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Friendship With “Wild” Horses

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This is “Bud”and I.

“The horses are wild now, particularly the chestnut,” somebody said.

I understood they hadn’t been ridden in years, but had had the run of the pasture and would no longer tolerate being halter tied. The day after we returned from a late afternoon church service, however, I decided to walk the pasture before jumping in my brother’s swim pool in hopes of coming across them. I was visiting Texas from Minnesota and it was hot, but I just couldn’t help myself.

The wide-open grassy pasture wasn’t flat like you might think. The Grove, TX had low, rolling hills and the pasture was scattered with Live Oak, the shorter kind that never lost their almond-shaped leaves. There was a wooden fence to the left,  and a convenient path made by a four-wheeler or truck ran parallel to it for a half mile ending at a neighboring farm. To the right the pasture spread out and on that side the fence couldn’t be seen.

The sun rested low in the sky and there were no clouds to reflect its rays, but the center was an explosion of yellow light that radiated over the whole pasture, the intensity gradually dissipating as it reached both ends of the horizon. As I stood looking into it from under my visor, its warmth felt like a hug from an intimate friend, its golden hue crowning everything in its path; the scattered Live Oak, the seeded tips of the pasture grass, and my toes as they wiggled in the freedom of my flip-flops and I started walking.

The heat was enough to make a glass of cold lemonade sound very inviting, but the freedom of a filmy sundress and a light breeze made it much more than bearable. A cherry cool pop, which melted faster in its plastic casing than I could eat it, helped keep me cool as I side-stepped around the prickly weeds with long stems called Bull Nettles. Large red ants transporting something that looked like larvae reminded me I should have worn close-toed shoes, but it didn’t even bother me that dozens of katydids continually popped up all around me, sometimes bouncing off my arms but somehow, thankfully, never up my dress.

And there were the horses, grazing in the distance, completely free of halters and encumbrances. One was the chestnut gelding, Bud, the shyer of the two, the other a golden mare called Goldie.

The “wild ” horses had their heads down eating grass fairly close to the path, and as I drew near they didn’t run away or pay me much notice. I started singing “Oh Give me A Home” the way my mother would have sung it, and at that moment truly meant it with all my heart.

The only other sounds were some kind of beetle that buzzed its tune from the trees along with the raucous calls of blue jays, the bubbly song of warblers, and the occasional distant lowing of cows. And as I breathed in the wonderful evening around me, I swore I could smell the sun; something like fresh hay still in the ground before harvest.

As I passed the horses I made no move towards them, but to my delight Goldie started following me. Watching her over my shoulder I kept walking, but slowed down until we met and she reached out to nuzzle my hand. She let me pet her cheek, her neck, and then I started scratching her back and haunches, using my fingers as a curry comb and the flat of my palm as a brush. She seemed to enjoy it, standing swishing her tail at flies while I groomed her and tipping her head to me as I continued singing.

Bud grazed a few yards away. As I rested my arms along Goldie’s back enjoying the sun and watching him, Bud started edging closer to us one footstep at a time. Finally he raised his head and eyed us…then did a remarkable thing. He circled around Goldie and, stopping in front of me, reached his muzzle towards me and let out a long, low-rumbling nicker that went straight to my heart. He wanted some attention too. The back scratching looked pretty good to him, and I willingly obliged. Nothing else of any importance was happening in the world; the only moment that mattered was the one I was experiencing.

Eventually I had to get back, and as I turned to walk away, Goldie stepped in right beside me with her head at my shoulder as if I held her with a halter. It was a joyous, comfortable moment, this other living creature and I with no ulterior motives …just enjoying each other’s company on a fine summer evening.

Finally we parted, and as I continued on my way she stood staring after me for several moments before returning to her grazing. I must admit I didn’t want my evening to end, and decided I could be very happy doing this for the rest of my life.

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ROLLER COASTER SHIFT ~ a change in perspective

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I was beginning to entertain serious doubts about embarking on the Cork Screw roller coaster at Valley Fair. Just like it sounds, it has several winding loops that send you upside down and all around. As my friend and I stepped into the chairs and were locked in by the attendant, my fears began to mount; we were at the point of no return.

Slowly the cars clickety-clacked their way to the top, and with each passing moment I became more paralyzed by fear. My eyes shut tight and I held to the side of the car white knuckled saying, fruitlessly, “Oh God, I don’t want to do this”! I’m sure the air turned a very distinct shade of blue. We began the first breathtaking, throat-choking decent into empty nothingness, and my screams and curses could probably be heard far and wide.

My friend next to me was enjoying herself. She said to me with a smile in her voice, “Shari, open your eyes…just open your eyes and look around, it’s fun!”

As I bravely harkened to her wisdom, an incredible thing happened; watching the scenery as it changed, I suddenly I didn’t feel “upside down” anymore. The trees and people on the ground were the ones moving up and down and all around in my vision, and my fear melted away in an instant. Before I knew it I was having a blast, and my new-found thrill was over way too quick. Just like that, the bars were unlocked and we departed, making room for the next “victims”. I looked at my friend and breathlessly proclaimed, “That was amazing!”

This was many years ago. I didn’t think much about it then– all I knew is that the “Cork Screw” became my favorite ride– but recently this memory has come back to me, and what strikes me is this: Nothing about my circumstance had changed. While sitting in the same locked seat, on the same scary roller coaster, I went from real terror to real joy; and the ONLY thing that changed was that I opened my eyes to see what was really there. What possibilities this thought inspires!

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THE PAINFUL CHAIN OF UNHEALTHY BOUNDARIES

kittiesDo you ever wonder how far unhealthy boundaries–letting another person define your sense of self-worth–can take you? I am reminded of a moment in my life that illustrates just how powerful unhealthy boundaries can be.

I was a very young adult, and hanging around a guy who I had known for several years. We had a connection, or so I thought; we seemed to be sympatico in most ways, and had an understanding of each other. In retrospect, deep down, I knew I believed I was a worthy person because, hey, if he wanted to be with me, I must be worth something. Ouch.

He sensed this, I think, and one day decided to test me, though he may not have realized it. I was at his place, and he was showing me all the projects he was working on. His roommate had a couple of young kittens, maybe 8-9 weeks old, which I adored; everyone who knew me knew I adored ALL animals, and shared an affinity with them.

At one point his demeanor became a bit curious, and I wasn’t sure what was going on with him. One of the kittens walked by nonchalantly, tail high in the air, and my friend looked at me pointedly.

“You know, sometimes I get off on stuff like this…”

Before I knew it, he had picked that kitten up by one of its hind legs, swung it in the air above his head, and tossed it across the room. The poor little thing landed with a thud, but amazingly was essentially unhurt.

What did Shari, the great animal lover and defender, do? Did I express my indignation at such a cruel deed? Did I ask him, “What the hell did you do THAT for?” I certainly should have.

Anyone who knows me knows the revulsion that welled up inside me at that point; but there was something even stronger than my love for animals; something even stronger than my sense of justice, and that was the unhealthy boundary that chained my sense of self-worth to another person. If I crossed him, he might not like me anymore, and where would that leave me?

I swallowed my disgust, forced a smile to stay on my lips, and continued my happy little visit with him. Those who know me may be experiencing major jaw-drop. I still can’t believe it myself.

I get sick to my stomach just thinking about this painful memory. Perhaps most unhealthy boundaries are not illustrated as dramatically as this, but they can be just as damaging to both parties.

Those of us who have struggled with this in the past may think we have it beat; we may think, “I would never do that again”; but speaking from experience, they can spring up any time during our lives unbidden unless we practice a daily dose of self-love and self nurturing. When we realize that we may be in a relationship like this, whatever form, the extrication process can be very painful; necessary, but painful.

Be honest. Be kind to yourself. Know that you yourself are worthy of love. Never let your relationship with someone else overshadow what you know to be true about YOU.

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THE COURAGE IN BEING VULNERABLE

016Typically, I would rather be blinded by hot pokers and eat broken glass than reveal my “neediness” to people—because I have seen that needy people seem to be weak and despised; they are talked about and disrespected. In light of this, instead of being “lucky”, don’t you think “People Who Need People” are more aptly described as suckers?

I remember an incident when I was a teenager. My best friend was dating this incredible guy whose mother was young, vivacious, and just plain cool. We were very close with his family and friends, and visiting them was like a second home to us. One of the neighbor girls, who also hung around, was very “clingy”; we weren’t particularly close to her, and for some reason–yes, she was needy–shied away from her.

One day, when the neighbor girl wasn’t there, our friends’ mother who I will call “Gerty”, complained about her, and how she was at their house almost every day. Apparently she would stay through the supper hour uninvited and never leave. I’m sure Gerty wasn’t trying to be cruel, but perhaps exasperated and didn’t know what to do.

I listened, however, with a growing fear in my chest—an awful fear that she may feel the same way about me; after all, I was over there all the time too. I figured this may have been her way of dropping subtle “hints”. I decided there was no way I was going to risk “exasperating” the friends I had become so close to. Instead of communicating my fears, my visits became less and less frequent, and in my heart, distanced myself from them.

The following summer, the family announced they were moving across the country. This news was met with much heaviness and depression on the part of my best friend and I; our world as we knew it was ending. I had a lot of mixed feelings, guilt for some reason being one of them.

On the day they moved, as the last of their belongings were loaded in the moving van, “Gerty” pulled me aside. She said,

“Shari, I just wanted you to know how much we’ve missed you lately. You stopped coming around, and I’ve often wondered if we had done anything to somehow offend you. I hope that’s not the case; I just want you to know we are going to miss you sweety.”

She was sincere and just a wee bit hurt. I gave her a big tear-filled hug, but didn’t have the courage to tell her why I had been distant. The day was an incredibly sad one.

Besides being a lesson to me about the ills of talking negatively about other people, and how you never know how it may hurt someone who is listening, my experience should have also illustrated to me that openly loving someone is always worth the risk of being despised; you never know who is waiting to love you. Unfortunately, the lesson “Never be a pest” was more strongly enforced.

I still hate admitting when I “need” something, but as I look back, I see countless missed opportunities. I also see that people who admit their need for others are the ones who eventually find love, and are most definitely lucky. Making myself vulnerable is not about being “clingy” or “desperate”, but about bravely sharing my true self with people despite the risk of rejection; and knowing, regardless of outcomes, that love will somehow be there.

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GRANDPA AND THE “BAD” WORD

cabinpicMy grandpa gave me some incredible words of wisdom one day.   Billy Joel says that “honesty is such a lonely word”;  I think Grandpa said it best.

We were down at the little cabin on White Lake, sitting outside on the deck’s orange-vinyl couch on a hot summer’s day. I had just gotten out of the water and was shivering with the beach towel wrapped around me, my hair still dripping. I was pretty young; my feet weren’t able to touch the deck, and I swung them back and forth in a lazy, summer sort of way.

Grandpa had on his jeans, though it was mid-July, and his proverbial flannel shirt with the rolled up sleeves.  He held a can of beer between his legs, which is how I usually remembered him in the summer.  Just when I stopped shivering, I felt him nudge me lightly with his elbow.

“You know, Shari…” he began, clearing his throat.

I looked up at him in anticipation, squinting in the sun, as he tipped back the can for a drink.

“You KNOW Shari…..” he repeated, looking off onto the lake, “It’s all just BULL SHIT….BULLshit.”

He dragged the “bull” out nice and long. I knew he had said a “bad word”, but I said nothing in return, not knowing what he meant, but “feeling” what he said. We continued to sit in the warming sun with our own separate quiet thoughts.

For some reason I always remembered  that interaction–the way he spoke, the emotions behind the words– and the older I get, the more I understand exactly what he meant.

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When Pavement Turns to Gravel

Ever wonder if you’ve taken the wrong road?

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My Rav in the South Dakota wilderness

 

Never have I experienced this feeling in real life like  I did on my solo road trip through the Badlands of South Dakota.  I had just finished an amazing few days in the area; I had stayed at Cedar Pass, explored the Badlands loop complete with tourist way stations and rattle-snake warnings, and driven down to visit the historic Wounded Knee site.  As  wonderful as it was to be able to live these natural wonders and cross them off my bucket list, I still craved the “out-of-the-way” places.

On my way back from Wounded Knee, when I came to the main drag crossroads, I stopped.  My original thought was to take the highway back to Wall, SD.

Shifting into park and cracking open a diet Coke to wash away the dust, I studied my map and calculated the mileage.  (Yeah, no one to honk at me for parking at a stop sign). Wouldn’t it be more fun and adventurous to take the back roads all the way to Wall?  They led through a different part of the Badlands, and how cool would that be?  I had enough gas; I could still make it to Wall before dark.  That was the new plan anyway.  Though technically it was part of the “park”, it wasn’t part of the tourist’s loop; that’s exactly why I wanted to see it; the wildness of the road less travelled.

In my element, windows down, I delighted in the hot, dry, clear blue skies and sunshine as it caressed me, and the wide open wild land, far away from the turbulence and craziness of what constituted my life in those days.  I stopped and got out of  my Toyota Rav more than once, just to experience these gifts as they reached up and surrounded me with whisperings of secrets and history gone by.    What stories could the craggy mountain canyons and rocks in the distance tell me?

Everything was going according to plan…until the road changed from pavement to gravel; NOT dirt, but loose gravel.   Well, crap!  The map hadn’t clued me in on this, and I hadn’t calculated on it.  Looking at the clock as I slowed from 55 mph to 30, I said to myself,

“I may be out here in the dark after all…no big deal; it can’t be that much farther.”

When you are driving over coarse gravel at 30 mph, with lots of twists and turns, it can seem like a LONG time.  The early evening shadows and clouding horizon cast warnings.  I studied my gas gauge, looked at my cell phone with NO bars, and the “what ifs” started haunting me:

“What IF” I had taken a wrong turn and I wasn’t on my way to Wall, but on some back road that led to…nowhere, and I had to spend all night out here?

“What IF” I ran out of gas?  My vehicle was relatively new and in good shape, but the roads were so coarse…

“What IF” I got a flat tire out here in the middle of nowhere?

I had been driving for over an hour and a half without seeing one other car;  no houses, no buildings, no wires, no evidence AT ALL of civilization.  This is what I wanted to experience, of course, but the butterflies were churning in my stomach as fear reached its icy little finger towards me.  Every corner I turned I hoped to see some evidence that I was on the right track.  Once or twice there was another road that crossed mine, but there were no signs, not one clue to calm me.   What had I gotten myself into?

Turning around one of these corners, I marveled in spite of myself at another rolling expanse of wild, open land; no  trees, no corn, no farms.  Then I spotted something….what the heck WAS that?  It looked as if mother nature had strung raisins across the prairie by the roadside up ahead.

As I got closer, and realized what was stretched out before me, I almost wept with the beauty of it.

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Took this picture while my heart cheered these free-roaming Buffalo

 

There, a rough 10 yards from the side of the road, was a herd of approximately 50 or so buffalo, including calves.  I pulled over, rolled down my windows, and basked in what was for me  a miraculous gift.  Considering the enormity of the possible places this herd could be feeding right now, I was consumed with thankfulness that they were here, and even more thankful that I was, INDEED on the RIGHT road.  This wasn’t a tourist loop in Custer Park.  They weren’t feeding on hay or anything else that may have been left by humans; they were simply making their way across the prairie.080

I hunted down my Native American music, popped in the CD, got out and sat on the car for 15-20 minutes in what could be called a meditative state.  In those moments, whether or not I got to Wall didn’t matter.  There was nobody else in the whole world but the buffalo, the prairie, and me.  If I had had to spend the night in the back of my Rav and wait for daylight to find help, I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything.

Finally, as the sun started to set on the clouding horizon, I reluctantly got inside and pulled away.  I was either close to Wall or terribly lost, but all the “what ifs” had faded into tiny bits and blown away on the breeze.  They didn’t matter at all .082

As I drove toward the next hill, another car actually passed me!  I took that as a good sign.  Looking in my rear-view mirror, I watched as this vehicle stopped on the side of the road as I had.  Then, cresting the hill, I looked ahead, and there was another crossroads; it had a sign with an arrow that read “To Wall”.  Standing under that sign was a huge bison with dangerous-looking horns.  Wow.  I very carefully made my way around him, knowing he could totally decimate me if he had the urge, and with a happy sigh, continued on my way to Wall, thanking him for his clemency.  I made it to Wall with in the next hour.

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My view as I said goodby

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“YOU’RE IN THE DOG HOUSE” and Other Sayings

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This is not Prince and me–this is my niece–a timeless tale, is it not?.

I should be so lucky.

Why is it that we use this phrase to instill fear and convey to the recipient that he/she is in deep trouble for some misdeed?  Personally, I find dog houses to be happy, friendly places….ok, hairy, but happy.

I made one of my very first friends in a dog house.  Prince, the white Lab who lived next door, shared his space with me quite willingly; your typical wooden house with shingle roof.  As a toddler I would wander over and visit him regularly, and he was always the perfect host.  Yes, I would crawl in with him and we had the loveliest times together.

The conversation between my parents probably sounded something like:

“Where has Shari gone to this time?  I only turned my head for a second…”

“Did you check Prince’s dog house?”

Another saying I don’t get is “up the creek without a paddle”.  This only conjures up fear if you WOULDN’T016 like to float along on a lovely stream and just let the current take you and your canoe or kayak wherever it wants to.  That would actually be an interesting experiment, would it not; a “leave-your-paddles-at-home” day?

As a nurse, if you REALLY want to scare me, just tell me as I come on duty that “We have no  nurse’s aide tonight”, or “We are working one (or two) nurse/s short .“   These are the words that will leave you weak in the knees.

I’ll end with “gone to the dogs”, used to describe someone who has supposedly failed at something.  Dogs DO get a bad rap, don’t they?  Dogs are actually very wonderful creatures, and “going to them” always seems like a good idea to me.005

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