white dress and lay in his arms, her eyes closed, her body limp. But she did not look dead.
The more I stared at this—we were behind the truck in stop-and-go traffic for at least twenty minutes—the more I wondered what it was meant to represent. Nothing really made any sense to me. And then (it was a cold gray day), the sun came briefly out of the clouds and lit the male figure’s face with radiant white light. A thought came to me, and stuck with me.
I had been battling so much sadness that morning, feeling so alone. I could not feel Andy’s presence, though I tried to trust it was there. I was so sad. Maybe this odd painting was here to show me something. The woman doesn’t know she is being carried. She is asleep or unconscious, moving through darkness, not knowing the male figure is there. But he IS there—he is in fact carrying her towards the light, though she is clearly unaware of him or of being carried. Maybe it is like that for me?
As I feel I’m moving through darkness in a confused way, I am really being carried by my loved husband, who is taking me towards the light. I may not be able to perceive him directly as I live in my human body with its limitations, but he is there, carrying me in his arms. For a moment it all seemed so clear.
I stared at the bizarre truck. Was this what magic was like? Getting stuck behind odd trucks on the highway?


In the end, magic is about what you choose to believe. My son complained that he thought our life was “normal,” like other people—not magical. I said that many of the people that he regarded as “normal” adamantly believe that a certain man died and that his body came back to life three days later. How “normal” is that? Surely that’s as magical as anything I can come up with?

So I persist in seeing the magic—or magik—and I put my trust out there in love. Even though I am walking in the dark.

           

            

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Who knows what the future holds?

By Gayle Carline
Author and Owner of a Bionic Horse










We tease about Snoopy being "bionic" due to his left hind leg. For those of you who aren't regular readers, he broke the sesamoid bone seven years ago and it now looks like this:



As you can imagine, having one leg with a fused joint and accompanying hardware alters his movements. Specifically, incorporating more of his left hip affects the landing on his right front. Each month, he sees the chiropractor. Each month is the same: he requires adjustments on the left hip and right shoulder.

This year, we've been experiencing problems on the right front foot. He wasn't truly lame, as in three-legged, he was just off. I'm sure you've all experienced a horse that was happy to tote you around, didn't complain, but looked ouchy when they turned one way or the other. The vet did a flexion test, prescribed an anti-inflammatory and we crossed our fingers.

It helped, along with a monthly dose of Adequan, but I had concerns. We knew he was sore, but we didn't know why. It's natural to assume he won't get better, but how would I know when it's on the trajectory to unrecoverable?

I had an old horse who was sound at the walk and limped at the trot. We took a series of x-rays over a series of weeks that showed his heel sinking further and further toward the ground. He was foundering and we couldn't stop it. Had I not had those pictures, I would not have known how bad it was, or when it was time to let him go.

So I ordered x-rays on Snoopy's front leg. We'd never taken them on that leg before. I wasn't sure whether the vet would find nothing unusual, or whether he'd point and say "aha"! 

It was an AHA moment, thank God. What did we see? Let me show you a diagram of how a horse's leg is supposed to look:



Snoopy's legs don't look anything like this. His cannon bones (the beige one) tilt slightly one way. The two pastern bones (the green and purple) are straight, then the hooves tilt the other way. 

As his farrier said, "He gets his legs from his mom. They grow in three different directions."

The x-ray on his right leg told the story of what was wrong. Along the outside of the hoof, next to the little point (see the red arrow, but on the opposite side) there was a weird arcing structure pointing up toward the purple bone. The vet said that was calcification, which wouldn't account for his soreness UNLESS it was combined with what he showed me on the outside of the top of the green bone - a tiny bone spur pointing toward the brown bone. 

The bone spur was miniscule, but the way his leg winds this-way-and-that, it's like having a teeny pebble in your shoe. It's not going to result in amputation, but it bugs the heck out of you.

He now has different front shoes, and a lower dose of anti-inflammatory. He's looking more comfortable and moving a lot easier. Now we know where to look when anything changes.


And there will be changes, because that's life. I'm not sure how many more years I'll be able to ride him, but I promised to keep him sound and comfortable for as long as possible. When it's time to let go, I hope to feel confident that I've made the right decisions. It's the least I can do.