The Delicious Hour




Long before the beeping of my morning alarm, a warm wet nose draws me out of my sleep.  Not at first of course.  The first gentle nudge just pushes a little on the edge of my dream.  The second, often accompanied by a quick lick or insistent whine, manages to get some sort of guttural recognition and a heavy-bodied shift.  My body is waking but my mind is satisfied to stay in the comfortable screening room inside my brain.  It’s usually the determined scratching on the coverlet that finally pulls my eyes open. “Izzy?”  I plead with a woolen voice.  “Hang on.” My feet are already on the floor and I am stretching for my robe.  “Let’s go outside.”

It is usually while I am standing in the doorway as she trots around in the yard that the alarm goes off.  Having completely forgotten that she woke me so she could go to the bathroom, Izzy darts along the fence, enchanted with the sounds of the surrounding woods rising before sunrise.  If she would just pee I could still manage to get back into bed and fall asleep.  Its a game of chicken, me willing her to go and her trying to eek out one more minute outside.  On the best days, she squats immediately and then rushes back to the gate, tail wagging, ready to join me back under warm covers and warmer thoughts.

My body was made for sleep, I might be genetically superior somehow when it comes to the slumber gene.  I can sleep in a chair, on a train station bench, in any moving car or basically any moving mode of transportation, during a class lecture, through the end of the movie, you get the idea.  When I lay down to go to sleep, I am like a free diver, descending quickly and fearlessly into the depths below.  I hit the bottom like a gold doubloon, settling into the Sandman’s bed like pirate’s treasure.  I am happy to stay hidden there in an ocean of dreams.  Ascending is long labour, waking its own skillful meditation. Gratefully, I can sink and bob between waking and sleeping with ease for an hour or more, in 7-minute increments delineated by the sound of the snooze alarm.

As I watch Izzy round the far corner of the yard once again, I am still in the middle zone, awake yet asleep.  It is only 4:20AM, I still have two whole hours before the first chimes from my phone announce the new day.  If I can get back into bed before the morning chill has a chance to set in, I can get back to the dream I was in when I awoke.  Izzy darts in and beats me back to bed.  Her haunches are just slipping under the blanket when I pull them back and settle in.  Our second dog gives a half-hearted growl at being rousted and shrinks back into the lair she has created behind my husband’s curled legs.  He is warm and as I curl around this little family of mine, I feel the anchor of my dream pull me back down under the current.

This is the beginning of the delicious hour.  My dreams are still vivid even as I am aware of the soft rise and fall of Stella’s ribcage nearby.  The animals of my dreams get to spend time with the animals of my waking world.  Gorilla, our old jack russel terrier, is there with me and from our dream, he can gaze down at the sleeping form of my husband, still his favorite boy on the planet.  Cody, who hasn’t lived in the dream world all that long is still close enough to us to slip from my dream into the bed and snuggle down next to Izzy.  We stay like this for a minute, two minutes, three min…beep, beep.

The second time I fall back to sleep much quicker, my hand is barely off the snooze button before the screen fills with imagery.  Gorilla and Cody are waiting, Cody still stretching and yawning.  They turn and run and I am running behind them.  With each step, a year of time slips away and they look younger, freer, dearer.  They stop at a fenceline, looking back at me.  Inches above them is the pink muzzle of an enormous white horse.  It’s Raffi, it’s Oberon, it’s Scotch all at once. As I lay my forehead against his, I feel suddenly transported through space and I am standing in a barn aisle outside of Sacramento, CA.  When I draw back, I see my reflection in the dark amber eyes of Goodwill, billowy like a curtain here in dreamland but still alive and well in the real world.  He is old enough and fragile enough now to spend some of his time in the waiting room here in the dreamland.  Each of the great grey horses in my life.  Each one shared a decade of my life with me. Each arrived in my life unannounced, each of them partially blind in their right eyes, each of them great competitors in their prime coming to me in their fading years to teach me to jump, to gallop, to fly and to focus. Oberon, my trainer’s retired Grand Prix horse taught me to jump in my 20s and also taught me how to tend to old bowed tendons and swayed backs.   Scotch showed up in my 30s as a sales horse with some nasty tricks and showed me how touch could transform not just muscles but also the mind.  Goodwill, gifted to me temporarily in my 40s to show me the power of my dreams, insisted that I succeed both as a rider and a healer.  When Raffi arrived in my 50s, he was retiring from a long life of service. Strong, sound and stubborn, he still enjoyed working and teaching.  His owner dropped him off and said casually, “I forgot to mention, he doesn’t see all that well out of his right eye, he had a tumor removed years ago.”  We winked at each other and I said: “Welcome Back”.   Like magicians, they appear and disappear.  In my dreams, I never ride Scotch.  We walk, I groom him, he lays down and I sit against his shoulder, his big nose resting in my lap.  There is sorrow and there is a relief and there is forgiveness.  Oberon and Goodwill carry me joyously all over the dreamland, we jump everything in sight.  Sometimes I am a horse running with them, the wind whipping through my mane, my laughter sounds like braying. Gorilla is always at Goodwill’s heels, tongue lolling as he runs.  Raffi carries me through dreams that are restless or frightening.  His steps are definite, loud, solid.  In my dreams, he is my protector or he carries me with his head down, body bent into the oncoming wind.  He marches me away from the castle of my captor, charges with me into battle, sometimes shields me from sight.

They gather in my room between waking moments this morning.  They stand with me at the window and look out over our pastures.  I point out Cafe, I tell them about Osso, they watch and listen thoughtfully, wistfully.  They press their noses against the panes to see the horses on the other side, their breath fogging the glass until the real world is invisible again.  They startle and bolt off into thin air when the alarm goes off .

Third time is the charm.  Sometimes I never even hear the alarm I have dove so deep.  If I awake at all, it is to push my husband in the direction of the alarm.  Some mornings the sound of the alarm just blends with the dream, it is the trumpeting of the horn calling the hounds back to the field while we stand around in the fall mist on our stalwart field hunters or the incessant squawk of the seagull as Gorilla and Darcy and Shanny leap and snap at the air along the beach, me following behind them searching the sand at my feet for heart-shaped stones.  I am deep in it and only the animals that have gone on will go there with me.  Usually, they are young and healthy in my dreams, sometimes I am holding their aging bodies but always there is joy and love and such closeness it stops my breath.  I never want to leave them. I can see them, smell them, feel their heartbeats.  Here I can heal them, speak to them, hold them and it all feels better than real.

But this is also the drowning sleep. You can get lost in this sleep.  The freediver is down in the dark, dark depths now and you can lose your sense of direction here and just keep swimming down forever.

The delicious hour draws to its end.  The siren alarm comes to me like the ringing of a buoy bell and I have to swim for the surface.  My chest is heavy and my head feels thick with fog.  I thrash towards the surface, stretching toward the light above the water.  Waking up like this feels like a rebirth. I am newborn and helpless.  The light is too bright in my eyes, the air to cool on my skin,  I still feel tethered to the warm home of my dream.

If there isn’t coffee, I am going to cry.




Eagle Eye

bird animal freedom fly
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It is morning at the zoo where I work.  It is already hot, typical of our Florida summer.  I am standing just off one of the public pathways on a patch of grass, shortly before the gates open and the public start to swarm through the gates.  I rest my arm in the crook of a thick wooden staff about 4’ tall.  My hand and arm dwarfed by the thick leather glove that runs to my elbow.  Stretched across the palm of the glove and held securely there by my fingers are two long soft leather straps called jesses, worn from years of use. The jesses are attached to the butter-colored legs of the golden eagle who rests on my arm, talons loosely gripping my wrist.  We both turn our heads toward the sounds of people slowly filtering in and toward our position near the back of the park.  The sun warms my shoulders and the smell of the tall bank of bougainvillea hedges behind us mix with the sour smell of steaming hops drifting from the Anheuser Busch brewery whose brick walls rise above all the other buildings at the center of the park.  Peacocks wander loose throughout the park and nearby I heard one call out to his peahens.  I am absentmindedly marveling at the idea that someone is actually paying me to do this when the eagle shifts and slowly spreads her massive wings out behind my head, the feathers passing against her chest with a sound like scissors cutting through silk.  She is also enjoying the sun, letting it play across the sable and tan feathers.  Her wing span is easily seven feet, nearly a foot and a half wider than I am tall. She arrived at the zoo years before, shot through her chest with a bow and arrow and barely alive.  The veterinary staff had saved her life but not her ability to fly and so she will live her remaining days in the park. I have developed a deep repoire with her on these morning excursions of ours. To earn the right to handle her, I have worked with Fish and Wildlife officers to learn about her care and management.  I have studied the species so that I can speak to groups about their lifespan, their habits, their territory and the challenges they face. I have spent hours in her exhibit with her to get her comfortable with my presence, offering her small gifts of pinky mice and raw meat  In the park, we are partly on display, partly there to educate parkgoers about the dangers eagles face in the wild of modern society and partly to give her some activity beyond the dead tree, kiddy pool and chainlink that are now the extent of her territory.  An unexpected breeze lifts her feathers and they brush my check as I look up at her.  Majestic, she is still the picture of freedom despite her shackles.  She points the black tip of her yellow aqualine beak down and views me sideways from one perfectly circular amber eye, a piercing gaze. When she blinks, her lids closed like shades and a thin nictitating membrane slides across the surface of her eye like a windshield wiper.  She locks my gaze and sits examining me. I stare back and my eyes take in every detail of the brown scalloped feathers around her neck, the breeze revealing the gray skin below and the few small gnats crawling on its surface.  The pimply skin around her eye looks like the skin of a chicken and the tiny feathers around the edge of her nostrils ruffle.  I resist a sudden and strong urge to raise my other hand and stroke the feathers over the keel bone of her chest, erect like the bow of a ship.  I know doing so would be asking to lose a finger or worse, the might of her beak capable of snapping it in two effortlessly.  But my fingers itch nonetheless.  The pull to know the feel of her breath as her muscles raise and lower her chest is magnetic.  She seems to bask in the adoration and continues to stare down at me in the fashion of a benevolent queen. The world contracts until I felt as if she and I and this hillock of grass are alone in space.  Long minutes pass and we are motionless.  Finally she turns again, facing me full on.  What I see in her eyes then, I also hear in my head as clear as a bell. “You look at me with my wings spread, knowing I cannot fly. I look at you and wonder, what is your excuse?” She folds her wings with a rattle and the spell is broken.

But a part of me was now awake and my quest began in earnest that day.




Winter Words


Though I wrote this nearly a year ago, today it simply appeared on my screen to my surprise.  I imagine it was something bidding me to pick it up again, and so I did..

Today, I walked again.  I took a long walk along country roads past farmland and woods.  I walked on hips and knees that complained with each step.  I walked with arms that hung rigidly at my side between bent shoulders.  I walked and as I walked, I listened to the crunching of the snow under each footstep.  I walked head down, placing my feet carefully in the snow and ice.  I walked uphill and down until my legs warmed and relaxed and finally lent themselves to the work.  I walked until my arms swung loosely at my sides.  I walked until I raised my head to take in the landscape around me, the rolling fields and the stands of birch and sugar maple .

Today, at last, I breathed again.  I took in cautious sips of cold air as I stepped out into the Vermont winter.  I drew the tight, shallow, weak breaths of my city existence.  I let more air out than I let in.  My lungs protested from behind the bars of their ribbed cage.  I followed my breath in and out, counting as I inhaled and counting again as I exhaled.  I harnessed my breath.  I pulled on its reins and begged it to slow down.  I tamed it with repetition and focus.  I looked out across the hollows covered in snow and attempted to breath the entire view in.  As I did, my breath fell into the deep rhythm of the tides and lent itself to my work.  I breathed until my chest rose and ribs followed.  I drank in long breaths until the effort of it escaped in a weak cough.  The cough startled me and I laughed.  It was a tenuous laugh, a gasp really. Not a purposeful laugh.  I tested my laugh against the silent day, not wanting to wake the hay fields and hillsides from their season’s slumber beneath their white blanket.  I watched my breath in the cold air until I was sure they had not stirred, and laughed again.  The laugh turned into a hum.  A nonsense tune, a made up ditty buzzing between the lips.  The humming made me think of my dad and that, of course, made me think of a song.  So I tried a song.  Quietly singing under my breath.  Then gaining strength.  Finally singing under, over and around my breath…singing with my breath until I was singing as a way of breathing. And I sang and hummed and breathed all the way back to this home away from home.

Today, I drank.  I drank water with lemon and hot jasmine tea.  I drank coffee with breakfast laced with maple syrup and softened with cream.  I drank a second cup black.  I drank more water, iced and then lukewarm.  I drank red wine in long languid sips and let it pool in my mouth before swallowing.  The drinking lent itself to the work without practice or effort .

Today, I slept again.  A sleep unlike the sleep of the last decade.  I fell asleep like the old bent alders in our woods fall under the weight of rain and snow.  I slept without stirring.  I did not wrestle with the blankets or pummel the pillows.  I did not find my arms wrapped crookedly under me.  I did not stir to the sounds of whatever critters pitter-pattered past my window, evidenced only by their tracks the next morning.  In my sleep, I did not dream or at least, I did not recall.  I slept with abandon and without care, the sleep of an infant.  I slept and my ears opened before my eyes, as it should be.  And when I woke, I did not care to retreat to sleep again.

Today, I slept and drank and sang again. Today, I breathed and walked again.  Today, I wrote again. And this is what I wrote…

Like many stories do, this one begins at its end.  I am walking.  Everything is sleeping under a blanket of snow.  There are farmhouses that dot the fields around me and stands of sugar maple and birch.  Birch trees remind me of my family home. Three grow straight skyward outside our front door in Michigan.  As kids, my sister and I would peel the papery bark and write secret messages in lemon juice with our fingers, holding them above the toaster later to watch the letters emerge.  The birches are fitting, as I have come here to write.  I have traveled back in time in a way, to a place of my past to begin the telling of my story.  Or rather, my story wrapped in the stories I really wish to tell, the animal’s stories.  My life seems to be edging toward another one of its peaks.  I arrived in Boston early in the morning and started the drive to Vermont.  Boston is an old stomping ground, a familiar face if I look long enough behind the paintbrush of age.  I head north on 93 and a slow smile emerges when I see the Welcome to New Hampshire road sign and the familiar granite face on the outline of the state; the Old Man in the Mountain.  Live Free or Die the sign proclaims, about the best motto I can imagine.  The highway narrows to a four-lane road and I pull into one of the many small towns that dot the New England countryside.  There is gas in Goffstown and then the one-lane meandering road that follows alongside one of the best fly-fishing rivers in the east. Today I have the road and the river to myself it seems. There is one stop I must make between towns, on this river at the site of an old fairgrounds.  The grandstand is still standing in good shape, the fences around the show rings have been replaced recently and I recognize the path that leads down into the woods and out onto the cross-country riding course.  I park and walk down to the river edge and look up at the hill across the way.  I can just make out another path, wider than a trail but too narrow for a car.  We used to ride our horses up and down that path to get from the barn to the fairgrounds.  I can’t see the barn from here and I can no longer remember which tree I swore to remember in case I ever needed to find my way back again.  They all look the same.  But I know he is there, buried deep down beneath the snow and earth and the roots. Barnstormer, my horse from another lifetime.  I can picture his long red face the first time I met him, his ears pinned flat against his head and nose wrinkled.  What an angry little man he was then, the equine equivalent of Napolean.  How affectionate he became over time. All he needed was space and a job and one person.  My riding trainer knew that when she brought him home those many years ago, against protests from myself and others.  She provided the space and I provided the job and he chose the person.  Thankfully, it was me.  I turn back while the memories are still sweet and in my mind’s eye we are still riding the trails and jumping everything in sight and I haven’t time yet to think about the end when your little legs could no longer carry you and we walked you to this hill on a sun filled day and a belly full of carrots and laid you to rest.  I have more stops to make.  When I arrive into the little center of New Boston, I find it practically unchanged.  Twenty-five years have only worn the wood floors of the local grocery down a bit more.  Coffee still waits in a pot on the counter and three older men sit in the window seat looking out at the grey day.  For all I know, they are the same old men.  The bank is still on the corner across from the white church with its steeple and clerestory window.  I used to ride my horse down the hill and hand my paycheck to the teller through the drive through window.  Just up the hill, I see the porch of the farmhouse where we lived, only now it is a sprawling dental office with a fresh coat of paint.  But the barns are still there and I park and walk across the crust of snow to peer inside the windows.  The stalls are empty but still standing, filled now with lumber and other equipment I suppose.  Farther up the road is my friend’s new barn.  When her father sold the farmhouse and land, she and her husband Mark purchased 40 acres of land covered in apples trees, hayfields and an enormous horse barn.  I head there next.  We have not seen one another in over two decades, Gretchen and I.  She is a soul sister.  She was my riding teacher, my employer, my roommate, my friend all at once.  She walks out of her aisleway on the way to teach a lesson in the arena and sees me beside the car, pulling a scarf around my neck against the chill, they are high on a hill and the wind is up.  Time slips away and it is as if 25 years were 25 minutes.  We hug and fall into conversation as if we had never parted.  She teaches while I watch the two young girls adeptly pilot their horses over the course of jumps.  She tells them, “Remember when we went to Deerfield Fair last year and I showed you the picture on the wall of Barnstormer winning the Vanbuskirk Classic? This is the rider I was telling you about” and she thrusts a thumb in my direction. I am transported in my mind to that September day when my little red horse and I galloped to victory in the jumper class, beating Gretchen and her massive grey gelding Oberon by a tenth of a second.

We play with the dogs for a bit, a beagle with a long face and two hounds.  She shows me one horse after another down the long aisleway. I help her clean stalls and take horses out the fields that surround her little kingdom and we go to lunch.  When I have to leave, we hug long and hard and of course, as people do, we promise not to wait another 25 years to do it again.  I invite her to Seattle to visit the farm knowing she will probably never make it and we grin.  I wander the remaining miles in a warmth that only a shared love can bring and when I arrive at the white farmhouse, it is getting dark.  But inside it is warm and there is dinner waiting.  I am the only guest tonight and when I lay down in the bed in my room, I feel the old house settle down around me in my dreams.

The beauty of arriving in the dark is the discovery that awaits you in the morning. Through the night, the snow has fallen. It lies spread across the farmland fields like an unmarked page on the platen, silently awaiting the first letters to strike on its smooth face. In a few hours, its surface will be pocked with footsteps, long scars trenching across it from the blades of shovels, wrinkles appearing from the tread of tires. In this moment, however, it is unspent, its own, unused. Mine alone the awesome task of initiation. Do I initiate its demise with a single step? Or stoop to gently usher it out of its repose with a sweep of my mittened hand? Or do I protect its virginity to the last possible moment? Shall I stand guard from my perch at the window, praying for its purity to remain, wishing fervently in the midst of the morning calm for all things to remain unchanged? Or succumb to a desirous ruination? I do the only sensible thing, wisdom passed from sisters.  I dress and step out into the cold.  I turn my back on its whiteness, fall backward onto its downy expanse, flail arms and legs in ecstasy and give birth to the day’s first snow angel.



Love Conquers Fall


seattlefallSeattle has traded in her summer dress for the layered look.  She wears a billowy grey shawl of fog over a thick sweater of downy skies.  She has shed the sunburned brown grass of August for a last gasp of emerald fabric and her hair drips from beneath the rainsoaked cap of her tree’s golden and crimson leaves.  Her mood is soporific when she rises, giving way to a cool sharpness by noon.  As evening approaches, her eyes turn dark and heavy, she pulls her toes back from the receding tide of her shoreline.  It is a time for gathering wood and considering titles for winter nights.  I am compelled to make pot after pot of broth from the last few garden treasures and bones from the spring lambs.

But fall is my absolute favorite time of year. Spring follows closely on its heels, but it has everything over summer.  It begs me to languish in its brief visit before the claws of winter grasp it away.  I lose all track of projects and wish only to wander, taking in its display. I get nostalgic in fall. I am given to grand indulgences in these months. It seems to arrive purely at my behest, I feel nearly solipsistic. I am reminded to dwell on things that remind me of love.

My mother pulling fragrant trays of roasted pumpkin seeds from the oven while my sisters and I bend over toothy jack-o-lanterns at a kitchen table heaped with pungent stringy pumpkin guts. Our black cockapoo rests his curly chin on the edge of my chair, ever hopeful black eyes shining and pink tongue lolling.

The warmth of my sister’s mittened hand coaxing me along from neighbor to neighbor, my pillow case growing heavier with each gift of waxy lips or black and white taffy in its pretty wrapper. Our siamese cat lying curled on the porch bench when we arrive home loaded down with loot, our eyelashes damp from the inevitable first few snowflakes that a Michigan halloween always seems to usher in.  Her small head lifting to sniff the air with indifference, rising in a slow stretch to follow us inside and wander between us, her body bending around our legs, engine purring, smokey brown tail curling around us like a snake. Candy strewn across the living room floor, bartering and begging for our favorites while our mother sits nearby mooning over a cup of tea, looking for signs of danger amongst the sweets and swiping the occasional tootsie roll. 

Raking leaves into tidy piles only to dash through them with my childhood friend Tammy and her delicate white Eskimo dog Taffy.  Laying on our backs as the pretty red maple and the veiny yellow sycamore leaves float down around us, Taffy leaping and snapping at them.

Gathering beneath the bleachers during halftime at a high school football game.  The smell of an old fashioned donut and the warm steam rising off the cup of apple cider my father buys for me and my friends from the Kiwanis booth.  His way of innocuously checking in on us before watching the rest of the game from his high perch in the bleachers and then sneaking out to the parking lot to warm up the old Ford pick-up at the end of fourth quarter.  His tall shadow sitting there in the cab, the smoldering end of his cigarette visible out the window, his other hand resting on the back of our German Shepherd, Sundance who refused to be left behind at home.  Waiting watchfully, trading greetings with the other parents as they pass, letting me wander out with friends or later, bashful boyfriends nervously holding my hand. Climbing into the truck, the warmth of the cab enveloping me, our big eared dog resting between us on the bench, NPR cracklin on the AM station and my dad’s work-roughened steady hands drumming softly on the steering wheel, a song always dancing in his head and often on his lips.

Flag football in the leaf-littered courtyard behind my college freshman dorm, my roommate and I in long green and white scarves and tall hiking boots, laughter and screams as tackles turn into johnny piles. Riding our bikes along the banks of the Red Cedar river across campus and out to the school farms to work where the arabian horses trot along the fenceline with last spring’s foals still at their sides, their excited snorts sending frosty plumes of breath out ahead of them.

New England autumns of my late 20’s, the trees a literal fireworks celebration of photosynthesis.  The boats along the Nantucket waterfront moored at their docks, twinkling lights strewn along their railings and riggings.  Cool morning gallops out at Suffolk Downs, the horses sweat drying nearly instantly in the brisk air, the migrating ducks lifting off the infield pond on our approach.  The fall breeze lifting their manes and dancing infront of my eyes, still teary at the corners from the speed of it.

Fall regattas, bare feet on cool wet dock planks.  Shells resting just inches in the water with a shroud of fog meeting the surface.  Blades cutting through the curtain of water and emerging, sun glancing off the dripping oar.  And the coxswain crouched in the bow, his breath visible as he barks orders, the steam rising off of our cotton caps and bare shoulders.  Spent, pulling to the dock and hoisting the shell onto wet shoulders.  Back in the warm boathouse locker room, pulling on sweatpants and hoodies.  The dogs are waiting in the car, two little terrier faces pressed into the window, little noseprint artwork adorning the glass.  They know the cool down will include a three mile hike around Green Lake where the scents of morning runners with their dogs, goose shit and Seattle traffic from the I-90 will mingle into an enticing blend of snout filling ecstacy.

Autumn hunter paces, the riders red woolen coats and canary vests announcing the packs arrival over the hill.  The hounds in full voice celebrating the clear air that carries the scent easily across the field to their hungry noses.  The horses thundering behind, brushing the tops of the hedges as they leap skyward, nostrils wide, eyes set on the track ahead.  Riders flush in the cheek from the cold air or perhaps the nip of port they had at the traditional stirrup cup at the starting line or more recently, from the flask at their side.

September apple picking trips with the family after church.  The A-frame ladders resting against the silvery bark of the trees, branches heavy with Gravenstein, Macintosh and Golden Delicious.  Our springer spaniel earthbound, staring up into the branches, barking frantically in concern for our safety, chasing the wormy apples we toss down to him.

October costume contests, tailgate parties, trips to the pumpkin patch and running through corn mazes.  Popcorn balls, penny rolls and caramel apples.  Forgetting to wear a warmer coat to the game and letting the junior from biology class put his around my shoulders.  Changing weather signaling it’s time to pull out the horse’s blankets, start checking the nighttime temperature, waiting for the dew to dry before marching them impatiently out to their fields.

November in Japan, the hills ablaze in fall colors along the river in Arashiyama.  Impossibly tall bamboo trees standing in near perfect symmetry as far and as high as the eye can travel, temples adorned in impossibly rich golds and reds from the surrounding gardens, the Japanese maples on display at the peak of their nearly obscene foliage. Hiking out to a Hindu temple in the countryside to catch a parade of elaborately costumed riders mounted on stout ponies in battle gear, running mock races and staged fights before a cheering crowd.

No Seattle, your drear and solemn contenance cannot lessen my love for the season. For I have a cornucopia of bright memories to shed light on your rainy dawns and your early sunsets.   Your shrouded mountain, your pea soup skies are merely a curtain that part to reveal the start of my favorite show.  You are one more character in this seasonal play of shifting light, changing color and festive dialogue, the melancholy middle sister of fecund spring and barren winter.   The shortening of your days seems just,  given the magnificence you offer up in your waning daylight hours.

You will soon march out your winter wardrobe with a chilly gaze and slink down the long, dim runway to spring.  But this October day, standing in the front pasture outside my home in the fading afternoon sun, my hand resting on the thickening black coat of my gelding Osso, my cheek against his neck, the sound of him tearing at the fall grass lulling me like a metronome…I love this, I love this, I love this.  And love conquers fall.








Poor Crippled Flesh


Too often my hands have come to rest on a rapid beating heart, a fading pulse, a trembling wing or unweighted limb.  In their distress, an animal will yield the offending paw or hoove, rest a heavy muzzle on your shoulder or chest and surrender.

The knotted cold fabric of scar tissue is all too familiar to my fingers now.  They have spent years, like a potter at her wheel, throwing and shaping it.  I love the process of untangling its wires and easing its tension into smooth cable.  At first it feels vacant and unyielding, seemingly without energy or animation.  But as the heat of contact pries it from its anchored grip, electricity and fluid rush into the space created and pulls it onto its feet like a puppet, akimbo as it rises and stretches itself.

The old horse, neck and back sunken, grey hairs framing amber eyes has legs like gnarled tree trunks, crooked and thick with clotted veins running their length.  The black dog on its back, tongue lolling, chest rising and falling in time with the respirator.  The masked veterinarian leaning over its open belly, knitting together what the grill of a passing car has set asunder.  The tug of the stitches over time will leave a trail on the skin like a passing caterpillar.  My friends tabby, victor of a long ago night fight has a crease of bubbled tissue where the upper half of his ear was.  He loves to have it rubbed between my fingers until it changes from pale white to salmon pink.

A hundred, a thousand such creatures have walked through my life.  Their scars tell the story of falls, fights, surgeries and untended wounds.  Joints click, tendons sing like violin strings stretched across the bone, raised scars like topographic maps trace mountain ranges across haunches and hocks.  Each one of them seems even more precious to me for their scars.  My hands feel and my eyes see them as greater than whole, somehow more than their unimpaired, unmarked brethren.  They never accept pity, they move unfazed, perhaps slower but with conviction.  To me, they are warriors and heroes of their own stories.  They wear their scars like crowns and jewels.  The weight of them does exact a toll but head high, eyes soft, they carry them like a rich tapestry cloak.  It elevates them somehow.  The one eyed horse seems to see more deeply, the three-legged cat seems light on its feet, the arthritic old dog unmoveable like a great oak rooted into the earth.

Funny then, as I gaze down at the thin thread of crinkled skin and run a finger over a tangle of sinew beneath my pulse that I feel none of that power and mystique.  Resolve and resilience are replaced with frailty and numbness.  My steps now are tenuous, my movements more slowed and deliberate from caution.  My bone is not my own, it now lives within a house of metal. My tendons scrape against its door, the skin closes around it like a drape.

It helps now to look into their eyes, to draw on their power.  And when the muzzle rests on my shoulder now, it is to give comfort rather than take it.  And I surrender.