Tag Archives: ocean

dots ‘n’ lines

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.

“dots ‘n’ lines” by Elizabeth Shé

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?


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.


Montaña de Oro sunset
Montaña de Oro sunset

runaway horse, two

“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.

Horsepainter Elizabeth Shé feeds her canvas, Magic. Photo by James Dickens 2016
Horsepainter Elizabeth Shé feeds her canvas, Magic. Photo by James Dickens 2016



Ridiculously Beautiful Beach

This morning I awoke before dawn, drank dandelion leaf tea, and scrambled two fertile eggs; put on my wetsuit (there’s a warm-up exercise); packed food, tea, and water; grabbed the purple bag with the hot pink beach towel, goggles, gloves, hood, and earplugs; tied on my purple Timberlands; snapped up the yellow windbreaker; and locked the door behind me.

Squeegee’d the dew from the car windshields; fed Shadow pieces of carrot; chit-chatted with an equestrienne heading out for a beach ride with Jetson; mixed Cisko’s pellets, vitamins, and psyllium; and trudged out to give it to him.

“Hold your horses!” I said. He was banging the pipe fence with his hoof — I was late, Cisko-wise, though the sun was barely over the ridge in the east.

Drove away from the Ranch. Did not stop for gas but did check my PO box. Work mail.

A big-ass white pick-up tailed me north along South Bay Boulevard and turned onto the freeway behind me — gunned it as soon as he could get around me. I, a former speed-freak, was keeping to the speed limit.

The half moon was high in the sky, and sunlight gilded the hills. The air was brisk and out of the north, and I smelled a bit of woodsmoke mixed with hay.

Eighteen miles later, I pulled into a turn-out on the west side of Highway 1.
Estero Bluffs State Park. Not another car was parked at the trailhead.

The path is firm and flat along the bluffs, until you veer north toward a sandy beach. I hiked along the shore to the north end of the cove, and found a spot in the sun, out of the wind. Put on my swim-gear (wouldn’t booties be nice), and walked into the ocean. The tide was going out, but not quickly. This stretch of ocean is relatively sheltered from strong currents.

A surfer! What?! Walking along the shore toward me. One of the reasons I like this ridiculously beautiful beach is that the waves are usually small — good for swimming, bad for surfing.

He seemed, like me, less than thrilled to find another human here at this hour. I veered into deeper water so we didn’t have to say hello.

(By now you’ve probably realized that I’m a tad anti-social at times. Humans tire me, and I was already weary from a week of work.)

Today I want to practice alternate side breathing: stroke stroke breathe, stroke stroke breathe. Last week, swimming at this same gorgeous beach, I’d tweaked my neck by breathing only to the right the entire time.

Success! But I ran out of sheltered water before I ran out of swim-energy. So I walked down the beach so I could swim away from the sun. Passed the big piece of driftwood. No sign of the surfer. I entered the ocean again.

Kelpy. And bigger waves where the sea curves in. And weird currents, I suddenly remembered. And sometimes seals.

“It’s breeding season,” said Pam last week. “Watch out, you in your wetsuit.”

About my suit: it’s black and gray with white stripes on a calf and arm, with a white collar and white inserts at the waist. Very cute. Last month, at a different beach, several swimmers asked if this was an “anti-shark suit.” Apparently it looks like something an Australian guy designed to deter sharks. “To a shark,” said one swimmer, “you look like an octopus, not a seal.”

Hunh. I’m all for repelling sharks, but I wouldn’t go so far as to guess what they think when they see me. I just hope they don’t see ‘Food.’

I swam a bit farther, a bit farther, a bit farther — until a huge piece of seaweed freaks me out. I have a pact with myself now, after years of over-adrenalization, that if I am scared, I stop what I’m doing and take my body to safety. This is new behavior for me.

I get out and catch my breath. Enough swimming for today.

I walk back to the sunny spot with my dry clothes and warm jacket; scarf a banana; change out of my swim gear; eat a pear.

Good timing: here comes a barefoot man, following the trail the surfer had taken, just north of my spot.

“Swimming?” he asked, “just … swimming?”

I nodded. He seemed to find it hard to believe.

Me too. But there you have it.

Ridiculously Beautiful Beach, California, photo by Elizabeth Shé
Ridiculously Beautiful Beach, California, photo by Elizabeth Shé


“I know women like you,” said the knife sharpener.


He looked at me, unsmiling, then– “Ha!” he fell back into guffaws.

I paid him for my freshly sharpened scissors and walked back across the empty lot behind the farmers market to my car.

Beauty makes people behave strangely.

Yeah, I said it. I am beautiful. Three years after evacuating my Washington State home, I am feeling good, and healthy, and striding through life in Levi’s and purple Timberland boots. Not every day is like yesterday, full of confidence and vitality. I still need plenty of down time to rest and reflect, but there seem to be more good days than bad, knock wood.

This morning I got up and dressed in the pre-dawn light, and ate my oat-raisin-coconut-banana-chia porridge while looking out the east window at the sunrise. Chopped up a big-ass carrot that was so fresh it stained my hands orange, and went out into the morning chorus. Lotta birds here, large and small. Various horses whinnied as I approached the stable.

“Good morning, Shadow,” I said to the paint. “Good morning, Kady.” She’s a retired cattle horse, a beautiful mover. “Good morning, Jake,” to a registered quarter horse who allowed me to ride him last week. “Good morning, Jetson,” to a shy roan. Black Magic was off in his pen, away from the main drag I was on. Old Cisko trotted around his corral while I filled his bin with a mixture of food pellets, vitamin powder, and vegetable oil. Everybody got carrots, except Magic, who isn’t allowed sweets.

The sun broke through the high clouds every so often, enough to color the edges a deep rose. I washed my hands, grabbed my rucksack, and headed for the ocean.

Most of the half-mile hike is through sand and coastal scrub, though parts of the trail are a little firmer where, in the ’40’s, the army “improved” the road in order to drive vehicles through. Now that it’s after Labor Day, there are even fewer people in this state park, especially in the morning. I note lizard, rabbit, and coyote tracks, and what I now — after weeks of believing them snake tracks — think are snail trails, winding down into horse prints and out again. I saw a brown-shelled snail a few mornings ago, with a sticky excretion lassoing around behind it.

At the top of the last dune, I stop for awhile to watch the clouds lighten to pink, the roar of the ocean at my back, small birds flitting high in the sky in pairs and flocks. Eventually I hike down to the shoreline.

Instead of jumping in the water as usual, I sit on a piece of bleached driftwood and drink raspberry rose tea from a beat up green REI thermos. Up the beach a man is fishing in the turbulent white water. A small line of pelicans cruises the waves, and curlews with their down-curved beaks search for clams. A raft of dark birds float out past the surf line, maybe cormorants, but they’re too far away to see.

Yesterday I shared a stretch of ocean with a seal, perhaps the same seal as the day before, but who knows? No seals or sea lions in sight today, though I know they’re out there. After awhile the marine layer blocks out the sun, so I get up to start the hike home.

There’s a bush that’s blooming now, with delicate yellow-green daisy-like flowers and a sweet scent. It smells a little like a very faint tuberose. When the wind is right, I can smell it from my apartment. Bees like it. Today it’s more fragrant on the way back from the beach, or maybe I’m not so intent as I pass by on the return journey. A dragonfly flutters overhead while I stop to inhale. So good.

Back at the ranch, I hear a neighbor’s door creak open, but I don’t feel like chatting, so head down, I climb the stairs on the south side of the house. Unaccosted, I open the gate at the top, and grab the horsehair brush by my front door.

Sand and dust brushed off jeans and boots, I step inside the warm studio.

snail trail
photo by Sherrie or Adam: http://www.wellingtonfarm.ca

runaway horse

I’ve been learning Horse — the language. One of the women who boards her horse at this ramshackle ranch is teaching me Equus. Well, she and Jake, her horse, are.

I’ve had two lessons already, both longer than I thought my brain could stand. Learning how to communicate with anyone is tricky, let alone someone of a different species. Intention is 90% of it. Focus, clarity, and confidence make up the rest.

Sunny is the palomino Tennessee Walker I’ve been feeding, daily. I also groom and walk him as time permits. Yesterday felt like a walking day, so I grabbed his halter and went out to the pasture to see if he agreed. He did, initially.

We used to walk in the arena, but the last few times I thought he might like a roomier amble. So I slid the halter over his blonde nose, held the rope loosely in both hands, and proceeded along the fence line of his pasture.

The idea of snakes entered my head. “I’ll keep an eye out, Sunny. I’m looking for them.” We continued and made one full sweep of the area.

We took a small break, and I gave him some cut up carrots. “Let’s try the opposite direction this time, babe,” I said. This go-round started out fine, as before, but as we approached the northeast corner, he spooked. Took off at a run. Galloped back to the southwest corner, his safety zone.

Luckily, I dropped the rope immediately. My heart was pounding, but no rope burns. I stood still, and watched him gallop for several minutes, dragging the rope. I worried that he’d tread on it and trip, hurt himself, but he didn’t.

Eventually, he slowed down. Eventually he stopped. I waited a bit more ’til my own pulse was slower, then calmly walked toward him.

“You’re okay,” I said. “You’re fine. You’re okay. Everything is okay.” I kept up the soothing tone and words as I approached and petted his neck. Reached up slowly and calmly, undid the knot by his cheek, and slid the halter off his nose. Patted him. “You’re okay. I am so sorry. We will never walk that stupid pasture again.”

Snakes. I didn’t see any, but it was a hot August day, and the sandy chaparral has tall weeds and short shrubs that are perfect hiding places for snakes. And I had noticed, when we walked the pasture before, that certain parts of it made him nervous. I thought it was proximity to the road and cars.

“You’re right,” I told Sunny, “snakes are quick. No way could I see them in time. I was foolish to try to do so. It won’t happen again. We will not walk in here again. And yes, I know I promised you an ocean ride and that hasn’t happened. But I know it will happen for you. Not with me, probably, but it will happen.”

I gave him some carrots and climbed through the fence out of the pasture and into the arena. Where we’d first learned to walk together. Also a scary time, but on my end, not his. Nothing like walking with a thousand pound animal to make you realize how fragile you are.

This afternoon, after I fed Sunny his alfalfa dinner, his “owner” turned up. A real, live rodeo cowboy. He’s moving Sunny down the dune to another ranch. I won’t get to feed him anymore. Or have to, depending on your point of view. 6:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. might seem a little strange for a while.

I did say good-bye though. After the cowboy jumped on Sunny’s back, they walked over to the fence where I was standing. “Good-bye sweetheart,” I said, and rubbed the place on his forehead that he loves. “Good-bye.”

Then I opened the gate for them to ride through, and opened the next one. Closed the gates behind them.

The last I saw of Sunny, he was heading for the ocean. As promised.
Yeah baby, yeah baby, baby baby yeah. Yeah baby, yeah baby, baby baby yeah.

Resting after Equus lesson two, photo by James Dickens.
Resting after learning and feeding horses. Photo by James Dickens.

re(tern) to happiness

The Groucho Terns are back!

This morning, on my regular ocean amble, what did my wondering ears apprehend? The familiar chatter of a flock of terns! And not just any terns, no! My terns!

Well, they are probably Elegants, instead of my old Hermosa friends, the Royals. I couldn’t get close enough to see. But the Groucho Marx walk was back, along with the cigar-like beak and black bushy “eyebrows.”

Oh! the joy!

I don’t know why certain things bring me happiness, and others do not. It seems to be highly specific. Horses, for example, are a guaranteed joy-generator.

Two weeks after I began hands-on learning about horses, the lessons abruptly stopped. My teacher became ill and moved away, suddenly. Day after day, at six o’clock, I got dressed in my Levi’s and horse hoodie, only to be told that, “Barbara’s still under the weather. She won’t be here tonight.”

I was furious.
Just as I suspected, happiness can’t be trusted. What an idiot I am to expect it to last!

Yes, I was sorry she was ill. It happens. I understand that.
What doesn’t happen very often for me is joy. I had been so happy with Sunny that I couldn’t sleep. Nothing bothered me. Work was a breeze. My family’s bizarre behavior no longer mattered, at least not as much.

I was happy. An unfamiliar feeling.

A week goes by. Still no Barbara. So I didn’t visit Sunny. He wasn’t “mine.” I didn’t know if his “owner” would like a newbie hanging around. And I was scared to ask the stable owner.

I continue to work and eat and go to the ocean. I pretend (to myself) that I am fine. But I am easily irritated. And every time I do the laundry, the machine stops during the spin cycle. It is unbalanced. Each time, I open the lid and rearrange the clothes, evenly. Last night it stopped twice. “What the–?”

I was unbalanced. I had let happiness slide away. I live right next to a stable full of horses. Surely I could visit them?

I put on my Levi’s and an already dirty sweater (dusty creatures, horses). I cut up an apple, and went out to ask if I could feed them.

“Who?” said the stable owner, P.

“All of them,” I said.

“Not Magic,” she said, “no sweets for Magic. And you’ll have to ask about Jake.” She nodded down to where Devon was feeding Jake in his corral. Then she called down to Susan, who’d brought old Cisco out of his paddock. “Can Cisco have apples? small ones?”

Susan said yes. “He doesn’t really chew,” she said, “not enough teeth.”

And then!

P said she didn’t know when or if Barbara would be back, but I could brush and walk Sunny, “if you feel comfortable with that?”

“Yes!” I said, “thank you!”

Happiness floated me down through the stable, dispensing apple bits to Shadow and Kady. I grabbed the pink rope halter on the way, and stopped to talk to Devon and meet Jake.

“You can give him anything,” she said, “apples, carrots, he loves ’em.”

I had not even known how sad I was until I had permission to visit Sunny again. Fear had kept me away from a stable full of friends.

Pulling out the ice-aka-storage chest from under the mounting block, I retrieved two brushes, dumped most of the apple bits in a helmet, closed the lid, and slid through the fence into Sunny’s corral.

It had not been a fluke or a dream. He still listened to me, even without Barbara, and stood while I brushed him. He waited as I put the halter on him, and opened the gate. Then we both walked into the arena, just like old times. Around and around we went, looking at Magic and Jetson and Jake and Shadow. Bunnies and vultures, ground squirrels and barn swallows. Around and around and around, as the sun went down.



Three years ago …

After spending a scary, sleepless night in a tiny cottage by the ocean in Westport, I drove slowly down the coast, trying to reach my father in northern California.

Pumped up on synthetic adrenaline (prescribed by a could-barely-breathe-herself doctor who diagnosed me with toxic-mold-induced asthma), full-body hot flashes surged through me on an hourly basis. Sweating, crying, praying, driving, I continued south as best I could.

The Interstate was not an option — way too much traffic and speed. I ended up on winding coastal roads, late at night. Cold. Still wearing the cotton pants and cambric shirt a neighbor had given me, and hot pink Crocs, no socks. Every time I stopped to check out a hotel or motel, the industrial cleaners they used in the rooms nauseated me. My senses — all of them — were in overdrive.

Exhausted and terrified in Florence, Oregon, I called 911, “I think I’m having a heart attack.” The EMT’s arrived quickly. One kind-faced man held my hand while others attached monitors to various parts of my body. Another advised me to stop taking the Albuterol. I had already done so, but it would take awhile for it to work its way out of my system. Their machines said that my heart was fine, just battered. Yeah.

After my breathing and pulse returned to a more normal rhythm, the patiently efficient EMT’s bid me goodbye. I started the car, turned it around, and headed into town. It was morning.

A huge Fred Meyer sign rose up on the right. A familiar sight! I had a Fred Meyer card! A chain store throughout the Pacific Northwest, I shopped there regularly for food and sundries. I turned into the parking lot.

Once inside, I headed for the clothing department. I needed warm shoes, and clothes that fit my swollen body. Long-time Queen of the FreeStore, for the first time in years I bought brand-new clothes: a pink and black sports cami, a hot pink cotton t-shirt, a long black stretchy skirt, grey fake sheepskin boots, rainbow colored socks, a lime green knee-length raincoat. I tried everything on in a stinky fitting room, and threw away the clothes I came in with.

“Lip balm?” I asked the compassionately helpful saleslady. She led me to another area, health and beauty, and found a tinted balm in a pretty pinky-brown shade.

“This will look good on you,” she said. I put it in the shopping basket.

On the way to the check-out stand, a flash of turquoise caught my eye: a small sequined purse, with a heart-shaped clasp. Perfect for the credit cards I’d been carrying in a brown paper bag. (Unsure what was moldy and what was not, I left everything behind except my computer. I was hoping to keep my job.)

The turquoise said, “You are still an ARTIST.”
The sequins said, “You are NOT DEAD.”
The heart said, “You are LOVABLE.”

I slung it over my shoulder. Let the healing begin.


Oh, I need the Ocean!

I can see the sea from my new studio.
Cue delighted laughter.

To get to the sea, I hike down through state park dunes, clocking lizards, buzzards, and bunnies on the way. Sometimes humans on horses pass me, or the ranger on his ATV. Most of the time I’m the solitary human, looking at fuchsia sand verbena, dunedelions (like dandelions, but in sand), sage, and chamise. Chaparral country. Many times it’s foggy here, so I don’t see the sea until I’m almost upon it.

My studio window faces west, so, barring fog, I can catch the sunset every night.
Cue delighted laughter again.

“We’ve got whales!” says my landlady, “Elizabeth, we’ve got whales!”

Sure enough, I spot several spouts mid-way to the horizon.

In case you’re becoming too jealous, there are also rattlesnakes, poison oak, and unexploded ordnance leftover from the 1940’s when the army used the land for training.

But my downstairs neighbor plays the trumpet well, another neighbor surfs, and of course there are the horses: Sunny, Shadow, Cisco, Kady, Magic, Jetson.

Last night my riding teacher was “under the weather,” so our lesson was canceled.
Cue disappointed, catastrophic thinking. I’ll never ride again!

I chopped up carrots anyway, and took them down to the stable. Sunny gets most of them, but I treat the others on the way to and fro his paddock. I’m especially enamored of Shadow, a gorgeous cream and chocolate Paint.

“Barbara’s sick,” I tell Sunny, “no play today.” He’s a good listener, even after the carrots are history. I brush his coat and mane, then say good-night.

Three years ago, I left Olympia and drove straight to the ocean. I was dying of toxic mold exposure, and could barely breathe. My liver was inflamed, my kidneys were stressed. I left everything behind, even the stuffed dog that belonged to my (dead) brother. The only thought that made any sense in my be-fogged brain was ocean ocean ocean. Ocean ocean ocean. I don’t want to die inland. I need the ocean ocean ocean. Please god, help me get to the Ocean.

I sang and chanted in the car, as best I could, making a mantra of ocean ocean ocean. I made it to the Pacific, 75 miles away.

“The cure for anything is saltwater: sweat, tears, or the sea,” wrote Isak Dinesen.

She is correct.

After three years of living as close to the ocean as I can get, even if that means the car, I can breathe. My lungs, liver, kidneys, skin, brain, heart — all systems are go.

And so I do. Into the H2O. The Ocean. The Healer. Home.

feeding horses

When I was eleven, my mother’s parents took us to Ireland. Us = me, my brother, and my mother. My grandmother was the Irish in our family, née Rosemary Magonigle.

We were there a month: two weeks with the grandparents, two weeks just the three of us. Those last two weeks may be the best weeks of my life.

After her parents returned to the States, my scared-of-horses mother rented a horse-drawn caravan. I didn’t question this at the time. In the midst of my horse-mad phase, I drew them, read about them, learned their anatomy, and talked about them. The only thing I couldn’t do was ride them: no access.

Darkie was big and tall and, yes, dark in color, with a white star on her forehead. She was assigned to lug our gypsy wagon through the Irish countryside.

Despite her fear, my mother took the reins and refused to let me take a turn. A physical therapist and anatomy teacher, she knew all too well the strength and potential of Darkie’s musculo-skeletal system.

But horses are sensitive creatures. My anxious mother made Darkie nervous, and less than thrilled to take orders from an Irish-American.

“Ach,” said various countryfolk at one time or another during our sojourn to the first campground, “let the child drive!”

“Yeah, mom,” I chimed in, “let me drive.”

No joy. Yet.

As soon as we reached the Philbin’s seaside farm, supposedly the first leg of our journey, we dropped anchor and turned Darkie loose in a field with other caravan horses.

We stayed for two weeks.

I immediately took over horse-care duties, filling my pockets with food. Imagine my delight when they followed me around!

In the back of our small wooden caravan, on the outside, was a trunk of sorts that held Darkie’s food pellets — a two week’s supply. She ate all of it the first night.

Not horse-people, no we weren’t. But I learned. The Philbins taught me; and John, another local, helped me ride.

My five-year-old brother followed Mr. Philbin around the farm, tending to cows, chickens, and other barnyard animals. When I wasn’t following the horses around, I roamed the country and seaside.

All of us were outdoors most of the day. As it was May, this was a very long time — the sun set at 11 o’clock. And the crystalline nights! That was the first time I saw the Milky Way.

On my dead brother’s birthday, we found a small pool in a dip in the hills, filled with sea-life: anemones, little fish, dulse. Big enough to swim in, so I did, holding my breath from one end to the other, eyes open in the salty water, drinking in the otherworldly strangeness.

Heaven. Paradise. Nirvana.

Why I ever thought I needed to live in a city, I don’t know. To this day, the smell of peat fires puts me instantly back in Ireland.

Finally, decades later, I’m in the seaside country again: no human habitation visible from my western window, and horses for neighbors. I live on a ranch, of sorts, an equine boarding facility.

Two days ago, I asked if I could help feed the horses.

“Yes!” said Barbara.

So I followed her around, toting hay, alfalfa, and food pellets; checking water levels and quality. Getting comfortable again in my eleven-year-old heart.
Darkie and me in Ireland; John holds the halter.