Monday, October 11, 2010


       I was headed onto 205N around 9:15pm last night.  Out to satisfy a craving for frozen yogurt.  Came up on the Glisan overpass intersection.  There were police and emergency vehicles hovering near the bridge over the Maxx line, the road was blocked; this was a big deal.  I was peering that way, trying to get an idea of what happened.  Fatal motor vehicle accident seemed unlikely - no real chance to pick up speed in that busy area.  Shooting?  Yeah, that might have been it.  And the Maxx was right below there.  Could have been a suicide attempt.
       In the middle of my curiosity, I saw two people hurrying up the side of the off-ramp - as if they'd hopped out of a car.  A man and a woman; petite, with her hair tied up in a knot, light hoodie not enough for the cold.  She had that gait . . . . not sure whether to walk or run, dreading and having to know all at the same time.  The man was in loose-fitting clothes, cap, short sleeves.  His fingertips rested lightly on the woman's back, his posture protective, long stride to keep up.
       As they approached a policeman stepped forward.  She tried to step around, he blocking her way, her hands on his chest, on tip-toe, craning her neck to see.  A third man in a heavy hoodie and baseball cap stepped out from behind the flashing lights and towards the woman.  They knew each other.  Her posture asked a question.  He put his hands on her shoulders as he replied.  She half-turned, half-sagged, his arms wrapping her up and now keeping her standing as her shoulders shook.
       The light had turned green.  I had to go.  But the tragedy of that moment seared into my happy mood.  Death or injury - I don't know.  But I had just witnessed the breaking of some terrible piece of news.  A moment - difficult to take even in the quiet company of your own home, surrounded by friends - had been lived out in front of flashing lights and lines of stopped cars, and me.
       Tears welled up and spilled over.  I felt like the little girl again, struck by the thunderbolt of realization that my older sister - my hero - had slipped into a coma she wouldn't come out of.  That scene out there wasn't my life, wasn't my grief, but it felt close enough.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Childhood Galaxies, and Other Stuff

       To be honest, picking a story is difficult.  I know so many, and my life has been interesting enough that I can go on for hours.  But that makes for a long read, and I even lose interest in typing the whole thing out..... but I'll try to keep it up.  After all, I do want to be able to write a book without stopping in the middle :)
       When I was little, I loved exploring the canyon below my house.  There was a whole world out there that only I knew about!  Like the tunnel under the dogwood by the pond.  The pussywillow on the other side of the fence.  The way the shrubs would bend but not break when you lay on them - creating the perfect "air castle."  The strawberry patch down the hill.  The summer sledding runs over the long dry grass.  The berry patches and apple trees, and the bear scatt that let you know caution was needed.  The spot where the elk liked to cross the creek.  Which banks were best for picking wild irises, bachelor buttons, indian paintbrush, lupine, or yellow dog flowers. 
     I could tell you which abandoned homestead site had the banana and strawberry-flavored apples, and which had the best lilac bushes.  I knew the reservoir pond that stayed full all summer.  I knew that the trail to Pine Creek had a wild onion patch which perfectly complemented a Big Frank when roasted on the same stick.  I could lead you to the coyote dens.  I could take you anywhere you wanted to go within a couple miles of the house.  The landscape was my stronghold, my expertise, my refuge.  
       If I couldn't be outside, I was reading a book about things people did outside.  Clara Barton was my favorite character!  She rode horses astride, was stronger than any boy, and served as a heroic nurse during the Civil War.  I wanted to be as crazy and caring as that!  Miss Barton and I had something else in common - I was painfully shy as a kid. At church I hid behind my mother's skirts as a toddler, hated being up front, and refused to shake men's hands until nearly in my teens.  I was not an especially timid person, it just took a lot to get me out of my shell.  Then there were my tomboyish ways.  I preferred hockey sticks to dolls and didn't like wearing skirts, or even shoes.  It's funny how some things change and some don't.....
     This summer I spent the first big chunk of time at home in a while.  I rode horses, cooked to my heart's content, and basked in sunsets unpolluted by rooftops.  Idling in Walla Walla's fancy new restaurants was nice, but the real joys came in rediscovering the world I knew as a child.  Finding that thicket with the plums so ripe you could hear them falling without so much as a breeze.  Hearing the bear cubs scramble up the tree while riding by.  Picking blackberries over the old cellar. "Spying" on the valley from the old dead combine out back.  Reading a book in the grass with the dogs sprawled out beside me.  School and the city seemed to be distant memories.
     But a distant memory is still reality in many cases.  And mine is back to haunt me.  Well, it's not THAT bad :)  School is interesting and challenging.  Portland has good shopping and lots of ethnic vegetarian food.  I have access to fast internet and unique cafes, and great concerts.  
     But even a performance by Jon Foreman can't quite measure up to the thrill of an unspoiled landscape ahead and a fast horse below.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Sailing through the air off a horse rarely ends well . . .

     Ever been thrown from a horse?  Oh, it's lots of fun, trust me!  There is a wrench beneath you, and even if you've clamped down hard, your knees and hands just aren't enough to keep you from losing contact.  And off you go in a blur of thinking "Oh crap, I hope there's no rock down there" and before you know it, the ground has risen up to meet you and you're either scrambling for footing or gasping for air which that thing called impact has sucked from your lungs.  
     Now the way that you fall is always different.  I've landed on my feet with the reigns still in my hands.  I've had the horse fall into a deep grass-covered ditch and been tossed up on the other side.  I've had to bail off a horse that brilliantly tangled himself up in electric fencing and was going crazy.  I have slid off the side and come down full on my tail-bone (complete novice of a beginner back then).  But the winner, that tumble that will forever take the prize in its category, was all because of a wire fence.
     Fences are a problematic part of riding.  They keep you locked into a specific area.  You cannot simply jump over them - horses don't jump wire safely.  When the posts rot or fall over, the fence becomes hidden in the brush or grass, and you've got a perfect recipe for some of the worst spooks and cuts you've seen on a horse.  
     My - and I say that because the story is very much mine - fence was a 4-foot sheep wire bridging a gap of about 15-feet between two 5-foot-high barb wire lengths.  The gap had been a corridor into an area with a lean-to and water trough the horses had used during winter.  It being spring, and wanting to plant potatoes in the then well-fertilized lot, someone had closed the gap with the aforementioned patch of 4-foot wire.
     I came along one Saturday afternoon, enjoying a good gallop.  Now, if you know anything about horses, you know that they like going back to their barn.  The last time my horse had been in that pasture her barn lay beyond that narrow corridor, and the low wire had not been there.  Upon approaching the corridor I wanted to veer left, and pulled the reigns accordingly.  Nothing happened.  I pulled harder, my horse absorbed the pain in her mouth and kept right anyways.  The fence was coming up awfully fast.  I pulled left again, and the mare seemed to yield just a bit.  Now that I look back at it, I can imagine that the horse was paying all her attention to getting to the barn, and probably didn't see the thin wire at a lower level than the rest of the fence.  Yielding to me was a way of getting her mouth back, but she did not intend to give in.
     Just as we had almost passed the corridor, the horse made a sharp pivot and jump to the right - directly into that low fence!  Because I was not prepared for it, and I was riding bareback, and the horse had been loping, I did not stop when the horse did.  Oh no, I did not stop for another 12 feet!  
     I don't remember having time to utter a sound.  The only thing I remember is a feeling of observing myself lift off above that outstretched neck as I became airborne.  The next instant I was jarred back to reality by the brutal, brutal impact.  I don't know how it happened, but my grip on the mane must have turned my body in the air, because I landed flat on my belly and pelvis - facing the opposite direction I had been going and still clutching long strands of hair.  
     Ever belly-flopped onto cement?  The dirt was dry and rock-hard and strewn with thistles.  Enjoy that feeling of your chest heaving for oxygen without any making it in?  I could hear myself gasping and gagging as I stumbled to my feet.  I would have laid there, but the first thought racing through my brain - almost before I realized I couldn't yet breathe - was that my horse was tangled in that fence and could panic and rip herself up, and I didn't want that.  Dragging myself to my knees I started crawling, then stumbling, and finally jolting forward on unsteady feet towards that flailing horse.  I didn't manage to draw my first breath until I was at the downed fence, but by then she was free and limping frantically away.
     Everything hurt!  But I could still walk ok once I could breathe again.  My right wrist was strangely tingly and a bit numb, but since it wasn't hanging off at a weird angle I didn't stop to check it.  In a few moments I had caught my stunned horse, rapidly running my hands down trembling legs to check for gashes or breaks.  Nothing.  Leading her forward a few yards I carefully watched her gait, in case she had pulled anything major.  Her gait was improving my the second.  Relieved, I started hobbling the long walk back to the house, that silly horse in tow.  
     It must have been a curious sight dragging into the yard - that horse and I - all shaky and dusty and bruised and bloody.  Aunts and uncles, Mom and Dad, siblings and cousins dropped everything and came rushing over.  I was still worried about my horse.  My mother wanted to spank her for running into the fence and throwing her baby!  Someone took the horse, I made it into the house to clean up and the adrenaline wore off.  
     Long story short, my wrist was tingly and numb because it was broken.  Come to think of it, if I had cried instead of calmly stating that it hurt just a little too much and asking to go to the ER, I might have made it that night and not 24 hours later!  But after 4 months of casts (very slow-growing bone called the navicular) I was once again flexing a shriveled claw.  I didn't wait more than a week to get back on the horse though - you just can't wait that long for another thrill!

     And that is that.  More later . . . .