THREE TREES

THREE TREES
The horse's pasture to the East...

Thursday, September 26, 2013

BUDDY'S LEG AND LOVE...

Little Barn, Big Storm
I love the Midwest. I've lived in Maine, Wisconsin, Germany and traveled all over the USA and Western Europe, but the Midwest is home. 

We have a big sky, open rolling land, small towns and where we live? No noise except the wind in the grass and trees, insects and animals. I value my quiet space. Natural sounds are my music (although I do admit to rocking out occasionally, especially when I exercise).

This morning one of my inside/outside barn cats came in for his breakfast with a wound on one of his back legs. He had a serious cut that exposed the whole inside of his leg, muscles and tendons. Pretty awful. Tough little guy that he is he jumped up on to the cabinet where I keep his bowl, asked for his saucer of milk and food, and never complained. He didn't even limp. Barn cats are strong and Buddy's no exception. 

He's a sweet tempered long, tall skinny drink of water. He let me roll him over and, carefully, sponge his leg off with warm water. He'd already cleaned it somewhat but it was still oozing so I cleaned it best I could and decided to take him to the Vet's office. It was past my skills of home doctoring.

I wrapped him up in a towel and tucked him in to an old flannel pillow case. And here's an imaginative use of a Savvy String you Parelli folks will appreciate. I used that to put around his neck in case I needed to catch him. It worked very nicely as a leash (something I should probably invest in. I've never used them with my dogs. Never had to, so I don't keep one here. Note to self: buy two leashes, one smaller for the cats, one HUGE for Miniver.). I didn't have to use it but I did feel safer carrying him inside with my hand on his Savvy String leash.

We're lucky. All of the country Vets live within a few miles of us and have their offices within a mile or two also. It was an easy trip to make. When I turned in to the little parking lot, it was jammed with trucks...not a car in sight. 

There was a fellow who'd pulled in just ahead of me with a trailer hooked to the back of his truck, horse inside. The Vet came running out with his kit of supplies and leaned in to talk with the man who was driving. I sat there, watching, since I was "taking the time it takes" with my frightened barn cat who never leaves his territory.

Buddy was better off calming down for a few minutes so I stepped out to offer help. I've helped this Vet before when he's been out to a friend's house for inoculations on a her herd and when he had to put down one of their colts, always something that people need support for when they have to go through that. He knows me and his assistant wasn't there yet so he accepted my offer. And there's reason number 2 that I love my home. In the city there would have been reason to say no thank you. The thought of a law suit would have been in the back of the Vet's mind. Here folks know each other and offers of help are always accepted. Reason number 1 to love my tiny town.

I helped to back out a frightened little pony, a pretty liver colored gelding with a blaze down his nose. He was in obvious pain from lacerations on his left front leg, probably from getting caught in barb wire (not going to give my opinion of the nasty stuff. Suffice it to say it is the wrong kind of fencing to have around a pasture with horses in it.). The Vet had to use a tranquilizer to calm the horse so he could clean and stitch up the horse, right there in the parking lot. As soon as the horse was calm again I turned it over to the owner and went to get Buddy, who was curled up on the seat asleep.

When I turned to go back in to the office, there were people streaming in with dogs, cats and one little pot belly pig. There were five emergencies this morning. Guess it happens like that sometimes, in waves. Everyone walked past the pony standing in a pool of blood, half asleep, with the Vet doing his work and no one blinked an eye lash. They were all farm and ranch people with their animals to see to. And one young woman with a small dog in her arms stepped forward to open the door for me (my arms were full of frightened cat) and another stood up, offering me her seat. People are like that here, polite and easy going. I like that. Reason number 2...

I left Buddy for the day. It was ramming and jamming with all of the emergencies...a dog that had been hit by a car, another that had been bitten by a copperhead, a pony in the parking lot being cleaned and stitched up, a puppy that was dragging a leg around and trying to sniff butts and Buddy, with his bloody leg. 

When I went back this afternoon I saw three kids walking home from school, down a gravel road. they were walking along talking, throwing stones and laughing. How many kids do you see walking home from school down country roads anymore? Not many. I smiled and waved at them. They waved back and said, " Hey Miss Nancy." as I slowly drove past. Reason number 3 to love the Midwest!

I walked in to pick up Buddy and the Vet came up to shake my hand. " I'm sorry Nancy. I meant to say thank you this morning for your help. It was busier than usual. You do have a way with horses though. So I'm glad you were there to help. Made the morning start in a more controlled way." Nice guy! He told me he liked Buddy, that he was lucky. The wound wasn't dirty and he was able to sew him up pretty easily without using anything except some local to ease the pain.

I stopped to chat with Dee. She always gives me all the local gossip, who's winning at the local shows, who has puppies or kittens that need homes. She brought out Buddy for me and helped me to tuck him in to his carrier, stopped to hug me before I left. " You ought to drive down the road a bit to come see the two Mini's I've rescued. Total rascals. You'd love them!" And out the door I went, smiling. Reason number 4 to love the Midwest. The bill did not cost me next month's grocery bill and everyone stopped to say thank you!

When I drive home the back way it's down a bit more than 3 miles of dusty, gravel roads. I drive past goats in their field, and horses across the way...a retired band of broodmares that the rancher has kept deep in to old age. He isn't the kind to throw out his animals just because they take more time to care for. 

I drove past soy bean fields that were being harvested, the same three kids still walking home, pastures that had been mowed a second time this year. (The hay has been wonderful with all of the extra rain.) And I drove down our road with the hills and twists and turns, more like Arkansas than Kansas. Reason number 5 I love the Midwest. The land here is so unexpectedly subtle in it's beauty.

When I turned in my drive the neighbors waved to me, came up to the truck and wanted to know how my gardens did this year. And how was Buddy? Reason number 6 I love the Midwest. Somehow people always know, through some mysterious ether, what's going on. I always feel like someone has my back. Even though next door neighbors are, sometimes, a mile down the road they're more attentive to what we're doing and how things are going than they were in town in the suburbs. And they're always willing to offer a hand too. Small family farmers are like that.

At the end of the day I just can't complain. We live on a thin dime here. Things are used once, twice and one more time for good measure. Every sunset is beautiful and every sunrise takes my breath away. And, best of all, I live with my horses right outside my back door and neighbors who bring by an extra carton of eggs just because.

It doesn't get any better than that!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

SO FAR OFF THE GRID I'M NOT EVEN POSTING TO FB...

The Road Home...
" Off the grid." I hear that all the time. Old hippy friends say it. Disgruntled younger artist friends say it. " I want to get off the grid." I get that. Sometimes I think like that too. I can be a very contented Introvert. I'm easy with being by myself. It rests my head, allows me to breath deeper.

I read a description this week, of an Introvert. It was one of those slightly wacky articles that floated past me on Facebook. In it the author gives 22 good reasons for being an Introvert, how it makes you a healthier person when you admit you're an Introvert. Well, I never had any problem with that. Didn't need anyone to prove it to me. But I did find some of the things listed interesting, and surprisingly accurate too.

Introverts tend to have low blood pressure. Yup. Spot on with that one. Mine is so low there's a note on the file at my MD's office telling whomever is reading it that I'm not in shock. That's my normal blood pressure. 

I don't mind it at all when people say, " Hey, Nancy. Where are you dear? You look like you're a million miles away." And they're nearly always right. In my head, I am as far away as possible. 

This week I'm not quite off the grid, but I am alone. John is off the grid, literally, with Ryan (oldest son), kayaking down rivers and sleeping on sandbars . They're Introverts too, both of them. I love to think about them off on their own, quietly working through rapids, touching off banks, watching the world float by.

It's just me and the herd this week. We're playing Small Games, putting principals to purpose. " Coming through guys. Please step back three steps. Thank you! Well done." and on down the fence line I go, straightening up hay bags and picking up grain bowls when everyone is finished. Then we pick up hooves, sometimes with them moving from one side to the other. And sometimes I pick them from one side, just to see if I can still do it.

Course, Apache, trickster horse, loves that game. He starts picking up whatever hoof he wants to. " OH, you want the left front? How about I make that the Right Back? No? Right Front?" Yeah, we laugh a lot around here. 

The point is that I like having this week to myself, to think, nap, play with a herd, garden some more, nap and back to think again. So, who's really off the grid here? Me or them (them being the rest of the world). Maybe we're all off the grid and the only connection is through this BLOG and the AC I turned on for Miniver, the biggest dog in the world.

 You can tell, from the way this story goes, that I'm drifting here, hanging ten. Guess I'm off the grid too. 

Life is. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

HOME....where my heart is.

HOME. Webster's Dictionary gives one of the definitions of HOME as : the place where a person or family lives; one's dwelling place. But further down the page, because there is more than a half a page dedicated to this one simple word, it says: a place thought of as home;a place where one likes to be. And then there's the slang use of HOME: home free [slang]beyond the point of doubt in approaching success or victory (destination or target) HOME. It's almost a philosophical question in one four letter word. There are 39 other words listed after HOME with home as the first part of the word. You could shape a whole language around HOME.


I've been thinking about this word today, trying to figure it out. Where am I at home? When did I begin to question what  HOME means? I guess it's one of those 'getting older, what's it all about Alfie' things that most of us go through sooner or later. I have a tendency to be a late bloomer so I would be in the 'later' category.

Today John and I have been married for 41 years. We met in the Spring of 1970 while going to class on The Hill, KU. I'd decided to go to class early. I had two pieces in a senior show (I'd lied about my year. I was a Freshman, so I was feeling pretty cocky about my party crashing art work.) and he was late to class. It was April 9th, just 6 days before my 19th birthday, and it was warm for that time of year. Or maybe it just seemed warm to me. I was only 18 and everything was easy. 

He said, " Um. Hi! Can you tell me why you're carrying a tackle box with you? I've seen people on campus carrying boxes with them to class. Is it fishing season?" He was tall (6'1"), had long, curly auburn hair and freckles. He was wearing a single strand of beads around his neck, a white T-shirt and a horrible pair of neon blue bell bottoms. 

I was wearing blue jean cutoffs, an antique necklace (that I still have!), a blue T-shirt and a whole lot of hair, down to the back of my knees. John told me later, years later, that when he first saw me he thought I was a very casual streaker. All he could see was hair and legs and he wanted to see the rest! Ahhh men. 

I was pretty proud of myself for not laughing. It was, by far, the lamest line that anyone had ever used on me. He was too cute to laugh at though. It was an opportunity to flirt with a good looking guy. 

"I'm a Fine Art's student. I carry my supplies with me in the tackle box. This one used to belong to my Grandad, so it really was a fishing box once." and I flashed him my best smile. There was a bit of a wind though and it blew my hair in to my face and mouth. So much for looking like a cover girl. 

I spit out my hair, trying to look like it was something I did all the time, and smiled again. (Oh great. He's going to think I have the elegance of a goat. Fine, just fine! Blown it already.) And he walked on past me. 

Crap! He walked on past me. I wanted to learn how to flirt, goddamn it! (Pardon my French, but that's how I thought back then. I had teen-aged potty mouth.) " Hey, what's your name? You don't sound like you're from around here. Out of state student?" And there it was ... HOME. I don't know how I knew. I just knew he was my HOME.

The story is 43 years worth of telling, a whole series of autobiographical stories and books. But I still remember that feeling. I even heard a voice say it, " HOME. Don't let him go on without you. " It really was one of those cross roads places in my life. Time stretched out, long and lazy. When he turned around and smiled at me again, I felt like I was HOME. 



I wish I could say time was still stretched out, but it isn't. Somehow it's slipping by, faster on some days than others. When I sit down in a Dentist's chair, it slows way down (maybe I should find a way to promote that idea? YOU TOO CAN LIVE LONGER. GO TO THE DENTIST AND DREAD THE NEXT HOUR! Nope. never mind.) but otherwise it just seems to speed by.

I'm in a group of Horsemen called the UNSTUCK group. I've been trying to find myself back to who I was, or I thought that was what I wanted to do. Instead I find myself chanting, singing, talking to myself about HOME. It's taken a lot of years (told you, I'm a late bloomer) to realize that what I'm really trying to find is that place inside me that is HOME. 

It isn't a place. HOME is a feeling, that complete, satisfied sense of being that tells me, no matter how hard it seems to be, I'm HOME. I'm right where I'm supposed to be and always have been. 

video
HOME : 3. to the center or heart of a matter; closely; directly' deeply.

I'm HOME.

Happy Anniversary, John. This one is for you. You're the other half of my HOME. 

I am, always yours, Nancy, head back and laughing! 

PS. Fishing season? Oh yeah! And the best part is that we caught each other!

Monday, July 8, 2013

I AM AND THAT'S WHAT COUNTS...



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Somewhere along the line I lost myself. I didn't do it on purpose. I think I just got caught up in thinking too much.

Someone asked me what I do. Usually I answer, " I'm an Artist." But this last time I couldn't say that. It isn't that I'm no longer an artist. I am. No doubt about that. But lately I've been thinking about 'full disclosure' and what that means. 

We live in this complicated world that has changed significantly from the world that I grew up in. That's a good thing. Who wants to stand still? We would be one huge vat of vanilla sludge if that's the way it had been since I was a girl. But that doesn't mean that everything that's happened has been good either. Some parts of our world have gone to the dark side. American politics are corrupted. The religions of the world are using the name of their version of God as a means to violence. Children, animals, innocents are being tortured and killed. 

And there are good things too. People are coming together through the social networks on line to meet, to become friends, to put voices together to make changes. There's real power in that, so much so that now governments are trying to control the internet. The hackers keep slipping past and the whistle blowers keep whistling. AND THAT'S A VERY GOOD THING!

But what does that have to do with me? (Whew...this color hurts my teeeth!) Why couldn't I say, " I'm an Artist." the way I usually do? 

The idea of being my whole self popped in to my head, probably because I'm working out some fear and blockage issues that came up from being injured last year. And then I started thinking about the politically charged fact that we're now living in the 1984 that George Orwell wrote about. Big Brother really is watching. 

Think about the power that gives to whomever is at the helm, setting up all of this virtual information. Pretty scary idea, isn't it? No more getting away with anything ever again. You are over a barrel and you don't even know it.

I just stood there and looked stupid. Choked up. Couldn't answer. What DO I do? I think I babbled for a while, trying to put off having to answer. Something had opened up and all I really wanted to do was cry. I was completely overwhelmed.

After having my tiny breakdown I took a deep breath and said," I am. " Yup, I really said that.

I AM. 

I am an Artist, a Mom, A Grandmother, a Wife, a Horse-Woman, a tree hugging, liberal humanist, vegetarian, commie pinko ACTIVIST, and, well the list goes on. You get the picture, right?

I AM FUC&ING COMPLICATED AND i DON'T CARE WHO KNOWS WHAT ABOUT ME! 

What if we all practiced full disclosure from the very start? What if we just accepted who we are... WHAT IF I ACCEPTED WHO I AM ... And I did that without worrying about who I was supposed to please???!!!

Whew. Shouldn't be that hard to do, should it? 

That poor guy. He was a professional pilot, a very literal, linear kind of person (and a good thing too. Don't want the guy flying the plane to go wondering off in his head about things like how we define ourselves. No room for philosophers in the cockpit.) and all he asked was one of those party things everyone asks while they try to be polite. " What do you do? "

I AM.

So, later that week we flew home and I lost sleep. I kept thinking about the conversation I had with my now befuddled pilot, someone's Daddy, someone's husband who stood there looking at me while I had my Artist's breakthrough. 

" I AM." I kept saying that to him, looking him square in the eyes. " I AM."

And then he looked back instead of looking around, trying to decide if he should make a polite run for it. And he said, " Yes. I think YOU ARE. You most certainly ARE." 

Of course that's as far as my teeny, tiny breakthrough went. I did what I always do. I started laughing. It was a full blown head back belly laugh too. I didn't care if he thought I was bat shit crazy because I AM EXACTLY WHO I WANT TO BE. There's a big difference between intellectualizing that idea and knowing it in your gut. 

I AM! 

Thankfully he turned out to be a really nice person who wasn't as linear as I thought. He laughed too! Have to admit it was a pretty awesome moment. (And my guess is that he won't forget it for a while either. He was as surprised as I was that we were laughing like that when we didn't know each other at all.)

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I'm not going to end this with one of those "This is the first day of the rest of my life" quotes. But I am going to tell you that I am licking and chewing (for you folks out there, reading this, who aren't horse people...that's what horse's do when they are thinking on the left, learning side of the brain.) over my little epiphany.

I AM.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

WHETHER TIS NOBLER TO SUFFER...

To be stuck or to come unstuck, that is the question. Whether tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to torture my readers with butchered Shakespearean quotes, I am here and working on it.

This past year I've had a major brain freeze in the emotional side of myself. Seems that when I set myself up to break an arm, I was really giving myself a kick in the keester...BIG TIME!

I have forced myself out of a shell that had become increasingly thick, making my world rather narrow. Bad news blues for this artist. Although I need large blocks of time to work by myself, I'm basically a social creature. I'm an extrovert who needs my people fix!

Even before the great disaster of 2012 (I'm teaching myself to see it in lower case and not caps. Time to move on and let go.) I was becoming reclusive. I thought I was cutting myself off in the name of REALLY focusing on my horse-man-ship. And I was learning but I wasn't taking the steps in to the GREAT UNKNOWN, in to the zone outside the zone where I need to go to learn.

 Now, that doesn't mean I have to be reckless to learn. But it does mean that I wasn't taking any chances, not really. I was going back over the things I already knew and trying to perfect them when I SHOULD have been working on the pattern of "making my good better plus one new thing", just to keep it fun for all of us. 

I knew that but I didn't want to admit that I knew that. (Sheesh...this is beginning to sound kind of Zen. A little Ying, a little Yang.) If I can put this in to words without confusing myself, I'm hoping I won't confuse you either. You know that adage, the one that says " Things happen for a reason." ? Well, sometimes you have to get a ways past the event to begin to understand what the reason was. In my case I was stuck when I didn't know I was stuck. I was standing in a deep, gunky quick sand trap, going down and asking for my afternoon tea while it happened. "Sinking? Nope, not me. I'll take sugar and cream with that please.", pleasant smile and all.

Love this picture. This is me looking at my self-now with the horse by my side at the gate I broke my arm on saying " Hey, self. YEAH, YOU! Pay attention dear. Life is more than one layer, more than one event. It's hundreds and thousands and MILLIONS of moments that make you who you are. And that includes adventures outside your tidy little world. " 

Obviously I didn't listen. I set myself up for success in the long run though because I'm now at that point where I'm looking for help. I've never been very good at treading water. Boring, boring, boring. I like to dive, to swim in the deep end, to backfloat, butterfly, and do cannon balls. I love to make BIG SPLASHES. So what was I thinking of? Well, I wasn't wrong to focus. It was just the wrong kind of focus. I was micromanaging myself. 

Whew! I feel better. I got it out. I said it. I WAS MICROMANAGING MYSELF and I damn near did it to death! No wonder I broke my arm, my dominant arm too. Heavy, isn't it? (Yeah, I'm a Boomer. I still use some of the old slangs. This one works though.) Heavy! 

I had made myself HEAVY with too much focus and not enough flow. I was out of balance and my herd helped me to see that. WHAM! (NO, I don't think they broke my arm on purpose. Horses don't think like that.) I was repeating the same old same old, got complacent and an accident happened in the blink of an eye. I knocked myself COMPLETELY (sorry about all the caps today. They just sort of fit this time.) out of my groove, so much so that I can't remember how it happened. I've lost about 60 seconds and, just between you and me, I hope I never find them back. I'm more about the lesson and not dwelling on the pain.

I've found a group of people, being instructed and supported by Petra Christensen, a former Parelli Professional who has taken her own steps in to the world of "zone outside the zone". All of us, in one form or another, are stuck. Petra is helping us to take baby steps until we learn to walk our path(s) again, using forward motion as opposed to sideways or backwards (excellent games to play with your horse and not even so bad if you're just reviewing yourself). 

Yesterday I drove in to KC to work with a friend of mine who specializes in ceramics, especially sculptural ceramics. We sat there in her amazing studio with the music turned up and we rocked! 

We talked about our children, politics, art, the past, whatever comes up when women who are friends talk about when we work together and heal together. 

I was way, waaaay, WAAAAAAYYYY outside my comfort zone while I worked in three dimensions. I slammed my clay on to the working surface and let my fingers wander. I squished, I tore, I pinched, laughed, cried ... you name it! It really was a case of "the horse was in there, just waiting to come out" for me. It was Apache, his essential self, the one that comes to me in my dreams and, ever so brief often, when we have one of those five minutes of perfect together. 

I have no idea where all of this is going to take me...AND THAT'S WHAT I LIKE ABOUT IT! I am, slowly, deliberately, breaking through that thick crust I'd built around myself. There's a teeny, tiny hole and I can see daylight. And I can not wait to see where it will take me next.

Let the thaw begin! 

I am, Nancy, hands up and dancing a jig because, for the first time in a long time, I FEEL LIKE IT!

Oh, and smiling too. In fact, head back and laughing...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

FIVE BOOKS TO START WITH ...

I'm a story teller. Always have been. I love to capture my listener's attention, love to watch their face(s) and hear their reactions. Sometimes I paint the story, sometimes I write the tale...and sometimes I tell it. 

I read too, all the time. We haven't watched TV in years. You'd be surprised how much more time that gives a person to pursue the things they really love, the stories that feed their soul. 

I saw this article today, written by another story teller, about the five books that have influenced him. Now I've read a LOT more than five books and there have been more than a few that have influenced me. I've been reading since I was three years old...taught myself (my children did too. Comes from reading books to them from day one. ). I used to spend my free time when I was very young reading, because, again, we had no TV. Best thing my Mom ever did was to take me to a library and say "There are more stories here than you can read in your lifetime. Even better, you get to use your imagination to make the pictures to go with the stories. AND IT'S ALL FREE! Doesn't get any better than that!"

So, I'm going to choose five books to write about today. Even better, you can still find them in your local library and read them FOR FREE! Really doesn't get any better than that. (Thanks Mom!) Make no mistake, there are five more and five more after that and five more after those books that have left their mark. I'm choosing five because I have to start somewhere.


"THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD" There've been so many versions of this book that the original author has been lost. The first use of the phrase, "I think I can." traces back to a Swedish journal published in 1902, the first English version was published in the New York Tribune in April, 1906. 

The book I read was probably a reprint of one published in 1930 by Watty Piper under the pen name Arnold Munk. It was my first real book that I owned. And I read it until the pages fell out and the binding had to be taped together. It was also the first book I bought for my sons. I still have it too. I dragged it out, dusted it off and read it to my Grandson when he was here last November for his first visit to his Kansas Grandparent's ranch. It's become a family tradition.

I loved that little book, especially the landscape with all of the animals and the train cars with more animals. It was such a plucky little engine. It never gave up even when it got tired and the hill was too high. I can recite the book cover to cover. And when I get in to one of those adult corners, where I'm feeling overwhelmed, I pull out my memories of figuring out how to read that book...and I read it again!

" I think I can...I think I can...I think I can!" My nick name in High School was Can-Do, by the way. Uh huh...really was. Funny what one simple parable can do to shape your life. I'm still a taker of chances, a person who keeps leaping...who keeps chugging along.


THE WIZARD OF OZ, by L. Frank Baum
Well, you knew this one had to be included. I'm Kansas born and raised. My Grandparents had a homestead that was started in 1856. And I watched the movie every single year at my Grandparent's home when it was on, always on a Sunday evening. We'd have a fried chicken dinner with apple pie for desert and then settle back on to my Grandma's scratchy sofa with pop corn and cocoa, to watch the 1939 version with Judy Garland in the title role. 

But it was the book that I really loved. The version I read was one that my Grandma had, published in 1900. I have no idea if it was a first edition. But I know it was old, well read and cherished by my Grandma. I wasn't supposed to take it outside, but I always did. I'd lay down in the shade under the old Elm in the side yard with Penny, their farm dog, draped over my stomach. I'd read it cover to cover too while Grandma brought me lemonade to drink and molasses cookies on a plate. " I thought I told you to read that inside? " And then she would turn to go inside, smiling, because she knew I wasn't going to listen to her. Some books are better read while laying in the grass under a perfect blue sky.

I'd read my favorite sections out loud to Penny, especially the parts about flying to another magical place and then traveling down a never ending road where anything could happen. That book and the rest of the series took me to places that opened my imagination to the idea that anything was possible!


BLACK BEAUTY, by Anna Sewell 
Just writing the title of this book brings tears to my eyes, a very feminine reaction. But also a very humane reaction. 

Anna Sewell wrote the book originally to bring attention to the way horses were treated. It was an immediate sell out in it's first publishing in 1878. Miss Sewell lived only five months after it was published, just long enough to enjoy it's success. It remains, to this day,  the fifth most successful book printed in English. 

I read BLACK BEAUTY when it was given to me as a birthday gift. I was just seven years old. I remember sitting up all night with a flashlight under the covers, reading. My Mom had already been in to my room twice to tell me to turn out the light. " You need your sleep young lady. The book will  keep until tomorrow."  No, it couldn't! I had to find out what happened each time the beautiful black horse was moved to a new home, to a new set of circumstances good or bad.

That story taught me, again, that you never give up no matter how hard things seem. Something better will come around the corner. You really are loved even when you feel like you're all alone and forgotten. It also gave me my first look at man's inhumanity to animals...and man's capacity to love greatly. 

Just two years later, in 1880, a million copies of BLACK BEAUTY were published in the United States. People were so outraged at the description of what it was like for horses that the "bearing rein" was outlawed for use in both the US and England. Now that's what I call walking your talk. It's the perfect illustration of the power of one voice that is STILL being heard almost 140 years later.Anna Sewell and her BLACK BEAUTY taught me to question authority, to find out why the so called status quo is accepted and to make a noise loud and clear when it needs to be changed.



 A WRINKLE IN TIME, by Madeleine L'Engle
My Mom gave me a first edition of this book, published in 1962. I was eleven years old. It was autographed by the author too. She went to a local book store and waited in line to buy the book for me, to get it signed. Years later, after my Mom died at much too young an age, my father sold it. It was in my Mom's secretary. I remember it sitting there on the shelf with all of the other books that were most important to her. She had kept it safe for me until we had our own place, to give to me after the rolling stone years when we moved from here to there and back again. It was one of the few things I grieved for after she was gone. And I still do too. 

This book was another birthday gift, probably why I still love birthdays.  I always got a new book to add to my library. This one came along at just the right time in my life. I was a geeky, gawky teen with big feet and ears that flapped in a high wind. I felt awkward inside my body, was too smart (taking courses at the junior high level in grade school and college level in high school) and very shy. And so was Meg, the protagonist in A WRINKLE IN TIME. I identified with Meg right away and fell in love with Calvin before she did! 

My Mom was a mathematician and chemist, one of the scientists who started Midwest Research  Institute in Kansas City. She communicated with me through math games, while looking through a microscope or telescope. She was Meg's Mom, a loving but remote person lost in her laboratory. This book was our bridge. We read it together, stopping to talk about where the author was taking us and why. It was my first introduction to the fine art of book reviews.

It also took me to other worlds through the tesseract and the world of quantum physics. Math and the sciences came easily to me, so I chose the path of an artist. That's something for another essay but it's also why I read this book over and over. It introduced me to a reading genre I hadn't tried before, Science Fiction. And the protagonist was a girl too boot, something unheard of in those days. 

It's easy to say that this book reinforced the themes of my first favorite books ; never give up, follow your heart, question the status quo, remember that you're never alone and always loved. 

There are five books in this series and all of them well worth the time to read them. 


TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD, by Harper Lee. Last for best...
What can I say about a perfect gem? That's the way I always think of this book. It was perfect in every way...the language, the use of metaphor, the rhythm and cadence of the words...all of it. 

This was another one of those books given to me as a gift. I read it every year. I never miss a Summer reading of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, not even the years of babies, lack of sleep, full time work and full time school, the teen years with my sons or any of the years since. And every time I read it I see it from the point of view of another character or see a part in a different light. If I wear a teacher, no matter what grade, I would either read this book to the students or require that they read it.

The story, narrated by Scout, takes place in the deep south during the hardest years of The Great Depression. It takes the reader on a journey through Summers and Winters when people were so poor that work was paid for by barter with a bag of nuts and a quarter was a fortune. It was about a coming of age for Scout and her brother, Jem during a period when their father, Atticus, defends an African American accused of rape. It deals with racial injustice and, on a secondary level, prejudice created by gossip about a neighbor of the Finch's family who later saves Scout from almost certain death at the hands of a white trash drunk.

I think it's one of those books that everyone should read before they die. If nothing else it will take you to a time when things were hard and straight forward, complicated and more innocent. Again, it reinforced the ideas of honesty, questioning rules that need to change and never judging any book by it's cover.

It's cold, in the thirties, and raining here today but tomorrow the temperatures will begin to climb  and the two pairs of mockingbirds that we have here will begin to sing again. When they do, I will get out my worn copy of TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD and read it again for the fifty third time. And I will sit with Scout and Boo Radley on the front porch while they wait to see if Jem is OK.

When you read a book, you take a walk with the author through their imagination. It's one of the more intimate forms of art. Anyone who is published puts them self on the line, waiting for the reader to understand or to slice and dice the author's heart. I read because it takes me to places I would never go on my own. It keeps me open, thinking and believing that anything is possible.

It just doesn't get any better than that!

  I am, ever yours, Nancy ... reading and dreaming



Monday, March 25, 2013

TURNING A CORNER

Sometimes an event pushes you past your comfort zone boundaries, in to a place that just plain hurts. It's how you decide to react to that event that determines what comes next. Do you sink in to a "sea of misery" or do you rise to the occasion, learn how to swim and push yourself to the next shoreline so you can move on?

Last week a well meaning, just a bit too enthusiastic young animal activist sent me a video. It was titled "A MESSAGE FOR YOU FROM A KILL BUYER". In the name of keeping to my word for this year, Center, and because I've always thought the other opinion was important to understand before I make decisions, I opened it. I thought maybe it would be from one of the people who used to work in that industry who had a story to tell or a suggestion to make about how to help. Or maybe it was even their side of the story, about why they thought horse slaughter had merit. On that one I already knew I wouldn't agree but listening and learning is always important.

It was an opinion, no doubt about it. And it was probably one of the most shocking videos I've ever watched because my guard was down. I was sitting here, drinking an afternoon cup of tea and catching up on email. I was relaxed, the sun was out and my huge, sweet smelling St. Bernard puppy was draped across my feet. I was open to suggestion and ready to listen.

It was a video made by a man from New Mexico, surprisingly well crafted. It starts with a handsome, young gelding standing in a small, slightly messy paddock. Sweet tempered young horse too, no fear on it's face...just curiosity. In the next frame you see the man,a skinny guy wearing a cowboy hat, walking towards the camera leading the gelding. He stops to pet the horse, then pulls a gun from a holster and shoots the handsome sorrel gelding (found out it was only two years old, later when I started to investigate the background on the video) in the forehead. The horse falls to the ground and, while the horse lays there thrashing, the man turns to the camera and says "F8ck you, animal activists!" He turns and looks at the dying horse and says "Good!" and walks out of camera range, leaving the horse there to die. 

I reacted all right. I cried so hard it made me sick. I cried for two days. I lost sleep, couldn't eat, had a hard time focusing on anything. I also ran for my own horses and Willow to check on them right away. It was an instinctive thing to do. The horse that died in the video looked exactly the way Lucky did when I brought him home...open to anything I wanted to do, ready to go, sweet tempered and willing. Beautiful too. I felt like I had been sucker punched, right through the computer screen. I'd been accosted by a stone cold killer. That was the way it felt. 


It's taken a week of cleaning and organizing (I think better when I move) to make myself look at it from a different point of view. It's not easy to look death in the eye and do that.

This person, single handedly, has galvanized a much larger audience in to action with that four minute video. People who have been ignoring the issue of horse slaughter are paying attention. And people who've been vocal but not particularly active are doing something. Make no mistake, I would never condone that kind of video...ever. But he did kick the so called industry of horse slaughter in the pants when the video was published. 

I was already an activist. I sign petitions, write emails and make regular calls in support of the S.A.F.E. Act before Congress. If passed, it will make horse slaughter for consumption illegal in the USA and make the transferal of horses for slaughter,  across the borders in to Canada and Mexico illegal. It's a bi partisan bill, maybe the first in a long time, and my hope is that it will pass.

But what do I do? How do I react in a more effective way? My goals have changed direction because of that video. I need to pass, officially, through the upper levels of the Parelli program. I want my skills at a higher level so that I can begin to rescue horses, one at a time, and help to find them new forever homes. To do that I'm going to need help from a Parelli Professional or student who is much higher up than I am. I've pushed myself through Level 2 but I need to pass Level 3 and 4 (at least on the ground). I need advice on how to do this as safely as possible.

I've started an outline of steps ... my own patterns, so to speak. It's kind of scary when I begin to look at the whole picture. I can flip over to a RBE kind of panic when the goal begins to look like it's on the other side of a mountain range. So far I've been doing things by taking millions of baby steps, looking ahead but not too far. I can be very goal oriented and when I get like that with my horses things just don't work out the way I want them too. Much too direct line. So, step number one is : CENTER, my word for this year. Keep a balanced point of view. Use this huge wave of emotion to learn how to surf and reach the shore still standing.

Step number two : Improve my knowledge of technology. I'll need it to make audition videos and to send videos to the Parelli folks I would like to work with, so they can give me on line advice. Right now I'm more likely to be able to afford that rather than trying to get to a clinic. There aren't many of those in my neck of the woods anyway. (although I would probably go to one close in as an audit).

Step number three : Print out the list of things needed to do and begin to check them off, record them on Parelli Connect. I have a barn book that I write things down in but I lost my way a bit last year when I had an accident and scared the silly willies out of myself. Turns out that it's much harder to recover from brain freeze than broken bones. That will be my "million tiny steps".

Step four : Organize my time better. I'm an artist. I have a tendency to be intuitive about the way I structure my day. I've begun to change my habits and set times aside to reach my "million tiny steps" goals. Mornings have always been for barn chores and feeding horses, tidying up the house, and exercise. Now I need to set aside specific times to play/work with Lucky and Apache, Willow too. 

I need to clean up my act, so to speak.

Step five : Find a way to save money. I've already started making our own yogurt and kombucha, buying no packaged food at all. I'm going back to conserving the way I did when we were in college all those years ago. I need to be able to get myself to an instructor and spend an intense week or two being pushed outside my comfort zone HARD. We'll be growing the majority of our own vegetables this next year too. Buying organic is expensive and it's one of the places I won't give in or give up. Good food, exercise, sleeping well and being happy where I am, when I am and how I am are the best things I can do to help myself reach my goal. Those aren't hard goals to stay with. I already do that, fading hippy chick that I am.

My list goes on, but this is a good place to start. This is a hard old world. The only way to balance out the bad energy is by putting out my own little bit of good energy, staying positive and believing I can do this. I've stumbled through this so far. Now I want to dance.

Look out world, I'm coming through. 

I am, always, Nancy, smiling and taking a really deep breath... in with the good, out with the bad. " I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I KNOW I CAN.

Monday, March 4, 2013

EVERYONE LOVED JOE

Everybody loved Joe. In all the years he lived with us, more than fifteen, even the people who went out of their way to tell us they didn't care for dogs would say " Well, maybe he's the exception. I sure do like this little dog." But I'm skipping ahead to the end. I need to take you back to my forties, back to the beginning of the years of the Three Amigos.

Crazy Joe Cocker was the dog I thought I didn't need to have. We already had Gypsy and Newman, the coy dog my son had rescued. Two was enough while living in town, more than enough.

I met Joe at the local pet store. I'd gone to pick up kibble, canned food, cookies, bones to chew on, new collars ... all the things you need when you have dogs living with you that are barely a year old. They were growing and chewing us out of house and home. I didn't mind that. I expected to loose a few shoes and an occasional sock to puppies. What I DIDN'T need was another puppy.

At the back of the store were all of the dog aisles and so were any of the new puppies that came in. (This was the last year they sold puppies there. After that they had the local Humane Society come in for adoption Saturdays. They still do too. ) In the corner was a big tub where puppies were bathed and brushed until they shown, all ready to go home with the people who couldn't resist them. Standing next to the tub was a panicked young man with four soapy, excited puppies in the tub barking, playing and trying to get out.

He was new. Just the year before he'd been one of the young volunteers who helped around the store, acting like a young ambassador. He lived down the street from us too so I recognized him. I stood there and watched for a moment, waiting to see how he was going to handle his dilemma. And I have to admit I was enjoying the puppy rodeo he had going on there too. It was obvious that the puppies had the upper hand.All five of them, four leggeds and two, were soaking wet, covered in bubbles and the flood was heading down the aisle towards the dog beds. What a mess!

I walked over, took off my jacket and set down my bags, rolled up my sleeves and said " Let me help before this gets any more exciting. Don't want you to loose your job on the first day." And I smiled too. I knew this kid. He was shy, not many friends and in that horrible 16th year when your knees grow before the rest of you can catch up. " Thanks Mrs. Ness. I think I made a mistake when I put all four in at once. Guess I bit off more than I can chew."

"No worries. We'll get it done before anyone notices. You just knocked your nose a little bit, learning on the job. I'll keep these three occupied and you wash them each, one at a time." Actually, we made a pretty good team. Both of us got pretty messy but we did manage to get it done. He washed and rinsed, took the next one and handed the clean one to me. I'd rub that puppy down with a towel and set him in the puppy play pen with the warm air dry fan going and be there to catch the next one before he jumped out of the tub.

They were pretty too, four Cocker Spaniel puppies, big ones. They were big enough that I'd thought initially that they might have been Springer Spaniels. I have to admit I was really enjoying all of the puppy smells, kisses and wiggles. And I was also chanting to myself " I don't want another puppy. I don't need another puppy. It's the last thing I need." Uh huh. You already know how well that went down.

 One of them, a little male with all of these wonderful spots and freckles, kept following me around. He had these huge brown eyes and paws that were so over sized he kept tripping over his own feet. "Nope. No ... huh uh, nope. Don't need another puppy. You go on back with your brothers and sister. Go on now!" And then it happened. He sat on my foot. 

Every dog I've ever brought home sat on my foot...all of them. Oh noooo! I was in troubles. And I was in love. And I was also taking another dog home with me. Needless to say, that Pet Store loved me. It took two trips to get all of the stuff and my new puppy out to my truck. How in the world was I going to explain this one to John! We were now a three dog house. Every night was going to be a three dog night. 

Joe fit right in. And it didn't take long to see why, either. EVERYONE loved Joe. Gypsy and Newman rolled him over, sniffed all of the important parts, let him up and he fell right in to place. All three sat down in front of me, in a line, wagging tails and ready to go! Sheesh. It was full out pandemonium and mayhem having three puppies in the house together. Shoes were sacrificed to the dog gods, food bags were robbed, beds run over the top of with muddy feet and trash cans tipped on a regular basis. I was in dog heaven! And there wasn't one day, in all those years, when I didn't have something to laugh about. They saved me more than I ever saved them. Bringing home Joe was the best decision I ever made!

Everyone has a gift. Joe's was being stinky. He would jump in to the shower with me, get all soapy and squeaky clean and then run outside and roll on something dead 10 minutes later. His registered name was, I kid you not, Crazy Joe Cocker. But I think I may have missed the boat by not naming him Stinky Joe. 

When we moved out of town, on to the land, Joe discovered the unbelievable joy, the indescribable wonder of HORSE POOP. Mountains of it. It was Nirvana for Joe. He ate it, rolled in it, slept in it, carried it around, buried it and dug it up. After a few weeks he smelled so much like the poop that the horses stopped caring whether he was there or not. I'm pretty sure they thought he was a moving hill of poop. No worries there!

And then there were other joyous smells, like deer poop and little dead animals, chicken poop and compost piles. I mean, what's not to like? His people were throwing garbage out in piles of poop and then stirring it around! It was dog heaven only better. For Joe, life was grand, perfect and always just so Joe. 

This morning Joe died. He'd been sick for several days and I knew we were close, but he hadn't told me it was time yet so I didn't call the Vet. He was afraid of the Vet's office. He saw Gypsy when she came home, gone from her body and smelling of chemicals. And he watched Newman die in the front yard, again with the help of our Vet. He didn't want to go. He needed to do this his own way. It was the only time in his life he'd made a request of me, asked to have it his way instead of mine. I knew it would be hard for him. But I honored his need to die at home in peace. And that was exactly what he did.

It was a long weekend for all of us. Miniver never left his side and Annie, the cat that loved Joe and groomed him (an endless chore since he never staid clean for very long), curled up between his front paws. John staid home with me today, called in sick. Joe was his best buddy, his truck driving dog. He needed to be here too. 

Somehow Joe made it down to the barn one last time last night. It was hard going in the deep snow. We'd dug out paths for him, taking him to all of his favorite places, so he could go out to do his business where he always wanted to go. I'd even dug paths over to the compost piles for him so he could easily follow me as I went back and forth with the muck buckets. To the end he carefully sniffed and selected the very best pieces of poop to sit on. He couldn't roll anymore.

The walk there and back was long and arduous for him. He would take a few steps and collapse, then get up and walk a few more. He hadn't eaten since Friday but he was not going to let me be alone. He needed me as much as I needed him. Miniver followed him, laying down next to him to keep him warm, deferring to his status as "oldest" and letting him have the choice places to lay down. I would take a few steps, Joe right behind me and Miniver behind him. Then we would wait and start all over again. 

This morning he managed to make it down the stairs one more time and then collapsed in the hallway. He just couldn't go any further. I sat on the floor with him after wrapping him up in soft towels and we talked, Joe and I. We sat there and remembered the Cement Donkey the neighbors in town had on their patio, the one Joe would pee on every morning. We'd sneak up between the back yards before the sun came up, giggling, so Joe could make his secrete deposit. We talked about how he could open doors and taught Gypsy and Newman how to also. We remembered ruined shoes, the sofa cushions he decimated one afternoon when I went to the store without him. Who knew there were so many feathers inside a sofa? It was a sea of feathers!

I held him while we talked about the bunnies he would chase, the deer he almost caught but, being the nice guy he was, would always let go at the last moment. The truck rides with his head in my lap even when the windows were open because it was me he wanted to be with, not whatever was going on outside. 

His last and most wonderfully infamous trick was when he figured out how to steal Miniver's food. He would finish his first because he never ate anything slow and then would turn around and run at the deck doors, barking and growling. Miniver would leave her bowl to go bark and growl too and Joe would run around the back of the table and steal the rest of her food. No matter how many times he pulled his trick, it worked.

He died quietly, peacefully. He went to sleep like he had a thousand times before, in my lap. But this time he didn't wake up. He was gone. I felt his energy leave, gently changing the room as he moved on. 

John grieved in his own way, crying while he dug a grave for Joe outside next to Gypsy and Newman. I cried while I was down in the barn doing morning chores. 

Everyone was quiet, the air was grey and the sounds weren't as crisp. Miniver sat next to the pile of hay, the Joe nest, waiting for him. He didn't come.

And then Mrs. Miniver jumped up, running out the barn doors barking. I followed her to see what was going on. There she was, running in these big loopy circles out in the field next to the barn. She'd stop, put her tail in the air and wag so hard and fast it looked like her tail was wagging her, then she'd run and jump and turn back, running to the same spot to start all over again. 

My phone rang. It was John. He said, " Look up." There, flying in circles above us, were Canadian Geese. They stopped over here every year to visit the ponds. Joe loved to chase them, until they turned and chased him back. It was a ritual every Spring and Autumn. While we were watching, two of them broke off and circled down, flying over the barns, house and to the field where John was digging Joe's resting place. They flew around one more time, not more than thirty feet off the ground and then they rejoined their flock and they all flew off towards the East where the sun had just come up.

Miniver had stopped playing with her unseen friend and had come to me to sit and lean against me, watching the geese too. When they flew off it felt like a circle completed. Joe was gone ahead and we were here, left to celebrate his life.

Everyone loved Joe.