Saturday, June 27, 2009


In the future that we used to imagine
The one they pictured in those old magazines
Their tomorrow-land is so old fashioned
A delusion of the modern dream
But they had a skyway to the city towers
And we're still rocking over stones and tar
I've been crawling down the freeway for hours
I want my fusion-powered flying car
This ain't the modern world that I remember
The one they promised all us boys and girls
This ain't the vision that the artist rendered
What happened to my modern world?
They said my leisure time was gonna be bitchin’
I'd have my holographic TV phone
And we'd be cooking in our One Button kitchen
In our aluminum dymaxion home
With the enlightened ones leading the nations
Bringing peace around the world at last
A utopia of cooperation
Where injustice is a thing of the past
It's just a bunch of big baby boomers
Trying to snatch the last cookie and run
It's such a comfort to the guilty consumer
If Armageddon had already begun
'Cause if the world's a box of chocolate cherries
Then they can use it up and toss it away
They make it post-apocalyptic and scary
To even dream about the future today

--David Wilcox

I’ve had this stuck in my head on and off for months now—ever since I first heard it on the radio. I don’t know much about David Wilcox, but I love this song.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Bustin' Broncos

I’ve been spending my summer with the horses. Out here in the boonies, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for social interaction, and I’ve been so exhausted from work and so preoccupied with the current events in my life that a drive into town just seems like too much effort at the end of a long day. So most of my time has been spent in the company of equines as opposed to humans, especially at my two jobs as a veterinary assistant and horse trainer.

There’s something cathartic about working with the colts. I tend to think of training as an art form. The rider is the sculptor or painter, and the horse is like a hunk of marble or a blank canvas. Chipping away haphazardly or slopping paint isn’t the way to go about it, and will only result in a poor final product. Instead, great care, dedication, and skill must combine in a labor of love to create something aesthetically pleasing, beautiful, and functional.

And each horse must be treated in a completely different way. They’re like people in that each one has its own personality, set of quirks, and personal preferences. Some get along famously with me: they trust me completely, look to me for companionship, and would do anything I asked of them…but would not respond nearly so well for another person, even going so far as to react violently out of fear or stubbornness. In others, the situation is reversed, and I consider it a success each day if neither of us kills the other. It’s funny that way.

I suppose that, officially, I’m a Professional Horse Trainer. This is a title that I neither want nor feel I deserve. I don’t think of this as a career, only a summer job, a pastime, something I enjoy doing and a learning experience besides. And indeed, I have so much to learn. As with most everything else, it takes a lifetime to even reach past the tip of the iceberg. This ain’t something you can pick up in books—it’s all hands-on, learn-as-you-go-and-hope-that-nothing-terrible-happens-in-the-process. And that’s the joy of it.

Kindness and consistency are imperative, or as the natural horsemanship mantra goes, “be as gentle as possible, but as firm as necessary.” Having “horse sense” is a must, too. Horse sense may be something innate, but much more of it comes from observation and, more important than anything else, common sense. It’s a mindset; it’s thinking like a prey animal; it’s reacting coolly but quickly in times of crisis; it’s deflating potential blow-ups before they occur. If you do things right and your horse has a good mind, you should never have to worry about a Wild West Rodeo bucking fit. Once mutual trust has been established, patience and baby steps yield the best results—in the safest manner.

I could fill up 100 blog posts o r 100 encyclopedia volumes with just the little bit I have experienced and know on the subject, and that still wouldn’t be enough. Yep, there’s a lot to be learned here, and most of it isn’t about horses. It’s about life.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Last night I got to meet up with some friends from high school, several of whom I hadn’t seen in over a year. It was nice—we ate pizza and caught up on each other’s lives. It’s interesting to see how we’ve diverged into our various major…even those of us who had shared the same interest in biology are now looking at careers in ophthalmology, botany, biological engineering, and veterinary medicine. After dinner and a long debate about how we would split up the bill (too long since some of us had had a decent math class!), we headed off the Barnes & Noble to window shop and continue our conversations.

We gazed with halfhearted interest at the rows of books, wistfully categorizing them into Those We Had All Read in School (Life of Pi, The House of the Spirits), Those We Had Read for Self-Enrichment (One Hundred Years of Solitude, Everything is Illuminated), Those We Wanted to Read (Brave New World, The Dharma Bums), and Those We Should Theoretically Read but Never Would (War and Peace, On the Origin of Species). There was a hint of competitive one-up-manship, as we attempted to impress each other with our literary repertoire. “I wish I had endless time and an endless budget to read all of these books,” I remarked, sweeping my hand in a vague arc across the Fiction section. “Yeah,” replied a pal. We agreed that the tragedy of our condition is multifaceted. First, being Poor College Students, we can’t afford to buy anything (Last week, on a splurge, I spent an entire day’s wages on two books. But you can’t put a price on knowledge, right?). Next, our time is extremely limited. We don’t have the energy to read anything heavy during the school year, and during the summer, all we want to do is sleep. Finally, without the motivation of a grade or the encouragement and guidance of a professor, it’s hard to get interested in the more difficult (but culturally significant) works. So we settle into a state of apathy…and read the comics. Pity.

It was after 10:00 by the time we said our good-byes and the last of us split up to return home. I’ve always liked driving alone on the highway at night, when the faint lights of oncoming traffic off in the distance remind me, for some strange reason, of an amusement park ride. Last night there was very little traffic, however, and as the radio blared melancholy songs of unrequited love, I made the startling realization that I couldn’t see out my rearview mirror. I made a few adjustments before realizing that there were no problems with either my vision or the mirror’s location—there was simply nothing to see. The lay of the land was such that I couldn’t even see the dull, blank purple sky. My view was completely black for the “visible” mile or two behind me. No cars followed, and I could only dimly make out the tail lights of a vehicle far ahead. I was, I realized, completely alone. From time to time I amused (or consoled?) myself by tapping the brakes or flicking on the turn signal, so that the road behind me shone faintly red and proved that I hadn’t gone blind. Meanwhile, my headlights kept the highway directly before me brightly illuminated, while the median on my left and the woods on my right were black, shadowed, and hidden. It’s a one-track road, I thought to myself, bearing me down toward an inevitable conclusion. And sure enough, when my exit materialized out of the darkness, I felt myself signal, brake, and turn out of habit. What other choice did I have? Or, rather, what would happen if I just kept on driving?

But, despite my contemplative mood, I didn’t keep on driving. My only concession to impulse was to stop at the bridge over the creek, park my car, and walk out over the water. There was no moon in sight, but there were no clouds, either, and the stars were brilliant and as distant as ever. Imitating the stars were thousands of flashes of yellow light that moved and blinked and disappeared across the blank landscape. Fireflies. The whole show was reflected in the slow-moving waters of the Pomme de Terre and I watched, spellbound, for a minute or two until I heard the far-off rumble of a car’s engine and, seized by irrational panic, hightailed it back to the safety of my own vehicle to complete the drive home.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Buzz buzz

They came in as a plague, a swarm, thousands of them filling the air, circling, alighting. The breeze was thick with the humming of their wings. Awestruck, and not a little bit intimidated, I hid out in the sunroom, snapping pictures through the window, hoping they wouldn’t turn on the nearby dogs and horses. Slowly, as more and more of them landed in a clump and showed no outward signs of aggression, I cautiously approached the tree where they had amassed. As I mastered my nerves, I walked directly underneath the seething cluster, holding my camera inches from the roiling bodies of the insects, fascinated.

They were honeybees, I could see when I got closer, not wasps or other stinging pests. They were of the sort that has been mysteriously disappearing, dying out, baffling scientists and concerning agriculturalists. I was glad to see that this little assembly had survived and set off to found a new colony. Unfortunately, they had picked a bad place to do it. I’ve heard stories of bees making homes in people’s houses, infesting so badly that honey oozes from cracks under the windows and whole walls have to be ripped out to remove the invaders. Then, too, once they are settled the bees become aggressive and will violently defend their territory. A call to the local Nature Center informed us that we had at most a couple of days before the insects changed from docile busybodies to vicious guard dogs.

A beekeeper was summoned, and he was delighted at the opportunity to add to his collection. He informed us that there was a queen in the center of the mass, secreting pheromones to summon the drones. By cutting off the branch he collected the queen and her followers. A few spritzes of hairspray sufficed to cover up the queen’s scent, and several drops of lemongrass oil further attracted the bees to the box he had set up for them. He estimated that there were 20,000 individuals, but while he’s the expert, I suspect this number is grossly inflated. Regardless, he succeeded in taking all but a dozen or so of the insects with him while avoiding the tragedy of anyone getting stung.

Good riddance—now the bees will be put to good use pollinating and producing honey—no need for an exterminator and a pointless eradication. The visual was an interesting display of fecundity; one more experience to add to the list of likely one-in-a-lifetime sights.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Enchanted by the fog that trailed wispily among the waving fields of fescue, proceeding slowly with the setting of the sun and the coming of dusk, I tore myself from my proceedings and ran, child-like, through the tall grass. Surrounded by thick clouds of mist under an inky sky, I took all leave of rationality and plunged into the heart of the sparse woods in the back acre of the pasture. There, broken by the horrible windstorms of last month (classified by experts as “land-based hurricanes), was a giant hickory tree, split in half. A large portion of the trunk had cracked from the main structure, and this was resting on the ground, although oddly still vivid and living, sustaining life from a few slivers of shattered wood that kept it connected to a source of water.

It was onto this broken trunk that I climbed, hoping to gain a better vantage point by grasping at limbs and pulling myself upward. The bark was wet with dew and quite slippery, so I inched along carefully, grabbing handfuls of thin, flexible twigs to steady myself and I progressed along the length of the tree.

It was growing dark by now, and I paused in my journey to survey the gathering fog. In the distance, a pack of coyotes began to howl, a high-pitched, eerie sound. Beneath my feet, large carpenter ants scuttled to and fro, irritated by my disturbance. Moths and beetles flew about my head and crashed into me, falling heavily to the foliage below. Most fascinating, however, were the myriad of fireflies that flashed around me, shimmering, seemingly (and, I suppose, truly) stretching on for miles. I could see thousands of the insects, bobbing and illuminating, like flickering stars in a dying galaxy.

Mesmerized, I turned slowly to take in the scene.

There was a crash. My left arm burned with an intense pain. I was looking skyward. Clenched in my white fists was a torn twig; my elbows were instinctively hooked over opposing portions of tree trunk, with my torso laying in between, suspended above the ground. What had happened was clear—in pivoting, my rubber-soled boots had slipped on the moist bark, sending me for an unintended voyage downward. I had managed to break my fall through a reflexive action. In this instantaneous moment of realization, I happened to see the body of a dead firefly crumple and fall to the ground. A bioluminescent steak graced my left jean leg.

After a moment’s pause to collect my thoughts and make sure that my aching arm wasn’t gushing blood (in fact, there was hardly a scrape), my new concern became the business of extricating myself from the tree. I relaxed, and my right leg found solid ground. That was good. My left leg proved a bit more of a problem. In my descent, the shank of my spur had slid between a crack in two limbs, and the rowel had held fast. Now, with my foot a good four or five feet above the ground, I couldn’t find the leverage to free myself. I tugged and swore, but remained held fast—a paralyzed, ungraceful Rockette. Finally, grumbling all the while, I raised myself back up on my scraped elbows and slid my leg from its trap. Even now, on solid ground, I found myself literally caged on all four sides by huge broken branches and tall clusters of leaves. Large moths began to bombard my face, and I heard the incessant buzzing of mosquitoes in my ears. The excursion had lost all of its appeal and, after a short bout of panicked pacing, I finally crawled out through a small hole in the limbs and returned, disillusioned, homeward.

Romanticism is overrated.