Monday, November 29, 2010

to leg yield or not to leg yield - interesting article

I've been reading over the past six months about the finer points of using the leg yield - or not using it, as the case may be - and when several blogs I read had leg yielding info this morning, I decided to look for something that concisely addresses the controversy over the movement, which many classical dressage riders feel should never have been put into the first level tests in the United States.

A quick Google search found an article that does a great job looking at the leg yield and outlining its benefits and its disadvantages - GO HERE TO READ.

You'll need to scroll down to get to the article itself, and once you've read that one, there just happens to be another article below it about the older rider - written by a dressage rider who is also an MD. Interesting material and recommendations for those of us "riders of a certain age." :)

Over the past few years I have gradually stopped using leg yield when riding Keil Bay. He much prefers shoulder-in as a suppling exercise and the immediate benefits are glaringly apparent in whatever exercise we move on to in that ride.  I get the best canters from him when we do shoulder-in first, and I also sometimes use shoulder-in as a "go-to" exercise if he is being spooky towards any particular part of the arena or any object - especially if the object is known to him.

With Cody (although it's been ages since I rode him - daughter keeps him working well!) I used to do spiraling circles using the leg yield, which seems to balance him and get him using his hind end in a more engaged way. However, the last time I watched daughter do spiraling circles on him, I made a note that it's beyond time to teach him shoulder-in (I'm actually not sure if he's ever done it or not) and see what the benefits are for him. There are only so many spiraling circles one can do in a given ride, and that exercise is not one I'd drill over and over again.

I'd love to hear folks' thoughts on the leg yield, and what your experiences are using it, or if you don't use it, what you do instead that works well.

Friday, November 26, 2010

the last part of the wonderland series

 I had these last few photos of the remaining structure of the Wonderland left and wanted to finish off this series. These two with the huge stone fireplace are shots of the dance hall. In the second photo you can see the raised stage where the bands played.

There's something about this room that particularly takes me back in time. Standing there, you almost hear music, and I felt a definite sense of motion - dancing couples and all the little dramas that most certainly played out.

One of the main characters in my third novel, Signs That Might Be Omens, is very attached to this place. In a brief scene he lays out a fantasy that he and Claire might have lived back in the time of Elkmont's boom years. It occurred to me today as I uploaded these photos - the character Bingham basically gifted me with a novel. He laid it out so beautifully it would be easy to take the idea and run with it. A sort of "past lives" novel. In the past minute or so this little germ appeared and then grew to the point that it is now being written down in my black Moleskine notebook.

This is why when writers tell me they're blocked, I suggest they get out into the world and walk around, open their eyes and all their senses, take photographs, find interesting places and people to watch and soak in. At some point bits of ideas will begin to float up and will push at you until you pay attention to them. For some of us, it happens almost too much - and the task is holding the ideas at bay long enough to finish other things already in progress!

My head is full of books.

The above is a small structure near the back of the hotel. It may have been a cottage for staff, or an extra kitchen. It, too, seems occupied, although as you can see, it's long been empty. Part of the appeal of these structures is that with the camera and a zoom lens, you can ratchet in close and get a sense of the emptiness - and also of the ghostliness of the place. Often, in all these photos, when I click and get the biggest image possible, I see things I didn't even know were there.

This is a view of one of the remaining fireplaces, looking back toward the site of the hotel.

I was struck with nearly every shot at how much life there still is in the place. And without all the fencing keeping us out, there was a sense of peace there too.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

happy thanksgiving 2010

Here's hoping that everyone has a "zen horse" day! I'm thankful for a wonderful family of humans and animals, a home we love, and the best friends (in person and online) anyone could hope to have.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

a few photos from the writing retreat week, and a brief essay on small towns

This was the view out the writers' kitchen door. The golden leaves were especially brilliant in the late afternoon sun, and each time I came down to the kitchen I felt the illumination surround me. 

One afternoon I took a drive to a neighboring small town where I actually rented an office for about a year while working on my first novel. I used to drive there one afternoon a week and used the office to write. Somehow, in all that time, and in subsequent visits to the little downtown, I never noticed this street name, but this trip, with the subject matter of my new novel fully blooming,  it seemed like a huge omen.

The same evening, as I walked from the bookstore across the train tracks to a coffee shop, I glanced up and noticed this little scene. It seemed like the opening line to a novel. Maybe the next one? Since I generally have to have one germ of an idea securely in place at all times, and since my previous germ is now a fully-bloomed idea with a first page, this might have been my subconscious trying to get me back in my fully loaded writer mode. I admit, there is a vague germ forming in my mind even as I type this.

The Brief Essay:

Pushing your religious views onto an entire email list of high school classmates is inappropriate and offensive, even if done "with love."  Getting angry when someone (me) speaks up and points this out is intolerant and a pretty good sign that instead of praying for ME to be saved, you might need to do a little more work on your own character.

Gossiping with other classmates about it off the list, posting about it on your Facebook page, and then defriending someone (me) is just about the exact thing I remember happening not only all through the early years of school in a small southern town, but in Sunday school classes taught by similarly-gossip-prone mothers - one of the reasons I stopped going to church when I was young - even at that delicate pre-adolescent age, I recognized hypocrisy in action. Some things just never change.

Other things do change: when one of the quietest members of a high school class grows up, leaves the small southern town, and blooms, she (me) gets a lot of private support and thanks for being willing to speak up about something that apparently drives a lot of folks nuts.

Moral of this story: be really careful what you say and do when you start up an email list for old classmates and then act out your lack of growth as a human being. Be even more careful when you do it and the quiet one (me) has a memory like an elephant and is now a writer of novels, especially one whose mother (mine) has been trying to talk her (me) into writing a novel about this little town for years and years.

Considering the little town started out as Hinton's Quarters (my ancestors from England) and ended up like Peyton Place, you just never know. While my interest in writing about the small-minded people in a small southern town is just about zero, I've always been one who rises to the challenge when there are under-dogs involved. And goodness, to come home from a week of writing bliss, sans germ, and stumble into this ripe with drama material. Ripe with drama, maybe, but not all that appealing.

And yet, in the same small town there were folks like this. He and his family were neighbors for many years and one of his daughters a friend. The contrast in the range of humans in that tiny town was (and still is) staggering. Not unusual, but I think more noticeable because of the smallness of the community. I encountered the extremes on a daily, even hourly, basis. On some level, as both a person and a writer, I'm still trying to resolve the things I loved about living in a small town with the things that pushed me to leave it as soon as I could. It's that struggle, if I could write it, that would make the story a meaningful one.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

back on the hill just in time for the full/blue moon

I'm home again after a nice, productive, magical writing retreat, and now have to make that flying leap from living with no responsibility except to my characters back to the very full life with a big family, a small mountain of laundry, and a SCHEDULE. (it's the lack of schedule on writing retreat that lends to such amazing productivity)

It was great to get home and see cats, dogs, horses, donkeys, teens (one who has now completed his driving education course in full and is awaiting one document before getting his driving permit) and husband. We were all supposed to go see the Harry Potter movie tonight but I sent them on without me, as I started feeling like I just needed to lie down on my own bed and relax for awhile tonight - the real return to daily routines begins tomorrow morning, and I want to be well-rested as I make that leap.

I have a few photos to share but at the moment am too lazy to go unpack the camera cord, so I'll save them for tomorrow.

Savoring the full moon (it really does look blue right now) and looking forward to a quiet Thanksgiving with the entire November Hill gang.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

weaving some wonder

(title courtesy of the Triscuit box on the kitchen table here in the magic mansion)

Since arriving on writing retreat Tuesday, I have edited the second novel, The Meaning of Isolated Objects, done a fair amount of book research for my new novel now officially in progress, and given the new book some space and time to germinate.

I've had the basic idea for this book for at least two years, but hadn't allowed myself to think much about it because I really wanted to get the other books sorted out first. Once I start a new novel, it's hard to pull away from it, and I didn't want to be pulled in any more directions than I already am.

So... now that novels 1-3 are situated, middle grade novel is on the metaphorical conveyor belt, and nonfiction book is nearing completion, it was time to reward myself.

I did a lot of editing of Isolated Objects on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. At some point during that span of time, I wrote the first paragraph to this new novel. I gave the main character a name. I finished the editing work yesterday. And today, sitting at the desk in my room, the entire new novel formed inside my head. It's hard to describe this - it was almost like layers of the story began to assemble themselves, and within the space of about ten minutes, the entire thing was "there."

It's very much like I have been saving the seed, planted it on Tuesday when I arrived, watered it a little each day, and suddenly today it sprouted.

I will never ever get tired of the magic of a new book unfolding. It's such a great feeling.

Today, driving a back road where major scenes in my first novel take place, a motorcycle appeared behind me, disappeared, reappeared, passed me at what seemed like warp speed, and disappeared again. And when I say disappeared, I don't mean around a curve - just... vanished. The main male character in my first novel rides a motorcycle. I think he was saying hello.

It's been a wonderful week with two amazing writer friends. Lots of good stuff going on, and of course, best of all, is that I get to go home to the beloved November Hill family.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

let's all say thank you to the DONKEY - Nov. 18th at 11 a.m.

Lest our equine friends the donkeys think they have been left out, but most importantly because they are such loving, intelligent, fine companions and teachers, tomorrow at 11 a.m. let us all take several minutes to stop and say THANK YOU to them.

Anyone who has marveled over photos of Rafer Johnson and Redford, reveled in the writings of Sheaffer, and watched the ongoing beloved antics of George and Alan, not to mention cheered on the donkeys and mules of Primrose Sanctuary, knows just how endearing, engaging, and amazing the donkeys are.

Join me in giving them a day all their own!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Let's all say thank you to the HORSE - Nov. 17th at 11 a.m.

This comes from Mark Mottershead and his Horse Conscious newsletter. It's an email he received from Monica, who makes a wonderful proposal!

Please give 1 Minute of your time to say Thank you to the Horse.

At 11.00 am Wednesday 17th November, 2010

"Over the past few years, I have been lucky enough to meet many people involved in the horse world and what sticks in my mind as I work, is how diverse the role of the horse is within their lives.

For some the horse provides an income.  Farriers, vets, livery yard owners, tack shops, feed companies, therapists, instructors, racehorse trainers, studs and many more; their income is based on the horse.

For some they provide the ultimate achievement. From winning medals for our country in many different disciplines, or winning outstanding horse races all over the world, to mastering the first day of rising trot, or the first leap over a small jump, this sense of achievement comes because of the horse.

For some they provide a social network.  For example pony or riding clubs; people getting together to share experiences outside of their working lives.  They provide a social network at a time in society where many network avenues are being shut down.

For some, they are healers.  Horses are being used in several therapeutic riding programs, not just for physical improvement and well being, but for cognitive and emotional conditions in both adults and children.

For some, they are part of the family.  They provide routine, stability, they stretch our emotions; they provide a bridge of communication between children and parents, a way of teaching responsibility, leadership, vocational and educational skills.  They become friends, soul mates, and most importantly, they provide joy!

Horses deserve this recognition.  As modern society encroaches in to land space, the horse and the activities that we enjoy with them, are being squeezed.  We are seeing more unusual horse illnesses, some apparently originating from the soil or land that the horses naturally feed on.  In certain countries, horse welfare has become critical as the breakdown of social and economic structures has created poverty. In other countries, wild horses are being restricted and/or slaughtered allegedly for the land that they stand on. We as humans have affected the balance of nature, which in turn is affecting the horse.

The horse gives us his generosity, his strength, his ability to 'know' how we feel.  They show us, with their herd structure, how to create leadership and order, how to work in harmony and unity.

The Horse deserves a universal 'Thank You'

Whatever the way that the horse enriches your life, I would like to ask you that on Wednesday 17th November, 2010 at 11.00 am, you think about their role in your life and say thank you."

If Monica's message resonates for you, then please feel free to forward this email on to your friends so you can 'thank you' to the horse together.

Monday, November 15, 2010

crazy day, writing retreat, November Hill Press calendar

The day went slightly sideways when I opened the new bag of beet pulp pellets and found they were both coated in molasses and slightly burned. This is the second bag like this in a month's time, and while our feed store is wonderful about taking things back, it's a real pain to take a 50-lb. bag you've opened back down to the truck, especially when it's necessary for Salina's lunch tub, the day is already short due to daughter's riding lesson and my Proust group, and I really, really wanted to ride Keil Bay this morning.

Things got more complicated when I got to the feed store and discovered all their bags were from the same batch and were all unsuitable for feeding.

I went to the other feed store and got a different brand, which was fine, but all this took a big chunk out of the day.

I enjoyed watching my daughter jump the big horse though! And Proust group was its usual great self.

Now I'm home, nearly 11 p.m., trying to do laundry and otherwise get organized for my writing retreat, which starts tomorrow. You may remember some photos I shared of the place I usually go:

While I always look forward to my writing time away, I also find it very difficult the day or so before, and usually some little crisis occurs that makes me want to can the whole trip and stay home. It's hard for me to leave the animals, especially the horses and donkeys, even though I know they are in good hands with my husband, son, and daughter.  If I could teleport home to check on them once a day I'd be much better off!

And in other good news, my November Hill Press calendar, Partners in Zen 2011, arrived today, and it is beautiful. The quality is very good and although I must confess I'm partial to the wonderful animals featured, it will be a treat seeing them each month all through the new year.

You'll find the link to the November Hill Press store at Zazzle on the sidebar. (and eventually, links to the books at Amazon!)

I'm looking forward to starting a new novel this trip. It's been awhile since I embarked on a journey with not one single sentence in my word file. Actually this one doesn't even HAVE a word file yet - but it has a new blank book that has a couple of things taped in, and somewhere, my black Moleskine has some initial research and ideas jotted down. I seem to have lost that Moleskine! Which normally would be very upsetting, but for whatever reason, it isn't bothering me much at all.  I'll do the research again, and hopefully the black book will turn up.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

the Big Bay does it again

I am SO EXTREMELY proud of Keil Bay. His trimmer and I decided that it would be useful to do a deeper treatment of Keil's hooves, especially the fronts, to address the on again/off again thrush issues he has.

We decided to go ahead and use CleanTrax. After reviewing many home remedies, a number of commercial remedies, and seeing the results from the things I've tried (generally good results but we tend to hit a wall at some point no matter what I do), I felt it would be worthwhile to go for the fairly major treatment protocol and see if we can resolve this issue.

CleanTrax is used in human medical treatments for several issues, including finger and toenail infections, flushing the bladder, severe bedsores, etc. It is non-necrotizing to tissue, which was important to me - many of the otc remedies for thrush are extremely damaging to healthy hoof tissue.

We tried to make the experience as pleasant as possible, setting the Big Bay up in his clean stall with fresh water, a huge manger of hay, and a bag of baby carrots that I planned to use as needed to keep things fun for him. We stayed with him, which helped keep him from moving around much. He spent a fair portion of the time chewing hay with his eyes half-closed as I stroked his neck and shoulder.

If you GO HERE you can see the soaking protocol we used. I wasn't sure how Keil would take to the very tall blue soaking boots I'd ordered. I considered doing a run with plain water, but then decided that it might be better to just do the treatment, expect the best, and at least if there were issues, we'd have treated the hooves while managing whatever might happen.

I'm happy to report that there was absolutely no problem at all. Keil had his hooves picked first, then I assembled our supplies while husband walked and trotted Keil Bay in the arena - the footing tends to polish off the hooves and really cleans them out.

Then I scrubbed the hooves with plain water, dried with a towel, and we put Keil into his stall.

My husband mixed the solution and put it into the soaking boots, and I stood with Keil (with halter and lead rope) with some carrots. He enjoys when I tuck the baby carrots into the hay and let him root around for them - he also enjoys me finding them when they fall to the bottom of the manger. But in no time at all, Keil had two tall blue boots on, with some wild aqua vet wrap helping keep them secure.

We listened to NPR, praised the Big Bay, and stayed right there with him for the first 45 minute portion of the soaking. When 45 minutes had passed, we had to remove the soaking boots, put plastic bags on the front hooves, then shift the soaking boots to the back feet. I'm fortunate that I have a husband who is willing to jump right in and do this kind of thing without blinking an eye. He remains calm, is good at manipulating vet wrap and following my constant instructions, and as it turned out, Keil was perfectly happy to have me at this head feeding carrots, praising, and cheering husband on through the process.

By the very end, when we had plastic bags on his back hooves and were merely counting down until we could take them off, Keil was ready to be done with it all, but even when he was finished and we opened his stall door to the paddock, he didn't rush out. I think he actually enjoyed the attention. Not to mention the bag of carrots!

One of my favorite sites for natural hoof care is Linda Cowles' Healthy Hoof.

She gives so many great tips, and has many good articles on barefoot hoof care.

zooming in for the moment on seat and the 6 points of contact

As often happens, as I was thinking and writing and focusing on the phrase "on the bit" the past two days, an email from a list I'm on popped through and mirrored some of what I was trying to express.

I'm paraphrasing, but this is the gist:

In conversation with one of the Spanish Riding School instructors, the instructor offered that the rider should never ever close the seat - but in fact should do the opposite, especially in transitions.

He noted that the SRS asks that their riders be capable of allowing the horses to come "through" utilizing 6 points of contact - calves, seatbones, and hands.

The scales of training cannot be attempted unless the rider is absolutely relaxed with a wide seat at all times - which is why it takes so long to develop into a classical rider and why time on the lunge is so precious.

If a rider tightens the seat at any time, the horse will tighten his back in response, which will create discomfort and put the horse onto the forehand and/or increase the front leg action.

He notes that with horses even a tiny bit of tension is felt as a lot of tension.


The above is why I think the phrase "on the bit" can be so dangerous in its broad, misunderstood usage.

Six points of contact must be independent but at the same time utilized in harmony in order to create a horse who is "through" and on the aids.

But nothing can proceed classically without the complete relaxation of the rider, most importantly with the rider's seat. After all, this is where the weight of the rider literally bears down on the horse, onto a particularly vulnerable part of his body.

For riders not capable of relaxing their bodies completely (how many of us can even come close on a daily basis?) the horse is continually protecting his back against our tension by creating his own tension, which then brings everything we're trying to accomplish to a halt.

The focus of getting a horse "on the bit" - as it is most often used - misplaces our attention totally.

Even "on the aids" is confusing, as so many riders don't even consider the seat an aid. Think of instructions you hear from the vast majority of riding instructors: glue yourself to the saddle, plug into the saddle, etc. I see riders pumping the canter, grinding the sitting trot and the canter, posting like jack-in-the-boxes, many times while legs are pinging with every stride, and forearms are stiff. In worst case scenarios, the reins and contact to the horse's mouth has become the balance bar the rider must hang onto to accomplish all of the above contortions.

We should all be hearing instructions that focus on the relaxation of our bodies - I was fortunate that when I came back to riding I did it with a classically trained friend whose instructions to me as I went around on the lunge line week after week were: breathe, breathe out, look over your outside shoulder, let your legs drape quietly, breathe, breathe, breathe, close your eyes, feel your seat bones, etc.

The answer to every single problem I encountered in the saddle was to breathe. 

She didn't allow me off the lunge line until I could use my seat (and breath) to initiate a walk, trot, change of tempo, and halt with my seat alone. And if she saw me "scooching" at all while doing it, it didn't count!

She is the trainer who taught me to "think" half halt - as opposed to doing anything with those six points of contact. "Think" the transition. There is always the opportunity to consciously add aids, but if you "think" them first, you at least allow for the subtle energy aids that our horses understand and respond to so easily - if we only let them.

Really, if we were smart, we'd teach every new rider to "get on the relaxation" with nothing else said until they do that as a matter of course. Children are good at it - and if we make the connection for them early, by showing them that the horse or pony responds when they breathe out, when they drop their legs, when they close their eyes and feel their seat bones move, they can carry that with them as the mantra for creating beauty and harmony in their riding, and in their relationships, with horses.

So, I fell up onto a soapbox here, but when it comes to being "on the bit" or being "on the relaxation," I think this is actually not a soapbox, but higher ground. 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

my take on being "on the bit"

I personally wish the entire term "on the bit" would disappear from the riding world and magically be replaced with "on the aids" which would hopefully lead to a larger focus on riding a horse lightly and softly as the result of an entire gestalt happening between legs, seat, and hands.

I was recently reading a debate about whether or not a horse without a bit (halter and clip-on reins, bitless bridle, nothing) can ever do dressage b/c there is no way for the horse to be "on the bit" if indeed there isn't one.

As we know, a horse with a good rider can create beautiful, classical, and imo "correct" movement with no bit! Because it isn't just the bit that allows this to happen.

I've eradicated the notion of "on the bit" from my brain as much as possible when I ride b/c I really want to focus on the bigger circle of movement - that I'm finding more and more comes from my own balanced seat, comfort in accepting the forward motion that happens with impulsion and schwung, which THEN circles back up and doesn't get blocked or stopped by a stiff rigid (hard) rein contact.

In other words, the bit thing sort of takes care of itself if I do my job as rider. This sorts itself into different ways of going with our different horses:

Salina basically knows the drill to a T. She moves from behind, lifts her back, and responds instantly to leg/seat aids. She creates her own contact which if you allow with a soft hand, puts everything in exactly the right place. I was referring to that the other day calling it a "lightness in the bridle" that I always felt with her when I rode her.

Keil Bay is not as easy - with Keil I have to get him into his high gear - the instant he goes into high gear and I am able to ride that gear comfortably and well, the rein contact takes care of itself. The problem is when you stay in slug gear he is not "on the aids" and goes on the forehand - and leans on the bit. It feels heavy although from the outside it looks mostly correct.

Cody is still learning, but he was trained to respond to the seat, and if you focus entirely on balance in your own body, he takes a lovely light contact and is like riding a much more advanced horse. But his balance relies completely on the balance of the rider.

The pony defies all logic - he goes okay with a bit but when he truly gets "on the aids" is when daughter rides him bareback. I suspect he feels her leg/seat aids more clearly that way and his contact completely softens and shifts.

Given that I tend to go off on my own paths with this kind of thing, melding together things I've read and things I've experienced, and things I simply *think* make sense, I consulted my copy of Dressage in Harmony to remind myself what Walter Zettl says:

"A rider must RIDE the horse on the bit, not PUT the horse on the bit... When the hind leg is working properly the horse comes on the bit automatically, but when the rider tries to put the horse on the bit with the hands, the hind leg will never swing through, and will push instead of carry."

He goes on to look at stiffness in the poll as a common problem:

"The problem of 'putting the horse on the bit' should really be thought of as getting the horse to yield in the poll. The first and foremost step is to be sure that the horse is good and relaxed.... After relaxation, the second ingredient is a quiet hand. The hand must remain still so that the horse can have the trust to go to the contact. It is generally easier to overcome the resistance in the poll when the horse is moving forward than at the halt... Think always that when the horse is doing something wrong with his head that something is wrong in the back."

And my theory is that much of the time, what is wrong in the horse's back has to do with the rider. Stiffness creates tension, which blocks the circle of energy that happens when rider and horse move into harmony of motion.

Which I know perfectly well was true of me when I came back to riding in 2002! So my journey into this has focused on getting my own body out of the way of the horse, and without ever really trying to get "on the bit" that's where I find myself when I take care of the other stuff.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

today's ride

I started early so as not to end up riding into the night - Keil Bay was so impatient for me to let him into the barn aisle to tack up he kicked Cody's back door and broke one of the white cross-pieces off. I'm starting to wonder if my telling the Big Bay that I will be leaving for a writing retreat for 6 days was a gigantic mistake. All of a sudden it's crazy around here!

I was soaking Keil's hooves in warm water with oil of oregano (my fancy word is "oil of oregano infusion hoof bath") while I groomed him. Rafer Johnson was with us and decided to roll in the barn aisle. He ended up underneath Keil Bay's belly, one tiny donkey hoof in the infusion with Keil's hoof, and bless the Big Bay, he did not move a centimeter.

They are all full of beans right now - I watched Rafer roll and thought "oh no" - but it was fine.

Used the mounting block again today and popped right on. Suddenly it doesn't seem like all that big a deal! A good thing.

Today's challenge was the afternoon sun illuminating the now empty hay tent (see previous post for details on why it's empty) in a way that did indeed seem a bit scary. Keil was absolutely ears pricked blowing through nostrils each time we came around that end of the arena. I realized that with the sun blazing, we were both half blinded and what we could see looked very much like a huge, glowing silver ghost. I decided maybe this monster was real for Keil and tried to find some ways to approach without pushing him too hard.

Initially I simply made preemptive choices to change direction, circle to the inside, or otherwise avoid that specific corner. We did a lot of walking and then more big walking. After he was warmed up, we did serpentines along the entire arena, ending up so that the last one came up to the tent. Because he was so focused on the pattern, he didn't really have time to get scared, so that succeeded in getting us close without much reaction.

We then did some trot work on a big figure 8 using the entire arena. This too brought us close to the tent, but again, the repetition of the pattern lulled Keil into a working mode that allowed us to go right by the tent with no reaction.

We did some work on turns on the forehand/haunches that were pretty much perfect. Reinback and square halting were not as good as yesterday but I didn't belabor them.

We spent a little time playing dodge the donkey - Rafer was meandering around the arena, periodically crossing our path. This actually plugged in a little fun - when we encountered him I'd make a quick decision about where to go to avoid him and Keil had to act fast.

At the end of the ride, I dismounted and took Keil Bay over to the hay tent. He was truly alarmed by it. He walked nicely with me but was blowing as we got close. I went ahead to show him it was okay, and we stood together and gazed at it for a minute. We stood until he stopped blowing and then circled past it again, and then headed out. I walked him around to the other side to make sure he saw it from both angles with the sun shining in.

And I made him a little meal of warm timothy cubes and a few oats sprinkled on top, which he ate while I untacked and groomed. Of course as soon as I was done he marched right out to the scary hay tent and befriended it again.

a ride at dusk and the herd goes wild

Addendum:  When I went out this morning I found a 12 foot, 1.5 inch thick, solid oak board kicked cleanly in half and lying in two pieces in Cody's stall. :0  I suspect Keil Bay did the kicking, but not sure. No injuries on any geldings, thank goodness. I'm thinking instead of buying a new mower we should probably buy hitches, harnesses, and farm implements and put this crew to work!

Yesterday I had a chiro adjustment and massage scheduled for the middle of the afternoon, so decided I would ride immediately upon arriving home around 5 p.m.

A quick note about regular massage and chiro work: last week I had a massage. I'm currently getting chiro with massage after every other week. On the off weeks I'm getting massage only. Last week was the first week that I was able to get a "wellness" massage, meaning there was no specific issue to work on. I was so excited - feeling great and happy that my body was in such a relaxed, balanced place.

The massage was wonderful, as usual. I floated out of the office and came home, and was so relaxed and happy I decided to fold the mountain of laundry and just enjoy the weightless feeling of my body. I was in the living room in front of our smaller sofa, happily folding, unaware that a certain Corgi pup had placed himself right behind my feet. I took a step back, sensed him there, lost my balance, and literally fell flat on my back on the hardwood floor. All I remember thinking was "damn, the good feelings from the massage are getting ready to end."

The funny thing was, after I hit the floor and got over the shock, I realized that I couldn't really tell what part of my body had hit. I could tell I'd fallen, but nothing was especially painful. I decided to use an ice pack from the neck down and just try to alleviate bruising or swelling. I never had bruising or swelling. Or any serious impact at all. I think I was so relaxed when I fell that no part of my body tensed. I didn't twist in any way trying to stop the fall, or break the fall. I just fell like a tree.

So, back to yesterday. The chiropractor adjusted several places and the massage focused on my back. I walked out feeling fabulous again, and came home ready to ride. As I walked through the house I decided not to change into riding breeches to save some time. I called out to my daughter to come out and help me with mounting, put on my riding boots, and went to the barn. Keil Bay was waiting at the gate. He came in and I did a quick grooming, tacked up, put on the bitless bridle, and went into the arena. As he did the day before, he lined himself up by the barrel. But when I got up on the barrel he turned his head back to me, and Cody came up on the other side of the arena fence. Suddenly I was standing on a barrel with two big horse heads sniffing my legs.

Daughter hadn't come out. I got down and tried to get Keil lined up again while I also tried to shoo Cody away. Meanwhile, the sun had set and it was getting shadowy. The arena light came on. In a moment of total frustration, I grabbed the mountain block, shoved it with my foot into place by Keil Bay, and climbed on, the regular old way.

Keil looked back at me, like "now wasn't that easier than the barrel?"

And it was.

I think the bodywork was a huge factor in my hopping right on instead of fidgeting.

Our ride was a lot different than the day before. Keil is not fond of riding in the arena at night, although he generally doesn't do anything crazy. He's just super alert and ready to go at the slightest hint. We warmed up in the entire arena, with me focusing on keeping one of his ears on me as we went into the two darkest corners. I could hear deer crashing around every few minutes, and Keil was acutely aware of every sound, but he did a great job.

Given the increasing darkness, the very active deer, and the fact that I haven't been in regular work with him lately, I decided to work in the middle 20 meter circle in the arena. At first Keil wanted to cut the circle on the back field side, but we eventually got a correct circle and decent bend. We did a lot of walking and changing direction inside the circle, and then took a break around the entire arena, plus a circuit through the very dark barnyard and back. I'd left the gate open so we could easily do that.

We ended with some trotting in the circle, both directions, and then walk/trot/walk around the entire arena. While I'd rather have ridden in daylight, it was a nice exercise in connection - no need for tuning up response to aids! The deer in the woods took care of that.

About the time I dismounted my daughter came out. She smiled when I told her I'd hopped on from the mountain block.


This morning my husband came in from the barn exclaiming. The herd had broken the paddock gate and spent at least some portion of the night in the barnyard. One of them went in the hay tent and brought the entire round bale core out into the middle of the barnyard and UNROLLED it so they all had plenty of space to stand and eat.

I've seen Keil pick up an 80-lb. square bale with his teeth and toss it like a jolly ball, so it wouldn't surprise me if he's the culprit. I have no idea who rolled it out - but I guess I should be thankful one of them did, since that allowed the entire herd to have equal access!

There is never a dull moment around here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

inspiration to ride, and the amazing Big Bay

Yesterday after posting Uta Graf's lovely ride, I went out to the barn, cleaned the entire tack room, let the Big Bay into the barn yard for some hoof cleaning, and then came in to get his sheepskin pad.

Keil seemed perfectly happy to come into the barn aisle and practice being tied (so much of what I do with him I do sans halter). I groomed him, realized he needed a sheath cleaning, got some warm water and took care of that, and then tacked up.

I decided to use his old bit, an eggbutt snaffle, that I put onto Salina's old bridle so I could use it as needed - I removed the cavesson so it's very much like Keil's bridle now, just with a different bit. When I put it on, he reached for the bit and took it into his mouth eagerly. I thought I had configured the straps for him before, but yesterday it seemed tighter and the bit seemed too high, so I lowered it to the last hole and hoped that might work. The bit was a little lower than I'd normally put it. But the moment I buckled the last strap, Keil lowered his head and began to mouth the bit in a clearly relieved, happy way. So I decided we'd try it and I gave myself the silent instruction to keep a soft contact so it wouldn't clank around too much.

In the arena I let Keil go while I brought the mounting block (I've noticed over the past year that every time I type "mounting" it comes out as "mountain" - which is truly one of those very relevant slips - that's how it has felt to me!) to the barrel I've been using to get on. Before I even had the mountain (see, there it went again) block positioned beside the barrel, Keil had walked over and lined himself up.

I praised him and then instead of climbing up and just getting on, I fidgeted. And he looked confused. "What does she want me to do?" He took a step back so his head was beside me instead of the saddle. This is entirely my issue and while I could spend a bunch of time analyzing it, I decided not to do that. Daughter came and helped by holding Keil and I slid easily onto his back. I think I have actually over-analyzed the whole mountain thing (and again the slip!) and I am just going to get on as fast and as easily as I can for now and forget about it.

There was the immediate feeling of total relief when my bottom hit the saddle. I was so happy to be there. Keil was happy to have me there, and off we went.

I had two areas of focus for myself: keeping a soft contact and equally weighting both stirrups. At one point I felt myself nagging with my legs to get a rhythmic walk and I took my legs off and began to chant out loud: one two three four, one two three four. Keil instantly knew what I was asking for and without missing a beat he stepped into the rhythm. We worked on maintaining that for several circuits around the arena in both directions. It was amazing how that simple exercise catapulted the ride onto a much higher, more advanced plane.

Rhythm and relaxation. It works.

So we had rhythm. We had relaxation. I was focusing on my contact. This bridle is very light in the hand. I don't like it much, as it is not an expensive bridle and the leather isn't that nice, but there's something about it that feels light and it's easy to hold the reins. (which are simple black web reins, but very soft because they're fairly old and also not that well made)  It occurs to me now that because this was the bridle I got for Salina when she first came to us, and the bridle I rode her in, maybe her lightness has soaked into it. There was definitely something going on that seemed almost magical - as though my hands had "learned" a more advanced way of being.

We proceeded with lots of walking, going deep into the corners and then doing free walks across the diagonals to relax even more. We worked on square halts and a little reinback.

We incorporated turns on the forehand and haunches into the corner work, did some shoulder-in, and through it all I made sure I was breathing deeply. Keil was very much on the aids at this point and I asked if he wanted to trot. I mean literally asked: "Keil Bay, do you want to do some trot?" And I put in a half halt and applied both legs. He went into a quite lovely trot and we organized ourselves. I didn't want to do too much trotting since he's been out of work for several weeks - but I wanted to do enough that we could benefit from the work we'd done toward rhythm, relaxation, and contact. We did about four long sides worth of trot in each direction and by the last two we got to schwung.

I should say Keil offered schwung and I received it. I don't think even the most advanced rider can ask for schwung - it comes from the horse, and only comes when we do the right things. Keil Bay almost always offers it when I take care of myself - if you try to demand it from him you might get grinding of the teeth, or you might get him leaning on your hands. But if you do what you're supposed to as a rider, he gives you poetry.

A lovely way of going where of course I wanted to go on forever, but it was the right place to end yesterday.

I wish I could convey the aura Keil has after a really good ride. He is so connected, so pleased with himself, so relaxed, and totally willing to stand in the barn aisle with no halter or lead rope and let me untack him slowly, brush him down, check his feet, and then offer him a handful of oats. He usually licks my hands, lowers his head so he can look me right in the eye, and only then does he saunter out of the barn aisle to graze a little in one of the barnyards while I clean tack and put things away.

I always think about the way Keil ends each ride with me. He rewards ME for the ride. It's what makes him so very special, and why I think we'll keep going no matter how old he gets or how old I get.

Every single time I watch him saunter out of the barn aisle after a ride I think: how did I get so lucky to find this horse?

Thank you, Keil Bay. You're priceless.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

love this ride: uta graf on damon jerome h

I especially love how she allows him big movement in between the collected work, and that she uses the corners and the circle figures to move into collection.

I don't see any rollkur or intensely flexed head/neck - the work appears to me to be very classically correct. Her hands are enviably still.

My only complaint is that she should be wearing a helmet. But with that shock of hair I might want to show it off too. :)

Baudet de Poitou: an intriguing donkey

The Baudet de Poitou is a relatively large donkey, standing 13 to 15 hands high. The most recognizable feature is their long hair, known as “cadenette” which hangs down like dreadlocks. In color they are always dark brown or black, but with a white tummy and nose, as well as lighter hairs around the eyes. They lack the dark dorsal stripe seen in most other breeds. Their hair is a dominant trait and crossbred animals will have this feature as well. Sadly this handsome donkey died on a boat while being imported to the USA, photo source.

The origin of these animals is unclear although they were eventually bred in the Poitou region of France where they may have been a status symbol through the Middle Ages.

I'm trying to imagine the grooming that would be necessary on this lovely animal, but at the same time am also figuring there wouldn't be much need for things like fly spray!

Monday, November 08, 2010

notes on the new turn-out routine

 Reminder: horses now come in for 2-3 hours in the a.m. and again for 2-3 hours in the evening. They spend some of that time closed into their stalls, and the breakfast and dinner tubs are served while they are in. Salina gets an additional tub around 3 p.m. so she comes in at least briefly for that. She and her donkey boys are never closed into stalls, although they have two of them and do enjoy resting in them particularly on hot summer days.

We've been at this new routine for several weeks now and these are a few things I'm seeing:

Salina (27 year old mare with arthritic knees) is moving more easily. I just looked out the window and she is grazing side by side with Keil Bay at the very bottom of our front field. That she is willing to go all the way down is a clear sign that she's feeling good and moving well.

Cody (QH with PSSM symptoms mostly under control) is also moving better. It's subtle, but he has a nice swing in his walk that he didn't have before we shifted to this routine.

The horses all seem a bit sleeker in figure. With a herd full of easy keepers this is a good thing.

They are tending to lie down and sleep either when in stalls or during the warm parts of the day - yesterday I noticed that during the warmest part of the day Keil came up to the upper field and found himself not a sunny spot, but a shady spot in a section of very loose, damp earth. It was in the mid-50s - so while to me it was cool and that damp earth seemed way too cold to lie in, it clearly felt good to him.

They are moving and grazing hay during the coldest parts of their "day" - which they were unable to do in our previous routine, when hay was served in stalls open to the paddocks.  In my mind eating hay in their stalls at night was "cozier." But I also noticed that often on very cold nights I would look out and see them standing out in the paddocks, walking and sometimes loitering near the gates to the fields! With the new plan they get some cozy stall time with hay in the evening, get their warm tubs, and then go back out where they can move AND graze hay during the nights.

We've had a few rainy nights during this trial period, and on those nights we simply reverted to our old way of doing things, as I don't want horses standing in cold rain, and I don't really want to put hay out when it's raining. It was no problem slipping back into our old way while the rain came, and then shifting right back to this new routine when it stopped.

We'd do the same with snow, high winds, etc. And although we just had two nights below freezing, I chose not to blanket. They all have nice winter coats already and I figured it wouldn't stay below freezing for very long. What I'm seeing is that they are not standing by the barn waiting to be let in, but sometimes even have to be actively encouraged to come in and get some hay inside. One morning it rained unexpectedly and Keil Bay and the pony stayed out in the rain and played instead of coming in for hay. That was a surprise, but I love seeing them feeling good and enjoying the season.

So far, so good. When it gets a bit colder and we have night-time temps staying at or below freezing, I'll bring the blankets out, but for now, they are fluffy-coated, happy equines.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

November Hill Press announcement

November Hill Press is pleased to announce that the first photographic calendar, featuring many of the November Hill family, is now available in our brand new Zazzle shop.

You may see and buy the calendar via the link on the sidebar to your right.

The calendar is in advance of the nonfiction title, Partners In Zen, which is forthcoming in 2011.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

the november garden

I've been astounded at how our garden began to deteriorate in late August and then miraculously seemed to regenerate itself. Suddenly the tomato vines greened up and began to set fruit again, the sweet peppers took off like they were trying to win a contest, and the eggplant went nuts. The beans gave a valiant new crop, the basil went ballistic, and we watched one particularly cute rapscallion grow like, well, a weed.

I kept meaning to take photos but decided yesterday I HAD to since we're looking at a very cold night tonight and I doubt the plants will survive it without being pampered, which I am not planning to do at this point in the season. Well, except for the rapscallion, which is winterized!

And as you'll see, I've had some assistance in the garden lately. A certain garden helper has been very steadily picking peppers for me and bringing them in.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

love this article on Uta Graf and her horsekeeping

See it here.

And check out Damon Jerome H - what a handsome!

elkmont, continued

More shots of the Wonderland outbuildings and the remains of the main building. As is my usual style, I walked around snapping photos without really checking to see the results (most of my photography years it wasn't even POSSIBLE to check the results and I have never really gotten in the habit of doing so now that it is) and mainly pointing and shooting to capture the same scene my naked eyes were drawn to. I mostly used a 50mm lens back then and now always start that way before utilizing the zoom feature on my little camera.

When we got home and I had a chance to look at the photos, I was absolutely thrilled with this particular set. Although I wish I'd been able to get the entire building before it was demolished, getting these photos captures the essence of the place for me and I know I'll use them in the future when I want to visit the Wonderland, either for my own interest or for book research.

These photos are the kind that I would have lingered over in the darkroom had I taken them 25 years ago and done the processing myself. I know that first one with the broken window panes would have been incredible to watch in the developing tray, as it came into form on the paper. I miss that aspect of photography - what made it magic for me - the alchemical process in action.

I guess I should say that none of these photos have been photo-shopped in any way. I don't crop or change the color. I will rotate as needed but that's it. And although I can shift them easily into black and white, I rarely do - I miss using my Nikon with Tri-X film that I knew well enough to be able to push it, distress it, and experiment with it having some idea of what I would get in the end. I love grainy, contrasty black and white shots, and I just don't know how to get that with a digital camera.

One of these days I'm going to get all my Paris photos online - I have no idea what that will mean technically and how long it will take, but it will be a fun and lengthy project that will keep me busy for awhile!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

and a note on voting and political parties

I can't help myself today. This is not a political blog and I'm actually not a very political person, even though I grew up in a home where both parents, particularly my mother, were extremely interested in and involved with state politics. Maybe the early, heavy, exposure to it is what pushed me away, but on some level I just think the whole thing is a distraction to living a meaningful good life.

Yesterday my husband came home, picked me up, and we drove together to our polling place - the small activity room of a country church. I actually love this as a polling place because it reminds me the moment we drive up that we are part of a community of people - all the people who live around us - not just Republicans or Democrats. They all live and work and breathe and shop and hopefully find some time to play. They all experience difficulties in budgeting, parenting, aging, communicating. They are all human.

My human-ness kicked right in - I immediately balked when I saw there was a line. This has never happened since we moved to the farm, and I've enjoyed the years of waltzing in, voting, and waltzing back out again. But there we were.

A young black woman in front of me turned to ask if I knew who I was voting for - was I going to vote Republican? I said I would likely vote for some of each, depending on what I knew about the candidates.

It wasn't clear to me whether she was voting one way or the other, and in fact, neither of us ever said we "were" one party or the other - but we spent about 15 minutes talking about what we knew about the candidates and the issues. She talked about her views on a referendum issue on the ballot, and I told her what I knew of several candidates I particularly wanted to support. We bemoaned the fact that we simply didn't know much about some of the candidates, and we made time for a few jokes (husband leaned on the voting machine at one point and I envisioned something going wrong and the entire network news descending on us) and about a traffic stop we'd encountered in our community a few weeks ago in which the young officer made reference to gangbangers (I think he was having wishful thinking - it is so quiet here).

Then I realized that one of our neighbors was working behind the table and she saw us and asked how we're doing. I told her we have new neighbors with horses coming soon and she was excited to hear this and asked me to call her later in the week and fill her in.

Although I'd started out grumpy about standing in line, I ended up feeling reassured that what we do when we vote is more than throw our support behind a Democrat or a Republican. We mingle with other members of our communities, those people who most share our community's strengths and weaknesses. We might see our neighbors, we might meet new ones. We can use our vote to support candidates we truly want to see in office, or we can use the vote to encourage party diversity in what is a (to me) boring two-party system, neither of which generally represent my individual views.

For me, voting is not a duty. It's a right. And it is a choice. I have purposely NOT voted at times because I didn't want to vote for any of the candidates. I don't think there's any special virtue in marching obediently to the polls, voting randomly because you don't really know enough to make a thoughtful vote. There are many ways to express the right to vote - and I honor and celebrate all of them.

I also want to express my disgust for members of BOTH major parties who refer to the other side as stupid, ignorant, and whatever other negative adjectives get thrown about. What makes this country what it is? The fact that we all have the right and the safety to express our political views. Whatever they might be. We have the right as people to have a different point of view. We come to our points of view from many different places and experiences. We believe what we believe because it's psychologically comfortable for us to believe it. And there is a bigger picture to all this - we're all part of a bigger society - which grows and changes and goes through stages just as we individuals do. There's no way for us to see how the big pattern is shifting - but part of being on the earth is living through this shifting, changing community of humans who are all in different stages.

The best way to be a good citizen is to live your daily life with consideration and integrity. It's not about how many times you vote or how many people you called or whether you made signs for one party or another. Find concrete ways to make things better in your neighborhood, your family, your community - on a daily basis. Those small gestures are more powerful than anything else you do.

(and if you disagree with me, that's okay - I'm not here to debate or generate discussion - feel free to say what you like, but I won't be responding to comments on this post - I just wanted to write this today after experiencing the chat on Facebook yesterday - at some point I think it pushed me over the edge!)

new turn-out routine

Taking a brief break from my Elkmont series to update about the new turn-out routine I started a few weeks ago.

Normally at this time of year we would shift from night-time turn-out to day-time turn-out - meaning the horses would go out and graze during the days again, and would come in to their paddock areas with access to stalls at night.

I decided to try something different this year. Instead of coming in for the night, they are coming in to stalls twice a day. In the morning, they come in for hay and then their breakfast tubs. I close the stall doors on the geldings so that Cody and Keil Bay can lie down if they want to, without being intruded upon by Apache Moon, the pony. They generally get a couple of hours to rest this way.

Across the barn aisle, Salina and the donkey boys get a similar rest period - although I don't close them in. They have access to two stalls, the barn aisle, and their grass paddock, so they can seek out the sunshine, rest in the quiet stalls, or just amble around as they feel like it.

After this, they go back out where they are mostly grazing hay now.

Salina is getting one mid-day tub, around 3 p.m., and she and the donkeys have the option at that point to go back out with the geldings, or hang out in the barnyards.

The geldings come in around 6 p.m., go back in stalls for hay and another few hours of rest, and then they all get their dinner tubs around 9 p.m.

And then, they all go back out again to graze hay all night long.

Obviously they will come in if we have cold rain/wind or other severe weather, but what I'm seeing so far with this new routine is horses that are moving well, in good spirits, and I think this will be our way of doing things through the winter unless we hit a problem.

I'm seeing good things particularly with Salina - I will use her blanket and Whinny Warmers as needed once it gets colder, but the activity seems to be doing her joints good.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

the elkmont series: the wonderland hotel

I can't remember the year it was when I discovered Elkmont, in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, but I was instantly in love with the place. The river, the forest, and the abandoned hotel and cabins that you walk past on your way to several trails that are possibly my most favorite hiking trails in the world.

I was alone the time I first found the place, and did not have a camera. But I did have a notebook and a pen, and I sat down many times that day to make notes and to soak in the history and the ambiance of this place.

If you read the sign in the first photograph here, you'll get a quick history of the setting. What you don't get is the absolute sense when there in person of the life that still lingers about the hotel and the cabins. It was so present the first time I visited, and made such a tremendous impression on me, it later took root in my third novel. There is an entire sequence that takes place in Elkmont, and a main character has a reaction that mirrors the one I had - having to do with the presence of spirit there, and how easy it is while walking to tap into the history of the place and its residents.

Although I have been back to Elkmont a number of times since that first visit, I never took photographs. I'm not sure why. Sometimes I don't want to interrupt my full experience of "being" in a place by seeing it through the lens. As a writer I want to see things exactly as they are, the living scene instead of what we capture with a camera.

A couple of years ago the park service made the decision to remove the main building of the Wonderland. I read this online and was absolutely devastated. I had no photographs, and that particular building was the one that felt the most filled with life. Standing in front of it, you could almost see people dancing inside, or leaning on the porch railing, or walking up the series of stone stairways to the front. I felt for awhile that I didn't even want to go back again. Seeing the empty spot where the hotel had been would be too upsetting.

But when we decided to make this trip, I knew Elkmont would be on the itinerary, and that I would have my camera in hand.

When we arrived, I quickly realized there was going to be a problem. The road to the cabins and the main trails was closed off. I parked and went in to ask the rangers what was going on. They said the parking area (which had been quite rustic and often impossible to navigate) was being redone to accommodate not only more visitors, but handicapped visitors. They told me the lodge and one of the cabins had been restored, and they were hoping that one by one, the rest would be repaired enough that they don't continue to deteriorate. This is good news, but not for us - we were leaving the area the next morning and would not get to see any of my favorite place.

I had a moment of frustration but quickly regrouped. The kids and I decided to make the best of it, and park so we could walk by the river which parallels the road into Elkmont. As we drove back in that direction, I realized the old fire road was actually outside the closed off area. Following my rule about not asking if you don't want to be told no, we parked and hiked up the fire road as we have done many other times. Few people ever take this hike, so we were the only ones on the trail.

The fire road is one way to approach the Wonderland - but since the Wonderland had been torn down, I wasn't expecting to see anything except empty space. What we discovered is that although they have removed the main building, they did not remove the outbuildings, and they actually left the chimneys of the main building behind. Nature has already repaired the scars of demolition. I had dreaded seeing dirt and piles of rubble, but there were none. The ugly chain link fencing they'd used for years to keep people off the dangerous flooring was gone too. It actually looked more peaceful than I'd ever seen it.

Of course, given what's happened to the main building, I immediately got my camera ready and began to photograph what was left. This series will show some of those shots.

I hope even a few of them reveal the magic, the mystery, and the sense of life I always find when I visit.

Monday, November 01, 2010

outside the conservatory, and a bit on writing process

These were a few shots I took outside the conservatory.  Once I walked by the door, it was hard to stay interested in what is a gorgeous garden. All I wanted to do was get inside!

Next comes a series of photos at one of my favorite places on the earth. I've been many times but never took photos. This time I did.

I'm labeling these posts as writing in addition to the place names - because for me, seeking out these magical places feeds my writing whether or not I end up using the places, or anything I see while exploring them, in the work itself.

One of the best ways to deal with writing blocks, or to stimulate a new project, is to get away from the desk and go out into the world, especially outside the circle of our everyday routine.

For me, finding places that have been around longer than I have always stirs things up in a wonderful way. I can feel the stories of all the people who have lived there, traveled there, remain there - swirling in a sort of wonderful cauldron of creative unconsciousness. It puts me right in the place where I want to be to access my own stories floating around in the deep places we all carry with us but don't always recognize when busy with our daily lives.

Sometimes I find a path for my story through making my own journey to new or beloved places. And other times, like this one, I feel like the path was already there inside my head, and in a streak of pure synchronicity, I managed to recreate it in my actual travels. I could feel the distinct sensation this trip that I was following the path of the main character in the new book, which is at the moment nothing more than an idea, a premise, with one character vaguely in mind.

And yet as we went from place to place last week, I could feel her becoming more solid, and was able to begin to see a little form coming to the idea. This part of the writing (or creative) process is nebulous and I don't think people write much about it. The focus tends to be on how to sit down and write, getting the words onto the page or the screen. But this part, the part where it's all wispy and not graspable, is in my opinion the most important part.

It's where we trust that the germ of something is worthwhile, and where we allow the unnamed magic to happen without trying to plan it or control it.

It's a valuable time for us as individuals too - allowing ourselves to be in the numinous. It's healing, it's transforming, and all kinds of good things come when we let it happen. Not just in our writing, but in our lives.