It’s been a helluva year. This Prime Project is nearing the end. I started it on my 53rd birthday last year as a way to remind myself that it ain’t over yet. I’ve still got a lot of juiciness in me.
My father recently wrote, “You only have a few more weeks as a particular prime number, but you certainly won’t be leaving the domain of prime numbers and the many interesting things that arise from consideration of them. (See class notes, Number Theory 445, Fall, 1964, Arizona State University, taught by Charles Wexler, PhD, one of the coolest instructors I’ve ever had in a lifetime of going to school.)
“54, of course, can be factored into 2 times 3 cubed, thereby making great use of the first two primes. Along a similar line of thinking, I hit 2 to the fourth power times 5 this year. Interesting things, them primes.”
So, evidently, we’re both still prime numbers.
On this year’s birthday, March 7 (fabulous prime), I’ve engineered a 7 Minute Dance Party. Wherever you happen to be on Tuesday, anytime between 12:42 a.m. and 11:59 p.m, get up and groove! Shake a tail feather! Move your booty, cutie!
(Yes, I was born at 12:42a.m on March 7, according to my birth certificate. At Luke’s Air Force Base outside Phoenix, Arizona, in the United States of America. John F. Kennedy was President.)
Here’s a list of some of my favorite dance songs, in no particular order:
- Oh Happy Day by The Edwin Hawkins Singers
- Happy by Pharrell
- Trois Gymnopedies by Eric Satie
- Chez Seychelles by Beausoleil
- Sexual Healing by Marvin Gaye
- Respect Yourself by the Staples Singers
- Everyday People by Sly & the Family Stone
- R.E.S.P.E.C.T. by Aretha Franklin
- Joy to the World by 3 Dog Night
- Rock Lobster by the B-52s
- Hallelujah Chorus by Handel
- All About That Bass by Meghan Trainor
- Master & Commander soundtrack
- Bach Cello Suites by Yo-Yo Ma
- …and anything with bagpipes
I hiked a new route today. Decided to find the mythical Horse Camp at Montaña de Oro. Yellow poppies are beginning to bloom here, early signs of spring, or maybe just rain-appreciative plants. Also saw small pink morning glory-type flowers, low in the sand, like a succulent.
Map in my pocket, I follow Cisko’s horse tracks south through the chaparral. The air was ocean clean and fresh. Occasionally coyote tracks ran parallel to my path, then ran off into the brush. Mourning doves coo’d and a neighbor dog barked to note my passage.
Being on foot and coming from the dunes, I did not recognize the road to Horse Camp, so ended up hiking along the paved road for too long. Sunday morning surfers, mountain bikers, and hikers zipped by in their colorful, fast SUVs. No one else was walking.
Down through lines of equidistant eucalyptus trees, the forest of a get-rich-quick-schemer that didn’t profit him financially, but is now a haven for birds and squirrels and other wildlife. My nose is happy with the scent.
Up ahead I see a truck, and could it be? A horse trailer. Seven horses of various shades of brown and grey greet me. I hear a raucous laugh from behind them. There’s a tent with several humans sitting around a picnic table, breakfasting. I stop at a kiosk to read about ticks and lyme disease, then continue along the narrow path that skirts their camp.
“Good morning,” I whisper to the horses as I pass.
None of the other camp sites have campers, but a large covey of quail run through one of the corrals. Curious, I poke around. Wheelbarrows, muck rakes, pens fenced with metal pipe, water troughs. I’m smiling.
Yesterday, on the way back from my morning ocean ramble, Susan and Cisko were waiting for me at a fork in the trail near the ranch. When I stepped off the path to let them by, Susan said, “No, I was waiting to talk to you.” Cisko looked at me, then continued grazing, his mouth foaming green around his bit.
A few weeks ago, I’d emailed the folks at Return to Freedom, a wild horse sanctuary in SLO County. I’d asked Susan if she’d like to go with me sometime to check it out, and she wondered whether I’d heard from them.
“Nope,” I said.
“That’s weird,” she said.
“Maybe they don’t need volunteers in winter,” I hazarded.
We talked about Red Wings, another horse sanctuary up the highway 80 miles or so.
“Some of them are up for adoption,” I said.
“Are they ridable?” asked Susan.
“I don’t know; supposed to be. I have to check it out.”
Susan knows I want a horse. And once again, she offered to go with me to check out likely candidates.
“Thanks!” I said.
We made our goodbyes, then she and Cisko wheeled around to take the southern route, the one I chose this morning. I’d been walking in his big hoofprints.
I’m smiling because my horse dreams aren’t dead. I don’t know why the mind thinks up all kinds of reasons why I shouldn’t have what I want, but I am tired of listening to it. For 20 years I lived inland, despite my ocean longings. It took the threat of death for me to listen to my heart, my body.
Now I want the ocean, AND a horse, AND land, AND a home of my own. I am tempted to scale back my desires — are they unreasonable? Is happiness unreasonable?
Sure feels good, though, happiness.
Please god, may my next fifty years be happier than the last. And may yours be, too.
“Mom, I think I hurt myself,” I say, walking up the path toward her and the house. She’s talking to Dana, but she looks up immediately.
I am holding my hand over my right eye. Blood is dripping down. My brother had been chasing me around Dana’s truck, both of us laughing ourselves silly. When I leaped off the curb, I bashed into the open back window. You know those cantilevered metal-framed windows in the back of covered pickup trucks that open up and out? Super sharp corners? Bam! Into that corner, my eyebrow.
“Into the truck,” she says, “both of you. Dana, you’re driving.” She runs into the house, coming back with her purse and gauze and antiseptic.
It doesn’t hurt. Yet. Later, my mother tells me that she thought I’d poked my eye out. But she is seemingly calm right now, my physical therapist mother.
She directs Dana to Marina Mercy. “Left here,” she says, and he turns off Lincoln Boulevard into the hospital’s Emergency driveway.
Their Emergency Room is clean and quiet and pretty, with indirect lighting and upholstered chairs. No one is screaming or bleeding. Well, I’m still bleeding, but it’s slowing down.
Our health insurance is Kaiser, so they can’t help us, but the nurses change the gauze pad anyway, and tell my mother that I will be okay. She exhales.
Medical professionals respect my mother. She’s one of theirs, speaks the lingo. She is competent, capable, and calm. So I am, too.
“Hold on, Susie,” she says as we get back in Dana’s truck. My brother Jim is uncharacteristically silent throughout this adventure, his blue eyes huge and anxious. He’s six or so, I’m twelve and much taller. That seemed important in those days. Big sister Susie.
Kaiser’s only a few miles south, but a world apart in terms of compassionate care. In their Emergency Room we wait for hours to be seen. Every so often someone wails in pain. It’s crowded and stinks of fear sweat. The nurses are curt, overworked.
Fortunately the bleeding has stopped. I lean against my mom in the adjoining plastic chair bolted to the floor. The fluorescent light hurts my eyes so I close them. My head throbs.
Dana takes Jimbo outside, or to the cafeteria, I don’t know. I am receding, letting the world and noise and light get further and further away …
The nurse calls my name and we follow her to a small room. “Lie down,” she says and gestures to a small operating table covered with white paper. I grip my mother’s hand, and she nods at me to comply.
The doctor comes in. A man in a white coat, dark hair, glasses. I think he tried to get my mother to leave, but I would not let go of her. She stayed.
The worst pain was when they poured anesthetic into the wound. It burned, and I cried out. Looked at my mom. Her face was whiter than usual, but it was her face. The one I love. The one that loves me. Big mouth. Long black hair. Big brown-sometimes-green eyes. She does not let go of my hand, just looks at me. I don’t remember any words. Many times she and I didn’t need to speak: we just knew.
The doctor went away for a few minutes, “while you get numb.” He smiles at my mother on the way out.
Eighteen stitches. That’s how many it took to sew up the gash in my forehead. And I heard every single one of them. From inside my head. It didn’t hurt, but it was bizarre to hear something through my skull instead of my ears.
By the time we got out of there, it was night. “Kentucky Fried?” asks my mom. A special treat. Expensive.
“Yeah!” says Jim.
“Susie?” asks Mom.
“Yeah,” I say, and hold her hand all the way home.
Sometimes I have so much to say that I can’t say anything. I don’t know where to begin. So I dance. I can express anger, sorrow, bewilderment, power, joy, longing, satisfaction, and fear with my body. I don’t even need that much space, but it’s nice if I have it. Outdoors is fun, weather permitting.
For some reason, though I majored in choreography at Cornish College, I do not dance as often as I like or need. It seems to be, must be, similar to my need for the ocean. Looking at it’s fine and dandy for a while, but it ain’t the real thing, the jump-in-the-friggin-cold-ass-water deep-seated need. Like a vitamin. I think dance is that way for me, too: a vitamin, a mineral, a necessary component for a healthy body.
When I was 26 I thought my dancing days were over, and even wrote a poem to that effect. So going to Cornish to study dance at age 30 was a revelation. I wasn’t even the oldest dancer there. (I was second oldest, if you don’t count the teachers, and why wouldn’t you?)
Turns out, my definition of dance is too narrow. Can you move your body through space? with or without music? You can dance.
“We can dance if we want to,” sing Men Without Hats.
I want to.
“Sunny!” I yell as he runs through the wind-opened gate into the wide open space beneath the trees.
My mind immediately throws up horrific images of him smashed by a camper van on the busy road a few hundred yards away, or running wild through the state park never to be seen again, attacked by bobcats or pumas. While I run for the halter, Allie runs through the gate, too.
These are not my horses. And they are not obeying vocal commands. I quickly realize that there’s no way I can catch a horse that doesn’t want to be caught, let alone two. I am not a rodeo cowgirl with roping skills. I am a writer.
Food. I drop the halters and drag their big green food bin out of the corral, wrest open the container with the senior feed pellets and scoop it into the bin. The noise gets their attention. I scoop another quart of food into the bin and they both trot toward me and begin eating. Another scoop in, then I drag the bin back into the corral, horses following, noses down in the bin, both chewing and walking. I haul it in far enough so that everyone clears the gate, which they are no longer interested in. Drop the bin. Walk calmly out of the corral and secure the gate with the rusty chain.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! I am trembling from adrenaline. And no longer interested in separating them as I usually do, so they can each eat to their heart’s content. I lean against the shed and breathe. Look at the blue sky, the pine trees whipping around in the wind. The ocean’s about a mile away. The sun broke the eastern horizon about 30 minutes ago. The air is fresh and moist from the rain the night before. Buzzards cruise high in the sky, looking for breakfast. Not here, not today.
The flagstone path down to the spigot is uneven, sometimes the circular steps tilt one way or the other. Carefully, I make my way down, turn on the water, round the corner, and grab a few flakes of alfalfa from the trailer.
I set up two feed stations for Sunny and Allie in the corral, and check the water tub. Secure the gate with both chains –yes!– then place the halters on their hooks and close up the shed. Step down the tilty path to turn off the water. Then walk through the manure field to get to the sandy path that takes me to the ocean.
Once I am clear of the ranch property, I exhale, loud and long. Holy Macaroni! Milagro! This was a mild lesson in horse care. A mild lesson! No one was hurt, not one single body. Disaster averted! Always check the gates!
(This is the second time Sunny’s run away from me. The first time was back in August, and I wrote about that too: https://prime53.wordpress.com/2016/08/31/runaway/)
I thank God all the way down the dune to the ocean, then sing to and praise the ocean, stretching up high to release my fear-contracted muscles. Thank you, God! I hear you!
The chill wind sneaks under my fleece and into my Levi’s. One more round of hallelujahs, then I slowly make my way up the dune back to my apartment. It’s 9 o’clock in the morning. I am worn out.
“You’re an idiot,”says Judy.
She’s right. I am an idiot. Once again I have fallen for the words, instead of the actions.
“You can ride Magic.” vs. She forgets the appointment, over and over and over again.
“Sunny’s my baby!” vs. He hasn’t clapped eyes on him for months.
“I love you and miss you.” vs. He’s in town and doesn’t get around to visiting me.
“I so look forward to these meetings.” vs. 99% tardiness, for years.
I have squandered a lot of time and energy believing people’s words vs. their actions. It has taken me a long time to figure out that to most folks, words are only meaningless sounds in the air.
But words have power. In the beginning was the Word, or so some believe.
Yesterday, before going to Sunny’s vet appointment, I wrote down: Sunny is healthy.
Guess what? He is. Skinny, with iffy teeth, but basically healthy. Hallelujah.
But my words also get me in trouble. When I give my word that I’ll do something, I do it, come hell or high water.
Guess what? Most things aren’t worth hell or high water. I have been the exhausted victim of my own self-imposed deadlines. Relax, why don’tcha!
Once, I dragged my bronchitis-whipped ass down to a public computer space to finish the work I started for a client on my private computer before it conked out on me. Call her and tell her I’m sick? Nosiree! Dead and on time, was my motto. Deadlines had power.
No more. Nyet. Nem. No. My poor body has suffered enough, run ragged by a dictatorial mind.
Time to rest.
This idiot has seen the light. And it’s gorgeous.
A few days ago, I visited my friend Sunny the Palomino. I hadn’t been down the dune for a few weeks, and I was shocked at how skinny he was.
He’s a big horse. I’m 5’7″ and his withers are about five feet high. When he walked away I saw streaks of dried diarrhea down his hind legs. And the big strong muscles that had carried me around the arena all those months ago had atrophied.
After feeding him several chopped carrots, I high-tailed it back up the dune to the ranch where I live, mowing down scrub chaparral as I went. I was furious and scared.
There’s a board listing phone numbers of the humans responsible for each horse. I don’t see Jamie’s name on it. I knock on the ranch owner’s door, but no answer.
Judy is down below, getting Jetson ready to ride. She asks how I am.
“Well,” I said, “not good. Sunny looks to be in bad shape. He’s even skinnier than the last time I saw him, and that was too skinny.”
I’d been telling P, the ranch owner, about Sunny for months. “There’s nothing Jamie can do about it,” she’d say, which usually pissed me off, but also shut me up. Sunny’s not my horse, he “belongs” to Jamie. And Sunny’s new digs belong to L, who has a lonely pony. Sunny’s there for company, and for L to ride. Her place is immaculate, which initially reassured me, knowing Sunny lived in a cleaner space.
“I’m frustrated,” I tell Judy, “I don’t know what to do.”
Next thing I know, Judy and I are bushwhacking down the dune back to Sunny’s. She’s been around horses longer than I have. Maybe I’m overreacting.
“Wow,” she says, “you can see his tail bone. And look at those hollows.” She points to his hindquarters.
“He used to look like Jetson,” I say.
“I don’t like that red eye either,” she says.
“That’s new,” I say.
We bushwhack back to the ranch.
P is there now, and chastises Judy for leaving Jetson with his saddle on.
I interrupt. “We’ve just been down to see Sunny. He’s even skinnier than before. I want to call Jamie. What’s his number?”
She shifts her weight, looks away, says, “There’s nothing Jamie can do about it.”
“You don’t know that,” I say as calmly as I can. “You’re not Jamie. You can’t speak for him. What if Magic were sick?” Magic’s “her” horse. “Wouldn’t you want to know?”
After half an hour of listening to how “delicate the situation is” (she brokered Sunny’s housing deal), P finally agrees to give me Jamie’s number. She invites me inside the ranch house, and we call him. No answer. P leaves a message.
I look out the picture window at the Pacific ocean. The sea is rough and choppy, but the sky is clear. “I am afraid that one day I will go down there,” I say, “and Sunny will be dead. If you saw him you would cry.”
“I don’t want to see him,” says P, on the verge of tears.
What kept me sitting there listening to P hem and haw instead of screaming and yelling is that the stakes are so high. If I continue to do nothing, if I continue to politely go away when P says there’s nothing anyone can do, then I become a contributing factor to Sunny’s death.
I am listening for a solution. Because there must be one. And I am not going anywhere until I hear it.
After listening a little longer I say, “How about if I talk to L? Without you?” L is one of P’s best friends. Her husband is P’s doctor. “I’m a stranger, we’ve no history, I have nothing to lose.”
P agrees, so I hike back down the dune.
Sunny, as usual, is happy to see me. I am an asshole for not insisting sooner, for listening to all the excuses, for making several of my own: not my horse, not my house, not my business. Total bullshit. He is a friend of mine, therefore his health is my business.
I ring the doorbell on the immaculate, beautiful house. The dog is barking, but we’ve met before, his name is Emmett (same as my best friend), so I’m not worried.
“Who is it!”
“Elizabeth, Sunny’s friend,” I say through the crack in the door.
L opens the door wider, bent over to hold Emmett’s collar. Both are scowling.
I drop my gaze. This ain’t the time to be confrontational. Over Emmett’s barking, I say, “I’m worried about Sunny.” I explain about his weight loss in such a short period of time.
“We feed him,” she says. “He was skinny when he got here.” Of course she’s defensive. I remember when someone called animal control on my Emmett instead of talking to me to find out that we’d been to six vets and couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him.
I crouch down so this other Emmett can smell my hand and remember that he knows me. He immediately stops barking and wags his tail enthusiastically. Lick lick lick.
“I want to help,” I say to L from dog level. “Please let me help.”
Eventually L admits that she’s worried too; she’s been thinking about calling the vet. As Emmett runs rings around us, she takes me to where the food is kept. It’s quality oat/alfalfa cubes and senior horse pellets. (Sunny’s probably 25 or so, no one knows for sure.) So the food supply is good and plentiful. One worry down.
P’s theory, that I’ve been hearing every time I tell her that Sunny is skinny and won’t she please go look at him, is that Sunny needs to be fed separately. That since he’s a slow eater with bad teeth, he doesn’t get enough calories.
I venture this theory to L. “Maybe we could separate them for meals?” She nods, points out the halters hanging on the side of the shed. I grab one to bring Sunny down to the corral. He helpfully puts his nose in the halter, just like old times. L fills a wheelbarrow full of cubes, adds water, and wheels it in. Sunny immediately scarfs down. When he lifts his head occasionally to look at us, his lips drip green goo.
While we walk and work, I listen. Mornings are hard for L and her husband because they both work.
Aha. “I’m up at sunrise every day,” I say. “I could come down here after I feed Cisko.”
“Sure,” I say, “I’m up anyway. Let’s try it for a week, see if it helps.”
So we work out a deal: I’ll feed Sunny and her pony Allie in the mornings. If they are together, I’ll separate them (there’s an arena and a corral). L and her husband will feed at night. “You just got yourself a free stable hand,” I say.
She laughs and shakes my hand.”God bless you.”
Because I was able to remember the stakes — Sunny’s health — I did not stomp in like a righteous sumbitch casting aspersions and making demands. But as I told Judy later, “The sun was not going to set without a solution. There must be a change today.”
I was done with excuses, mine and theirs. Done with humans. But fortunately I am human, so I can communicate with them. Because Sunny can’t. And he’s my friend.
“The release is the reward,” said Horse Teacher Number Two.
Jake and I were on a lunge line, he circling at a walk then a trot, first in one direction, then the other; me standing in the middle of his circles driving him with my hands and voice.
Number Two is a proponent of the Parelli brand of natural horsemanship, and she was teaching me games to ease communication between equine and human. Circling is one of the games. She’d already taught me Friendly, Yo-yo, Porcupine, Driving, and Squeeze. I’d inadvertently done Sideways one day: Jake stepped sideways when I reached over and touched his hindquarters. (I found out that these games also work on humans. I used Driving at the DMV, even without a car.)
In How to Speak ‘Horse’, Andrea and Markus Eschbach write that “the best way to tell your horse, Good Job! and Yes! is as follows: at exactly the same moment your horse has followed your command correctly, direct all your energy and attention away from him…this is called the release because you are ‘turning off’ the pressure of your body language and focus. For your horse, this means he has the time and space to take a deep breath.”
I was having a hard time remembering to release.
This is also true of my non-equine life.
“Break these chains around my heart,” sings Deborah Allen. “Cut me loose, and set me free.”
Before toxic mold forced me to evacuate my home and release 99% of my possessions, I kept almost everything “just in case.” Art supplies I hadn’t used in years; my mother’s wedding dress even though my parents divorced when I was six; pretty, cracked ceramic pieces for a mosaic I never made; fabric; sewing notions and recipes that belonged to my grandmother. I’d been hauling this stuff around for decades, and adding to it from free boxes and curbside finds.
I will never forget the feeling I had driving toward the ocean after the evacuation, only the clothes on my back and my computer in the trunk. My lungs were so damaged that I could barely breathe, and my heart was rat-a-tat-tatting with adrenaline. But I felt a peace that I had not felt in a very long time. I was — finally — doing what I wanted to do: going to the sea.
I did not want to die in Olympia. It was not my home. I’d washed up there because of college and had stayed, out of inertia. I didn’t choose it, it just happened to me.
Like carrying around all those heirlooms over the years, appointing myself the family historian. But guess what? Nobody cared about that stuff, nobody needed it. Nobody in the biological family reacted to the fact that I was dying.
Except me. Finally, I chose me. Finally, I released everything tangible that was weighing me down.
And — quelle surprise! — I didn’t need any of it. And I am still alive more than three years later.
The release was the reward.
Let it all go.
Possessions are easy to come by, I’ve found out.
Now my task is to keep only what brings me joy. Every. Single. Day.
So I toss the empty stationery box P gave me today, even though it has a horse on it. It’s shabby, though the gesture was not. I can keep the gesture — she appreciates me feeding the horses when she was ill — but I don’t need the box.
This concept is hard-won. Because I am a sentimental person, highly romantic. I’m a keeper. But right after I put the box in the recycle bin, I took a deep breath of relief. Release. I don’t need another thing to weigh me down.
The release is the reward.
When I lived in Santa Monica circa the 1990’s, I was part of a coven of two. Basically we dressed up, made art, and had fun. Once we even sat in the Batmobile! (Our neighbor made street-legal versions of it for studio publicity.)
Both Pisces of Irish extraction, we always went out dancing on St. Paddy’s Day. Hallowe’en was another big day for us, with lots of planning and decorating and costuming. Make-up was mandatory.
After I moved to Seattle, my coven-mate died suddenly. Her brother left a message on my phone early one morning. I couldn’t believe my ears. She was in her early 40’s.
Here’s a poem I wrote for her:
~for Maureen Marten
Shivering orange light
circle, heart, sliver
Suppose she gets the card
burnt in shards of squash
Hallowe’en postal service:
no charge to communing witches