Monday, June 20, 2016

Ena Sharples and the H-h-h-heat

The kind of heat we're experiencing in LA is what they euphemistically call "unseasonably warm." It's 107F, ie hotter than bloody hell. This is what we expect in September -- not June -- when the dirt is brown and brittle from the long, parched summer, when walking out into a hairdryer seems to be the seasonal norm, the tradition. It reminds me of being barefoot and pregnant and standing in the sprinklers at 9pm at our rental duplex on Harper Avenue, opposite where Ellen used to live when she wasn't famous. Oppressive heat makes you grumpy. You have to get into your car and turn on the AC (or Air Con, as my lovely English boyfriend calls it, which makes it sound frightfully grand) and then walk away for five minutes before getting in. I've got one of Jelly's white cotton saddle pads on my seat so I don't burn my bottom. And I'm pressing the MAX AC button, which I've just discovered. It's the kind of heat that makes you want to slap tourists who are smoking on Hollywood Blvd as the hot air rises from the pavement. How can you smoke in when it's a million degrees, you wonder. It's the kind of heat that makes you grumpy with Waze, and makes you tetchy in traffic when you're usually calm -- the kind that makes you lose any semblance of patience. It's the kind, too, that makes you want to lie naked on the dark grey slate in an air-conditioned bathroom and wave your arms in pretend snow angels.

And the fires are burning. Santa Barbara. Asuza. Duarte. The 2 Freeway. More. Thinking about the firefighters in all their gear, courageous, strong and sweltering.

The heat makes me want to swear, say things like "ballsing hell."

To make matters worse, I had a passport picture taken today. "You look like Tilda Swinton with a round face," said my son, cautiously. "Don't smile" said the lady at Photo One on Santa Monica Blvd. "The British Government don't like smile." And so my mouth is wiggly line, like Snoopy's mouth when he's embarrassed.


In my endless quest for a red lipstick I can wear, I bought one from Nars, a crayon, Cruella. My Girlfriends Who Wear Red swear by it. I put it on and look more like Ena Sharples than Angelina Jolie. I give it to Monica, who of course looks like a bombshell in it.

I am trying not to think about my brave boy. I just can't bear to think about.

I want to throw myself in the Oslo fjord, in the salty seawater and put my head under and gargle it and swim and swim till I'm tired. I want the fine rain on my face, the miniscule raspberries that grow by the roadside, the yarrow and wild ox-eye daisies of our magic island.

Oh and four gun control bills were defeated in the Senate. Lily-liver'd, spineless fuckers. So, yeah, it really does feel like hell here.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Owl



My sweet boy died this morning at about 10.20am. The vet, who was young, and had just de-horned a steer, told me that there are two things we can do for our animals 1) Give them a good life and 2) Allow them a dignified death. Jelly had both. He was the best adventure partner a girl could ask for. Every weekend was like summer camp; climbing mountains, jumping ditches, fording rivers, galloping through streams, meandering through tree-lined paths studded with deer, coyotes, and the occasional mountain lion.

Last night I walked through Whole Foods after an event at the Paley Center, and had to hold back the tears as I put bags of carrots, small Fuji apples and granola bars into my basket. It felt so significant, somehow, Shopping For The Last Meal. I got up early this morning and drove out to the barn to see him. I gave him a bubble bath and rubbed behind his ears and scratched his face with my fingers, and fed him his treats and let him graze a little and warm off in the sun. Then we led him down to the turnout arena with the soft sand footing, and he was given two shots while I held him and told him what a good boy he was. He fought falling to his knees but finally capitulated and lay down. I put my arms around his warm neck and told him I loved him and that it would be okay and that there was a happy place with endless supplies of grass and friends. He was calm and sweet and soft and then he was gone, and this big, warm brown body lay in the dirt, with all the energy sucked out of it. I put my head on his neck and wept. And Vince, the lovely Mexican American guy who runs the barn gave me a hug, and the young vet held my hand, and Liz, who's been helping with Jelly, hugged me too, and the dogs sat at a respectful distance, uncharacteristically, just watching. I'm glad we did it somewhere soft. I didn't want him to hurt himself.

I took a quarter of his tail as a keepsake, any more seemed undignified. And I took his halter with his name on it, and at home, I lit candles, and put up a picture on the little altar, next to his tail, and said a prayer and told God to look after him because he is a very special person, a friend.

So much love. So much love and kindness pours out when these things happen, from friends and acquaintances, and even people you know hardly at all. So much love exists in the world, and there it is, magically appearing when we need it, flooding over us, a warm bath of it. There are flowers, pink and orange and red, and phone calls, and text messages, and the most eloquent expressions of sadness and support.

The tragedy is that he was so young. Just six, still considered, honestly, a baby. "It's such a cruel disease" said the vet. I think I was sobbing unashamedly at this point, and uncontrollably. It's unbelievably cruel.

But he saved me when I really needed saving. And I saved him when he could have just been cast aside (ex-racehorses don't always have a dignified or comfortable life, or any life at all, after racing). And we took care of each other, like the Famous Five, although there were only three of us (Bean came too, on our adventures) and, to be honest, he wasn't a huge fan of ginger beer, or egg sandwiches.

And tonight I walked out on the hillside in Laurel Canyon, as I do each night with the dogs, so that they can pee and snuffle around, and there was a big blue moon and I knew it was for Jelly (apparently I turn into Cher in "Moonstruck" at these moments. And I sat down in front of my favorite asparagus tree (agave americana) and an owl landed right at the top and stared me down. He was there for about seven minutes. I switched off my flashlight and put my phone away so it was just me, the moon, the owl, and the dogs, sitting quietly, and the occasional hum of a passing car in the canyon. Maybe I've read too much Harry Potter, or maybe I'm too much a fan of shamanistic tales, but that was a sign, that all is well, that Jelly has gone over to the other side, where he is galloping in miles and miles of glorious green pasture, feeling free and warm and surrounded by love.

The Mower

The Mower


The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.


-- Philip Larkin

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Beauty



Jelly -- a brave horse





I got the call from my vet at 7.20am. His was the second opinion I'd been waiting for. It's not good news. Not at all. Horses with a neurological disorder are rated on a scale of 0-5, 5 being worst. His is a 3, taking into account that he falls to his knees often (while grazing, but, interestingly, not with me on his back except once on a particularly vertiginous cliff side path in the Angeles National Forest). However, because he falls and because they think the condition is worsening, the vet doesn't think it would be fair to keep him at pasture. That and the fact that we don't know how much pain he is in. In addition to his nerve endings being shot, there is a possibility of osteo-arthritis. And again, because he was trained to race, he may have fallen and broken his neck. Clearly the neck is at issue here; he sets it and doesn't like to move it far from where he sets it. Asking him to bend, which we've been trying to do, is almost physically impossible for him. So this morning, in the cold grey light, I heard the very worst news. Sitting at my desk, naked, because I'd leaped out of bed to get the phone, and shivering, and trying to sound like a grown up with the vet. And everyone has been so incredibly kind and sweet and supportive, but we have to choose what's right for him, and that, according to the opinion of two vets, is not to live in a happy green pasture for the rest of his days, however long them may be. The vet comes on Saturday in the morning to put him to sleep. And my heart is heavy.

There is no doubt that I was in shock when I wrote that last post. My lovely man, who is kind and good and gentle, told me to go home and write about Jelly and that's what I did. I think about all the things I do when I think about my old dogs that have to go; that there is in fact a grassy green field in the sky, filled with trees and birds and sunlight, and a nice little stream of fresh water, where they can frolic forever. It's not the same with a young horse. He's still a baby. It seems grossly unfair.



On Sunday I took him apples, green and red. The green he ate lustily, squirting green apple snow everywhere. The red ones were a little mealy and not to his taste, but he closed his eyes, leaned slightly against me and took tiny little polite bites, munching slowly and letting most of it fall out of his mouth, so as not to offend me. I brush him and he sighs, closes his eyes again, nuzzles me. "You're a good boy, Jelly" I say, over and over. He is my brave, brave boy.

You know, I had a dream that we'd ride across America together. I was inspired by the book "Last of the Saddle Tramps," the true story of Mesannie Wilkins, who, at 63, with a year to live, set across the country from Maine to California with her horse and dog, made friends along the way, and ended up on the Art Linkletter show.  As we wandered through the National Forest, or traipsed through streams, I'd tell him about it. I'd imagine him as a pack horse, with our food and bedding and tell him we'd camp on the beach and swim in the ocean. It's nuts, I know. But he's the kind of animal that inspires that kind of thinking. He is so brave and so bold and will do anything I ask of him, just because I ask it. I know he loves me, and that's why this whole thing is so bloody hard.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

really quite horrible news



My sweet little baby horse, my brave, big-hearted guy who gives me his all, and nickers at me when I arrive to see him whether or not I have carrots, has a neurological disorder.  I didn't think today's vet visit would bring such numbing news. I drove out to Moorpark in the middle of the day and he whinnies at me, as he does, the sweet, big doofus of a brown horse, whose feet never seem to know where they are, the boy who closes his eyes when I rub his face, and we wait cheerfully for the vet. The problem is, he doesn't like to bend (and horses are supposed to bend) and he falls down to his knees when he grazes (I just thought he was young) and he sets his neck (they're supposed to flex at the poll) and he's been with lovely cowboy Dan, who fixes everyone's problem horses, just a little bit too long, so we thought that perhaps the vet might shed some light.

A barrage of tests later, all of which he failed miserably, and we discover it's really bad. Neurological disorder caused either by a virus (like West Nile or EPM) or by a fall (perhaps when he was a baby on the track he rolled head over heels) or perhaps his bones grew too fast for his tendons. It wasn't good. The vet, a very nice man who told me that his wife is 6ft 2 and looking for her perfect horse, couldn't have been more professional or clinical in his assessment. We went through the test methodically. He pointed out why he was doing what he was doing, and gave me context. And my little (big - 16.2, brown thoroughbred, off the track) horse, tied to a pole, winked at us and made faces and made us laugh. And then I asked that question you're not supposed to ask. "If he was your horse, what would you do?" And he looked at me and paused. And then he looked down and said "I'd put him down."

I'm not sure when shock actually sets in but I know the way it feels and it was in my body. All the loss and trauma, all at the same time. He's an animal, of course, but he's my partner, my friend, my solace, my every single weekend, my saviour, my lovely, lovely boy. I'm not being dramatic. There is not another thing in the world that cheers me up like being with him. Simple, calm, funny, loving, and brave.

The single quality I admire most in a person is courage. And he has it in spades. While hurting, quite a lot, one would imagine, he jumped big fences with me, tried his heart out, did everything I asked, just because I asked it. No-one but me and Deni, the brave girl of an assistant trainer, could ride him. He leaned, he changed leads, he bucked, he reared sometimes, not meanly, but he stood up, sometimes he wouldn't go forward, sometimes he rolled his eyes. And it was all pain. It didn't make sense that such a sweet, kind horse would behave that way. He was champion at the horse show. He has the biggest stride and was unbeatable in a jump off. I think it was the adrenaline that got him round, every single time. But we didn't know it.

And so I find myself in bed, eat cold peanut sesame noodles and drinking a California pinot noir, with my dogs by my side, absolutely numb and not sure who to tell, or how.

Liz, who helps out with the horse, confided in me today that her Australian shepherd, who's a pest because he rounds up everything and thinks he's a dog trainer and a horse trainer and generally likes to keep everyone in line, and has even been zapped with a shock collar to stop this annoying behavior, is actually very intuitive. "Every day" she said, "we'd come out to the barn and he would walk over to Jelly's corral (he's in an in-and-out stall) and stare at him and then bark." Like Lassie, he thought something was wrong and that a human should know about it. She paid attention, and while they were working in the round pen (a circular pen with wooden sides so the horse can't see out, which mimics to some extent lunging in English equitation) she noticed how he hung on the bit, and leaned hard on the rein when his head was pulled around. "I've never seen such a sweet horse hang so hard on a bit" she said. And of course, this is from all the awful pain in his neck.

My daughter, who is wise and brave and loves horses as I do, asked if I was snuggling with the doggies and drinking Ribena. "Horses" she said "are our partners." There is not other sport like this, where you are equal partners with your horse, and the best thing you can ever ask for is a horse that tries his heart out, and my little Jelly does that, again and again.

I don't really know what to do. But it helps to express it here, somehow.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Look up

Summer shouldn't arrive unexpectedly; it's the most predictable thing we have, the passing of time, the migration of birds, the longer days, the warmer air, the buzz of bees becoming louder. But for me, with my head down, it did. At a quarter to six this morning, the light came in and I walked into the kitchen in my white cotton nightdress, the one I usually take with me to Norway and reserve for those white nights when I'm awake at three and watching the sun rise over the bay, and realized that summer had indeed arrived, and with it, birdsong.

We are as closed and as boxed in as we want to be. Just one step away from one's desk, one step outside, one breath of pollen-saturated air, and the world changes. But that's where I've been, head down, treading water or time, or whatever it's called when you're doing things but waiting for The Greatness to arrive. I say that to Charlie, I call him and I say "I'm just waiting till this life starts" and then I realize that I'm in it and all is well and that there is no great catastrophe, and that summer has arrived without my even knowing, that the world goes on, and on, and on, despite my self-woven cocoon.

"You're never alone," he says, and he's right. I behave as if I am because I sometimes forget that the Universe is there, right next to me, within me, outside of me, all around, doing its thing, making sure everything comes true, and right, the way it's meant to. "Believe in the universe" I tell everyone "and its power to open doors for you; it will conspire to help you" but then I see my head down, focused on my keyboard, my clients, my feet, the floor. And then, yesterday, I looked up and the sunlight was in the eucalyptus tree about my desk, through the skylight, and it was a moment of magic. There are signs everywhere.

A video posted by Bumble Ward (@bumbleward) on

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Finisterre

FINISTERRE
The road in the end taking the path the sun had taken,
into the western sea, and the moon rising behind you
as you stood where ground turned to ocean: no way
to your future now but the way your shadow could take,
walking before you across water, going where shadows go,
no way to make sense of a world that wouldn't let you pass
except to call an end to the way you had come,
to take out each frayed letter you brought
and light their illumined corners, and to read
them as they drifted through the western light;
to empty your bags; to sort this and to leave that;
to promise what you needed to promise all along,
and to abandon the shoes that had brought you here
right at the water's edge, not because you had given up
but because now, you would find a different way to tread,
and because, through it all, part of you could still walk on,
no matter how, over the waves. 
- David Whyte (from Pilgrim)






Friday, April 15, 2016

The Fog Town School of Thought

They should have taught us birds and trees
in school, they should have taught us beauty
and weaving bees and had a class
on listening and standing alone—
the children should have studied light
reflected from a spider web,
we should have learned the branches of streams
spread out like fingers or the veins
of a leaf—we should have learned the sky
is the tallest steeple, we should have known
a hill is a voice inside the sky—
O, we should have had our school
on top and stayed until the night
for the fog to bloom in the hollows and rise
like cotton spinning off a wheel—
we should have learned a dream—a child's
and even still a man's—is made
from fog and love, my word, you'd think
with the book in front of us we should
have learned how Fog Town got its name.



-- Maurice Manning