Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Best Laid Plans . . .

We decided early this morning to go on a day trip - a photography jaunt to the St. Francisville area.  The weather is perfect, and everything is blooming.  Jerry got everything squared away in the barn while I packed up my camera and the technological gadgets that we can't function without. 

We did a last minute walk-through the barn area to be sure everything was secure - gates closed, stall doors bolted, and tack room locked.  Everything was done and we were ready to get in the car.  There was just one more thing - be sure that Teche, the resident house cat, was on the kitchen side of the french doors where he has access to his litter box. 

I went through the usual routine - calling Teche while shaking his bag of treats.  That usually brings him ambling into the kitchen.  He's too dignified to come racing into the kitchen like he's desperate for treats.  But today he didn't come at all.  Where was the darn cat?  He had been in the bedroom with me a few minutes before. 

We did a full-fledged house search, checking all Teche's favorite hiding places - with no success.  Jerry remembered that he had seen the back door ajar earlier - this must have been the means of Teche's escape.  It's a pity we don't have any children around here to blame things on.  

Actually, the fault lies with the small cable that goes through the back door.  One end is connected to the rabbit ears on the TV.  The other end is connected to something outside - I don't know what.  This less-than-satisfactory rigging is so that we can watch the local TV channels when the weather is bad and the satellite signal is not available.  The cable's presence means that the door doesn't always close like it should.  It needs a good slam, but doesn't always get it.

This whole tale has a deja vu quality about it.  Last November Teche made an exit under these same conditions.  When we went to bed that night, we noticed that he was not snoozing in his favorite living room chair - but we assumed he was in one of his hideouts - under the upstairs bed or in my sewing closet. 

When we got up the next morning and he wasn't waiting for us at the french doors, we knew something was wrong.  We searched the house, combed the neighborhood, put out an APB to friends and family.  We even posted Teche's mug shot on Facebook.

At about dark that evening when the frantic searching had exhausted us, that rascal of a cat showed up at the same door where he made his exit.  He strolled in and looked at us as if to say, "What?  Is something wrong?"

Needless to say, we've cancelled the photography jaunt.  Neither of us would enjoy it for wondering where Teche is and when he's going to come home.  I hope this little adventure of his turns out as happily as the last one did.  Jerry has removed the cable so now the door is closing like it should - after the cat's gone. 

            3 hours later . . .

Teche is stretched out on the floor at my feet.  So far I have resisted the urge to commit catacide.  It wasn't long after I posted the tale above - in fact, I was still at the computer - when Teche strolled into the room.  Is he not the coolest of cats?  The rascal had been in the house the entire time that we thought he was outside. 

But where exactly was he?  We had  searched every nook and cranny in the house - or so we thought.  Wherever he was, he laid low and ignored our calls.  He even ignored the rustling of the treat bag.  By seven o'clock he will be on the arm of my recliner, watching TV with us as if this has been an ordinary day at Bywater Farm - as if he didn't derail our photography trip.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Civilization Nose Dive

Technology is a wonderful thing.  For one thing - it means things happen fast.  If there are uprisings in northern Africa or riots in Wisconsin, we see them as they take place -  on cable TV's never ending news coverage. 

If you use your debit card to buy something, money comes out of your checking account immediately.  If you have a hang nail, you can post it on Facebook and all your friends - no matter where they are in the world - will know about it now.

This speed means a lot of things, and one of them is that we can see civilization deteriorating at warp speed right before our very eyes. 

One of the tell-tale signs of a declining civilization is the break down of its language.  And when television puts its mind to it, it can do serious damage to the language. 

A few years ago, any little kid knew what "reality" meant - it meant the way things actually are - in other words - for real, not pretend.  But now we have "reality shows."  They have very little to do with reality, so what will "reality" mean to the kids who are cutting their teeth on reality shows?  And I guess they had better be cutting their teeth on reality shows because the SAT test for college bound students now has questions about reality shows.  Don't tell me civilization is not falling!

We all know what "history" used to mean.  But what does it mean now that the History Channel has abandoned history?  I love Pawn Stars, Swamp People, and Ax Men, but what do they have to do with history?  You don't have to tell me, I know about that little slogan the History Channel has come up with - something like "History - Made Everyday."  They're really straining to connect their shows to history.  Why don't they just change the name of the channel?  That would be easier.

The Arts & Entertainment channel used to be - well, artsy.  Dare I say "high brow?"  Not anymore.  With shows like Criminal Minds, Breakout Kings, and The Sopranos, Arts & Entertainment is anything but artsy. 

Those of us who grew up with National Geographic magazine knew that we could expect to be educated about the world by perusing its pages, filled with breathtaking photographs and detailed maps.  What kind of education are we getting from the National Geographic channel now with shows like Detroit Gang Squad, Tijuana Drug Lords, and Bloods and Crips?

Mind you, I'm just talking about the violence that's being done to the language by television.  To address the effects that these shows are having on morality would take another blog post. 

Ausonius, the Roman poet, decided to retire to his villa, write poetry, and await the inevitable.  I'm writing blog posts while I await the inevitable crash of civilization, curmudgeon that I am.   

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

An Easter to Remember

I was a tomboy and Easter was not my favorite holiday. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy anything about Easter. I liked to dye eggs. I liked to get up early to see what the Easter Bunny had left in my basket. I liked to hear my Sunday School teacher read the Easter story. And I loved singing the Easter hymns, especially the one that says “Up from the grave he arose with a mighty triumph o’er his foes.”

So, what was it that I didn’t like about Easter? The clothes. The clothes started to torment me a month before Easter when the endless shopping trips started. I feel privileged to have had my childhood in the 1950's, America’s Golden Age. But that era wasn’t free of insane notions and one of those notions was that everybody in the family had to have fancy new clothes for Easter - right down to your underwear. It was usually impossible to get all of this on one shopping trip so you had to start at least a month in advance along with everybody else in America. And believe me, it seemed like all of America was shopping in our town. It was almost impossible to find a place to park on either side of our main street. The stores were so crowded that you had to wait in line for a dressing room.

My mother may not have enjoyed the crowded stores, but she did enjoy getting new clothes. She had given up a career as a department store fashion buyer to get married and raise me - a tomboy who cared nothing about clothes. I must have been a disappointment in that respect. Mama came from a family of seven where each child had what he or she needed, but not much extra. She could never understand why her only child didn’t like to shop.

One particular Easter stands out in my mind. I was eight years old. The shopping trips that year were particularly annoying because they took me away from my two new white kittens - Fuzzy and Fluffy. But at length the new outfit was assembled. It consisted of a sleeveless dress with a full skirt and a fitted bodice. Under it I wore my new slip and frilly panties. My straw hat was round with streamers down the back. I had white shoes and lacy socks. I wore white gloves and carried a little white purse with a lacy handkerchief inside.

Mama thought I looked adorable - except for my skinned shins. I loved to climb trees and always had a few scrapes and scratches. Fuzzy and Fluffy had added to my collection of blemishes that year. Three well-placed band-aids hid the worst scrapes on my shins and at last we paraded out the front door to go to church.

Mama and I waited on the front steps while Daddy went to start the car. When he turned the key in our 1946 Plymouth something didn’t sound quite right. He turned the car off, got out, and raised the hood. He peered inside. Then - to my horror - he lifted Fuzzy’s lifeless body from the engine-works of the old Plymouth.

I cried. I screamed. I didn’t bother to take my lacy hanky out and wipe my tears. They tumbled down my face onto my dress. Mama and Daddy tried to comfort me. They explained that a belt had hit Fuzzy when Daddy started the car. He had died instantly and felt absolutely no pain. And - had I forgotten? I still had Fluffy.

None of this information had the desired calming effect. I continued to bellow until a most unusual sound reached our ears. We had never heard anything like it. It whirred, it clacked, it roared, and it grew steadily louder. It seemed to be coming from the highway in front of our house. Daddy put Fuzzy’s little body down and followed Mama and me to the picket fence that marked the boundary of our front yard.

To our great astonishment an airplane was rolling down the highway as if it belonged there where we were accustomed to seeing cars go! Although it was a small plane, its wings spanned more than the width of the two-lane road. The pilot waved gaily as he passed our house and continued on toward town.

In spite of all this excitement, we arrived at church on time. Fuzzy had a nice funeral that afternoon, Fluffy and I spent many happy times together, and - to this day - I don’t know what became of the pilot and his airplane.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Equine Beginnings - a Memoir

Judy and Fay

Jerry and I were hovering on either side of sixty with very little horse experience when we decided to become horse owners in 2004.

I’m not sure what made us want to keep horses. Maybe it was the Westerns we grew up watching on television in the fifties - Gunsmoke, Rawhide, and Tombstone Territory.

Traveling photographers and their ponies nourished our love of the Old West. My husband grew up in southern Louisiana and my childhood was spent in northwestern Florida, but we both have pictures of ourselves at about six years old - each astride a brown and white Shetland pony with a fancy Western saddle and bridle.

Then too, I think Silver marked me for life. In the rural Florida of my childhood, stock laws - if there were any - were not enforced. Pigs, cattle, goats, and horses roamed at will. A big white horse frequented our neck of the woods. We never knew who he belonged to, but he often jumped over our cattle guard which was installed at the driveway gate to keep him and other roaming animals out. We called him Silver.

One of my earliest memories is waking to a noise I couldn’t identify. I could tell it was outside, so my tiny feet padded over to the open window. As I gazed out, Silver’s large white head appeared, illuminated by a full moon. He looked me in the eye as he munched on grass that had come from below my window. I cherished the nights when I fell asleep to the sound of Silver snorting and champing grass. His presence was comforting.

When I was about twelve years old, my parents started taking me to a riding academy on Sundays. It was run by a friendly young couple. They had several horses that they rented out to anyone who wanted to ride over their acreage which was bounded on one side by a sleepy bayou. They also gave lessons. I learned to ride at a trot and a canter and to weave in and out of barrels.

Sometimes we rode out on the trails in a group, and occasionally my parents joined us. My mother usually ended up on a horse named Toby who liked to try to get her off his back by rubbing her against a tree. Looking back, I doubt that these outings were much fun for her. But for me those were glorious days. I thought I was a great rider and nothing much scared me.

When my parents thought I was ready, they bought me a horse - a stallion that couldn’t have been more than three years old. He was reddish brown with a white streak down his face. I named him Blaze. He stayed with his previous owner - about five miles from our house - until we had a place ready for him. My father fenced a portion of our five acres. We cleared out an existing out-building and used it to store feed and tack.

While these preparations were going on at home, my father made arrangements for Blaze to be gelded. I didn’t understand exactly what this meant, but my parents said it would make him easier to handle and I figured that would be a good thing.

Every morning for two or three weeks after the surgery, my father and I got up at five in the morning and drove to the place where Blaze was stabled. We exercised him by walking him up and down a country road for thirty minutes. It was winter and cold enough that we could see our own breath as well as Blaze’s. We returned home every morning just in time for me to catch the school bus.

Eventually Blaze came to live at our place. His previous owner delivered him in a trailer. After that, I was on my own. I didn’t have brothers or sisters, and evidently my parents thought I was experienced enough to handle this young horse by myself. They didn’t know much about horses, and I think they believed that Blaze’s surgery would give him the temperament of the old seasoned horses at the riding academy. 

I remember taking care of Blaze's needs - feeding and watering him every morning before school and again in the evening after school. And of course I remember that fateful day that led to our separation.

I had saddled Blaze and was riding on a sandy road not more than a half mile from our house. All of a sudden Blaze arched his back like a Halloween cat and all four of his feet came off the ground at the same time. I was terrified. To this day I don’t remember if I rode him home or led him home. But when I got there, I told my parents what happened and said, with all the rashness of youth, “I’ll never get on that horse again!”

Of course, I didn’t mean it. I was frightened, but - more than that - my feelings were hurt. I couldn’t believe that Blaze had wanted to get rid of me. I thought we were friends, buddies, pals. How could my parents possibly think that I never wanted to ride him again? How many times had I been mad at my best friend, Anna, and swore that I’d never speak to her again? Surely they had noticed that I was often chatting with her shortly after making this rash statement.

No, I didn’t mean it. I wasn’t a quitter and neither were my parents. I fully expected them to say that I must not give up, that maybe I needed some help - some guidance - some support - but I must not give up.

But to my horror and surprise, there was no effort to talk me out of my resolve to give up my partnership with Blaze. It was decided immediately that he had to go. Before I had time to sort through my emotions, my father was on the phone talking to Blaze’s previous owner who agreed to buy him back.

The next day my mother tried to comfort me while Blaze was loaded into a trailer, never to return. But I wept bitter tears, and I knew in the depths of my young heart that this was unfinished business.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Louisianan in West Texas

The leaden skies obscure the sun and hint at rain, although none is falling. We are the only travelers on this road that stretches endlessly behind and before us. Its presence is all that keeps us from imagining ourselves to be the first visitors to this barren land.

The terrain on both sides of the road is uninterrupted by any evidence of human existence. There are no buildings, no power lines, no fences, no billboards, no cell phone towers.

There is no visible animal life - no cattle, no horses, no sheep nor goats. Not a solitary bird graces the overcast sky. Maybe that’s just as well; there’s not a single tree in sight where a bird might rest his weary wings a safe distance from the ground. There are miniature trees with feathery foliage and round shrubs that are more substantial than the airy, stunted trees. Small pencil-like cacti form weird shapes in the sandy earth.

All is silent. Surely there are times when at least the wind gives voice to this land, but today even the wind is silent. The only sound we hear is the hum of our truck.

In our semi-tropical homeland the black, rich, delta soil produces tall, lush sugar cane. Sleepy bayous, overhung by drooping willows and ancient oaks, wind their way through verdant fields. And the wind playing through the sugar cane sounds like the rustling of taffeta skirts in some grand ballroom.

When the autumn harvest begins, the roads are littered with pieces of cane that fall from overloaded trucks. If the fields are wet, the trucks track mud onto the roads. Sometimes, if the weather is dry, the cut cane is laid in rows in the fields and set on fire to burn the leaves off before taking the sugar-laden stalks to the mill.

The stacks at the sugar mills emit white, billowy smoke while long lines of trucks wait to unload their sweet cargo. The drivers stand around their trucks, laughing and talking while they wait for the mill to accept the earth’s gifts. When the trucks unload, they will return to the generous fields for more leafy cane.

The harvesting process goes on until Christmas. In fact, for me this process has become a part of Christmas. I cannot look at a working sugar mill or see the primitive beauty of a cane fire at night and not feel the excitement of Christmas.

This west Texas desert is the antithesis of green, fertile Louisiana. And yet it attracts. There is something in me that wants to strike out on foot and explore the beauty of this silent, brooding land.

I want to stride the length of that distant, cold mesa and explore its amazing flat surface. I want to view this asphalt ribbon from the mesa’s purple plateau. I’d like to settle on the back of some trusty old horse and ride up that canyon. Maybe those diminutive trees conceal an old river bed - some long gone fountain of living water.

This land forbids and invites at the same time. Its dry, barrenness seems to say, “Keep your distance. Do you see any living thing? Don’t think that you can survive here.” But its mysterious beauty beckons, saying, “Come. Tread this sandy earth. There is life here; you must find it. There is solitude here; you must savor it. There is wisdom here; you must seek it.” Now I understand why the prophets of old sought God in the wilderness.