Monday, September 30, 2013

autumn and a few milestones

We have leaves falling, a little color, and lovely temperatures. I have to put socks on when I wake up in the morning so my feet stay warm!

Yesterday my husband and I did some tree trimming and made a firewood stack in the back yard. It's time to think about that first cold night and being ready to get the woodstove going.

Last week I discovered that I had one local heirloom apple left in my fruit bowl and I took it out to Salina's grave and planted it carefully. I have no experience planting apple trees from seed, but since I decided against tulips I'm going to let nature take its course and see if this little tree springs up on her mound. I know she will delight in even the idea of apples being there in her spot. I'll figure out how to keep the boys from gorging later - it will be a few years before that is even possible. Planting that apple there made me smile, and it was a milestone in the journey that started back on May 24th, when we said goodbye to the grand old mare.

Every week I see Ellen, the woman who Salina lived with before she came to live with us, at the farmers' market, and it happens without my meaning it to - I tell a Salina story and Ellen appreciates it and marvels over it. In a way, that weekly story has gotten me through the roughest parts of this leg of the journey. The first few weeks I would start crying by the second sentence. Now I am smiling all the way through. At some point the beloved memories have trumped the pure grief.

The past week or so another milestone has happened. The donkeys are braying again. 

When Rafer Johnson and Redford first came to live with us, they would bray if they lost sight of their herd. They brayed if they lost sight of one another. They brayed at meal times if we were late getting out there. For another little while, Redford brayed over his territory and what he had decided was HIS herd to rule. And then he got gelded and that particular bray stopped.

The last year and a half before Salina died, the donkeys' braying meant something was wrong. It meant Salina was down. Their braying became an alarm system for us and the sound of them would send all of us running out to the barn, dreading what we might find, but also getting our adrenaline rushing at the task ahead.

The morning she left us, they brayed. And it has been quiet ever since. Spring turned to summer and now summer has turned to fall. And November Hill has been silent. It was a blessing, in a way. That Salina was no longer subject to going down and needing help getting up again, that the long-dreaded last time was past, that it went fairly easily for her, that I had no doubt on that morning that it was time for her to go. The silence was a blessing.

The donkeys waited long enough that the brays don't send us into alarm state anymore. Now the braying of the boys means, once again, that someone is out of sight, or they want more hay, or a meal time has been betrayed by late humans. 

How did they know? How did they know we were far enough along to hear the brays without feeling that gut-wrenching "oh no, Salina's down" feeling? I think they are with us on this journey, and somehow we are all in tune with one another. We're walking it together.

There's another milestone that happened this week. I was out at the barn and suddenly I realized, not in an intellectual way, but in my heart, that Keil Bay is the oldest. And he is not the oldest simply by default. He will be 25 years old in April.

I keep waking up each morning and thinking how cool it is outside and how it's perfect riding weather. And yet I don't go out to the barn and tack him up. I spent a week getting all the tack cleaned and oiled, getting my boots all cleaned and oiled, even got so far as putting on breeches one morning. But I have not yet ridden.

Keil Bay is remarkably sound and was the last time I rode him. But I think now I'm facing some different fears. What if I get on him and something is wrong? What if he isn't as sound as he was the last time we rode? There's a part of me that doesn't want to find out the answers to those questions.

The past few days I've been walking around worrying about them. Every day when I go out there Keil looks at me like he's waiting for me to tack him up. But when I don't he interacts with me a different way, the way Salina always did, and I wonder - is he ready to retire?

The old question of Is Salina Ready To Go has been replaced by the new one. Is Keil Ready To Retire?

I don't think he is, but it's a milestone that suddenly my barn question has turned to him. We all know, all of us who live with horses, how it feels to start thinking that way about the senior equine in the barn.

I become tearful at the mere thought of saying goodbye to Keil Bay. It's not a place I want to be, even in looking ahead, even if it's many years away.

Last night I dreamed that there was a huge trail ride passing by. They stopped and rested the horses and had snacks and when they got ready to set off again, they invited me to ride along. I wasn't sure if I wanted to go. I could tell that I would disagree with a lot of the riding styles and horse management I'd seen when they stopped. It was the kind of trail ride that would go places I wouldn't want to go on a horse.

But I asked Keil Bay and he wanted to go. 

I tacked him up and got on and he was straining at the bit, arched up from his 16.2 self to about 18 hands tall. We rode into the line of horses and the first obstacle we faced was a huge flight of stairs.

I've never ridden up a flight of stairs, and I daresay Keil Bay has never done it either, but in my dream he did it perfectly. Because of the long line of horses and riders ahead of us there was a logjam on the stairway and we had to stop on a landing. Keil Bay did perfect pirouettes as we waited. He was so full of energy he couldn't stand still.

Finally we were able to ride on, and get to level ground again. We rode and the riding was perfect. It was, in the dream, like I imagine riding the 5-year old Keil Bay would be. He was extremely forward and very powerful. It was like riding the King of All Horses. And I was really good at it. 

As it neared evening, the ride stopped. There was a huge area where people and horses could rest for the night. There was hay and water and food for the humans, and after I got off and untacked the Big Bay, I went to go get food for both of us. Keil Bay came with me, like he was a person, walking close beside me, just like two friends would to go get a meal together. 

There was no reason to interact with anyone else, because Keil was my companion, he was my friend, he was my partner in the journey.

I woke up this morning feeling like I had dreamed out loud the bond that exists between women and horses. I don't know if it's stronger than that between men and horses or not - and that's not my point. But I know that what I call "pony girls" seem to be born with this bond already intact, and the first horsey goal in life is to find that first pony or horse to complete that bond. 

I guess what I'm living right now is learning how to honor the last ones. It's a tough place to be, but a good place. I'm lucky to be here and more than lucky to have the Big Beautiful Bay as my partner in zen on this next leg of the journey.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

first of the forties

A quick note on Salina: 

Every day when I go out to her grave site I see TWO ribs very slightly exposed. There is absolutely no indication that any critter is doing this, and every day I am covering the ribs up again, the past two days with quite a large amount of compost. It feels very much like she is reiterating her message to me.

In another bit of synchronicity I read in Clarissa Pinkola Estes' Women Who Run With The Wolves that the crescent moon is associated with Kwan Yin. Salina's white star was actually a crescent moon, and Kwan Yin, among other things, is known as the goddess of compassion and motherhood. I think of Kwan Yin as a loving, protective, nurturing presence, and it totally fits with everything I know of Salina. She is bringing me such gifts, even now that she is gone.

In other news, our weather forecast predicts a low of 48 on Saturday night, with much cooler daytime temps to go along with that. I am beyond happy.

Yesterday I gave Keil Bay a long bath to get him ready (and to make him happy - it was a hot day). On my way in I grabbed his saddle and pad so I could clean them up, and when he saw me coming down the barn aisle with them he snorted in horror - NO WAY - it's 90 degrees, middle of the day, and horse flies are dive-bombing out there! I assured him I was just getting ready for the forties to come.

Today the saddle is cleaned and oiled, ready to go. The sheepskin pad has been washed, double-rinsed, and is already dry and fluffy, like new. I've taken his bridle apart and cleaned every centimeter. All I have to do now is clean the stirrup leathers and my boots. 

And daughter and I have been working out at the gym three times a week so I've been getting my body geared up for riding again too.

With a combined age of 78, Keil Bay and I will get back to some riding this week. Considering he didn't bat an eye when I passed with his bridle in hand, I think he's ready. :)

Thursday, September 05, 2013

symbol of the soul

This morning was the day that I stopped spreading stall pickings in bare spots and started back wheeling them down to the grandmother compost pile. The path carries me past Salina's grave and I said hello to her as I walked by. I spent a little time down the back path, just looking and thinking about what needs doing down there, and about how beautiful it is, even in our year or so of neglect. 

I think what I love best about forest is its ability to rejuvenate and cover over and fill in. After we lost the trees there to lightning I felt the empty space tremendously. But already other trees are growing in that space. I feel protected and sheltered when I stand beneath that canopy. And also connected to many creatures: the deer, the foxes, even the spiders that build their webs across the path.

Coming back up the hill and nearing Salina's grave from the other direction, I spotted something white. I thought it was a clump of lime - after we mounded her body we applied a layer of lime and did so again a week after her death. It rained the day after we applied the second layer and some of the lime clumped and is still there in a few spots.

Closer inspection revealed that I was not seeing a clump of lime. The rain had formed a concave area in the top of the mound and what I had seen was actually one of Salina's ribs, bleached perfect and white by the sun. I was not repelled; in fact the instant I realized what it was I reached and touched it, feeling the curve and remembering the curve of her flank, the feel of her ribs underneath the flesh. I rubbed the curve the same way I would have had she been standing there.

It struck me how symbolic the rib bone is. How wonderful a gift to see that part of her gleaming white in the sun coming through the trees. I took some of the compost at the base of her grave and moved it up top, filling in the concave area and covering the rib with the sweet black dirt.

Just now I googled "symbolism of the rib" and the first thing I read was this:

"Thousands of years ago, our Creator had a divine thought: to give to man a "help-meet." Our God knew that man could not do the job by himself. He needed someone else to help meet humanity's needs--and God's.

This brilliant innovation was woman.

The book of Genesis tells us that she was created out of one of man's ribs (Genesis 2:21-22). I believe this was a strategic idea in order for woman to have her rightful place in this world. God did not choose a piece of Adam's head, so that woman would be over him; nor did He select a piece from Adam's foot, so that he would step on her. Rather, our loving Creator chose man's rib, so that woman was taken from his side--to be his equal...from under his arm--to be protected by him...and from near his heart--to be loved by him."

Although spiritual, I am not a religious person. But I couldn't help but think when I read the above passage that if you replace the word woman with horse you come very close to how I felt about Salina. She was my help-meet. She was brilliant. And every day I had with her I knew how equal she was to me - I felt the responsibility of protecting her, keeping her near my heart, and loving her. And I think she felt the same things toward me.

Reading on in my search for information, I followed links and ended up on a page about the symbolism of Eve. And found this quote, which I think says it all about my experiences with Salina since her death:

"Abdu'l-Bahá describes Eve as a symbol of the soul and as containing divine mysteries."