“Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.” William Jennings Bryan

Thursday, October 22, 2015

October 22, 2015

I recently spent a few days in Temecula California visiting my brother and his family. In the mornings, I went with my brother to walk his two dogs. He parked his car at a small playground where two dirt roads coming from different directions dead ended and were blocked off with concrete barriers to stop vehicle access. One stretched above and between two fallow farm fields, and ahead intersected with another dirt road that ran along the back fencing of several large dry lots (paddocks) which was part of a sizable horse farm.

The first day we that walked past the farm, the horses were far away, deep in the front areas of the paddocks. I stopped for awhile, taking in the paddocks- each at least two acres in size- some holding a few horses and others holding a dozen or more. In all, there were at least six or seven paddocks, and I estimated about fifty horses in all the paddocks that I could see. I could tell that this was only a small part of a huge farm, and due to its size and the amount of horses, it was most likely a breeding farm. I was just seeing the “tip of the iceberg”.

My brother said that he often sees people feeding carrots to the horses when they are near the back fence. I was slightly disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to interact with any of the horses, but we still had a three mile walk ahead of us, and there would be plenty else ahead to see. In the distance ahead, colorful hot air balloons hung in the sky, populating the otherwise colorless, empty sky. We moved on.

And there was so much more to see– stucco mansions with rippling orange tiled roofs, then even greater mansions, gated homes, fields of tumbleweeds, orange groves, and hillsides rowed with grape vines, and a private landing strip where the homeowner kept his small plane in a hanger-like garage that served as the first story of his home. We passed other small farms of maybe an acre or less in size. Some held a horse or two, while others were “animal less” and the outbuildings were crumbling.

We were walking the dogs in an area where the farms were disintegrating in the advance of suburban neighborhoods. Dirt roads were changing to pavement, lots where tumble weeds once rolled were replaced with overdone landscaping, farm fields converted to neighborhoods, and hill tops bulldozed flat for new foundations. The areas we walked were the future that was both meeting and overtaking the past. This was evident all around us, except for that horse farm, that time hadn’t seemed to budge.

The next day we walked the same route, but in reverse, beginning on the other dead ended dirt road and finishing on the one that had we started on the day before. This time as we passed the paddocks, three horses that had broken off from the herd were standing close to the back fence. There was nothing particular about any of these three thoroughbreds. They were friendly and nuzzled my hand and let me rub their manes for awhile. One horse had a tangle in its mane and allowed me to make a futile attempt to undo it. Realizing that I had no treats for them, the three lost interest in me and turned away to graze. I had noticed that the horse that had let me try to work out her mane had an expensive leather halter on with a brass name plate “Impressive Attire”. The others had common strap halters, worn and torn at the edges from years of use. I was able to take a few photos of the three up close and a few shots as they wandered away back towards the main herd. I made a mental note to look up “Impressed Attire” when I got home, just out of curiosity. Having a leather halter and a brass name plate isn’t always significant – Riley, the lesson horse I usually ride at Still-a –Hill has one, and he is nothing but…a lesson horse, and my favorite!

I returned home and after looking at the photos of the three horses I had met over the fence that morning in California, I googled “Impressive Attire” and was surprised by the amount of results that loaded, and I began to research her.

Impressive Attire was foaled in 2005 from lines of many well known race horses. Her sire was Seeking the Gold, a horse that had won over $2.3 million during his career, and had raced in well known races such as the 1988 Haskell Invitational, and the 1988 Breeders Cup, finishing second to Alysheba, who had won both the 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Seeking the Gold’s Sire was Mr. Prospector, who sired one winner of each of the Triple Crown races, and whose male line descendents include Smarty Jones, Funny Cide, War Emblem, Curlin, American Pharoah, and others. Impressive Attire’s sire was no slouch, nor was her grand sire!

Her dam was Sharp Cat, who won fifteen of twenty two starts, seven being Grade 1 races. Other horses in her dam side’s pedigree include Northern Dancer (winner of the 1964 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes) and Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner who broke all records, and one of the greatest race horses of all time.

In 2010, at Three Chimney’s Farm in Kentucky, Impressive Attire foaled the filly Give Me a Cocktail by Big Brown, winner of the 2008 Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, and Haskell Invitational. It was the first foal for both horses. Give Me a Cocktail’s racing record includes five starts, one win, and career winnings of $8,650. Unfortunately, Give Me a Cocktail did not come close to having the success that her sire had had.

For a person such as me who likes horses and history, I feel that I was lucky to stumble upon a horse that carries the genes of so many legends, even if those genes never aligned to make her into one; I had not tried to untangle the mane of a famous race horse, but the mane of a horse that is a part of thoroughbred racing’s rich history. With a simple touch of her mane, I had connected with some of the greatest horses of all time. I think it’s pretty cool, out there in practically nowhere along a dirt road that by chance I ran into a horse that once was given the highest hopes and now seems just as ordinary as any other. But given her pedigree and brood mare chances, Impressive Attire will never be just an ordinary horse.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

October 3, 2015

A few weeks ago I released my first book, The Sky, the Stable, and Spaces in Between. It is a collection of poetry and haiku that I had written over the years and was just collecting static on my computer, combined with samplings of my photography to provide a visual background to some of the pieces.

I had been told more than a few times that at I should put together a book – either from my blog and /or from other writings, or to put together a book of my photography. I pretty much shrugged these suggestions off. A few pieces that I had written over the years had been published, and a photo had won a contest, but I really didn’t feel that my talent was worth a book.

I was proud that my poem “No More Trenches” had been published in the Quaker monthly, “Friends Journal”, and then included in the book Answering Terror – Responses to War and Peace after 9/11/01. I can still remember where I was when the lines of that poem came to me – while passing rows of corn growing in a field outside State College, along a dirt road where I used to run, and in meeting.

I was happy that the photo of my horse Louie had won first place in the local hospital’s photo contest for the animal category and will forever be displayed there on a wall. I took that pic thinking nothing of it with my simple point and shoot. Last I knew the photo was up on the third floor along a seldom used corridor.

And my blog; well that was and still is an outlet where I can throw my thoughts out there to whomever wants to take the time to read them – with the blog I can let out whatever is scratching at my door.

But two years ago, on a cold January afternoon while I was in the stable cleaning stalls, I asked myself, “why not put together a book of things I have created?” And that’s when I began putting it together; pieces I had written and photos I had taken through the years. Sinking deeper into a creative mood, I gathered up spilled words and envisioned new scenes to join together, and created new material to include.

The book took me over one year to compile- adding and deleting, choosing and writing, and at times, setting it aside for a time and then beginning it all over again. The best part during this time was that it was never finished- it was always a blank page away from being finished- an idea that hadn’t lost its wings. The “idea” challenged whatever was inside of me to come out.  It allowed me to let go, and in some cases, let go of times that weighed on me, such as “When Elvis Died”, which is a story/poem of discrimination that was an experience that had always bothered me. Whether the poem was structurally correct really didn’t matter to me. What mattered to me was that it needed to exist outside of myself. And that is also the case for most of what else I wrote. Moments I needed to give up through sharing. I didn’t want to try to show off vocabulary or technique or an intimidating style – I just wanted to let go.

And that is what I did – I let go of a lot that I had been hiding, a lot that “wasn’t good enough”, a lot that was too much for me to carry, and a lot that I had hoped would stir a up a new image and/or cause an emotion in someone.

The book can be purchased either on Create Space or Amazon.com, or from me. No matter how it is purchased, one can leave a review on Amazon.

I hope you will like it!