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#18 ~ gathering up the words

July 26, 2012

the magic place

I am working on a new blog post, I am, I am!

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, with a month away – that ‘season’ for my gathering up of fresh inspirations and impressions in my nets, those gifts that come coursing in great rushes on the Aegean tides and her balmy airstreams.  Upon coming home, I am always faced with the responsibility of maintaining the gift Skiathos gives me, an utter calm and connection to authenticity, but this year I was able to be ‘in’ that while completing my Kickstarter campaign and seeing that ‘All The Little Graces’ came into the world as a ‘real’ book through a steady and uncomplicated birth!

The book has been delivered to Sammie’s Friends and the Skiathos Dog Shelter so that they can sell it and keep all of the proceeds; it’s been sent out to my Kickstarter Angels, delivered to the local bookstore and has had it’s first ‘reading and signing, it’s ‘coming out party’ so to speak – a beautiful affair in which the bits of readings were paired with perfectly matching snippets of musical improvisation by my friends in Beaucoup Chapeaux !  I am currently working on promotion so that it may find it’s way out into the world, and starting again to query publishers and agents in that eternal quest for traditional publishing.  Paul and I have had some lovely Festival performances (the Kate Wolf Festival) and after our next, and last, summer gig I see a world of possibility opening up before me – time to reel in those nets filled with color and characters and the fruits of research and plot and sift through it all in order to make a real start on my next novel.

All The Little Graces can be found in paperback at my Createspace page as well as at Amazon, where you also can find the wealth of reviews that have come in; you will also find it at Amazon UK and all of the other European Amazons that exist out there in cyberspace … If you prefer to read an eBook, ‘Graces’ is found in that format at all of the usual outlets.

Coming soon … a new blog installation, one straight from the source, the home of my Muse.

w/ Ouranos, the magic beach cat

#17~ comes the spring

May 8, 2012

the dark and the light

The gray brings out the vivid greens and purples and yellows and pinks of the spring. A respite, a bit of a breath before full steam ahead into summer, the day has chilled my toes and given cause for a wee four-legged to wedge himself in the chair here and curl tightly against my leg for warmth.

I am 40 miles from home, (40 million, it seems) spending a week away to care for a dear friend’s beloveds in the way I care for my own. Embraced by a verdant sea of grasses, waist high and dotted with wildflowers, I am in charge of furred, feathered and hoofed beings that absolutely delight me at every turn. Beyond the feeding, grooming, mucking, playing, hen herding and egg collecting, I have a lot of time to work on my print book project and learn how to further shamelessly self promote All The Little Graces. But at any pause I am just a step away from acres of fresh springtime for walking in––or a step away from the animals with their magical ability to ground one whose spirit has been floating about a foot above her body for about 3 weeks now.  (That would be me)  They are bringing the great relief in the necessity of Being Present. There’s much-needed dog energy here in the form of a small sable bundle of flash and laughter, delivering a daily quotient of silliness in the big dog-ness he carries around in his pint sized body. Tido Bat Ears, King of Mirth and Mayhem. He also stays close, for warmth in the night, but I also see he has his eye on me, he is being certain in his closeness that I am watched over, that I am safe.  I will most certainly miss his happy, constant presence when I leave to go home.

captain tido

There’s also the ever cheery, kind and funny black lab, Millie, a bow-legged, gimpy old gal who has learned to live well with her infirmities. I hear her when she sits, or goes down for a nap, anywhere in this house – BLAM – because she just can’t easily get down more gracefully than that.  In the afternoon when I am walking back from the horse’s barn, she throws herself down onto the grass and rolls over onto her back in her imitation of a great big 4 legged pill bug, curled with both hind paws almost touching her ears and a big smile on her saggy, graying face.  She stays motionless like that until I’ve had my fill of rubbing her belly and then somehow miraculously, despite knobby hocks and owie hips, goes sproinging off into her version of the zoomies.

pill bug impression

The horse, really more of a saintly gentleman in the skin of an equine, talks.  Constantly.  I’ve always told Paul, when watching films that have horses in them, that they DON’T do that!   They don’t stand around and whiffle and whinny all of the time for no reason!  I’ve been around horses my whole life.  I know these things.  But – here, Kokino whiffles and whinnies (while nodding his head) and wiggles his lips nonchalantly, like Mr. Ed – really – whenever I am near.  He talks constantly.

kokino

And finally, there are the 7 chicken ladies, delightful bug scrubbers who cluck and chant their way through the outskirts of my day. They gift me with at least a few eggs each morning – one chicken lady even hightails it out of the pen after her breakfast as fast as her scrawny chicken legs can carry her to reach the hay/nest that is in the carport, always just in time to deliver a beautiful egg that the wee bat eared dog will sometimes gathers up himself, I’m told, very carefully, and deliver to the house! And on occasion, when I am well lost in the manuscript, I hear the announcement of a special delivery –– one of the ladies will break into song, an aria with an astonishing crescendo that foretells the laying of an egg.

A few nights ago I lost a hen.  I counted the girls as usual as I closed them in safety for the night – 1,2,3,4,5,6 … 6 … where’s #7?  Panic. I thought of those creatures of the night, the owls and coyote and raccoon who just love chicken tenders.  It took me awhile, but I finally did find #7 sweetly hunkered down in the warmth of the horse’s hay, on the other side of the property.  She was resting there, caught up in the veil of dreams the dusk draws down upon chickens. She let me pick her up, and carry her back to the henhouse, a substantial, feathery-soft ball of air that put her little head on my shoulder and sang to me, a soft murmuring and humming, the whole way.  I am in LOVE with chicken ladies!

As I’ve been sitting in front of the computer much of my time here, at some point I must make myself step away – eat – drink – and walk. Before this misty gray descended, the days were hot, and I found the dusky twilight to be a magical time to walk the few miles down a narrow country lane that could as easily be in the West of England as in the foothills of N. California.  At the last hill, after twisting and curving up and down, the narrow lane straightens out and heads to the valley below and on it’s crest, I am literally standing on the last foothill … I can see the Sacramento Valley, in it’s great flatness, beginning to stretch below.

friend along the way

On the first evening of my walking, and just as I began to think of Djuna, missing his generous presence by my side, I heard a rustle in the grasses to my right.  And out popped this …

From nowhere apparent this little Border Collie materializes every evening, a minute or two into my walk. She joins me for almost an hour as I meander, huff up hills, take pictures … a silent but joyous echo of Djuna in her enjoyment of reading the days ‘news’ along the way, chasing butterflies, running back to me to touch my hand as if telling me that I must stay present, I must be happy, I must never forget the important things… and before I head up the last short hill to the house, she disappears.

I thank all of these beautiful beings for helping me to touch the earth again.

But back to Spring – THAT time of year.  The baby animal time of year, filled with leaping kids and lambs, and calves and piglets playing like puppies… and of course, there are the puppies and kitties. The far too many that are born each spring because many of us Humans – even many of the more responsible sort, some of whom are my friends – demand the right to a sort of ignorance in refusing to pay attention to the stats, and the realities, around feral or unsterilized animals.

Why are there still balls on your dog?

Why is your sweet gal in heat?

Oh, it’s natural, they say.  Oh, we want her to enjoy giving birth and having babies before we get her spayed.  Oh, we want our children to witness the miracle of birth!  Oh, he won’t hunt if he’s neutered.

Well, yes … but Oh. What about the babies? The litters that you won’t be able to find homes for that will either go feral and hungry and become someone’s nuisance; or will be kept by an uncaring person who doesn’t bother to keep them safe and they’ll end up running wild, on the road to be struck and killed by a vehicle, or in a field chasing Farmer Martha’s livestock, to be killed by shotgun blast;  or, they’ll end up at a shelter hoping for a home with a family that really might care what becomes of them, or at a pound, facing the gas chamber on death row with all of the other unwanted ones. All of the shelters are heartbreakingly full as it is.

the homeless ones

Here are some recent stats, gleaned from various online sources. (HSUS, RSPCA, various shelters and rescue groups) If you still have an ‘entire’ male or unspayed female dog or cat, please do me the great favor of reading this and then go and do the right thing yourself.  If your animal companions have been sterilized, you can edify your community, your neighbors, family members, etc., and save the local shelters from having to waste their energy on something we ALL should already know and practice.

One pair of breeding cats can be the source of at least two litters of kittens in one year.  That translates to exponentially growing numbers of offspring that, in just four years, can add up to around twelve thousand cats! TWELVE THOUSAND cats! Say the original two parents lived nine years – the numbers of their offspring through the generations could soar to around eleven million!  All because of just two un-sterilized cats that someone left to their own natural devices! Those figures don’t take into account that one tomcat can impregnate several females in any one day during the season!  That kind of math hurts my head.

One fertile dog can produce two litters of puppies a year and then, if left to nature, her descendents and their descendants will number in the sixty-seven thousands, in just six years.

Also good to know –– the fact that a spayed female will be far less likely to develop uterine or breast cancer.  And that a sterilized male will be far less likely to roam and fight, leaving him less vulnerable to abscesses and other infections and disease. (and the cats will still be great hunters – our big lovey eunich, Moggie, is busy collecting up at least 3 gophers per day and will meditate on the compost bins until he comes up with his daily bellyful of mice. And Mr. Annie is capable of murderous deeds I won’t even go into here.

So, where will the babies of the spring end up? Many that survive will end up with otherwise great people who say Oh, it’s natural …  Oh, we want our children to witness the miracle of birth!  And the awful cycles will continue on and on and animals WILL suffer.

Ghataki mou

Welcome to springtime, to the return of Light, to rebirth, life and kitties and puppies and other growing things … to the birth of new ideas and new dreams.  There is always the dark there to antagonize the light … but there are these things that we can do, so easily really, to help the light and dark come to better balance, move us forward and make that darkness less opaque.  Go for a walk… laugh… hold a chicken… tickle a pillbug’s belly…  write, sing, dance, garden, love, laugh… and spay or neuter your companion animal. Please.

#16 ~ one of the seven great dogs

April 8, 2012

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
Anatole France

Djuna Cupcake, my heart of hearts
photo by Breelyn MacDonald

A great squall came upon us here on our farmlet a week ago. I saw it first from a distance, in that dawning of the morning when Djuna usually announced the coming day with his gentle, breathy ‘woooof’, his polite plea to join us on the bed. Mysteriously disturbing, it surely was a sign of things to come, but we didn’t know how dangerous it really was until it was upon us.

And when it was suddenly there, a Great Joy was sucked from our world and an overwhelming sadness took its place … a raging stillness, hot and stifling, no breath, no heartbeat.

My springs of Joy are dry …  (a sentiment stolen in part from that great old song, Long Time Traveler)

Djuna Cupcake was one of the Seven Great Dogs.  If you’ve seen the film ‘Dean Spanley’, you will know what I mean. If you have loved and been loved by a dog of pure heart … one who was a great teacher of presence, of patience, one who was the dispenser of unconditional love and the blessings of an incomparable joy … one who was a great listener, guardian, and the embodiment of Buddha, Coyote, the Goddesses Eleos and Kuan Yin all in one soft coated body … one who was your loving shadow because he or she felt that it was their job to see you safe at all times … you will know what I mean.

He died quite suddenly. Like that squall, his death came with no warning and for days after Paul and I were sucked deep into that great black hole of grief. The dread attacked us at every turn, where we would always see him but now only a glaring emptiness stood. I felt as though my heart and soul had a raw, oozing, gaping, searingly painful wound where he had been torn away from me.  Stolen.  We cried a lot.

Some people will never understand.  I try to feel compassion for them, rather than issuing the big ‘EFF YOU”, but I am only human. What is this BS about a ‘three day’ rule? What? Because he was ‘just a dog’ we should be over it all in 3 days?  Djuna was surely a better person than most Humans and I will never stop missing him. I feel so deeply sorry for those people who have overlooked having such grace and beauty bless their lives –– the companionship of a great dog (or cat or horse, or human person) –– so that, when the monumental end comes and they’ve come through the great fires of sorrow, and have been washed by the flush of a million tears, they come through to the other side where they are able to see the remarkable love, joys and lessons they’d been gifted by that companionship. I can only hope now to ‘be’ the person Djuna thought me to be.

3 days and 3 more and 3 million more and even then more just won’t do it.

Paul and I were with Djuna on our bedroom floor when he died. I lay with him next to my heart, whispering love, my arm draped over his neck …  and as he was leaving us, I saw him standing just beyond Paul. Alert, ears akimbo, head cocked, eyes bright, a wad of socks in mouth, standing in his particularly great exuberance, as he did each morning when the time for chores presented itself – “Come on! It’s time to go! Get with it you silly humans! There’s work to be done, there’s a barn to clean and a day to sniff, there’s delight to be found!”  And then he left.

My ‘joyometer’, my daily dispenser of mirth, and my constant reminder of the importance of presence, has gone missing – his lessons of ‘Be Here Now’ measured in doses of  ‘Oh, sense the beauty in the music of the wind!’, ‘Let’s just run in circles and laugh’, ‘I love, love, love you!’ … gone. It is wholly up to me now to remember to stay in each moment, to just be a nice person, cry whenever I must, to laugh as much as possible and dance for the sheer joy of it.  And when the cacophony of the deafening silence has quieted and the colors of sorrow have muted and gone transparent and I’ve had some time to let the Aegean clean up those bloodied wounds in my heart and soul, there will be room again here for another one of the Seven Great Dogs.  And the cycles will continue on.

Almost every evening Djuna and I took an evening stroll down our quiet lane. I loved watching him dance his great joy, nose to the ground scenting all of the news of the day or nose to the sky, sensing what was coming on the breeze. On our walks I watched the seasons change, the rising of the full moon, the greening of the new spring and the evening skies, like snowflakes, no one ever alike … I watched the Canadian geese come and go, the Red Tail hawks courting in the air above me, and let the build up of my day fall away as I tread softly with my gentle friend. It took me several days after Djuna’s death for me to realize that here was yet again another gift he had left for me in his wake, and one I should continue to enjoy. The sky was black to the West, we’d had heavy winds and rain all day, but when there was a break I set off on ‘our’ walk. Wrapped tightly in sadness and hardly breathing with the missing of him, I shuffled along about a 1/2 mile and turned for home before the rains started up and the chill wind began to blow, fierce again, from the south. That wind battered and bashed me until it freed the tears from my eyes, and the freezing rain lashed my face until I grew numb. As though suddenly realizing I was about to drown, I surfaced, taking in great gulps of air as though I’d not been breathing for several days, and began to climb free of the suffocating bonds of my sadness.

My Djuna, my Cupcake … My Heart of Hearts who knew my soul, my every thought; great lover of Paul and I, and of Breelyn; great lover of his mare and his pony, of socks and his furry toys and his GWBush chew doll; great lover of his evening walkies and of riding in the car, and feeding the birds; great lover of sofa naps and sleeping in late with us on the bed and chasing BALL and rolling on the grass and of eating horse poop; bountiful bestower of stealthy kisses; joyful jokester, Greek scholar (he knew about 15 words and understood several phrases spoken to him in Greek; something we did only after he’d begun to understand words and phrases *spelled out* in English! ‘Car’, ‘dinner?’, ‘play with the ball?’, ‘feed the birds’, water, pony, get the goat, etc!); Djuna, beloved Honorary Cat, our timekeeper, our guardian angel, our boss, our playfully dignified friend (thanks for that Marija) and family member, and one of the Seven Great Dogs – we will love and miss you forever.

But now – there’s work to be done, there’s a barn to clean and a new day to sniff, there’s delight to be found!

love - photo by Breelyn MacDonald

#15 ~ the winter within

March 8, 2012

the winter within … or … the musings of one fortunate in this uncertain world.

winter blessing

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.)  ….

Mz Posy ... pre 'hormonal convergence'

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 ….

winter bird tree

… 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.

lost in color at the end of the day

my endless sea

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.

another world

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.

Ibis in Florida shallows

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.

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 …

#14 ~ beginnings

January 25, 2012

Margarita

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.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

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,

Eleanore

#13 ~ howling at the moon

January 13, 2012

wolf moon '12

 

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.

 

Ouranos the magic beach cat, Eleanore, and empty winter strand

 

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.

 

HEY!! Where's my Tsipouro? ... hic

 

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 …

 

winter bloom on blue

 

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.

 

view from winter bourtzi

 

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

Eleanore

 

#12 ~ what the fog brought in …

November 27, 2011

bree, jasmine, della, maggie and foal

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.)

my partners, breelyn and maggie

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.

big love, small person

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.

elle and mags

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!

getting dressed

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.

cleaning the collar

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…

burrito and carrot

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!”

happy ... filly #2.

maggie's first foal, rosebud ... she lived only 2 days.

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.

And 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.

love - the gossamer thread

#11 ~ a new journey …

November 18, 2011

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

http://www.skiathosdogshelter.com/

and

Sammie’s Friends … our local no-kill animal shelter-and-more in Grass Valley, CA.

http://www.sammiesfriends.org/

photo by Breelyn MacDonald

 “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” Anatole France

#10 ~ time’s rush …

October 3, 2011

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.

My 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.

Time.

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 …

Rev. Djuna Cupcake and his shadow ... seeking sunset

colours of the autumn ...

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.

Sully's muzzle

4 tons of play

in full flower

kindness

Mac and Pipsqueak

Me and Mr. Pure Love Sully ... whose head is as long as I am from the top of my head to my waist and weighs twice as much as I do!

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 …

magic

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…

#9 what’s not important about … goats?

August 19, 2011

There are people who have asked me why I don’t write about things that are ‘important’.

Important.  I only have this to say – as the world roils around us, I feel that it all is important. Without the dark there would be no light … and without the light I could not survive … the light and dark are symbiotic, I could not see color, nor could I feel peace without them both. And here, on these pages I choose to focus on what it is that brings me peace.  It may well be a journey to get to it, it may be through the beauty of our music or the sight of a doe and fawn tiptoeing through the morning mist or even a slog through something difficult to come to eventually find it, but that is the point of this blog. The journey TO the peace. The Muse.  Inspiration. ‘All The Little Graces’ could not have been written without the existence of not only the Light – the beauty of the Greek light and her sea, the people, the magic of all of the elements in perfect combination and the deep and resonant calm life on the island gift me with – but also of the other side, the dark, the ‘hard stuff’, the sadness and cruelty that is a big part of the life of animals on the streets, unfairness, the unwarranted and the painful.

It all comes to color and beauty in the end. If I can embrace the spectrum of color, existence, emotion, life on this planet, I can hopefully find the goodness, the peace. I can sing peace and write peace.

At this moment, my peace comes in the form of ‘goat’.  The animals do that for me, more than the Humans … take the form of goodness and peace. But here, perhaps it is the ghost of Pan, the half man half goat Greek God of nature giving reason to make me giggle?

Capra Aegagrus Hircus. Domestic Goat. Crazy 4 legged ruminates that make one laugh. And sometimes curse. We don’t eat goat here. We love goat. Well, we have learned to love goat. We sometimes do curse Goat, but more often than not, we smile and laugh Goat.  A few years ago we inherited two elderly spinster Nigerian Dwarf goats from neighbors who had to move away … Daisy and Posy, very intelligent, self-possessed sisters who had been raised more like Yorkshire terriers than goats. Paul built them a magnificent little house of mostly found materials, ‘Villa Katsikes’, Villa of the Goats. (“I could live in THAT” my more sarcastic friends say. Well, you are welcome to, one day. Right now, it is for the goats. And THAT could take me into a discussion around “Are goats NOT important?  Why not?  Is it because they are not human? Is caring not true, or righteous, if the caring is for the animals … rather than for the humans?” But I won’t go there, now.) Villa Katsikes is ‘barn red’ and has mangers for hay and a bucket of fresh water, a soft mound of bedding and a ‘scratching pad’ mounted on the wall because goats are very itchy beasts and will destroy everything in their path as they rub their way through their search for that perfect something to scratch upon!  Villa Katsikes has windows and doors that lock up to keep vulnerable creatures safe from coyote and lion and is set within the confines of a 60 foot round pen that I used to school Tempest in.  Some day it will be Villa Kotopoula, Villa of the Chickens. Or ‘Villa Pali Mousiki , Villa of the Old Musicians.  But for now it is the Villa of the old lady Goats.

villa katsi’kes

I’ve been graced by the companionship of horses, cats and dogs my whole life. Even cows. My deep, and darling, teachers, all. Never goats. These little creatures were new to me and after I naively offered to take them in they presented me with an abstract learning curve I’d not been expecting. I did expect to be able to ‘read’ Daisy and Posy, as I do all of the animals in order to sense more about them, but they were impenetrable! They just lay there in their stony holes pawed out of the round pen footing, burping and chewing their cud, mutant golden eyes half closed as if meditating on some great, vast within-ness  …  they did not respond to their names, and only followed me around, or interacted with me in any way, if I carried pockets full of goat goodies, little balls of edible goodness made specifically for goats that quickly became a currency as precious as gold.

They just … were.

Yet when not meditating the Caprian dimensions of ‘I AM HERE’, the girls could be heard uttering pathetic whispers, a soft bleating under their breath as they stood at the edge of their pen staring longingly in the direction of the place they had long known as home, the only home/people/horse/routines they had known for 10 years before coming to us …

This was their other meditation, the one on ‘I WANT to be THERE’.

Indecipherable, sad goats. Living, hungry, itchy lumps of burping, vast and bottomless sorrow … yet more beings to protect from the appetites of the wilder things, two more mouths to feed and even more to keep us tied to a schedule in our sometimes inconvenient lives. What had we done?   Administering worming paste and trimming dainty little cloven hooves were matters I quickly learned to attend to, and since Daisy had come to us with a mild congestive heart failure I also learned how, in essence, to torture a goat by wrestling it and then trying to get the poor thing to stay still long enough to medicate it; administering shots or pills, or drenches that I tried to get into her mouth and to trickle down her throat, but more often got all over both Paul and I, on clothing and in hair. So it didn’t help things that poor Daisy started mistrusting her new people almost immediately. She began to growl at me as only a goat can, and scurry to a more distant spot in the pen when she saw me approaching the villa.

“F### THIS!!” I announced loudly one day, covered in white goo and foamy, stressed-goat spit.

I suddenly understood that we all would live far more happily with the heart problem, and without these twice-daily torture sessions. Daisy was an old lady who had lived a good, long goat life and who deserved ease in what was left of it! So quality of life took over where responsibility/torture left off and she did just fine without the meds. It took close to a month for her to stop eying me with suspicion, though – but then things began to look up within this human-goat conundrum I had so willingly invited into our usually quite Zen life on the farm.

We eventually let the ladies out of their pen, thinking they would like to graze with Tempest and Molly. On that first day their gate was opened to the farmlet’s acres, they were absolutely bewildered – they seemed astounded that they were free and, blinking wildly, and hesitant as though stepping into a burning sunlight for the first time ever, they tiptoed into their new world …  But instead of nibbling young oak shoots or browsing the burdock erupting from the ground around them they headed, like robots, stiff legged and bleating in monotones to the fence-line at the back of our property where they stood for hours, keening for what used to be their home. Our currency, the goat cookies, suddenly lost all value … we could not get the girls to budge. Through the afternoon their unison bleats turned into a cacophonic chorus that we could hear rise and fall in distant waves on the breeze, and they only quieted with the coming of dusk. For some reason that was it, that was the last of their unhappiness, as if they had banished it with their strange song, some ritual known only by the goat-kind.  Like little toddlers exhausted by a particularly emotive day, dragging their feet and whining only a bit they followed us back to their pen for the night. The very next day they began to let us ‘see’ them. Personalities blossomed, fragrant with cheer and mischief. Daisy; the stoic independent, the thinker, the cat chaser, the ascetic who spent hours meditating in her little plastic dog igloo or alone on the farthest reaches of the property radiating happiness from the profound depths of her goat meditation … Posy; the quiet joker, always looking through windows – or under skirts – subservient to her sister but happiest closer to the house with the humans and the horses than out ‘there’ where there might be monsters and wild things. Often they moved in stealthy tandem, each other’s shadow, tinkling bell and clickity hooves giving them away, or they danced and chased … the clowns, the joy bringers, amusing sprites – light, like balloons filled with helium – these crazy little old ladies were just delightful.

It didn’t take them long to discover the true joys of foraging … the scrub shrubs and weeds, clovers and dandelions, oak leaves, acorns, burdock and blackberry.  And then they found … the roses and daisies, coreopsis and cosmos and lilac bushes … and in one day had re-designed our whole yard.

bluejay bush landscaped by Goat Inc.

a little trim here …

a little trim there …

It was as though the Alien Landscaping Company had been here and everything from the ground up to 3 ½ feet was carefully stripped and pruned to the goats’ liking.  But trading sullen, sad goats and a conventional yard for lively, happy pixies and a yard that is at the least, quite interesting?  … That was priceless.

Daisy and Posy made us laugh a lot.  Each morning they sang a greeting to us when we first stepped from the house, much like the echo of goats giggling, and when alerting us to any perceived ‘danger’ they sounded as though they were farting with the ecstatic delight of a 13 year old boy … THAT in itself is worth whatever it takes to keep goats thriving! Some people know this about me – I’ve never quite grown up. So if in just the right company (meaning ‘another immature adult’) when the ‘alert’ sounded, over and over and over, I could be found on the ground, rolling in a heap of mirth with tears running down my cheeks. (Now truly, that is an important thing for us adults to do once in awhile!)

The ladies also loved children and ran back and forth along the paths with them like happy, curious dogs. We learned not to leave anything of any length on the clothesline to dry, unless we wanted it to have that frayed and used look that only busy and curious goats can provide. And to keep the garden gate closed. The barn’s feed room door closed. And when we chanced upon them both sneaking into the house one day, we learned to keep the doors to the house – closed. I took to keeping my own mane pinned UP, after Posy – in one short second of what seemed like sweet nuzzling – snipped a two-inch wide swath of 8 inches of hair with her scissor-like teeth. They followed us everywhere and kept us entertained with their mischief, their goat dances and cat chasing and their endless curiosity … and those brain bashing goat games, rising up on hind legs and meeting in the loud crack of a head butt. (They tried this with Djuna, but he objected.) They loved the horses and if not grazing alongside them, could be found somewhere on the property in the best of the cool, moist, shady spots … burping and chewing, meditating and smiling.

I’ve been blessed by the companionship of many, many dear four legged ones, and of all of those who have lived well into their elder years only a very few have left us in their own time. I absolutely hate the option to that particular grace – that final decision, to euthanize, never gets easier for me, though I am truly grateful to have the ability to even make that choice. (If only we could make that decision for ourselves should frailty and pain or a slowly disappearing mind overcome our own dignity and quality of life in our elder years.)  But the ‘when’ part of that choice is never quite clear enough to me. I belabor it, lose sleep over it and weep buckets of tears over it while my dear one may be suffering longer than is necessary. But when the decision has been made, I will hold my beloved in my arms, if possible, while they slip away …  and whisper my love for them, my grateful thanks into their ears before they can hear me no more. But then, there is the sadness. The dying is usually so peaceful and beautiful, a holy moment, like birth – it is the missing them that gets to me, that stays with me, a heavy cloak of grief. I am certain many of you also know this feeling all too well.

Daisy Goat

We lost little Daisy a few weeks ago. Her heart finally just gave out and it became obvious that we needed to help her along her way before she began to suffer.

I didn’t get to know her as well I get to know as a dog who has been by my side for 14 years, or a horse who has grown older with me for over 20. Perhaps losing her was a bit easier because of that. A lovely young vet came to the farm to gently euthanize her and we buried her in the back of the property, with Shorty, Nemo, Haley, Mouse, Fluffy and Lila … the Yuba River rocks atop her grave, her monument.

the light and the dark

Only Djuna showed distress over her death …  when we covered her with earth his great calm returned.  Posy just sniffed her sister’s lifeless body for a moment, and then raided the open feed room.

Something sweet seems to have been liberated in Posy with her sister’s leaving. She has a bright bloom to her we hadn’t seen before, as though she is always smiling or harboring a silly joke. She is freed now of some unseen bonds, perhaps a need to honor the unspoken hierarchy of sisters. She sings a joyous, tremulous hello when first greeting us for the day, absolutely cherishes Paul and would follow him to the ends of time and though, once let out of her pen for the day, she has the run of the property she’ll join Djuna and I in the barn/church for our morning’s service of grooming and mucking.

And … she has taught me goat tricks of her own design, in trade for pony cookies.

Rev. Djuna and Mz. Posy begging

… pay attention!

… and watch the Goat Dance

Surprisingly content here as an only goat, she lives her days browsing the pasture or yard with the horses. She has landscaped all she can, there is no more she can do, this year, to sculpt the flow of the yard, so when not nibbling the clover and dandies she’ll often be seen enjoying long, quiet spells of goat meditation, eyes closed, chewing her cud.

We will hospice her here to her end too, Posy, the gentle being who makes me smile. Who makes me laugh and brings me peace. And that is Important, to me.

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