By the way strides fall in threes marking their way, four hooves
leave the way; I recall hoofbeats.
I can hear: words prance
on heat spirals, circling upwards. I hesitate to
say it. Each movement begins anew and repeats an earworm: horses
sing the chorus. Memory a strangling anchor I grasp: static white noise, spilling over the basin’s edge – urgency swells, moves ribs heels and hooves tucks tail Don’t force. The deafness is sounding. What is sung: we are cruel to be kind – we are wasted on the horses, lost in their thrall sweaty backs melt into blue jeans melded, unfixed wildness up and through, both unfound and flowing momentum hearing the sound ears forward cupping the wind, time and bodies are broken together my kindness carries no song.
I’m on strike. I don’t belong to the Musicians Union anymore. Since Covid-19 slammed us in 2020 I have been fully retired from performing or teaching the flute. Even so, I consider myself to be on strike.
It’s been an ongoing annoyance to me when the name of a performing musician is not credited. I cheer when I see a televised opera production or broadcast concert that lists the instrumentalists’ names, and not only those of the conductor and the production staff. I have written letters to the editor when the name of a reviewed musician has been omitted, or credit has been given to the wrong performer. Open the program! And herein lies the problem.
I bought a partial subscription to the Tucson Symphony’s Classic series this season, now that we are slowly returning to in-person concerts. While my husband and I enjoyed the four concerts, the programs did not contain the names of the harpists, the extra musicians, or the substitute musicians. This practice began while I was still playing with the TSO. I was never a contracted player but I was a regular substitute and first-call substitute for most of those 30-plus years. My name would be listed because the program was printed for each concert, with an accurate listing of performers. I was paid at the same rate as the contracted players. I was doing the same work, after all!
One of the ways symphony orchestras appear to have decided they could save money was by printing programs at the beginning of the season and with more than one concert per program. The list contains only the names of contracted orchestra members.
Appeal to the union, right? That does no good if one is a substitute musician. Even though Arizona is a right-to-work state, I spent several years as a dues-paying union member because I wanted to support my fellow musicians. However, there was absolutely no benefit to me. If you are curious, there is pertinent information in these two linked articles.
Appeal to my colleagues? I tried. One orchestra committee member told me point-blank that they had more important issues to address.
To be clear, I never was anything close to a “scab.” I was frequently called in to substitute and, quite frankly, cover the asses of colleagues who wanted to take a better gig, had a conflict with other work or felt they weren’t quite up to the task of performing certain repertoire.
I loved my work, but I’m old enough and wise enough now to love myself more. We won’t be spending our money or our time on many future Tucson Symphony concerts until credit is given where credit is due. While it may not make any difference within the organization, it will make a difference to me. Consider me an audience member, on strike.
If I heard “The Strawberry Roan” one more time I thought I might pull a hank of hair out of my own head. I absent-mindedly picked at the yellow crust of dried milk fat adhering to the spout of the beige Tupperware pitcher, stood up, and sighed. Teddi had told me that I didn’t need to put the milk back in the fridge since it was fresh, but I had wondered. She’d said they would have more tomorrow.
Milly was down for her afternoon nap, clean and sweet in a fresh cloth diaper. I’d gotten skilled at diapering a baby, and prided myself at never sticking them. I’d keep my fingers between their soft warm bellies and the diaper. If anyone got stuck it would be me. The diaper pins with the colorful plastic animals on the ends amused me. Milly’s had little yellow ducks on them.
“Hey, Skeeter! Are there any other songs that you like?” I asked, keeping my tone friendly, but cringing as he gently placed the needle on the 78 rpm disc that was spinning on the small, portable turntable. He was crouched over the record player in the middle of the living room on a spotted hide. His blond hair spilled over his brow and he tugged at the tooled leather belt holding up his slightly too large jeans. I plopped down on the pine log couch. “Nah,” he said. “I like this one.” “What’s on the other side?” I asked, hoping to at least hear something else. “It’s not any good.” Skeeter looked up at me, concerned. “I like this song.” “Do you want to play a game or something?” I threw out one last gambit. I didn’t much like playing cards or board games, but even those appealed to me more than that strawberry roan. “Nah. I like listening to this.” I gave in, mostly. “I’m going to read my book. Do you mind taking your record player into your room?” I felt a little guilty asking. He reluctantly got up and glared at me over his shoulder, his little record player balanced against his belly, the power cord dragging. His bedroom was just off the living room. Asking him to close the door might be pushing things too far. After helping him plug the record player into an outlet in his room, I returned to the couch and opened to my bookmark in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The strawberry roan started bucking, again.
Before I could get engrossed enough in my story to tune out the renegade bronc, I heard the kitchen door bang against the wooden frame and boots heavy with spurs clank across the floor. “Hey!” Ron called from the kitchen. I got up to see what was going on. I hadn’t expected anyone at the ranch house. Teddi had told me that she would be back at 3:00. “Hi,” I greeted Ron, “how are things going?” Ron poured himself a glass of milk and then placed the pitcher in the fridge. “I’m just stopping in for a minute to grab a bite to eat.” Ron pulled Wonder Bread and some kind of meat and mayo from the fridge. “I need to head back out. We’re still riding fences.” “Oh, okay. And sorry. Teddi told me it was okay to leave the milk out.” I felt the need to apologize. “That’s okay, she don’t like her milk cold, but I do.” Ron smiled, picked up his hastily made sandwich in his wind-roughed hand, and opened the screen door with the other. “Thanks for watching the kids.” He held the screen door open with his foot as he grabbed his Stetson off the coat rack near the door and adjusted it on his head. “You are welcome,” I replied, a little envious, entertained by the more inviting thought of helping mend the fence line instead of listening to “The Strawberry Roan,” again.
Teddi arrived home promptly at 3, cheerily greeted me, opened the fridge door and put the milk pitcher back on the kitchen table, told Skeeter, who was still listening to “The Strawberry Roan,” to watch his sister for half an hour, gave me a handful of folded dollar bills and said, “Okay, let’s go. I’ll take you home.” I got in on the passenger side of the mustard-colored Chevy. “So how are you liking your new truck?” I asked as Teddi pressed down the accelerator and bounced us over a series of potholes. “I like it fine, but the color reminds me of calf scours. I would have preferred another color, but this was what they had. At least it’s a new truck.” Teddy zoomed over another series of bumps and I clutched at my collarbone. “Oh, does that hurt?” she asked. I replied, “Just a little. It’s almost healed.” I minimized the pain, but it did hurt less than it had. The raw ends of bone no longer grated against each other and were on the mend. “Eh, I just like to take the bumps fast, get over them quicker. I think you bounce less when you go faster, anyways.” “Maybe,” I said, gazing out the window as we whizzed past the sand rocks, blasted by the sun and wind, caressed and curved, pale yellow ochre against the clear blue sky. I thought of sick calves.
December rains called forth a new spring. This is the way of the Sonoran Desert. Yesterday, when skies cleared midmorning, Tom hitched up the horse trailer, and I brought forth my burnished chestnut horse, rain-scrubbed and shiny like the proverbial penny.
I have spent many a pretty penny: on a fancy brush to help remove shedding coats in spring, on saddles and pads and blankets for the horse, on supplements to balance the iron-rich hay grown in the desert. I filled a bag with this hay and hung it in the trailer. I haltered my horse, luminous in the golden light of midmorning.
It’s time to go now. Our midmorning plan unfolds, like my checkbook, another spent penny. Through the aisle of stalls, we promenade, onward to the trailer. My horse walks with little hesitation, an easy spring in his stride as we cross the New Year’s Day desert. I marvel at the grace of this horse.
What is it about a horse? It’s my good fortune to share another midmorning in the light of this creature, a copper penny vision framed by creosote-scented desert. His hooves touch the rubbery incline, and he’s in the trailer, reassured by my promise of another spring.
The door closes, held tight by a spring. Since the days of the Iron Horse, the Amado Ranch has existed. It’s our destination this midmorning and the perfect backdrop for a historical movie. The trailer might dramatize the settling of the American West, a time when each hard-spent penny bought up land and the means to reshape the unforgiving desert.
But today, we drive south on I-19 through a refreshed desert. Saguaros are hydrated, stately, and amused, arms embracing spring. The sky isn’t falling. I’m no hysterical Henny-Penny. Here is the ranch! Bienvenidos, my lucky horse! His shaking hindquarters ease from the trailer– his eye takes in the new horizon, distinct in late midmorning.
Spellbound by this expanse of desert, I see beyond and into my horse. The confines of the trailer choked the brightness of midmorning. Here, he fits smoothly and snuggly as a penny in a loafer. Eternal spring.
“Don’t trust your horse on a slack rein? Well, he doesn’t trust you with a bit.” ~ Anna Blake
How many times were we reminded to hold on tight as children? Hold on to the rail. Hold on to a parent’s hand. Hold on to the dog’s leash. Hold on to the carousel pony. Hold on tight!
We grow up and gain strength. Tight becomes confining. We continue holding on even when a tight grip chokes the life out of things. We feel safer holding on. Our hands become strong and somehow we think maybe, just maybe, if we hold on more tightly, life will proceed closer to the way we expect it to.
Yesterday I rode my mare on a trail ride through the desert. If you have a moment would you mind doing a little rain dance? Clouds built up yesterday afternoon and I’m hopeful, but last year’s monsoon season was such a bust I wouldn’t mind all the helpful intention we can get! But, let’s get those hooves back on the trail.
Rocky is a bold creature and a well-seasoned trail horse. Two fellow boarders asked us to go along so Rocky could lend their geldings her courage. She likes to lead. As we started out, three fawn-colored bully-looking dogs came charging at us, right off their property. The gate was open. I told them they were good doggos, to remind them of who they are (another tip of my helmet to Anna). I stopped Rocky, who was unfazed by the barking and gallumping, and looked at my fellow riders to make sure they were doing okay. The dogs’ owner called them in and the three turned tail as a unit, maybe slightly disappointed that we weren’t all that impressed by their charge. I called out to them and told them what very good dogs they were as they trotted back to their house. One looked back over his shoulder at us from the other side of the fence, slightly cowed. I think they got in trouble.
We continued on our way. Rocky is a fast walker. Behind her was the beautiful Morgan, Legado, and bringing up the rear was Stewart Little, who is a sturdy and small Gypsy Cob. I had to remind Rocky to help me check on our cohort and to keep her pace leisurely. “Just squeeze the rein a little,” I told myself. I reminded myself to allow my pelvis to be carried along by Rocky’s hind legs. We descended into a little gulch and Rocky broke into a trot. I had only sat deeper and asked her to walk without taking up any contact on the rein. Legado followed suit and his rider needed a moment to calm him. I made extra sure to prepare Rocky to walk carefully through the next few dips we encountered. It took extra asking on my part, and I don’t doubt I held the reins more tightly than she would have preferred, but she did what I asked.
When the trail smoothed out again, I felt a little tug. Rocky had asked for her rein back. I gave it to her. A little voice in my head said, “She pulls on the reins! She refuses to give to the bit! Keep contact!” My hands said, “Give it to her. She asked nicely. Trust that she knows what she is doing.”
Next time I hope to remember to ask consistently for what I want so she doesn’t have to guess, or make her own choice when it’s best that we work together. I’m certain we both like it better that way.
Pure folly, and an unfair imposition to place on a creature so fine as the horse. Herein lies a scuffle between longing and love.
How I long to retreat between the warmth of hay-scented hides, warm and facile, flicking flies away, multi-tasking skin. Horses’ alert rhythms seem protective, insulating, a shield against the noisy, grasping, gasping world of us humans.
Global threats urge me to curl, quiescent, to freeze and wait. “It shall pass, it shall pass, it shall pass,” I whisper to myself, less in fear than in blank comprehension of my perverse happiness at having a convenient excuse to avoid grocery shopping.
Fear and love. Herds of horses, provoked by necessity, will run, a thundering cloud of beauty-dust, leaving me longing for four hooves and fleetness.
Work and love. Hordes of humans long for their chance, that moment of brilliance, an opportunity to hold tight. We might inadvertently forget to breathe.
I’ve turned myself inside out believing dream after dream, yielding not to the magnitude of such wonderous construction, but holding up my imagination like a mirrored shield. Hungry for an embrace, I’ve allowed seductive images to envelop me, and even as I struggle to emerge, I stumble.
Tired and clichéd, I hesitate ~
not wanting to wallow, though I long to stretch my hide against the sand, to roll satisfyingly, closer to dust.
To stand apart and stand within, to urge a way of being by being true to my soft urges. This is not so easy, this path is laden with mole holes and ego.
The other side of the field is not so far away.
My horses watch me. They shy and withdraw, as I do. They echo my boldness. They know best as to how to be a horse, and of course, as always, they are right.