the winter within … or … the musings of one fortunate in this uncertain world.
This is the winter that isn’t. Here, where Paul and I – and the Reverend and Tempest and the rest of the clan – live in Northern California we’ve had a grand total of about 5 ‘storms’. As of late January, the lack of winter left us with an historic failing – almost immeasurable rain totals and feeble findings as regards the northern Sierra Mountains’ snowpack. As in – No Snow! That lack has since been supplemented a bit by Mother Nature, the weather Gods – or by HAARP, depending upon how one sees the world – bringing a few more cold and wet storms upon us, but still, I feel as though I’ve missed out on my annual hibernation.
Winter pulls me within, deep within myself … I don’t do well at all with the lack of sun, or with her icy blasts of wind, or with the need of the mountains of clothing I must wear each day simply to trundle off to the barn to care for the horses through those months … but the quickening darkness and the inclement weather are good for making me want to dive deep inside, deep into heart and soul and multifaceted thought for a long and soulful winter’s rest. Winter is good time to heal, to rest, curl by the fire with a good book and a glass of good wine, cat on lap and a dog at my side … work new songs, play catch up on life itself but mostly, it’s a good time to delve within for words that have been incubating there throughput the busier months. To hibernate, like the bear, laying on the layers of soul nutrition, that juicy, creative fat that can then be divvied out as the year moves forward.
While the shorter days certainly came upon us, and thick ice had to be broken from the horses’ troughs for 35 mornings in a row, the winter’s wildness and respite did not come. It is hard to go cozy, sink into the warmth and away from the winter’s chill to do some navel gazing when the skies are bright blue and days blaze a sunny 70˚. The iris’ came to surface 2 months early, at the same time the bees that live in our neighbors old oak ‘bee tree’ started being buzzily active; the neighborhood peepers and bigger frogs began tuning up their respective symphonies … the squirrels never stopped their forage and nor did the horses – the last autumn’s huge fall of acorns never got softened and rendered unpalatable by winter rains. They remained crunchy and even now in March, impossible for the horses to resist, (Unsettling, if only because too much acorn can founder or colic a horse, or lay on far too much weight.) Tempest, an older lady by horse standards, remained ever the hussy with none of the usual winters’ diminishing of her ‘lady season’. She has been unrelenting in her attempts to beguile the poor, unassuming old thoroughbred neighbor-gelding over the back fence with her squeals of lust and even stranger mare behaviors … The old goat Posy is in some twilight zone of diminishing hormone, and rather than her newly acquired devil-goat behavior mellowing with the onset of winter, she has kept up her ’blubbering’, following every human, dog and horse she meets with wide, horizontally-pupiled eyes a’blaze, her waggling tongue protruding 2 inches from her gummy, half toothed mouth as she snorts and growls and aims for any face or crotch within her reach (you have to see it to believe it.) ….
The Shetland pony, Molly, began shedding her long full Siberian pony-like winter coat even before any winter had come upon us! The timing of her shedding is normal, as horses will begin to shed their winter hair to some degree with the passing of the winter solstice. They are governed by the light, the shortening of days after summer solstice telling them turn on their ‘grow the coat’ DNA – the return of the light with the winter solstice telling them that they had best get busy losing that hair, for the summer will come. But long before the good nesting materials became abundant (the short twigs that come with the winter windfall; the long, tough black and white pony hairs and the soft-as-silk and shorter, red Tempest hairs), blue birds and wrens began searching for suitable apartments; the Fuji trees went into bud in early February and then froze to a crisp; and as the sun shined cheerily and relentlessly, like the early flowers, I turned towards the sun. There wasn’t the dark to welcome me. Where was winter?
I had to find it somehow … that quiet, darkening peace. I knew it was out there, despite the hue and cry of doom all around me. So I devoted my evening walks with Djuna to finding the winter within the winter that wasn’t.
And there it was – in the Canadians and the silly ducks skating on the neighbors’ pond, frozen solid for days with the month long sunny-but-icy blast that came to us early in the year; in the bird tree, the great, season-stripped naked Oak deemed to harbor the winter’s evening bird conventions – birds, mostly European Starlings filling it with a cacophony of song, the hue and cry perhaps just the birds seeking consensus about where the best seeds could be harvested or cold season berries found, or where the best neighborhood birdfeeders filled with goods devoted to the nuthatch, towhee, oriole and finch could be raided – the birds packing into the old, gnarled branches so that the tree looked as though gloriously decorated with audible ornaments ….
… And the sunsets … our winter sunsets rival the best, anywhere. Every night, a new offering – like my endless sea. The distant horizon a place to rest eyes tired of seeing too much, and all that is between here and there, a colorful balm to sooth the soul.
The winter fog even blessed us a few times on our walk, leaving only the ghosts of oaks in our pastoral paradise, covering everything with the winter quiet, a blanket of peace – like going within, where only the essential can be heard …
Paul and I recently spent 2 weeks performing music and seeking alligator, Ibis and spanish moss through the state of Florida, which also seemed curiously turned upside down. There is a drought there as well. The hanging bits of moss were brown and crisp. Usually in winter it flows from the oaks like greening silk, and the wee orchids that live off of the oak bark are brought to life with the rains.
But everything was dry and seemed caught in the stillness that comes from life going dormant in order to survive. On an off day we journied to a northern Florida beach. We had to sit by the water, breathe in the salt air. Walking a long, wooden path we eventually emerged from dry forest to turn towards the sea … and were met suddenly by the most remarkable winter tableau.
The day was 65˚ – but fog was hugging the shore like a frozen veil and the ghostly rolling sand dunes, stark and white, looked as though they’d been dusted with an otherworldly snow. Here was a vision of our missing winter.
Now it is time to reawaken. The trees will survive our drought. What flowers and forage cannot replenish enough to be reborn this spring will come again in another, given the blessings of the rains. Despite her likely disappointment in us human parasites, Mother will always grace us with the good and the beauty, no matter what. While the sandhill cranes and the snow geese begin their long trek north, we will begin our long trek back to hope – the songbirds will still nest and fledge, the horses’ dappled coats will glisten in the summer sun. We will still create, we will still love, we will still grow and draw our sustenance from the parched soil. Rebirth. Life will continue.
Here and now I extract what is known from what is not, find custom in the unexpected (these words, for a start), and will get busy looking up, working in word and song, looking forward to a journey to my sacred place in the Aegean sea, get my body and heart and mind summer ready though they’ve had little rest or respite. With much gratitude, I recognize that I am fortunate in this life, winter or not … I have stayed warm, haven’t been without shelter, or food – or hope – so, blessed with abundance that I do not take for granted, it is time to face the past and move into the future. Being Now.
So I am working on my 2nd novel. It, too, is set mostly on a Greek isle and also will be advocacy for all of the animals, but most specifically for the American Pit Bull Terrier … a tale that will illustrate how it is that the creatures of this beautiful earth can draw us humans out from a stifling darkness and into becoming all that we can be.
As I try to figure out how to market my 1st novel, All The Little Graces (don’t forget, it is an eBook – go to it’s page here on the blog for links to where it can be found online!) I also wriggle like a child who is done with the winter and needs to be out in the sun and air rather than sitting in a seat at school – so full with this new life growing within, the words that seem to multiply by the moment. They are alive. I look forward to being able to devote myself to making the perfectly opulent, colorful, comfortable yet challenging bed upon which those words may land. I’ll be tracking the life of those words here on these pages, winter or not …
I will embrace the spring in its perfection. It is there, no matter what. That is a given, something we all can trust. Let’s keep looking up …
I am sitting here by a welcoming fire - with the Reverend Djuna Cupcake at my side, the old widow Lily (Nemo) Bubbie on my lap and Moggie and Mr. Annie sprawled about – and I’m wearing a big smile. Though Paul is on the other side of the continent, I can feel his presence here as well. I’ve just cracked a bottle of a fine Cabernet and am celebrating the final leg of ‘All The Little Graces’ journey to becoming an eBook! Today it was sent off to the various online outlets, and thus begins it’s flight. Of course, I hope for traditional publishing. I want to hold that book in my own hands, so now I will renew that tricky, testy task of querying literary agents – but if this is as far as my book ever gets, I will still be pleased. I love it.
In a day or so All The Little Graces will show up at Amazon and the iTunes iBookstore, and in the weeks following will follow at Sony, Kobo and Capia. So those of you with e-readers, be on the lookout for it! If you do venture into it’s virtual pages, when you’ve finished, please remember to go back to the site on which you found it and leave a review! Even if you think it was dreadful, leave a review! The more reviews it gets, the better. And if you enjoy it, please spread the word.
So now, where is that bottle of wine? I’ll drink a toast to you all.
All The Little Graces percolated and brewed and stewed for 10 years before it ever even whispered it’s first words to me. There are many people to thank for it’s ‘becoming’, those who contributed to the six years that followed in a blaze of words and pages – but I must first begin at the beginning and thank that mangy little brown mutt of a street dog, Margarita, for being the inspiration for it all. Though the story itself is a work of fiction, it is based in many truths – the first being that Margarita was indeed real. My family and I met her in 1990 at the beginning of six-weeks spent on a Greek island and she changed our lives forever. Though a victim of the streets she was quite a character, a pure little soul who captured our hearts and ultimately introduced us to the harsh reality of the life of a Greek stray. More truth … Greece is enigmatic and magnificent, and for me, there is nothing that can match the magic and peace a Greek island can offer!
I must also thank Skiathos, an island of the archipelago Sporades in the Aegean Sea – a magnificent beauty and a deep well of inspiration, I thank her for our 26 year-long love affair and for being a throne for my Muse. My grateful thanks to her people, who over the many years have slowly helped me to better understand the Greek spirit and passion, and have given me some insight into their country’s painful yet inspiring past. Skiathos is one of many islands and villages that served as a template for ‘place’ in the story, all of them responsible for the DNA that ultimately makes the ‘Graces’ island one of a kind and very much it’s own character.
Grateful thanks also … to my husband and partner, Paul Kamm, for encouraging me, humoring me, feeding me, letting me ‘liberate’ some of his words, and for being patient with my frustrations and the strange hours I had to keep to get the writing done – as well as for being an incredible help as a reader and an editor all along the path; to my darling and talented daughter, Breelyn MacDonald, for being a part of it all and always encouraging me along the way, and for the fantastic photograph that graces the ‘About the Author’ page; the Reverend Djuna Cupcake, my dearest canine companion who always helped ‘keep the space’ for me as I wrote, and who is a living, breathing conduit to the book’s main protagonist, Margarita; to friends Wendy Spratt, for the lovely painting that became the cover, and Lorraine Gervais for the cover design; to Kip Harris, who was my English teacher when I was a junior in a remarkable high school neatly tucked away in the magical woods of the Sierra Nevada Mountains … an inspiring man who opened my world to Emerson and Thoreau, to Wordsworth, Keats, Hemingway and Shakespeare and therefore encouraged in me a passion for the colorful world of words; to my other readers - Cindi Buzzell, Maggie McKaig, Mike McKinney, Elena Powell, Kate Wall, Donna Natali and Tom MacDonald – for begging me for clarity, for weeping and giggling and ensuring that I wasn’t writing *it’s* when I should have been writing *its*, and essentially helping to make sense of it all; to Sands Hall for encouragement and tools that changed my writing life; Eleni ‘Helen’ Dumas, our darling Greek language teacher extraordinaire; Yvonne Ayoub, for her own unique perspective of an island we both deeply love; Kiri’a Koula, and Syrainoula Mathinou, for their loving kindness and true hospitality, and for the beautiful, inspiring spot on their veranda that hovers just above the Aegean, where the words flowed to me over the calm morning sea from the sun’s rising … and Dimitrios Mathinos, for sharing his tales of life on the seas and his knowledge of and glimpses into island life in days long past; Ioannis Tsikounas for his help, his friendship, and for being the source of boundless laughter, always; to Mike Voyatzis, for information about fish and fishing the waters of the Aegean, and most importantly for his warm and gracious hospitality in the quiet of several Skiathos winters – visits that truly enabled me to get my book finished; to the angels of the Skiathos Dog shelter, especially Helen Bozas, for making the shelter a reality and for caring so selflessly for the voiceless ones; Greek Animal Rescue, and Diane Aldan (Tails from Greece Rescue) for information, and for helping the animals of Greece’s streets; and to my kind friend Giorgios Koumiotis … and his beautiful old caique, ‘ΘΥΜΙΟΣ’ (THIMIOS) … who both took away my fear of the sea and in doing so, encouraged me to listen to the poetry and music in the waters and the wind, and unknowingly always helped me to find the pure magic, that place where the words live and breathe.
And to my agent and publisher, whoever you may be – you will realize this dream and never be disappointed that you did!
Forever am I thankful to you all.
With a great love,
Not long before the glorious January full ‘Wolf’ moon, the hungry moon, we were blessed with a bit of rain. It came in the night, easing away the crackle of static and brittle leaves, rinsing off the dust, plumping skin left dry and haggard with the stripping of the cold winds from the north, leaving everything feeling alive and smelling fresh and clean. Mind you, this is winter. And that was the only rain we’ve had in a month’s time. I’ve been chipping ice, every frozen morning, from the horses’ water troughs. But the days turn to spring, even the birds sound fooled – and there has been no more rain.
I’ve taken to walking the sunset with Djuna each evening. (We’re often joined by Posy the Goat)
He sniffs about, scenting the messages left behind in the dark by passing bobcat, coyote and raccoon while I visit with neighboring horses and scan the skies for astounding clouds and colors, and the gaggles of geese that course overhead from pond to pond. (Oh, I would give anything for a new camera!!!)
But on the walk we took just after that one rain – with a sunset still roiling with clouds, golden hued and illuminating the darkening sky from below– a sound, perhaps the cooing of a dove? Or a smell, the scent of damp earth and distant sea on the breeze … something took me immediately to Skiathos.
When we can, Paul and I go to to the island for a few weeks in winter as well as in the springtime. We were there just over a year ago, bundled in berets and warm scarves and jackets, bathed by a weak winter sun as we sat outdoors in a taverna by the water … soothed by the music of foreign language, only a few other non-residents spotted here and there wearing the same faraway look in their eyes that we possessed, and likely were there for the same reason. It is our hearts’ home. It’s where our Muse is all around us, in us, with us always. She carries us through our time there charged with juicy inspiration. We spend days walking empty driftwood scattered beaches, hiking though sand floored cypress forests, feeding street cats, reading, reading, laughing … writing … visiting with friends who are always far too busy ‘in the season’ to sit and linger over a meal, a coffee or a Tsipouro. Walking ‘home’ along the waterfront in the dark of a winter’s night we can see our breath in reflected light … the weather Gods usually treat us well, giving us only a taste of Zeus’ furies in occasional torrential rains and skies full of lightening bolts, even a hint of snow here and there in between long stretches of glorious 65 degree sunshine.
Two years ago on Christmas Day I went to Skiathos alone. It was an epic journey … not only was there the long flight to Athens (via many points in between) but also the sometimes adventurous winter journey from Athens to the island, always with the threat of a National Strike lurking about. In winter, ferry passage is dependant upon organized protests or the weather and flights go only 2x a week from Athens and then only if the pilot feels he has gotten enough sleep, isn’t fighting with his girlfriend or wants cheap shrimp from the island fish market … and again, only as long as the weather is cooperating. But I made it, settled into the lovely, cozy little stone den that our good friend so generously offers as winter lodging –– and then it started to rain.
And rain. And rain. This winter ‘home’ is a good quarter mile from the village, which I depend upon for signs of life and sustenance so I slogged it every day through ankle deep rivers-that-once-were-roads and sheets of rain to visit the market and sit in a warm cafe.
The rain didn’t matter. I was there to write. My story originated on the island long ago, it’s where much of its writing had developed and I was not there now to leisure away my days on golden winter beaches or walking goat paths winding through verdant fields. My adventure was simply to go to Skiathos and finish my story.
I arose early every day … to the sound of the torrents outside … and swaddled in my long down coat, set to work on the computer. By mid day I would be ready to uncurl, stretch, unfurl and emerge from my cozy little word-cave so, bundled up like a pack mule, I’d make the wet expedition to the town where I then would sit again for hours … first over a silken, delicious hot chocolate, then Greek coffee, and eventually tsipouro with meze’des, the wonderful side dishes that accompany each small bottle of tsipouro, a salad of some sort or a plate of small fishes, or big beans drenched in a tomato/garlic/oregano sauce … and work on new ideas and the edit of my paper manuscript.
The rains stopped on New Years Eve. I put down pen and computer for the day and took advantage of late afternoon sun, walking the village, up and down the hilly cobbled lanes and whitewashed alleys past doorways of red and green and blue that still were blessed with flowering bougainvillea …
I fed hungry cats everywhere, and walked to the shipyard to visit beloved caiques that were ‘resting’ there for the winter, and with the coming of the dark, found myself quite hungry – but heading back through the village I couldn’t even find one open market or taverna. The only place open for business in the entire town was a small cafe in the harbor where the closest thing to dinner were the wee handfuls of nuts that came as meze’ with the 2 shots of ouzo I drank!
The coming of the New Year is a big deal in Greece – bigger than Christmas Day, which is second to Easter in regards to a religious celebration though also significant in that it is Agios Nikolaos’ day. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, and therefore also very important to these people of the sea – and is the namesake of all named Niki or Nikos, etc. It a solemn day next to the celebration of the new year, Agios Vasilis’, or Saint Basil’s day (for anyone named Vasilis, Vasilikoula, etc.) This is the day of the ritual “renewal of waters”, in which all water containers in the house are emptied and refilled with fresh water, and (I love this quite pagan piece), offerings are made by some to the naiads, the spirits of springs and fountains in thanks for the plentiful waters of the year before and to ensure the flow of good water in the year ahead! It is a lucky day, as Saint Basil is not only the patron of healing and protection but also of good fortune and the ‘vasilopita’ is shared, a cake with one coin baked into it; whoever finds the coin is considered to have good luck coming. But of course, being the first day of the new year, it is marked by much festivity …
There would be parties all over the village … I’d been invited to a few, but as they wouldn’t even start until after 10 PM there was a lot of ‘lost time’ to handle. I wandered (well, after 2 ouzo, I wandered a bit tipsily!) off to the end of a small, wooded peninsula known as ‘Bourtzi”, where I could watch the moon showing off over the sea through the few scattered clouds.
I was beset by a bit of melancholy there, looking over the water, sitting alone in the dark freezing chill in this place that always has been metaphor, to me, for my more authentic self. The place where, while being fed by the warmth of color and the sun, calmed by the healing water and the island’s richness of spirit, I’ve always been able to retreat to – within – to where the magic of a potent silence can so easily be found despite being surrounded, at times, by a multitude of tourists!
But on that cold night, in a different kind of silence I could have been the only person left on the planet. I wept a bit, missing Paul and the Reverend Cupcake and the other furries on the farm, said my blessings for the New Year ahead and then stood, and sang – rather drunkenly – a melancholic version, in the Gaelic, of ’Auld Lang Syne’. Walking back along the Bourtzi’s stone path to the old village harbor, dolled up in it’s holiday lights and blue Christmas trees, I felt like I was moving down a birth canal. Leaving the old behind. Rebirth.
The wonderful parties with their great food and dancing came and went, with the new year greeted by a hail of shotgun blasts and fireworks, and good wishes of ‘Xronia Polla! Kali Xronia!’, many years, good years! The sun shone throughout the whole of the next day and I walked clean, dry alleys and along a golden beach to our springtime landlady’s house for a lovely feast with her family. With the year completed and a new one welcomed in with such love, I felt truly blessed. I wandered home beside a calm sea, through a sunset, a brilliant wash of many colors … returned to my hobbit house … and finished the story.
Another few years followed – polishing, sculpting, rearranging, rewrites, a lot of edits (a few of them done over coffee as a springtime sun rose over the Aegean) and many readings by my ‘readers’ … and then even more edits, spit polishing and reading but suddenly – I was done! Surely ‘All The Little Graces’ is an imperfect specimen, the flawed but much beloved first child, not literary genius, but it is whole and it is done.
And with the coming of the full ‘Wolf’ moon, it was sent off into the world to become an ‘eBook’.
While I continue my quest for traditional publishing, ‘All The Little Graces’ will be available as an eBook via Amazon (Kindle, Kindle app for Mac, Kindle app for PC), Apple iBook/iTunes (iPad, iPhone and iTouch) and Sony. I am bypassing Barnes and Noble (Nook) because B & N has even less integrity regarding author’s sales than Amazon has. It should be available soon.
Follow your passions and never let go of your dreams. Please. We must have dreams to light our way in these interesting times.
Howling at the moon, in love
for all of the ‘horsie’ girls, who like me, have never quite grown up …
A sweet memory came to me through the thick, balmy fog balm as I walked with Djuna down our country lane this evening … the memory, moments finely hewn of mist and late nights, the solemn clop of rubber shod hooves on pavement accented by a the melody of bells provoked to song by each gentle step … the cold, quiet, absolutely empty late night streets, swirling fog lit by gas lamp … Maggie, tethered to me by a cord of trust, 4 legs swinging to the rhythm and her long, inward curved ears like radar, attentive to the magic at hand.
In another life (certainly in another century) I was a carriage driver, a 5’5″, 108 lb. teamster who worked for years for the local carriage company – my partners, a few good women and several magnificent Percheron draft horses. (Animals Rights activists, simmer down, now! It was another life, another time, and if not for the few of us horsewomen/carriage drivers, those horses’ lives would have had far less kindness and comfort.)
Aside from carriage work I once drove a team of six big mares – dapple grays, a snowy white and several blacks all hitched abreast, side by side and pulling a disk plow over rutted ground. The sight of those six huge and powerful butts in a line in front of me was surely incredible, but even more so was that though the rein coming from the mare farthest to my right was of a normal length, the other, coming from the mare at my far left, was not! It was a good three feet short, so as we bounced over that uneven field I had to lean far forward and to the left to make up it’s lacking. I remember looking down – legs shaking as I balanced perilously over those gleaming, knife sharp discs churning earth under the metal tractor seat I was thrown from with each bounce – making pleas and promises to some unseen Deity. But then there came a few weeks of peaceful work in a sustainable horse logging operation; setting the choke on a big log and then asking the big boys, Jerry, Bill and Dan, to pull it away – moving neatly through the woods, we snaked silently between standing trees.
I’ve loved horses since the beginnings of time. These wondrous and somehow fragile creatures had always figured largely in my life, yet a horseless void did come upon me in the early ’80s. The carriage work came to fill it, and having the opportunity to work with these massive beauties was a new kind of heaven for me.
I met Maggie in my second year as a driver. She was only three years old then, a finely tuned mass of muscle and nerves that had only been in the traces – in harness and at work – for about a month before being given to me to drive. A wee harrowing, it was, two novices turned loose in a town full of cars and oblivious tourists but when we found it, The Trust was easy and mutual and I fell hopelessly in love with the beautiful mare. Our connection was deep and mysterious.
The long trail of ‘lines’, the reins used for controlling direction, connecting horse to driver, felt to me electric, yet soft like butter … as though inhabited by light sprites relaying instant messages from me to her and back again. There was no strength needed to ‘control’ Maggie, for through the lines from my hands to the snaffle bit in her mouth I could telegraph messages with a delicate wiggle of only one or two fingers and she knew the verbal requests ‘Gee’ (move to the right) and ‘Haw’ (move to the left), a breathy ‘Easy’ (it’s OK, my darling girl, you can relax) and of course “Whoa’. An audible kiss, or a cluck let her know that I would like her to move forward. I carried a long driving whip, beautiful and made of holly, because it is traditional for a carriage driver to carry one. A driving whip is something never to be used aggressively towards the horse but rather is used as an ‘aid’, with a gentle touch to the horse’s side, right or left signaling to it to step over or to yield. It takes the place of what a proficient rider’s leg can accomplish when in the saddle – gentle, nearly invisible aids, asking, never telling. Maggie was so willing and sensitive that she would respond to a whisper and move on a dime, so my whip was only a dramatic prop in that theater of the streets.
There were those times, however, I was known to stand tall in that carriage box and lean out and over the street to use my whip, hard, on the tops of cars that passed by us too closely or that belonged to eejits I felt were harassing my horse!
Maggie was quite small for a Percheron, only standing about 16.2 hands tall. Each ‘one’ hand is approximately four inches, so she topped out at about six feet at her withers, the spinal processes where the horse’s neck meets their back. She probably only weighed in at a graceful 1500 lbs. While the Percheron is more compact than the other well known breeds of draft horse like the Shire, the Belgian or the Clydesdale, an average Percheron can weigh from 1800 lbs to over a ton, and stands about 17 or 18 hands tall. From the La Perch region in the NW of France, the Percheron has a good bit of Arab blood flowing through it’s veins, though it’s exact lineage has been lost somewhere in time.
Though she was quite dainty and elegant, her attitude made up for anything she lacked in stature … delicate of bone and petite in build, Maggie was huge and fiery in spirit. Her Arabian lineage made itself apparent in her verve and intelligence, and in a fine hair coat that was a brilliant, shiny black even in the dead of winter. She was gorgeous, a mass of muscle with a low center of gravity that made the street work quite easy for her. The carriage she pulled was a Vis a Vis, a replica of a 19th century six-seater which, though fitted with the a modern 5th wheel and rubber wheels for convenience and comfort, was a heavy carriage – yet she was forever asking me if she could please sprint up and down the hills of the town. Can we go fast now? Now? Now?
In our second summer together, while the rest of the company – four or five horses and three carriages – went off to work the California State Fair for a few weeks, Maggie and I were left behind to conduct the street business in town all on our own. We covered the long day and night shifts, every day, by ourselves and as there was no Boss to constantly look over our shoulders, we did as we pleased! The business didn’t suffer at all – but neither did the horse. Our hot summer days were measured, she was well rested and well watered, well shaded and never overworked, and on our dinner breaks I would unharness her, bathe her with cool water and rub her legs and back with liniment before settling her in a stall, deeply bedded with straw, to a leisurely dinner of grassy alfalfa hay and oats. A few hours would pass and we would hit the streets again, for our night shift. Locals felt sorry for us, being the only carriage in town for all that time, so Maggie was showered with thoughtful gifts of apples and pears and peppermints and horse cookies – and I was brought cafe lattes and ice cream (shared with Maggie, of course) and boxes of our illustrious, locally made gourmet pizza.
Life was good!
Our nights ran quite late during that two-week stint.
On this one night in particular, the hour hit 1 AM before I was finished and ready to head for home. After backing Maggie – and the carriage – into the narrow barn, I’d had to unhitch, shed her of her 100 lb. harness and then groom and feed her before my shift was over and I’m certain I was a bit brain dead there at the end my 18 hour day. I do remember, though, noticing through my haze that some kind soul had left Maggie a lovely gift sitting just inside the old barn’s door – a box filled with 50 pounds of carrots! I grabbed up a handful and fed them to a delighted Maggie before shutting off the lights. She whuffled her sweet goodnight to me, I locked up and went home.
Next morning, 7 AM, I was at the barn as usual to feed Maggie and clean the carriage, and as I slid the big door open I felt the earth move … an earthquake … the barn floor was shaking, then the whole barn was shaking, as though with the pulse of a large horse’s quick step.
It WAS the pulse of a large horses quick step. Maggie whinnied, a sound of pure delight that I seemed to mean: HELLO! MY GOOD FRIEND! LOOK! LOOK! SEE WHAT I GOT TO DO ALL NIGHT? I HAD SUCH FUN! SUCH JOY! COME ON IN AND SEE! … and at a bouncy trot she came to me from the dark of the barn.
She was loose.
She was supposed to be secured in her stall! The barn had four ‘tie’ stalls, and while large enough for a horse to easily lay down in, they were unenclosed so the horses had to be tied to the stall. With a loose lead rope leading from halter to manger, they couldn’t get themselves into any trouble elsewhere in the barn.
But Maggie was not tied. She was loose and trotting towards me right then. Laughing at me, I was sure.
I noticed that the box, just the night before overflowing with carrots, was now almost empty. Why, that little beast …
She danced up to me, 1500 pounds of big, happy horse loose in this rickety old barn … I caught her by the halter and put her in her stall, and going to fetch her breakfast hay worried about the troubles she may have gotten herself into overnight – Could she have cut herself on something? Did she get into the grain bin?
As my eyes adjusted to the barn’s dim light, my worries dissolved into wonder.
One of the handmade Amish carriage quilts was in a heap on the floor, a good six feet in front of the carriage. (I had left it, as usual, neatly folded on the back of a seat inside the carriage.)
It had been pooped on.
Another pile of Maggie poo had been precariously yet strategically placed on the carriage’s one step while another, an extremely large pile of manure had been left on top of the stemmy, weedy bale of hay that Boss provided for her. (This was a bit of a statement, I thought.)
What of the bale of fragrant, grassy hay that I had bought for her? A quarter or more of it was gone, nowhere to be seen – she must have been working on it all night long, when she wasn’t having loads of other kinds of fun.
(It came to me a bit later … how it was that Maggie had managed to poop so much throughout the night. She had been well loaded up with that nice hay!)
The wheat straw I used for her bedding was no longer in a neat bale, but had been fluffed and thrown to the four directions – the back of the barn now looked like a huge feather bed. Various bins and buckets had been overturned and opened, tools, nails, horseshoes spilled out onto the oak plank … halters and brushes and hoof ointments looked as though they had been carried off, and much thought had gone into how they were arranged, left in a neat array eight feet away.
Four large leather horse collars that had been hanging neatly in a row along the wall had been flung to the far side of the barn … it was as though she’d been playing a midnight game of toss-the-freaking-collar with them …
And - she had squeezed far enough into our little dressing room to be able to take all of the coats from their hangers, scatter them about the carpet and then knock the empty wire hangers down on top of them. Top hats had been pulled down from a shelf and riding boots were gone – eventually found scattered around the barn and even underneath the carriage.
She left a tidy little pile of manure there next to the topcoats as well, but had to have backed herself partway into the room in order to do that.
It took me two hours to clean the barn and put it back into a semblance of order; a good twenty minutes of that time was spent in tear streaming laughter as I tried to visualize the little mare wreaking havoc, in pure delight…
Maggie was my partner for about two more years. Of course I would drive whichever of the horses had been brought to town for work on any given day (they would get rotated in and out regularly for R and R back at their farm.) but I always looked forward to my shifts with her more than with any of the others. Our connection was magical, a shimmering, gossamer thread, heart to heart.
Eventually I worked it up to ask Boss if I could buy her … secretly wanting to save her from that life.
He knew. And he said …”No!”
It was an autumn morning. I came to work looking forward to a whole week with my little black mare, but she wasn’t in the barn. I grumbled about Boss changing up the schedules. Where was she? I asked. The other carriage driver looked down, quiet, and quickly turned away. Traitor. Boss walked right up to me and with jutting jaw and puffed out chest, looked down his nose at me and said she’d just been loaded up in a fancy trailer and was on her way to be shipped off to a new life pulling carriage – in Japan. (Japan. Where they eat horses, I remembered.)
What? And you didn’t have the decency to tell me ahead of time so I could have gotten here twenty minutes earlier?
“She’s gone. Deal with it. And I want you on the streets in an hour.”
Gone. I never got to say goodbye to her. I cried.
I made a list while I was thinking about Maggie. I was curious how many of the furred and hooved ones have found their way into my life and heart through all of my 57 years … I came up with roughly 50. 14 dogs. 18 cats. 14 horses. 2 cows. 2 goats. 50 beating hearts, 50 gossamer threads, 500 stories, 5000 smiles, 5 million tears. And a lifetime of gratitude.
I can’t imagine these years without them. They’ve warmed my heart, warmed my bed, gave me a place to deposit my tears and made me howl in laughter, taught me patience and responsibility … they embodied unconditional love and gave me their goodness and helped me to survive, to make it thorough. They, sentient beings all, have enriched my life. May I have many more lessons with those yet to come.
Djuna is standing here now, nudging, telling me it’s time for our bedtime walk. I’m going to go with him … we’ll see what beauty may still be out there for us in the fog.
I am working now at getting ‘All The Little Graces’ fit for ‘e-publishing’. (*it will be available online sometime within the first two weeks of 2012.)
With all my heart and soul, I do believe that this story deserves to become an actual book … tangible and genuine, a book that one can inhale the woody, inky scent of and page through, cuddle up and fall asleep with … so I most certainly will continue on with my quest for a literary agent. In the meantime it will become an ‘eBook’ and will be available to read on one’s Kindle or Nook as well as on one’s computer, Android, iPad and iPhone.
The writing of the ‘Acknowledgements’ , and the ‘Afterword’ , have me busy in the moment. This quieting season has freed up time’s usual constraints a bit, so it really shouldn’t be long before I will be finished with the last details and sending it all off to http://www.BookBaby.com for e-formatting and distribution.
I will let you know when it is ready for launch!
It will be available at iTunes and Amazon and the other usual suspects that sell eBooks. A percentage of profits garnered from it’s e-sales will be going to two animal charities …
Skiathos Dog Shelter, on the island of Skiathos in GREECE
Sammie’s Friends … our local no-kill animal shelter-and-more in Grass Valley, CA.
”Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” Anatole France
When she was quite old my grandmother told me that the years were passing for her much as the months had when she was younger. She said that it was because we fill our lives up with so much busy-ness, and as she was discovering that life was to LIVE and not to “busy away”, time was slowing for her again. Damu was heavy into Science of Mind … metaphysics. And, the grande dame was always up at 5 AM to meditate, every morn without fail, something I have yet to emulate! She had a very simple and clear perception of the world around her and fully lived her next 15 years, right up until she decided that it was time for her to go and leave the living to the rest of us.
Now people say that time’s rushed march is because of the earth’s quickening, the space-time continuum, the earth’s heartbeat is speeding up, the universe is expanding, a shift of our realty from the 3D to the 4D frequency, or …
All down for simplicity, I am tending to agree with Damu.
I was such an earnest lass when I first embarked upon this ‘journey-of-the-blog’ … ‘One Posting A Week!’ I exclaimed to myself. Then time began her reckless race around me and I found that it was simply impossible to keep up with that initial zeal. Living the life of one of us ‘normal’ human beings and not the life of a ‘writer’, things like mucking stalls and grooming the horse-girls, caring for our own wee farm as well as my ‘other’ work caring for other people’s animals … and then booking the gigs, learning new songs, recording and certainly the things like being away on tour with Paul (we are musicians) all began to take it’s toll on my time for writing.
The ‘busy-ness’ of life’!
One of the things I’ve been chipping away at in the little bits of time I steal is my next query, this one to a Literary Agent in the U.K.
“By mail only, send; (everything paginated and in 1.5 line spacing of course)
` A cover letter including; the title of the book, what it is about, the word count, what date it was started, # of drafts so far (finished) …. It’s history – what prompted you to write it, when did you start it, who has read it and what were their reactions, what derives from your own experience and what required research AND what is your appraisal of it’s current state???
` and … a detailed synopsis written in the 3rd person present tense (and essentially tells the 373 page story in 4 or 5 pages) with ALL detail – no suspense. Including the end.
` and … a 3 sentence description of the novel.
`and …….. a resume, regardless of writing experience.
`AND finally – the 1st 50, and last 10 pages.”
I think I am on page 9 … of that 4 or 5 page synopsis.
It seems that I have some whittling to do.
A few months back, in a rush between tending to the last minute details of our tour to the Northwest and tending to our dying goat, I sent my most recent query out.
One. Cannot. Rush. Through. These. Things.
It was just last week, realizing that I’d not heard anything back from the agency (not even the expected rejection!) that I checked my ‘sent’ box to see what date I’d sent the query out – and upon reading the first few lines of the email, nearly passed out.
One doesn’t usually get ‘do-overs’ when one is querying agents. They just don’t like that. We are, understandably, supposed to fulfill their protocol to a ‘T’ before sending to them. But this one is just begging.
In my hurry to beat off those strangling tentacles of time, I had written to this particular (big) agent that my novel was complete at … 373,000 WORDS. ThreeHundredAndSeventyThreeThousand words!!!!
That is like The Fountainhead … or Middlemarch … almost like War and Peace!! NO! My novel is NOT that long … It is 106,675 words, yet somehow I’d confused my word count with the length of the book which is 373 PAGES!! Not words! No agent will consider a first time author’s novel that is complete at over 110,000 words!
So – writhing in a wretched agony of embarrassment, I am writing another letter to that agent, trying to sound nonchalant while really groveling and begging for him to reconsider and to please, not discount this lovely story simply because it happens to have a complete nincompoop for an author!
Rush rush rush … all the more reason to find ways to slow down, to make the time stretch … get outside, breathe deeply and mindfully … explore the emerging autumn – the colors, the scents and the cooling air … take the moments to groom the now winter-furry girls, walk a sunset with Djuna and Paul, look up and trace the trail of the sandhill cranes as they practice their winter run with purpose, a mile high …
I was privileged to spend last weekend in the company of about 100 draft horses, Shires, Percherons, Clydesdales, Suffolks … the great work and war horses of ages past. I fell deeply in love with Sully, one of Wareing Shires’ 18 hand lovelies … there is nothing like the steady, slow heartbeat and embrace of the gentle souls of those great beasts to get me to settle.
And as the first rain of the season neared, I saw Tempest and Molly do a ‘happy dance’, the airs above the ground that they perform in pure joy, nostrils flaring and tails flagged high, on hind legs as they circle one another – or aloft, all four feet off the ground and squealing in play. Punctuated with equine giggles this one irrefutably signifies the change of season – Autumn is here. ‘The rain! It’s coming, it’s coming!!’ Having watched Tempest’s behavior for 20 years now, I’ve come to know that this is true – she used to live with 12 other horses in a large, grassy pasture and, breathlessly captivated by the web of magic they wove, I watched them all perform the very same dance together, just prior to the first autumns season’s rain.
These simple things – inspirations, really – help to bring me more into presence, aware of the life coursing all around that shelters and fills me with peace, with energy … They just make me stop. Stop spinning out of control as they stretch the ‘busy-ness’ out, and slow my perception of time’s rush.
Or perhaps it’s just that those inspirations actually build more time! Yes! If we can stay inspired, we can ‘make’ the time to take the time – to do those things that get wrestled away from us when we’re spinning around while the universe expands and the earth’s heartbeat quickens …
As I’ve written this piece I’ve been able to revisit the sureness that – for me – the act of writing is just as calming and slowing as any of the other of my life’s joys, all of those inspirations that fill life with beauty. I won’t wait so long to ‘make the time to write the next one …
How do you find your own way to the calm, through your own busy-ness and into just living life?
What inspires you? What is it that makes you thrive?
Now, I’m going to take the time to go and find another moment – I hear the Sandhills passing overhead…
I’ve been home several weeks now … I think I’m in the final phase of ‘re-entry’. When returning from the arms of my Muse it always takes me awhile to get used to life here. Not to life here on the farm … that’s actually quite perfect for me. Here I can safely wander around bumping into things when I’m up at 3 AM and to bed at 8:30 pm for several days of jet lag, and I soften the prolonged re-entry by brushing horses, watering plants, writing in the mornings after a ½ hour or so sipping coffee and watching birds. I can be useful from those rarefied ethers by listening to songs Paul has written in my absence (he has no trouble finding his Muse anywhere he may be), learning new ones and preparing for upcoming gigs. It’s the ‘being around other people’ part that I have trouble with. Culture shock. We Americans, even here in what we locals consider to be ‘the promised land’, are really very loud and fast! Don’t believe me? Go away for a month, preferably to the still of an ancient sun draped place drenched in color and myth, with welcoming waters and no clocks to obey, where you write and read and swim and smile and swim some more – and eat and drink and write – and move really, really slowly.
This loud and fast bit still surprises me – it used to be the landing at JFK that knocked me off kilter. Now it’s landing in downtown Nevada City!
My comparisons are to the cobbled streets and peaceful harbor in Skiathos, Greece where just about everyone greets one another in the mornings with a genuine “kalimera!” (good day!) and “ti kanis?” (how are you?). Or on the first day of each and every month, a “kalo mina!” (have a good month!) I like that. A lot.
On the island, almost everyone I pass and greet looks me in the eye with a smile. (well, except for that old woman clad in the black of a widow who spit at me when I passed one day! I was assured that it was for my own good, her spit … it warded off the ‘evil eye’ and protected me from the bad luck of any envy! I did notice that she had been looking at my ‘burnished rose’ painted toenails when she spit.)
Time passes slowly there, and it is kind.
So – I am reticent to venture out into the harshlands for quite some time as I readjust to the scuttle of daily life in America. I have to work to hang on to the presence and peace I am blessed with on my journeys-to-the-Muse, and attempt to linger there and steep in it’s loveliness for as long as I possibly can. That means long stretches of speaking little ‘human’ and lots and lots of ‘equine/canine/feline and goat’
I was just looking over the many photographs I took on my journey and towards the end of the bunch I found the one I’d been able to snag of the Rev. Djuna Cupcake on my second day home. Djuna and his ‘Homeland Security Threat Levels’ have been written about previously here in my ‘notes from an endless sea’, but this picture captured the first seen – ever – ‘Homeland Security Threat level multi-socked and blue/white/purple/flowered undie’d’, which we translate to mean …
… ‘Un-effing-believably High’.
Paul and I had gone out for brunch, a sliver of time together after a month apart, and returned home to find Djuna waiting with worry in his eye and several pairs of socks and ALL of the old undies that had been designated as his ––probably 8 pairs–– dangling from his mouth. We’re thinking that he may have been pondering the thought (he has many thoughts, believe me) that one of us might be disappearing, again, and far too soon for his liking. (I’m thinking that his ponder went something like this … though Paul may feel differently … DON’T leave me with Dad – again. Don’t you dare. I’m too old for this s**t. I can’t possibly take care of everything here while having to let him think that he’s the one in charge, it’s indoggedly possible. He just runs around acting crazy, trying to make sure everything is freaking PERFECT, and I think he’s going to have a heart attack, and THEN what? HOW can I keep everyone and everything else safe when I have to worry about him all of the time? Don’t. Do. This. To. Me.)
I am happy to report that he displayed this SOS one time only and is generally back to demonstrating his standard HSTlevel 1, “No Problem, I’m just a goofy dude”, which is only one pair of socks or the stuffie of his choice.
I thought it time to write a bit about progress made in my quest for finding a literary agent to represent ‘All The Little Graces’.
To this point I’ve received 6 rejection letters (ranging from – a very polite “We loved your work and have no doubt that it will find it’s place in the world – we just aren’t actively seeking this type of project at the moment. Our best wishes to you!”, to the more straightforward “This is not for us. Your voice does not stand out – actually, it is imperceptible – and your writing is weak at best. Back to the drawing board, or better yet, forget about trying to be a writer.” I really do expect many, many more of these, 40 or 60 or perhaps even 90, before the book finds it’s ‘place in the world’. I’m not worried – yet.
But really, this is how it will play out … I will print all of those letters and place the considerable stack in a folder titled REJECTIONS - in bold letters. I plan to take that folder with us to Greece where I will sit with friends and family on our veranda by the sea with the view to eternity, the thick folder on the table before us … we will propose a toast over it … a toast to dreams.
Because my published book will be sitting on the table there, right next to it.
Here’s to dreams … those dreams, don’t ever let them go!