Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Horse's Lazy Sunday

The novel Black Beauty by Anna Sewell has probably never gone out of print since it was first published in 1877. It popped into my mind on Sunday as the Resident Teen and I watched her horse frolic on a pretty spring afternoon, reminding me of the scene in which kind cabdriver Jerry lets Beauty enjoy an afternoon in a pasture far from the busy streets of London after a short Sunday drive:

When my harness was taken off, I did not know what I should do first--whether to eat grass, or roll over on my back, or lie down and rest, or have a gallop across the  meadow out of sheer spirits at being free; and I did all by turns.

Avi is hardly the much-put-upon carriage horse that Beauty is--he's got nothing, nada, zip to complain about--but like Beauty he kicked up his heels and enjoyed all these horsy activities by turns:

"I know. I make it all look easy, don't I."

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Riding Horses vs Writing Horses

I covered reams of paper with scenes like this...
When I was a girl, all I could think about was horses.

Like many horse-crazy girls, I plastered my room with horse posters, lined the shelves with horse statues, read and reread every horse book in the library, and galloped around the back yard tossing my hair ("flowing mane") and neighing (much to the irritation of the people next door).

I took riding lessons for two years, fell off once (my fault, Snowball), but managed to stick on going over jumps up to three feet high.

I also spent countless hours drawing pictures of my dream horse, a palomino Arabian stallion called Golden Stardust, who was going to found a dynasty of palomino Arabians, and writing stories about such noble steeds. Plus I was going to be a jockey.

Never mind that palominos don't necessarily breed true, meaning you won't always get golden foals with white manes and tails. Never mind that Arabians technically do not possess the "cream dilution gene" that produces a palomino and that palomino Arabians are actually genetically chestnut horses with blond manes and tails.

And never mind that I now weigh about two jockeys.

I think this blur is a horse called Udam, who finished in third place.
I thought about all this as we attended a glorious equine event the other night: the 2014 Spring National Jumper competition at the Evergreen Equestrian Park in Monroe. It was the last night of the show and featured the Grand Prix.

In Grand Prix events, horse and rider bound over (hopefully) from 10 to 16 jumps, some of which may be more than 5 feet high or more than 6 feet wide.

Most of the horses flew over the jumps. Some gave a jaunty kick in midair as they sailed over the top. One particularly flashy gray flagged his dramatic white tail as he galloped and leaped; another bore down on each jump like a terrier going after a rat.

A few riders lost stirrups and looked as if they'd fall off any second while others seemed like a natural extension of the horse. A few horses threw their heads around as if they had bees up their nostrils while others were dead serious about their jobs.

The Resident Teen's trainer, Katherine Wade-Easley, aboard
Smooth Criminal (a.k.a. Toby), who finished 6th in the event.
It was terrifying to watch the ones who seemed out of control, inspiring to watch the ones who literally took it all in stride, even if they rapped a pole here or knocked down a pole there.

I thought a lot about who and what I thought I'd be when I grew up, and how my love of horses never translated into being dead-set on acquiring one and mastering the fundamentals of horsemanship.

No doubt fear and lack of confidence had a role to play; the last time I was on a horse and it bucked, it scared the bejesus out of me and I had no "emergency drill" in place to respond. (The bucking felt like crowhopping to the sky, to me; the Resident Teen, who was watching, noted that the mare's hind feet were actually barely two inches off the ground.) Certainly lack of opportunity was a factor, too.

But as I watch the Resident Teen follow her passion for horses, I am happy to realize that I'm content with the way my own fondness for them has developed.

She has long since jettisoned the toy horses and little glass statues for the down-to-earth and practical as she pursues her sport, and shown that despite our shared love of horses, she is certainly no Mini-Me; she has grit and self-preservation skills when it comes to horses that I don't and never did.

I think it's amazing that she's not intimidated by going over huge jumps; she thinks it's amazing that I can manage a budget, a schedule, and a freelance job.

(At least I can still manage to impress in one sphere of life!)

It's been nice to discover that there are as many ways to appreciate horses as there are kinds of horses, just as you can be a train fan without being an engineer, a birder without being an ornithologist, or a patron of the arts without being in an orchestra.

I don't know why it took me half a century to realize this. After all, my dad designed F-14 Tomcats and other fighter aircraft but wasn't a pilot.

So I'm quite enjoying my role as a spectator and handmaiden to a horse and rider. The Resident Teen, when she was the Resident Preschooler, told me that when she had a stable as an adult, I could muck out the stalls. Now she even says that yes, I may even be able to keep some old bombproof horse or pensioner pony of my own.

We've come a long way. As long as my non-palomino, non-Arabian, definitely-not-stallion steed can carry two jockeys, we're good.


Monday, April 21, 2014

New Garden, Full of Surprises

Though our family near and far currently endures a measure of misfortune and illness, and a fog of shell-shocked weariness engulfs us, the beauty of spring still has the power to startle and delight--especially as it's our first spring in our new home and so we get to enjoy weekly surprise parties courtesy of the perennials, shrubs, and trees as they bloom.

Somebody planted this place with azaleas and rhododendrons in dazzling shades of purple...
...and red. The delicate interiors of the flowers are just as lovely as the vivid petals.

Sprightly little plants also spring up uninvited, but welcome; here's a pansy that's
quite at home in the paving stones of a path to the back deck.
It's completely unfazed by the dog galloping over it daily.

I had no idea a graceful bleeding-heart adorned the slope out front
by the culvert that catches runoff water until suddenly there it was, in full bloom, dangling its pink earrings in the breeze.

A magnolia topping out at about 15 feet grows outside my office window.
It looks as if it's holding hundreds of white bone-china teacups up to the sky.

The central parts of a magnolia blossom look like something out of a Chihuly glass exhibit. The green-gold tentacles are the pistils, or seed-producing parts; the pink fingerlike structures are the pollen-producing stamens. Beetles and bees are the pollinators.

This small plant grows in ground-covering clusters in the shade.
It grows so well that I was sure it was either a nice native plant
or a horrible invasive non-native that Washington State law
would mandate must be dug up and destroyed.
After some research, I learned that it's a variety of
Spotted Dead Nettle (nice name, yeah) and that,
though there's a black sheep in the family called "white nancy,"
this purple variety hasn't been singled out as an invader.

Last autumn's leaves form a still life in the bird bath along with catkins from this spring's growth.

Kitty came with us from our last home. She now dozes on soft moss,
sprinkled by fir needles and cherry blossoms.

We lugged our rhubarb plants with us, too.
They'll have a year to settle in before we harvest them again.

Hooray for Spring!

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Writing Process Tour

My friend Rachael Conlin Levy asked me if I would participate in an online blog meme called My Writing Process, and I couldn't say no because I admire her and appreciate her so very much. Rachael is a journalist, a beautiful writer, a wonderful cook, a creative homemaker, a talented knitter, and a sensitive photographer. You can enjoy her words and images on her blog, The Slow-Cooked Sentence
What am I working on?

As a writer for hire: assorted nonfiction books. In my (precious few) spare hours: a middle-grade novel and a few picture books.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I must retreat beneath a bushel basket from this question. Although I can put forth my credentials for writing a particular project and believe in my ability to do the job well, it makes me extremely uncomfortable to answer this! 
Why do I write what I do?
Because I love to research and to write. I love animals, science, and natural history and feel very fortunate to be writing about the topics that have interested me since I was a little kid.
How does my writing process work?
Most of my work is nonfiction, so my writing process usually begins with mountains of reading. I take out dozens of books from libraries and visit oodles of websites. If necessary I contact experts. I am delighted to have an excuse to buy a few new or used books, too. Then I create a rough outline for the book and go from there. 

If I'm working on a picture book of my own, then I write with a black Uni-ball Signo pen on looseleaf in a binder or a spiral notebook. I doodle a lot in the margins. Usually horses or googly-eyed dogs. Or stupid-looking birds and dragons. I write my blog on my blog site instead of cutting and pasting it, because cutting and pasting it from a document usually means Messed-Up Formatting.
Who’s next on My Writing Process blog tour?
Nancy Schatz Alton, who is a freelance writer, editor, and writing coach. She is the co-author of two holistic healthcare guides: The Healthy Back Book and The Healthy Knees Book. She is a regular contributor to ParentMap, where she writes articles and essays about parenting here. Nancy also writes about parenting, learning disabilities, family life, books, writing, cooking, and more on her blog, Within the Words. She is currently working on a memoir. Nancy lives in Seattle with her husband and two daughters. She's a Ballard denizen and thus is a member of the Ballard Writers Collective, where you can read an interview with her. Nancy's entry for the My Writing Process meme will appear on April 21.