Posts Tagged ‘Equinox’

The Post of Don Sam Incognito

September 21, 2011

Looking back at last year’s blog entries, I see that I have slacked off quite a bit on writing here.  Tonight, recovering from a sore throat that ended with laryngitis, I’ve got a bit of unencumbered time.  Normally, I’d be in adult ballet class, sweating away, but my voice is still gone, my throat still a bit sore, and I decided to stay home.

The leaves have passed the peak gold—I think the best day was Sunday, when Alayne Blickle of Horses for Clean Water was here for a workshop organized by my horse club, University Equestrian Network, with the help of Interior Horse Council, Interior Horsemen’s Association, the UAF Office of Sustainability, the UAF Alumni Association, and Camp LiWa, where the workshop was held.  I’m adding their links so all seven of my readers can check them out.  It was a gratifying collaboration.   Alayne had lots to offer us: ideas for dealing with run-off, ideas for incorporating native plants into a horse property, solutions to manure and mud issues, barn and facility design.  She had the impressive ability to listen to our complaints and excuses about our situations without sounding critical—there are limits to what we can do depending on budget, time, availability of help, but I think we all came away seeing that our horses can be a part of a larger network of growing things.  Here at Mattie’s Pillow, I sometimes look at Mattie and Sam as manure producers—a valuable commodity among my gardening friends.  I can’t always keep enough manure here for my greenhouse and raised beds—especially once spring rolls around.

I took Alayne to see several horse properties while she was here and the blue sky and gold leaves set off the day and the good conversation.  I look forward to following up on the ideas she inspired.

The summer’s riding is pretty much over, though the days are nice enough for trail rides—if only I weren’t sick or so busy at the beginning of the semester.  I’m looking forward to groundwork again this winter, polishing up those areas that have gotten rusty in the rush of summer’s saddle up and go pace.  Sam is looking better now than he did a few weeks ago, now that I’m adding Vitamin E to his diet.  I’ll still have him tested for Cushings—and I’m reading up on all that will involve for him and for me.  It would be nice if his shaggy patchy coat this year could be attributed to a vitamin deficiency, but it hardly seems likely with the fancy supplement he gets (Platinum) and the fact that he’s done so well on it till now.  We’ll see.  An older horse has special nutritional needs, and at the last tooth floating, it seemed like he might not ever be rid of his wave—he’s getting short in the tooth, which is what horses get after getting long in the tooth, since they have a finite length of tooth that grows out and grinds down over a lifetime.

So, I’m shifting the way I think of Sam.  He will probably not ever go back to his youthful glory, but he needs to have a job or purpose for these later years.  He’s too much of a scaredy cat for much trail riding, and he continues to be the trickster in all things.  I may try teaching him actual tricks, now that I have a better understanding of what that takes.  Perhaps learning more about clicker training this winter will help.

As for Mattie, she had a good summer’s training at the Intro A, B, C level.  She’s 15 now, and gradually developing a twist in her stifle at the walk that may be a problem down the road.   She’s mellowed out lots, though still has her ears-back style.  Ground work is in order for her, too, this winter.  I’ll try to take her out on the road a few times before the dust settles and we are in full winter.  It all goes by so fast.

The moon is half full, now, fuzzy behind some low clouds.  A neighbor’s dog has adopted us—she was up on the deck with Jeter when I came home this afternoon, her creamy Lab head peeking below the deck benches beside his curly chocolate head.  She’s young and goofy—I put out a sign on the road and called the shelter to leave my number.  I expect someone is looking for her, but we walked her around the neighborhood, and she doesn’t seem to have a clue where she belongs.  The leaves are spinning down from the trees—there’s gold above and gold below.  It’s a dizzy time, full of smells and motion, brilliant light and deepening darkness.  We’re teetering on the edge of the season.

Poetry Challenge 65

March 22, 2011

We are well into the season of light here in the Interior.   Everywhere, the sun intensifies the whiteness of snow, or gleams off the slick patches of ice still on the road since November’s ice storm.  The air is warm during the day–or warm for us, in the 40s.   On the south-facing sides of snowbanks, the light is carving away the packed snow into the shape of a wave, arching and crashing slowly, in one-frame-at-a-time stop animation, into summer still months away.

Today I heard MFA student Eddie Kim present his poetry thesis and thought about how his poems both invited the reader, like the March sun does, and kept the reader at a distance, like the ice patches, or the below zero nights.   A poem lures us in then pushes us back, surprises us, or challenges us.  Do we make the meaning for the reader?  Is the meaning only in what the reader brings to the poem?  Or like  sun on snow, do we carve a new shape, a new vision for the reader so imperceptibly that he or she is moved without even knowing why or how?

Write about something that moves you and something that pushes you back.  Write about something beautiful in something unlovely.  Write about the profound in the ordinary.

Post it as a comment and I’ll add it to this post.


Here’s a poem from Greg at 21st Romantic:


She paints herself
in long lines
and short punctuations of color, swings
open drawers, blasts

the hairdryer through her
thick black hair, hair as heavy
as night, not like
the light fluff

of shadows. Her lancing–so
purposeful, so
crafted, as if
appearance could be everything

in Art–pricks a
question: how much
does appearance matter
to an Artist? Is she

like a cook
protecting a secret ingredient?
The same ingredient mothers
stir in potatoes? And so what

more could he offer her, then? As he
drapes his arms over her
shoulders like two long, white locks
of hair, curling; both faces

reflect in her vanity
mirror, smiling. What was the man guarding
when he instructed her, “look at the us that we
will never be”?

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

September 22, 2010


Today was the fall equinox, the balance point between our season of extravagant light and the introspective dark of winter. Tonight, as I write this, the moon hangs full in the southern sky over the Tanana Flats, just above a bright speck of planet low to the horizon. For the last few weeks, we’ve had warm, even hot days, gradually cooling to the high 60s during the day, chillier at night. Today, however, the forecast is for colder air to move in from Canada, bringing the chance of frost, even here on the ridge.

This evening, around 7, I went out to feed the horses and felt the deepening chill in the air. It was still pretty light, and I noticed my surprise at this fact—more evidence that deep down, I’m preparing myself to accept winter. I’ve been delaying dealing with the garden, though we’ve been eating from it every day, but tonight I knew I couldn’t delay any more. I brought out some woven grocery bags and picked the pole beans, the yellow French beans curled into Cs and the purple and green Rattlesnake beans—new this year—hanging straight and full. I put the squash into separate bags—small yellow crookneck, golden patty pan, a few small delicata, and three huge zucchini. I went to the greenhouse and moved all the tomato plants that I had left around the outside of the greenhouse into the greenhouse with the more privileged plants, then went back to the house and ran three five-gallon buckets full of hot water to keep the edge off the chill in the greenhouse. Then I went up on the deck and brought in the pots of herbs and the still-flowering geraniums and covered the tomato plants I had to leave outside with a large sheet of clear plastic. I looked around at the pots of flowers on the deck: deep purple and pale yellow petunias, marigolds, orange and pale blue and purple and yellow pansies, lobelia, verbena, lupine. Some of it will take a light frost. Maybe it won’t frost at all—we’ve been lucky so far. But there was frost on the grass in places at the university this morning as I made my way to class, and my toes were cool in my sandals.

We are nearly ready after this lovely reprise of summer. Yesterday we picked up the last of our year’s supply of hay from the Mayo fields. The bales were paper-dry and light enough to make the job of stacking easy. The sun slanted on the field, we saw a family walking along the farm road with a stroller, and Jeter the poodle had a grand time running through the open space to greet the walkers, the other trucks, and us in our separate trucks. Tonight, the new hay gave off a bittersweet scent, rich with the stored sunlight in each blade that will warm Mattie and Sam’s bellies through the coldest season.

Later tonight, we watched a short film on PBS about the poet William Stafford. I don’t know how this all fits together, except to see Stafford’s face in the film and to hear his voice and the voices of others reading his poems reminded me of how much his poems have worked their way into my sensibility. He had a way of looking sideways that included rather than excluded the viewer, and he was one who proved Dickinson’s point that “the mind is wider than the sky.” In this balance point of the seasons, finding Stafford seemed both reassuring and invigorating. He was the teacher, after all, who told student writers that if they didn’t like what they had written, to “lower your standards.” He was one who wrote poems at conferences and gave them away. I remember years ago meeting him on a path at the university when he was staying in student apartments as a visiting writer. I was a graduate student, and somehow our schedules dovetailed so that he would be returning at the same time I was headed to class. The path to the center of campus led through a small grove of birch trees, and that is the point where our paths would cross. He would nod and smile as if he knew me and wanted to share in that nod and the twinkle of his glance the secret of joy in that moment. I don’t remember if we spoke. It may have been this time of year—at least I imagine there were yellow birch leaves making the path golden.

So now we head into the reflective time of year. By the weekend, I will have given up all resistance and will have picked the tomatoes. We will pull the carrots and dig the potatoes and decide the best way to store the three purple cabbages we have left in the garden. I will be sad that these beautiful plants that I have tended from seeds will freeze. Mattie and Sam will get in a few more rides, or Mattie will; Sam is on rest while he heals from his foot and back soreness (more on that in another post).

And winter, for me, is the time for writing, as Stafford reminds me. I like to think he would have appreciated how much growing plants, building the soil, tending and riding the horses stand in for poetry in the summer months. Or even more, how poetry stands in for and can barely show the surface of the richness of these things.

I hear the clatter of the wind chimes outside on the deck. The window is dark. The season has turned, just like that.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

September 22, 2009

First snow.

In the morning, when I went to feed the horses, the sky was flat gray and a drop or two of drizzle fell—not enough to wet the hay I threw out to them, but enough to serve as a warning.  The greenhouse was still above 40 degrees and I gambled that the snow that had been predicted would hold off till I came home from school in the afternoon.  But as I was packing my laptop and finishing my coffee and getting ready to leave for my 9:45 class, I noticed the first bit of white fluff among the quickening rain, as if someone were shaking a down jacket with a tear—a few fat flakes mixed among the gray.  So, instead of leisurely swallows of coffee, I went out on the deck and brought in the still-blooming geraniums, the pots of thyme, oregano, parsley, rosemary, cilantro, then took scissors and snipped clusters of still-green sungold tomatoes from the deck tomato plants.

Tonight, I went to dinner with Sam’s former owner, Kathy, and Avrille, who rode Sam two summers ago and who just had a baby. Avrille’s mother was visiting the new, three-week-old grandson—the occasion for the dinner, and we sat in Kathy’s living room in the gray light of gathering dusk mixed with snow and talked about horses, babies, dogs.  Kathy’s elderly appaloosa, Prince, wandered in the yard outside the window, grazing on the last of the summer’s grass, his back gray from the rain.  I held Oscar, the baby, for a long time, feeling his sleepy breathing and letting myself drift on the conversation and the gathering night.

We forget about night in the summers here.  We expect to be outside in the light at all hours, in mild air, and amidst the rampant green of our gardens.  Now, after the fall equinox, we begin to realize the inevitable—night is overtaking us.  We are leaving the realm of the outer, the literal, the sun-edged and settling down to the dream-like state of winter.  Not yet, not quite yet—the leaves are still orange-gold, the grass green and spiky, the sunflower still has buds, the broccoli has new sprouts, and the tomatoes in the greenhouse are just turning from green to yellow to red.

When I got home, I gave the horses an extra layer of spruce shavings and filled a five-gallon jug with hot water and took it to the greenhouse to counteract what temperatures night might bring.  I said a thank-you to the still blooming petunias that may not make tonight.  I contemplated all the chores that need to be done before snow settles in for real for the winter: rolling up the hose, taking up the portable electric fence that let Mattie and Sam graze the lawn, covering the horse trailer with a tarp, plugging in the water tank heater, and, sigh, emptying out the greenhouse.  I’ll bring a few pepper and eggplant plants in to coax a bit more growth, and pick the remaining Black Krim, Chianti Rose, and Pompeii Roma tomatoes to ripen in a drawer for the rest of fall.   Then there are the root crops—and once again, I may be chopping them out from under a frozen top layer of dirt.

So much to do, and, now that there’s night, I just want to curl up under a quilt and sleep till spring.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

February 19, 2009

Gray skies today. This morning, as the horses were eating their hay, snow began to fall in big flakes. The wind picked up–unusual for the Interior in winter–and the wind chimes on the deck began to rattle and ring. We’re hearing winter storm advisories on the radio, which means blowing snow at higher elevations–the domes and summits and ridges. Because we live in view of the highest mountain in North America, Denali, 170 miles away, none of the high points around Fairbanks are called mountains even though they would be mountains in other places, say Pennsylvania or Virginia. So we have Chena Ridge, where I live, or Murphy Dome, Ester Dome, Cleary Summit, Eagle Summit. Not mountains, but high enough to have their own micro weather patterns.

We’re more than half way through February, a bleak month in any temperate climate, but here, there’s an odd phenomenon where the returning light just begins to take effect–we have more energy and more daylight to do things in–but is counterbalanced by the persistence of winter. It was 27 below the other night, for example. The temperature dropped rapidly during the day, catching us unprepared. I had gone out to do some clicker work with Mattie and pretty soon had to go back in to warm my hands. The clicker is small and hard to click with gloves on, and I had reached the limit of cold in my fingers before they became painful. So I knew it was colder than 10 above, for at temperatures above that my hands can stay warm for a while from activity and from keeping the rest of me well wrapped. By today, it’s bounced back up above zero, but with wind and wind chill. So, in spite of the returning light, February is unreliable, and we stay in winter mode.

March is harder. There will be a few days that creep to near freezing (warm, by our standards). The light will be equal, day and night, and the sun bright on the snow. We gardeners gaze at our gardens; we can visualize the plants that will grow there in summer. Impatient, we will order seeds and starting soil and plant inside under lights or by a southern window. March is the month when we lose perspective. After Equinox, the days become longer by 7 minutes a day and we remember that flowers are blooming elsewhere. We don’t want to hear about it, really. We will still be sliding through stop signs and into ditches for another month. We will be plowing and shoveling snow and watching it slide off our roofs into mounds. And as the layers of snow melt, we will find all the gloves we thought we lost, or candy wrappers that fell from our cars at 40 below, or the spare change that fell. Not to mention dog poop and horse manure that got snowed over before we got out to clean it up. March is when we find out who the real survivors are by reading the divorce statistics in the newspaper.

The wind chime jingles again. The snow is marshmallow white; the corral looks pristine. Mattie and Sam stand in their shed, out of the wind, nipping at each other’s muzzles over the board wall that separates them. What am I thinking of? Flowers? Carrots? It’s still February.

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