Monday, August 30, 2010

The Brown Cow

Right up the road from where I live is a huge farm of Black Angus cattle. Next door and across the street are large green pastures where the cows and heifers spend the months of summer. There is a rhythm and routine to their lives. Every morning and evening they are brought a "little snack" as the farm owner put it, allowing the workers an opportunity to look over their charges, but most of the day is passed grazing or lazing in sun and shade. Occassionally, I notice a change in the numbers, or the addition of a bull-mostly noticed by his massive body and loud bellow- otherwise, they all look the same to me.

I am not much of a cow person. I think they are large, they smell, they are messy, and they pick their noses with their long, pink tongues. ICK. It is blatantly prejudicial. But I don't hate them.

A few weeks ago, a Hereford cow was introduced to the herd. Her russet and white coat stood out like a beacon in the sea of black bodies. The farm uses embryo transfer, a reproductive technology which has become extremely popular with livestock and horse breeders. The Hereford is a surrogate, carrying a purebred Black Angus. She doesn't seem to mind. And neither do her herdmates.

It is an acceptance that humans seem to have trouble learning.

I recieved an e-mail this morning, before my daily walk to the barn to care for my horses, which made me think of the brown cow. A man in Springfield, MA was killed while returning from picking up his take-out dinner. Shot and burglarized, this man was not the first victim of his attackers. He was in his twenties and from Guatemala. The victims of these attacks are all immigrants, new to the neighborhood, chosen because of thier lack of understanding of our legal system, fear of deportation, and just plain "differentness."

Different, yes, but still human. Still a member of the human species.

And the sad thing is that this dislike and hatred for our fellows goes so far beyond appearance. The three major religions of the world- Judaism, Christianity, Islam- have the same basis. They have grown from the same seed. And yet, we all know how well they coesxist. Or don't.

We can blame the tension on the media, we can blame prejudice on ignorance, we can point the finger and say, "that's not me," but somewhere along the line it could be. It comes from somewhere.

Now, I cannot claim that I am so Buddha-like that I have cultivated a genuine love for all my fellow mankind. However, if I don't like somebody, it's generally because they have either insulted me, harmed me, or we simply do not get along. Chances are the feelings are mutual. I hope it has nothing to do with skin, eye, hair color, or religious beliefs. And politics frustrates me to the point of having equal antipathy for both major parties.

This is nothing new and has been rehashed time and time again.

But this cow...

She grazes quite happily in her herd. She huddles with them when the heat and the flies become unbearable. Her taller stature, her white legs and face, her brownness, mark her as so different from her cookie-cutter herd. They gather in a tight bunch and the brown cow is in the center, as if embraced.

Sometime in the future, the brown cow will bear a calf that is not hers in any way. And somehow, I don't think she'll mind. I don't think either she or the calf will look at each other and say, "I hate you only because you are not like me."

I am not a fan of cows. But I am learning a lot from them.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

I Don't Bounce Like I Used To

Part of my recent funk has been a problem with one of my horses. I have two:one is my 19 year old "good doober" and the other is an off the track thoroughbred(OTTB) who I adopted to keep the older one company. My older boy is still rideable, but he has a breathing problem which limits his amout of activity and disqualifies him from shows. His mind is oh so willing, unfortunately his flesh is not.

Last year, I had three horses, but the one I was training and hoping to show developed a neurological problem that progressed extremely fast, resulting in having him euthanized last fall. I know, I know.

I did title this blog "From Under the Dark Cloud" for a reason.

Since then, I have been looking for a horse I could bring along, ride, and show. So...I began to look at the absolutely lovely, youngish, shiny, almost-black horse that was just sitting in the barn hanging out with his buddy...

"Gil" had come to me with some serious baggage. The girl who gave him away had bought him from the track and tried to make him a dressage horse. Evidently, that was not his thing. She did tell me a few of his "rules" or things he didn't like.

Rule one-he didn't stand for a mounting block. One had to mount from the ground or be thrown like a jockey onto his back.

Rule two- He did not like jumps, cavelletti(a long pole with x's on either end for horses to trot over- it's a training tool), or poles on the ground.

But we had come a long way. I went slow with him as if he was a baby learning from scratch. And it seemed to be paying off. By this summer, he stood like a statue by the mounting block. In fact, he was better than any other horse I have ever had. Rule one-checked off the list.

Started taking him down the road. He was awesome! Amazing! He want's to be a trail horse. Great! Maybe he's not as bad as his previous owner thought! Maybe he wants to be a jumper!

With the help of a friend, I pushed a bit. We were out in a field and there were these poles...

He would not go over them. He went around, he went backwards, but not over. Oh, I almost forgot, the week before he followed her horse through a set of eight cavelletti. He was nervous, but he did it without much problem. EIGHT poles on the ground. But not these two. NO WAY.

Finally, I got him lined up. I squeezed my legs on his side to encourage him to step forward. Houston. We have lift off. He launched into the air. It felt like a four foot jump with a twelve foot spread. That would have been fine, except when he landed, he stopped all forward motion for a split second. It was kind of like having the parachute ride at the fair jam to a stop hard at the bottom, enough to bounce you from your seat, and then, when your butt almost touches back down, it springs up again. And again, and again.

Hey, I stayed with him for a good four bounces. But it wasn't eight seconds. I lose.

I flipped through the air from about six feet up, landed on my left hip, then shoulder, then helmet, slid for about a foot through the grass, and watched my horsie canter off into the distance.

I popped off the ground. "I'm good!" I declared, after all, I'd fallen off before, even drove home after one fall I am sure gave me a mild concussion. Not this time. I don't bounce like I used to.

"No, not good. I need a minute. Maybe I'll just lay here for a while." My friend's terrier came and laid against my back (too cute)and my boyfriend waited patiently to help me into the car to drive me back to the barn. He had held his breath and watched the whole thing. Apparently, it was quite the rodeo, Gil has a lovely twisting motion to his bronco act.

Oh, and it turns out my friend's jumper is a great cow pony. He rounded up my naughty beastie like a pro.

Since then, Gil has spent some quality time with a pole in his stall. If he wanted his food, he had to step over it. He now walks over them calmly. On a lead line.

I am ridiing again, but on my "good doober" and my friend's pony. I'm having a blast. Gil is going back to work, and I will get back on, but for now we'll let sleeping poles lie.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why My Sister and I Drove Four Hours for a Crepe

Burlington, Vermont is a perfectly nice town. Perched on the edge of Lake Champlain, it's actually quite pretty-good shopping, great food, what could be better?

I'm hoping I don't have to go there again.

My sister and I drove there to meet with the lawyer who is representing us in an ongoing dispute with my aunt's auto insurance carrier. We were required to enter into mediation. That was fine. In fact, both of us were optimistic that, perhaps, this ordeal could resolve this whole situation, allowing us to settle the estate and maybe have some closure. We had been told, by many parties, both lawyer and insurance officer, people uninvolved with the case, that this was an "open and shut" matter. Simple formality.


After months of brutal questioning, through interrogatories and depositions, my sister and I were emotionally exhausted. We had to go through all aspects of our relationships with mother and aunt, to give the insurance representatives a sense of our loss. I mean, could you, if you were required, provide decades of medical information or really prove you had a close relationship. What would be enough? Pictures, yes, but what about proof of daily or monthly contact. Does everyone keep every card your relatives have sent over years?

Bottom line, we felt like we were on trial. All we asked for was the limit of the policy. They died. Doesn't that count for anything?

Apparently not. Ironically, if they had lived, the policy would have been paid, no question.


That would have been great.

But our grief renders that claim worthless.

So to mediation we went.

The last time we were in Burlington, both of us wanted, and did not get a crepe from a stand on Church St. When we first noticed the vendor, neither of us was hungry, so we walked around and shopped for a bit. When we were ready, the stand was nowhere to be found. And believe me, we searched. By that time we really wanted some crepes!
I even called my son, because he knew Burlington and I thought he would know where the actual building that housed the crepe restaurant was. Nope. So we went to Ben and Jerry's. Not a bad trade, but not a yummy, hot, fruit-filled, rolled up skinny pancake.

We did find the place, right after we had our huge scoops of ice cream and were no longer hungry. Go figure.

But on to this visit and mediation.

The insurance company's lawyer evicerated us, claiming that we were "driving this train" and inferring that all of this was unnecessarily greedy on our part. Though he was "very sorry for our loss," we had no case. Our lawyer disagreed. I know there is a game that needs to be played and the letter of the law to be followed, but does it make logical sense that a claim worth XX dollars had the claimants lived, be worth nothing at their death?

He went further to explain that he did not work for a huge conglomerate, he represented a mutual company, meaning he had to look out for the best interest of the share-holders. Understood. But wasn't my aunt a shareholder? And didn't my mother have a policy with the same company? Yes and yes.

I guess that only matters when you pay them, not when you want to collect.

I'm cynical, I know, but it's only getting worse through this process.

After seven hours of back and forth, dickering over monopoly money and not even coming close to agreement, both parties had had enough. We all walked out with no resolution. It made us feel greedy, but a bit defiant. We could have let this go and abandoned the claim, I'm sure the insurance company thinks this is what we should do, but our mom once tracked down and confronted the CEO of GE over a CT scanner for a hospital. Could we really do any less?

We left the office, wandered about. Then went for our crepes. Mine was stuffed with apple, hers, a brownie. They were decadently delicious.

I guess we'll be going back for more.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Ford Focus Wagon after 130mph impact

Takena little more than a week before the accident

Since yesterday was my mother's birthday, and my sister and I are headed to mediation next week to possibly end ordeal with the insurance company, I thought I would recycle this. It still feels relevant.

Dear Ms Ponygirl,

Our sincerest condolences on your recent loss. We at Lizard Mutual Insurance Conglomerate value your patronage and are here to assist you and your family during this unfortunate time.

In response to your query, let me inform you that the claim is being handled by our finest representatives. As to the relevance of the requested information, please allow me to explain.

The fact that the accident was caused by an under-insured motorist who is serving a prison sentence for two counts of vehicular manslaughter has no impact on the claim against the Under-insured motorist clause of the automobile policy.

In order to approve the claim we must justify the pay-off to our esteemed board of directors and share holders. Therefore, twenty years of medical history are required to establish that neither victim suffered from any disease or infirmity which might have shortened his or her life had they survived the accident. The ten years of medical information from you and your sister are required to prove that you, the beneficiaries, are healthy enough to deserve financial restitution.

Also, any YouTube videos of the accident, or sworn statements from attending medical or law enforcement personel attesting to the degree of conscious pain suffered by your mother and aunt immediately following the incident. These are necessary for providing an estimate of appropriate compensation.

We would be remiss in our duties, if we did not investigate the relationship between the policy holder and the beneficiaries. Would your aunt or your mother have wanted you and your sister to receive this settlement?

Regarding your proof of relationship, the sworn statements of the landlord of the Main Street property where your mother and aunt resided is helpful to establish that they lived together within one mile of your residence. However, we must establish contact between family members. The one answering machine message does not meet our requirements, even if it implies daily contact. That is why birthday cards, holiday cards, travel manifests, copies of boarding passes or toll receipts, family photographs dating from your birth until the accident, and written correspondence were requested. We are sorry that we cannot accept e-mail communications as proof of relationship at this time. The fact that you did not save these things is troublesome and could indicate the possibility of friction between family members. As you stated in your previous correspondence, it is unfortunate that you did not collect and save your tears of grief. They would have been extremely helpful in the consideration of this claim.

If you could provide us with medical and financial history of your maternal and paternal grandparents, as well as submit three (3) DNA samples: one each of hair follicle, saliva, and blood, we will be able to better expedite your Under-insured motorist claim.

Customer service is important to us. Please let us know how we can make this process better for you. If you have comments or complaints, please call (800)RED-TAPE.

Thank you,
The Legal Department at Lizard Mutual Insurance Conglomerate

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Going Home

It starts with a picture.

An old-fashioned amusement park, complete with a casino, rollercoaster, and a small lake. It was called White City. And it was my backyard.

Of course, when I was young, the amusement park was gone; the lake had shrunk to a small pond, only the legend of the rollercoaster remained, and on the small rise where the Grand Casino had stood, a brick high school was built(my parents graduated from that school and by the time I came to be, the high school building mainly sat empty, only occasionally used as an extra community space, until a private Christian school took over the grounds).

But the echoes of granduer were there. The bathroom door of our house, which in one incarnation had been administrative offices for the park, retained the word "women" beneath layers and layers of paint.

From my house, it was a simple trek behind the bakery, past the lumber yard, and through a break in the chainlink fence to reach this expanse of childhood freedom. My friends and I would make forts in the bushes, catch crayfish and swim in the crick, dig in the old pole-jump pit, climb the baseball backstops, and swing from the ropes that hung from the lonely flagpole. Once, I was bet fifty cents to swim from one edge of the pond to the other. I loved to swim, so I raced across the murky water, emerging proud and smug. Then I found out that the very people who instigated my folly, had run and told my father. He was angry, but the rash I got from the dirty water had been punishment enough.

Now, the pond is dedicated to the grandfather and namesake of one of my oldest friends. It is more manicured and less wild. There are playgrounds and gravel paths. The break in the fence has been repaired and reinforced. The pond seems smaller. Never, growing up, did I think I would leave. I fought moving tooth and nail, but I did. And when I go back so much is different, but like the bathroom door, there is an echo of the past.

An echo I crave every so often.

But what if going home was more than a sentimental journey filled with the evidence of passing time?

For my boyfriend, going back to the place of his childhood is fraught with complications. And nastier memories. If part of your youth was spent beneath the specter of a civil war, would it mean the same to go back?

He has never wanted to. The memories of hunkering down in a basement while gunfire echoed outside, of children scarcely older than him brandishing automatic weapons in the road, or of fleeing the country with only a suitcase containing a single change of clothes- which, unfortunately, was mangled by the baggage carousel-left scars. (Now, he only takes a carry-on when he flies.)

But there are good memories. There is a look he gets when he sees those pictures. When he describes their family house in the mountains, his voice changes.

"On a clear day you could see all the way to Cyprus."

It's not the words, it's the tone in which they are uttered that tell me of a deep-rooted, not necessarily longing, but something close, for what was. To reconnect with that view; a desire to hold that moment again.

Many in his family have gone back, a few have returned and stayed. They don't understand his reluctance. He argues that the country he knew no longer exists. And, he's right, it has been destroyed and rebuilt. He reasons that the family no longer owns the mountain house, there is nothing there for him, it's too volatile, the airport could close...but they still pressure him to go.

And beneath all the reasoning, he fights only with himself. His arguments lack conviction; they are roadblocks he throws out to keep himself from confronting the bad memories, even at the expense of the fond ones.

In the end, it is not for buildings, ponds, or stunning views that we return to where we came from. It is more complicated than that. We all seem to have a basic, primitive connection to the land of our birth-our Fatherland, our earthly mother- a bond to the places of our youth.

It is for the people, the sounds, the smells, the light, the very air, that brings our memories to life, allows us, however briefly to feel them again.
Otherwise, a simple picture would be enough.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Drops of Jupiter

I heard "Drops of Jupiter" on the radio the other day and ever since, I have been thinking of Melissa. The line that gets me is: Your best friend always sticking up for you/Even when I know you're wrong.

I have written parts of her story and it is, I feel, one of my most important projects. Melissa suffered from Chordoma, a rare congenital cancer that is both relentless and fatal. Less than three hundred people a year contract this disease. The chances of a woman Melissa's age (she was 25 when diagnosed) having Chordoma in her vetebral spine were astronomical. It was an unsusual presentation of an almost unheard of disease.

I could go on and on with what I have learned about it, but that was not who Melissa was.

She was the most infuriating and interesting person I have ever met, but she taught me what it was to be fearless. To be honest, she ignored fear; she'd give it a passing nod and go on with whatever project or fancy caught her eye that day.
She was a Gemini through and through. Or a multiple personality. You never knew what you were gonna get.
Physically, Melissa moved with the grace of assurance. Tall, thin, blue-eyed, California blonde, and could subsist through an insanely busy day taking care of 40 horses on a single apple.

I hated her immediately.

And yet, we worked well together. We both wanted to get the horses untacked, washed off, fed, and turned out with the least amount of wasted time or energy. Our system was never discussed, it happened. It was as inexplicable as our friendship.

We never really talked or spent time with each other until she found out she was pregnant. Since I had had a son at eighteen, I can only guess she figured I could advise her. Not that she had any intention of listening. But she did ask.

"Do you think I have to get married?"
"Absolutely not." She and her boyfriend were notorious for their very public screaming matches. Neither was the poster child for calm, effective communication. Then again, me saying that is the pot calling the kettle black. Especially back then.

I advised her to wait.

The wedding was two months later.

On one hot summer day, Melissa drove up in her '65 Mustang- a prized posession she always dreamed of restoring- and levered her heavily pregnant body from behind the wheel."I need help" I thought she meant getting out of the car, but she waved me away. I felt so bad for her. She was so BIG and uncomfortable.

"Can we go for a drive?" She asked and she didn't mean in the car. So I hitched one of the Morgans I was caring for at the time up to a Meadowbrook cart.

For those who don't eat, sleep, and breathe all things horse, a Meadowbrook is a simple 2-wheeled cart that is connected to the horse by two shafts and a leather harness. It's not particularly easy to get in and out of, nor is it a smooth ride down the road.

But Melissa REALLY wanted to go. And I needed to exercise the horse anyway...

After ten minutes of levering her into the seat, I climbed aboard, took up the reins, and off we went. We strolled along the roads for a while, enjoying the Vermont sunshine. It was a humid July day, but after months and months of winter, a week of mud, two days of spring, the week that passed for summer was always special. As I recall, that year was particularly summery, two full weeks, maybe even three.
Melissa wondered if we might trot. (Trotting is a two-beat gait- it's bouncy. If astride, you want to hang on, be thankful if you are female, or rise and sit or "post" to rhythm.) It sent the cart rocking up and down gently. Melissa put her hands on the side of the seat for balance.
"Can we go a little faster?"
"Are you sure?" I asked. She was nearing her due date and I was really starting to rethink the wisdom of this outing. Melissa's face was turning increasingly red as she bobbled with the cart,her breath was getting more and more ragged. "I'm sure. Go."


We came to a hill and the mare, who knew we were heading toward home and loved to trot along, opened her stride and began to really move. The cart was bouncing well now. We hit a bump, the cart jumped, knocking the breath from my lungs.
What I think I heard from Melissa was,"That was a good one!"
At the top of the hill, I pulled the mare up and we walked sedately back to the barn. Melissa groaned her way out of the cart. I walked her to her car after I put the horse away.
"Are you sure you are alright?" I was concerned. She was sweating profusely and huffing. I wasn't prepared for her to go into labor right there.

"Yeah." She sounded disappointed. "My water didn't break, but I'm hoping we bounced the baby into thinking it would like to come out!"

It didn't work, Christopher was born weeks later. But it was a valiant effort.
Happy Birthday Christopher.

Hey Melissa, Did you finally get the chance to dance along the light of day?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Of fantasy land, unemployment, and too many animals

So, as they say, life goes on.
What doesn't kill us makes us stronger. Not sure I buy that one, but I have changed and tried to move on.
There are still little reminders-like an ongoing battle with insurance companies and settling an estate- but that's a blog in itself.

I now live in a place I call fantasy land. It's truly everything I could have dreamed. I have a boyfriend who is wonderfully special and he doesn't have the same monetary concerns the rest of us mere mortals are stuck with-meaning no mortgage or car payment.
And he thinks the sun rises and sets around me.
Yeah, the fall from that pedestal is going to suck.

I moved here in May, bringing with me three dogs, four cats, four fish, and two horses. Oh and a piano. To add to his two dogs and two snakes. It's a big, happy menagerie.

I left my job and dove into the unknown. I had a lead on employment that didn't pan out, but I needed to change careers anyway. At least that is what EVERYONE who knows me said. Repeatedly.

I have always wanted to write, but fear continues to hold me back. I am afraid to fail at the thing I love. The sneaking suspicion that I really suck lurks in my ego like Lyme disease. Though I did get high honors on my undergraduate thesis...

Okay, pity party over, the best part of fantasy land and being currently unemployed is all this time to write. Right?
In theory, yes, but there are so many distractions. The rules are different out here. There are no deadlines, no assignments, nothing to whip my procrastinating nature into a literary frenzy.

Did I mention that said Mr Wonderful works at aboarding school and has three months of summer vacation? So there are trips, lunches at his parent's house, and dinners out. Aqua aerobics, yoga, and riding to counter the weight I'm gaining with all the eating. Mucking stalls, cleaning up after the dogs, unpacking, rearranging the furniture, hanging up the flat screen tv eight times and I still don't love where it is, more dog messes, oh crap! I forgot about the kitty litter,the snakes need water and when was the last time they were fed, we need to go get dog/cat/horse/people food, dinner is at 6:30, who peed on my shoes?!

You get the drift. There are weeks that pass like this.
So I am happier than I sometimes feel I have any right to be, my waistline is expanding and my bank account is dwindling(I am stubbornly independent), and have written about 10 pages.

So I'm blogging. Hey, it's a start.
No, seriously I have been working on what I have dubbed my crappy fantasy novel.
Who knows? Maybe I'm the next J.K. Rowling or Stephanie Meyer. I would not complain. And I have some short stories that are in rough draft form and others that have recieved encouraging rejections. I will write and rewrite, throwing in some poetry on the way. I am embracing the fact that I love it.

I may not be the next Pulitzer Prize winning author, but I also know there is a lot of crap out there. I'm always going to be somewhere in between.
That's not necessarily bad.

I will continue to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I'll keep unpacking and cleaning up after the dogs (4 males, 1 female. Am I a glutton for punishment or what?)
And I'll keep writing, for myself and anyone else who cares to read it.
After all, I'm living in fantasy land now.