lundi 24 avril 2017

A fish out of water: we nearly lost one again

The lucky survivor

It's a gorgeous April day. After lunch, I stepped outside to spend a moment with the fish and the frogs before doing the dishes and asking my son if I could have the car, or if it was not a better idea to do some gardening and hope he got back in time to go to the barn to ride before the sun set. Indecision can be paralyzing, as my chiropractor instructed me this morning in a lesson on good and bad stress. I think he is also a mind-reader, since he put his finger directly on my bad stress: decisions I don't want to make. I think I will keep him forever. 

The fish are mesmerizing, the most relaxing way to not make a decision. I watched them swim around the base of what is left of the horrible old three-tiered fountain, which one frog has claimed for herself this year, darting in and out from under the lily pads. There are no flowers yet, but there will be soon. They looked back at me, gauging whether I had the food bag or was just stopping by. Fia sniffed at the grass just behind me, and I rose from where I was crouched, my head bent to the water, and looked over at the miniature marsh for frogs. The reeds and grasses I cut down to the mass of roots were growing taller, and there, just past a light screen of them was a mass of light coral pink in the form of one of my dearest goldfish. 

Oh God, I thought, no. No, no, no. 

These are the ones we have had the longest, who have survived a devatstating sudden January freeze, the emptying of the old fountain for repairs, and two bouts of generalized malaise that required several weeks of treatment both times, each fish isolated in a separate, medicated, salt water container. I feel very bound to these fish in particular, and I thought of all of this in the instant it took me to spring to my feet and look down at her in horror. 

No. No, no, no. Not again. 

A fish had lept from one of those containers one day and survived. I felt sick at heart, contemplating her body and having to remove her for a single beat of it, and then the lips pursed and released. A puff of breath escaped her and she sucked another in. She was alive?

I reached down and lifted her. She was dry and stiff from lying there in the sun. How long? She needed moisture and oxygen. I knelt and placed her in the water, rubbing her sides and belly very gently. Her gills opened and closed with her mouth. I stroked her fins and tail, her face, talking to her, waiting for her body to feel more animated, for a struggle to be free of my hand cupped around her. It's amazing, really, how attached you can become to a goldfish. Did she remember me from the days of hospitalization, the feedings and the care? Did she know that I was trying to help her? Would she feel grateful? Closer to me? Her body twisted a little more, and I let her go. She was stiff and awkward, but she did not instantly turn flank up and float.Instead, she retreated to the bottom of the fountain and placed herself against the wall. 

I considered my afternoon. It wasn't likely I'd be wanting the car now. I was on goldfish watch. 

Eventually, she moved up toward the surface, and remained there awhile, inert near the wall, all except her mouth and gills that opened and closed. Others came and left her side. Was there anything they could do? Did they care? Was she suffering? The eye that had faced the sun was clouded, and her skin was begining to peel away. I googled as fast as I could on my phone, looking for help. 

She swam away and returned, and then headed beneath the clump of lily tubers and roots. That wouldn't do. I needed to see her. I pulled it up, and, after a moment, out she swam, stopping in front of me for a few minutes before returning to her spot in the sun at the bottom of the pond. 

Her eye was peeling now, and it was clear again underneath. It was frightful, but promising, right? I had no idea how to search this, typing in strings of words until I came across a post in ALL CAPS filled with ??????? and !!!!!!!! about a fish that had lept from its bowl and whose skin was damaged. Everyone answering was much more concerned about the quality of that fish's water and how to change it out regularly and what size tank to use to bother with the skin much. It was alive. It would recover. If that fish was presumed to return to normal with proper water care, then my goldfish's chances were maybe better than I had hoped. 

I might even need the car, after all. 

I read on, crouched by the plants, glancing at her gills to be sure they continued to open and close. Was it better to leave her there, in her own environment, or remove her and treat the water? I opted for her environment. She hadn't jumped to get out of a toxic one, but what had happened? Nothing had deposited her there. Not the heron, and not the cat. She was not injured, and the heron would not have been so careless as to lose his dinner. Besides, I have this belief that the heron visits in the predawn. In May. 

The only thing that came to mind was that she had pressed into the shallower water above the edge of the clump of reeds, or been driven into it by some energetic males, who believed she had eggs to vent. I have seen, however, the fish try to get into the shallowest water among the roots. I figured they liked how warm it is, like sunbathing in shallow water that just keeps you cool, or, in their case, just keeps you moist and oxygenated. Perhaps she had tried too hard and flipped herself, rather incredibly, through the new reeds, only to get stuck on top of their roots in barely enough water to wet her one side.

I watched her skin sloughing off and thought about the last time. It was also one of the larger light pink fish, and I wondered if lightening had struck the same one twice. She had orange above the orbs of her eyes, and neither of the other two larger pink ones did. The utility of this abandoned blog occurred to me: I had photos. I googled my own blog and "fish lept". 

There, floating in the yellow plastic bowl was the same fish

mercredi 1 octobre 2014

Reason to be patient

Add caption

I am gardening, meaning tearing out more plants, and thinking. I am thinking specifically about yesterday in the garden center.

I went in because I was worried about the fish. When we returned from a week in the heat and sun of Malta, a handful (I am speaking figuratively here) had milky white spots on their bodies, below the back fin, on the top of the head, and visions of four years ago lept to fire the neurons in my panic center. I had Googled various ways to say "milky white areas goldfish", but it evoked nothing common in the host of goldfish diseases. I was going to buy an antibacterial product and treat the fishpond fountain.

On my way to the "bassin" area at the far back of the store, I passed a young man we would have called "crippled" when I was 5-years-old, and my mother was teaching me, with an embarrassingly draconian method that consisted of hissing at me in the shopping center parking lot after I pointed at a young "crippled" woman, and calling more attention to me, and therefore the young woman, than I had alone by my gest that "one does not do this, ever." That said, I never, ever did it again, and I still remember. He was wearing the store's signature green short-sleeved polo shirt. He moved away one way, and I continued past the large pond display to the shelves of products to treat the water and the fish who live in it.

There were three. One handled the bacteria that cause fin rot and rot, period, and came in two different sizes. One large enough for 3 treatments, and another for two. I did a swift mental calculation. The former was vastly more economical, but would last, oh, 12 years. The other would save me less money, and cover a good 8 years. The last time we went through fish infirmary hell was two years ago, making... then, I noticed the other two products for various other conditions. Fungi and God knew what. Three products, as many as 12 years, varying amounts of money spent, and I wasn't sure for what purpose. I set down my keys, wallet and opened Google. Images of goldfish with diseases swam before my eyes. None looked like the "milky white" patches (?) developing on a few of our fish.

In the background, a voice reminded someone that a customer was waiting for him in the fish pond department. I imagined an impatient customer, looking at the selection of various sizes of the various products and theor prices, and turned my panicking gaze to my iPhone screen, wondering how many sites written in English by the non native English-speaking about sick goldfish I would have to consult before I found what had befallen my fish, images of 40-something container ponds flashing before my eyes, and then I turned and gazed at the pond display.

A woman walked away. Perhaps, I thought, the fish pond department person was still there and might be helpful. I approached, peering around the end of the shelves.

There was the person "porteuse d'handicap" (this is how "handicapped" is presently said in French official government texts). Very heavily porteuse.

"Vous travaillez en rayon bassin?" I asked, hopefully.

"Oui," he nodded. I considered the line of his mouth and facial features, where something was not quite right, dysmorphic, the strange and rather horrible angle of his right arm, his wider than usual hips and shortish, bent legs, and the way he leaned forward on the flat-bedded, wheeled thing to cart heavy stuff around the store. There were too many angles to make balance and movement possible, it seemed, let alone easy. The way he leaned on the cart appeared casual, but it occurred to me that it was a  very possibly a strategy to stay standing and move about more easily and efficiently than anything else in a garden center would permit. Rather ingenious. It also occurred to me that I had never been assisted in a store by someone so severely handicapped. I realized that I was distracted, and in a way I would not been usually, and that he was waiting politely for me to tell him what I wanted.

I explained what my fish had while he listened, his eyes fixed on mine. He nodded again.

"Ca n'a l'air de rien d'inquiétant," he said to me. He added that it could be that they were just changing color.

"Even the orange ones, that had already changed color?" I asked.

"Yes, those, too."

"Even if it appears fuzzy and milky, and not absolutely white?"

"Yes, even then."

"So, I should just keep an eye on them and see how it goes?"

"Yes," he said. "I am not worried about them yet."

I nodded. "OK, I'm very attached to them."

Today, I looked searchingly at my fish. A lot. And I thought about him a lot, too. Pruning a seriously overgrown branch from an absurd dogwood that has no place where it is, and will go the way of the Bergenia cordifolia in the borders, I realized that it was the first time I had been assisted in any store by someone so gravely affected by a physical deformity, a handicap, the thing they give horses who are too good to equal the playing field, but which to humans represents an unevening of the field.

I know little of specific conditions, but I remember a child for whom I was hired to help care while I was a college student in New York City. He had suffered a significant lack of oxygen during his birth, and was left with severe Cerebral Palsy. This young man, too, possibly. My husband, an ob/gyn, listened and said it sounded more like an incident in embryonic development, very early in the pregnancy.

"Perhaps. It doesn't matter, but I felt --", and here, the word I wanted absolutely escaped me. I had felt what? Now my husband looked at me searchingly, waiting for me to gather my thoughts and go on.


"No, not exactly moved."

"I'd have felt moved," he said.

No, it wasn't moved. How to explain that the fact that he was working directly with the public, not assisting someone else, nor helping in a back area, put him on just the level field with me that took away any reason or need to feel moved? My husband was still waiting.

"No, not moved, and not admirative, either."

"I'd have felt that way," he said. "It cannot be easy to put oneself before the public with such a degree of physical deformity."

I understood what he meant, but what did it signify? Aren't we to be past all that, somehow? Post-racism, post-sexual orientation? Post-handicap? Didn't this represent that? After exchanging the other day with a gay aquaintance, the author of a blog Riding Rainbow, in a thread on Facebook about gay people moving to a new stable, and helping them to feel welcome and accepted, she wrote in a blog post, "If you want to just come out and say, 'I know not everyone in the world is cool with gay people but I am,' I will feel better around you than I would if you said nothing." She suggested that the ideal way to do this is just to casually mention a gay friend or family member, "My uncle's husband rides, too, and he was the one who got me riding." This surprised some of her readers, who thought she would say that it was better to say nothing.

I thought about race, and how I understood that this would not work with racial differences. And the handicapped? Neither. The thing, it seems to me, that changes with homosexuality is that it affects someone's life in ways that race or a handicap will not. It's affects the individual's social life. The new gay rider at the barn will wish to speak about her partner or wife like anyone else, and know that this is perfectly accepted, and that she will be welcomed at the barn, as well. But, is it similar if we consider race and an interracial couple? Ought it? If not, then ought it with homosexuality? I don't have the answers. It seems that they are for us to find together.

I also thought about the horrible things I see daily on Facebook, the arguments dissecting who is more guilty, the Israelis or the Palestinians, who is the "oppressor" and who the "oppressed", in an endless parade of historical atrocities, the culbapibility or not of GMOs and meat-eating in the condemnation of our planet, the shipment of our race, buggy, camp and otherwise unwanted horses to slaughter, puppies beaten and then held over flames until their bellies are burned, and the requests for help to save them, and I thought about this young man, working at the garden center, listening to my problem and advising me, and I felt much better.

Truffaut did a wonderful thing by allowing a disabled person to use his abilities and manage his lesser abilities, and this is still not something one sees regularly, even at all. I admit that I looked at his face and body and saw what it told me. I don't know if that is wrong, but I know that when I walk the aisles of the store, other people's eyes also look at me, and they sum up what they see.

What I saw was someone who needed help to stand, who lurched when he walked, and who could not easily, or perhaps even at all, move his right arm from where it twisted behind him, but who was there, who had showed up, however more challenging or difficult it was, and who was helpful, useful, and reassuring. I still did not know what to tell my husband I felt.

Once, such a person shocked and drew curiosity, certainly on a sales floor. Perhaps still. Today, however, he holds a job, something many perfectly able-bodied find distasteful here, "work" having become for some a four-letter word. Work brings purpose and dignity, helps us to exist in the world and participate economically. It brings recognition. Ask me, I know. It's been years since I enjoyed that.

Perhaps I will write a letter to Truffaut to thank them for their open-mindedness and humanity, but is that not gratuitous? Ought it not be a matter of every day occurence and fact that anyone able and wishing to work be hired? I am fairly sure they receive a subsidy to help offset the cost of this hire, but by all means, take it and hire more pleasant and willing souls, even if they cannot stock shelves and get from aquariums on one side of the giant store to fish ponds on the other in seconds.

"The fish seem otherwise fine," I told him.

"I am not hearing anything that worries me," he repeated.

"Merci beaucoup, et bonne journée."

"Vous aussi."

He turned and headed in one direction, and I headed past him to leave the store, for the first time ever leaving the items on the store shelf.

We'll wait.

Another bag full of Bergenia

jeudi 31 juillet 2014

The nature of Sisyphus

The felled tree

Sisyphus doesn't grumble. Sisyphus doesn't complain. In fact, Sisyphus rarely speaks. Sisyphus does the job, whatever job -- the job doesn't matter --, and Sisyphus does not give up, ever.

My husband came home from work yesterday evening, and looked down from the stairway to where I stood on the loose dirt of the embankment below the tree, axe poised to take out another bit of tree flesh. I was alternating between sawing through the trunk with the chain saw and hacking away at it's circumference, reducing the size of the saw cut required to get through it, and now I was dealing axe blows. I had heard the motorcycle pull into to the space between the house and the garage, and he had certainly heard the axe head hitting tree.

"Do you want some help?"

I thought about it for a second, looking at him, waiting for my answer. To refuse was, a little oddly, unkind. It was also going a little too far. My elbows and shoulders ached. He was moving down the stairs, closer to me.


"But, why are you using the pickaxe, and not the chainsaw?"

"First, it's not a pickaxe, it's an axe." I knew he knew that, but it annoyed me. Everything was annoying me. "And, second, as I have pointed out, the chainsaw is too small to handle most of the jobs for which we need it around here."

"It was good enough for cutting the firewood," he said in his defense, and the rest trailed away, "but it's true we order it cut now."

"What is the harm, when we are buying one of a tool, to buy one that is bigger than we need for most jobs, but can at least do them when we need it for them?" I think he muttered back that he knew. I handed him the axe.

He positioned himself where I had been standing, and prepared to swing. The axe came down once, twice, three times against the trunk, higher by a good 8" from where I had been working to remove the wood. I waited for the silence between the third and the fourth hit.

"Why are you working up there? I was trying to remove a chunk from down there, near the chainsaw cut."

He considered it for a moment, and lowered the axe for the next swing. The axe came down again, once, twice, and he stopped and swore, then gazed up into the branches of the tree, draped in cascades of bindweed and choked to within an inch of its life by thick ropes of ivy. There were, actually, more ivy leaves than elderberry ones up there. I was losing my Sisyphean patience.

I said, as nicely as possible, "Did you come to help, or to complain and look at the tree because that isn't going to bring it down." This is how he works.

Sisyphus was seriously annoyed.

He raised the axe again, and it came down several more times. We changed places, giving each other a break, and then, just before a blow, he stopped and said, "My elbow hurts at the prosthesis."

That was alarming. Several years ago, he had nearly died falling from a high wall, head first, breaking the head of the radius badly shielding his head from the impact. His elbow took it, and the radius had finished several centimeters beyond where the elbow should be.

"Stop, please. Don't do it. It isn't worth it. I can bring this tree down."

"Why don't you wait until Thursday, when we can rent a bigger chainsaw and save you this trouble? We can saw straight through in minutes."

I knew that. I had already thought about that.

"Why Thursday?"

"I am on duty tomorrow night. Wait and we can do it when I am home after."

"I am perfectly capable of renting a larger chainsaw on my own," I said, turning away from where I was preparing to start at the trunk again to face him.

"Yes, but I can help you when it gets dangerous, when it's ready to come down."

This time, I looked up at the tangle of ivy and bindweed over my head, and turned back to him.

"I have brought trees this big down here before, several of them. I can do this one, too."

I did not say that I could not stand the idea of waiting. Why? I could do other things. I knew it. I looked down the length of the light guage chain-link fencing on top of the embankment, sagging under the weight of the ivy using its posts for shoulders upon which to sit and sprout magnificent balls of shiny dark green leaves, like heads with bouncy green afros, which I had already trimmed. They annoyed me, too.

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I could return to cutting the ivy out from the chain-link behind the posts, and snipping away the inside layer of rusted chain-link. I could very well do that and rent a chainsaw to bring the tree down Thursday. This was a perfectly reasonable proposition and alternative.


Sisyphus had just spoken, and we both looked a little surprised.

"It's alright. I can do this."

I must have stopped soon after. It was getting late. I was tired. There was dinner to make, and I had just admitted that nothing could stop me, not even perfect reason. I am rational enough to understand reason, even to reason, but something stronger takes over. A glimmer of new penetration and understanding caught my eye from between the comingled leaves of ivy and elderberry.

I had all the following day to reflect on that. In fact, I had as much time as it would take me to bring this tree down. I looked back at the trunk after my husband began the climb up the stairs to the house, and tried to estimate just how much time. There was progress. At least half the trunk was removed. I looked at my tools -- an axe, a sledgehammer and wedge, and a puny chainsaw --, and my resolution set. I have a tempered will, but why? Why had I never stopped to wonder why, or even if it was really such a thing about which to crow? It was not entirely true that Sisyphus does not complain. Sisyphus does a lot of that, actually. No, not while she is doing the job, whatever job, the job doesn't matter, but after, when she feels undervalued, then Sisyphus delivers speeches containing strings of charges and complaints.

The axe fell again and again, and the chainsaw screamed and smoked its way deeper and deeper into the flesh of the tree, and Sisyphus considered why. She scrutinized her progress with the tools at her disposition, the only ones of which she would avail herself, like a settler, a woman bound to survive and make a life, even, and planned her way through that trunk. She looked up at the leaves not to breathe, but to consider the angle of the trunk, the mass of the higher, nearly vertical branches, the location of the neighbor's chicken abadoned chicken coop, a tile-roofed masonry structure, solid, but not something she cared to demolish for him, bringing down the tree that diminished both of their pleasures in their properties, and calculate which way it would most likely fall because fall it certainly would. Failure, for Sisyphus, is not an option, and failure to fell this tree was out of the question. It was coming down, and it was coming down as soon as physically possible.

But, still, she considered why. Why did it matter so much? Why had it all -- all of these gigantic, absurd, time-consuming and repeated projects -- mattered so much? Sysphisus thought she knew. It took only to see the question, and wonder why she had been unwilling to ask.

This was not the same tempered will and determination that saw her and Fibs out on the trails, galloping across the field, listening to the rhythmic snort of his breathing you only hear at a gallop, and that she had only heard on the piste jaune at Maisons-Laffitte, the racetrack, or from the horses in the highest level show jumping events, heard her horse just below her body breathe this way, carrying her on a journey and in the delight of movement, even though they were related. No, this was something else altogether. Perhaps, though, she considered, it took that other determination to hint at the difference and give rise to the reflection that brought with it the realisation that she had been fighting a battle, not against nature, not for the glory of the victories she counted as hers, even if they later proved less worthwhile and satisfying than she had imagined, and created a lot more work for Sisyphus along the way.

Sisyphus, it happened, was not happy. The work, the jobs she executed, whatever job -- the job didn't matter --, was an expression of her tempered will in opposition to every other force in her life. It started as something to do: resurect a tangled, lost garden and make it beautiful; but, it had become a struggle, a fight. It was supposed to redeem the garden and herself;  it had became her weapon, her means of punishment for everything else, and a shield all at once.

The too small chainsaw weighed a ton. Her arms ached. And then it's teeth caught flesh, and it moved, screaming, but without smoke, through the last bit of fiber. It was almost done. She inserted the wedge and considered the weight of the sledgehammer. It wasn't for much longer. After the blows, she listened for the cracking, racing backwards to get away from the trunk in case that last groan was the end before it fell.

She sent a message on Facebook, "I feel kind of badly."


"It was a living thing."

"It will be alright."

"The tree or I?"

"LOL. You."

She took a photo of the tree trunk, now sitting on the wedge instead of the lower part of its now severed self. The wedge knocked out, a long electrical cord tossed up into the crotch of a branch and the trunk, and a game of tug-of-war later, rocking the tree forward and back, the trunk slid off its perch, and the tree fell back. Not forward. Back.

Sisyphus muttered, "Shit."

She thought she would feel triumphant. She only felt depressed.

mardi 29 juillet 2014

One small corner

The tree that's coming down

It started in a chat on Facebook May 28,

You have to start small
Start with one small corner
Dont' lose hope.

I replied, feelng wry might ascend to hope,

Better to start in a corner than to finish in one.

The reply came back,


That reminded me not to take myself and my innumerable and *very serious* problems too seriously, although they are without number, and very grave. It settled in a corner of my depressed spirit, and I drove to Switzerland.

In Switzerland, I saw, again, impeccable old buildings and farms, and astonishingly good contemporary architecture that makes me feel that France should just give up. Stop. Now. I stayed with friends in their clean-lined, gray-toned apartment, and I watched them prepare to pack to leave it. A chopping block kitchen island, the type you might see for small kitchens at Williams Sonoma, sat in a corner behind the dining table. It was covered with cook books, recipe files, and travel books. I noticed they started here. In a corner.

In my own corner, in the black leather easy chair, I read the book my friend had put in my hands practically the moment I arrived, and for good reason (I had gained an alarming amount of weight in fat), Tim Ferriss' "4-Hour Body", and observed them reducing piles and creating order, listening to them decide what to keep, what to give away, and what to take to recycling. Two resolutions formed, one conscious, the other perfectly unnoticed: one, to begin Ferriss' program without delay, and two, to pick a corner upon my return.

That return coincided with a date a little less than one month from the arrival of family, family that had not been to our house in 10 years. You see how the threads are coming together to make a fil conducteur? This was going to happen. I began in a corner, the kitchen cupboards that serve as pantry, and that contained unmentionable, disgusting things that had turned their metal covers to dust and leaked all over the top shelves.

I ride a horse. A homemaker I am not, although I aspire to be.

Three weeks passed in a literal frenzy of activity, involving clipping everything in the bottom garden, and, more importantly, attacking all corners of the house, all of them, except our bedroom, which nobody has need to enter (although they did, and I sucked it up), and the room [N.B.: I have been cleaning to please my deceased grandmother in anticipation of my aunt's arrival, a theme] we never finished when it became clear that part of the house was falling down, with all manner of cleaning tools and products. The garbage bin was filled and emptied twice a week for three weeks, and more left in the trailer we hitched to the car. I scrubbed the bathroom ceiling, woodwork everywhere, cleaned windows and between floorboards with a knifeblade, vacuumed and polished. I did laundry nonstop, and hung it out to dry in the sun, remade beds with fresh everything, except our bed --  nobody else would sleep in it --, which I finally did, only because I could not stop. A white tornado, once unleashed, is a genie hard to put back in its plastic bottle.

As we say, "Je me suis fait violence."

It was cathartic. It was masterful. It was hardly noticeable to any normal person, who would expect a house to look better than it did when I had to declare the work finished, hours before the airplane touched down at Roissy. I chose to protect myself in my own private glow.

And, the guests came and left, and the edge had not worn off. I put away everything I used, vacuumed when the dog hair made the living room rug look dull, did, dried, folded and put away laundry without prompting, as in "Could you do a load of laundry? I am very sorry, but I have no more socks." I even bought toilet fresheners in lavender scent for the petit coin, and I felt holy, but, the garden looked worse than it had in ages. For all my work, since the beginning of the spring, it looked awful.

Worse, my husband still wanted his structure in the bottom garden, behind the huge rolling gate, to store our vehicles. He thinks we can get them all in there. For his scientific and logical mind, he lacks spatial sense. He also wants to move the old wood Riva-type boat in there and renovate it. He dreams of Sunday afternoons spent motoring up and down the Seine around "la boucle".

I had noticed, when I hacked away the vegetation from around the boat's cement block shelter, that it appeared to have more holes than when I had last had such a good view (count in years).

The trailer hitch for the horse van inspired me, before I moved my white tornado into the house, to begin to attack the brambles, weed trees and weeds growing back on the embankment we needed to remove to have room for a structure large enough for only an assortment of our vehicles. Having begun, and set it aside to make a habitable space for my family, I returned, again. How many times have I cleared this embankment? If I didn't want to do it again next year, I was going to have to do it, all the way.

"What are you planning to do with that embankment," asked my husband, again.

"Get rid of it."

He said nothing. He is learning.

I yanked at weeds and their roots with my contractor's rake; I cut at brambles, pulling them down out of the high branches of the unwanted and unwelcome elderberry (it would seem) trees; I stuck myself with thorns, covered myself with dirt, and decorated my hair with these tiny little prickly pods that stick in your hair, on your clothes, and get into your boots.

Does anyone know what these are? They are about 3mm in diameter, and light brown. Thank you.

The embankment mostly cleared, the cuttings hauled away in several trips, the fence along the top gazed at me Saturday afternoon, mournfully, and I glowered back.

Yes, I know. You, too.

I went to get my tools, including wire cutters. Removing years' and years' growth of ivy, ivy that has woven the light gauge chain-link into itself, is a surgical and hellish procedure. By late Saturday evening, I had made it a little more than one third of the way along the chain-link and fence posts that sagged forward beneath the accumulated weight of hugely overgrown ivy. In some places, the steel that reinforced the posts had rotted away at the base; in others, it was bent under the weight. I cut the chain-link wire, made easier by oxidation, chopped through the gnarled, entwined and entangled ivy branches, and pulled down the fence posts, one after another.

I swore about people who imagined that sinking fence posts into rubble was an acceptable idea.

I swore about people who considered ivy a structural element.

I swore about the dust and leaf mold that accumulates in such interstitial spaces. And, I sneezed, again and again, wiping at the dust filling my eyes, partially losing my vision. Everything appeared muted and watery, and I swore about that.

In short, I swore.

In defense of myself, I swore to myself, unlike my husband, who kept up a blue streak, muttering away from the pool pump building, not far enough away from me. He couldn't get a new leak under control.

"How are you going to put in new fence posts?" Unbelievably, I hadn't noticed when he had stopped and come near me.

"I told you, I am not." He hadn't listened to me hiss this the first time. "There is a second wire fence just behind. I'll leave it there for now, and deal with it once all the rest is down." All the rest included a tree. The largest elderberry tree yet.

A tree that I am about to go out into the drizzle and begin to cut down. It is magnificently drapped in cascades of le liseron des haies (Calystegia sepium L., formerly Convolvulus sepium), or larger bindweed, hedge bindweed, Rutland beauty (my foot), bugle vine, heavenly trumpets (not so much), bellbind. I have only these to help me accomplish this feat,

And, today of all possible days, I received a follow from . Clicking on it, I see... a photo of wondrous chainsaws in their profile summary!

I tweet back,

Thanks for the follow 
. This is MY kind of garden tool. I should add "sadly". I need a bigger chainsaw for today's job! Tim-BER!!

The tweet is returned,

No problem :-)'s a good thing we have a chainsaw competition running then! You can enter here

I tweet in excited reply,

Oh , I'm SO entering your competition! In fact, I'm going to BLOG about it. Please, please, please let me win, oh Rota Fortunae!

They favorited it! Oh! Please, let that make me win!

I need something better than what my husband will buy at the home improvement store.

If you enjoy what you see here, please leave a comment and give us a g+1 and a Tweet. Thanks! And, for the record, Fia isn't blue.

mardi 22 juillet 2014

The Shibboleth

"The Crack" (Shibboleth)
Doris Salcedo, 2007
Tate Modern

To say that all stories contain many stories is true. There are stories that can be told in a blog, and others that must wait for the novel and the movie (I would like to be played by Frédéric Pignon). There is only so much truth one can reveal and remain a decent human being. To say that there is more than one truth in a story is a given. I try to tell as many as I see, honestly. To say that this horse was the shibboleth in our precariously sewn, even basted, patchwork family would be one truth shared by everyone in this story. Some might blame the horse. I blame the people. It could have been anything, and, at other times, it was other things. This time, it was a horse, and this time, it was a decisive yank that tore that faulty stitching out between the squares.

Horses are special. They are large, and they are hard to overlook. They require many things that cost a lot of money. They are a life-long responsibility (theirs), and their lives are long, if we care for them well, and if we are very fortunate. They inspire one of the most dearly held of human desires, to have one and to ride. They have, then, a special ability to catalyze the good and the very not good, to generate strong feelings and fericiously defended points of view. They can federate, or they can fracture, lay bare the cracks one can otherwise blame on them, with their heavy footfalls; it all depends on the story, and the humans involved in that play. Horses, and the having of horses, is about love, respect and wisdom, and it shows where the love, respect and wisdom lack.

The other truth was that Fibs was there, in a box at the boarding facility owned by a family who had left the neighboring pony club, and taken two of the girls along with them when they decided to go out and compete on their own, not necessarily with the knowledge and consent of all of the other parents. One of those girls was my husband's daughter. Another was a younger girl, of some talent, and possessed of a very big mouth and large voice, equalled only by her exhuberance and difficulty to manage, who had been shown the gate. As an owners' boarding facility, it implied one thing: owning a horse or pony. However, two stories were coming to their dénouement -- one that involved me, and one that involved my stepdaughter --, and they shared a common point of origin in the mutual desire to ride and have a horse, and my having set her on the bridle path. How convenient would it have been had I not shared that desire, and so kept myself off that intersecting bridle path in the web of them in the forest. How many collisions would have been avoided.

It was a tale that could have had the word "fairy" before it for its ending, but instead it did for the theme of a stepmother and a child. The opposing truths would clash around the assignment of the adjective "wicked". To be clear, I have not, and I never would, demand the hunstman to bring back her heart. I might, though, have asked him to lose her somewhere, not very far from another barn very far away. I might still be waiting, but I have no huntsman.

And, if there are multiple truths in every story, there are as many possible starting points. The farther back one begins, the easier it is to weigh the merit of the truths, but the harder it is to keep track of it all. This story will be said to have begun with a horse who needed to find a home, his owner, a young teenager who had manoeuvered to put herself in the position of needing a horse, and her father into that of concession. I will add, in fairness to myself, that I had long argued in vain for a half-board on a horse able to jump more than 50cm without hip pain for her. Refusing the smaller things will often set you in far deeper manure.

There are other characters: the instructor who left the pony club to work with these three girls and for the owners, the owners, a mother, another ex-instructor who preferred caring for horses to teaching others to ride them, and a Polish handyman, who by the looks of him was perfectly cast to play Prince Charming, or the wise fool, or, ideally, both at once, but in a story without a sleeping beauty.

This story began the day my husband said, "And, if we brought Fibs out here, and she [his daughter] could ride him?" It began with a sigh, and a warning.

"You do understand, don't you, that Fibs is only just being retired from racing, and he is not ready to do what she needs a horse to do?"

I don't recall if he nodded or even acknowledged that I had spoken. I nodded and went to get on Facebook and send a message to keep Fibs from going to someone else, filled with so much relief and misgiving that I felt neither. I had whispered to Fibs that I would look out for him, maybe come find him one day and take care of him; I knew my husband had been strong-armed by his daughter and a bunch of people he didn't know, and I knew this horse did not fit the bill; and, I knew that things being what they were, she and I did not make for the best of partners in a thoroughbred race horse, about to come off the track and into several different peoples' imaginations in several different manifestations. A tall order for a 16.1 HH chestnut gelding, even a great great grandson of Secretariat.

Before I sealed his fate in one direction, I called the instructor. She owned a retired race horse, who had served time in the riding club as a lesson horse. My wishful thinking was in overdrive. I wished that she had trained her mare, and that she would know how to work with my stepdaughter to do the same thing with him, while I knew she was 25 and suspected she had done no such thing herself. My husband wasn't the only one selling himself the Brooklyn Bridge, but what was the alternative? Watch Fibs go away and release the gray certificate from the Haras Nationaux that had my name and his on it? My first ownership papers. I told her about Fibs and my husband's idea for his daughter. I asked her if she would work with her and help her prepare Fibs. She said she would be delighted to do it, and that it was an honor to be asked.

I think I heard the distant ringing of an alarm bell. I chose to be thrilled. It was a disaster.

There was the gift on an expensive leather halter with an engraved nameplate, and I took photos of Fibs with my stepdaughter.

There was the waiting for the work to begin, and nothing happened. I had said that he was a bit thin and had not been fed well for three weeks,possibly, but he was fine. Active, alert, and strong. A period of acclimation had passed, and he was doing well. And more time passed. Time in which murmurings of a half-board on the instructor's mare began to fill the barn air and drift home. One day, the instructor took Fibs and I out to the outdoor and she lunged him, while I took video. He knew how to lunge, but he was judged to have a bit of stiffness on the right side. I called the osteopath recommended by the boarding facility owners, and she pronounced him a little stiff, but nothing full turn-out and work would not help him work out. I couldn't help but notice the resounding silence and lack of enthusiasm her professional judgement produced. On the one hand, that meant working him. On the other, it meant a lower boarding fee from us. He returned to his box, and I returned to waiting, less than patiently.

The September days all ripped off the calendar, successive October days tore off one after another like the falling leaves, and still nobody seemed interested in doing anything with Fibs. I was raised to be polite, and patience seemed like a nice way to be polite, so I worked at remaining patient. I was new to the barn, and I was new to horses. Surely, some sort of work would begin? I knew one paid for that, but we had spoken of work, and we would pay for it. Was nobody interested in that? It did not seem in any way to be the case, and the murmurings on the half-board on the instructor's mare had turned into demands of my husband, who never came up there and did not return calls, to make a decision about the half-board, while the smiles with which the formerly friendly instructor had greeted me when I arrived had turned to acting like I was not there, or staring daggers. The truths were multiplying dangerously. It was Alien 3, not Black Beauty.

I gathered my politeness and tried speaking to the instructor, who informed me, as though I were the dullest hay bale knife in the barn, that Fibs was an utterly inappropriate horse for my stepdaughter, what was I thinking? And, he had a back problem!

The veterinarian came to see Fibs. They would do a flexion test, watch him move at the walk and the trot, and a "girthiness" test. He passed the first two without incident, but chen the instructor pulled up on the cinch and smacked him into movement, he reacted.

"See? He's girthy." She shot me a look to kill. How, I wondered to myself, was the vet not feeling the lack of love?

The vet walked over, ran her hands along his back, and shrugged. He looked the picture of perfect health and happy movement. The instructor was preparing her next blow of the mace.

"He can't be ridden, can he? He's not appropriate for a 16-year-old, is he?"

"How much experience does she have? Has he been ridden? Has anyone put a saddle on him and tried?"

The instructor shook her head no and shot me another look, the mace drooped in her hands.

"Well, put a saddle on him and see," said the vet. I led Fibs out of the round pen, trailing behind the vet and the instructor. They had other horses to see. Fibs returned to his pasture, and I gazed at him.

"Well, Fibs, I guess it's pretty clear, isn't it? Nobody intends for anyone to ride you, or do anything at all with you. What are we going to do now?"

He might have raised his muzzle from the grass and pressed it to me, or I might have wished for that. I looked out over the fields dotted with horses and divided by fences, against the line of trees at the edge of the forest, and listened to the traffic on the highway. I might have felt like I was going to cry. The truths were becoming noisy and ugly. There was my husband's, and there was mine, and the intructor's and my stepdaughter's, and there was the owners'. I was the one forced to glimpse them all and see that nobody was going to be happy here. It was mid-October. The owner's wife called me.

My husband was demanding to know when Fibs would move to full turn-out, as it had been intended from the beginning. The owners, through the wife, at first, were demanding to know when he would make a decision about the half-board. His daughter and the instructor were demanding the half-board. I talked to her  like the sensible, mature woman I hoped she was and presented our point of view. There were good reasons for my husband to hesitate, and we had expected his daughter to work with Fibs, not take a half-board on still another horse, but this was not happening.

I heard about his back, which her equine osteopath and vet had declared a non-issue. I heard about the necessaity for him to have 6 months of doing nothing to get his mind off the track, and another 9 months at a very minimum to be retrained to do anything but race around a racetrack, never mind that he had been hacked out in training since he was a youngster. I heard about the dangers to which I was insisting on exposing him, in putting him in turn-out in November, a thoroughbred facing his first winter outside a barn in clement Normandy, not, I thought, Siberia. I heard an acknowledgement that the instructor was young and immature. I heard that my stepdaughter was expected to be in lessons with the other girls, on a suitable horse, and vanning to shows. So, it was clear, then.

Fibs and I were shoved to the margins of the farthest fields when November 1 came around, and the daggers turned to a shoulder attuned to the weather growing colder. We had no friends at our barn, outside another owner, and the handyman, who looked on with what I was sure was compassion, and could expect none. It was not any better at home. The truths were on the verge of a declaration of war, and what had we done wrong?

Well, I knew what I had done wrong. I had gotten involved with a race horse. But, what had I done wrong since this later beginning to the story? Edgar Allen Poe would have told me to listen to my beating heart and answer my own question. I had not wanted to share my horse, this was true, but had I refused? No, I had called the osteopath and the vet, and I had asked when work would begin. And, had I caused our banishment? No, I told Fibs as I brushed him, praying to be left alone in the barn and not speared with freshly sharpened daggers. I could not be said to have been overflowing with niceness, but I had not been the one to mislead.

Others might not agree, came the thought. Did you expressly say that you would not also get another horse for her to ride in lessons and in shows? No, you said that it was a question of finances, and you said that your husband would have to decide that. They were asking for that decision. Did he know that this was what had been intended? No, but did he ask? No. These were all assumptions. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. His daughter done what she wanted, the opportunity presenting itself; he did not ask the questions he should have; the owners dealt with a minor and the minor's stepmother; and, you are all screwed seven ways to Sunday. 

Fibs might have raised his muzzle from the nap he was taking and pressed it to me, or I might have wished for that. I looked out along the aisle between the boxes to the big green doors, beyond which lay the fields dotted with horses and divided by fences in the night, on up to the highway where the headlights made beams in the dark, and listened to the horses chew their hay. I might have felt like I was going to cry. The truths were at war. All I knew was that I was still his human, and that he depended on me. If nobody else were going to work with him, then I would have to learn and do what little I could. The cracks were there and running all over the barn floors and walls, and adding to the ones that already made webs of our walls and ceilings at home.

I could let Fibs go, but he was mine. I loved him. I cared for him. I took him for walks in the forest along the bridle paths others rode, and between the trees in the spaces between, and even, sometimes, between the trunks of the trees that grew in two, and he followed me, better, for the most part, it never failed to occur to me, than my poorly leash-trained lab. I regretted everything that had happened since he arrived from Maisons-Laffitte and missed the easyness of the pony club, the comforts that would have been afforded by the obvious solution of a half-board at the pony club, but could I regret Fibs and my name on his certificate of ownership? How, I wondered, on those walks and during those long grooming sessions, all I knew how to do at all, could I ever reconcile that? And, Fibs might have raised his muzzle from the ferns and pressed it to me, or I might have wished for that, while I gazed into his eyes and sealed my fate.

Fibs, November 11, 2012

This is a serialized story over an agonizingly long period (I get busy). For the earlier parts, you might like to read:

The Story I have not told, Fibs and I
A place to start
Pas de tout ou pas de deux?
Starting at the very beginning

If you enjoy the stories, and what you see here, please leave a comment and give us a g+1 and a Tweet. Thanks!

jeudi 29 mai 2014

Starting at the very beginning

le Coty, November 2012

What do you do with a horse when you don't ride? This is the question that imposed itself nearly as soon as I  brought my horse "home". It was certainly imposed by my somewhat bitter and testy husband.

"What are you going to do with him? You don't ride," he asked.

See? It didn't sound like a nice question. In fact, it sounded a lot like Why do we have this added expense we cannot afford, when you do not ride and my daughter does -- and I was never in favor of it --, and she doesn't have a horse? How I am I supposed to explain that to her? I wondered if I could safely ignore the question. It didn't take long before the question became explicit, and impossible to ignore.

The question asked, and asked again and again, I thought about it. To say that it never occurred to me to think about it that way would be accurate. To say that it never occurred to me that to not think about it was out of the ordinary never occured to me, but it occurs to most others. Horses are to ride. That is all. So, what is the sense in having a horse if you don't ride it? Every day after Fibs' arrival at the écuries de propriétaires near our home, I drove up with a little bag containing my iPad, some carrots, and not much else. I would arrive in the late morning, park under a tree in the courtyard, and walk up the lanes to his day pasture. He was alone in the beginning, the time to become a familiar figure to the other horses, and for the staff to figure out with whom to turn him out. I might pass one of the two young women who worked there, or the Polish handyman, who looked like a healthy blond peasant stock version of Prince Charming, and stop to receive news and say hello.

What do you do with a horse if you don't ride him?, I asked myself, approaching him.

Yes, what do you do with a horse when you don't know what to do with them, and you you barely know them, and this one nearly as little as I knew horses in general, except what I learned from Gina in a few months around her yards, and from the shelves of books about horses and their people, like Alec Ramsey, I read over and over when I was little? I needed an answer.

I looked around at his paddock, his pile of hay, and him, grazing quietly, tail swishing at flies in the September sunshine, admiring the shine of his burnished chestnut coat againt the blue sky. I watched the white clouds scuttle past the tops of the trees in the forest on the other side of the little vally in which the former breeding farm was settled. In the middle of that forest was the riding club where I had taken my husband's daughter to sign her up for lessons just a few years before, but today I was here for Fibs, for my horse, a horse I barely knew, and I needed to answer my question.

I set my bag down against an electric fence post and slipped between the two bands, hoping not to find out just yet what the shock felt like. Fibs looked up and considered me, and then took a few steps in my direction before lowering his muzzle to the grass again. He was judged thin. I needed a story to explain why Fibs was here, to make any sense of it to myself, and Seb's recounting of what he had seen where I had leased him worked as well as any other. I had been told that he wasn't being fed, and everyone judged him thin. To be honest, I didn't find him that thin, but I had said it, and now it was fact: he had not been fed; one had to approach his care and feeding as one would approach that of any horse who had done without food.

My apprenticeship began with responding to orders. As soon as he stepped off the truck and was led into a paddock and then his box, I was directed to go directly to get a short list of essentials. My husband shifted into boy scout mode, making me instantly feel like a dawdler when I had not let an instant escape me, like someone had to care about this horse, and if I weren't going to do it, he would have to step in and take over. I chose to let it pass without remark; his work pays Fibs' board.

My work? Ah, we'll see. I'm sure I'll earn some money again one of these days. Meanwhile, I was not, shall we say, in a position of power. Thank goodness I went to a women's feminist college and got a professional degree. Lets me understand the full impact of my inadvertant and premature "retirement", into which I slid like the frog in hot water slips into his death, although I was aware of a generalized sense of panic and possessing a pretty clear notion of what depression feels like. I fought back with gardening, becoming a dog person, and now, I had acquired a horse. I was accomplishing Great Things: my childhood dream.

He drove while I Googled feedstores and dialed numbers. The feed suggested was not available. I called the stable, and they said we could do without it, but the Phosphalugel was essential to protect his stomach and help keep him from colicking. I knew what that was from stories told at my stepdaughter's club and Gina's yard. We headed to the pharmacy and returned with a case of the stuff. Enough for more than the week's supply requested, and Fibs' lips showed the traces of his morning's dose from where I contemplated him, my horse, Fibs and Flannel. My horse.

I stepped up to the plate and moved toward him. I had learned to be comforable going in and out of boxes, hot-walking horses, and had even tentatively groomed a few, but I knew there are ways to do these things, ways that muct be learned. I made a note to myself to look up interacting with a horse in turnout when I got home, and decided to wing it and watch his signals. I had enough sense to know that even the nicest horse can kill you in an instant, without even intending it, and I knew that Fibs was not the nicest horse; he was grumpy, and a bit suspicious and wary, and he very possibly hadn't eaten much in a few weeks.

And, still, I did things that would curl the hair of the majority of consciencious and high-priced trainers. To start with, to let Fibs know that I was not dangerous and posed him no threat, I sat near his feet in the middle of the field. This was either entirely misguided or just fine. If you ask Monty Roberts, Franklin Levinson and anyone else who works with horses according to a philosophy and with experience behind them, it was probably at least a tiny bit misguided. There are ways to do this, only I didn't know them. I did what came to mind, what seemed to make sense, and I was usually at least partly right. That day, sitting not far from him in the grass, he grazed his way closer to me, mouthful by mouthful, and then grazed around my cloth sneaker-clothed feet. I looked at them in their thin canvas shell and then at his teeth, clamping onto tufts of blades of grass that he then sheared away with a jerk of his powerful neck, his jaw working his chewing teeth even as he ripped new blades to send back to those terrible grinding surfaces.

And, I learned a first lesson: boots are a good idea, even when merely visiting with your horse. I tended to dress as though I were going out to dead-head my roses, in my canvas sneakers, linen roll-up trousers and a summer top and sunglasses. I saw everyone else wearing their work breeches, riding socks and paddock boots, and I thought I needed to earn the right to wear those outward manifestations of equestrian accomplishment and ease. I was beginning to understand that they are also practical and protective, but it was going to take a little time to dare to appropriate them for myself. Meanwhile, my toes would remain vulneravle to his teeth, and I would be fully conscious of this.

Grazing, now, to the left of my thigh, his the front end of his body casting a shadow over my entire body where I sat, I became aware of his choice to be near me and my awareness of his choice. I sat in silence, watching his jaw, his eyes and ears, any signs of a change in his awareness and attitude. It is not possible to sit just below and to the side of 500 kilos of horse flesh, those horn-covered feet so close to one's canvas-covered feet, and not sense that something very bad could happen at any second, but it does not take research and lessons to sense and understand fear and anxiety in another animal. I felt his energy. It was contented. Relaxed. Focused on the act of satisfying his drive to chew and swallow, tearing off blades of grass to satisfy the machine. The other horses, dotting the slopes of the neighboring pastures were dozing, their backs and legs locked, or similarly engaged. I did not specifically know from learning that they were all in the closest of communication over the distances that separated them, but I knew. They were telling one another, and me along with them, that we were safe. I remained where I was, and eventually his grazing took him farther away.

I moved to various points around the field, hoping for his interest in me to be piqued again. He was free, free to graze here or there, go to drink from his trough or to eat from his pile of hay, free to stop and rest or to notice me, or not. I had no objective. No need to slip a halter on him and take him somewhere to do something. He was taken out in the morning and brought back in the evening. He had everything he needed. I was peripheral to his existence as he understood it, while I was central to it as the signatory of his boarding contract and his listed owner, as I understood it. He depended on me for everything, while having not the slightest notion of this.

He did not need me to ride him. He had no need for me that he could understand. Watching him live his life that first morning, I understood this. It was up to me to become a human and a presence of interest in his life by meeting his needs, including, I hoped, entertainment. He had worked with humans nearly every day of his life for at least the past 3 1/2 years, and he was used to that. The owners and staff told me he needed at least 6 months to "just be a horse", but I was not convinced. If he learned he enjoyed my presence and what we would eventually do together, whatever it could be as the days went by, then why would he prefer to be left alone, although for the remainder of the time I spent in his field that morning, it seemed the latter might be the case, after all.

Later, I would understand that being present without interacting with him, I had aroused his curiosity, and his interest piqued, he had moved toward me to find out more about me. I had been quiet and observant, and he had determined that he could be near me and safe. Without knowing what it was called, but perfectly conscious that it was what I desired, I had achieved our first join-up. By knowing that I wanted to establish a relationship with him and understand him better, I had taken my first step in becoming a member of his herd and been accepted.

In the days that followed, I showed up and did the same thing. Eventually, I retrieved my bag from the fencepost where it sat, safe, carried it to where I would sit in the shade, and took the iPad out, thinking I would write about our time together. But, it was at precisely those moments that Fibs became the most interested in me. Like a small child whose mother is suddenly unavailable, engaged in some other engrossing activity other than paying attention to her child, Fibs was all about me. All that remained was to keep the iPad and my canvas-covered feet safe from his feet, and take selfies.

And, as usual, I had Fibs to thank for the idea because this one, which he suggested, made it known without a shadow of a doubt that we were becoming buds, and while it might not be the most flattering of photos of either of us -- I had been introduced to the fly mask and shown how to put one on him, and while he looked dignified enough in it when standing, he looked like an old lady in a rain bonnet (or shower cap) from below -- nothing is more precious and incresibly amazing than that.

vendredi 11 octobre 2013

Pas de tout ou pas de deux?

Still our first day, September 3, 2012

Yesterday was one of those days when you wonder what you've done, and whether your horse will miss you when you find him a farm in the green pastures of the farthest, rainiest part of Normandy for the rest of his life without you, and how you could have thought you had a relationship at all, let alone a close one of particular understanding and intimacy.

I stepped from the car and into the wind under a sky the color of what's left of the braise from your barbecue after the chicken is burnt black beyond recognition, the lightest gray. The sort of sky that promises nothing but more of the same, and sends wetness that isn't rain and isn't mist to cover everything. I grabbed the halter and lead, and stuffed a bag of carrots and apples into a backpack with a towel and some antibacterial soap, just in case the fly bites were still runny, and opened the lock to the gate.

The path the owner had cut in the hay field leads along the edge of the field, where it borders the village water facility, probably once part of this property, shown a brighter green against the taller grass across which their new fence runs across the field Fibs now shares with Noble, Prune, in foal, and Ida, a palomino pony who takes refuge in Fibs, and possibly he in she. He is not a dominating sort. He prefers quiet, although he also seems attached to Unabelle, their young mare, and is capable of sending a message of annoyance with a rear foot. Usually Noble or Prune raises their head first, but yesterday it was Fibs. He watched me approach for a moment, and then lowered his nose to the grass again.

I opened the electric gate, closed it and crossed to where he stood, now on the far side, near Unabelle and the old pony, a mare, and the châtelaine des prés. He flattened his ears and pulled his head back. I thought I detected a curl of the lip.

"Fibs, mais, qu'est-ce que c'est ça?" What's this about? 

I reached a hand out, and touched the crusty spots on his flank, where fly bites had festered and were healing over and noticed that his coat was standing straight up. He was keeping warm. The wind blew around us. I raised the halter toward his head, and he pinned his ears, rolled his eyes around to fix me, and turned on his heel, lifting both front legs from the ground. He was one nerve away from kicking me. I moved around behind him when he turned away and appeared on the other side, back and forth. If nothing, I'd annoy him. Eventually, I'd win. Back and forth, we moved in little three-quarter circles, and his ears told me, "No."

My heart sunk. We were supposed to have ridden, but it was late. Later than I intended to be up there. The grass at home had already grown high again, and up past my ankles in the bottom garden, and it was wet every day, with rain constantly in sight. If I didn't mow it then, it might never be possible again until spring. I was cold and retreated across the field to the new shelter, turned to face a group of trees the bark of which he and his friends have made history. I pulled out my cell phone and tapped out a message to my trainer.

Well, maybe not. The wind seems to be making him nervous. It's blowing hard. His coat is puffed up. Not easy to get the halter on, not usual. 

An answer came: Don't worry. Lunge him and that will be good for today. It'll get him back on track.

Easier, I thought, standing there in their shelter, feeling the wind against my down vest, and feeling rejected and forlorn, said than done. But, maybe he'll wander in, wondering what I'm up to. 

Pas de tout, mais, pas de tout!

He wasn't thinking of me at all, and I was fighting the panic of losing the love I thought I had won. Horses are not for those lacking in self-esteem. I inventoried my own, and I went back out into his field, dismayed to see him ignore me diligently, and I danced a little more with him, and thought of Franklin Levinson and Monty Roberts. I would not give up. Instead, I walked away, indicating my lack of interest in him, and I paced the length and the width of their day pasture, to check my impression of its size. 3.25m between fence posts on the long side, and about 2.25m between them on the short sides times so many fence posts. I was right.

I walked back over to him, where Unabelle was making little noises in her throat and Gamine was fixing me with her authoritative eye. He looked at me. I decided it was too cold to hold out for a join-up, touched his flank and thought, You are going to accept your halter. I lowered it to the ground near his muzzle, and he pushed his muzzle deeper into the grass and moved it away to the right. But, just a little this time. I am going to put on your halter, I thought. He raised his head and swivelled his eyes to look back at me, standing at his left shoulder, and I slipped the halter on and buckled it. He dipped his cheek to my shoulder, "Hello."

"Well, hello, Fibs."

We went for a walk near his old home, in the woods where we took our first walks, and then we went and got the lunge line and headed to the riding ring. I concentrated and tried to call to mind the things the owners' daughter had taught me one afternoon, some months before, noticing that I perhaps didn't know enough about lunging a horse. I shook the lead line in my hand to push him off into a larger circle and kicked myself for not having watched more videos, and for not having lunged him more regularly. He moved in a circle around me.

"Trotter, Fibs." His eye flicked back toward me.

"Do I have to?"

"Fibs, trot." He shifted his pace, half-trotted, half-walked a few steps and then settled back into a walk. I really wished I'd prepared better for this. "Fibs, allez, trotter!" I moved the stick toward his hind quarters, and he reluctantly moved into a hesitant trot.


He is not supposed to change pace until I tell him to, and I am not supposed to have to keep saying "Allez, trotter... trotter, Fibs... trotter!" to keep him going. I am supposed to cluck, with my tongue between my molars, that sucking thing in one's cheek, and he is supposed to understand that this means to put more peps into his movement. Somehow, I don't think they did this in his racing training. I cracked the "natural horsemanship training whip" back behind his hindquarters, and he picked up the pace.

20 minutes later, and we changed hands. I shook the lead line to push him off again away from me, and he trotted. I asked for the gallop, and he took off, digging into the sand, finding his traction there, leaning into the circle, mane flying, and my heart soared. Having 1000 lbs of thoroughbred power and energy at the end of one's lunge line accelerating in a circle only a few meter from one is an incredible thing. He kicked his heels out, farted, and he flew for a few more paces before he slowed.

"Allez, Fibs, au galop!" and off he went again, and again before I said, "Whoah, whoah, au trot, mon Fibs. Trot-ter." He snorted and blew, trotting around me in a circle.

"Au pas, Fibs. That's a good boy. Au pas," I said, looping the lunge line over and over my hand, drawing him close to me, and he leaned his head into my shoulder and blew.

This is when I unattach him, like the first time I took him out to the round pen, almost a year ago, and I realized that he was following me, step for step and thought to release him and see what he would do. Yesterday, like that day, he followed me, sometimes his head against my back, sometimes shoulder to shoulder, stopping with me, turning with me, walking with me, turning in tight little circles together, our little pas de deux.

Like Christiane Head-Maarek, Criquette, said the other evening after winning the 2013 Qatar Arc de Triomphe with Trêve, maybe the mare of the century, with Thierry Janet up, "c'est pourquoi qu'il faut perséverer et jamais arrêter en cours de route."

Always persevere.
Us and our shadows, March 2013