Saturday, June 8, 2013

Essays From the Road...1991

The World's Greatest Write-Off
[Note: This editorial was published in 1991, at the 5-year mark of a road trip that did have a wildly idealistic beginning, and as a tumbleweed roams the landscape -- no real destination in mind.  For it  is, and always has been about the journey.]   
Anvil Archives --
Rob Edwards, Publisher Extrardinaire
Relax.  This isn't going to be a fifteen-hundred word essay on formatting a disc.  In fact, not only do I not know how to format a disc, I'm not sure what I would do with it once I had if formatted.  Smoke a cigarette I guess.
I'm also not going to discuss accountants, bookkeepers, the IRS or Uncle Benny's polyester farm in Georgia.  The same applies to profits, losses, deductions or appreciations; the latter a little meaningless anyway.  They are words that were invented by the federal government to make us think that we have a prayer of making a living.  I mean really, how can something appreciate when you have to push it three blocks just to get the engine to turn over?
My write-off is accomplished the old-fashioned way -- with a pen, a bright yellow legal pad and, of course, a computer.  A modern adaptation of the stenographer only harder to date.  As computers go, mine is probably not much different than most and after a year of heavy petting, we are still not committed to marriage.  It still randomly erases my best work (why the Pulitzer isn't sitting on the fireplace mantel), and every so often it flashes something about "invalid command" or "you have performed an illegal operation."  Which I respond to by either screaming, "BLOODY HELL!!" or phoning the local police to confess to whatever outstanding crimes they have on the docket.  (Writers are temperamental that way -- especially when modern technology is involved.)
Writing about farriery, and the rest of the horse world, seems to involve a lot of traveling.  (Not much money, but lots of asphalt under your feet.)  In five years I have covered about a half-million miles in an assortment of planes, (two or three of which were recalled by the factory part way through dinner); 50,000 or so miles in the motorhome (The Whale), another few thousand in rental cars, trains, horse vans and the occasional  bicycle, horse or shoes that needed a proper reset.  I have also slept in Rest Areas, on people's porches, in bars, and I have a good idea of where every sleazy motel is located on the entire West Coast.  Surprise!  No, we don't always stay at the Hilton, though sometimes I have slept in their parking lots.  (They have the best security.)
Airplanes have always scared the hell out of me.  They still do.  I usually sit in the terror section where I can watch the wings bounce up and down.  I know all the 'good' noises, and am beginning to know the bad ones.  You know the ones -- where the pilot forgets to turn off the intercom and says something like, "What do ya supposes that red light means Bob?"
My main mode of transport is the motorhome.  Affectionately called The Whale, it goes down the road like a...well, I was going to say a whale, but actually it handles more like a goldfish trying to breathe air for the first time.  It is 30-feet long, twelve feet, four-inches high (this was confirmed by a gas station in Nevada that was twelve feet, three-inches high), and consumes more gasoline than Patton's Third Army.  It sleeps at least eight (never try that though), has all the modern amenities (including a shower personally designed by some friends of Snow White.)
My main traveling companion is Emily the terrier.  Purchased  at the Santa Barbara National Horseshow, "M" as she is known, navigates for me.  (Which means that I drive and she eats the maps.)  We share everything -- left-over pizza, the last bottle of gin and the flea shampoo.  Emily has been traveling with me for about 3 years and no longer trusts anything that doesn't have wheels.
The motorhome has hung out in some of the more glamorous parts of the world: San Francisco's Cow Palace (right next to the sheep barn), the mule pens in Bishop, the back parking lot at Janie's whorehouse in Nevada (strictly a research project) and quite often in front of the Pioneer Saloon in Woodside, California.  The inside is piled high in computers, typewriters, large manila envelopes from countless projects, dirty laundry, somebody's tennis ball collection and all those things that make life on the road bearable:  a good set of tapes, two six-packs of Corona and the latest issue of the Anvil. 
Much of my writing has concentrated on the wonderful and changing world of farriery.  I have interviewed Russians, Poles, Mexicans, Australians, Scots, Kiwis, and of course a huge selection of Americans.  Sometimes I can't understand the answers, occasionally I'm not sure about the questions.  The more I travel, the more I am convinced that the differences are little more than geographic trivia -- a few numbers on an envelope.  Most people are concerned with living -- raising children, raising themselves, trying to do a little better than they thought was possible.  Basic issues at a point in history that seems far more complicated than it really is.
After five years of being on the road, I have drawn a number of conclusions.  Paramount in my mind is the quality of people that I have met.  Next, if you concentrate too heavily on the content of the evening news you will either want to own a very large pistol, four-hundred pounds of barbed-wire, or move next door to Oliver North. (None of which are practical if you happen to live in a motorhome.)
I am pretty sure that the road will continue to be my address.  I have yet to achieve any burning desires to mow lawns, watch television, or get a real job.  There are still at least 680-million people I have not met, and I still haven't figured out how to shoe a horse right -- or format a disc.  So, for now, it's The Whale, Emily the terrier, a few battered credit cards, and whatever comes next.
And the road did continue for some time...and just might need a second look soon!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Human/Horse Bond

Giving Permission to Grieve

                                               My new book, "The Littlest RaceHorse," due out in July, has a lot to do with gains and losses, both human and equine.  And as so often happens in these unique relationships, the horse is both a friend, and in some cases, a healer of unseen wounds.  I first published this story in The Chronicle of the Horse -- probably about 1988 following a series of interviews at the University of California-Davis.
Loss is an unavoidable aspect of animal ownership.  Almost as surely as a deep bond of affection will develop between people and their animal companions, the human partner will have to cope with the animal's death.  The ensuing bereavement can be a difficult period when, instead of support, the owner is reminded time and again, "It's not worth being upset; after all, it was only an animal"
Not so, says Bonnie Mader, MS, associate director of the Human-Animal Program at the University of California, Davis.  More than anything, she believes, grieving animal owners need "permission," in the form of social support, to express the loss they feel when a companion animal dies --whether that animal is a dog, cat, or a horse.  Together with program director Lynette Hart, PhD, Mader has developed a unique counseling program.
As a non-profit organization within the Davis veterinary school, the Human-Animal Program serves both the veterinary community and the animal-owning public.  One of its missions is encouraging research into and education about the human-animal bond and the role animals play, both as companions and as instruments of healing, particularly for the disabled and infirm.  Another is immediate and direct assistance to grieving individuals.  Thanks to a telephone hot-line, set up by Mader in February [possibly 1986] and staffed by vet student volunteers, that assistance is just a phone call away for animal owners all over the United States and Canada.
A grieving dog owner provided the seed money for the program's establishment in 1985.  Bill Balaban, a retired television producer, found himself virtually paralyzed with grief over the loss of his poodle, Tiger.  Balaban worked through his emotions without support, but he decided more should be done to help people in similar distress over the loss of companion animals.  Following his donation, the school hired Hart, a zoologist by training, to oversee the program's development.
Mader, whose degree is in counseling, joined the program shortly thereafter, first as a volunteer and then as full-time staff.  When she found more and more of her office time being spent on the telephone counseling pet owners through their difficult times, Mader decided to establish a call-in service modeled after a suicide-prevention hot-line operating in Davis.  In a year's time, more than 700 callers from across the continent have found solace through the service.
"People really need to be legitimized for feeling as bad as they feel," Mader says.  "A lot of people will call, and when I tell them what they are feeling is common and that I've talked to hundreds and hundreds of people, they say, 'So, I'm not crazy?'  They really feel that they are crazy."
"No one is raised to feel that it is okay to be attached to an animal," she continues.  "You can be upset if you lose a human being, but we're not raised to be upset if we lose an animal.  So if we do lose an animal, and we're distraught, then that doesn't fit with our mental concept of what's normal."
The intensity of grief felt for a "mere animal" often makes people feel guilty, says Mader.  If euthanasia is involved, making the owner "play God" so to speak, that commands the bereaved person's guilt.

Horse people have their own distinct problems with loss.  Horse owners generally aren't present at their animal's deaths, and there's often little opportunity to memorialize a horse through burial and grave markers as compared to smaller companions.  Though human-horse relationships often involve trust and love, there is no fitting conclusion, no supportive ritual to help the owner deal with its dissolution after death.
Mader is concerned that so few horse owners make use of the program's hot-line or face-to-face counseling.  Only six of the center's 700 calls have come from horsemen, yet Mader knows from her own distress at watching her childhood horse being towed down the lane after being sold, that losing a horse can hurt every bit as losing a dog or cat.
"You should be able to talk about it, says Mader.  "You should be able to say, 'It hurts not to have that horse in my life anymore.'"
Operating on weekday evenings, the hot-line is staffed by a force of 60 student volunteers.  Each volunteer takes a mandatory six-hour training session, mans the office telephone and serves backup duty for a total of at least six hours monthly.  Training continues throughout the hot-line experience in discussion with Mader and fellow students.
When a call comes in, the counselor serves primarily as a sympathetic ear, allowing the animal owner to breach the biggest barrier -- the sense that, as Mader puts it, "they're crazy for feeling this bad."  After the call, the volunteer writes a personal letter, enclosing support materials and a suggested reading list that may be useful to the caller.  Though the project is time-consuming for students who are already extraordinarily busy, Mader believes the number of volunteers alone proves that the next generation of veterinarians appreciate how affecting the loss of a beloved animal can be.
[Note: Not sure if this, or similar programs are still in service.]

Co-pilots come in all sizes.....

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A LittleTeaser on the...New Book

"The Littlest RaceHorse"

Late October, 1962.  The US and the Soviet Union stand toe to toe, poised to unleash their nuclear arsenals over the deployment of offensive missiles in Cuba – a mere 90 miles off the coast of Florida.  This is the Cold War, suddenly too hot to touch.  Apprehension flows relentlessly down the irrational corridors of chaos and panic – personal choices driven by the political realities of a world gone mad.  A pair of kids, suddenly cast adrift by the week’s escalating events, find themselves forced on a journey not of their own choosing – while the adults around them ponder the longest week of their lives.  Forced to finally choose between the past and perhaps a very different future…one that seemed to share an improbable link to a young Thoroughbred horse halfway across the country.  Lives that were stolen on a Thursday – and returned the following week.  Irreversibly changed.
And some 2000 miles away, one Bobby Lee Hancock and his common-law wife, Fennel McCartney. A farmer, a horse breeder – a man grown hard by difficult times and unforgiving choices.  And on that farm, a young Thoroughbred colt, seemingly doomed by the peculiarities of his own birth.  Or so the old customs had always dictated.  “Fen, I’m a farmer ya know.  Shoulda hit that damn thing in the head with a hammer when it was born.  Hell, next thing you’ll havin’ me raisin’ rats and corn weevils!  And that damn Kennedy’s gonna get us killed maybe…or worse!”
But the young President had already moved beyond the brink of a final apocalypse – opening a second, perhaps more volatile door by questioning the very core of American values.  Civil rights, the desires and ambitions of the country’s largest minority – women; and the wider responsibilities inherent to leading the world’s greatest democracy through an era restless for change.  The 1950’s were the calm between very different storms – one engulfing the world, the second threatening the nation.  But often, that ‘change’ was personal and highly private as well, especially for children caught in a sudden and seemingly unrelenting tempest.  And just as often, the salvation, perhaps life’s balance itself comes with four legs and a tail.  Just a horse?  Maybe not.
©  Back cover by: Sandra Mesrine,
 La Chambre Noire Studio Photography



© Front Cover by Azaliya, Shutterstock Images

From Yippie to Equine Midwife...And Back

Yippie Ki Ya....and Where in
the Hell did I Leave My Armor?
                    "Other wars with unseen casualties litter the landscape of societies cloaked in the hard veil of contradiction -- that myopic dance of the uninformed, unwilling and ultimately unknowing.  Sanctuary is not always a cradle for the frightened and the weak.  All too often it is the untended grave of an inconvenient truth."                          

 ♫“Come gather ‘round people

Wherever you roam

And admit that the waters

Around you have grown

And accept it that soon

You’ll be drenched to the bone.

If your time to you

Is worth savin’

Then you better start swimmin’

Or you’ll sink like a stone,

For the times they are a changin’

                                                                                                      ©Bob Dylan, 1963

     But did they, Bob?

From here...
I have often wondered how the roots of radicalism manifest themselves in the mind of a child.  For it is here, in the dry, undeveloped sand lot of the child's brain -- the dry deserts of future knowledge, where such a seed first gains nourishment.  An awakening really...the immature mind seeking to grow between the rows of neatly planted crops.  And like the destiny of most weeds; those armies of conformity: order...efficiency -- seek to quickly stamp you out.  But what these mighty opponents fail to consider is that this famine of the imagination merely fills the ravished belly of resistance; for like the roots, stalks and leaves that follow a seed's first exposure to light...thought follows the unbroken rules of an evolutionary process.  Sure, we are exiled to the outskirts of Concordia;  branded, ridiculed, belittled...beaten, robbed of our seat at the table.  But we stand erect.  Straighter than most, ours eyes only willing to offer a singular, rather unremarkable allegiance:  to a sometimes compromised truth.  The only one we truly own.   
"Then, quite suddenly, we discover the true value of the horse -- its speed -- and we gallop away, far from the clicking shutters, far from the angry voices.  And for a brief, incredible moment, we are free!"   
And for the first time perhaps...we sit among friends.
But the constant, almost nagging questions remain unanswered.  For once you have taken the radical's path...the high road of conscience; felt the hot, vile breath of conformity on your skin...seen the hate in the red eyes of those who fear your very presence, you are doomed and blessed to live among the happy malcontents of the fringe.  For you can never shed your beliefs as simply as a snake discards its old skin.  For lurking behind you, day and night, relentlessly -- the Army of Hippocrites...the soul stealer's, the money launderers...the panderers of an all-consuming gluttony.  And they are madly driven to close the distance behind you, to suffocate the truth in your presence, push the necessary reckoning demanded by a mass hysteria, the spoiled meat and broth that is the sustenance of all such angry mobs.           
"History is littered with the bones of the arrogant and self-righteous.  How will the present be remembered by the future, once we become the past?" 
To here...
An important question.  Perhaps it is each individual's present actions that determine the answers for another    traveler's future.  In my case, I discovered human cruelty at an early age.  I embraced it, savored its predictability...discarded it like a ragged and filthy sock.  For I had seen, touched and tasted the blood of anger.  The open wound that was a compassionate heart; bled dry, pooled around the bare feet of my innocence.  Two roads appeared to me in those moments of trial:  one high, one low.  Each with advantages unique for a child emerging from a seemingly endless forest of rain and fog.  I took the high, my younger brother traveled the low.  He is dead by his own choices; I alive by mine.  There is no judgement in that sentence, merely the circumstances inherent to all such decisions.  Yes, at times they are the very last one you will ever make.
It is always possible to re-trace the historical steps in one's life, but not always the emotions accompanying them.  Especially when your bag carries few non cognitive tools -- fear, anger perhaps....most others missing or somehow dishonest in a way you cannot readily identify.  Sure, you can say the words, but the mind cringes at the disclosure or by conditioned practice, invariably adds a question mark to the end of the sentence. 
"I didn't smoke because of peer pressure...I was the peer pressure.  Funny how you go from outcast to idol with the addition of one bad habit." 
So perhaps that is the radicals first lesson in politics and non-conformity.  This theater of the absurd run like a carnival sideshow for the happy maniacs living inside your head; albeit a little mentally disturbed by certain standards, but hopefully headed in the right direction.  Or left as the case may be.  After all, fitting in, the status quo...mowing the lawn every other Saturday -- just couldn't hold a candle to being a rowdy miscreant with somewhat honorable intentions.

But then one day, attitude runs into reality...not the kind that gets you thrown out of school, but the kind that gets you tossed out of life itself.  Somebody starts a war and you receive an invitation to join in the fun.  Except that you are no longer a joiner, no longer among the naive, no longer welcome in the vast herd willing to charge headlong into some distant, vague fray, where that wrong turn you took ended inside a black bag.  Worse yet though, no real compromise is available to easy way to convert wrong to right because patriotism is now defined as conformity...truth sold cheap in a thief's marketplace.  And as a participant in this madcap are denied the very language to explain the reasoning behind your own death.   For without a voice, it is no more than an execution for a crime not committed.  So, it is perhaps time to find another horse:                   
"Five-hundred dollars later I had a horse, a broken-down old western saddle and a rough idea of where Mexico might be.  The horse's name was Hombre, which I was to learn, roughly translates from Spanish into something like, "furry four-legged death."        

To here...
No, the photo isn't Hombre, but it kind of covers most aspects of our relationship. See, a radical (aka, a Knight of Disorder) needs a good mount when challenging the state doctrines of appeasement.  And of course, the stickier elements of draft evasion: firing weapons of mediocre destruction (tomatoes) at standing (ducking) Presidents; all kinds of substance abuse, women with angry husbands, operating a large, Salvador Dali-esque bus -- one lacking turn signals, brakes or a drug-free driver; while completely refusing to yield the right of way to anyone wearing brown shoes or a bowling shirt.   And like Leon Trotsky, doing all the heavy lifting in a fight, only to be exiled later to the hinterland as a continuing threat to a new brand of the old normalcy.  Hence, a trip to Mexico seemed wholly reasonable at the time.  The horse had other ideas and certain geographical preferences...see, I didn't run away to Canada, but the horse was damn determined to seek political asylum in the northern latitudes. That led to a shaky impasse, interrupted only by occasional bouts of equine insanity.  Humans exhibit this aberration by standing naked in rush-hour traffic -- horses tend to buck and fart wildly until they run into an object of some kind.  Like a Volvo.  Other radicals, sharing other causes, are quick to define the moment:
AIM:  “Not one of ours.”
PETA:  We’ll take a waiver on this one.  Shoot it.”
SDS: “Don’t Bogart that joint my friend…”
GREENPEACE:  We’re checking to see if he’s on staff here.”
BLACK PANTHER’S:  “Man, the horse is a white dude!”
KKK:  (Remember, they are so far to the right, they ended up on the left.)  “Man, the horse is a white dude!”

 WEATHER UNDERGROUND:  Hey, look.  He’ll save us the trouble of blowing up the damn car ourselves.”

 SOCIALIST WORKERS’ PARTY:  “What’s with this elitist capitalistic Volvo crap?”

GAY LIBERATION FRONT:  “Wave girls!  The press is here!”
CHEECH to CHONG:  “Wow man.  Isn’t that our car?”

To here...
So the horse is sent off to a re-education camp...also known as a Dressage Barn, where it is hoped that he can express his zeal for reform by...actually, I don't know how.  But the human is left to ponder a world suddenly lacking pertinent causes -- or quite honestly, too busy shopping to notice.  As if perhaps, one small victory will sustain a creeping uncertainty that the war is far from over, or just maybe, like many diseases infectious to the human soul, merely in remission.  And with the usual snide wink, the mimicry found in all such false armistices...for the dragon merely sleeps.  
Exile.  The audience has scattered, the musicians play a new song...people embrace polyester and tight jeans and Disco drums out the machine-gun cadence of another round of consumption.  The armies of the left scatter -- some to exile in the hills of Tennessee...others to the cocaine palaces of Wall Street or the halls of Congress, assuming the survivability of an ideal that was really only heard by those whose ears were pressed hard to the cold pavement of righteous dissent.  Yes, Congress.  A hall of cement, of walls without ears, mouths that wear the business-as-usual sneer -- sardonic, oily and self-assured, while beyond the great doors, wilted flowers now grace the graves, faded memories erode the power behind the great deceit...a past-tense races to the present; pages ripped from a book -- the scattering of pigeons in a long deserted park.   

     Gaskin, on the other hand, was probably digesting hallucinogenic mushrooms somewhere in the southern hills of Tennessee.  He was way ahead of Timothy Leary in that for him, enlightenment was merely the clarification of simplicity, minus the clutter of modernity.  The world really was sensual, unsophisticated and rather forgiving – i.e., governable under physical law.  No gates, no locks, no garrison manning the parapet.  One need not protect what can never be controlled.  Stephen Gaskin?  Led a great caravan of buses to Tennessee in 1971.  Formed the largest commune in the United States.  It lasted until the late 1980’s.  It was named for Don Quixote’s horse Rocinante, though everyone knew it as The Farm.
     Ah, the skinny war horse Rocinante and his pettifogger knight off on a prodigal quest to slay the sour-breathed dragon of the Hypocrites – that race of dogged assassins that left the dreams of Camelot in ashes and despair.  And vanquished the believers to the wilderness of Tennessee.  The foolishly impractical pursuit of ideals -- marked by rash, lofty, romantic ideas and extravagant chivalrous action.

What next though?  Radicals, as a rule, don't play well with others. Round pegs in a square world.  Yet we have discovered that horses don't care about the right, the left...who happens to be President or Pope, or what our flag really stands for -- unless it might be edible.  They are really more like the 2/3 of the human world we rarely focus upon; those folks who merely hope that dinner is on time, the water cold and clean...shelter still available for family and friends.  And that the fences are made to keep danger out, not the suffering in.  That a partnership may one day appear for all to excel beyond...jump higher...cover swiftly the roads that lead to a more permanent settlement -- a lasting truce.  So like all the weary warriors of lost causes and blighted victories, you head to the farm -- those outskirts of civilization where small things make sense, and the fences are built strong.  A farm manager;  a lone sentry walking the green rampart, relentlessly scanning the borders of the realm...ever keen for the denizens lurking just beyond the gate.  And you talk to horses...often, and in a language of intrigue, for neither side needs to know the meaning behind the words -- only the actions they produce.  And thus, the long road back begins.  And since you live on a round planet, you are bound to tread that same path -- where distant thunder threatens the peace once again.  

To here...
But this new day is somehow different.  For the horse has gentled you...stolen your love of chaos and anarchy...given you an ounce of compassion, a moment for consideration, the cause and effect of life without judgement or consequences -- for a horse learns by simply forgetting the previous moment in favor of the present one, while humans...well, we stack our experiences, our emotions, like cord wood, anticipating the hard winter that always comes unannounced.

However, a sanctuary can also become a prison...the horse a warden, a gatekeeper of a door never opened.  For the fences that keep him in, keep the many shoplifters out.  The life suckers, the sellers of sanity, the bookmakers and pundits who always know a sure thing once it has reached some distant wire -- perhaps love itself, the sweet smell of warm jasmine, somewhere just beyond the trees...faint, fighting desperately to overcome the creosote stench of a smoldering cynicism.  The horse sees her though, a lone Siren...a dry land mermaid beckoning one to the depths of an endless embrace. The horse tracks her passing with his ears, slowly tracing her movement along an uneven path; while the man remains in a desperate, myopic blindness, brought forth by a sudden and startling want.  But the trembling hand cannot open the gate.  And the horse finally blows snot on your back and walks off in disgust.  True friends tell you what you need to know, not necessarily what you want to hear.

Decades pass, seasons of undulating thoughts...uncertainty, moments of self-doubt, a small boat caught in many, opposing currents.  Vanity, pride...validations sought, gained, lost again.  Integrity bound and gagged by a sickness born of need and want.  You try to medicate it away, drink it away...knowing that the death of this parasitic worm may lie in the last breath of a suddenly reluctant host.  Yet somewhere, buried under the concrete patches of all the perceived affronts, indignities...the self-induced anger spawned by the malignancy of many assumed betrayals...a notion.  That maybe, just maybe...when you mix all the poisons of life together in one glass, death becomes the medicine of life...and you happily drink it down.        

  Life is merely an exercise in penning your own obituary.