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.