Wednesday, February 25, 2015

233 Horses

                                                            by Laura Crum

            My husband named this photo “233 horses”—I believe because the Porsche has 230 horsepower (?) I am not by nature a car person. But we bought the little red convertible as a wedding present to each other. My husband wanted a sports car. I wanted a reliable car, not one that was always in the shop, and for me that eliminated the British and Italian cars. Andy wanted a car that handled well, and I wanted one that felt solid and strong. We settled on a Porsche as the logical choice. And Andy was sure that we’d have a child (despite the fact that we were pretty old when we got married), so he wanted a car with a back seat. And he wanted a convertible. So the Carrera Cabriolet (I hope I have the terms right—not a car person, remember) was pretty much the only option. It was also one of the few sports cars that actually fit my six foot seven husband.
            We shopped for awhile, but when we came across this 84 Cabriolet with low mileage, we bought it. The photo was taken shortly after we bought the car, up in our pasture in Mariposa County. The three horses in the photo—Gunner, Flanigan and Freddy—are all dead now. Andy is dead. But the car…the car looks pretty much the same as it does in the photo. It runs great. It is as alive and thriving as it ever was. Which is to say not. It’s not alive. Still, I found myself unable to sell it.
            While Andy was alive, I never once drove this car. It was tricky to shift and a race car by nature and Andy had it remodeled (seat moved back, steering wheel changed out) to suit his tall frame. He also remodeled the suspension and the clutch in order to do autocross with the car. Not only did I have no interest in driving it, I couldn’t have if I had wanted to. I rode in it a lot, as did our son (Andy was right about that part). But the car was Andy’s car—we all thought of it that way. Papa’s red car.
            When Andy got sick and we knew he did not have a lot longer to live, he told me I should sell the Porsche and get something more practical. I told him the truth. “I just can’t.” The car meant something to me. It represented Andy and our life as a family. I have so many memories that the car is a part of. So I asked Andy who could help me fix the car up so I could drive it. And he told me who to go to.
            After Andy died, one of the many, many things on my list of things to do was to get the car to the Porsche mechanic he had recommended (Tim Benson of Fast Lane Porsche, if anyone is interested). And eventually, the car came back to me, with the seat and steering wheel back to the original, the clutch redone so that I could deal with the shifting (I have not had a manual transmission to drive in many years), a new top (the old one leaked), and completely detailed. It looks, as I said, much as it does in the photo, which was taken about fifteen years ago. The little car is thirty years old now. But it looks and runs great. And I am learning to drive it.
            Why am I doing this? I am not a car person. But I “love” the little car. I love it because it was Andy’s, because of the memories it holds, because my son is fond of it-- just because I could not sell “Papa’s red car,” and if I wasn’t going to sell it I had to learn to drive it.
            And this has made me think a bit about the wisdom of being fond of material objects. I am not talking about the obsessive love of collecting more and more “stuff.” I am talking of the fondness one can have for a beautiful, well-made object like this car, or a lovely musical instrument, or a piece of fine art, or a good chair…etc. Such things can be cared for and they will not just last your lifetime—they can last for many human lifetimes. There is some peace in being fond of them.
            I’ve spent my life loving horses and other animals, as well as a few people, and the thing is, they die. I’ve written a lot lately about death and I haven’t any more thoughts to add to that subject right now. But there is no question that the death of a loved person or animal is very hard for us to bear—whatever it may mean in the grand scheme of things. Maybe I would have been better off to be a car person after all? Cars do not die (though I suppose they can be smashed).
            I drove the little red car yesterday. I’m getting used to it. It’s like a new horse—you have to get the feel of it. My husband told me that when I talked of driving it. “You have to get along with it.” And you know, I think I am going to be able to do that. I think I may become fond of driving it, actually. It is quirky and iconoclastic, a bit like an animal. As Andy once said of this car, after driving a generic rental car, "At least it has a little heart and soul."
            So yes, here I am, the person who has loved horses and ridden horses for her entire life—and my current project is this little red car. I have not ridden a horse in many months—though the horses are all healthy and doing fine, and I take good care of them. But I am driving the little red car. And yesterday, when I was done, I took a rag and polished the dust off the hood. This is not something I ever could have imagined myself doing in any moment of my past life. And I think I could feel Andy smiling.
            Maybe I am becoming a car person?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Too Cold to Play by Alison Hart

A wintery departure from posts of love and loss, this one is simply about COLD and SNOW. Virginia escaped miserable weather until this last week when temperatures plunged and we've had two storms. I know, Colorado and California, you have had some record highs. And I shouldn't complain because poor Boston and Maine are completely snow-covered with minus degree temperatures. Really, I don't mind the cold and snow too much except the little dogs have a hard time and we don't get out to play.

At 65, my main exercise is walking -- many times a day. I have shoveled small pathways for Fang and Ziggy but their tiny exposed paws and less-than great jackets just don't protect them. They rush to do their business and then rush back inside.  I walk down to do the horses, who are protected by a super big shed with a forever-running stream. I brush off the snow, check packed hooves, feed extra hay and then trudge home. My grown up kids still sled and snowboard, so they play when it snows.  I'm not sure what happened to my sense of play. Old age, I guess, but I do miss those walks.

There is plenty to keep busy during bad weather, so I can't complain about not having to leave to go to work. Work is also at home with a new book to research, items to put on Ebay and taxes to organize so I am never bored.  But my feet itch to get outside and walk, so I may just have to strap on some snowshoes and head cross country by myself. Not my usual walk with the dogs, who will stay home snuggled on the sofa watching TV with my husband, and it's not playing in the snow, but still I'll be enjoying the gorgeous wintery day.

How are you spending your snow days?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


                                                            by Laura Crum

Once again--don't read this post if you want to read about horses and writing and cheerful things like that. This is yet another post about life and death and grief.

            We mostly spend our lives trying to avoid being sad. If we are sad we feel something is wrong and we strive to make adjustments so that we can be happy again. We leave a relationship and seek a new partner, or leave a place for another place, or sell a horse and buy a different one, or take anti-depressants…etc. Sometimes these changes/choices do make us feel happier. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.
            But I am seeing sadness a bit differently these days. Since my husband died I have been trying to come to terms with being sad. I don’t think I can run away from it. If I left my home and all that reminds me of my husband, I think I would be even sadder. I don’t have any interest in a new partner. I can hope that I will eventually feel calm, and as if I can deal with life on these terms, rather than desperate and afraid that I just can’t live this way, but I think I will always be sad. Maybe sad is not a bad thing?
            I struggle with this a lot. Despite all that I still have (and I have many good things—a lovely son, sweet dogs, good horses, a beautiful property, friends who care about me), my life can seem very empty and meaningless. I know that many people would love to have my life—they might even take it with a little grief thrown in. I spend my days taking care of the critters and the garden and my son. There are many, many worse ways to live. Still, at times I  am drowning in sorrow. Grief swallows up the beauty and all I can feel is the sadness of what I have lost. I have worse days and better days, but every day is sad. Sometimes sad but peaceful and I can smile a little, but sometimes despairing.
            Facing mortality head on, as I am being forced to do, tends to bring up the response of sadness—however it happens. Whether your horse or dog has just died, or you drive by a clearly fatal traffic accident, or you read about some sweet, innocent stranger who died young from disease, or you see a dead kitten on the shoulder of the road…well, you feel sad. Sadness is the appropriate response, it seems to me, to the constant loss of life that is our world. If we stop to think about it, it simply is sad. Every single one of you who has lost a loved animal need only dwell on that loss a bit, and then reflect on the fact that you will also (if you haven’t already) inevitably lose loved people or they will lose you, to see that yes, sadness is inherent in life.
            I’m not saying that joy isn’t present, too. But always entwined with sadness—two halves of a whole. Andy and I had a happy life together as a couple, and there was much joy. And now there is sadness in the loss of his human life. Both the joy and sadness are real. Just as the moments of joy you shared with your old dog are intertwined with your sadness at his death. It’s the nature of life. Maybe opening one’s heart to sadness, rather than seeing it as something wrong that needs to be fixed, is the answer?
            Maybe if I can embrace sadness as completely as I embrace joy, can see it as something to be felt with an open heart, rather than fought, can accept it as part of the nature of life—maybe then I will feel whole again? Joy and sorrow intertwined is the nature of life itself, and my own little life is part of this tapestry.  Love is what weaves it all together.
            If I believe one thing about this life, it is that death is not the bottom line. If it were so, all religions, all spiritual beliefs, are meaningless. But if death is not the bottom line, and our spirits go on, then it seems clear to me that the only possible bottom line is love—however you want to view this. And if this is so, then I can be sad over the death of Andy’s human body and the loss of his physical companionship here in our home, but believe that his spirit and our love for each other are still present. Joy and sorrow intertwined.
            So I am working on accepting my sadness and trusting that it can lead me somewhere. Somewhere I am meant to go. Somewhere that will bring me a gift that I am meant to have. I can trust that Andy is with me. It harms no one if this is all in my mind. Trusting in love is not a bad thing.
            But one thing I can say for sure. It’s not an easy thing to do. This is a very hard, sad journey so far.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Flowers and Love

                                                by Laura Crum

            Many people have written lately on this blog of loss and change. It seems to be our current theme. Since I am in the middle of a great loss and period of change, I have little else on my mind. So you must forgive the sad nature of my posts (or just don’t bother to read them). And I must warn you that nothing in this post today relates to horses or writing about horses. It does, however, relate to loss and change.

            There are always some flowers in our garden. This is what it is to live on the California coast. Ever since my husband died in November I have brought flowers from our garden to his grave—a couple of times a week.
            Andy’s grave is in the old cemetery where he used to play his pipes to honor the veterans on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. He is buried right in front of the biggest oak tree, where he often stood and piped.
            I have placed a bench by his grave and there will some day be a gravestone with a bagpiper engraved on it. The quote my son came up with was “He played his pipes for the good of all here.” And that seems to fit Andy.
            But anyway, in the meantime I bring flowers from our garden and place them on the grave. I stand barefoot on his grave—because he once asked me to—actually he asked me to dance barefoot, but I haven’t quite got there yet. But I stand barefoot, whether in the mud or the dust, and I put flowers from our garden there, and I sit on the bench and contemplate the huge old oak tree and I talk to Andy.
            It sometimes strikes me that this bringing of fresh flowers from our garden to his grave is a good metaphor for how I see life right now. I tend our garden for no other reason than love. There is no practical need to do it. I choose the flowers for Andy’s grave with care, aware of their beauty, and arrange them in simple jars. I place them on his grave with love, glad to see that there are always fresh flowers there.
I know that there is no real importance to this. Andy’s spirit is with me and at our home as much as it is anywhere. His bones lie in that peaceful graveyard, that is all. Andy would not mind or feel less loved if I did not bring flowers to his grave. Like most things we do in life, it is a relatively meaningless gesture. This would include most of what I do, or most of what you do. If it does not sustain life or grow awareness, it’s relatively meaningless. You know, like when you go to hairdresser to get blond streaks put in your hair. There’s nothing wrong with this. But it’s meaningless. So is my putting flowers on Andy’s grave meaningless.

            But it is the love behind it that counts. The love I feel for him that makes me want to do it—the love I still believe he feels for us that makes the whole thing worth doing. The flowers, frail and fleeting, from our much-loved garden, are a symbol of that love. Yes, they die, as we die. And yet they are beautiful and life brings more flowers constantly. And love endures as the flowers endure. Constantly changing, constantly there.
            I look at old gravestones in the cemetery. A baby that died in 1800. No one alive remembers that baby. And yet she was loved. The love endures. Or so I believe.
            I remember my dogs and horses that have died many years ago. I still love them. I believe I will see them again.
            A hundred years from now we will all be dead. Perhaps no one will remember me or Andy. But flowers will still bloom. And our love will still be alive and present.

Monday, February 9, 2015


by Lisa Wysocky

 Every day is a new beginning and is filled with adventure, surprise, challenge, sadness and joy. One of my joys for today was getting to be part of this blog, as I am excited to meet all of you! Another was spending some time with my therapy horses before driving from Nashville, Tennessee to near Birmingham, Alabama where tomorrow I will get to share my knowledge with staff at a newer therapeutic riding center. Pure joy, all of it.

But there was sadness, too. I learned that a friend lost a sixteen-year-old nephew to a car accident last night. My only child passed away five years ago at age twenty-three, so I know first hand the horror and heartbreak this young man's family is experiencing. Their family will never be the same but, having been in their shoes, I know they will somehow survive this tragic loss. Although it may be a while, joy will come back to them again some day, too, and they will have many new beginnings.

Everyone deals with hardship differently. I write, walk, and also find that my horses are a touchstone. Horses are so intuitive that they often know my emotional state better than I do. All I have to do is be aware of their reaction to me and I know if I am too stressed, too tired, or too unfocused––or even too silly. Horses are my therapy and I am so grateful for them.

I am interested to know how your horses react to you when you are going through difficult times, or when you've had a fabulous day. Can you tell a difference in their interest in you when you are feeling different emotions? Let me know. I'd love to hear from you.

In closing, I'd like to share a photo of a horse who was instrumental during my beginning with horses. 
Her name was Snoqualmie and she was a 14.2 hand Appaloosa mare. She meant so much to me that I have written of her in several of my books. Here she is with my son on his fourth birthday. I know, no helmet, but so many years ago, we didn't know what we know today. Snoqualmie stayed with me for twenty-three years and knew me better than any human I have ever met. She went on to the Rainbow Bridge many years ago, but I still think of her every day. RIP Fat Girl. You were both my beginning and a joy.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Days of shadow and light

By Gayle Carline
Horse Lover and Human Being

This year has not gotten off to a completely grand start. People on this blog have suffered loss. Friends of mine have lost mothers, dads, siblings. I've attended a few memorial services, and no doubt, will attend more. Just a couple of days ago, my friend's mother passed away. This week, I had to euthanize our 18-year-old kitty. 

A cat is not to be equated with human life, but the cumulative effects of so much loss around me have me in quite a funk.

People try to be helpful. As in anything, some are awkward, and some are good at it. I think the ones who are good at it, who know how to listen and not place expectations on our grief, give us room to be patient with the awkward ones. 

By the way, I think I've been one of the awkward ones from time to time. My apologies.

I think losing a loved one is like being on a hike in the sunshine and suddenly entering a forest. It's dark and shadowy and cold, but you stay on the path. At some point, you start seeing patches of light. As the days go by, you might be more in the shadows or more in the light, and you keep walking the path, putting one foot in front of the other, until you get to the place where the sun shines most of the time, and there are a few trees to offer shade. And the shade starts to feel comforting, not cold.

The length of the path and the size of the forest is unique to everyone.

One ray of sunshine, for me, is to see life in all its glory. It reminds me that the world still turns and babies are born and flowers bloom. I'll leave you all today with a couple of videos that make me smile, even if it's only for a moment.

First, a Paso Fino baby, gaiting. 

Is there anything else that cute?

And, of course, this year's Super Bowl Budweiser commercial. Yes, it's designed to manipulate your feelings. 

It works.

Take care of yourselves, and don't worry about how long you need to walk in the forest. People who love you will always be waiting for you in the sunshine.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Comfort and Horses

                                    by Laura Crum

Be warned--not a cheerful post. 

            Since my husband died I have had several well meaning people tell me to take comfort in my horses. These comments range from the woman who never owned a horse in her life telling me that horses were powerful spiritual beings and I needed to go to them and rub their velvety muzzles and …etc, to kind fellow horse owners mentioning that a ride through the trees on a good horse can be soothing. I have no doubt that all these things might be true. But I cannot muster much interest in them.
            My life right now is an endless round of getting things done that must be done while I am so sad. I feed the horses three times a day, I cast an experienced eye on them, noting that they are sound and bright eyed and seem normal. I have their feet trimmed, and I run my fingers over them to be sure they feel right. I would know if anything was wrong. I have owned horses non-stop for over forty years. The horses are fine.
            They may be a bit bored, but the youngest of them is nineteen, and they all run and buck and play when they feel like it. So I think their life suits them well enough. They are certainly doing better than I am when it comes to having a happy life.
            Do I get comfort out of them? All I can say is I don’t wish them gone. I smile sometimes when they gallop up to greet me. I don’t want to betray their trust. I told them I would keep them and take care of them and I plan to do that. Sometimes I sit in the barn and watch them eat. Maybe I take a little comfort from them.
            The truth is that there isn’t much comfort for me in the world right now, and that’s just the way it is. I look at other people discussing the normal matters of a “normal” life and I feel that we don’t live in the same world. Quite frankly, I feel their world does not exist-- that it's an illusion. That world where hair color and sporting events and social engagements have some meaning—that world just isn’t real. In my world I stare straight on at mortality. Anyone can die at any time. The only constant is change and impermanence. This is the real world. Those other people live in it, too, but they don’t want to see it. I don’t blame them. I wish I could be like them again. But I don’t have a choice.
            I can still feel love for my son and our animals; I can smile when the corgi puppy is cute, and see the beauty in the wild birds that come to our pond. I can tend our garden and think it is the right thing to do. I can be glad the horses are healthy. But the kind of comfort that comes from feeling content and secure in the world, happy with the illusion of stability—no I don’t get that kind of comfort from anything. And I have to say that I’m pretty damn sure I’m looking at reality.
            My hope is to become peaceful with that reality. Not to close my eyes again and suppose that things of no meaning are important. But to see the world in all its constant change and mortal loss and be aware that I’m part of it, I’m connected to it. And that love is real.