I’ve not been writing. Yesterday I blew a few barely graceful notes on my flute. There were lights to hang and my son could use a hand. So I lent him mine. This melancholy isn’t mine. It’s ours. We all see it. I let it walk with me. It keeps me out of the saddle because of a choice I made. Our hospital beds are nearly full. Two short months have passed at our new barn. Though I’ve taken a ride here and there the chance of a strong spook from a horse or a loss of balance on my part is greater now. We are all out of practice.
When the curtain falls the oboe players exhale, the soprano takes her bow on stage, and even the bass players feel a sense of renewed time.
When the curtain falls on the opera the piccolo returns to its case, lofty punctuation quieted. The small, the mighty, vanquished.
When the Grand Opera concludes the vacuum left behind refills with the mundane. Reality intrudes. We see our fellows, our smiles perplexed and smudged with the debris of conclusion. Air ringing, echoes of chords once clearly enunciated, pathos, logos, ethos, vaporized.
Grand Operas conclude and transcendence, that soul caressing gift, remains ephemeral. The overture, anticipatory by design, experienced long ago, now synoptic dust. Forward chords, moved by tension and relaxation, retreat to hidden space. Left to our own devices we crawl in suit jackets and pearls, hard, dark, separated.
The music lives in memory where beauty’s smooth flank nudges us, note by note, unexpectedly. Staff paper receives inspiration, as wriggling nascent epochs. We are scattered spots inked by Lucia’s blood. She sang. Our ears cupped grace. We are entwined. Our tears and laughter rush the stage. We are the Grand Opera.
Nine months of pandemic has been enough time for my husband’s hair to grow long and unkempt, so much so that he was beginning to resemble a 19th century classical composer. Or maybe a late 18th-early 19th century one. Maybe he was started to resemble Ludwig van Beethoven. I’d say his countenance is quite a bit more cheery, but there is probably good reason for that.
I’ve offered to cut his hair for him on a number of occasions, but he has politely declined. Today he finally relented, and as I have taken it upon myself to cut my own hair from time to time, I own a pair of good haircutting scissors and a useful rat tail comb.
Now they say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but in pandemic times I think a decent haircut might rank right up there in ability to rekindle appreciation for a familiar significant other. He beamed when he saw his freshly shorn head in his bathroom mirror and told me it was better than the cut his regular hairdresser gives him. I may have earned myself a recurring job, but if this is what I must do to earn my keep, so be it.
We forget what we can do. We get caught on that spinning wheel of commerce and business. We want to support local businesses, to help keep the economy spry, to participate in our consumer society and partake of all the good things that money can buy. Sometimes, in our haste and busyness, we might forget to pick up our own thread, to stitch a quick fix or maybe even weave a tale. It’s not that difficult.
Beethoven had some really wild hair, but he couldn’t hear that well, he was hearing impaired. His father had cuffed him about the ears, so he drank his wine and maybe some beers from a chalice permeated through with lead. At least this may be a possibility. Whatever the case, he left a graying lock for posterity. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2005-12-07-0512070213-story.html
Though I’ve only met her through her wonderful, buoyant, humourous (she’s British, damnit, I’ll spell it her way….and damnit again, they actually spell humorous the same way we Americans do….), heart-squeezing words, I call her my friend. I’ve been floundering as far as my writing. Much is going on in my life. My husband has been having some health concerns, so there are doctor’s appointments and an upcoming procedure, sooner than I’ll be ready for, but I’m hopeful. My horses moved to a new barn and have celebrated one month of stall living at Fantazee Farms. So lovely Chip, the Quarter Horse I was taking lessons on and whom I’ve mentioned in previous posts, is now a part of my life. I love calling his name to say hello and seeing his kind, blazed face turn my way. Rocky, Al and I are all adjusting. Maybe they are doing a better job of it than I am, but since there really is nothing but time floating around out there, I’m sure we’ll all be fine. Just give me this right now, okay? Shh, philosophical mind, scientific skepticism, take a seat. Time is floating in this scenario, got it?
Elaine suggested I write something evocative of the sound of Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland. What a wonderful prompt. I’m intimately familiar with this work, having performed it on numerous occasions. I even directed Aaron Copland to the restroom at a venue in New York City back in the early 1980s. He turned to our group during intermission and inquired, probably directed more to one of the young men in our group, but since he was nearest to me I eagerly volunteered. I always know where the restroom is. I managed to eke out a little verse, in response to Elaine’s prompt. So this little bauble is for her.
What Springs to Mind
Bones beneath my feet, furrowed rows shadow-defined. The thin leather soles of my shoes wobble, unstable in the loosened soil. Quivering warmth engages my toes. We leap into dance, solemn and contemplative, raucous and joyful, all the things. Dust kicked up. Dust settling. I feel sun tingles and no memories.
I had my second lesson two Thursdays ago, on Chip, the former rope Quarter Horse. Last week my instructor was out of town, so no lesson, and today I canceled. Our air quality isn’t good due to particulates that I assume are drifting over from the California fires. My nasal passages swell, even while wearing a mask. My mild asthma gets triggered and as much as I wanted to have my lesson, I’ve realized, at 60, I don’t have to do things “or else.” Taking a moment to assess the reality of a situation, instead of powering through seems to serve me better. Back to Thursday, two weeks ago: I had gone on a trail ride the day before on my mare and with two friends. La Roca was the best girl and it was nice to get out for a saunter through the desert, which was stubbornly showing green and a few poppies despite our fizzled monsoon season and recent fires. I spent most of the ride thinking about the part of my body that actually rides the horse. Not my hands. She and I have spent so much time in tension. We appreciate each other much more in relaxation. We can do it!
What I noticed while riding my mare on Wednesday, I also noticed while riding Chip on Thursday. So much learning is counterintuitive. Or maybe my relaxed intuition was lost somewhere along the way. The more I rode with the non-grasping part of my body, the more moments of balance I felt…and the less in control I felt, for an instant. The grasping part of me wanted to hold on for dear life still, but the more I released to the horse, the more in sync we felt. Then I’d fall apart and elbows would go akimbo and I’d feel like a floppy scarecrow, but a breath or two would re-center me.
I haven’t ridden since. It continues to be hot; record-setting heat has given us over 100 days of 100 Fahrenheit or hotter as of September 30. I’ve stopped counting. It has also been the second driest monsoon season on record, which means particulate matter hangs in the air in a visible haze. La Roca coughed a couple times on that ride two weeks ago. I don’t really see any sense in pushing ourselves with all the external factors that we are dealing with right now.
But I’m tired of it all. Gathering thoughts becomes challenging as the heat wears on, and so much wears on, and upon us. My barn time always brings me happiness and calm, but even that is becoming more challenging as the air hangs, unmoved, and less than lung friendly.
I breathe more carefully. Clouds will gather again and rains will wash away motes and sweat and summer coats. Morning crisp air greets me before the sun, a fleeting, much appreciated moment. The quail family clucks and calls in the wash bordering our house and lizards rustle in the brittlebush. It is much quieter than it was last spring. Everyone is getting ready for whatever happens next. And even though I may not be on their backs, bumping along with stray elbows and seeking elusive diagonals, the horses continue to carry me.
Back in the dressage saddle after at least six months away. A Niedersuss with a Thinline cushion, comfortable enough. I shortened the stirrups for my stumpy little legs and reluctantly tightened the flash noseband. Chip is a 15-year-old Quarter Horse who used to be a rope horse. He’s been at this barn for about the same amount of time that I’ve been out of the saddle. The 15.2 bay has a sweet eye and a habit of cribbing. He yawned long and deep after I removed the bridle at the end of our lesson. Now, I know. Tension release. What a stumbling, bumbling trip it is to learn about calming signals and to reach into the depths of understanding where our fellow species dwell. While I was putting on my paddock boots and half chaps beside my car after I arrived this morning, Avery, the Border Collie/Great Pyrenees cross came over to say hello. I’d remembered his name and he was casually hanging out with me. I turned to him and enthusiastically made a move to grab his head between both my hands and give him a good rub. He was mortally offended and I deducted a sizable quantity of points from my trust scorecard. Mostly I laughed at myself, and gave Avery an apology, and being a highly evolved creature, he forgave me by the time my lesson began. Chip also proved to be a forgiving soul. My instructor gave me a whip to carry. We had warmed up slowly in the desert-flanked dressage arena and worked on the walk and my seat. She was mounted on her 21-year-old Morgan mare, Pia. She asked if I’d like to try a trot and I said sure. My yeehaw days surface way too quickly and I’m prone to lean forward and throw the reins away instead of maintaining contact. Maybe I was holding too much when I asked for the trot, or maybe he just didn’t want to leave Pia. I urged him and gave a bump with the dressage whip, which likely turned out to be an uncoordinated smack right in his tender flank. Chip crouched and jumped a little. Another apology from me. Maybe I’ll forego the whip and work on my clarity and consistency. He quickly did trot easily for me, and I think I mostly posted on the proper diagonal, not that it matters that much. I thought I could feel it. My instructor talked to me about keeping my elbows by my side and allowing my shoulder blades to drop down my back. My back tends to arch, then my heels go up and my body flops forward. She reminded me to push my heels down while I was up when posting. That helped. Not that I did it consistently. There was a fun moment when she looked at me and said I looked really good and asked how I felt. I felt balanced. I wasn’t consciously thinking about it, but there I was, on his back, not perched, not collapsed, up there and in the groove of togetherness and…then it was gone because I started thinking about it. See how it goes? But I felt it.
I pulled my little mare out of semi-retirement this morning for a short ride. Concurrent with our Covid-19 lockdown in March, I wrenched my back getting out of bed. I blame an old yoga injury. When it was almost healed, I wrenched it again doing barn chores. Then Al got a hoof abscess. Then our mountain started burning on June 5th and we prepared to evacuate, which we fortunately did not have to do. Then there was smoke resulting from the fire through late July. Did I mention that we have had a record number of triple digit days (temperatures over 100 F) and that our summer, in an already inordinately hot place, has been the hottest on record? Oh, and our monsoon rains forgot to show up.
Other than that, I just haven’t ridden much. I have a lesson scheduled for tomorrow with an instructor at another barn. She’ll have me ride one of her lesson horses. I want a little help getting back into shape and maybe some suggestions that might help me with balance in my seat in the hopes of alleviating pain in my lower back, hips and sacroiliac joint. I’ll probably be a little sore before we begin in the morning, due to today’s ride.
We started out around 9:30 am, after mucking the stalls and turnout. The crew that has been there on and off for more than a week was on the grounds, trimming trees. Oh, I did forget to mention that we also had a tree fall and demolish three stalls. No animals or humans hurt, just a few destroyed panels and some flattened formerly corrugated metal roofing. Yeah, it’s been quite the year for all of us. Back to our ride. La Roca was quite eager to see me this morning. I always give my horses a snack and try to time it as close as I can to midday so they don’t have wait from their morning feeding until their evening feeding. My husband and I took a nice overnight to The Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon on Monday and I was away from the barn for a few days. Rocky was certainly missing her snack time. Poor Al wanted to come out, too, when I went to fetch Rocky from the turnout, as this is our usual routine. Not today. Heavy equipment, chainsaws and infernal racket made it advisable to stay at the turnout end of the property. I did toss a generous scoop of pellets in a wide arc across the turnout for Al and The Barbie Girls. Rocky was happy to go straight to the hitching rail where a feeder and timothy pellets were waiting.
Once groomed and tacked up, Rocky and I walked past the aerial lift, through a silent moment while the chainsaw rested, and across the property to the site previously known as the round pen. Yes, our round pen is gone now, too. It was borrowed and it has returned to its owner. Another story for another time. In the center of the round pen area was a halved white bucket, overturned, and I used it for a mounting block since both our mounting blocks are heavy homemade wooden ones that aren’t easily moved. I’d used that bucket before, so I knew it would work and not collapse under me, though I checked. The desert has a way of disintegrating plastic and consuming car batteries and tourists that don’t drink enough water. We exercise caution. My friends were waiting on their Spanish Barb geldings, and the yearling stud colt was being ponied. La Roca isn’t in season right now and with the temperatures already starting to climb, no one seemed inclined towards shenanigans.
Our ride was peaceful and uneventful. We rode over to the abandoned property that used to house a school for troubled youths. All the buildings are gone. Some roads and a parking lot remain. The helicopters use the parking lot seasonally, or whenever there is a fire. The snake skeleton writhed on this erstwhile helipad, making it a herpetological gravestone.
We took a side route through the desert on our return. La Roca, who led the ride because, well, she is a mare, and because she is a forward moving Rocky Mountain Horse with a ground-eating stride, negotiated with me for a moment, then agreed a little jaunt through cholla and mesquite would be a fitting constitutional. The pretty little trail dips down beneath the trees through a small wash for a moment. Welcome shade. Silent desert.
Sweet Al whinnied a most enthusiastic welcome and The Barbie Girls glanced at him as he arched his neck and flagged his tail and cantered across the turnout towards the wayward riders. His antics reminded me of Minnie’s frantic Jackhuahua greeting when we returned home yesterday. We rode onto the property through the electric gate, where I then hopped off and led Rocky back to the hitching rail. The horses are used to the chainsaw at this point, and squeezing past the front of the truck that held the aerial lift was no issue. It was a big squeeze, a Covid-19 squeeze. You know. Plenty of distance. I decided to forego a visit to the wash rack today, since the heavy equipment was not in a kind place for that activity. I filled a bucket with water and sponged Rocky’s moderately sweaty back after her saddle came off. Back on went the fly mask and back out into the turnout for the little mare. Al stood while I adjusted his temporary fly mask since he’d shredded his a few days ago, and I sprayed a little fly spray on his legs and back. Rocky rolled, then stood and shook.