Tag Archives: joy

a mighty fine day

A good day is one with an ocean in it.
A mighty good day is one with an ocean and a horse in it.
A mighty fine day is one with an ocean, a horse, and a whale in it.

Today was a mighty fine day.

Living on a horse ranch on the edge of the continent produces some mighty fine days. Today I greeted the sunrise and got a front row seat to the Dawn Chorus. Hummingbirds, jays, thrashers, quail, crows, and who knows who else sang the sun up. Hallelujah.

On my way out to hike down to the ocean, I stop to talk to Susan, who’s washing her horse Cisko. Shadow looks at me from his box stall.

“Time for brushing,” says Susan.

Shadow agrees, so I put my towel down and change into my stable boots (they’re rubber, so muck washes off easily).

Why is it so satisfying to brush a dirty horse? Well, Shadow in particular blisses out to the extent that his eyes close, and his head hangs low. Occasionally he smacks his lips.

Today I decided to see if he’d let me pick up his hooves and clean them. He did. Why did this make me happy? Schadenfreude, probably. His “owner” doesn’t do it, afraid he’ll be kicked. One point for me, or four, if you count all the hooves.

Found a tick in Shadow’s fur, drowned it. Found another one later on my Levi’s, flicked it off. Still a mighty fine day. Especially for the tick that lived.

Down on the dunes, I see spouts on the other side of the breakers. And then — breach, baby! A blue whale, I think. Many spouts are farther out, just these two close to shore.

After weeks of storms and rain, it’s delicious to lie in the warm sand. It’s mid-winter, but the temperature (for a few hours) feels like summer. A couple of boys play football, a family tosses a frisbee around, there’s a fisherman or two. A few brave souls venture into the water, only to come straight out again.

I hike to one of my swim spots and change into my bathing suit. After diving under a wave, I jog out again. The tide is receding. Yesterday I caught a sweet wave that carried me to shore.

Back at the ranch, I cook pasta with spinach and pulled chicken. I sit by the western window and watch the sun set as I eat.

My neighbor is downstairs. I overhear her talking about gigs. Eventually I hear music — a violin, guitar, voices. She’s rehearsing. I have not been invited. A few months ago, she started a band. “You’re part of it,” she said. Evidently not.

Exclusion sure feels shitty. This mighty fine day just took a nosedive. How do I deal with this? In the past — and rejection is a theme in the life of a writer-performer — I ignored it. Never let on that anyone had hurt my feelings.

“I didn’t even think of you,” this neighbor said a while back. Hmmm. Do I really need friends who don’t remember I exist?

No.

Probably it’s best if I’m not in this particular band. I suppose if I want I can start one myself. I’ve written enough songs for my own 30 minute gig. But is this really where I want to put my energy? Hmmm, let’s think about it.

It’s the exclusion that smarts. But what is actually best for me? As far as I know, this is only the second rehearsal in three months. When I was in Mozart’s Children we rehearsed weekly, at the very least. For dance performances, I rehearse daily. So, we’ve definitely got different work ethics, my neighbor and I. It’s not enough to say you’re in a band, you have to actually set aside the time and show up.

Besides, our musical tastes differ too. I’m tired of cynical sad songs. I don’t want to add to the collective misery of the planet, especially with Voldemort in the White House. Now is the time for rousing, radical renditions of We Shall Overcome, and as many love songs as possible. Joy, baby, righteous joy. That’s what I’m after.

So, I accept her exclusion. It still stings, but maybe I’ve been spared a bunch of nonsense and wasted time. And just like that, with the slivered moon setting after the sun into the Big Blue, my mighty fine day is back.

Hallelujah.

Montaña de Oro sunset
Montaña de Oro sunset

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I rode a horse today, oh yeah

“Your butt is your best weapon,” says Barbara.

I am at Sunny’s butt, shampooing his dirty blonde tail. A new friend, Sunny is a palomino Tennessee Walker. My butt is sideways against his flank. When he moves, I move. I love leaning against him.

“You can’t hurt him,” says Barbara, “he’s a thousand pounds.”

After several applications of shampoo and Comet, his tail is flaxen. Barbara leads him back to the arena, while I get the bareback pad from the tack room.

Barbara walks him first. At 5’4″ it’s hard for her to keep up with Sunny’s long legs. She leads him back to the mounting block and hands me the halter while she puts on a helmet.

“Good Sunny,” I say, “good horse.” I pat his long strong golden neck.

Known as Carrot Girl among the equine folk, today I forgot them. Too excited for vegetables, I guess.

On Sunny, 80-year-old Barbara is grace in action. They are in sync, in accord, in time, in rhythm — all of it. I could watch them for hours, but Barbara tires before Sunny does, so I stand at his head while she dismounts. “Good Sunny,” I say, “good handsome horse.”

My turn to lead him around the arena, first in circles one way, then the other. “Whoa,” I say at random places and times, and Sunny always stops immediately. Little kiss-kiss sounds move him forward again.

Back at the mounting block, I am now confident enough to sling a leg over him without much ado. We are getting used to each other, the three of us.

Once I’m settled, Barbara walks him forward. I grab a handful of mane.

I’ve had two lessons to date, both of which entailed me walking Sunny around the arena on a halter, then sitting on him for a bit. Get-acquainted-time. Fine by me. I moved to SLO County for a reason: to slo-o-o-o-ow dow-ow-wn. This is the first time Sunny has actually moved anywhere while I sat on him.

Barbara suddenly remembers this and stops. “I’m so sorry!” she says, “You looked so natural up there; I automatically went into Pony Camp mode.” A horseback rider since age seven, she ran Pony Camps for years, for children of all different abilities.

“Don’t be sorry,” I say, “I love it!” And I do. Scared? Yes: Sunny is tall, so I am high off the ground. Excited? Yes: I am actually riding! Finally! But I don’t want to tire Barbara. “How are you doing?”

“I’m great!” she says. We exchange grins, and move forward.

When I notice that my thighs are trembling with fatigue, I suggest we go back to the block. After I dismount I stay close to Sunny, petting and patting and loving on him. “Good Sunny. Good beautiful horse. Good handsome patient horse. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

I start weeping. I have wanted this for a very long time. “Thank you,” I say to Barbara, “thank you, thank you.”

young Carrot Girl with an Irish friend
Carrot Girl in Ireland as a child

May, too

Today I have a story about May, and how she learned – again! – to say her own name.

When I met her, May lived in a nursing home. My mother was a physical therapist, and sometimes I accompanied her on her rounds. She had a few nursing homes on her route, and one day, when I was eight or nine or so, maybe younger, we stopped at this one.

May was not my mother’s patient, but she was in the parlor when we arrived. Sitting. I’m not sure who introduced us, maybe one of the nursing staff. Somehow I learned that May was recovering from a stroke, and could not speak. Yet. I think she was waiting for her speech therapist, who was late.

May and I liked the looks of each other right off. We both had blue eyes and curly hair, though hers was white and mine was blonde.

“I’ll stay here,” I told my mom, so she went off down the hall to put her patient through his paces.

“May,” I said carefully and clearly. I had decided that she could say her own name. Of course! And I was patient.

May looked at me expectantly.

“My name is Susie,” I said, “your name is May.”

She nodded.

“Mmmmmm,” I said, “Mmmm-aaaayy.”

“Mmm,” she said.

We both smiled.

“Mmmmm-aaaayy,” I said.

“Mmmmm,” she said.

“Mmmmm-aaay,” I said.

“Mmmmm-aaa,” she said.

“Yes!” I said, “Mmmm-aaayy.”

“Mmmm-aaa,” she said.

“You can do it,” I said, “Mmm-aaay.”

We got stuck on Mmm-aaa for awhile, so I changed tack. “May is such a beautiful name, don’t you think?”

May nodded.

We both smiled.

“The month of May,” I said, “is a very good month. You’ve got flowers and birds and sunshine and warm days. Am I right?”

May laughed, which crinkled her eyes.

“Mmm-aay,” I said, “May.”

“Mmm-aaa,” she said. She was beautiful, May was, not just her kind and amused face, but her spirit.

Some of the people in the nursing homes were dour and cranky — of course they were! One old guy in a wheelchair liked to pinch me. I stayed behind my mother when we saw him in the hallway. There were also creepy guys who leered at me, young as I was. Prepubescent! But mostly these places were filled with sad, old, tired, sick humans who rarely had visitors, other than the medically inclined.

Which is probably why my mother brought me along, to mix things up a bit. I was a change of scenery. And I liked it, except for the creeps. I liked watching my mother help people move their broken bodies, edging them toward homeostasis. She treated all sorts, from amputees to athletes, quadriplegics to the comatose.

A few of her patients were famous: Larry Fine, of the Three Stooges, a kind old bedridden man whose eyes lit up when he saw me; bandleader Xavier Cugat, married to a very jealous Charo; and Robert Shields of the mime duo Shields & Yarnell. (I had a crush on the graceful Lorene Yarnell, starstruck. Hard to believe that one day I’m in her kitchen and the next night she’s in our living room — on TV!)

Regardless of the patient’s station in life, my mother was competent and calm, and never condescending. She treated folks equally and equably, whether they had use of all their body parts or not.

I don’t know how long my mother was gone that day, doing range of movement exercises with her patient in that nursing home. 30 minutes? 45? 15? Time was fluid back then, sitting in the parlor with May.

And after we’d been practicing awhile, it popped right out of her mouth. “Mmm-aay,” she said, “Mm-aay!”

“Yes!” I said, “May!”

“Mm-ay!” she said. “May.”

“May,” I smiled, “hello!”

laundry

I wash my clothes by hand – all of them. Detergent sensitivities prevent me from using my landlord’s washer and dryer, or public facilities.

Pain in the ass.
Until recently.

I bought a small, hand-cranked washing machine with a pressurized lid. It cleans like a front-load washer. I can fit my entire sheet set inside, including the pillow case. (Yeah, it’s a twin bed, but still!)

My biceps complained, initially, but then I got used to it. On cold mornings it’s a great warm-up. I use less detergent, and my clothes are softer and cleaner. And about a month after I stopped forcing myself to use others’ stinky machines, my lungs breathed a huge sigh of relief. Now they’re much more inclined to inhale deeply.

Tidying guru Marie Kondo believes you should only keep things that bring you happiness and contentment. She recommends divesting yourself of anything that doesn’t spark joy.

Now that I hand wash my clothes, I’ve noticed a certain reluctance to clean certain things. Because I am using my physical energy, as opposed to money (which I earn with my physical energy, but is now a step distant), I am reluctant to wash the t-shirt a not-a-friend-it-turned-out gave me. Or the mawkish Thanksgiving apron. Or the much loved, bought-brand-new-when-I-was-homeless hoodie that is showing wear and tear.

With big electric washers and dryers, it’s easy to throw in a bunch of clothes without thinking too much about them. White? in you go. Blue and purple? next load.

Washing my own clothes with my own brawn (and brains! figuring out the best cloth-to-water ratio has proved not as easy as advertised) is actually quite satisfying.

Today, inspired by Ms. Kondo, I sang a song of gratitude while I washed: the black v-neck I wore to star in a play; the shirt bought at Whole Foods when I was living in my car; the patterned leggings that kept me warm this winter; the soft black dress that reminds me of the one left behind; the chocolate brown tunic from France; and the underwear that literally covers my ass.

Just as every person has a story (or a million), every piece of clothing has a story, and as I washed, I remembered their stories (or the parts I know), and how each one came to me exactly when I needed it.

They are dripping dry over the tub right now, my riotous clothes, my protective gear, my personable apparel. Cleansed of sweat, sand, salt, dirt, and tears.
Domo arigato.

The Marriage of Emmett and Sasha

Picture this:
Two big black dogs with bushy tails. Both gregarious, and subject to roaming sans companion. Often mistaken one for the other by undiscerning humans.

One is the strong silent type: tall, dark, and handsome, he sometimes smells like the fish he just rolled in. The other is chatty and barky and smells like a rose.

One Malamute mix = Emmett.
One Newfoundland mix = Sasha.

“Emmett’s here,” says Martha on the phone, “he just came over from Willow’s.”

I look out the window: he’s in the yard. “I don’t think so,” I reply, but Martha’s insistent until I manage to get in, “I’m looking at him.”

When I first moved to Lybarger Street and was getting the lay of the land with Emmett, two neighbors, strangers, on separate occasions, lectured me vehemently on the leash laws. “Oh, now he’s on a leash,” sneered – yes, sneered! – an immaculately coiffed older woman walking past us down the hill.

I was taken aback; I’d never seen her before. “Where do you live,” I asked tiredly. It had been a hard move.

“Why?” she demanded to know.

As non-threateningly as possible, I said, “So we can avoid your street.” And we did, for several years, manage to avoid her block, even though it was just around the corner from our house and on the way to the grocery store.

It wasn’t until years after we met Sasha, who lived two streets over and half a block up, that I finally put it all together, the mistaken identities. I realized that (1) Sasha had a bad reputation in some circles, and (2) if you’ve seen one big black dog, you’ve seen ‘em all, apparently. Perhaps humans look alike to canines, too.

Dinah, however, Sasha’s human, was enthusiastic about Emmett’s presence in the ‘hood. Playdates ensued as soon as I got over her extremely warm welcome. It had been awhile since someone was happy to see me. Emmett, though, considered them family fairly quickly. If he wasn’t in our yard, he was usually in Sasha’s. Dinah and I had each other on speed dial.

Over the years, Emmett and Sasha had many sleepovers, depending on which human had to go out of town. Dinah began introducing Emmett as Sasha’s boyfriend. Then they were engaged. And then, one day, Dinah decided they were married. A secret, dog-only affair, evidently. I made a crockpot of bison stew for the newlyweds.

The humans’ work schedules were slightly different. I went to my job in Tumwater earlier, so I walked Emmett over to Sasha’s in the morning. Dinah brought them back to my yard on the way to her job in Lacey, so when I came home in the afternoon, I was hailed by the best housemates I’ve ever had. Talk about welcoming! “Hi honies, I’m home!”

One year, I went to France with my mother, but only after I cleared it with Dinah. “Are you up for two weeks of Emmett?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” she replied confidently, “it’ll be fun!”

While I was gone, she was kind enough to respond to my worried, hurried emails from Montgeron. “Emmett’s fine! We just got back from Burfoot Park! Although Sasha misses your chicken broth.”

(Emmett and I ate the same things, mainly: fish, fowl, rabbit, bison, potatoes, carrots, apples. The crockpot was full most days, and was a big hit with Sasha; I usually spooned a meaty broth over their dry food. Eventually, Sasha nicknamed me the Chicken Lady.)

When the airport shuttle dropped me at the top of the drive after 15 days away, I couldn’t get down to the gate fast enough. Such a reception! Bouncing, jumping, grinning – and that was just me!

They’re gone now, both Emmett and Sasha, or, rather, they’ve left their bodies behind. A true gentleman, Emmett went first. A year later, almost to the day, Sasha relieved herself of her cancerous frame, too.

Picture this:
Two big black dogs with bushy tails, one quiet, one barky, playing in the snow.
Both contagious with joy.