My Friends…

Gus Gus

I’m so very grateful for my friends. I have friends who randomly boost my self-confidence for no good reason except they think I should have more and they love me. (Sissy, this is automatic for you, but it’s required of family so thanks for holding up your end of the contract…). And in thinking of friends, that gives me a few snapshot moments to share with you.

I was going to write about life balance and when do we sweep up tumbleweeds of pet hair when thinking of tumbleweeds reminded me of the road trip to Vegas, to attend a mutual friend’s wedding. On this voyage, we struggled to keep the Honda Pilot on the road in the mother-of-all high winds. Gretchen was laughing and steering with the wheel actually angled to the left when a tumbleweed whipped across the oncoming freeway lanes, then bounced over the median and wrapped itself like an alien life form into the grill of her car. The tendrils, writhing in the side wind and forward motion of the car made it nothing short of evil—absorbing the car into its hungry form. We knew we would be next. The beast had a lot of stickers, but we managed to pull most of it off at the next gas station. Except she still found traces of it, 6 years later when she sold the car. We were the kind of people who showed up in Vegas, found the nearest book store, and chose to drive through the night to both leave the city early and beat a snow storm on the way home. We were the perfect match to “do” Vegas our way, much as we still “do” life the same way now. Gretchen gave up more of her time than any person should to photograph Sterling and I at dressage shows—our best pictures came from her.

There are too many memories with these friends, and really too many friends, to mention here, but two more are important to note. One was one of those magical nights that took on a Disney quality, in all the right ways. I remember a New Year’s Eve when we found our way to four narrow seats in the Spanish Riding School in the heart of Vienna. Holly and I put the guys on the outside so we could lean close and exult in the performance before us. I couldn’t believe that the horses I had been reading about since Marguerite Henry’s White Stallion of Lipizza (of course illustrated by Wesley Dennis) would be performing before us that night. I know that I, for one, uttered whispered squeals to see them passage into the arena. Earlier, walking the streets, I had imagined Marguerite Henry’s character, Hans Haupt, who had taught his cart horse, Rosy, to piaffe, gaining him the right kind of attention to eventually become a Spanish Riding School student himself. In that New Year’s celebration where, later, a firecracker would bounce off my face in square that I remember being near Votivkirche, we watched unbelievable athleticism and grace in the willing, beautiful horses performing that night. We had already traveled all over in Austria in this whirlwind Christmas Holiday visit making that part of the world and the dancing white stallions forever belonging to our friendship. Gus, today, is the physical embodiment of this magic, the ultimate gift in the period of a year that began so badly. Leading me to…

This one memory stands apart in its perfection with Laura, even though there are uncountable more that deserve mention. It too centered on a New Year’s Eve, not too many years later. The day before, my then-husband said he was leaving. Laura dropped everything she had planned for that holiday evening to arrive at my house and provide me with a bottle of wine, which she usually didn’t drink but knew that I would, and solid company. She sat with me while we watched the surprisingly appropriate movie, “Failure to Launch,” and the person who “just didn’t want to be married anymore” moved his things out of our rented house (chosen for its proximity to his work in a failed attempt to keep us together). We didn’t lift a finger, ourselves, except to refill my glass. Laura brought the right-size bottle. The day and the evening are fuzzy, not from too much wine even though the wine was good, but from too much pain. As a superb equestrian and animal lover, Laura knew exactly what I needed, sitting by me, making me smile, and letting me know I wasn’t alone. We have so many other times full of laughter until we couldn’t breathe and adventure beyond our comfort zones, but that day stands apart as a prime hallmark of our friendship. And she also has a gift for naming, coming up with Gus for the handsome horse Holly gave to me

(And Kimberly who was in town and took my stunned self to dinner, showing me the love of a friendship, begun with horses at the county fair, and spanning 38 years…)

I guess it comes down to horses and friends who see me through the moments when life wrenches itself out of balance or just randomly decide that I am “awesome” and tell me so. As undeserving as it feels, it also feels great! Each is intertwined with each other, the horses and the friends. I’m so lucky to have them all

A Mermaid Stretches Across My Mountains

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A mermaid stretches across my mountains
Her fiery belly making coral.
Of cliff faces iced and drifting snow,
My world suddenly under the sea.

Each morning when
Pyrois, the fiery one,
Surges next to Eous, Aethon, and Phlegon,
Mountains kneel before their magic.

Centuries of human musing
Bows before human experience
Prostrates under coral coated clouds
Yet again failing to evoke the sunrise.

And me:
Coffee, dogs, warm lamp,
Pen in hand,
Joining the legions in wordless wonder.

Excerpt (memoir)

IMG_1608I’m writing bits and pieces of what will become a memoir.  Here’s a snippet from my college days….

 Survival

We arrived at the training site late and I was already falling head over heels for the creek.  The other cadets in my 10-person group didn’t seem to notice the water racing below us, the winter run-off on this chilly June night making its rushing passage a chattering crowd. They hurried to collect branches. The sentinel heights of the Ponderosa pines, their color leeching in the fading light, loomed black over sepia-needled footing—ancient watchers familiar with our game. Although we were learning to build shelters in a deepening dusk, everything seemed familiar, comfortable. Racing against night when our military-issue flashlights would only provide watery micro-spheres of vision, we were directed to gather foliage, prop it into spiny protrusions off of the trees, preferably with a corresponding hollow in the ground, and make our new beds. I don’t know why the deep breaths of piney twilight sparked me to life. I felt at home.

Survival training. A summer military education program for U.S. Air Force Academy cadets. This part of the program, out in the woods treated us like pilots who had ejected from aircraft and were trying to make our way back to friendly lines through enemy territory.

Cadets.  I was one that summer, even though I never felt like one.  Looking back across three decades, what I remember most was that USAFA was looking for some sort of ideal prototype (probably a young man, six feet tall, athletic and brilliant) and that I would never measure up. A cadet should have blood that beats Air Force blue and want to act out the poem we had to memorize, “High Flight,” to “…slip the surly bonds of Earth.”  I didn’t find the Earth’s bonds surly.  And slipping them tended to make me airsick.

There were nine-weeks between the spring and fall academic semesters at USAFA and each block of the three-period summer was dedicated to three weeks of training or a three-week period of military leave, a.k.a. vacation. In 1988, between my freshmen and sophomore years, three weeks of survival training were mandatory.

As I slid inside the relic that was my military- issue sleeping bag listening to the forest night sounds and my rustling neighbors, I thought about the challenge ahead of me. I knew these programs were challenges for even that ideal, six-foot tall cadet the Air Force had in mind, so would I be able to do this? In that moment drifting off to the night noises, my fears dissipated, replaced by the unexpected euphoria found in my surroundings. I knew I was an “outdoor” girl—riding my horse no matter the weather and fearlessly walking the grocery store aisles in my dirty riding clothes and muddy boots, my filth more a badge of honor than something shameful. I wasn’t worried about dirt out here. Inexplicably, now I wasn’t worried about anything.

Survival training had portions back at school that involved learning to resist enemy interrogations and study survival tactics, but this next week would be what I considered the real test. After only a few days of teaching us about edible plants, how to signal for help, and camouflaging our appearance, the cadre of instructors would turn us loose to evade enemy captors in the middle of the night.  We would spend four nights and five days moving between “friendly” camps where we would sleep during the day and avoid enemy soldiers who were looking for us while we moved under the cover of darkness. What could go wrong? Never mind that, tonight, we were forced to race against darkness because a cadet from the first group that went last week had been lost for almost two days and whose late recovery meant that my group was launched hours after we should have left for our own week surviving in the woods.

Learning to survive in a high-altitude Colorado forest in the first weeks of June was the equivalent of drawing the short straw in terms of USAFA summer programs.  In the following days, I would eye the American Strawberry plants vining near my feet with envy, picturing their snowy blossoms as tiny bursts of red sweetness. After all, survival training meant we would mostly be living off what was now a prepubescent, spring landscape. Other cadets would tromp over these same pine needles in late July. I envisioned their experience something akin to Maria spinning about the Austrian Alps in The Sound of Music, lips stained with berries and full bellies sagging over their belts

(to be continued)

Show Don’t Tell

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Isn’t it strange?
We’re inescapably here,
In these bodies, 24/7.
And still we’re trying to find ourselves?

I’m thinking about creating a character.
Someone for a novel or a short story.
Who is she?
(who am I)?

All the fiction handbooks say to
Show
Don’t
Tell.

If we’re inside this character we see
The woman who will daily
Exercisewritecleanknitpaintvolunteerworkplay
Love.

My character browses the internet,
Full of dreams and hopes.
Races out for just-in-time pet food.
Loves her family and friends.

Falls into bed at night
Clinging to a list of accomplishments:
Vacuumed. Graded papers. Fixed insurance.
Unaware of what showing her actions tells.