Saturday, November 23, 2013

View From a Horse

My first encounter with a horse occurred when I was 8 or 9 years old. I had won a "Day at a Dude Ranch" for selling newspaper subscriptions. As an adult I am short, 5'5", as a child I was tiny. The massive animal, each of it's teeth seeming as large as my head, terrified me. Climbing on top of one was a feat which required unbelievable bravery from my diminutive self. As I recall they were not even able to adjust the stirrups high enough for me to slip my feet in them leaving my little legs dangling on either side of the beast as they slowly walked us around the corral.

Another day trip I won was to Catalina, a small island off the southern California coast. At Long Beach airport I boarded a plane, for the first time in my life, for the short flight to the island., It was a small seaplane which landed offshore in the Pacific. It is ironic that my first flight was on a plane the likes of which I probably will never experience again. I remember the water washing over the windows as we touched down. There too a portion of the day was given up to horseback riding. At least at this point my legs had grown to a length where I could secure myself on top of the animal, although the stirrups still had to be set to the highest point possible.

A friend of mine in junior high and high school owned a horse. At the time tract homes had not completely taken over the once bucolic valley we lived in. One afternoon, she in front, I in back, rode through the walnut groves and fields which remained. Now that ground has been paved over and filled with the concrete slab foundations of homes which personify suburban sprawl.

My partner and I have ridden through the back acres of farms during weekends enjoying the fall colors in Michigan and the southern portion of Indiana. That portion of the state where the board flat cornfields transition into rolling hills before the terrain slopes down to the Ohio river. Unfortunately rising insurance costs have made the rides unaffordable for many of the small family farms.

We rode through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We were led by a park ranger along wide paths, although my horse seemed obsessed with walking the very edge of the commodious path next to a precipitous drop. It was as if it was exhibiting some sort of equine daredevil death wish, which I did not share.

On the first of my two rides in the jungle covered hills above Puerta Vallarta our gay guide dismounted and said, in Mexican accented English, "We rest here a few minutes." As we sat in a dry riverbed he then declared, "This is the part where we drink Tequila", pulling a flask and shot glass from his bag. After several rounds we returned to the horses and the remainder of our, now somewhat unsteady, ride. On my second ride our less festive straight guide seemed most concerned with attempting to lasso the trees and shrubs we passed along our way. In his defense he did point out a orchid sprouting wild from one of the trees he was attempting to lasso.

Following a rain soaked day we took a muddy ride the next afternoon at the foot of the Grand Tetons. As we climbed to over 7000 feet we looked down at the Snake river winding below.

The perspective is different when on top of a horse. In the saddle, high off the ground, sights you are accustomed to looking up at are at eye level. Your view is more expansive. On a hill atop the animal you can see further than on your own two feet.

There's a relationship, friendly or antagonistic, sometimes cooperative, sometimes not, with the large animal carrying you. I've had horses that are playful and horses that are headstrong, ignoring the instructions you are trying to convey with the reins. Some horses have an attitude which seems to say "I've been on this trail scores of times! I know what I'm doing here better than you!" Others seem less arrogant, although I sometimes think they are merely placating me, just letting me think I am in charge. Some seem resigned to a life of servitude, carrying a person around over ground they have trod countless times before. Some prefer to go slow and steady, some love to gallop. Some horses are friends with others on the trail, some are loners. Like many other animals each one has it's own personality.

The large draft horse I rode in the Tetons, gray hairs in his mane, breathed heavily after carrying me up one steep hillside; even though he avoided the mudslick trail and walked along the grass beside it where he could get better traction during the climb. Yet, at the end of the ride when he was allowed to gallop through  a flat meadow he took off with an exuberance which belied his obvious age. In Mexico I was given a horse named Clown, due to the white markings on his face. However, during the course of the ride he seemed determined to live up to his name with his silly, erratic behavior.

Each ride is different. Each is a unique moment in time. The view from a horse is always an adventure.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Tilting at Windmills

"Would you like to help us fight Monsanto?" He was young, perhaps 19 or 20, innocent and earnest. He stood on a street corner trying to interest passersby in his quest to battle the heartless, soulless corporate monster.

In my youth I held the belief that if enough people banded together we could enact change. I engaged in protest. In a loud public voice I expressed my disapproval of 3 wars, watching these conflicts end only when it was convenient for the government and corporations involved to end them. One still persists, costing us billions of dollars and thousands of lives lost on both sides.

I now watch with a feeling of resign as politicians bicker like children while the world outside their citadels dissolve into chaos and poverty. They spend their days scrambling for power while corporations throw money at them. When they gain power they spend their time and energy attempting to maintain it.

The curious thing is that once they have power they do nothing with it. Or they create laws so ill thought out and byzantine that they only worsen the ills they were meant to alleviate. They play with people's lives like slot machine addicted gamblers while corporate interests shove quarters in their pockets allowing them to pull the levers and spin the dials endlessly.

We are now mandated to buy health insurance from profit making companies or be fined, in Washington parlance "taxed", for not doing so. I was laid off in March of 2012. It was 6 months before I could find new employment. I had a choice to make. Use the meager amount I received from unemployment to continue my health insurance, or, use it to pay my mortgage. There simply was not enough money to do both. I chose my mortgage, which, were I put in the same situation today, would mean I was breaking the law. I would be subject to a government penalty for keeping a roof over my head.

All the while the politicians argue and bicker while 25% of the children in the U.S. live in poverty. Corporations cut costs and raise their already ample profits by laying off staff and slashing the hours and pay of those they retain.

Politicians seek power for powers sake. When they acquire it they use the power to maintain it accomplishing nothing. It's like watching a hamster running an a wheel. Moving endlessly, getting nowhere.

Perhaps if we ditched our republic and formed a parliamentary form of government more varied views would be represented and perhaps compromise, by necessity would be the result. The people voted in to serve the people would actually get down to the business of serving the people.

Till then I go to work, pay my mortgage and now, health insurance premiums, partly subsidised by my employer. I take solace in art, theatre, what travel I can afford and the natural beauty of a warm summer day or the glorious colors of fall. I try to keep my personal impact on the enviorment low, using public transit and my bike whenever possible, while also trying to keep my electrical usage at a reasonable level. I attempt to do what is within my power to do.

The young man stands on the street corner, "Would you like to help us fight Monsanto?" Yes, I would, but sadly I don't know how.....besides, I'm late for work.