I r r e g u l a r
D i s p a t c h e s from the B o r d e r l a n d s -

Those secret, shifting places where horses and humans meet.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Journey to Goodbye.

My dear friend was clearly preparing to leave this world. The time out of time for saying goodbye was ever present during the past several days, hanging like silvery morning mist as the earth exhales the cooling November air. 

Tuesday night felt heavy and anxious, so I lit a votive candle in the beautiful natural rock crystal holder that my friend had given me last Christmas. 'Christ - The Light of the World' the enclosed card had read. It burned well past midnight...

On Wednesday morning, I knew that this was the day. 

I resolved to make my way to my friend's home after the morning ritual of driving my son to his bus stop. No rush, no urgency, this wasn't a time for rescue. It was a time for honoring a sacred passage. A time to be present and to help hold a space for gratitude and grieving and goodbye. 

On the morning's journey, the sunrise went from a familiar kind of pretty as we left home to a sudden and breathtaking display of bronze, copper, rose pink, magenta and violet as we were lined up in traffic on the approach to the river bridge. Unable to stop or pull over, I pointed my camera out the open car window, and with one hand on the steering wheel and two eyes on the road, I shot four pictures, trusting that I would capture the images I was meant to get. 

What I got was eerie and beautiful, just like the feeling in my heart and deep in the pit of my stomach - the visceral sense that time stopped for an imperceptible instant. That the stars blinked as a soul shot past them, leaving a never ending arc of light in its wake. I knew my dear friend was crossing a bridge then, too.

After dropping my son off, I made my way to my friend's home, stopping briefly nearby to take a couple pictures of a large carved stone statue of Christ that I passed every time I drove to her house.
I had always intended to do this small thing, somehow this seemed the right time to do it. The statue's hands were particularly evocative, and as I framed one of them in the lens of my camera, I reflected on my friend's loving intention of offering her hands to do the work of making a difference in the lives of the poorest of the poor in Haiti, where she and her husband supported many initiatives, and are building an orphanage and elder's home. 

As I got back into my car, my cell phone sang out - it was my friend's dear husband, telling me in a soft, heartbroken voice that she had just "gone to Heaven..." if he was surprised when I told him I was just minutes away, he didn't say so... 

It seems that our entire life is, among many other things, a journey to goodbye. I am forever grateful to my dear, dear friend for sharing some of her incredible journey with me, and for showing me that one can travel, even to goodbye, with love and trust, with dignity and humor, with purpose and kindness... 

Godspeed, my dear friend. We shall meet again.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


It had rained overnight, the still-dark streets were shiny wet. We followed the now-familiar route of ten miles from our country home to the Park and Ride bus stop, the first leg of my son's daily journey to school. Garbage bags and bins line the streets. It's trash day in the city. We are avid dumpster-divers and trash-hounds, we believe in lost treasure. So today - garbage day - was particularly full of possibility. 
But mostly this time of year it's tons of leaves (as though they are trash...) 

Then I spied it - even in the dark it was unmistakably the shape of a small horse. lying in a heaped tangle of metal piping and angled tubes with big springs. I turned the station wagon around at the first chance and circled back. "Poor baby!" I cooed as I flew out the door and gathered the small figure up in my arms and loaded him gently in the back. My son rolls his teen-aged ayes in mock disdain. I know he'd do the same (not the cooing, but the rescuing!) if I wasn't here to do it. So would his dad. We know lost treasure when we see it. What redeems a human more than to save a helpless creature from destruction? With a thrill of excitement, I realize this beauty is now mine, all mine. I always wanted another horse.

I marvel at the detail of the once-beloved toy, left abandoned on the curbside. I think he's neither very old nor very new, but truthfully I have no idea when he was made but he is sturdy and beautiful. He has wavy mane and tail, a curly 'B' brand and a fancy western saddle. Roy Rogers or The Lone Ranger would've been proud to ride him into the sunset on the tiny TV screen in my childhood living room  His only visible fault is the places where he once attached to the springs are now worn and broken. That's OK - he'll be a free horse now.

I dropped my son at the bus stop and smiled all the way home, stopping to take a few pictures of the rain-washed honey-colored sunrise on the way, and marveling at my good fortune.

Think I'll name him 'Rerun'.

Blue Cowboy.

Funny, the little things that can catch you by surprise 
and break your heart...                                         

Take this small blue toy cowboy (or is he an outlaw?) 
I was minding my own business one recent autumn day, cleaning up a bit around the garden near where my son's sandbox and fort had been until earlier this summer. 

I was already at a serious disadvantage in this encounter, reflecting as I worked in a sort of melancholy way on all the happy years he spent digging and playing, creating and destroying entire worlds with his own hands. Sand, water, rocks, twigs and some "guys" (his word for any small figure, human, animal or otherwise) was all he needed for a whole day outside, summer or winter. It all went by so fast I kept thinking. 

I miss my little boy. (Don't get  me wrong - I love the young man he is becoming - I'm just struggling with passing time, change and transitions...)

This spring we dismantled and sold the fort to a cute family with a animated three-year-old boy. He was so excited, I think he could feel the accumulated energy of this little wooden world. Then my son and his dad built a small circulating waterway, waterfall and pond from free and cheap craigslist finds. It quickly became a bustling destination for the local critters and others we rescued and re-homed throughout the season. 

So there I was, working and reminiscing. I absent-mindedly brushed aside some fallen branches and there he was, handgun drawn and a stance that meant all business. What could I do? I burst into tears. 

Damn it all. Ambushed by a plastic cowboy. I didn't have a chance.

(I left him there at the scene, a fitting testament to a happy childhood, and perhaps someday a welcome find for some young explorer. I suspect he's not biodegradable...)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Deep Pink

Autumn is bittersweet by its very nature: the season of things ripening then falling asleep or dying away... it is a season we associate with blazing reds and burnished golds, rich maroons and mahogany browns, and eventually the striking orange and black of Halloween. 

Autumn is not a season that I typically associate with pink. 

But a heightened sense of the preciousness of life in the face of a dear friend's terminal breast cancer, and the onslaught of the annual pervasive hype surrounding October as official 'Breast Cancer Awareness Month' has opened my eyes to the pink that is all around me this fall.

I call it DEEP PINK. 

Not because it is a particular shade of pink, but because, for me, it is pink with a new depth of meaning. It is pink that has nothing to do with Barbie dolls or tulle netting, with fashion forward handbags or hot retail spaces. This is the outrageous live-and-in-your-face-constantly-changing pink of October dawn clouds, and the delicate shifting pink of hydrangeas on sunlit fall days. It is the graduated shades of pink of fallen leaves and fading vines, and the impossible-to-capture shade of violet-pink of an October night sky with a bone-colored crescent moon. 

Suddenly, my lifelong aversion to pink is transformed and I am drinking in the life-affirming symbolism of this misappropriated color. I am still deeply troubled the lack of any real progress in a cure for breast cancer, and I am very uncomfortable with the marketing of breast cancer as a cause to buy stuff for...  but the intuitive logic of the choice of pink for the Code Pink Peace Movement now seems obvious to me.

Pink is the color of life and love. 

Pink in every shade. Pink - dappled and speckled and dazzling and subtle. Each pink as unique and dear as the next. Like the women - the mothers, daughters, sisters, cousins, friends and co-workers, the strangers and foreigners - who are lost to their loved ones every day from breast cancer. Each one as dear as the next...

As I steel myself for the part of my dear friend's journey where we must part, I will hold this image, taken recently, of her communing with my sweet mare. (Somehow they had never met before now - my dear friend isn't a horse-girl.) 

There is a kind of love in this exchange. The open gesture of my friend's hand outstretched in greeting, and the gentle sadness in my mare's eye as though she knows this is a good-bye...

This picture of such a tender dialogue will live forever 
in my deep pink heart. 

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Horse + Boy + School

Well, I guess I had it coming. 

What was I thinking: trying to raise my son to be free, to think for himself, and feel like he could do anything he put his heart and mind to? Is this what comes of nurturing his self-esteem, supplying him with lots of raw materials and supporting his dreams? 

When one thinks of teenage rebellion, the picture of a kid demanding to go from unschooling to a public high school probably isn't what pops into most people's head first - or ever. 

It was entirely his idea. And, like most acts of rebellion, it was a big surprise. I sure didn't see it coming.   

One day we are all merrily sleeping till 10 and staying up till 2 because my husband works nights. My son reading books or drawing, riding horses or exploring outdoors all day. Doing plays (and even a film as an extra), recording lightsaber choreography, making swords or making music all night... working hard, playing harder and learning all the time.

Next thing I know he is commuting across state lines from our rural western Wisconsin home to downtown Saint Paul to a performing arts public charter school. 


Did I miss the part where aliens abducted my son and left a changeling in his place? Or did I simply choose to ignore the signs that he is hearing the call to join a larger band of gypsies? He is searching for his tribe out there... he found something that spoke to him in theatre, and now he wants more.

Yes, it does look like a fairy tale castle.
But it's still school...
In the past ten years we have gone from Waldorf school to homeschool to unschool and now, literally, back to school. 

What have I learned in the last ten years when it comes to schooling? Expect the unexpected. 

And, what have I repeatedly NOT learned in the last ten years regarding schooling? 
How to "fit in" with other people, and how to navigate remaining true to my self while not being a hypocrite. School always feels as though it's forcing these lessons on me. These are some of the reasons I don't like school. But that's me.

The only real lesson here? 
That this is my son's journey, not mine.

(I just realized - I'm sort of out of a job here. Oh well, it didn't pay worth a damn anyway... but I liked the hours and I sure loved the company.)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Horse + Boy.

My baby just turned fifteen years old... I am in shock. Where on earth did the time go? 

It seems just yesterday he was in third grade and had started riding lessons on a big ol' cowboy horse named Ice (he had pale blue eyes). On a late November day, Ice went down in the icy mud (ironic?) taking my son down with him. Ice was fine, my son broke his wrist. 

 A Harry Potter t-shirt, a pirate headscarf, fingerless gloves and a black velvet cape -
sort of Errol Flynn does Zorro.

Then we started homeschooling, and after the winter off from riding, my son got back on a horse. This time he rode a pretty and willful Welsh Pony at our barn named Matilda. The ground was a lot closer from her back. 
When it came to riding, my son's concern was getting hurt again. Matilda's only concern was getting back to the barn. Fortunately it wasn't long before Matilda got too short for my growing son.

The battle of wills is rather evident in this charming picture.

So, my son began riding our 14.2 hand mare, TigerLily. 
TigerLily is a sturdy paint with canon bones like tree trunks. She loves this boy, but that love didn't extend to a good work ethic. In riding lessons with TigerLily, he learned about clarity, respect and consistency. She learned what she could get away with, tolerating the work and loving the attention.

Not too long before TigerLily, too, got too short. My son is a "tall drink of water" for his age - he is six foot two inches tall so far, and his legs hang down so far on her sides that everyone at the barn jokes that he could click his heels together under the girth and and say "there's no place like home..."

TigerLily loves her boy...

Then one of our dear neighbors, who board a tall handsome 16 hand Arab gelding at the barn, kindly offered this horse as a lesson mount for my son. These two hit it off immediately. This willing horse comes like a happy dog friend at the sight of my son and the halter, and they seem to understand each other completely. It's a good thing our mare loves this gelding too, (they are contented pasture mates) or jealousy might rear its ugly head - you know mares! 

Two wonderful boys.

This fall, my son wants to try high school... I'll miss being able to simply "go up to the barn" on a whim with him - to ride, to explore the woods or just hang out with the horses. I hope that horses will always be a part of his life, somehow. I guess I did my part, making sure he had the chance to experience for himself the magic, the power, the beauty and the love of horses. 

(Oh, if only he can find a nice horse-girl to love out there, somewhere... )

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Farewell to a Gentleman Mule.

Mule Gal and Mule Guy are neighbors, they are friends and they own the barn down the road where our mare is boarded. They are the sort of people who you call when your woods are on fire and they come immediately with tanks of water and shovels... and hugs.
I know because I did - and they did. 

And, as you can guess from their nicknames, they love their mules. 

They love horses, too. 
But as Mule Guy points out, you can ride a horse to the edge of a cliff and say "jump" and a well-trained horse will. Do the same with a mule and the mule will say "you first". He swears their legendary stubbornness is simply a sign of superior intelligence. 

Mule Gal is a reserved rider, a very sensitive, highly intelligent and intuitive woman who had a deep and rich relationship with her mule partner. She's no cowboy. He was no ranch horse. Trust was their theme, and they were a joy to see together. This mule had the demeanor of a gentleman, the patience of a saint, and the deep, dark eyes of an old, wise soul. 

And this mule loved his human. 

Mule Gal's mule was struck and killed by lightning last night during a furious storm. 

I witnessed this same storm, from my place just down the road. I captured several pictures of the storm's dramatic lightning. It's entirely possible that one of the pictures I took is the strike that took this gentle mule's life... 

Lightning is a frighteningly powerful force of nature.
A precious, beloved life - over in a flash. Literally.
But the heartache has just begun for Mule Gal.

Fortunately, friendship and healing are powerful forces, too. And Mule Gal has many good memories of her kind mule to help her smile through her tears.

Farewell to a Gentleman Mule. 
You will be sorely missed, but never forgotten.