Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

October 31, 2010

Halloween night, and winter is here for real.  The moon is past the quarter, slimming to crescent, and the night sky is dark with gathering clouds moving over the valley from the south.  This week, after a long, gradual fall, we had a day of snow and dropping temperatures, so that now snow sits fluffy and dry on the ground, the fence line, the garden beds.  It’s just in time for an Interior Halloween.  Puffy parkas fill out a costume nicely, and kids are unrecognizable in them.

We don’t have many kids in the neighborhood, though a family with three kids has moved in across the street since May.  I’ve given up preparing for kids to come trick or treat, so Halloween passes by like any other day, except that it signals a return to Alaska Standard Time—an extra hour of sleep the first day, darker afternoons for the rest of winter.

Today I went out to work with Mattie and Sam a bit.  Their coats are growing in like thick plush, delightful to touch.  In the mornings when I go out to feed them, sleepy and grateful for the interval of outdoor time that chore offers, I lean my arm over Sam’s back and press my face into his fur.  He’s like a hooved teddy bear, despite his bad behavior at summer’s end.  Mattie is less cuddly in winter.  Cold makes her cranky, but she’ll let me run my hand under her mane and scratch her on the forehead.  She feels like thick velvet and, even with the long coat, gleams in sunlight.

The riding season ended for us shortly after classes began at the university.  We had one last clinic with Hannah in September, during which Sam had a spectacular bucking fit, and Mattie and I earned our Bronze Horsemasters rating on the flat.  I’ve been concerned about Sam—we will never know what set him off: a yellow jacket or the sight of horses and riders emerging from the woods in a nearby field or some soreness or just perversity.  Trish, who was riding him, hit the dirt but fell well and primarily injured her confidence.   Later in the week, Colleen, the vet, came out and we stress tested him for lameness and found that he was very sore in his right front pastern and slightly sore in the left.  We checked saddle fit, and the saddle that had fit him like a glove in the beginning of summer now put pressure on his withers, which had filled out, and the saddle generally didn’t fit the contours of his back as well.  She also gave him a full chiropractic treatment and he seemed to relax immediately.  Poor guy.  By today, he was trotting soundly.  Nevertheless, I’ll have him on a joint supplement for the winter, and probably forever.

It’s been the political season, too.  I reflect back on the entry I wrote when Obama was inaugurated—how happy and hopeful I felt.  This political season has been gritty and stranger than usual, even in Alaska, where we have a three-way race for Senator.  I follow politics avidly, though I rarely write about them here.  As someone who teaches writing and whose students are often on their first tentative steps toward entering the academic world after years of working, raising kids, or being in the military, I usually avoid discussing politics in the classroom, and it’s become a habit.  Still, I’m saddened that language has become such a victim of the political process, including an Orwellian style of doublespeak. I’m sadder still that the shouting and vitriol has obscured the efforts of a few decent candidates.

I imagine the world a better place if the “nice guys,” the ones who view public office as a service to humanity rather than a ladder to power or some idea of religious entitlement, would get elected and govern politely.  I’d like it if I’d get phone calls from the winning candidates, like the ones I’m getting from the campaigns, that ask me what I think, what ideas I have, or give me a heads up on the process.  I imagine them all sitting down over scones and coffee and chatting pleasantly about their vision for the world: I want them to want more gardens, more poetry and music, and lots of smart children who have a good and lively place to go learn every day.   I want my friend, who is sick and housebound and watches Glen Beck every day, to get her Medicare and the in-home help she needs—without a sense of irony, but just because it’s what she deserves as a neighbor in the wider national community that we all belong to.

I will be out on the corner Tuesday waving signs for the candidates I support.  For a brief time, before I get too cold to hold my sign up, I’ll imagine a world where these things are true and possible, and I’ll wave at my neighbors as they drive by.

The Post of Don Sam Incognito

April 9, 2010

Sam hasn’t posted for a while.  He’s been busy this winter growing a magnificent coat of white fur, which he is now in the process of shedding out.  But now, he’s ready for an update.

Sam, in spite of being an Andalusian gentleman whose ancestors are from a much warmer climate than Interior Alaska, grows a coat that is nearly four inches long by the time shedding season comes in April.  All winter, he looks like he’s half polar bear, and as the sun returns to the corral, the longer outer hairs gleam so that he looks haloed in the morning sun.  Mattie’s hair is not nearly as long or thick, though she seems to grow more of an undercoat.  Now that they are shedding, the corral is littered with clumps of their hair, especially in spots where they are standing to be groomed.

Today, Trish, from our horse club came over to see Sam.  She is considering being one of two riders (besides me) to ride him in lessons and clinics this summer.  We have an ambitious schedule planned and now that the ice is nearly melted from the corral, we can start getting the horses fit in earnest.  We stood for nearly a half hour in the sun grooming out his shedding coat with the shedding blade—a metal strip with a serrated side that rakes the loose hairs from his coat.  We were nearly ankle deep in white hair when we were done.  We tacked Sam up in the longeing cavesson and surcingle and got him going in circles at the trot and a bit of canter.

All the clicker training I’ve done—however sporadically—has paid off, it seems.  He stands to be groomed now—not as much inching back to the end of the lead rope then “panicking” at the feel of the halter pulling on his head.  He stood still as we worked on him, dozing in the last sun of the day.  He was—well mostly—polite as Trish walked him then sent him out to the end of the longe line to work.  He seemed happy to be working and comfortable with what we were asking of him.

Afterward, we went to work with Mattie, too.  After the last incident I reported a few weeks ago, I’ve been working with her on moving her shoulders away from me, tapping on her shoulders till she takes a step sideways away from me, then rewarding her by letting off the pressure, then trying again.  The idea (which I found on a John Lyons trainer’s blog) is to teach her to move away from the whip so that, eventually, I can just point the tip of the whip at her shoulder or hip and she will move out to the end of the line, instead of turning to face me.  Things have been better with Mattie, too.

It’s gratifying to have new people come up and see Mattie and Sam, for it gives me a better perspective on how far we all have come.  I’m less timid about pushing the horses a little now—though I always watch Mattie carefully for signs that she feels threatened—and they know more of what I expect: good behavior.  In all, it makes for pleasanter times with them, and I think of the behaviors I’m trying to shape in them as horse survival skills.  Just like teaching Jeter, the poodle, to sit at the side of the road when he hears a car coming rather than revving up to chase it, teaching Mattie and Sam to be calm and responsive to humans could save their lives if they ever have to be cared for by some other humans less crazy about them than I am.

In the book Black Beauty, Anna Sewell writes that horses’ lives are a story of changing hands, going from person to person.  Unlike dogs, who often live with one person for their shorter lives, horses move from owner to owner throughout their sometimes forty-year lives.  Girls grow up and go to college and their beloved horses are sold to a new owner, or a divorce or illness happens and the owner can’t keep the horse, or a rider is in a long search for the right horse for the purpose and goes through several in the span of years.  Recently, the endurance horse, Elmer Bandit, a half-Arab flea-bitten gray (like Sam) died at 38 with his life-long owner at his side.  He has the record for the most lifetime miles in competition of any horse in that sport—and he competed in his last race this past fall.  He is the exception, to have lived so long with one owner.  I hope to counter this trend with Mattie and Sam—but want them to have reasonable manners just in case.  Besides, they both have psychological and behavioral baggage from their pasts; I want them to feel secure with me.

The corral is mostly down to dirt, now.  This weekend, if the temperatures go back above freezing, we’ll get a crew together and rake and scoop as much of the manure as we can off the packed and frozen sand below.  By next weekend—if it doesn’t snow or rain and freeze (knock on wood)—we could be getting out the saddles.  I have two more lessons on Stormy in the indoor arena, then Mattie and Sam get my full attention, with the help of Trish and Casey.

There are tiny tomato and cucumber plants under my shop light and in the window during the day.  I’m beginning to clear out the greenhouse to prepare it for this summer’s plants.  The ground is brown with dead grass and leaves; the trees are a web of bare twigs.  The Tanana below us is still white with a widening gray swath that shows where the ice is thinning, thawing, and refreezing.  Anything can happen—snow, forty below, a quick melt and breakup.  We’re holding our breath.  We have our Nenana Ice Classic tickets in the can.  One day we’ll see pale green like a haze in the hills.  Then, then, spring.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

January 18, 2010

I’m sitting in Ed’s chair by the woodstove, listening to it ticking as the fire dies down; the Christmas tree is lit again.  The little spruce with the twist in the trunk that we cut from behind the run-in shed on Christmas Eve is still green and drawing water in its five gallon bucket filled with rocks.  I’m glad, for I cut my holiday season short for the trip to New Jersey.   Now, with just five days to go before the first class of spring semester, I’m grateful for the tree, the ornaments, the lights, for they’re letting me feel celebratory for a few days more.  Besides, in my family, growing up, we had a tradition that the tree stayed up till my mother’s birthday, January 18.

The time in New Jersey gave me lots to think about.  At first, the situation seemed desperate—my brave and stoic brother needed someone there throughout the day while he was/is on bedrest.  If he dropped the phone, he wouldn’t be able to call out in an emergency; if he dropped the remote—as he did when I visited in the summer—he could fall asleep watching soccer and wake up watching a telenovella.  And, worse, if no one were set up to come in during the day after I left,  how would he eat, stay hydrated, deal with the personal but essential tasks that take up a good part of his caregiving.  But, day by day, there was good news until I was able to leave knowing that he has care and will soon be in rehab to get back in shape to be in his chair—back to normal for him.

My brother has been a quadriplegic for more than twenty years.  If his accident happened now, he might have more use of his arms than he does.  With stem cell research and other newer procedures, young people facing a C-5/C-6 injury can retain more function than he was able to at the time.  But he’s done well, stayed independent, gotten a law degree, played Quad Rugby (Murderball)—in short, I didn’t worry about him until this pressure sore developed.   But this has been a wake-up call for all of us.

He could be anyone—we are all vulnerable, as scenes of devastation in Haiti and other places in the world remind us.  His vulnerability is part of his life’s normalcy—in his chair he can cook, drive, bathe, go to restaurants and malls—do most of the things anyone else can do, except get himself into and out of bed.  Being around him has reminded me not only of how much I love him, my baby brother who I cared for as a child, but of how valuable each of our lives is and what we can mean to each other.

Remarkable things happened.  I met caregivers and social workers who made extra efforts to help his situation get resolved.  I met a woman online who advocates for those in the quad community, and who called my brother just to chat—and I heard him laugh and knew that his spirits were lifting and that he would heal.  I met a remarkable group of Quakers at Cropwell Friends Meeting, who felt led to form a group to come visit my brother and just chat and check in.  There was the woman in the coffee shop who remembered me when I came in for a break from the apartment, the lady at Smoothie King who kept my debit card for three days when I absent-mindedly left it on the counter, the cousin of a friend who called and gave advice even though she didn’t live near enough to come by.  It seems like community can happen anywhere, I now see.

But here’s the thing—while my brother’s is an extreme case, it’s an example of how much the system that seems to be in place—health care and beyond—is  broken and stretched to the point of dysfunction, underfunded and understaffed.  When my brother knew the woman living with him would be moving out and that I could come for a couple of weeks to help out, it was Thanksgiving. He began calling and filling out paperwork and getting visits from social workers.  But by two days after Christmas, he was still being told he would have a 4-6 week wait.  Those who told him that were polite, but clearly overworked and could offer no suggestions to help.  They would see me there and assume that I would fill in.

All this while the “debate” on health care rolls on in DC.  But what is there to debate?  To me, now, the question is simple—how do we care for those among us who are least able to care for themselves?   And how do we care for each other and provide for the well-being of all in our community or nation, knowing that any of us could suddenly have the level of need my brother has or more?

I’m slowly recovering from jet lag and the emotional stress of the trip.   Morning and night, I’m out in the corral while Mattie and Sam are chewing hay, leaning against their shaggy shoulders, breathing in their earthy smell.   I’m glad to breathe the sharp cold air and see the orange light in the southern sky spread into day.

I tend to be an optimist.  I believe that it’s worth the effort it took to bring some things together for my brother in order to restore him to a normal, engaged life.  I’ll continue to work with him on this.  I also believe that in a good society, we would all want this for all of us.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

February 12, 2009

This morning, I was finishing throwing hay to the horses and spending a few minutes scratching their necks under their manes and inhaling their earthy, yeasty smell when the corral, the yard, the snow on the spruce trees began to glow with a copper light. It’s lighter every day now. The change is significant, the day extending by as much as an hour a week. The return of the light starts a fizz of energy in my stomach–or that place in the center of the body that the Chinese call chi. I look at the cutbank behind the house where I have been trying to get wildflowers to grow for the past six years. This year, I think, I’ll find a way.

Then the sun slipped up behind the clouds that spread across all the rest of the sky and the light dulled. Still, to the southern horizon there was a peachy band of light above the silhouettes of the mountains, then thick, flat grey.

I heard Obama’s speech the other night; like everyone else, I’ve been thinking of the economic situation, flattening the mood of delight I felt at the inauguration. I read about places where, already by last summer, people were abandoning horses in forests, in farmers’ fields, in empty horse trailers at horse shows or auctions. I even heard of horses found shot by owners who couldn’t keep them. Here in Alaska, we tend to feel the economic trends on a different cycle than the lower 48–sometimes by as much as five years. Still, we know it will impact us. We live in a place where extravagant living is unsustainable. In rural Alaska, the situation is more grim, as fuel prices went up in the fall just as rural communities needed to put in their winter supply. Some villages, like Emmonak, are in dire straits, but have found a way to make their plight–needing fuel and food–known and some relief has reached them.

I think about how things might go for us–including horse lovers and those working in the arts. We will keep on as long as we can, knowing that the things that sustain us are not all material or financial. Writing is an inexpensive art–though I’m writing on a laptop now, I could convert to pen and paper. Dance only takes the body and a sense of rhythm, though the production of a performance takes a whole lot more. Riding horses takes, well, the horse–and that’s more challenging here in the North than it might be in some more temperate place. It’s when we what to share our arts that the economy affects us the most. As the “recovery package” goes out around the country, I’m listening hard for reference to the arts, knowing that we will be dealing with some bread-and-butter issues first–but still, I’m listening.

I’m finishing this at night, the full moon of last night shaved a bit thinner now, and covered by the clouds still spread across the sky. The wood stove warms the room. The dog sleeps, a mound of brown fur.

View from Mattie’s Pillow

January 18, 2009

More news from the psyche.

Still warm, by Alaskan standards. For a few days, temperatures lifted to around fifty above–for some, a hundred-degree rise in two days. Walking across campus, I felt a puff of warm breeze on my face–unfamiliar breeze, unfamiliar warmth. The lightness this brings to everyone’s mood is remarkable. How can temperature alone make such a difference in all the little troubles we carry? Yet, shedding coats, hats, mittens, even for a few days, we move more fluidly in the world, and spring seems possible.

By today, light snow, and temperatures back below freezing, but still warm, for us. As I write this, I’m thinking of the people gathering on the Mall in Washington, DC, and the change of mood and energy so many of us feel at the approach of Inauguration Day. While it’s not my intention to make this a political blog–there are too many good ones already (see Mudflats in the Blogroll for an Alaskan example)–the changing weather here seems to parallel a change of what? Mood? Politics? National intent?

It’s been a long dark journey through a kind of national despair for the past eight years, when the public dialogue has been driven by fear and impulse rather than reflection and reason. Horses can be made dangerous and frightening by humans who react around them out of fear–perhaps that’s also true of a nation. And horses can be calmed and rehabilitated by a calmer, reasonable presence. Perhaps we all long for that, as well. It’s a lot to place on one human being, to calm and redirect the restless herd of our national psyche, but, as I’ve said to friends here, an election isn’t about one person, it’s about us and who we want ourselves collectively to be. So, as light progresses here, we’ll watch to see how light can be progressively shed on us all with the turn of the political season. I wish for Obama all the best tools of horse and dog training: to be calm, attentive, clear-headed, non-reactive, and to lead by reward and praise rather than by punishment and fear.

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