Bonnets, Buggies and Blaine: Part 4 of Rain on a Cloudless Day

buggy pic, old
Old mare never had a name. Mommy found her when she was an emaciated foal who could no longer stand. My mother paid 50 dollars to save her, which was fifty times what the dying foal was worth in 1960. With no horse trailer, Mommy put the filly in the bed of her pickup truck and drove slowly towards her two acre ranch in Simi Valley, California. Bottle fed and hand raised, the filly grew up eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while she watch TV from behind the sofa.

Filly became Mare and Mare became Old Mare. The first time I sat on her back was the week I learned to sit-up. Now I’m just tall enough to push my little English saddle onto her back, synching it loosely because I am too small to really pull it tight. Getting the bridal on is easy because old Mare always drops her head for the bit. Yet for some reason, I can never get the reigns over her head the first try.

In the dark isle of Blaine Carr’s boarding stable, I haul myself onto her back. Old Mare turns her head and watches me, her expression one of amusement. I ride her to Mommy who scolds me for riding a horse with a loose girth and reigns on only one side of my horses head.

“Why don’t you put the reigns over her head when you put the bridal on,” she says, her thin lips pursed in disapproval. “This is a dangerous way to ride.”

“Because then I wouldn’t have a reign to lead her to the mounting block.” And so it goes week after week. I groom, tack and mount my little Old Mare and Mommy adjusts, teaches, and scolds me into becoming the horse woman we both dream I will be.

The sun bounces off the white sand of our arena as I ride in large circles looking up at the Wasatch Mountains that loom so large to the East. My sister plays in the shallow creek with Blaine’s grandson while mother saddles up Flashy Cookie, a friend’s sensitive thoroughbred. I ride around the arena a few more times, picking Old Mare up into an easy trot until Mommy and Cookie walk in.

When my mother rides I have to stay in the middle or leave the arena. Cookie is huge and emotional and I can’t be where he is. When they come in I ride towards the barn, making a small loop around three of the things I love most about the Carr boarding stable. One is a black covered buggy from around 1900. Another is a buckboard whose wooden sides are so bleached by time and weather that they gleam a greyish white. The third is a sleigh that Blaine built himself. He’s rustled mustangs from the prairie and once rode the west when it was still wild. He’s a true cowboy and a real gentleman.buggy

“Don’t get too close to those buggies,” Mommy says. She looks beautiful on Cookies back.

I look down at my tiny fat mare and wonder what it would be like to ride Cookie, a horse that seems to float more than stand. Cookie is like a rushing wind poured into a horse shape. Everything about him is a potential reaction, so everything we do with him has to be slow, soft and quiet.

I step Old Mare back a few steps to make Mommy happy and then gaze down at the sleigh. Blaine hitched his old gelding up to it last winter and took us all for a ride. My mom, my sister and I sat in the back under a blanket while Blaine drove the horse through the snow. We moved so silently and with such speed that it was like flying. I’ll never forget the whooshing sound the runners made or the way the snow flew up behind us. That was one of the best days of my life. Gazing up at the Wasatch Mountains I feel that deep sense of connection, of belonging to a place. Like the avenues and my little house at 86 M Street, this place and these mountains are home.

I see a movement in the dark isle of Blaine’s little barn, the place where he keeps his horses and tack away from the big barn where the boarders are. Blain walks out into the light, his thinning reddish hair combed and parted neatly to the side.

“Do your girls have bonnets and calico dresses?” Mommy answers his question with a puzzled look. “It’s the Days of 47 parade next Saturday,” he adds. “I’m going to drive a team. Your girls can ride in the buggy if they like.”

As a Salt Lake City girl, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t own a bonnet. There are pictures of me toddling through the garden wearing nothing but a diaper and a blue bonnet.

“I have a bonnet.” I say, walking Old Mare over to Blaine. “And I have a calico dress. I’ll ride in the buggy.” And turning to look at Mommy I add, “I can ride in a parade just like you did in L.A. mommy.” Mommy looks at me and then over to Ali who is still playing in the trickling stream.

“I’ll have them ready.” Mommy answers after some thought. Blaine nodes to her before disappearing back into the darkened isle of the little barn. Swallows swoop in and out of the shadows while Mommy picks Cookie up into a rolling canter, his beautiful neck arching as he moves into my mother’s gentle hands and onto the bit. Mommy used to ride side saddle in big California parades wearing a Spanish ladies dress with a Mantilla comb and a lace veil. She represented California’s heritage the way I will get to represent Utah’s.

Watching her ride, I remember that when the pioneers arrived in the place that would become Salt Lake City they looked around and said, “This is the place.” Mommy says the women wept because they were standing in a desert where nothing could grow and life would be hard. She never sees Utah the way I see Utah. How can she when her heart lives in old California, in Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley and Topanga Canyon. She remembers a land of sunlight and orange blossoms, of Spanish stucco missions and movie stars. What she doesn’t understand is that for me, right now, this…is the place.
a bonnett

Animal Magic

I grew up with a lot of animals. Animals were our way of life. We woke to the sounds of chickens. We spent our days training horses and mucking out stalls and our nights cuddled up around our old wood fire place with cats, dogs, ferrets, a rabbit and a chinchilla. When it was time for bed it was just a matter of standing up to signal your entourage to follow. My entourage consisted of Muffy, a calico kitty our neighbors found in their garage and Zena the whippet who came to us after being shuffled through three other homes.

Mooney my house cat when he was a young stray on my farm.

Mooney my house cat when he was a young stray on my farm.

We were the collectors of the unwanted, the unadoptable and the hopeless. Our horses were slaughterhouse saves, our dogs were pound puppies and our cats came to us from every corner of the city. The most dramatic cat story we converged with was that of Mimsy. She was a beautiful silver stripped kitty who was rescued by an elderly homeless man from boys who were beating her to death in the streets of Spokane. My sister was a teenager in her car when the man knocked on her window and gave Mimsy to her. I can’t remember what he said but I do remember the look of grief she described in his eyes, a look that stemmed from an inability to understand why anyone would try to beat a kitty to death. I’m happy to say that in our large menagerie, Mimsy lived a long and happy life as mother’s favorite lap cat.

Tally, the $600 rescue, beat out valuable warmbloods at her first show.

Tally, the $600 rescue, beat out valuable warmbloods at her first show.

Since we adopted our new puppy last Wednesday, I’ve been thinking a lot about the hundreds of animals which have graced my life. I still miss my first cat Lilly and I still tear up when I think of Zena the Whippet, Serge the Greyhound and Nitro the incomparable Doberman/Shepherd cross who was in all likelihood an angel cloaked in fur. So many things have changed over the years. So many lives have come and gone and yet we plod on, loving those who will only grace a small portion of lives. Though their years are short, the love they leave behind lasts a lifetime. Animals heal us, they bring us close and they open our souls to a deeper experience of what really matters. With a pet, every snowfall is magical, every sunrise filled with expectation and every well warn path becomes riddled with joyful possibility.

Aria, our new puppy who was found wandering the streets of Everett with her mother.

Aria, our new puppy who was found wandering the streets of Everett with her mother.

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Cultivating Silence

I love silence. It’s a rare and beautiful thing. Silence eludes me at times but is easily cultivated once I let go enough to let it wander free. I love drifting through my silenced house with nothing to do. It’s these empty spans of nothingness that feed my soul in a profound way. I put on silence like an old coat, one that holds me close with its friendly warmth. I like the way silence buffers away the complicated storm swept world as it soothes my mind into quiet order.

In those rare moments when silence is accompanied by nothing to do I invariably finger a book I have no intention of reading or better still I pet my cat and break silence into a raucous flow of vibrational joy. My cats purr is deep and throaty. It is a cultivated purr won from silence, the silence of never having known love. That was not a nice silence. My cat has the purr of a feral cat dumped high on a hill top farm. It is the purr of courage which sings, “I dared to trust and in trust found love.”

Sometimes in my silence I contemplate at my toes. I have brave toes. I like to think of all the places my toes have led me. To the crib where my baby boy slept, to the door of my mother’s house, to the airport where together, toes and I boarded a plane. Finally I like to think of the moment my toes stepped to the top of Wearyall Hill. In this place the silence listens, builds and grows into a sort of spiritual wonder I can scarce find words to express.

One of the sweetest silences I know is barn silence. That’s right…barn silence. I have known barns filled with the slow breaths of big horses and the silent swoop of swallow’s wings. I have cupped my hands to catch gold bright dust particles suspended for a moment in the gleaming perfection of sunset; my horses quietly chewing in their darkening stalls. Barn silence is the best silence because it is filled with contentment. It whispers, well done, everyone is stalled, blanketed, fed, happy and safe. You’ve done your job, your free to find your bed but linger a while because contentment like this only comes to rose sniffers, day dreamers and those who understand and love the richness that comes with the knowledge that all is right with the world.

Silence gives rise to contemplation, the birthplace of epic daydreams. Epic daydreams become manuscripts upon which I labor hour after hour day after day. I nestle down happy with the certainty of my well spun plot, the depth of my characters,  enjoying the peace of knowing that everything will end as I wish it. What if life could be as conveniently orchestrated?

In Silence I disconnect from the global mind, allowing myself to once again become unique to my surroundings. In this great disconnect, I go off-line into silence and am again the girl I was, quiet and shy, no longer forced to brave a world which feels too big.

In silence I hear my heartbeat. In silence I’m glad I’m alive. In silence I am able to set aside my humanity, drink in the sublime and let go of all the petty rages which injure only me. In silence I am home, I am free and I am at peace because silence asks for nothing. It simply gives me space to be.

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