Went hiking, missed my horse

Last week, my husband and I ventured into the Great Smoky National Park to hike.   It was a beautiful clear fall day, cool but not cold, crunchy leaves underfoot, a crystal blue sky and on the mountaintop, a view of 75 miles to distant peaks.

But while hiking…. I missed my horse.

Those of you who don’t ride horses probably think that this is because I didn’t want to work that hard to hike on my own two legs.  But it wasn’t that — I am pretty fit and my legs are in good shape from riding, so I was able to cover some distance without getting tired.

I still missed my horse.  It is hard to explain.

When I am riding my horse, the partnership between us creates a different experience than walking.  Underneath me is this 1,000 lb. animal, whose rhythm of the four footed walk creates a gentle lullaby.  I hear the footfalls through the dry leaves, 1-2-3-4, a gentle music of movement. The heat of the horse’s body comes up through my seat and legs. If I close my eyes, I feel like we are one being.  My body sways to the movement of his feet.

The views of the forest from 8 feet off the ground provide a panoramic sight. I can see further and higher than when on foot.

The horse experiences the ride differently than I do, and his perspective adds to my human outlook. His ears are pricked forward, looking left and right.  He is alert to possible dangers, or searches for others of his kind. His sense of smell and sight are much more acute than mine, so when he looks intently in one direction, I also look that way, trying to see what he sees.  Sometimes I do, but most often I don’t.

If he gets tense and skitters a bit, with nothing obvious to skitter about, I know it is a smell he is reacting to.  There is something close by which is “not-horse, not-human”. He doesn’t skitter for deer, but he does for cows and pigs. And I suppose bears, but we have not encountered them.

His experience joins with my experience of the forest, and together it is greater than either of the two.  I depend on him, and he on me. He warns me of possible danger, and I reassure him when it is  something we do not need to be concerned with. He strides boldly through creeks and gullies, keeping me safe and dry on his back. We go further than I could go on my own two legs, but it does not tire him.

Hiking is enjoyable, but riding in the forest is so much more so. When friends ask about my riding, I say “I just trail ride” as if it were an apology.  But if they knew what I knew, and experienced what I experience while on the trail, there would be no apology.


Myself as an Idiot

Just recently, a condensed version of one of my blogs (about riding my first endurance ride) was published in the national Endurance Ride magazine.  At first, it is an honor to see yourself in print in a national magazine.  But as I read over the article again, which was written to be a humourous piece, I realized I sounded like a total idiot.

Village_Idiot3I’ve been an idiot many times.  I’ve been treated like an idiot times when I am not, and at times treated seriously when I was behaving like an idiot.  So I am very much used to feeling like an idiot.  It seems to be a frequent way of life for me.

But what I got to thinking about this time was:  Should it bother me that I’m an idiot?

In any moment, you take all of your experiences, emotions, past memories and a bit of logic… mix them together in a mush, and then ACT.  (or in most cases TALK).  Then why, why, why, assuming you have a reasonable amount of intelligence, does the mush still come out as if it came from an idiot?

I don’t know the answer to that question.  If I did, I’d stop doing it…and get a bumper sticker  that says “IDIOT NO MORE”.

idiot2Since I can’t seem to stop it, I’ll use some Buddhism training to accept it.  Buddhism says to accept reality as it is, rather than live in a dream of what could (or should) be.  So rather than dreaming as if I will do and say all kinds of WISE things, I will accept that most likely I will continue to do and say IDIOT things… and stop beating myself up about it.

And I will practice saying, “Boy, I was being such an idiot when I said (or did) that.”

I’ll practice my humanity, idiocy and all.

Now if I can just get all these OTHER IDIOTS in my world to go away, I’d be much happier.


Lettuce Give Thanks

Whoever coined the term “Let us give thanks for our daily bread” hasn’t been to my house lately.

A. I don’t eat much bread (since I learned about the effects on your body of the new genetically modified wheat…!  If you haven’t read up on it… please do!)

B. They haven’t seen my lettuce patch.

Real picture of my garden: One HALF of lettuce section

Real picture of my garden

I am AWASH in lettuce. Every day I can pick a big “Kroger bag” full of leaves.

When I planted the seeds in February, nothing sounded better than fresh lettuce.  So as usual I went overboard.  I nursed those babies all through this frigid winter; the nursery was on a large table in the corner of our living room.

What better decor than seedlings in your living room?  Ask Martha Stewart, she’ll agree.  Well, no — Martha would have you build (by hand) a greenhouse where you could grow all your herbs, veggies and flowers….  MAYBE next year a small greenhouse…?

But the good side is:  Lettuce is a great ice-breaker.

“Here, take my lettuce.  No, PLEASE, take my lettuce!”

On the other hand, the chickens are on strike so I am NOT awash in eggs.  From four hens we get one measly egg a day!  They must have formed a union. “Anything over one egg a day, and we demand overtime pay!”  HA!   This is Kentucky, chickens.  We don’t need no stinkin’ unions. (especially in the coal mines…)

LG&E Seeks to Dump Coal Waste into Ohio River

LG&E Seeks to Dump Coal Waste into Ohio River

Speaking of coal mines, how about that “War on Coal” EPA stuff, huh? Yes, we’d rather keep some jobs (read: Coal Companies profit) here in Kentucky rather than try to help the planet from collapsing into a ball of heat.  We’d rather breathe the noxious gas rather than re-train coal miners.  We’d rather pollute mountain town water rather than even THINK about solar or hydro.

Which is why I plant lettuce (NOTE: THIS IS THE SEGUE BETWEEN COAL AND LETTUCE.  DID YOU SEE IT COMING?  NEITHER DID I.).  I figure when California runs out of water  (OH,  you say it already has?)  and Mexico can’t ship veggies across the border since fuel prices will skyrocket (OH, you say they already have??)  and migrant workers can’t come pick the Florida produce due to the Great Wall of China the US will build on the U.S.-Mexican border (OH, we started that wall but ran out of money).. then I will need lettuce.

AWWWW... Could  you eat this little one?  Bring me another plate of lettuce.

AWWWW… Could you eat this little one? Bring me another plate of lettuce.


Anyone have an extra heifer I can buy?

Homeboy Food

coopersburgI live 500 miles from the town where I grew up.  The hamlet of Coopersburg (and our house was 4 miles from the hamlet!) is in Southeast Pennsylvania, just 10 miles from the Delaware River which separates Pennsylvania from New Jersey.  Yes, Kentuckians, I am a Damn Yankee!

There are two things I return to PA for:  visits with family and the FOOD.

This is Pennsylvania Dutch country, and I am  descended from Pennsylvania Dutch people.  Dutch does not mean from Holland (they are Dutch) but from Germany (they are Deutsch).  As Americans often do, the “Deutsche” was Americanized to Dutch, and so all my ancestors were German. (which accounts for my introverted stoic nature, but that’s another story)

There are three German foods that I ALWAYS have when returning to PA – if at all possible:


scrappleScrapple is top on my list.  If you don’t know what Scrapple is, think a poor man’s sausage.  You take all the parts of a pig that no one would normally eat, cook it and grind it up real fine, add cornmeal to stretch it, and spices (mostly pepper). Pour it into a square mold and let it congeal. It is one of those foods that you don’t want to see made, or you would never eat it.

But slice it thin, fry it til crispy in a little oil, smother with ketchup and VOILA!  A taste treat that only Pennsylvania Dutch people would appreciate. (My sister reminded me that true Penna. Dutch style is to smother it in Applebutter… she’s right, but I AM more a fan of the ketchup approach.)

So I ate half a pound myself in two meals (well, I think my Mom had one piece). My annual quota for Scrapple has been fulfilled.

shoofly pieMom also made a Shoofly Pie while I was visiting. Without going into the details, it is a wet-bottom cake-like pastry in a pie shell that uses lots of molasses for the wet bottom, plus crumbs on top.  If you don’t like molasses, you won’t like Shoofly Pie.  But all Pennsylvania Dutchers were raised with molasses, and so we love it.

Girl climbing a tree

When I close my eyes and eat Scrapple and Shoofly Pie, it brings back memories of being ten years old, wearing Keds and ankle socks, and having the whole summer free to play outside all day.  Mud pies, treehouses and forts, climbing trees, and running through the orchard. Ah, give me Scrapple every day just to conjure up those memories.

The Zen of Weeds

monks2There is a Zen monastery somewhere in the Himalayas which required its novices to go door to door in the village, offering to clean the villagers toilets. They believe that cleaning toilets day after day strengthens the values of  compassion, service and humility.  The other Buddhist value this service highlights is that no task, no matter how menial or dirty, is of sacred value if approached with dignity and attention. (Wouldn’t you like to have these guys come to your door and offer to clean your toilet?  More welcome than the Mormon guys, I’d say.  And their robes are cool too.)

I have spent the last few (beautiful, sunny) days weeding our flower gardens.  I say “flower gardens” symbolically, since there are no flowers currently blooming; the tulips and daffodils experienced a short life this spring with the late cold snap.  All of the others beauties are slow to come up… after having seen what happened to their brethren who bloomed “on time” in a frigid early April.  So the rest of the plants stayed underground a bit longer in a defiant act of self-preservation.

yellow woodBut I diverge.   (No, that’s not the right word, that’s what roads do in the yellow wood. A reference for you literary readers.)


I am practicing my Zen values by weeding hour upon hour, carefully pulling all those little buggers up by the roots, digging under them with a trowel until they surrender.  There are thousands. The work is tedious, hot, and brainless. But oddly satisfying.

This is NOT me.  I don't wear a hat and have a MUCH better tan.

The Zen Masters say that while practicing work – in this case weeding – you must empty your mind of distracting thoughts so that you are totally present in the moment.  You must consider each weed and each clump of damp earth, contemplating your existence and your role in changing this cycle of life. (Yes, contemplate that you are the Grim Reaper of Weeds.)

To which I say — POPPYCOCK.

To empty your mind while weeding is to throw away an opportunity for all kinds of distracting thoughts.  Creative ideas.  Gratitude for friends.  Anticipation of trail rides to come.  Plans for farm improvement. Consideration of what color dress to get for son’s upcoming wedding. Achy knees and that getting old sucks. What to name the new chicken. (Marilyn).

distraughtOkay, okay…. I didn’t think a SINGLE MOMENT about world hunger, the tragedy of the stolen girls in Nigeria, the Syrian war, the impending environmental collapse, the political dysfunction in Washington….I reserve those thoughts for a limited amount of time in the day, or I might kill myself.

But the Zen of weeding allowed me, hour after sweaty hour, to consider my existence as a 60-something, small farm, retired, outdoor-loving, introverted but socially-acceptable woman, examining the minutiae that make a life. Perhaps you might say these nuts-and-bolts incidentals are insignificant in the scheme of things.  Perhaps. But perhaps these life details are all we have.

And DARN, my flower beds look GREAT!





I Burned the Christmas Tree

burning treeYes, here it is MAY, and I finally burned the Christmas tree.  Watching it burst into flames (it was kinda dry, do ya think?), there was a strange feeling that I got which burning any other tree would not have caused. What is it about Christmas, and Christmas trees, that on a warm beautiful May morning, it is so touching to watch one burn?

Let me explain.  Each year we cut our own tree at a local tree farm.  Traditionally we do this the weekend after Thanksgiving. Often it stis in our living room un-decorated for a number of weeks… just seeing the green and smelling the pine smell is enough.

Eventually I decorate it (and as the years go by, the decorations get more and more minimalist).

xmas treeWe take it down AFTER January 1st (we are not those Take Down the Tree December 26 kind of folks).  One year I actually left it up until Valentine’s Day, but that’s another story.  After it’s down, we put it out on our back patio for the winter because the birds like it there… they sit on it, occasionally build a nest in it in the spring, and we put bird food out around it.  We can see it from our living room so it is something fun to watch.

Then, sometime in the spring – Usually March, we have a major BURNING party… well, not a party but you get the gist.  I am the pyromaniac in the family so it gives me a thrill to set the tree and other assorted downed branches on fire.

This year, the burning party didn’t take place til last week.  Very late.  The grass was green, the trees in bud, the spring flowers out.  And I was feeding a roaring hot fire. The last thing to go on the fire was the Christmas tree.

burning treeAs I watched it crackle and flame, I felt the anticipation, joy, and sacredness of the Christmas season come back just for a few minutes. The tree was “giving up its life” for our pleasure, but seemed to do so with pride and joy and beauty. It was beautiful even as it burned, and it’s shape stood out among the other odd shaped limbs and branches.  It stayed on the top of the burning, never rolling over, like a candle lit facing the sky.

I love spring. And can’t wait to get our Christmas tree again in December. The cycle of life.

The Outside People

I went to church yesterday morning.  With a bit of regret, I have to confess.

UUCLBannerSmallIt’s not that I don’t like our church.. I do!  I like the services, I like the minister, I like the topics of the sermons and I like the friends I have there.  I truly am glad that such a church exists.

The problem with Sunday morning church is….. It’s INSIDE.

The sanctuary is dim compared to the brilliant sun of the spring morning.  Small windows tease you with the robin’s-egg-blue sky, the emerald green grass, the golden air infused with sun. I watched the windows as music and talking surrounded me, wishing I were outside.

So to the list of what makes all of us unique, add this one:  INSIDE OR OUTSIDE person?

If it isn’t already totally obvious, I’m an outside person. Happiest and most at peace when working on something — anything — that keeps me outside.  Choice of hobbies — those that keep me outside.  Horseback riding, hiking, mowing (is that a hobby?), gardening, even cleaning stalls. I can even take most winters outoutsideside if dressed right.  Well, OK, this winter’s sub-freezing temps DID make me glad we had a heated house and a woodburning stove.  The outside urge in me quit for a long stretch of days.

Of all animal species, why are humans the only ones who build huge, square shelters we call homes? What is it about flat floors, flat walls and flat ceilings that make us feel safe?  Boxes.  Homes made of box-rooms stacked next to each other or on top of each other. You know the straight line is not one from nature.  Human beings created the straight line. No tree, no plant, no river, no mountain is formed in straight lines.  From what deep sense of humanity did we start surrounding ourselves with straight lines, when nature tells us otherwise?straightlines

I ponder these things as I look straight ahead at our straight bookshelves filled with straight sided books, wedged between two straight walls sitting on a straight floor. While outside the (straight) windows, trees curve and bend in the morning breeze.

bending tree woman

Solitude Matters

Once again I read that phrase “WORK HARD, PLAY HARD” as a command to readers to Grab Life By the Tail and “Just Do It”!

Boy, I am tired of that whole mentality.  It is just SO American to encourage us (especially those working for a corporation) to be busy-busy-busy all the time.  When you stop working at your office (or orchard or retail store or…) then you need to jump into some sports clothing and ..

Hit the Slopes!get-up-you-lazy-bum-2

Grab the Bike!

Saddle the Horse!

Snatch the Tennis Racket!

Dig out the Baseball Glove!

Ad infinitum..

What ever happened to the value assigned to

quiet contemplation?

Of closing your eyes and resting them from the glare of the computer screen?spider-web-79920

Of examining a spider web in all its glory?

Of sipping coffee while imagining life after death?

Of writing a letter to a long lost friend?

Americans are so GO GO GO all the time.  It’s killing us, everyone complains of being too busy, stress is creating health problems…. yet we cannot let go of that thought that if you are not DOING SOMETHING PHYSICAL (and preferably competitive) you are wasting your life.

OK, I admit it…. deep down I’m lazy.  I say, let’s create a LAZY CLUB and never have a meeting!  Homework assignment:  Sit for at least 30 minutes and don’t do ANYTHING. (Don’t even write a blog….)

Let’s hear it for muscles that are NOT stretched and taut.garfield

Let’s hear it for dirty houses and unmowed lawns.

Let’s hear it for the quiet sound of:

Tennis rackets sitting in the corner

Bike wheels still as a mouse

Girths untightened and saddles resting on their racks

Sneakers hiding in the dark closet

ContemplationBooks whose pages aren’t turning

The un-rustle of newspapers gathering dust on the coffee table

Dishes sitting in the sink

Now that’s my kind of quiet. Take a deep breath. Hear your heart beat. Think of old times. Picture your loved ones. Pet your cat. Exercise your eyebrows if you must. Up down, up down….

And maybe if you are feeling particularly unsettled at all this quiet…smell a flower loudly.  It will give you a false sense of doing something.. yet it is a truly and wonderfully lazy activity.


Take back life.

Do I or Do I Not Want To Do?

I stole this title from the NY Times Magazine section.  It caught my fancy, since this is a question we struggle with every day . Well most of us.  Maybe not the pope or Mother Teresa or dedicate activists.

I HAVE TO OD WHATIf you are working (for a paycheck), you may say “I do not want to do my work today.”  Yet you will because you have to feed, house and clothe yourself.

If you are not working (aka retired, home with children, unemployed…) , you may say “I have to do this (whatever) today”.  But you really don’t want to.   Despite your “freedom from a job”, the Have-To Cultural Police take over your psyche.

WHY do I go through a whole day doing “I HAVE TO” things?  When I get to the end of one of these days, nothing really good has been accomplished.  For example:

I haven’t saved the world from hunger
or stopped a war.

OK, that’s an unreasonable goal.  Let’s come closer to home:

I haven’t rescued a friend from an unhappy situation.

I haven’t even made my yard look more beautiful (although I question the value in doing that, in the scheme of things.)

I haven’t made a new friend.

I haven’t created a work of art, or a touching poem, or an interesting story.

I haven’t even done anything on my Bucket List.  Or anything to get me closer to my Bucket List.

Letmake-a-lists talk specifics.  Here is my “Have-To” list for today, February 12, 2014:

Have to go to church to return dishcloths I took home last week to wash.

Have to take (horse) fecal samples to vet clinic for testing.

Have to pick up halters I had repaired at local tack shop.

Have to go to Non-fiction Writing Class (OK– One thing on today’s list that helps get me closer to a Bucket List item)

Have to write Marketing plan for National Horse Trail group.

Ironing1Have to iron some shirts (Oops, had a typo for a second there, it said “iron some shits“.  Maybe it was a Freudian slip, since ironing shirts is kind of in the category of ironing shit … unless I can find a good classic movie on TV at the same time.)

Have to sort out old tack (which is laying all over my bedroom) to sell at an event this weekend.

Have to dig out instructions on how to get ready for new window installation, which is tomorrow.

Have to….

I won’t bore you with the rest.  I am starting to bore myself with this list. ZZZZZZZ-Z-Z-Z

GRRRR… Well, I HAVE TO go now because I HAVE TO go do my errands (see list above). Somewhere in this mindless chaos of errands I hope to find beauty and peace.

Dear Reader: May your days be filled with lots of “I WANT TO”
… and not so much “I HAVE TO.”

horse water

Birds on a Wire

birds on a wire5In honor of Arsenio Hall, makes you want to say “Hmmmmm…”

Why do a flock of birds ALL perch on the same telephone wire, shoulder to shoulder, all facing one way, peering out into the distance?

There are so many telephone wires to choose from!  There are so many trees to choose from! (If I were a bird, I’d want to perch in a tree… better grip, prettier scenery..)

How do they pick that one wire?  Is it the Big-Man-On-Campus Phenomena? BMOC bird decides, ‘Yup, this is the one.”  Then all the hangers-on to BMOC:  the adoring girlfriends, watchful sisters, little snotty-beaker brothers, his  “I love you man” crew, nagging cousins, grumpy grandpas, sweet grandmas – do they all follow him to the wire and settle in?

Shoulder to shoulder… it couldn’t be for the warmth, since rarely do their feathers touch.

birds on a wire6Do they jostle as they settle in, bumping left and right :

“Hey move over, I don’t have an inch of room here!”

“You need to lose some weight, fatty!”

“Yeah well the worms were so good this week”

“I don’t care, move over, lard ass!”

“Now, now children, there’s enough room for everybird!”

“I’m not perching by HER! She’s got worm breath!”

“Yeah?  Who says, skinny legs!”

An on and on, until everyone settles down, fluffs up their feathers, tightens their grip on the wire, and stares forward.  Suddenly, SILENCE.  Just 100 bird stares looking across the distant hills.

Now, my dear reader, you may wonder what is going on in those tiny birdbrains.  And so do I.

Are they dreaming of warmer days?  Are they trying to recover from the dizziness they got circling around for the past hour looking for the perfect wire?  Are they thinking of recipes for sauted worms?  Are they planning the next nest build – what type of twigs make the perfect nest, how to pack it in, what crook in what tree is ideal? Are they looking for predators?

bird poopMeanwhile, I am in a car driving under the wire. Glancing up, I step on the gas as I pass underneath.  If they decide to SCHLAT while I’m underneath, my car will be SLICK with SCHLAT SPATTER. (Repeat that ten times…)

And as I disappear in a cloud of frozen car exhaust, are they watching us with their own bird questions?

cars on road“Why are all those cars going down THIS road, when there are so many others to choose from?”

“Geez, those cars STINK!  Let’s get outta here!”

“Why is that person all alone while that other person has four other people with him?”

“What type of cars are the red ones?  Do you think they are related to our buddies, the cardinals?”

“Where are they going?  To buy worms?”

“Why is that person chirping while driving?”

“What is that square little thing with a bright screen doing, held in her hand?  Maybe it’s a high tech worm finder!”

“OOPS, watch out, those two cars almost ran into each other!  Spread your wings and fly away from there!  Danger, danger!”

Wave to the next batch of birds who settle on a wire where you drive. A little friendliness might encourage them to hold their SCHLAT just a bit longer. And don’t use your high tech worm finder while driving.