Sunday, December 2, 2012

Still Life with Goats & Horses

The flip side of the Dark Days before the winter solstice is the good dusks that settle gently, powerfully, without threatening my emotional balance.

Yesterday it took me a while to get outside to start on my animal projects. It bothers me that it's hard for me to get going. I used to pretty much live in my barn, or in the riding ring working horses and teaching lessons, or off freelancing ditto; years before that I spent on other people's farms and at a small racetrack in the exact middle of nowhere. Even just a few years ago I moved from outside to inside and out again so many times in a day that I called my home "a run-in shed" like the free choice shelters I keep my animals in.

Four months have passed since my knee replacement surgery. When I finally got cracking (mid afternoon) (OK, late afternoon) on my outside tasks, it felt wonderful. Moving, working, accomplishing things! I cleaned and refilled all the water tubs & buckets, then juggled loose goats and my St. Bernard grand-dog (here for the day) as I cleaned the goat pen. 

Goat pens tend to grow deep (like two feet deep) with droppings and wasted hay. They yield an unending supply of great mulch for gardens and flowerbeds. Six months ago I was in too much pain to fork matted hay and goat manure for an hour and wheelbarrow it out to the flowerbeds. Last night: no problem! Cleaned down to the floor, raked in front of the shed, dumped the last load and bedded down the does: J.J. & Tiki,my older daughter's former champions of the 4H ring, now retired, always eagerly awaiting their next feed.

As it got dark I turned on the lights to finish. I don't have a barn now, just sheds I built. But fresh pine sawdust smells like the same comfort and safety of chores I've done since I was seven years old. My little pony wandered in and pawed furiously (translation: I want supper NOW) and my two mares nickered. It was familiar, homey. 

My fear of November darkness is tangled with the "last day" I rode and biked and ran in 1975; that night my knee swelled while I was watching TV, the beginning of a disease that  forced so many changes on my world. It's no wonder I don't like to go inside, these evenings. Of course I don't want my day to end. I want to grab hold of the sun and stop it slipping over the horizon.

But last night felt good. One of the hardest things I've learned since I began writing about my hellish bone disease, about shame and depression, about recovery and amputation, is to allow myself to remember the normal days of my childhood: a time  when I couldn't imagine life coming off the rails, when I believed my legs and running were a right instead of a privilege. The most difficult has been to recognize and inhabit the memory of a happy thirteen-year-old who raced around on her own two legs as well as her horse. For too long I was terrified of the emotions that can flood me at sunset. I've come to identify them as a resonance of pain, the shape and vibration of it which is the closest thing my brain allows. I'm learning to make peace with my fear, and so defuse it. And this year has reminded me about patience in relation to physical progress.

Last night something slipped back into place, a kind of chiropractic adjustment of my self, or maybe of the relationship with my fifty-year-old body that's been worked disproportionately hard over the years. Again, I've made it to December without disaster. It's one more piece of evidence against my Last Day, the personal apocalypse I experienced thirty-seven years ago.

...Just looked up 'apocalypse' for the spelling. Its roots mean 'uncovering' or 'unveiling.' Pretty cool. So as Inspector Clouseau says, Until we meet again and the case is solv-ed. *click heels*


  1. gorgeous photo - thanks for sharing the peaceful saw-dusty smell of hay & a goat barn.