Tuesday, June 29, 2010


kairos: a time in between, a moment of undetermined period of time in which something special happens

Yesterday, after dinner, I went out and opened up two of the gates that lead into our small backyard. I had already given the equines free access to the barnyard, and had several "escape hatches" opened up so they could all mill around safely from barn aisle to hay to water, a break from the heat and the routine wherever they could find it.

I needed to water the garden, and the back yard, recently mowed, is already growing, so my idea was to let the horses and donkeys help out while I worked with the hose.

Cody and the donkeys came in first, then Keil Bay. Salina made her way in last, and the pony was in the arena being ridden, so he had to wait. It was nearing dusk, and very peaceful, with the water flowing and the horses pulling grass. Every now and then their teeth would pull just right and the grass would squeak.

I lost the regular passage of time, referred to by the Greeks as chronos, and found myself in that special place where it seems like I've slipped through to some other way of being. I was in the midst of the pinwheel of garden beds, with the hose dragged around the corners, watering. The pony was on one side of me, Redford behind me, Cody behind me, and Salina on the other side. I hadn't noticed the configuration or the crowding that was happening, but suddenly in that very still moment I felt a sense of ... not panic, but a sort of worried alertness, and when I turned around, Cody was standing still but looking like he was feeling very trapped - by the beds, the fence, the pony, and Salina. Without thinking I stepped toward the pony and moved him around the pinwheel, out of the logjam, at the same time thinking to Salina that she must stay put and allow Cody to be in her space until things were clear for him to move.

This was a rare and special moment when I felt like I had joined the herd mind. I wasn't functioning as the alpha or boss mare, but more as a coordinator of space, insuring that no one got trapped, no boundaries got crossed, there were no accidents, and their lovely grazing time with me didn't have to come to an end.

Salina stood patiently, not flagging her head, not even moving an ear. Cody waited, trusting that I was working on clearing a path for him. The pony moved, hoof by hoof, and Redford went underneath the low-lying butterfly bush branches so he wouldn't be in the way. It was one of those moments when there was no time to think. I just felt what the herd felt, acted, and in a few moments all was okay. I suspect this kind of thing goes on all the time in a herd, but I am not often right in the midst of it, and so very open to feeling those finely-tuned and silent communications that happen between horses.

As it got dark, both my children, teenagers now, came out to help with feeding dinner tubs. We got our own routine going, our communications louder than the herd-speak of earlier, and it reminded me how loud we humans can be - not only with our voices and fairly constant talking, but in our gestures and demeanors. I was reminded again of how effective it is when working with and training horses to actively try the quieter approach. A softer touch, even the thought of a touch, often works so much better than the loud request, or worse, the demand.

It was fully dark by now, and I was refilling a water trough beneath the night shade of the big oak. My son and daughter were silhouetted in the light of the barn, talking over one of the stall doors. Because of the water running, and the tree frogs and cicadas, I couldn't hear what they were saying. It was a moment in time, seeing them speak as teenagers, almost as if I were seeing a moment from the future.

They let the horses out one by one. Cody sauntered past, heading through the spilled pool of light from the arena, fully strided and gleaming as he made his way to the back field. The donkeys followed, side by side, like body guards preceding their queen. After a moment Salina came out. She wasn't sure which field they were in - we just rotated from front to back, and I had both gates open earlier in the day. She stopped in the patch of arena light and looked from front field to back. Her blind side was to me, and even though there is no eye there, and the light filled the empty socket as she turned in my direction, it seemed she could see. She still blinks on that empty side, and I could see the blinking muscles moving and working as she turned back and forth.

One of the donkeys snorted and she nickered, then moved into a big beautiful walk to join them. There was no trace of arthritis as she moved.

Keil Bay came by doing his huge and swinging panther walk. The pony came last, having waited in hopes of dinner tubs to clean. Each one passed by me, walking through the shadows, through the pool of light, and then literally faded to black as they neared the gate at the far end of the paddock. After they passed through the gate, I could hear the snorts and movements as they entered the blackness of the back field.

I don't think you can always find kairos, but when you stop thinking and doing and simply be, it finds you.


Anonymous said...

Lovely - I find that "herd" feeling to be magical when it comes - we people are usually too much in a hurry and too task-oriented to fully participate. I love watching the horses together and how subtle many of the interactions are.

Grey Horse Matters said...

Beautiful descriptions of being in tune with the herd. I actually felt goosebumps up my arms when you were describing your children talking as teenagers with a look into the future. The reason for this might possibly be that I've seen it in my own home in years past when my children were younger.

I'd have to agree that as a herd of humans we are a noisy rambunctious lot. If we could all learn to tone it down and listen and feel more, I do think we would be happier and able to live more in the moment as the horses do, appreciating just being.

Unknown said...

A dance
is what this plodding is.
A song, whatever is said.

- Wendell Berry, "Horses"

Valentino said...

Good save and hauntingly beautiful description :)

Máire said...

Beautiful. I love those moments and you described yours just beautifully, from the garden, to the horses, to your children, to the night. I love when we are one with them and how they trust us to protect them through some of the dilemmas of our human world.

Jessica Keener said...

Billie, I am awed by this. What a gorgeous, splendid moment. I was there with you. And beautifully rendered writing. The shadows, light, silence and gentle movements.

I'm so glad you posted this.


Anonymous said...

ah, one of the best herd stories i have read to date in your blog.

a wonderful insight to those of us who do not work with horses but hope to some day.

and am now in awe of the Horse Telepathic-er....

billie said...

Kate, I agree - the herd mind is a powerful thing. I love when I get still enough and present enough to tap into it.

billie said...

Thank you, Arlene - I loved reading that you got goosebumps - it was exactly that kind of moment, like looking through a window in time, and seeing my children as adults.

Our children are so much a part of us - it's rare to feel them so separate, even for a moment.

billie said...

Kyle, the perfect lines from Wendell Berry.

I love the ones just preceding those too:

Now every move
answers what is still.
This work of love rhymes
living and dead.

Thank you!

billie said...

V, it was very satisfying to interact in a way that felt so innate and worked so well - although there is no way to measure it, I think I gained some respect with Cody that will carry over into our work together, if I can ever get back to riding him!

billie said...

Thanks, Maire. I think the sequence of it all playing out as dark fell, and linked the way it was, horses and children and horses, made it especially perfect.

billie said...

Jessica, so glad to see you here - and thank you.

billie said...

Deborah, a big compliment! It's not always true, but the times it is, it's wonderful! :)

Matthew said...

The subjects and scenes you write about remind me so much of my favorite novelist from childhood and young adulthood, Madeline L'Engle. Only, the pictures you paint with your words are even more vivid and impactful.

billie said...

Thank you for the huge compliment - as you know I have not read all her books, but I love her Crosswicks nonfiction quartet. When I saw your comment, I remembered I had one of the Time books by the bed, and when I looked, it was Swiftly Tilting Planet. Inside the front cover there was a chart with chronos and kairos and all her characters!

As one of my therapy supervisors used to say:

it's all connected! we're all connected!

ponymaid said...

Billie, I know what you mean. When I hear the top of the container pop and then smell the all-encompassing wonderfulness of a Stud Muffin I confess, time disappears.

billie said...

Sheaffer, I had a feeling that a donkey's path to kairos might be through his stomach... :)