Monday, December 28, 2009

Rant and Sleep-Deprived Musings

I’m a practical person. It’s that old cliché—a blessing and a curse.

I’m safe. I act safely. I carefully survey each course of action, each possible outcome, before embarking. Spontaneity is not in my vocabulary (obviously, since I just had to use spell check in order to get it down right). In my perfectly ordered and planned world, there’s no room for detours, for concessions to whims, for transient enjoyment, for trips or late-night runs or improvisation.

A professor took me to lunch—she insisted on driving me across town and spending an embarrassing amount of money on fine food for my rather nondiscriminatory college palate. Then she spent the next hour lecturing me on how I need to sign up for study abroad before it’s too late. I need to get out, apparently, see the world, experience other cultures, do something different. She’s right, but how? I have responsibilities, I explained, I’ve already overburdened my parents and I can’t ask them to take on any more, plus, how will I stay on track with core classes for my major? I can’t just step out of the country for a semester and expect that everything’s going to be hunky-dory. She dismissed my concerns as though they were mere trifles, easily solved, not worth worrying about. Surely I had a friend, she said to emphasize a point, surely I had a city-bred friend who was itching for the opportunity to spend time in the country, care for horses, enjoy the simple life for awhile. Really? Because I don’t think I know anyone willing to muck shit for six months time for no pay or reward. I think I made the professor sorry she asked me to go out to eat in the first place.

But people are wired differently (obviously!), and I’m a one track mind, homebody type, I guess. I could have gone to any college across the nation, like my pals at Cornell and UChicago, but I chose instead to stay right here in the place where I’d grown up to pursue with relentless, steadfast determination a goal I’d set for myself long before. Is this a character flaw on my part? Sometimes I think so. I look at friends of mine who embrace the moment, who are out their living their lives with gusto and nary a care. They flit from place to place, opportunity to opportunity, shape-shifting to suit the occasion and laughing all the while. I feel a twinge of jealousy and regret before I shake myself and return to present matters.

But there’s the other side of the coin. Like it or not, life is a series of hoops that need to be jumped through if one is to make it in Society. Planning for the future, making careful preparations, not allowing subtle but dangerous distractions to turn the course….these things are all important.

I know many people—kids of 18, 19, and 20 years—friends and classmates and peers of mine—who are married, having children of their own. Frankly, it scares me a little bit. Are they making a terrible mistake by committing to something so permanent at such a young age, or, a more frightening prospect, am I hopelessly behind? Should I, too, be “settling down?” Egads, no. I’m not ready; I don’t want it. I’ve got other plans.

I also known many people—adults of 18, 19, and 20 years—friends and classmates and peers of mine—who have no idea what it is they want to do with their lives. If you asked them, jokingly, as you would a child, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” they’d either stare at you blankly, comprehension failing, or instead rattle off a list of possibilities, none of which they have any real plans or means to pursue. Now is not the time for saying, “I want to be a princess or an astronaut or a trombonist or a surgeon.” That time has passed. You don’t have to know your life’s course, for crying out loud, but you need to have a definite plan. You need to be heading somewhere, even if you decide to change your destination along the way. You’ve got to grow up and snap out of it and work at something.

A happy medium between all extremes is what’s needed. Live now, but plan ahead. Be smart and careful. And so, a New Year’s resolution for me and a reminder for us all: Live a little more for today, learn to spell ‘spontaneity’ and then act on its principles. Don’t sacrifice the present for the tantalizing but all-too-distant future.

/end rant and sleep-deprived musings

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pay It Forward

This winter break has already been a much-needed relief from external pressures. I’ve been putting in quite a few hours at work, but I’ve also turned to some old abandoned projects to keep myself entertained. I decided to try my hand at watercolor painting to make my mom a Christmas present—a combined portrait of all of our horses. I haven’t dabbled in art since my junior year of high school, so I was a bit rusty, although pleased with the end result. I still haven’t figured out how to mount all the heads together on the matboard I bought, but I’m working on it. You can see other pictures here, and here, and here.

Today was my employer’s 26th annual ‘White and Bizarre Elephant Christmas Party,’ but my first year attending. I was unsure of what to expect; I knew some of the people, but not very well, and others were complete strangers—and of an utterly different social stratum than that with which I am accustomed. The food (all home-cooked) was quite good, though I craftily hid the lack of turkey on my plate, as my boss isn’t particularly fond of vegetarians. The gift exchange was interesting, to put it nicely. The gift I had brought was the hit of the afternoon and was “stolen” multiple times. A hand-crocheted mini-afghan my father won in a charity raffle, it was most popular and I was glad to see it go somewhere where it would be appreciated. A few raucous individuals, however, had found it most amusing to bring gag gifts to the party. One respectable older woman innocently plucked one of these nicely-wrapped beauties from the table only to uncover a plastic donkey which, when its ears were pulled, crapped out cigarettes. My loot was better, but only marginally—a set of nineties Wacky Fav-O-Rites tapes. Funny, I guess, but even if I had a cassette player, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be rockin’ out to Hot Rod Lincoln.

As I was helping with clean-up following the festivities, the farm foreman, a kind-hearted man who’s lived a bit of a hard life, came up to me and offered me his gift, a box of nice chocolates. Surely he wanted them, I said, or at least his kids or grandkids would eat them. But he was insistent—said he had too much candy as it was and didn’t need any more. I thanked him profusely and we wished each other a merry Christmas.

It was a small thing, but it got me thinking. I’m not by any means a bad person (I think!), but I am self-centered, self-absorbed, and, at times, greedy. I think we all are. If we could all be instead perhaps a bit more generous, a bit more concerned about others….

But it’s an old argument, one we all know and believe in yet at the same time, in our mocking cynicism, dismiss as hopelessly naïve and ridiculous. Human nature is too cruel, we say, this is the way things are. Yeah, it’s great if you’re a good person, but dammit, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there.

I’m not one to preach The Reason for the Season. Given my glaring lack of religious convictions, that would be rather hypocritical. But still, Christmas is a time of family, coming together, charity, love, joy, peace on Earth and goodwill to men. So, a challenge for us all—one we should already do daily, yet all too often forget: this holiday season, pay it forward. Drop the cynicism (so what if no good deed goes unpunished?) and instead act not for reward, not for karma, but out of genuine, pure, unadulterated love.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Now What?

Yes, that is the question: Now what? My idle hands are anxious. This semester was, undoubtedly, the hardest I’ve ever worked for a class. Organic I was brutal, and now I sit on tenterhooks waiting for the final grade postings. If I pulled an A on the final, I’ll have an A in the class; if not, I’ll have to settle for the first B of my life. Which is a bit ridiculous, when you think about it, and the sooner this perfectionist streak is broken, the better for my health, but still—it’s the principle of the thing.

What did I learn? Hard work. Hours. Patience. Practice. Teamwork. All things that should have been obvious from the get-go, but apparently not so much for me. A D on the first test sobered me up quick. It’s not about Organic, though, it’s about the sort of mindset I should have. Don’t sweat the trivial, but don’t give up in the face of adversity—all lessons far bigger than some stupid class I’ll have completely forgotten in a few years’ time.

I’m exhausted. My sentences are short, choppy, barely coherent. I feel like I’ve run a marathon. I’ve beaten myself down unnecessarily over the past few months, a foolish decision that’s led to nothing but severe back pain. Gah. John Keats: “Oh soothest Sleep, if so it please thee, close, in the midst of this thine hymn, my willing eyes.” Why do we make ourselves so miserable?

But now is a time of rest, relaxation, and recharging. A month of pause, with no scholastic obligations (save prepping for Organic II). I’ll work some, make a little money to pay off the horse, get caught back up with Jack Kerouac and Kahlil Gibran (how I’ve missed them!), enjoy the holidays, contemplate the New Year, eat until I bust my casing….

Thinking back to Thanksgiving, now, a week that I spent in cien horas de soledad. My parents were out of state visiting family; I was alone with the horses. On Thanksgiving Day I didn’t see a single other human being. I went a little crazy, just that fast in isolation—had some nice conversations with a few Red Tailed Hawks before I shook myself awake. Got up at five each morning to tend to the horses, then did a few hours of chores, turned my attention to paper-writing and studying for a few more hours, went to work, then back to chores, back to studying, sleep a few hours, repeat.

Five-thirty in the morning, pitch black. Cold, too, breath freezing in panted wisps. Cracking the slivered pointed shards of ice, plunging hand into water until it burns so cold that intense pain and dull numbness ensue. And, from all around, a chorus of coyotes in surround sound. Two packs, east and west, yipping and howling, all too near, an eerie, primal sound that stops me with instinctive fear, adrenaline. Some nearby dogs start up, too, and the neighbor’s rooster, predicting dawn, a symphony with a half-mile radius. How’s that for an experience?

Gave my zebra finches, whom I’ve had since third grade, to a favorite professor today for her daughter. I’ll miss their constant singing and cute little perch-hopping, but I guess they’ll make some little animal-crazy but mammal-allergic five-year-old happy. Got a new dog this weekend, too. Went on Petfinder and searched for an Adorable Beloved Dachshund for my parents. Found a shelter with 100 dogs and 22 cats all in need of homes, so happy to see us, barking and purring and jumping in their cages. Poor castaways. Picked out Suki fka Frances, and the rest is history. Cute little bugger, but pretty much devoid of personality. All she wants to do is curl up in a lap and sleep all day long.

Last night I set a few books and assorted paraphernalia out to study one last time, then shuffled off to find something to eat. I returned in time to snatch the above picture. That ain’t gonna fly, pooch.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

On Life and Death

I’m farm-sitting again. This morning, after finishing chores and feeding the menagerie, I pulled out of my employer’s drive and headed for home. Almost immediately I was confronted with a foreign unidentifiable object in the road; I braked and swerved. Perplexed, I slowed to look as I drove by. Was it a dead bloated calico cat? A bundled package of tattered papers? The world’s oddest-shaped piece of petrified driftwood?

The reality proved more sinister and more depressing. A great horned owl, full grown and large, lay spread-eagled on the ground, facedown over a young disemboweled possum. Both were stiff and cold. Rarely do I have the opportunity to see an owl, living or dead, and the sight of this majestic creature stirred me enough to bend down, pick it up, and move it off the ground. And what a beautiful thing it was, even in the stillness of death. One eye was closed, a papery opaque lid shut forever, but the other was cracked open, striking yellow, still staring solemnly. The beak was short, hooked, and powerful. The feathers were unbelievably soft and in varying shades of browns and earthtones. The puffy “horns” blew in the faint breeze, almost comical. Leathery gripping pads covered the bottoms of the feet, harsh talons still covered in sacrificial blood of the owl’s last supper. I could have sworn that at any moment the bird would wake, shake itself, give me a wicked look, rise, and fly away. I laid it reverently in the grass beside the road, gathered my composure, shivered in the cold, and resumed my drive.

Oddly enough, I had little sympathy for the possum and left it lying frozen to the pavement. Perhaps this was because it was common vermin, an everyday sort of roadkill. But more likely it was because it was the victim only of nature and so-called natural order—the food chain, The Way It Has Always Been. Its predator, however, had been snuffed out by something unnatural, a careless driver, a man-made folly, a tragedy, whether accidental or intentional, cold unfeeling machinery, hard pavement, eminent domain.

The day passed. I made the return trip in the black night. I passed the place where I had left the owl and peered into the darkness, but couldn’t make out the exact spot. And then—something in the road. Again, I braked and swerved. And lo and behold, there, on top of the very same possum, was another owl, this one very much alive. A barred owl this time, also large, white and black and gray. I stopped right beside it, as it showed no signs of moving out of my way. We exchanged a Look. “Fucking owls!” I said, a little more loudly than I had intended, despite my lack of an audience. “Stay out of the fucking road!” And, as though understanding, the raptor grabbed its meal in one clawed foot and hopped awkwardly to the grass, leaving the possum behind (presumably for later) before flying off irritably into the night. Silent wings. Another beautiful bird.

I can’t help but feel that there was some sort of lesson I was supposed to pick up on today. The impermanence of life, or the beauty of it? The give-and-take of it all?
And yesterday my family’s dog, Keaton the redbone coonhound, had to be euthanized. Sigh.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Out of Words

Was it you who spoke the words that things would happen, but not to me?
Oh, things are going to happen naturally
And I’m taking your advice, and looking on the bright side
And balancing the whole thing
But often times those words get tangled up in lines
And the bright light turns to night
Until the dawn it brings
Another day to sing about the magic that was you and me
‘Cause you and I both loved
What you and I spoke of
And others just read of
Others only dream of the love—the love that I love

--Jason Mraz

This is another current favorite song. I don’t know much about Jason Mraz (except that he seems to be another Sexy Modern Artist that scads of teenage girls enjoy swooning over), but I love every song of his that I’ve heard on the radio. He’s got a great voice and he’s obviously extremely talented, and his works are exceedingly creative and simultaneously meaningful, intellectual, and humorous. Great stuff to sing along with—albeit badly and at the top of my lungs—on a long drive.

See I’m all about them words
Over numbers, unencumbered, numbered words
Hundreds of pages, pages, pages for words
More words than I had ever heard and I feel so alive

It’s funny how the individual listener can interpret a song (or a work of art or a dance or anything, really) into something personally meaningful that may have nothing to do with the intent of its creator. This is the basis of “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” And in my hearing the refrain of this song, I was of course at once reminded of the title of this blog, my personal, globally public journal. I did not, as might be suspected, name it after the lyrics, which I had never heard until a few weeks ago. Still, the small coincidence was not insignificant to me.

You and I, you and I
Not so little, you and I, anymore
And with this silence brings a moral story
More importantly evolving is the glory of a boy
‘Cause you and I both loved
What you and I spoke of
And others just dream of
And if you could see me now
Well I’m almost finally, finally
Well I’m free

I’m also a bit obsessive compulsive in that I like things a very certain, specific, consistent way. I like symbolism and such, too. And this in the one-hundredth blog post, and today is the one-year anniversary of the first. Yes, I planned it that way.

And it’s okay if you have to go away
Just remember the telephone, well it works in both ways
But if I never ever hear them ring
If nothing else I think the bells inside
Have finally found you someone else and that’s okay
‘Cause I’ll remember everything you sang

A lot has changed for me in the past year, some for the better, and some for the worse. For one thing, I’m not longer a pathetic, skeered, antisocial freshman yearning for the long-lost glories of high school. Rather, I’ve developed into a confident, well-adjusted Biology major with a good job and a strong support network. I can’t complain a bit about work or school (excepting that blasted Orgo class). My equine life, on the other hand, has changed drastically. Of the five healthy, rideable, nice horses I had last year, one is dead of cancer, another is permanently crippled despite multiple treatments by multiple vets, and another is lame and unusable with a “fair” chance of recovery—but requiring very costly, involved procedures that leave her ill, swollen from allergies, and confined to a tiny pen, maddened by inactivity. With all of these setbacks, I’ve decided to call it quits on the barrel racing I once loved. A new chapter in my riding life is opening, and for the moment I don’t know where it will take me. Bring it on, whatever it is. And so last week I decided to buy another horse—a foolish choice that will leave me in debt for over a year—but I couldn’t let the guy go to an unknown fate. He deserved a good retirement, and I deserved the companionship of another equine friend. So.

Oh, you and I both loved
What you and I spoke of
And others just read of
And if you could see me now,
Well, I’m almost finally out of
Finally out of
Well, I’m almost finally, finally out of words.

Well, I’m not exactly out of words, but I am almost finally out of Almost, Finally. Given the circumstances, I think the blog is due its second incarnation. And so, voila! I give you Carbon Dating.

As I said before, I wanted to do something “special” for the 100th post, 1-year landmark. So I looked about for a way to update the layout—skin, it’s called, apparently—and I went on a search around the Internet for a suitable background to download. Whenever possible, I like to use my own images and be as original as possibly so I’m not stealing others’ creativity. I tried to commission a new skin from some bored anime-obsessed Australian kids, but they seemed to think my specifications were too restricting and ignored me. So I scoured the Web for a substitute and, to make a long story short, eventually figured out how to program my own. Not the best, by any means, but considering that I have exactly 0 knowledge of HTML and the only image programs I have to work with are Windows Photo Gallery and MS Paint, well, I’m a little proud. But I do ask for any help with suggestions or in modifying it. I think the background works best on computers with larger monitors, and there’s not much I can do the change the size there. How do the colors of the font work? Is it legible? Too hard on the eyes? I’ll take any feedback or criticism, and if you subscribe in a reader, I’d appreciate it if you’d trot on over to the actual page and look it over to let me know if it works or not. You’ll be missing out on awesomeness if you don’t. ;)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Song of Praise

On a trail ride the other day I spooked up a few deer. They retreated into the woods, and I followed, mounted. The few does that reside in that pasture are accustomed to seeing horses, so while they remained wary and alert, they allowed me to approach them slightly so long as I didn’t make any fast moves and kept a reasonable distance. I pulled out my camera and tried to focus it on the doe closest to me, then snapped away several times before she disappeared in the undergrowth. But truly she had vanished long before she turned and trotted off, for her coloration was so perfectly matched to that of the mud and decaying leaves and dull gray bark of trees that, had I not kept my eye focused on her movements from the start, I would have never known she was there. I attempted to find the deer in the pictures later when I loaded them on my computer. I knew they were there, since I had taken the photographs, yet I honestly could not find them in several of the images. I wish I had the ability to evaporate into thin air like that—poof, you’re gone; now you see it, now you don’t.

I spent the past week studying relentlessly (or, rather, in short sporadic but intense intervals punctuated by various complete wastes of time) for five tests, ranging from incredibly easy to insanely difficult. The class that corresponded to the latter category was Organic Chemistry, a real doozie of a course with an exam nearly every week covering comprehensive, complicated material. I practiced for hours doing and redoing mechanism problems, tracing the paths of electrons from one orbital to another, forming new products by reacting with other reagents, acids and bases and salts and cyclic molecules and conjugated dienes and halohydrins and substituted alkynes all invading my dreams at night, spinning and combining and decomposing and adding and combusting….

It’s a frustrating process, predicting what will happen or completing a challenging multi-step synthesis problem, but hugely rewarding and invigorating when you accomplish it successfully. And, really, as much as I hate to admit it I find myself quoting the claims of the textbook—it’s “beautiful.” But not so much for the reasons given by the authors, though they are certainly valid and improving productivity in industry is undoubtedly important, but more for the paradoxical complex simplicity of it all. For in tracing an electron, a comparison can easily be drawn that extends to one’s own life.

An electron, by itself, is virtually nothing. Infinitesimally small, it carries a negative electric charge arbitrarily given the value of -1. Electrons are in constant rapid orbit around the nucleus of every atom, and they are endlessly being lost and gained and shared in the game of chemical reactions, bonding molecules together, forming new compounds, transmitting electric currents, vibrating furiously as they reach new “excited” states, jumping out of orbitals, free, charged, loose, wild. Individually insignificant, one of countless googolplexes in existence in a concept so massive we could never hope to comprehend, yet, when acting in synchronism, they are the very stuff that makes and moves the world.

And so are we.

If I were to write a memoir today about the first nineteen and a half years of my life, I would call it Carbon Dating: The Secret Love Lives of Molecules. And I would try to express this beautiful concept in words that wouldn’t do the subject justice For these tiny shreds of matter are the driving force for everything we know. Break down everything into some 100+ elements and categorize them on the periodic table, then turn them loose to smash into one another. What happened on that first day—that “let there be light” moment, the Big Bang, the spontaneous generation of the cosmos? Ever since then those elements have been synthesizing and creating and…here we are.

From the simple yet innovative attachment of two hydrogens bonded to an oxygen, to the hydrocarbon methane that then branches into alkanes and from there accumulates nitrogen and such until it folds and pleats into amino acids, proteins, tissues, organs, a leaf, a tree, a deer, and us. You and I are made of the stuff of stars, as they say—we’re all stardust.

And so it is. Unbelievable, inconceivable, all explanations completely implausible and illogical. Whether or not the metaphysical “exists” is no longer the question: it must, it does, eternal, permeating all. Call it a deity or a divine spark or a flash of pure magic energy or an instantaneous combustion and pop! there’s the first proton, something from nothing. A few billion years later, and look what’s happened. Everything.

And what is left?

Everything else.

Lift every voice and sing.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Oh, to be a Work of Art

I'm trying to tell you something about my life
Maybe give me insight between black and white
And the best thing you've ever done for me
Is to help me take my life less seriously
It's only life after all

Well darkness has a hunger that's insatiable
And lightness has a call that's hard to hear
I wrap my fear around me like a blanket
I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it
I'm crawling on your shores

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
There's more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in a crooked line
And the less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine

--Emily Saliers

I listen to the radio all the time these days on my daily commutes to and from school and home and work and rehearsal. And late at night when I was secluded out in Nowheresville during my house-sitting stint, when I had nothing but homework and the Internet to keep me company, I tuned into the local variety station. During those late late hours, stretching sometimes ‘til 2 in the morning, I discovered the radio show Delilah. The title deejay serves as a psychologist/mentor/mother-figure/marriage counselor/role model/friend to her listeners, who call in with requests for love songs and anecdotes about their children and uncles and estranged boyfriends. Across the country, working overtime in cramped cubicles or driving through winding roads with a lover or tucking children into bed after a bath and a story, we all heard these personal stories and empathized. Then Delilah would select a tune and the waves would fill the room and I’d snuggle down deeper into bed. Music is a powerful thing. This tune by the Indigo Girls is a current favorite, both for its melodic qualities and overall catchiness and for its powerfully compelling lyrics.

And I went to see the doctor of philosophy
With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee
He never did marry or see a B-grade movie
He graded my performance, he said he could see through me
I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind
Got my paper and I was free

I stopped by the bar at 3 a.m.
To seek solace in a bottle or possibly a friend
And I woke up with a headache like my head against a board
Twice as cloudy as I'd been the night before
And I went in seeking clarity

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountains
Yeah we go to the doctor, we go to the mountains
We look to the children, we drink from the fountains
Yeah we go to the Bible, we go through the workout
We read up on revival and we stand up for the lookout
There's more than one answer to these questions
Pointing me in a crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine

“Yeah,” I say in my best British accent à la Rupert Grint, “I’ve got to get my priorities straightened.”

And that’s what it comes down to. What we learn from our parents or from professors doesn’t always line up with what we learn in the School of Hard Knocks. The idealism of philosophy and religion doesn’t exactly jive with Real Life. So what do we choose? Do we toss aside our quest for a “definitive” as unattainable foolishness, and go on about our merry ways, forgetting the enthusiasm with which we once embraced our ideals? Do we, instead, live completely impractically, refusing to sacrifice our beliefs, even at the sake of happiness and worldly success?

When we’re young we set our hearts upon some beautiful idea
Maybe something from a holy book or French philosophia
Upon the thoughts of better men than us we swear by and decree a
Perfect way to end the war, a perfect way to be
A work of art. Oh, to be a work of art

But in time a thought comes tugging on the sleeve edge of our minds
Perhaps no perfect way exists at all, just many different kinds
Oh, but if it’s just a thing of taste then everything unwinds
For without an absolute how can the absolute define
A work of art? Oh, to be a work of art

--The Guggenheim Grotto

Or, instead, do we strive for what is Right, doing only the best we can, looking for inspiration wherever we can find it, taking our happiness as opportunities present themselves, but never forgetting our origins and the ideas of our youths, and always searching for excellence, goodness, and the best thing we know how to do?

No matter what, we’ve got to decide for ourselves and come to terms with our decisions. Limbo is no place for the living.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Argh. My right hip aches and my left calf keeps seizing up on me and there’s a jagged burning between my shoulder blades. I’ll be lucky if I can walk tomorrow.

See, I showed up at work today and figured I needed to catch up with a few of the horses-in-training that I’d been neglecting due to my school schedule and general laziness. After momentary deliberation, I selected the four-year-old who hadn't been ridden in over two months. No big deal—there was a lot of commotion going on around the barn because they were hosting a driving clinic on the property, but while the horse (whom we shall call "Poseidon" to make his rather unique real name less googleable) seemed a little spooky, he wasn't too bad. I tacked him up and turned him loose to trot in the arena a little bit. No problem.

I've seen him buck before, both out in the pasture feeling fresh and the first time he felt a flank cinch. Let me tell you, that pony can buck. I've read notes in the log from the previous trainer, detailing how Poseidon trashed her. Once, after watching his antics, I made a pact with myself that if he ever tried it with me, I'd do my best to ride it out as a sort of personal challenge. Normally my first instinct is to safely bail so the dismount is on my terms, but I thought that it would show some real skill and ‘cowgirlitude’ if I was able to stick through one of his fits.

Of course, I had completely forgotten this little internal agreement, and that promise was the last thing on my mind today. All I really remember is fiddling with my jean leg, hitching up the knee so I could bend and swing and push up with the stirrup....

...and then I was looking at the suede of the saddle seat far below me, and I was coming down, but far off center, perhaps behind the cantle, and what the fu—

—and then up again, thrown skyward, slam down, repeat. I figured out what was happening by the third jump, but that didn't help me situate myself all that much as I flopped haphazardly in suspended motion.

I took the mental time to note that Poseidon had that peculiar bucking style that you see in a lot of rodeo broncs: head pointed to the ground, back humped, legs straight. He didn't buck so much as launch himself mightily, huge leaps punctuated by tiny hesitations as he caught his breath and coiled up again (and in retrospect, these split-second pauses must have been what saved me).

I realized at this point that I was riding sans stirrups and sans saddle horn. Both of my hands had a death grip on the reins, which were my sole handhold and sole contact with the horse. I had been carrying a wood stick for a crop, and I felt it crush into the horn and snap in two as the roiling animal plummeted earthward. My legs flapped stupidly to the side, plenty of air clearance between them and the fenders. I readjusted myself the best I could in an attempt to gain some centered gravity, as I was tilting dangerously from side to side. Meanwhile, I was desperately looking for an opportunity to throw myself clear of the raging beast, but alas, I found that my safest position was to stay aboard unless I wanted to land underneath pounding hooves.

In five or so of these mighty leaps (no, I didn't count), the gelding made it clear across the arena. He was heading for the fence, now, and I was certain that he would run into it, scrape me against it, break my leg, toss me off, and leave me tangled in a heap of splintered wood. I braced myself for impact, but the horse, realizing that he was about to slam head-first into the gate, slowed momentarily, and that was just the pause I needed to take control of the situation. I unhooked my jacket from the horn (where it had been trapped, pulling me forward and preventing me from grabbing my safety handle) and fumbled for my stirrups. Then, as Poseidon prepared to pivot and start the whole thing all over again in the other direction, I choked up on one of the reins, pulling his head to the side and preventing future bucking.

He stopped.

I breathed.

And looked around. A crowd of people had just been walking past on the way back from their lunch break. Only one straggler remained near the arena, however.

"Nobody saw that, right?" I asked her.

"Nope, didn't see a thing." She smiled and winked and walked on.

After replaying the whole event in my head, I honestly don't know how I stayed on. My boss said that it must have been because of my first-rate seat. Um, sure, except I was airborne most of the time. My seat was flying through the air a foot above the saddle, thankyouverymuch. No horn, no stirrups, no nothin'. And the hardest-bucking horse I’ve ever ridden. Guess I got lucky today. Thank God for instinct and reflexes.

Well, there’s an adrenaline rush for you. Good to have those every once in a while—keeps you alive, I guess. I’m just grateful that I’m able to type this and have neither a broken arm nor a broken head….even if my back is sore….

[The opening image, by the way, is an actual photograph of the incident. It looks black and white only because Poseidon is a white fewspot leopard and because I became rather blanched as all the color ran out of my face due to shock and horror. The edges are a smidge blurry because it was happening that fast.]

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Let's Overanalyze a Bit, Shall We?

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

--John Keats

I remember having to analyze this piece for a high school IB English class. It was one of my favorites of the dozens we covered for the sheer lyricism of its verses. It brings a whole new level to “poetry.”

There was a time when my training was so finely tuned that I could automatically break apart a poem like this line by line, pointing out assonance and alliteration, personification, metaphor, hyperbole, synaesthetic imagery. I could tell you whether the verses were written with iambic, trochaic, or dactylic meter, and what type of poem it was (sonnet or quatrain or lyric ballad), and recite the author’s biography, and give various interpretations for reoccurring motifs and themes. All of this came almost without thought, for I had practiced so many times that writing a paper became simply second nature. Critical analysis essays flow rapidly from the buttons on my keyboard, churning out paragraph after paragraph, closing in on the elusive Meaning of the Literature.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Ah, a personified season, given physical, anthropomorphic characteristics! Ah, the wildly winsome alliteration of “winnowing wind!” How artistic! How poetic! How romantic!

…but maybe there’s more to it than that. Perhaps I got too caught up in the literary devices at the expense of the actual essence of the poem. For works such as this are meant to be read, and understood, and enjoyed—they are meant to be interpreted, not as critical, stuffy works of literature, but by each unique reader. They are meant to speak to the psyche of every individual.

I saw that a new movie just came out about John Keats called Bright Star. It tells the story of his doomed affair with the love of his life. Sad story—particularly sad, since the poet died at age 25 of tuberculosis—but so fitting with the tragic romance of the time period.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,--
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Yes, Keats is simultaneously lamenting and revering the autumn of his days, as he dies a slow death while he should still be in the figurative spring of his youth. Metaphor! I say, but a metaphor that extends far beyond the dead poet’s self-pity and personal reflection.

It is autumn now, and the leaves are dying, the chloroplasts decaying to be recycled later, the leaves shining gold and vermillion, bright beauty, and then fading, crumpling, tearing away, falling, crispy, crunched beneath feet, rotting, turned to soil and detritus, which is aerated by earthworms, broken down, reused, nutrient-rich, obtained by the infinite root hairs of the great tree, incorporated, green leaf again. No life without death, no joy without sorrow, no triumph without failure. It’s the great paradox. And here is beauty. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Two Fridays ago, my parents took my injured mare, Bones, for her long-overdue MRI in Oklahoma. I wanted badly to go so I could care for my horse and tour the facilities at the veterinary hospital, but was unable to miss class and needed to stay home to care for the other animals. The news wasn’t particularly good: her digital flexor tendon is torn in three places. With protein injections, shockwave therapy, and at least four or five months of confinement to a 12’x12’ pen (aka hell on earth for a herd animal), she has a “fair” (~70%) chance of recovery. Oh, and it’s going to cost $3500. Yeah, I’m completely broke. Now, as I type this, she’s colicking and having some reactions to the shots and treatments she received earlier today. Lovely.

Later, last Tuesday, I took the long way home to enjoy a particularly vibrant sunset. I pulled over at my favorite bridge and peered out over the water of the swollen creek to catch the last glimpses of reflected pink clouds. I returned to my car as the sky went navy and passed the slumped form of a dead black dog by the side of the road. Pity, I thought, and that was all, until I saw its two live companions. That necessitated another stop. The big spotted one ran off terrified, but the little limping black one with the chewed up face, droopy tail, and obvious leg injuries was all too happy to be hoisted into my backseat. Now she won’t leave. Who wants a puppy?

And then the rain came. A torrential downpour that turned the parking lots into lakes; the streets into rivers; the campus grounds into marshes. My umbrella couldn’t protect me from the monsoon as I slogged through a literal three-inches of flowing water on the sidewalk (ruining my favorite shoes, I might add—a beloved pair of suede Rocketdogs, the cool kind that fasten with Velcro). The eeriest thing, however, was the presence of the earthworms. I didn’t realize what they were, at first, the tiny pink squiggles lining the pavement at regular several-inch intervals. Pale lines, floating and sinking and writhing under the rippling surface of the water. How many tens of thousands of had emerged from their soppy earthen tunnels only to drown on the sidewalk or be smashed underneath my feet? A martyrdom of annelids.

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and



balloonMan whistles

--ee cummings

While the heavens poured down, I made a realization—nay, admission—that I hope in time will prove cathartic. Let it rain.

Monday, October 5, 2009

I Dreamt a Dream

I Dreamt a Dream! what can it mean?
And that I was a maiden Queen:
Guarded by an Angel mild;
Witless woe was ne’er beguil'd!
And I wept both night and day
And he wip'd my tears away
And I wept both day and night
And hid from him my hearts delight
So he took his wings and fled:
Then the morn blush'd rosy red:
I dried my tears & arm’d my fears,
With ten thousand shields and spears.
Soon my Angel came again;
I was arm'd, he came in vain:
For the time of youth was fled
And grey hairs were on my head

--William Blake

Last night I had the strangest dream. Rarely do I remember my dreams, but this one came back to me in my early waking moments and I hastened to scribble down notes so I wouldn’t forget. It involved people I had known in high school, at least one college professor, my parents, my employer, and others whom I didn’t know. We were all engaged in some kind of activity—some learning or personal growth exercise. The beginning is murky. Something about…leaning over a barrel of water, with a gleaming horse eye staring back at me and the reflections of hideous caricatures and cruel faces bouncing on and off the surface, with what explanation I cannot fathom.

The culmination of these activities involved a high platform overlooking a creek. The point, as I understood it, was to jump in the water, observe the ecosystem (huge alligator snapping turtles lurked everywhere, but they were totally benign unless provoked), and estimate the volume of the flowing water in gallons. This value would then be compared with the volume of one’s own blood to show how utterly small and insignificant the individual was. I was the first to go, and as I crept down the rocky bank, a cold burst of water spurted out from a dam system underneath the bridge. I whined about the temperature; my friends laughed and splashed cold water at me. Then I waded into the creek and soon the others followed suit.

Following along the creek bed, there was a large building that somewhat resembled a cross between a sunroom and a planetarium. (In fact, I believe the whole thing, creek included, may have been enclosed in a huge warehouse of sorts.) I entered the structure, which was incredibly dark inside. It was surrounded on three sides by windows, and through these was a gorgeous winter scene fit to grace a Christmas card. Silver-blue light shone on a frozen lake, glistening on the tops of show-covered evergreens, bounced from the smooth surfaces of gently sloping white hills. I stood in awe of the beauty for a while, then returned “outside” to the creek. Before, it had been spring or fall, with cool weather but greenery all around. Now snow lay on the ground, although the trees were uncovered and still sported vibrant green leaves. Additionally, the banks were now studded with suburban houses, neatly arranged and looking as though they had always been there. The juxtaposition between the soft blanket of snow and summery foliage and unmarred houses was quite odd, but of course in the sense of the dream it was easily accepted.

I returned to the observation window room. The scene had changed to one of horror. Now a huge building resembling an airport was in view, with what appeared to be a parking lot stretching out before me. Fragments of a broken plane lay in pieces out among a few abandoned cars. Everything was covered in layers of thick ice, solid, inches deep, coating every surface, icicles draping down throughout the deserted carnage scene. What tragedy befell this place? I mused. What disaster occured here; what happened to the people?

Again I went outside; the snow was gone, as was the creek. Now there were simply houses arranged neatly along a plain yellow-lined road.

One final trip to the winter room: The terminal had vanished, replaced by a sea of slushy melting ice. Antarctica, perhaps? The melting of polar ice caps? The coming of summer? The ocean was cold; the ice was broken and floating eerily; night was falling while tiny stars twinkled in the black sky.

I turned to a companion and commented on the changes, the strange disparity between the snow and summer outside, the oddness of the lake/airport/ocean room.

And then my boss the mystic was beside me, and she repeated a snipped of a conversation that we had just yesterday. “Time is not linear, as we imagine it to be. Instead, it is multidimensional.”

And then I was awake, and the snippets of memory were fleeting.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Fall is fast approaching, and through some innate intuition (or, perhaps, because the trees are turning brown, the days are getting shorter, and the nights are getting colder—and because the weatherman and the calendar say so) I can sense the impending season.

This also means that an inexplicable and unavoidable humor change accompanies the shift in temperature. The other day I shuddered from a bad case of the chills and drew myself up tight inside my warm hoodie, thinking that I was coming down with a cold or swine flu, until I realized that the cause of my suffering was entirely external and environmental. The sky was gray; the air was gray; the mood was gray. Fat droplets of foggy mist condensed on every available surface and the ground was soggy; the roads slick. I was irritable and depressed with no good reason, the ill medieval vapors apparently possessing my subconscious. Even the realization of this fact did little to improve my foul mood.

The horses, however, are affected quite differently. Despite a relatively mild summer, they still welcome the cooler shift from hot days. Last week a front came through, bringing with it wild breezes, dark clouds, and torrential rains that flooded the creeks, washed out the roads, shut down traffic and left me confined to my home, unable to pass over the bridges which roiled with dark frothy river water. Before the storm arrived, however, the horses sensed the impending event and perked up, excited. They charged and reeled in the mud, galloping madly from one end of the pasture to the other, bucking and rearing and wheeling like colts. Even Rebel, my retired cripple who generally hobbles pitifully despite a plethora of pain meds, decided to get in on the action and loped about, carrying his head and tail regally like the great horse he once was.

I laughed and watched them play for a while, their antics effectively brightening my mood. Lather, though, as the storm hit and all-too-close flashes of electricity split the sky, I was less than impressed. The rain was pouring down (four inches in as many hours) and I dashed about through the field trying to lure the horses in so they wouldn’t get struck by lightning. This, of course, entailed putting myself at risk as I stomped and slid in the standing water, brandishing a bucket of grain and a leadrope, begging the disgruntled sopping ponies to follow me to safety. They wouldn’t budge except to avoid my grasp, and then they’d return to their standard head-drooping, butt-to-wind posture. Then a bolt struck the ground not a few hundred yards away with a sickening crack, we all jumped and spooked, and I retreated to the safety of the barn post haste.

[This reminds me of the only time in my memory when I can recall truly being scared for my life. It was a night with a storm of twice this magnitude, with wild flashes of bright branching bolts illuminating the inky sky at frequent intervals. The rain was falling so fiercely that all other sounds were drowned out save for the loud crashes and deep rumblings of thunder. Again, I stupidly ran out, blind in the blackness, attempting to jingle in the scared horses. Lightning flashed all around me, but I had made it nearly all the way to my destination when a particularly violent and close bolt pierced the sky, accompanied by an ear-splitting boom and then nothing. The light in the barn I had been using to guide my path was gone (I later learned that the power was out) and I had never felt so vulnerable as in that moment. I was certain that I would be struck and killed, but still I managed to turn and run back to safety, so petrified that I collapsed when I arrived and was nearly sick. Yeah, so not doing that again.]

Well, eventually things calmed down, the rain stopped, crews were able to repair the roads, and the sun came out to dry the earth. Soon the sugar maple trees on Drury’s campus will turn their brilliant shades of red and orange, and then fall, and then we’ll settle in for another winter—and perhaps hibernate in our winter lethargy until spring.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


The first beagles showed up several months ago, trotting alongside the highway. They sported collars and tags, but the owner was unconcerned when called and said not to worry about it—they’d find their way back home. Then one day at work another beagle showed up with a little orange cat as a companion. Both were friendly, sweet, and in good health. I posted a “lost and found” ad on Craigslist, but no one claimed them. The dog was microchipped and registered to a breeder in Arkansas, but he never returned phone calls. My boss decided to feed and care for the pair while searching for a suitable home, even going so far as to take them in for surgery. As it turned out, the cat was already spayed, and the beagle was already pregnant. An operation cured that—too many unwanted pets in the world already, and these strays could obviously attest to that. Still, two months later, no one has offered to take them. Both are pretty fantastic animals—young, cute, affectionate, respectful, healthy, house-broken. Huh.

And then, last week, I was driving home with my mom when we noticed a dog shambling down the pavement. I would have kept going, with my failing compassion and growing cynicism, but in a turn of character my mom instructed me to pull over.

Immediately the dog approached us, cowering and scraping the ground and whining pitifully. She slumped into a puddle of loose hide over bones at our feet. The most noticeable aspect of her appearance was her “pot-belly,” or rather, her hugely swollen and distended teats, obviously the result of nursing a recent litter. The rest of her, however, was painfully emaciated, with the flanks drawn up, the ribs lining the barrel like bars of a cage, and the spine jutting up along the top like a ridgeback. The edges of her ears were torn and bloody and covered in miniscule seed ticks, while her tri-colored coat was dull and filthy. Her paws were raw with pink hairless sores from the rough asphalt. All in all, she cut a pitiful picture as she cringed on the ground.

I produced a few packages of the horrible gas station “cheesy peanut butter cracker” variety, and she gratefully snatched and snarfed the offerings whole. All except the last two, that is, for those she carried carefully away, disappearing through underbrush along the road until she found the perfect place to bury them for later, no doubt fearing future famine.

These actions were so heartbreakingly adorable that it was immediately decided that the dog would have to come home at once. She hopped right in the passenger side when encouraged and spent the ride home crawling on top of me, flailing around, making a mess, and generally wrecking the (*cough*) pristine condition of my car.

I named her Luka. She’s a good dog. She stays put and doesn’t bark excessively, unless she’s trailing some real or imagined varmint. She plays with our dachshund and comes with us on trail rides, something we can’t trust our own dogs to do. After getting her wormed and feeding her well, she’s starting to look pretty nice, too. And now it’s time to find a home for her. Someone volunteered, and we’ll see if that goes through. My parents and I will donate money toward her spaying fund for whoever takes her.

Yeah, but I’m kinda gonna miss her.

Oh, and did I mention that I don’t even like dogs?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Lamb to the Slaughter

I saw this news article posted on Facebook last night by a former art teacher. Her response was simply “hmmmm,” and I too found the implications somewhat unsettling.

It’s not that I find the slaughter of the sheep morally reprehensible. While I subscribe to my holier-than-thou vegetarianism, I still begrudgingly support the industry through my choices and actions. And I would have no problem with it whatsoever if the process was carried out humanely (as currently it so seldomly is). But I digress.

The problem I have is what I view as the indoctrination of children. Yes, they’ve got to learn about life and death sometime. Yes, they need to develop responsibility. Yes, they need to know where food comes from, and that the world isn’t sunshine and roses, and that sometimes bad things have to be done for personal benefit (but then again, is the latter something we really want anyone knowing or acting on?). Yes, I think in this case some of the parents may have been naïve and overprotective. But still.

Most children, particularly urban ones who were not raised in a farm setting, would find the idea of the intentional killing of a personal pet abhorrent at best, even if they knew that this was the intent all along. If anything, lots of kids seem to be overly-sentimental and clingy. It’s a developmental phase we all go through. My point is just that the majority of kids, it seems to me, would rather not condone the death of an animal they were so intimately involved with.

I read an update saying that some of the children were emotionally scarred following Marcus’ demise (gee, ya think?). And the headmistress is receiving death threats, and there’s been talk of burning down the school…that, of course, is taking it way too far. Again, I’ve got to reiterate that I don’t think the adults involved in sponsoring the project are evil murderers, but I do think they’re on the callous and irresponsible side.

My problem is this: Ethical issues and responsibility are things that take a lifetime to develop. I don’t think that schoolchildren have the age or experience required to cultivate a real appreciation for and understanding of moral issues this complex. Yes, at some point we all need to be disillusioned with our view of the ideal world, but shouldn’t we postpone the cynicism and disappointment as long as we can, letting kids be kids and breaking the news to them slowly?

This is a real life lesson for the students, isn’t it? Part of it teaches about the circle of life, and the food industry, and the role of agriculture, and the importance of responsibility. But part of it is more sinister: Don’t spare a friend in his time of need if you stand to profit from his loss. Money is more important than relationships. Love is weakness; emotional detachment is strength.

Scary stuff…

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Roughin' It

I’m a third of the way through a three-week farm-sitting stint in the middle of 225 secluded country acres, and I’ve got to say that (despite the wireless Internet access and very nice modern commodities), I’m starting to miss the comforts of home. Or maybe it’s just that I’m getting sick to death of all of my roommates.

I can hear them scuttling around at night. One was so loud and sounded so big that I was certain that it was a mouse or perhaps a wombat. I was too afraid (and too tired) to turn on the lamp and look. The worst ones are the giant black beetles, which seem to multiply exponentially every night. Naturally, they’re attracted to the light of my computer screen and dive-bomb me when I’m typing late at night. Or they crawl right into my bed, prompting me to abandon my philanthropic “live and let live” philosophy and hurl them forcibly into the nearest wall. Yesterday morning I awoke to discover that a veritable herd of giant black carpenter ants had discovered the orange juice concentrate residue in the sink and taken up residence there. Then there are the plethora of multicolored moths that cling to the walls and ceiling, but they don’t bother me too much. The only thing that really alarmed me was the cockroach that crawled out of my hoodie when I went to pull it over my head. A person can only take so much.

The critters are perfectly welcome, as long as they stay outside. There was a lovely large brown mantis hanging around my door the other day, but Maggie the beagle quickly incapacitated it with a chomp and left it mortally wounded on the deck. Three bright green tree frog sentinels guard the doorway, perfectly spaced and arranged by increasing size. They can stay. Maybe they’ll do away with some of my other visitors.

The wall hangings inside my domicile are nice, too. There’s the cryptic alien cactus landscape and a framed copy of the Standing Orders of St. Thomas’s Hospital (dated 1699-1752 and including such pearls of wisdom as “Patients shall not Swear, nor take God’s name in vain, nor revile, nor strike or beat another, nor steal Meat or Drink, Apparel, or other thing, one from the other” and “no Person shall be received into the House who is visited, or suspected to be visited, with the Plague, Itch, Scald Head or other Infectious diseases”). My personal favorite is the perplexing embroidery of the lovely medieval couple posed in front of their castle; the countess sporting a rather unnerving one-sided wardrobe malfunction.

The mornings are misty and humid as I fumble around with weekend chores, carrying sloppy buckets of wetted oats to the stallions, dishing out the dogs’ morning chicken and rice, and flushing the algae out of the stock tanks. When I arrive late at night after a day at school, the curving country roads are thick with fog and the eyes of cats and raccoons glitter from the creek. And there are frogs everywhere, crossing every square inch of asphalt, a parody of that videogame I used to play. I was never very good at “Frogger,” and frequently got smashed by cars right around Level 2. I’m afraid I’ve taken out quite a few of these guys in the past few nights, too—but I can’t help it. They’re everywhere, and they jump so fast and so far and right underneath the wheels.

But nothing could prepare me for the sight I saw returning home in the late morning last weekend. Driving between two big barbed-wired pastures, I caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye. I slowed and turned to look, and my jaw fell in what I’m sure was an impressive display of incomprehension and incredulity. Deer aren’t exactly uncommon out here—dead ones dot the highway during breeding season, and there are several does that frequently pay a visit to my own pasture. But a buck is a rare sight—and here were six of them, all big, all sporting a fine rack of antlers, all just on the other side of the fence from me and running together in a tight group. None of them was monstrously large, but they were all very good sized, full grown, and certain welcome trophies for even the most discerning hunter. I don’t know a thing about whitetail social structure, but I’ve never seen a herd of big bucks moving together as a unit. As I watched, they returned my gaze, then loped off and hopped a fence in the distance.

Of course, as with everything, there are frustratingly heartbreaking ethical issues and mounds of stress to deal with out here. But, on the plus side: the work isn’t hard at all, I’ve gotten some pretty cool shots in the misty mornings, and the pay ain’t half bad.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

One of Those Things

Last week, Haley died.

She was 17 years old.

I didn’t know her well at all. I went to school with her, but she was two grades behind me and while I recognized her when I passed her in the hall, we never once exchanged words. She was the daughter of one of the teachers and heavily involved in dance team, theatre, and the bugle corps.

Then she got sick. I remember that clearly, because her decline was broadcasted around the school by sympathetic media students who featured her in a story and teachers who talked sadly about her situation to concerned kids. We watched as she was left confined to a wheelchair, pulled out of school, lost her motor skill, struggled to speak, was put on a respirator…

Her diagnosis, as I recall, was a long, frustrating, and heartbreaking battle. In the end, it was found that she had ALS—Lou Gehrig’s disease. The “typical” ALS patient is a 50-year-old male. Haley was one of the youngest people ever diagnosed with the illness.

The entire situation was extremely sad. She fought hard and hung on and made it a lot longer than anyone expected her to, considering how quickly her body began to fail her.

When I heard the news via Facebook that Haley had passed away, I was stunned. And then I imagined what it would be like to be her—a girl even younger than myself faced so suddenly and absolutely with mortality. Forced to suffer and fade away at what should have been the rising prime of life. Or what about her mother, dealing with the death of her baby? Such a tragedy. Such a loss. Such a waste.

No religious-philosophical musings can approach a “meaning” behind all of this. It is what it is, I guess. But that doesn't make it fair or easy or right. Que será, será.

But I’m sorry, as we all are when we hear of something so drastically sad. I wish peace and comfort to Haley’s family. And wherever Haley is, I wish her the same.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hi Standerds R Us

Yesterday I had to walk a mile and a half. Or, rather, the instructions were to “walk, jog, run, or whatever” six laps around the track. I thought I’d be clever and alternate between walking and jogging a lap, for a total “running” distance of three-quarters of a mile. I was great at the time, but today I can hardly walk. Damn. I guess I really am in terrible shape.

But I surpassed what nearly every other student did during class (yes, believe it or not, this is a college course). Way to set the bar high. The instructor obviously doesn’t care in the slightest about the course material or the students, and has exceedingly low expectations for our performance. She’s also five months pregnant, and she flat-out told us that if the baby comes early, we’ll all get a guaranteed 100% on our finals. Awesome enticement to study and try hard. Now how am I supposed to care about the material if she doesn’t?

For the most part, I think people will perform at the level they are expected to perform. That is, if they’re “supposed” to do poorly—or even have moderate success—it’s going to end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. Mediocrity and apathy breed….mediocrity and apathy. Raise the standards, however, and I think a lot of people will rise to the challenge. Give ‘em a push, and they’ll usually learn to fly.

I’m not much of a social theorist, but these to me seem like fairly obvious observable trends. I’m not blaming the fitness teacher—I’m blaming the societal mindset that tells us that this sort of thing is acceptable, normal, par for the course. While technology and our scientific capabilities and knowledge have increased drastically in the past decades, our educational and professional standards have declined (or so I’ve been told, and the limited evidence I’ve seen has supported that). Why? Why do we coddle our students, and then throw them out into the real world to, well, continue with their mediocrity and immature sense of entitlement? Heck, I know I’m a little guilty myself—most of us are. We like the easy life.

But if we don’t challenge ourselves to grow, who will?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Never Cross the Same River Twice

Thus conversing, they entered sufficiently deep into the wood to secure themselves from the observation of any casual passenger along the forest-track. Here they sat down on a luxuriant heap of moss; which, at some epoch of the preceding century, had been a gigantic pine, with its roots and trunk in the darksome shade, and its head aloft in the upper atmosphere. It was a little dell where they had seated themselves, with a leaf-strewn bank rising gently on either side, and a brook flowing through the midst, over a bed of fallen and drowned leaves. The trees impending over it had flung down great branches, from time to time, which choked up the current, and compelled it to form eddies and black depths at some points; while, in its swifter and livelier passages, there appeared a channel-way of pebbles, and brown, sparkling sand. Letting the eyes follow along the course of the stream, they could catch the reflected light from its water, at some short distance within the forest, but soon lost all traces of it amid the bewilderment of tree-trunks and underbrush, and here and there a huge rock, covered over with gray lichens. All these giant trees and boulders of granite seemed intent on making a mystery of the course of this small brook; fearing, perhaps, that, with its never-ceasing loquacity, it should whisper tales out of the heart of the old forest whence it flowed, or mirror its revelations on the smooth surface of a pool. Continually, indeed, as it stole onward, the streamlet kept up a babble, kind, quiet, soothing, but melancholy, like the voice of a young child that was spending its infancy without playfulness, and knew not how to be merry among sad acquaintance and events of sombre hue.

"O brook! O foolish and tiresome little brook!" cried Pearl, after listening awhile to its talk. "Why art thou so sad? Pluck up a spirit, and do not be all the time sighing and murmuring!"

But the brook, in the course of its little lifetime among the forest-trees, had gone through so solemn an experience that it could not help talking about it, and seemed to have nothing else to say. Pearl resembled the brook, inasmuch as the current of her life gushed from a well-spring as mysterious, and had flowed through scenes shadowed as heavily with gloom.
But, unlike the little stream, she danced and sparkled, and prattled airily along her course.

"What does this sad little brook say, mother?" inquired she.

thou hadst a sorrow of thine own, the brook might tell thee of it," answered her mother, "even as it is telling me of mine! But now, Pearl, I hear a footstep along the path, and the noise of one putting aside the branches. I would have thee betake thyself to play, and leave me to speak with him that comes yonder."

The child went singing away, following up the current of the brook, and striving to mingle a more lightsome cadence with its melancholy voice. But the little stream would not be comforted, and still kept telling its unintelligible secret of some very mournful mystery that had happened--or making a prophetic lamentation about something that was yet to happen--within the verge of the dismal forest. So Pearl, who
had enough of shadow in her own little life, chose to break off all acquaintance with this repining brook. She set herself, therefore, to gathering violets and wood-anemones, and some scarlet columbines that she found growing in the crevices of a high rock.

--Nathaniel Hawthorne

Summer, or rather summer vacation, has drawn to a close amidst unseasonably cool weather. It should be in the high nineties this time of year; instead, we’re setting record lows for the month of August. It’s a welcome relief from the usual sweltering, stifling heat and humidity.

I took advantage of this pleasant spell to put in as many hours at work as I could squeeze before tomorrow’s classes. It was nice riding weather—even the four-year-old leopard mare who did her darndest to throw me today (unsuccessfully, I might add) couldn’t make me lose my temper or appreciation for the breeze. And my parents and I went on a trail ride by the river, crossing the Pomme de Terre and enjoying the scenery. Our horses hardly broke a sweat.

Earlier, lost in thought, mourning the many tragedies of this year while still grasping at my remaining blessings, I had pulled the car over at my usual spot at the intersection of two farm roads near my house. I sauntered down the asphalt over the water and leaned over to gaze down. Ten, fifteen feet below the concrete bridge was a shallow, nearly stagnant creek collecting in puddles and dips between large white boulders. Countless minnows appeared in formation as I looked down, scattering as my shadow fell upon them. The schools of tiny fish stretched on as far as I could see—there must have been thousands of individuals within my small viewing frame. On the other side of the drop-off the story was the same: more water, more rocks, more fish. Their bodies flashed silver electric sparks of sunlight whenever they turned just so as the gentle current caught and tipped them. Dull brown minnow-turned-white-sparkle-for-an-instant. A play of light and treat for the senses.

And the water moved languorously on downstream, skirting beaten rocks and lapping the roots of grasses. You can never cross the same river twice, after all.

And what does this say to me? The take-home lesson is that we’ve got to forge ahead wherever the path may lead. We can look back, but we can’t go back. Yes, and so the rippled remembrances of our past billow out and fade to nothingness against the sloshing shoreline—carried softly on white breaking foam, pulled downstream by the torpid current and lost around a bend, but even out of sight still glittering in the sun.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Teh Internetz

As I type this, I’m also watching Dateline/MSNBC’s “To Catch a Predator.” If you haven’t seen it, the premise is this: Decoys portraying teenage girls pose in online chatrooms and lure potential sexual predators into meeting them at their “parents’ house” while they’re “home alone.” It’s a trap, however, and when the alleged pedophile arrives, he is videotaped, humiliated, arrested, and charged with various felonies, oftentimes spending time in jail and ending up permanently on sex offender lists. Many of the intended men had in fact seen previous episodes of the show, but still thought it was worth risking “big trouble” to meet a supposed 13-year-old for a night of pleasure (or, in one guy’s case, cats and Cool Whip).


The point I’m trying to make is this: The Internet that we all know and love has opened up this window of opportunity for all sorts of people, rapists and criminals alike. But it’s not just that. The World Wide Web is just that—it allows untold volumes of information to be shared at the click of a button. Virtually anyone (at least in the United States) can access it and use it for an unbelievable variety of purposes; good or bad, legal or illegal, beneficial or detrimental.

I’ll admit it. I’ve got a bit of an Internet addiction. I use it for my job (updating websites and marketing horses), for entertainment (I am a moderator on an equine-related blog that provides lots of amusement and sucks up lots of time), for education (I can google anything I want to know), for social networking (Facebook, email, and personal blogs), for journaling (hence this very post). I can’t imagine life without it. How could I, for example, write a paper that required the least bit of research or documentation? I surely can’t be expected to stagger blindly through a library, fumble through the Dewey decimal system, and paw through books completely unrelated to my topic. Egad. How did people live before the late nineties?

The Internet is useful, fun, fascinating, endlessly changing, and I love it. But it’s leading (as social scientist and anyone with a lick of common sense have been saying all along) to a serious identity crisis. When we’re online, who are we?

I usually hesitate to use my real name online, simply for the fact that I’ve managed to piss some people off and there are plenty of people out there who wouldn’t shy at carrying online disagreements to “real life.” Many people choose the same route, and this requires them to create an online pseudonym. But does this “alter” stand solely for the physical individual it represents, or does it take on new characteristics, personality traits, etc.? We’re allowed to rename, recreate, and reinvent ourselves. Am I as Shanna the same as me as Mozart?

Hmm. That’s a lot of rambling and beating around a point I don’t know how to make. I think, mainly, we need to keep track of who we are. The thrill of living an invented online life—or even simply self-publishing to an anonymous worldwide audience—shouldn’t make us throw all caution to the wind. I’m not just talking about Craigslist killers or potential job interviewers, but more about ourselves; our ethos; our psyche (I sure hope those teachers are proud of my fancy lingo). Don’t get carried away in the moment and make a mistake you'll regret, don’t lose track of reason and character, and don’t stay up until two in the morning polishing off a nonsensical blog post. I should take my own advice.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Burn Baby Burn

If it hadn’t been for Google’s little illustration on the search engine homepage, I wouldn’t have known that the Perseid Meteor Shower was passing through last week. My mom, ever the Weather Channel addict, was of course already well aware of that fact. So, we went outside and lay down on a blanket on the deck and stared up at the show.

The faintest opaque gray-green of grass below. Inky blackness above, punctuated by darting bats all too near, scuttling by the downspouts. Tiny brilliant pinpricks of effervescent stars winking in the domed firmament. Curdles of the Milky Way glowing dimly in the far-off reaches of the galaxy. The night-sounds were deafening: lowing cattle, gravelly singing insects, occasional hooting crescendos from both great horned and barred owls. Once a pack of coyotes started up in a chorus of eerie shrieks and howls and all the dogs within a few mile radius joined in. The night was still and cool.

And then flashes of light. Brilliant atomic particles streaming madly through the sky, living and burning as passionately as Kerouac caricatures. White sparks, flaming snowballs, illuminated for a minute, straight-shooting star, gone. A blink, an instant, a fading contrail of smoke, nothing. And then another and another, legato interludes, fizz and burn out. Magic lights painted across the sky with rapid strokes of a celestial brush. We stayed out there for an hour and a half before exhaustion overcame me and I retired to bed.

I wanted to learn more about what I was seeing. After perusing Wikipedia (which everyone knows is the single most reliable source for scientific information on the whole Internet), I discovered that “meteors” are simply the light streaks we see in the sky, meteoroids are the objects themselves (ranging in size from dust particle to 10 meters or more across), and meteorites are particles that actually strike the ground. Comets are, technically speaking, giant hunks of junk and ice and rock and stuff that are irregularly shaped, reflect only about 3% of the light that is shown on them, and usually have elliptical orbits. Due to “outgassing,” they shed particles as they travel, and these are what create meteor showers.

And, apparently, “Comet Swift-Tuttle [the very same agent responsible for the Perseids] has been described as ‘the single most dangerous object known to humanity’” by a certain Gerrit L. Verschuur. In the year 4479, there is a 0.0001% chance that the comet will collide with the earth, in which case all life with be completely obliterated. Scary thought. If you’re still alive in 2470 years, watch out.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


When it comes to the question, “What happens after death?” I tend to break it into two parts. First, there is the spiritual/religious aspect: Where does the soul (presuming a soul exists) go? I’ve heard countless answers. There are the traditional concepts of Heaven and Hell, which I’ve never found particularly attractive. Someone once explained to me that your last waking (living) moment stretches out infinitely, and you’re left with the eternal experience of the peaceful turning-point of death. Then there’s reincarnation, which is an appealing thought and no more ludicrous or provable than any other theory. Still, the question, with its completely unknowable answer, is enough for me to turn back to my stanch agnosticism, throw my hands up, and say that I neither know nor truly care. Might as well argue how many angels can fit on the head of a pin, for all that.

But when it comes to the physical side of things, the reality is much more definite. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, indeed, but it’s much more beautiful and vibrant than that. Decay and synthesis. It’s Elton John’s Circle of Life all over again. Yes…and isn’t that a beautiful concept?

One thing: grass and grasshopper. One thing: grasshopper and sparrow. One thing: sparrow and fox. One thing: fox and vulture. One thing, Jared, and its name is fire, burning today as a stalk in the field, tomorrow as a rabbit in its burrow, and the next day as an eleven-year-old girl named Shirin.

The vulture is fox; the fox, grasshopper; the grasshopper, rabbit; the rabbit, girl; the girl, grass. All together, we’re the life of this place, indistinguishable from one another, intermingling in the flow of fire, and the fire is god—not God with a capital
G, but rather one of the gods with a little g. Not the creator of the universe but the animator of this single place. To each of us is given its moment in the blaze, Jared, its spark to be surrendered to another when it’s sent, so that the blaze may go on. None may deny its spark to the general blaze and live forever—not any at all. Certainly not me, for all my giant intellect. Each—each!—is sent to another someday. You are sent, Jared—Louis. You’re on your way, both of you. I too am sent. To the wolf or the cougar or the vulture or the beetles or the grasses, I am sent. I’m sent and I thank you all, grasses in all your forms—fire in all your forms—sparrows and rabbits and mosquitoes and butterflies and salmon and rattlesnakes, for sharing yourselves with me for this time, and I’m bringing it all back, every last atom, paid in full, and I appreciate the loan.

My death will be the life of another, Jared—I swear that to you. And you watch, you come find me, because I’ll be standing again in these grasses and you’ll see me looking through the eyes of the fox and taking the air with the eagle and running in the track of the deer.

--Daniel Quinn

I’m torn in my grief. On the one hand, I think it’s silly. Shorty was, after all, just a horse. Just a horse in the sense that I am just a girl, and really neither of us is particularly significant in the general scheme of things. Really, I must be grieving more for myself and what I have lost (memories, namely), and if this is the most traumatic loss that’s occurred in my life, perhaps I need to get out more and see what it’s like to have a child or best friend die.

But on the other hand, I know there’s far more to it than that. All people are wired in different ways, and, well, I’m wired towards horses. It’s my make-up, my career path, my calling in life. I can’t change it, and I certainly shouldn’t be ashamed of it. And even at that, I suspect I feel the grief less acutely than others might. I’m lucky or cursed enough to have some capacity of emotional detachment.

But for an animal that saw me through years of adolescent angst, who helped to solidify my future goals, who served as a catalyst for my current lifestyle, who was always quiet, always patient, always kindhearted and willing, who won me money and took care of me, who loved peppermints and Twizzlers more than anything else in the world, who was wrapped in an adorable jet black package, who served simultaneously as teacher and pupil, whom I rode at least 2,000 times, if I had to count (and that might be a low estimate), who was faithful, and calm, and athletic, and a good partner and friend—what else can I say? The loss is huge, but life will go on. Already it's getting easier.

The little nondescript grave doesn't look like much. Just a raised area of gray dirt that's packed down hard by the weight of the tractor and scarred by broad tire marks in red clay. No marker adorns the spot as of yet, and no radiant angel stands guard to mark its holy significance and command all passers-by to stop, kneel, and pray. It's shaded in the morning beneath a copse of tall persimmon trees, but in the evening it faces the sunset at the base of a rolling green hill that serves as our hay pasture. Microbes and carrion-eaters have already moved in; the carcass will decompose, disintegrate, turn to earth, and from this earth will spring shoots that grow leafy and heavy with sugars, and this will be harvested, and baled, and utilized as nutrients by the hungry herd that remains.

Yes, and that will suffice.

The wind bids me leave you.
Less hasty am I than the wind, yet I must go.
We wanderers, ever seeking the lonelier way, begin no day where we have ended another day; and no sunrise finds us where sunset left us.
Even while the earth sleeps we travel.
We are the seeds of the tenacious plant, and it is in our ripeness and our fullness of heart that we are given to the wind and are scattered.
Brief were my days among you, and briefer still the words I have spoken.
But should my voice fade in your ears, and my love vanish in your memory, then I will come again,
And with a richer heart and lips more yielding to the spirit will I speak.
Yea, I shall return with the tide,
And though death may hide me, and the greater silence enfold me, yet again will I seek your understanding.
And not in vain will I seek.
If aught I have said is truth, that truth shall reveal itself in a clearer voice, and in words more kin to your thoughts.
I go with the wind, but not down into emptiness;
And if this day is not a fulfillment of your needs and my love, then let it be a promise till another day. Know therefore, that from the greater silence I shall return.
The mist that drifts away at dawn, leaving but dew in the fields, shall rise and gather into a cloud and then fall down in rain.
And not unlike the mist have I been.

This day has ended.
It is closing upon us even as the water-lily upon its own tomorrow.
What was given us here we shall keep,
And if it suffices not, then again must we come together and together stretch our hands unto the giver.
Forget not that I shall come back to you.
A little while, and my longing shall gather dust and foam for another body.
A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me.
Farewell to you and the youth I have spent with you.
It was but yesterday we met in a dream.
You have sung to me in my aloneness, and I of your longings have built a tower in the sky.
But now our sleep has fled and our dream is over, and it is no longer dawn.
The noontide is upon us and our half waking has turned to fuller day, and we must part.
If in the twilight of memory we should meet once more, we shall speak again together and you shall sing to me a deeper song.
And if our hands should meet in another dream, we shall build another tower in the sky.

--Kahlil Gibran

Friday, August 7, 2009

Requiem for a Black Horse

Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone
The plans they made put an end to you
I walked out this morning and I wrote down this song
I just can't remember who to send it to

Yesterday morning I had to make the call that every animal owner dreads. Shorty was down, uninterested in food, feverish, and miserable. After a six-month battle with cancer (and after being told he wouldn’t live to see the end of January), it was finally his time. Nobody wants to play God and make the decision to end a loved one’s life, but in times like this, you’ve just got to do the best you know how. So I gave the boy a few pats and hugged his neck and shared some tears with my mom, then I dialed the vet.

By the time she arrived, Shorty was standing, but his breathing was labored and his appetite still very diminished. The bute he had been given had brought his temperature down somewhat, but not enough, and he was hot to the touch. My mom sponged him off with cool water and we offered him all the treats he would take. The vet checked his vitals, then turned to us for the go-ahead. We all agreed there was no point in carrying on. Even if by some miracle we were able to nurse him through this bout as we have the previous two flare-ups, the cancer was certain to rebound again in the near future—perhaps at the hottest time of the day, or in the middle of the night, when no one was around to help him. No, as difficult as it was, it had to be done.

We led him from his stall to the place we had decided he would be buried. At first he was reluctant to move, and we feared we’d have to euthanize him in his stall and then drag him a quarter mile with the tractor to reach the grave. Once we got outside, however, he seemed to liven up. He wanted a drink of water, which we gladly provided, and red clover, which we picked in handfuls and fed to him. Seeing him like that, rallied, was almost enough to make us second-guess our decision. But Shorty has always been a stoic horse, and we knew he was suffering. His eyes were tired. Always the good boy, he walked along obediently, oblivious.

We found a shady spot in the back pasture, and decided that this was the right place, if there can ever be a right place for something like that. My mom said her final goodbyes and left, but I elected to stay, for whatever reason I don’t know. The vet tech held his head while the vet injected a sedative. He drooped and grew limp. I bawled and stroked his muzzle. Then the IV was attached and the lethal cocktail was administered. Halfway through the dose, he crumpled and fell. His eyes rolled and glazed. We all three knelt over him and rubbed him, while the vet spoke comforting words. And then, a few violent but unconscious spasms later, he was gone.

Won't you look down upon me, Jesus
You've got to help me make a stand
You've just got to see me through another day
My body's aching and my time is at hand
And I won't make it any other way

We walked back slowly and silently. The vet had cut a lock of his braided tail, which she discretely slipped to me. I hid it from my mom. A man with a backhoe was summoned, a hole was dug, and that was the end of that. So anticlimactic.

I cried off and on all morning, but I’d already expended so much grief over the past six months of trials that I didn’t have a whole lot left. I was just glad that he didn’t have to suffer; that he went easily, that we wouldn’t have to worry anymore. But just the previous midnight (24 hours before me typing this now) he had felt fine. We had been out to see him, and he was grazing contentedly in the light of the waning moon. Ten hours later, and he was dead. That’s life. Things change in an instant.

While Shorty was cheated out of time he should have had (at 15, he was only halfway through his life expectancy), at least he had the best retirement a horse could ever hope for. He was pampered and spoiled. He had free reign of the barn and could come and go from his stall at will. He was given all the most delicious and expensive treats, and he was checked multiple times a day to make sure he felt well, was eating, and did not have a fever. I gave him all the drugs the vet ordered and bought him all the time we could. Most of the time throughout his ordeal, I think, he actually felt pretty good, if tired. He was living the good life—the one we all deserve.

Been walking my mind to an easy time, my back turned towards the sun
Lord knows when the cold wind blows it'll turn your head around
Well, there's hours of time on the telephone line to talk about things to come
Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground

But I make it sound as though Shorty was lucky to have us. While that is true as far as it goes, we were the lucky ones to have him in our lives. He was my first horse, and I got him eight years ago this month. He taught me so much, and tolerated my novice whip-jerk-kick horsemanship. He won me innumerable ribbons, trophies, plaques, halters, saddles, checks, and prizes, besides. Even last year he was still winning pole bendings without even trying. He took care of me in my youthful foolishness, and when I outgrew him, he proved to be a faithful and steady trail horse for my mom. Unflappable, kind-hearted, and quiet, he was lazy as could be with a beginner rider on his back, but a wild spitfire whenever I asked him to run. He knew the difference, and he knew how to deliver exactly what his rider needed. A horse like that—who is simultaneously an athlete and a babysitter—is hard to come by. Shorty truly was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of horse on so many levels. He was a good, good boy.

And there’s more than that, too. Shorty came during a transition period in my life, and he saw me through all seven of my years at Central as I grew and changed completely, throughout adolescence and the upheavals of the teenage years. And he changed the course of my life, too, for he indirectly started me on the path of Veterinary Medicine, and he taught me how to ride and train, and he’s the reason that I now live on 31 gorgeous acres in the country. That’s a big influence for such a little horse. But you can’t measure that unseen quality: heart.

Oh, I've seen fire and I've seen rain
I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I'd see you again

--James Taylor

For the most part, my mom (who loves the horse even more than I do) and I have been handling the grief as well as can be expected. I only lost it when Buddy started crying for Shorty. Bud came here seven weeks ago as a loaner for me since all of my other horses are, for whatever reason, out of commission (it’s been a really bad year). From the first night of his arrival, he immediately latched onto Shorty, who has always been solitary by nature. Buddy wouldn’t leave his side, however, and whenever another horse came too near, he’d run it off and herd Shorty away from the perceived threat. I’m not one to look for deeper meanings in things or believe in spiritual sentimentalism, but it was almost as though Buddy came as a guardian angel during Shorty’s time of need.

Anyway, as we were leading Shorty to his final resting place, I caught up Bud and put him in Shorty’s stall so he wouldn’t get too nosey or upset. But he just watched out his window and called loudly to his friend as he walked away. And, hours later, when we turned them all out for the night, the first thing Buddy did was run to the spot where he had last seen Shorty, neighing all the while, looking around, ears pricked, distressed, concerned. I hate to anthropomorphize, but it was quite clear what was going on. Anyone who says animals don’t experience emotions and attachment is cold and deluded. The same goes for anyone who claims that, if there is such a thing as a “soul,” only people possess it. Again, that’s sheer arrogance, as far as I’m concerned.

Eventually Buddy quieted and calmed down, although he’d still periodically lift his head and look around for his pal. Yes, Shorty, you’ll be sorely missed. Godspeed, little buddy. And thank you.