16 September 2017

Looking through your horse's eyes

     I have been riding bareback almost exclusively for over 20 years.
It’s not that I dislike a saddle, it’s just that I prefer bareback. I don’t risk my 60+ year old bones: I don’t gallop or jump, etc bareback. I’m not foolhardy. I guess I’m just lazy. It’s so much easier to merely groom, hop aboard, and ride. Besides, when I take off my sweated/begrimed jeans, my cat takes one whiff and goes berserk. She LOVES the smell of ‘horsey pants’. It’s almost obscene, watching her rub and writhe like a porn star, inhaling the scent of horse. Hey, cat, I love the scent of horse, too. 
Ooooh, horsey pants. I LOVE Mom's horsey pants.
Sable loves the smell of a sweaty horse

     Riding without the intervening barrier of a saddle enables me to have an enhanced conversation with the horse. I can feel what his body is thinking. It’s easier for me to project my desires to him, i.e. turn left, and I feel his response that much better.

     But what I like most about riding bareback is that I can more easily see the world through his eyes.

    Horses are exquisitely aware of their surroundings. Not a thing can be moved in the world without their seemingly instantaneous awareness of the change.

    Fortunately, they are fairly calm with the fact, but there are times when it means Something Is Very Different and Therefore, Scary.

    My Arab, Jordan, was always a ‘looker’. He would routinely look UP into the trees as we rode underneath them. His ears were constantly moving, his nostrils working, sampling the air, listening for anything that may be important. He would routinely stop on a trail ride and just look around. I learned this wasn’t just laziness. Once, he stopped, ears pricked and I could feel his back tensing up-to bolt? He was an Arab, after all, one who had to have a shy a day before he would settle down to work.

   But no, this time, after a good five minutes of our standing for no apparent reason, a hiker with a dog emerged from the forest. I had no way of seeing him or knowing he was approaching, but  despite the man being downwind of us, Jordan knew he was coming long before he arrived.

   One time, I was trail riding Jordan bareback and exited the forest into an open area. Jordan shied-because the last several times we’d ridden in that area, it had been chest high in Scotch broom. In the interim, all the broom had been cut down. It had changed. 

  He jumped sideways, and I fell off. (the best reason I know for riding a  short horse is one doesn’t have that far to fall). I had held onto the reins, and Jordan  immediately stopped moving and looked at me curiously, as if to say, what are you doing down there?

   I was able to scramble back aboard (another reason for having a small horse) and then we just looked. I could feel his back muscles tensing, his ears were pricked, nostrils expanded, taking everything in. Something Is Different Here.
   Even after he had accepted that the sudden opening of a previously overgrown area was harmless, still..he took no chances. He double timed through it.

   Now, when I ride Raven, I allow him to stop and just look. I think he appreciates it.
Raven stopping to take a look.
He's looking at some bicyclists just out of the frame.

    I enjoy just sitting on a horse, I don’t need to be doing something all the time. Yeah, I know. There are horsemen who tell me I should always have a plan for when I ride, a goal, always be in a training frame of mind every single time I ride. Every step is supposed to be asked for, every motion rewarded if it’s good and worked through if it’s not. I am supposed to do everything the same way every single time. Every single ride. Really?

   Sorry. That’s not me. I don’t have the focus and my goal has always been ‘don’t fall off.”  When I mount, I usually do so without a thought in my head other than it feels so fine to be riding this magnificent beast. I am not a horse trainer and I am not an expert rider. If he does what I ask when I think to ask it, I’m happy. If he thinks I’m an inept bungler for being inconsistent, he doesn’t seem to hold it against me. He’s kind and loving and patient with me. And I am with him. 
Not my best photographic effort...after all, I am taking from his back, but it does show his lovely eye and frame of mind.

   What I do seek with my horse is that ‘silent lucidity’…that feeling of one mind and two bodies, the link between his mind and mine. I have to purposely and forcibly shush the constant narrative voice in my mind.  Only when I stop listening to my mind, and allow myself to hear his, do I see the world in a different light.

    Though I’ve seen it before, still, there is a different look to the world. I see the sunshine dappling the ground beneath the trees. I hear the wind in the grass. I feel his muscles swish his tail. I see a mare grazing in her paddock, her head moving in a semicircular pattern…step, bite, step, bite, left, right, left, right. I feel his breathing expanding his ribs. I feel the muscles in his back tensing, relaxing. I hear vireos singing in the trees, a raven knocking, a train’s receding whistle.

   This is HIS world, his vision, and I can peer into his mind best when I empty my mind and am bareback. It’s the very same world as it was before I got aboard, but somehow, there is a clarity, a precision of vision that one normally ignores.

   So if you see me seemingly doing nothing, sitting bareback on lovely, black warmblood gelding, the only motion his tail, his eyes, his nostrils, his ears…we’re really not doing nothing.

   We’re looking.

21 August 2017

Total Eclipse of the Sun becomes the worlds largest tailgate party

The Total Eclipse of the Sun of 2017 became one of the most hyped natural events of the decade.

Two years ago astronomers noted that this would be the first total eclipse viewable in a vast swath of the United States since 1918.

At first this was of interest only to astronomers and other scientists such as myself.

However, I noted that where I lived, the eclipse would achieve only 92% totality. Half a loaf is better than none, though. While I planned to ‘watch’ it, I didn’t plan on driving a couple hundred miles south to see the total eclipse. Viewing it from my backyard was good enough for me.  

Somehow and somewhen, though, it stopped being ‘just’ an astronomical event and turned into: an astronomical “EVENT”. As in: a 2500 mile (4,000 km) long party, the like of which hasn’t been seen since Woodstock (which was minuscule in comparison).  I heard that one such event planned on playing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.
Album cover, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon

 I can’t think of a more appropriate title. (Ironically, when Pink Floyd first proposed the title, they learned another band had a song with the same title, so they temporarily titled the album "Eclipse" !!)

 It promised to be the country’s largest tailgate party in history. Small ranching towns such as Madras, OR (population of about  7000 people) was to become a city of several hundred thousand. The city council had a scientist on the board. She realized that it was first landfall, so to speak, for the TES. Madras has everything necessary for viewing: great weather, open land and is easily reached, just off the interstate. The downside: perhaps six motels.
Nevertheless, they put a person in charge, two years ago, to plan for the crowds they were sure would come.

Smart people, who wanted to see it, began making motel and campground reservations a year in advance.

What happened to them is exactly the same thing as did to horsemen when hotel owners in Kentucky suddenly realized that fifty thousand woman would descend on Lexington for the 2010 World Equestrian Games. They all quadrupled their room prices.

 Smart people, like my friend, made (and held with a credit card) hotel reservations a year in advance of the games.  A week before the Games, the hotel refused to admit reservations had been made. Then they upped the price to at least $500 a night. Only a conversation with her lawyer made them realize that at least in her case, they’d lose a lot more money than they would gain.
They did it to a lot of others, though. The same thing has happened with the eclipse: motels were ‘losing’ reservations or gouging the person for a lot more money, take it or leave it. One heard of outrageous rates like “$1600 for one night.”
Even the town of Madras wasn’t exempt from gouging.  The planner had contracted for hundreds of portapotties two years ago. Last week, the portapotty company they’d contracted with said the same thing: the rent has gone through the roof. Pay it or no portapotties.

Greed. Outright greed. Disgusting.

Being that I was staying home, I was unaffected by this, except for one thing: the traffic.

Beginning five days before the TES, traffic started to build on I-5 South. I had to drive about 70 miles north to Seattle on Sunday, the day before the eclipse. Normally, southbound traffic on a Sunday evening is fairly sparse. This time, at noon, the southbound side of the interstate was nuts-to-butts traffic, inching along, at a rate of speed so slow one could have walked faster. It was that way all 70 miles of my trip. There were HUNDREDS of thousands of cars, all headed south. This had been going on for days.

This, I thought, was what a mass evacuation of a big city looks like.

There were thousands of people, all heading for various parts of Oregon. The television stations reported that the small airport, which normally had three landings per day, was seeing a landing every three MINUTES.  

Thank the star(s) that my prairie wasn’t in the path of totality. We would have had this:
One campground outside of Prineville, OR
Below the aircraft’s wings is a picture of a hayfield outside of Prineville, OR. Those aren’t houses. They’re tents and campers, pop up pavilions and tarps. This is just ONE spot in the eclipse’ path that runs from Oregon to South Carolina.
I would guess there are at least a hundred thousand people down there, just in that one spot.

On Thursday, 17 Aug 17, the TV news helicopter filmed a line of vehicles on the secondary road leading (Hwy 97) into Madras that was 30 miles long.
All across the nation, from Oregon to the East Coast, there are towns in the path. Thousands of people all wanting to be under the sun when it’s eclipsed. To see the “tunnel in the sky”, to see the stars come out at noon.

All that, for a two hour or so experience.

Hundreds of thousands of ‘eclipse glasses’ were sold. One, on eBay, was selling for over a hundred dollars. The thing was cardboard and tinted plastic, I think.
Many thousands of those glasses were belatedly found to be counterfeit junk, no more able to protect your vision from permanent retinal damage than tissue paper. I guarantee you, there will be thousands of people who will be seeing an eye doctor in the future due to retinal burns. No insurance will cover what they will call a willful and purposeful, intentional damage to one’s eyesight.

I did see the partial eclipse, indirectly, of course. I value my eyesight and didn’t even think of looking at it. 

I would have liked to have seen the blackened sky, stars in the morning, all that.  
But I primarily wanted to see what, if any, effect it would have on the birds in my area. I can say that there was none. The ravens still klonked in the trees, the purple martins still called high up in the sky, the meadowlarks still sang, the kestrels still hovered over the prairie.

The sunlight, though, was ‘odd’. One could easily see a difference from normal morning light.  It wasn’t at all like sunlight at sunset or sunrise. Here, the totality, such as it was, occurred at 1015 hrs. The sunlight dimmed, as if on a dimmer switch. It appeared as it does when one wears polarized sunglasses. It got a bit cooler, but then, there was a cool breeze blowing so I don’t know if that was due to the decreased sunlight or the ambient temperature.

It was also easy to know when it was ‘over’. The light came back up, bright and harsh as only an August morning sun can be.

While I didn’t see totality, I did see a partial eclipse and afterwards, I walked back into my house.

I am very happy that I didn’t travel to see it. For after the very brief moments of total eclipse, those thousands and thousands and THOUSANDS of people (some of whom made the journey five days ago) will all now want to go home. Now.

Take five days’ worth of creeping, beeping gridlock and throw all that on the one interstate highway in one day. What ordinarily takes about 5 hours drive from Madras will take days?
Woof. It’s going to be very, very bad. All it takes is one accident, one incident of road rage,  or a stretch of road construction (which, at least in my state, is everywhere), to stop all traffic. 

If the highways were bad yesterday, I can only imagine what they will look like NOW.

In fact, I just did. Oregon’s Dept of Transportation website says that the ‘drive’, such as it is, between Salem, OR and Portland, OR (usually about a 45 minute drive) is currently taking 3.5 HOURS. And once they hit Portland it can only get worse. Even on its best traffic day, the 13 mile drive on I-5 North, from Portland, OR to the Columbia River bridge can take two hours.

Yeah, I missed the total eclipse of the sun. I sure didn’t miss the hellacious drive after it. 
Eclipse of the Sun becomes the world's largest tailgate party 

06 July 2017

The hardest part of being a delivery driver

One of the many jobs I held after retiring from the military was as a delivery person. 

I delivered flowers, balloons, and potted plants. This entailed a great deal of sitting down (driving) for long periods of time, and trying to find addresses in a rural/suburban county using a lousy map. 

Often, the address was almost impossible to find, as the people sometimes didn't WANT to be found, or there were no numbers on the house, or a street had no name sign, or the numbers on the invoice were transposed, making me having to ask if this really was the Jones residence and no, thanks, if not you can't have the flowers. 

I was once, unwittingly, sent to the worse part of town, where the street was covered with syringes and spent bullet casings, and the people on the street stopped talking and looked at me with malice and suspicion. But the recipient of the flowers was so very grateful for my efforts.  It wasn't until afterwards that my boss told me three other flower shops had refused to deliver there because of the risk. Gee, thanks.

I had to use my own vehicle, meaning I had to pay for fuel, maintenance, insurance, etc. 
I wasn't compensated for it, and it was a part time, minimum wage job. Pay was augmented by a small 'stipend'..fifty cents to a dollar per delivery. That was, I suppose, the companies compensation for using my own ride.
I was told I could keep any tips I received, but never once did I get one. The boss was a sweetheart but the company was run by a cut throat, lowest bidder bunch of cheapskates. They paid us virtually nothing. Management made millions.

This company had its headquarters in Maryland, but had tentacles all over the country, serving smaller markets. They had a contract with Teleflora, the bunch with Mercury as their logo.
Let me warn you: when you buy flowers for someone and have it delivered, it may nor may NOT be what you picked out from the company's lovely pictures. It all depends on what the latest shipment of flowers consists of. If you ordered very expensive lilies and none are available, your recipient isn't going to get lilies. The arrangers will stick something cheaper in the arrangement, and you will still pay for the lily. You won't be told this, mind you, especially if you order online.

Oh, and those lovely, tightly closed roses? The ones that cost an arm and a leg? Well, that's not how they look when they come into the shop. The rose that comes out of the box from the shipper is the size of a softball, with all the outer petals dead. The arrangers strip 75% of the petals away, until she gets to the tight bud. THAT's what you are paying for: a rose that was cut two weeks ago, packed in ice, shipped from Columbia or Ecuador, and then stripped, de-thorned and stuck in a plastic sleeve with a packet of crystals that you add to water to 'lengthen' the life of the flower.

It's a hoax. You can't extend the life of something that is dead. 

IT'S DEAD. The flower is dead. The only thing that the extender stuff does is cost you money.
By the way, instead of paying a lot of money for extender, here's a cheap and easy recipe for it: 

1 tsp (5 mL) sugar
1 tsp (5 mL) bleach
2 tsp (10 mL) lemon juice
1 Qt (1 liter) cold water. 
Mix and store in glass jar until needed

It's what the shop used for those displays of roses.

One day I was told they had to cut back, so  from now on, I would be paid ONLY the stipend, not a paycheck. When you put ten dollars of your own money in your gas tank and you make 5 dollars total in delivery fees, you know what it means. It means management wants you to quit so they don't have to pay unemployment.

So I quit. Much wiser, now, and with a solid map in my head of every spot in the county.
Given all that, you would think that the above things were the worst part of the job?

Not hardly. Actually, I liked being autonomous. Here's a bunch of flowers and a list of addresses to deliver them to, be back in time to punch out because we don't pay overtime.

No, it wasn't all that. 

THIS is what I hated about the job:Seeing the neglect of animals.

From: Transcend media.org

from: shutterstock.com

From: unchain your dog.org

source and location unknown

internet source unknown

From: arryr.org

If you want to see some horrific images...many times worse than these, just google images with the terms abuse, neglect, etc.

EVERY DAY I saw shit like this: horses in tiny pens no bigger than a bedroom, without a scrap of hay. Mud up to their hocks. Wounds raw and covered with flies. Hooves overgrown and curling up like elf shoes.  Their tails so ratted with cockleburs it was painful to look at. Bones sticking out everywhere. Halters left on their heads until the skin had grown over them. Dogs chained to stakes, or trees, their small spot of movement bare of anything but rocks. Dogs pacing, curled up in abject defeat, and being raped at the end of her chain by a loose dog.
The dogs were insane. The horses were depressed.

This is no way to keep an animal. No. How badly I wanted to drag the owners out into the cold, the heat, the wet, and chain THEM to a tree with no water, no food, nothing. How badly I wanted to kick the living shit out the assholes who stuck a horse in a pen without any room to move, to run, to stretch out and sleep.
A few years ago, a man was arrested (and subsequently released with a hand slap) because he'd bought a horse for his kids, stuck it in a hastily erected dog kennel, left a five gallon bucket of water and a bale of hay...and then left for a week. What? that isn't enough food? He was mad because the guys building his house ratted him out to the cops.

How many times I saw horses and dogs neglected,chained, kept in filth, unfed, untouched, unloved.
The worst of it was there was nothing I could do. Oh, yes, of course, I could report it to the police, who would then shunt my complaint to Animal Services, who made the determination that it wasn't within city limits so it wasn't their jurisdiction despite the fact that my tax dollars from an unincorporated part of the county pays for them. I would be advised to talk to a rescue organization, don't bother us. I couldn't photograph, I couldn't trespass, I couldn't scream at the owners until I felt better.

In another case about three miles from my village, Miss Paula Jean Nichols, supposedly a 'talent scout' 'dance instructor' 'boxer breeder', had 15 horses (three more were found dead and skeletonized in her pathetic excuse of a barn) on five barren acres, and 8 boxers in a kennel about 6x8 feet. The animals were taken from her, she went to court to get them back because they were her 'family". The judge, smarter than most, said no effing way. So "Miss Paula" (that's what her sign in front of her house called her) moved to Mason County, one with more areas to hide in. Last I heard, she allowed a litter of boxer puppies to die because she didn't heat their ''kennel'.  

It's always the same litany of excuses: 
The owners "didn't know", "can't afford to feed them", "they're not that bad" and of course, it took an act of god to take the animals away from them because they're property, not people.
Most of the time they protest, but by this time, so many of their neighbors are so fed up with the person that they whine and then shut up.
The unsung heroes of animal rescuers are angels, but there's only so much they can do.
(in fact, my Barnlord rescues her favorite breed of dog).

Once in a while, the asshole goes much further. a shithead woman in my county was a puppy mill breeder: raising dozens of Borzois (Russian wolfhounds). They were taken away from her by a Borzoi Rescue organization; fed, cleaned, medicated,  spayed, neutered, groomed up into something beautiful and then put up for adoption. The owner is STEALING THEM BACK, one by one. She's gotten three of them back, and can't be found. But the rescuers know who she is and what she's doing.

(update: these two were found and have subsequently adopted out.)

Having to quit, then, wasn't such a bad thing. For one, while I know it's still going on, I don't have to drive past these poor creatures feeling powerless. The second point is that quitting my job kept me out of prison.

Because every time I'd see these poor animals, all I wanted to do was put a bullet into the owners heads.

From Pintrest. 

I forgot to ad this poem. I don't know who wrote it. But he or she felt my pain.

Alone again

I wish someone would tell me
What it is that I’ve done wrong,
Why I have to stay chained up
And left alone so long.

They seemed so glad to have me
When I came here as a pup,
There were so many things we’d do
While I was growing up.

They couldn’t wait to train me,
As companion and as friend,
They told me they would never fear
Being left alone again.

The children said they’d feed me,
Said they’d brush me every day,
They’d play with me and walk me,
If only I could stay.

But now the family hasn’t time.
They often say I shed.
They won’t allow me in the house,
Not even to be fed.

The children never walk me,
They always say “Not now!”
I wish that I could please them,
Won’t someone tell me how?

All I have is love, you see,
I wish they would explain,
Why they said they wanted me
Then left me on a chain.

Author unknown