Sunday, July 26, 2009

Daily Life

While I made mental notes of the things I needed to do today, I was reminded of drying dishes in my grandmother's kitchen. Drawn to the warmth of their modest 1930s home, I often visited my grandparents in Cheyenne, Wyoming. I remember my grandmother turning to me after pulling the plug from the kitchen sink, sponging down the counter for the last time and saying, "If only life weren't so daily." And with the reflection, she quietly laughed and smiled. My grandmother was like that: she knew it was helpful to use humor in acknowledging life's little struggles.

I needed to be reminded of her today. The dailiness of life, the tasks and chores I do everyday and then turn around and do again tomorrow, felt wearing. Whether I clean the kitchen floor after five dogs and three pairs of cowboy boots travel through and know it will need it again tomorrow morning; or finish the laundry and know I will start all over in a few days, the work remains the same: it's done, it vanishes, and it needs to be done again.

Perhaps the question at the heart of any daily human activity is, "Does this have meaning? Do I have meaning if what I do simply disappears?" Whether I clean a floor or weed a garden, my efforts are temporary. Dirt will always gravitate toward my kitchen floor and weeds will always flourish in my garden.

Several years ago I came across a quote that went something like this, "It doesn't matter what you do, it matters how you do it." When I remember the thought, I always find it helpful in re-focusing my efforts when I feel as though I disappear in the dailiness of life's chores. If I focus on how I go about my chores, I slow down and begin to feel present with the reality of everyday life. Once present, I begin to value the order I create, whether folding the towels or creating a clean kitchen or pulling Canadian Thistle out of the garden. Yes, I do chores that disappear, but they also create an ordered existence in which I find comfort.

My grandmother created this kind of order. I know the warmth I felt in her home was due in part to her attention to life's daily chores. Whenever I was there, I felt a deep sense of grounding in what I realize was actually temporal order. Whether she was in her kitchen washes dishes, making rolls, or layering her crips sugar cookies in a tin, those simplest and most temporal of moments provided a hearth for me or anyone who sat at her small kitchen table.

To read more about my grandmother, click on this link and download the excerpt from my manuscript titled, "Mabe."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Missy Heals

I was recently asked by a friend and blog reader how Missy was doing. I realized it had been three months since her injury and I hadn't updated everyone about her progress.

Thanks to Dawn's dilligence and patience, Missy's tendon injury is healing well. Dawn cares for her daily with feeding, grooming, dressing the injury, and tending to her as anyone would a family member. Missy has flexion in her foot and while she walks with a slight hesitation in her left rear leg, full function of the tendon is apparently returning.

The next step in Missy's recuperation is thirty days of controlled walking with small increases in distance. In the photo above, Dawn and our friend, Leelee, are walking Missy down the driveway and back. While the photo shows a happy threesome, shortly after I took the picture, Missy tried to turn loose by rearing and kicking. Leelee's husband, Tim quickly took the lead ropes so she couldn't get loose and my son, Andy, who was nearby, came over to calm Missy down by setting some firm limits. Missy's behavior was dangerous and discouraging to Dawn.

This summer Dawn had hope to get starte with Missy's training, something she'd looked forward to since last year. After the injury, Dawn not only couldn't begin her training, but she had real concerns about her full recuperation. Now she was face with another bump in the road toward Missy's recovery: a new development in her behavior that would make it difficult to continue and help her heal well. Dawn worried that the aggressive behavior might continue.

After nursing along many confined foals and other horses, we've found that confinement can easily breed agitation and aggression in any horse. This doesn't necessarily last a lifetime. Once they're turned out they settle down and return to exhibit their original personality. We believe this will be the case for Missy. Three months of confinement is as difficult mentally for a horse as it would be for any living thing. The need to be out and about and to be with other horses is critical. So, we can imagine Missy being as frustrated and aggressive as she was as she tried to get free.

Throughout her experience, Dawn is gaining a sense of resiliency in dealing with the ups and downs of Missy's recovery. She views Missy's aggressive behavior as a bump in the road and while it was upsetting to see, it must and can be dealt with in a practical way by continuing with their controlled walks with Andy's help. Dawn's commitment to Missy's full recovery has yielded good results after the first three months and will most likely result in a good outcome for Missy long term.

Missy's next step will be work in the round pen. I'll keep you posted!

Monday, July 13, 2009

I Happily Confess

Perhaps, it's the week I wait for all summer: when the gardens are settled-mulched, weeded, and in bloom. I relish the peaceful retreat provided simply by the presence of the lupines, petunias, bleeding hearts, lavender, potentilla, nasturtiums, roses, green peas, and raspberries finally coming into their summer maturity. The work and growth in the gardens of late spring and early summer makes itself evident.

I do labor freely in my gardens and at times to physical exhaustion. And I admit to feeling addicted to the process of tending the soil and imagining a perennial grouping or color combination for an annual pot coming to fruition. Our summers are precious and the work of gardening must happen in what I think of as "prime time." Depending upon where one lives in our county, the average growing season is ninety days. I usually think of it here at the ranch as sixty-five to eighty days. In order to maximize the growing season, I do find myself in a kind of hyper-mania for a few weeks in June. But it is joy-filled with color wheels in my head, dirty fingers and toes, a tired body at night, and the greeting from a friend at the nursery with same knowing smile, "Well, what are you after today?"

I feel in good company though. It's commonly know in this part of Colorado that those of us who love gardening are a little bit crazy. We wait so long for the opportunity in the spring that we go berserk when the annual flats arrive and new perennial possibilities surface at the local nursery. We justify our expenditures by saying, "It's a short summer, we deserve it, and we persevered through six months of snow and cold and ice." And we fill our carts to the brim and know that we may repeat our visit to the nursery many times in June in order to set the season in motion. We may even return in July to buy replacement plants to fill in where others already failed in our overall plan for a pot or window box.

So, I guess it's easy now in the bloom of the season to look back and happily confess to my addiction. I understand each July the comfort I feel in my partnering with all those plants-the annuals, the vegetables, and the perennials. I understand the fulfillment of that yearning in the spring to grow and nourish life: to feel the soil, to cradle the young plant, to fill the canvas of a pot or a garden bed with my own design, and watch life take shape. No wonder I come back to the soil after winter's deep sleep. I am unfailingly offered comfort and joy from both the labor and the relationship I find within those various pots and garden beds.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ladies Bring Their Riding Britches

Andy offered his first riding clinic to women believing that women find a certain comfort in being with one another and therefore, the group itself becomes an inherently supportive and advantageous learning environment. He also wanted the clinic participants to know that, while it would be a safe learning environment, they would also be put to work. He advertised his Women’s Only Riding Clinic by saying: “Bring your riding britches because this is going to be a riding clinic.” And that’s just what this intrepid group of ladies did for three full days.

It all began in the round pen first thing Friday morning with a discussion and demonstration of the active parts of a horse and the technical aspects of how to move them. In order to know how to change movement and behavior in the horse, the rider must understand how the horse moves and why. After demonstrating these dynamic movements in a horse and how to train them, Andy analyzed each rider in the round pen and in the arena. Each participant was video-taped while riding providing each rider with an understanding of what skills they needed to focus on during the remainder of the clinic. Some of the focal points included rein management, focused guidance, and correct seat and leg position. Once participants were able to see themselves actually riding their learning easily took a leap to the next level.

Even in the rain Friday afternoon, the ladies continued with drills to work on guiding their horse and building consistency in their position whether in a turn or during a transition from a walk to a trot, from a walk to a lope. The work was challenging because the skill of riding is a complex one, especially when the rider must know exactly what to communicate to the horse and at the same time keeping track of what she is doing in the saddle, with her reins, and with her legs. It is a pure multi-tasking challenge.

The second day, the sun came out and stayed as participants worked on walking through obstacles in the arena in preparation of their trail ride Sunday morning. From tarps to jumps to backing through the L, everyone worked on making their horse comfortable and correct through each challenge.

On Saturday night participants gathered around for a grilled salmon dinner and had a chance to relax and visit with one another and friends. The evening allowed for the camaraderie that had begun to develop to settle in and the talk of horses, trail rides, and hopes for continued develop as riders circled the shade beneath the aspens.

Sunday morning’s trail ride took riders through brush, up and down hillsides, over logs, down ravines, and through chest-deep water. Both horse and riders were challenged by the natural obstacles found out on the trail as well as a stray yearling steer or two. In fact, just as they began their return, a group of yearlings sat at the gate waiting to be brought back home. So through the gate the riders and yearlings went. Watching from the front lawn I watched as both the sure and the tentative participants eagerly brought the yearlings to home ground.

By the end of the day Sunday afternoon, horses and riders gradually headed for their trailers. The walk was slow but somehow sated. The body and the mind had both worked and run free: had faced fears, frustration and confusion and also delighted in the mastery of a new skill, a horse running freely under saddle, and the satisfaction in the horse and rider successfully herding cattle. With reins in hand, riders headed home.

Had they experienced a deeper sense of connection to a powerful partner? Had they felt a deeper connection to self? Had they come across a part of their selves yet undiscovered? I can’t help but think so, for our relationships are our teachers, whether it’s with a horse, a child, a pet, a partner, a family member. Others reflect back to us what we cannot see. When a horse is confused or afraid or simply young, the rider as observer has the opportunity to stand back and understand his dilemma. In doing so, she too, comes to understand how fear, confusion, and naiveté challenge learning and mastery and in doing so her view and own personal experience as a learner is enlarged.

Andy’s next clinic is a Beginning Cutting and Working Cowhorse Clinic, July 24-26, 2009. Please see our website for further details.

Friday, July 3, 2009

White Space

As I recently finalized the garden beds for the season with fine mulch and an eye for errant grassy stems that needed a firm pull, the spaces I had created in between the perennials reminded me of the artistic concept of white space. At that moment I didn’t have to understand it completely to know it was powerful. It was natural to feel the emptiness inviting me to relax and breathe. It was effortless to feel the emptiness say, "Take it easy. All is well with the world."

Reading about the use of white space in art and design, I found a partial description of my experience suggesting that the space allows the eyes to rest and my body to relax. Also, just as I clearly viewed the oriental poppy, the white space enabled the object, the poppy to exist. For even though white space is nothing, it gives meaning by contributing to the context of the painting, the graphic design, the garden bed—by providing a place of rest for the object to be appreciated for what it is. Without the white space, I would lay my eyes on a whole garden of mixed perennials standing one on top of the other without any demarcation. I would know only a canvas amassed in variations on a theme in green.

Reflecting on the act of creating a momentary retreat of out of nothing, I wondered, “Can I create other momentary retreats? In my office? In my thoughts and in my conversations? Running through a litany of errands?”

I believe we can and do. Each time we stop to breathe or to think, we are creating white space in our daily life. When we clear the counter or re-do the overstuffed file, we create the space or room to see clearly what we have in our possession. When we make the effort to listen to others, their thoughts come more clearly into view: we become rational observers. When we remind ourselves in the grocery line that we are fortunate to have a cart full, we create a pause in the hurry. In that space we find a quiet and still emotional geography where we find clarity and hopefully peace.

It was a lot of hard work to clear out my gardens this year. I’d let the meadow grasses have their way with my perennial beds last summer without fighting back. This year my will was greater. Through the physical labor of pulling and digging weeds and grasses, pushing back overgrown and wild perennials, like an artist, I brushed white space, a rich nothingness into the gardens and rediscovered so much. . I also find it a lot of hard work sometimes to simply remember to take a deep breath in the middle of the rush to finish the list or to interrupt my thoughts long enough to listen to a friend. But it’s through my conscious labor that I place my self next to nothingness, at rest and fully present.