Pegasus Fell to Plowing

“And folding his wings, Pegasus bent his neck to the yolk and fell to plowing.” — Louisa May Alcott, ‘By the River: A Legend of the Asset’, 1875

 

Every horse person has their pegasus, some are lucky enough to encounter him multiple times. Really, every horse has a little bit of pegasus in them–and I briefly wrote about some of the many significant horses in my life here, but today I intend to tell you the story of my Pegasus (I’ve had this piece of writing prepared for a while due to a brief comment thread with mainepaperpusher, after she told a horse story and suggested I should as well).

My Pegasus, seemed like a giant to me at twelve years old. He stood 15.2 hands high and on the day of our first meeting, both of us having lived 12 years and some unknown number of days, Pegasus plodded with a lowered head, away from a group of weanlings and youngsters. He was sleepy and slow but to a horse-crazed youth he was everything! And just like that I was sold and he was bought.

For nearly a month Pegasus plodded for me, reluctantly trotting if one could offer enough encouragement. On the thirtieth day everything changed. I got a call saying Pegasus had fought the herd leader and though he was no worse for wear the herd leader was (slightly). Pegasus had remembered his wings.

For months after that I found myself chin between his ears, butt behind the saddle, and saddle horn beneath the ribcage, until I groaned and growled at the idea of getting on Pegasus. He took charge of the herd, of the pastures, and of rides and out-horsed me by leaps and bounds. Though never malicious, Pegasus revealed himself to be athletic and independent minded, with plenty of muscle to back him up. He embarrassed 4H leaders and clinicians alike.

So, upon seeing I was out-horsed, my dad offered me an out. A cowboy friend was willing to take Pegasus off my hands for a while and work with him. I was defeated. Pegasus rode off on the trailer the next week when Cowboy travelled through on his way home from the rodeo circuit.

And Cowboy loved Pegasus; he had never met a horse quite so cow-y (a term that means the horse can anticipate a cow and works them almost without instruction) and smart. He could sell Pegasus for twice our money or more likely. Again I was asked, should he look for a buyer? There was a catch though, if Pegasus was sold I may never own a horse again, so long as I required my parents money to subsidize it.

I agreed.

Pegasus had other thoughts.

He refused to perform a basic (I mean first year of elementary school in the horse world) task required for sale, despite months of competent riding. Cowboy couldn’t make him.

So, Pegasus was returned to me. For two years, we fought with one another–as my riding became more competent, Pegasus’s tricks became more elaborate. He bolted, he bucked, he turned on a dime, he stopped harder than a plane hitting a mountain. Through it all I gritted my teeth and rode, despite derision from my 4H group, despite bruises and headaches, despite grass stains and dirt baths (pretty sure I was concussed a couple times). Until I couldn’t remember why I ever wanted a horse.

At this point I could jump off from a full speed gallop, sit through a minute of bucking as though I was on a rocking chair, ride through a turn so hard my inside foot was touching the ground, at one point I even did a flying mount when Pegasus refused to stop after I jumped off the first time… and then I jumped off again and made him stop. Pegasus just found new gears, new buttons to push, new twists to make with his body. He did learn to do the thing Cowboy couldn’t get him to do and much more–he would have been an accomplished riding horse if he had a tad (or you know, a lot) less attitude.

One spring, I lead my horse into a clinic lead by a dressage instructor, tacked up in all western gear, to the eye rolls of my 4H instructors. While Pegasus had many faults ground manners wasn’t one of them, so on initial inspection he appeared gorgeous. The instructors eyes lingered on him and I had to give Pegasus one thing–physically, he was flashy: well muscled and well conformed, with a strawberry roan coat, golden legs, and a multicoloured mane and tail, Pegasus looked like a Ferrari (or Lamborghini or whatever car you think is the hottest) of a horse. Then the ride began and while the other horses moved about at moderate, put together paces Pegasus flew about the arena, twisting and turning, bending, and using 100 different speeds on each trip around.

The instructor always gave us a slightly different task compared to the rest of the group. By the end of the lesson I was ready to scream. All these push button horses got to do everything and here I was with demon-horse getting given different tasks because we were, as a team, completely incompetent, despite years, YEARS of practice. Then the instructor came over and said, “He’s amazing!” I couldn’t believe it–she loved Pegasus, everything about him. His athleticism, his intelligence, his movement, his conformation, his crazy. She asked us to come early next time, and we did.

We worked that weekend until sweat streamed off the midline of Pegasus’s belly like a tropical rainstorm and my muscles whimpered in submission, and the instructor beamed at us and praised us. Us. As a team.

I took a summer job that year which required 5 hours of riding per day and then rode in my free time as well 6 days per week. By the end of the summer Pegasus’s wings spread at the sight of me–you could see it, his ears found my voice before I entered the pasture and he moved towards me excitedly when I walked to the barn, he was all excitement for the next adventure. We swam across lakes, we rode without bridle or saddle, we jumped and spun, we chased cattle, and galloped down empty roads, until I was Pegasus and Pegasus was me.

We still had our bad days, we still worked hard and failed, but we worked together without fail and when I was frustrated so was Pegasus–because we knew each other wanted things to go a certain way and just couldn’t communicate clearly sometimes.

The next fall, back in 4H, the instructors asked if I had bought a new horse. We placed in every gymkhana event (except keyhole because flour is scary and musical matts because when I jumped off he would stop and go backwards not forwards–a throw back to an early career as a tie down and team roping horse), meanwhile the public turned up to watch Pegasus buck in the mandatory flat classes (I still can’t figure out how he knew the difference between the show class and the practice ring). They whistled and cheered as I rode the buck out across the arena with my stirrups flying about and rolling my eyes.

I set up a chair in Pegasus’s stall and read books while he ate, I would lay down on his back and watch other events while he slept standing up (until I got in trouble, because what if something surprises him–yeah, they didn’t believe me when I said I would land on my feet), I would load three other people onto his back and we would cart across the exhibition grounds until we got in trouble for having four people on a horse bareback (apparently it’s “dangerous”), I would hang off his neck and sit on his haunches and stand on top of him, I would pretend I was a corpse and get him to trot around with me flopped over his neck or his hips, I would ride side saddle with my leg wrapped around the saddle horn, I would use his forelegs as a backrest, and snuggle with him when he was laying around. Pegasus even learned to bow.

Beyond the few shows and clinics we attended though, Pegasus was one of my best friends: we would take walks through the city to go get his dental work done while we were in for a clinic, we spent hours together every day doing one stupid thing or another, we rode by the light of the moon without any tack, and he snuggled with me when I was upset. Old cowboys would come up and complement Pegasus or just look over and give us a smile and a wink, I think they could see something immaterial in how we interacted–maybe once they had had their own pegasus. Other cowboys would ask if he was for sale after seeing him stare down a cow or gallop through a pattern and when I said they couldn’t afford him would just nod and smile. People would look on terrified as we pulled out any number of stunts, pelting about like hell on wheels.

Pegasus and I flew together everyday for two more years, he passed abruptly the day before my seventeenth birthday–three days before his own birthday. I still can’t help missing the feeling though. Five years together was too short.

I am so thankful that my Pegasus never fell to plowing but rather, taught me to fly.

 

xx.

 

P.S. Sorry for another extended absence, I’m in the middle of finals and there was recently an event locally that really forced me sit back and think and let those feelings I normally ignore exist a little more openly for a while. Nothing that directly affected me but definitely a reminder that we should all hold those we love close while we can. Thanks if you’ve read this far! Be well.

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Coffee Shop Confessions

My headphones are rarely on. I know, they make me look like a safe person to sit near when you want to talk with your friend about your secrets. Large, fluffy, and clearly noise cancelling with a long cord trailing off to my backpack or computer, my headphones say, “don’t worry, I couldn’t hear you if I tried”. To be honest, when not turned on they do still muffle people, but your conversation is clear enough when I am at the next table over. Further honesty though? While I do occasionally enjoy listening in to a conversation, most people have really boring ones that aren’t worth the effort to follow. Also, I never tell anyone about the conversations I do listen too—I mean really, who would I tell?

When I appear to be staring out the window or blankly looking at the back wall I am catching a glimpse of you. Sometimes I do this on purpose, other times it just happens. Most people have fairly generic outward appearances and, with a window behind them and my glasses off, are fairly indistinct, provided they are at a bit of a distance to me. If I am doing it on purpose it’s probably because you have a unique or interesting appearance and frankly, its as close to complementing a stranger as I get most days. It has nothing to do with me judging you, it has to do with me appreciating you in a non-creepy way (with headphones on and out of the corner of my eye).

I finished my drink three hours ago and no I’m not moving. I’m not trying to be rude but I need a change of pace from studying in my apartment and I try to spend 5$ or so per hour I plan to spend here (sort of like an occupancy rate and still cheaper than most activities). Please don’t think I’m bumming around, I’m just an introvert with not a lot of friends places to crash at when I get tired of mine (plus, friendly people are distracting). Don’t expect movement any time soon.

Yes, I see your ticks, it’s okay. I have them too. The way you twist your hair while you’re on your phone, the way you are looking at your watch while your friend walks you through every moment you’ve been apart, that little catch in your laugh. No judgement here, it’s just interesting to see different people have different little things.

I see you being an ass to the barista. I mean, this one is rare, but I see you and despite the previous point, I judge you. And then I judge myself for judging you and remind myself that everybody has a bad day, and that I should make a point of trying not to take my bad days out on others. Still, just don’t.

I’m not a writer. I know, I am sitting in the quintessential writers cafe, tapping away, or highlighting, or making notes, but no, I’m not that person—sometimes I dream you are though. Don’t wreck it, k?

Each and everyone of you is sort of my favourite person right now. Because you know about my favourite independent coffee shop, and seem to appreciate it. You seem cool, from the outside looking in. I’m just loving being in your presence for this brief moment and I hope you have a good life, and know you are loved (in a totally non-creepy way, again…). But I also wish you would leave… because this is clearly my coffee shop and I like it in its usual, quiet pace okay?

 

xx.

Ticket to Ride

Alright guys, reaching into the archives on this one. This is a piece of dialogue/a scene I imagined a long time ago that I’m going to blow the dust off of and share as I haven’t written a short story/flash fiction in the last couple of weeks. Hope you like it! Let me know what you think: does the scenario feel realistic? Is there anything you find hard to believe? Do you feel it “tells” you too much instead of “showing”?

 

Commuter one, two, and three stood before the ticket agent. Between one and two was one half sized commuter. The boy carried a beat up, ripped bag that had half a Nike logo peeling off of it, trying to run off ever since the first half left it. His hair and clothes were rumpled and the stuffed bag looked like it may burst—at often over stretched seams—at any moment. His toe stuck unceremoniously out of his canvas sneakers, playing peak-a-boo as he shifted from foot to foot. Standing so bedraggled in such an affluent city, in a middle class district station, was a child that evidenced the poverty we tried so carefully to tuck away with the night and sweep off our park benches for daylight children who ran about with parents who paid mortgages on time.

“One week commuter pass to Agrande Station.” Commuter one demanded without making eye contact, ticking away on technology that was worth three months of meals.

The ticket agent tapped away for a couple of moments and a total flashed.

“Mastercard.”

“Go ahead.”

Commuter one removed his card and impatiently began to move forward and away before the ticket even printed.

“Here you are sir, have a great day.”

The man grunted unintelligibly in reply.

The little boy was up next. Maybe ten or twelve years old. He moved up to the counter. “Um, I’ll have a one way pass to Trentville Station please.”

The ticket agent looked over the counter and centred her eyes lower so that she was looking directly at him. Those eyes were not cruel nor contemptuous, merely indifferent.

“Four seventy-five.”

The little boy rummaged and produced from his pocket four dollars and fifty cents. He continued to search his pockets- commuter two looked at her watch three times, commuter three grumbled and huffed at the back of the line at the delay, the little boy became more and more frantic.

“It was just here ma’am I swear, I had the other quarter just here! I counted it out before I walked in!”

The ticket agent looked unconvinced and unimpressed. “Well that’s the price.”

“Just wait a minute, you can hold on to that I’m just going to go look for my quarter, I’ll be right back! I’ll only be a minute!”

The agent shrugged. The boy bolted off to find his quarter.

Commuter two moved up in a smart grey business suit, she smoothed the front where a single large button, a tasteful gold design on it, rested. “three month in-city pass please.”

The ticket agent pronounced an amount and she removed a small purse from her briefcase. She dug around it and produced a couple of one hundred dollar bill at length with commuter three tapping his toe impatiently behind her, his belly hanging over a barely visible belt. She turned and flashed a fake, placating smile in his direction. Turning back to the cashier she took a handful of bills back and stuffed them into the purse she held, barely able to clip it back closed.

She turned to the ticket agent and gave her an exasperated smile. “I just hate change, don’t you? It takes up so much space!” She said shaking her purse slightly to produce a jangle and walking away.

 

xx.

Compliments and Criticisms

Hello.

I believe I have previously mentioned somewhere on here that I am an introvert… maybe here? So… I guess we’ll start from there.

Introversion can manifest in a variety of ways but, the most common connection made with introversion is extreme, practically painful, shyness. I am not that kind of an introvert. Some general qualities of introversion may include a preference towards one-on-one or small group settings; preferring to express thoughts and ideas in writing; caring less than average about wealth, fame, and status; disliking small talk and preferring topics, and work that allows one to dive in with few interruptions; doing your best work on your own; being drained by spending time out and about, even if it was enjoyable and many other things. Introverts can often be “soft spoken” or “mellow” but may not be.

A lot of what I am saying is discussed in depth in a book called “Quiet” by Susan Cain, which I highly recommend for anyone to read if you have an interest in personality development and leadership. I’ve honestly cut the list very short and removed a lot of the subtlety from it!

I probably have become more introverted as I have gotten older. When I look back on my childhood I believe I may have qualified as something nearer an ambivert initially. This fluctuation I believe stems from a phenomenon known as the “extrovert ideal” (again, see the book, it’s amazing).

The extrovert ideal developed in North America along with the rise of the culture of personality which occurred in the late twentieth century. Before the culture of personality the prevalent culture was one of character–your actions were considered to be representative of who you truly were in character centred culture–the ideal wasn’t a big personality, which might prove hollow, but a consistent, serious, and disciplined approach to your commitments that proved your value over time. The culture of personality took over as urbanization and nine to fives replaced our agricultural roots.

In urban business culture who you knew, how visible, bold, and charismatic you were, and your social standing became just as important to success as hard, consistent work were on the farm. North America, and the US in particular became fascinated with the bold and entertaining and the age of personal performance began. (Again, I really recommend reading the book!)

So how did an ideal that rewards extroversion reinforce my introverted tendencies? What happens if a kindergartener goes to school and plays in the corner on their own? The teacher gets concerned. Why? Because we believe that a tendency to spend time alone, a prominent trait of introversion, is inherently bad. Again, why?

The fact is, there isn’t a good why. While extroverts tend to advertise their best qualities more readily, that doesn’t mean introversion doesn’t have its advantages. However, our culture has pushed extroversion as the best way to be so vocally, for so long, that introversion is seen as an essential defect that needs fixing. So children who play alone or aren’t interested in changing task rapidly when they find one they like or who don’t want to read out loud with the rest of the class are pushed to do all these things.

Now the way I phrased that last sentence puts the introverted child in a negative light: these are the things they don’t want to do, but what if I rephrased it? This child exhibits independent interests as well as exceptional concentration in their areas of interest and enjoys reading in their personal time.

So this intro has gotten out of control… give me a few more sentences ‘kay?

What I’m getting at is that a fair number of my fundamental likes and dislikes were at odds with a public ideal when I was young, so being a malleable creature, with child-like brain plasticity, I adapted. How does an ambivert leaning towards introversion adapt to an extremely extroverted expectation though?

I developed two modes of being. I became a bubbly, talkative, interruption prone, self assured public presence at school and an extreme introvert at home, with a very small group of people I chose to interact with, a large stack of books, pets that I liked better than most people, and hobbies and routines many would think verge on hermit-ish as well as a tendency to be easily overwhelmed by sudden changes or demands put on me.

Now how does this relate to compliments and criticism, one might ask. Here’s the thing, a person who comes across as confident verging on domineering in public is assumed to have a robust inner assurance with which to deal with criticism and is assumed to be well aware of their value and strengths in such a way that they do not require reassurance or compliments to know they’ve done well.

This makes having a dichotomous personality extremely challenging because your public persona is at odds with how you receive and process criticism and how much encouragement you need to feel confident in a task or interaction. I am fundamentally insecure about most things privately: social interactions (did it go well, did I say the right things, what do they think of me?), work performance (they haven’t commented on anything I’ve done recently, are they seething internally but not telling me to be polite, if they don’t say anything is that because my performance was mediocre or because it was so good they don’t have any suggestions to improve it?), personal choices (if I cut my hair how will that change how people perceive me, is it weird to blow bubbles when chewing gum after the age of twelve, if I suddenly start wearing makeup will people think I look like a clown, if I do look like a clown will people be honest with me?) and so on.

This insecurity, however, is at odds with the character I portray in public and therefore not likely to be considered when people are interacting with me, whether its classmates, professors, or bosses.

During my recent hiatus from writing here this aspect of my personality came to a head in an interesting way. And… now I need to backtrack to fully explain that… bear with me please?

A couple of years ago I worked somewhere where the owners were married and their opinions as to where said business was headed was fundamentally at odds which meant I often found myself trying to balance two entirely different sets of priorities set by stressed people. This job was fairly high demand in some ways but low demand in others, and while management could be difficult the other employees were easy going and fun to be around. Partway through my time working there another person was brought on in a position of some authority to provide some relief for ownership so they could take some time off/ease back on their working hours slightly.

This new employee had a very different set of priorities than either of the owners, which now needed to be accounted for when trying to balance your day as an employee. While I tried to consider this as much as possible, I still prioritized what I found from ownership higher (in general) than the new employees thoughts on things. At the same time, in my interactions with ownership, I saw that while the new employee was an authority, they seemed to find some of her opinions rather silly. I was surprised that this was talked about behind the new employees back rather than addressed but tried not to worry about it.

After a couple of weeks with the new employee present I started to realize that she seemed to dislike me and was often snappish with me. My response was to try to remain relatively jovial and smiley in the hopes that it would dissipate this dislike. It didn’t, my balancing of priorities wasn’t to her liking and it came to a major head when we were alone at one point.

I think I asked about retrieving the next thing for whatever job we were working on when it happened. She yelled at me and though I’m not sure exactly how it began I do recall being told I make excuses, think very highly of myself, am arrogant in a way that is unacceptable in one so young, that I am bothersome, lazy, only do the jobs I like to do and try to pawn other jobs off on people, and overly exuberant and a variety of other things that culminated with the phrase, “And (Boss’s name here) thinks so too!”

I was stunned, I had no reply for it other than to look around the room to make sure I was still inhabiting reality. I couldn’t very well try to explain myself could I? Since I was always making excuses. I just sat in my brain, utterly overstimulated, harking back to an emotionally manipulative woman I worked for in Australia, and a barn manager who had said things that made me want to punch her in the face because “you don’t know me!” All these people, saying different but equally negative things about who they believed me to be internally and what they believed my motivations were.

I couldn’t understand why it was that these people didn’t see who I actually was. I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t have brought these concerns to me privately, one at a time, calmly. Why was it people always just blew up in my face? And what the hell was so wrong with me? Was I really just continuously associating myself with mean-spirited people or was I actually the utterly shitty person they seemed to think I was? I went and started the next thing that needed doing.

The next day I approached another employee on my level and asked her if she felt I avoided certain jobs or wasn’t pulling my weight like she was. She looked confused and said no, and asked why? So I explained the situation to her. She considered my question again and reassured me that she certainly didn’t feel that way and since the tasks we were responsible for were shared she would’ve noticed, what she had noticed was that the new employee seemed to dislike me and intentionally try to make me look bad to others. While this was reassuring a part of me was still latched on to the last sentence of the verbal barrage.

It took a few days but I stewed about it until I could scratch together the confidence to ask my boss whether she felt this way about me, and if so whether I should find another job. She looked surprised and said no, although there were a few things she might like me to become more competent with or just more sensitive of. That was a criticism I could accept and work on, delivered calmly. What I didn’t expect was the massive blow up that then occurred between the boss and the new employee–which I suspect has severed the friendship that once existed between them to this day.

I can’t say my experience at that job got much better, as I was yelled at again, by someone else, for something else much further outside of my control before I left and cried in front of one of my bosses (it was one of those I’m so angry that I’m either going to cry or punch someone moments).

Altogether though the reason I was frequently getting yelled at became clearer over my multitude of experiences:

  1. when I ask questions, due to my apparent confidence, instead of seeming to ask for assurance I appear to be doubting the instructions or competency of others;
  2. my carefully crafted air of assurance can come across to others as cocky or arrogant;
  3. the time I spend trying to carefully prioritize other peoples things, when viewed by someone who hasn’t watched what I’ve been doing continuously, can make me seem lazy or insubordinate to the person who’s things I haven’t been prioritizing as highly;
  4. when I offer other people the choice of what they want to do rather than switching who does what regularly it can make it look as though I prefer certain jobs;
  5. my attempts to ensure I am making friendly conversation can come across as over exuberant to someone who isn’t interested in talking;
  6. my attempts to make my reasoning understood may be read as making excuses;
  7. I often come across as more competent than I am by being exceptionally good in one area;
  8. my air of confidence makes it intimidating to try to address things as they come up no matter how subordinate my role is to the person noticing the problem;
  9. and my general demeanour makes it seem like I can handle being screamed at well

Since these incidents I have encountered people who are more careful when they correct me and in general it seems that people who are personally secure tend to deal with me in more productive ways.

The reason I say this came to an interesting head recently though, is because I had a break during which I spent time volunteering on a project. A couple of days in I received a compliment from the person directly in charge of me that absolutely dumbfounded me.

My supervisor, after a particularly sleepless few days turned to me and said something along the lines of, “I’m not quite sure how to say this, but I feel like I should let you know that I’ve really enjoyed having you over the last couple of days and you’ve been really helpful. You have this kind of… quiet confidence that has been really reassuring, you just seem to know that everything is going to work out, you are upbeat and encouraging, and you act very competently even though these are new situations for you.”

Now, that’s not word for word but that’s the gist of it. My reply was, awkward silence to begin with because who knows how to respond to that type of feedback. I settled on the poorest expression of gratitude that has ever come out of my mouth (which I honestly wish I could take back and replace with the words thank you) which was, “Haha, thanks, some people have called that cocky.”

After I had gotten a bit of sleep, I reflected on this interaction and realized something: all of these people I’ve mentioned in the last few paragraphs were looking at the same set of traits under different circumstances, with different perspectives.

One set of people looked at me, without watching me carefully, and said, “This kid does things her own way without asking for input from me, appears not to treat all tasks equally, is overly chatty but sometimes ominously quiet and is always explaining away blame, and is clearly arrogant because she prioritizes things other than my things!” While another person, working under fairly extreme conditions, in close contact with me, looked at me and said, “This kid tries to think ahead and be ready for what is coming next even though things are constantly changing, she’s independent and takes on responsibility where she feels confident, is optimistic despite challenges, tries to be encouraging and communicative, and clearly is trying to work with me using her personal resources!”

This same supervisor generously let me catch extra sleep, even though I told her to give me a hard poke when the alarm went off (when I’m low enough on sleep, I sleep hard) and gently corrected me on occasion, while still never faulting me if I did things independently or went off on my own, and offering me opportunities to do more as I showed I was capable.

To put this all together, while the dichotomy of my personality may never be completely erased and while there may always be people who feel threatened by the strange version of extroversion I have manifested, there will still be people who are capable of seeing the positives in my strange covert introversion. On a personal note I will continue my attempts to make my performance persona and who I am internally line up better, and we should all probably let the compliments and criticisms of others slide away and find ways to value ourselves independent of others regardless (while still being realistic about our faults and failures).

Lordy, that was long! If you got to this point and still have a minute to spare, comment on whether your an introvert, an extrovert, an ambivert! (And if you want to share your struggles from any of those perspectives, go for it!)

 

xx.

The Ultra-Ultra Marathon

So, life update/doggy ultra marathon experience story.

One of the more exciting things I’ve done this past month is spending time (four days) helping vets at a sled dog race. Day one was vetting the teams before the race and days two through four where spent on the race track at various check points.

It was amazing fun, resulted in utter exhaustion, and solidified my love for working dogs of all sorts. The dogs that work in this sport are distance athletes of the highest calibre. They are also team athletes with unparalleled drive to run. Honestly, these dogs blew me away day in and day out–from the energy they brought to the first day to their continued tenacity over hundreds of miles of hard terrain, in frigid temperatures.

I was tagging along to the checkpoints and standing out in the cold for hours at a time and it tired me out! These dogs were racing through it. I honestly can’t say enough about these dogs. Although some of them were a bit timid, they were all easy to handle, compliant patients even when we interrupted their sleep, or got them up from their comfy bedding to check them. They enjoyed people but during the race were focused on work, eating (almost 10 000 Calories/day!), and sleeping more than socializing with the vets.

And the mushers! The mushers, bundled up in massive parkas, going through the night with less sleep than their dogs, were insane!

I think what impressed me the most was how conscientious the mushers were, of their dogs and of the vets. Dogs always got fed and bedded first (which is expected) but beyond that, before the musher slept, dogs got massages, blankets, booties taken off, and checked. Even at non-mandatory check points basically every team would have a few dogs checked by the vets based on how the musher felt they were doing.

As a vet student I stood taking notes, checking hydration statuses, making sure dogs were getting the medications they needed if they were dropped, and whatever other miscellaneous things needed doing. All the while I had a front row seat to the vet-musher interactions. The mushers listened carefully and patiently to the vets comments, they dropped dogs without being asked, and they got dogs rechecked before they left checkpoints.

The partnership between the dogs and mushers and how early mushers could recognize a dog that wasn’t having a good time was far and away past what you see with most pets. Their was no ignoring a minor stiffness, or breezing past a sore paw pad–these things were noticed and treated appropriately. If a dog wasn’t pulling in the harness and was just drifting along with the others it was noted and checked and if it didn’t improve with a few hours rest it was left with the vet or the handler (depending on the checkpoint), treated, and allowed to recover.

Honestly, the only sport that might compare (from the human end of things) would be ultra marathoning–but they aren’t carrying weight while they do it, and you would have to do 5 one hundred mile ultra marathons in a row to compare. Extreme athleticism is the name of the game!

Overall, this experience was amazing–I believe my previous story, Howl, expressed the emotion of being there better than this, if I do say so myself. So feel free to swing over to that post to “feel” this more.

 

xx.

Howl

A piece based on my activities since I last posted. The experience this is based around will, I’m sure, burrow it’s way deep into my mind for a long time.

 

All things are crisp in the blue-white light of a sliver moon. The stars glimmer–innumerable holes in a tightly crocheted, black blanket.

Dogs are hidden by shadow dense, spruce forest and I stand before the cozy wood cabin of a stranger, soon to be not just our host but a friend, watching a headlamp cross the portage on the far side of a frozen lake.

The temperature is descending, as it has been since dusk, eventually to settle near -40 celsius with only a breath of wind around 3 am.

“It’s amazing,” I murmur at the sky.

“Isn’t it?” Replied the vet beside me.

Both our necks crane upwards as we whisper back and forth to each other.

The headlamp and pinpoint light of the stars fascinate until the cold begins to bite. Indoors a stoked fire awaits, with moose stew bubbling while art hangs upon the walls–reigning down beauty upon the isolated inhabitants. A lively grey haired parol officer with a welcoming smile and weathered, former Harvard lawyer with grey braids and a grizzled face have offered this comfortable sanctuary to us.

I would be out in the cold that night from 11 pm until 6 or 7 the next morning. Two hours of sleep, plus a few z’s caught in the truck between stops would hold me through nearly forty-eight hours. But even when I dropped into bed exhausted those stars would be burned on the inside of my eyelids and the cold at every stop would fade to a spectre in the back of my mind.

Weeks later, three days of my life seem like a delirious, surreal dream but already, despite a melancholy feeling born of the tiredness and cold, my body screams–do it again.

 

xx.

Daylight

Hey guys, yet again I have dropped off the map for an extended period of time! I have been on some adventures and also simply been uninspired (and antisocial). I’ll expand on things over the next couple of weeks–look for posts on Mondays and Fridays. Mondays I’ll try to catch you guys up on my activities and thoughts and Fridays I’ll probably post something with a creative writing bent. Don’t count on the schedule being followed exactly but for the rest of the month I’ll be attempting it! Hopefully, the lengthening daylight will wake me up a little and inspire me to write more.

High Point

Another short story, I’m going to try to keep this under 1000 words so we’ll call it flash fiction. This one is again entirely based on the title, spur of the moment, and rough drafted for your pleasure. Also, if you’re wondering why I am saying another, and again check… here. (Hindsight: this went somewhere I never imagined, perhaps a little cheesy though.)

 

Sweat rolled down Gloria’s neck, but she didn’t dare move to wipe it away even if she could without falling over. Her ankles ached and she could feel a crack in her toenail. Honestly, it was insane to stay on point this long. Nobody should be able to feel a crack in their toenail–toenails aren’t meant to be felt. Her arches screamed louder still, but it was the toenail that bothered her.

She tried to remain effortless, reminding herself to smile. She reminded herself that she had the strength to defy gravity, her former teacher had always used the phrase, “Like helium in your finger tips prevents your heels touching the ground.” Kotchkoff had been masterful in his day, he had floated across stages to the sound of orchestras. Fourteen years studying under Kotchkoff had driven into Gloria’s very spine the same steel that inhabited his sixty-nine year old frame. When she was chosen to dance before diplomats at only twenty he had beamed with pride calling her, “My little steel magnolia.”

Her knees tremors slightly but she steadied. Her lips silently caressing the words of praise, steel magnolia.

Gloria let her mind turn back to her early childhood, to the moments between her rigorous hours of training. Hours had been spent in mountain meadows on hot summer weekends or racing down snowy winter slopes on disc shaped sleds, her mother, Adeline, had always insisted both Gloria and her sister spend as much time outdoors as possible. Though her trainers had objected, Adeline had forced the issue of family weekends, which meant two days where Gloria would train only two hours, independently and then spend the rest of the day on family outings.

Adeline had a particular desire for the family to feel a certain way amongst each other: She described it as hygge, which was a Norwegian word that was never really fully explained to Gloria other than by experience. The family would often settle into a good discussion or sit in their favourite chairs each with their cuppa or simply read in the same room as one another or do some quiet comfortable thing and after some time Adeline would sigh and smile. She would look around at each person and declare the moment, “So hygge my loves.”

Gloria’s lips shaped this second phrase–Hygge my loves.

She listened to the fullness of the present silence, it was the moment before the packed audience would burst into applause, and imagined the hot lights as the sun of the mountainside. She shifted on her toe ever so slightly–holding herself far past the final fading of the last note of a song. She imagined her father, Broderick, reading a book and suddenly looking up and asking, “How would you dance the dichotomy of war and peace?” She imagined, rising to point and forcing tension into her body, walking on a tightrope of diplomacy.

It was hard to tell how long she had spent with her thoughts when the tapping sound disrupted the quiet, rhythmically chipping away at Gloria’s concentration. Now steam rose off her sweat soaked body and nothing could stop her ankles from trembling, her abdominal muscles fluttered and her smile faltered, her arms fell from their framing position above her head. Her arches collapsed and the crack in her toenail opened into a chasm. She fell straight forward, catching herself at the last instant, her wrists protested mightily and a tear tracked down her chin where it wobbled like it was threatening to jump.

A boot connected with her ribcage.

“Up, little ballerina. Do you have something to say or shall we string you into position?” The interrogator asked.

Gloria closed her eyes. Mountain meadows rose up to meet her and the light sweet smell of flowers brushed by her face as she danced with helium fingers back to her family and away from the circumstances that would hold her down.

 

xx.

The Greatest Beyond

Hey guys, today you’re getting a short story. This is a really rough cut but would essentially be a beginning to a longer portal fiction story. Let me know what you think, what’s confusing, what you would change, what you like. Honestly, this was written mainly as a fun little project and is entirely based on the title, although I originally intended to take it in an entirely different direction.

 

Icy rain drops stuck stubbornly to Aubrey’s coat and eyelashes despite the steadily rising temperature that had nearly found the 0 degree celsius mark. Aubrey didn’t even try to wipe them away. She leaned comfortably on a fence post and watched animals shift under the shelter of the windbreak, black backs coated in ice.

From a distance all looked well but a quarter mile away Aubrey had shuddered at the site of a calf, curled up as though to keep warm, but frozen in place with its nose tucked in its flank. The cow to match the ill-fated calf was nowhere to be seen then. Aubrey sighed and hoisted herself back up into the saddle, her red-dun mutt of a horse–Henry–sighed back and they wandered towards the cattle casually.

The cattle looked at the horse with some trepidation but his meandering gait gave no reason for concern. Aubrey slowly sifted through the group, looking for any cows that had obviously just calved. She eventually settled on a big but thin cow who’s udder bulged in all directions. Henry deftly sorted the cattle, abruptly changing from lumbering to catty with only the lift of a rein. Five cows, including Aubrey’s choice, ended up pushed out of the herd and Aubrey deftly directed the cattle towards the fence line.

Time was a sort of slow-fast, that Aubrey thought of as unique to agriculture, that morning. Every movement of Henry’s muscles was snappy and purposeful, but they moved the cows with a standard peacefulness and at a low speed away from the group. It seemed slow-fast was always the best way to work with animals, you had to be just fast enough to be one step ahead of them but not so fast that they got scared. These commercial cows were very quiet though, Aubrey had noticed since she arrived two months earlier.

Aubrey let Henry have his head. He knew where they were headed and pushed the cattle on towards a set of pens a mile away. As they got within site of the pens Aubrey spotted a break in the fence line and tapped Henry up to cut the cattle away from the  barbed wire barrier. The cattle suddenly seemed fractious though, they pressed on along the fence line, speeding up and refusing to allow Henry to slip in beside the fence.

The hole in the fence was coming up fast and Aubrey groaned as she saw all her work bringing the cattle to the pens go up in smoke. Regardless, something had to be done, she dragged Henry’s nose to the inside and galloped past the cattle turning and stopping Henry ahead of them and unfortunately scattering the cows in the process. She watched as the cows suddenly objected to their relative loneliness and took off towards where they had come from.

Briefly she contemplated pelting after the uddered up cow but facing south again the freezing rain blew into her face harder and faster making her give up the idea for the moment. No way would that cow, worked up and all alone, turn around and come all the way back without a fight. She would probably go for the hole in the fence if Aubrey did get her back this far and knowing Murphy’s law Henry would probably slip in the icy, muddy slush and that could leave them both injured in the middle of nowhere.

Aubrey slipped off Henry and rubbed his neck. “We’ll go back and get her once we fix the fence, hey Hen?” The horse just nuzzled her pocket.

Together, Aubrey and Henry walked to the break in the fenced peered at it. All four wires were cleanly cut by the looks of the ends Aubrey picked up. She tossed them down disgustedly. Some recreational vehicle driver wanted a bit more space to ride probably, and just didn’t want to take the time to find a gate. It seemed silly though, what with the pens right there. Open a gate and you could drive straight into the alleyway of the pens and the gate into the pasture from the alleyway was open. Why cut a fence?

It was really inconsequential to Aubrey, it needed fixing either way. She fished around her saddle bags to see what she had for tools. The search produced enough extra wire to get the job done, a few staples, and a wire cutter. She grabbed one end of the bottom wire and brought it as close to the other as possible and then the other. She would need a stick to put a bit of tension in the wire. With Henry ambling after her on a loose rein she stepped across the fence line to cut branches of the trees in the ditch.

Her eyes burned momentarily with sudden brightness and she covered them with her arm until they adjusted. Opening her eyes she saw sand ahead of her, a warm breeze slipped by her cheek and Henry snorted. Looking behind her Aubrey couldn’t see a fence, she could’t see a blade of grass either. There was only sand and of course Henry. Looking ahead there was more sand and what looked like a group of camels, perhaps, headed towards her from an oasis. Aubrey stepped backwards two steps, trying to find her way back to a Canadian prairie, but there was no change. Sand shifted and nothing else.

The group coming towards her became more and more clear and made less and less sense. Aubrey contemplated mounting Henry again just to feel a little safer but was froze in confusion. The beasts, she realized as they came closer, where actually the size of a large pony but their colour was very similar to a camel, in all other respects they could be considered almost grey-hound like, clearly canine at least. They did have riders though. Henry flared his nostrils and blew out hard, his snort screamed nervousness but he stood firm, only glancing worriedly at Aubrey.

The giant dogs stopped and one of the riders handed off his reins and dismounted.

“Al sumarkeen samala garath.”

Aubrey blinked and shook her head. Trying to think of a way to explain she didn’t understand. It was then she remembered she was wearing her winter clothes. She tugged her silk wild rag down off the bridge of her nose, shifting it so it was around her neck and pulled the hood of her oil skin down. She didn’t want to appear hostile by staying entirely covered.

“Umm, sorry,” she began, “I speak English or French or Mandarin. Do you speak English? Francais?” She gestured back to the man.

“I simply said, greetings and mercy to you friend,” the stranger explained in accented English.

“Oh. Thank you, greetings to you and your friends as well. I’m sorry, I am somewhat lost, can you tell me where abouts I am?”

The man regarded her quizzically but answered, “You’re near the eastern edge of the Arhurrian in the jurisdiction of the kingdom of Tamarin.”

“Relative to North America, where would that be?” Aubrey inquired tentatively.

Now the man appeared confused and went back to his companions. Aubrey wondered if she had offended him, she thought she knew her geography reasonably well but neither Arhurrian or Tamarin was ringing a bell. He had an animated conversation with his companions before returning, with both of them, and all their dogs, trailing. Henry made a high pitched snort and his head jolted higher, dancing to either side he made his sentiments about giant rideable dogs known. Aubrey pulled him towards her and elbowed him in the shoulder to get his attention before placing a steadying hand on his neck and speaking a few words. The man waited patiently.

“Neither I nor my companions know of a place called North America, you seem perhaps more off track than you realize. My name is Bartholomew, and this is Markus and Artor.”

“Aubrey,” she replied, holding out a hand.

The men stepped away slightly as her hand came out and Aubrey, suddenly worried she had done something wrong, quickly withdrew it.

“Is there a city nearby that I could head towards then?” Aubrey inquired.

Now the man called Markus spoke, “Meloria is fairly nearby, but taking your beast there may not be the best idea.”

“You mean Henry?” Aubrey asked incredulous. “He’s entirely harmless, totally bomb proof.”

The men looked around at each other. “I think you misunderstand my companion, ” Bartholomew explained. “The creature you call Henry, he is… how does one explain it… he would be considered an incarnate god in Balerta, the kingdom within which Meloria lies.”

Aubrey stared at the men.

“An animal like this is rarely seen in these lands, in Balerta specifically your subjugation of him would be considered an offence punishable by death,” Bartholomew added, as though it clarified anything.

Aubrey turned to Henry and looked at him. “They think your a god Henry,” she whispered. “I’m not sure what to do.” Henry lowered his head and pressed his nose into her stomach, sighing into her jacket. Aubrey sighed back.

Turning around she addressed the men again. “Then where can I go? I need to reach a university or a library at the very least.”

Now Bartholomew’s nut brown face cracked to reveal a brilliant white smile. “Why then you are already in the right place. We ride out to you from Garindiga, you see the beginning of an oasis string which is home to great university. Garindiga starts just beyond the trees there.”

Aubrey looked at the oasis sceptically. These people could be lying to her, or they may not be. The real question was, did she have any options.

“Right. Then I will go there,” Aubrey replied.

She swung up onto Henry’s back lightly. The men in front of her gaped.

“Is there something wrong?” Aubrey asked, anxiety building.

“Your beast, he lets you not only adorn him with items, but ride him?” Markus looked as though he shivered as he spoke.

“I mean, Henry and I have our disagreements, but for the most part he’s happy to get me where I need to go.”

Bartholomew motioned to his companions and they mounted their dogs, he glanced at Aubrey again as Markus and Artor rode a little ways away to wait.

“I am leader of the guard in Garindiga and you are welcome to be our guest but be careful, even here many will be awed, afraid, or even hostile towards you if you carry on this way.”

“What should I do? What’s wrong?” Aubrey asked.

“You ride a creature hardly ever seen, and by many revered as a holy messenger. Many in Garindiga are of Tamarin and will not be worried by you, but those who are not will be very hostile.”

“So what do I do?”

“Dismount, remove the equipment on Henry and walk into the city with me.”

Aubrey slid back down and untacked Henry. She removed her halter from her saddle bags and replaced his bridle with it. She looked at her saddle lying in a heap on the ground. It was a nice saddle, her favourite actually, comfortable and simple.

“I’ll send someone back to retrieve it,” Bartholomew offered. “Remove that head piece too though.”

“But he’ll be totally loose,” Aubrey replied.

“Yes.”

Aubrey turned away. How had she ended up here? She looked at Henry. They had done a lot together, he was a steady and trustworthy companion. Tears welled up in her eyes, he could die out here. Despite herself her shaking fingers settled on the knot of the halter. She untied it and let the halter drop. She brought her hands to his cheeks and drew Henry’s forehead to hers, closing her eyes. “Be safe little Hen, I’ll meet you back in Canada.”

For a few long moments they breathed each others air and then Aubrey’s hands clapped together. Her eyes snapped open. Henry had vanished. He wasn’t just galloping off into the distance, he wasn’t a little ways away looking for something to eat. His jaw had been between her hands and now all of him was gone. Aubrey’s chest heaved and her whole body shook. Where was Henry?

Hands grabbed her and she was spun around with such force her feet nearly slipped out from under her.

“What have you done!” Bartholomew whispered desperately. His grip on her wrists closed with vice like strength.

Aubrey opened her palms face up and shook her head speechlessly.

“This has not gone unnoticed!”

Bartholomew looked over his shoulder and Aubrey raised her eyes to see what he was looking at. Dust rose behind Markus he sprinted his dog towards the oasis. Artos remained but the look he directed at Bartholomew was full of meaning.

“This will be trouble,” Bartholomew growled.

 

xx.

 

 

 

Back to the Beginning

Happy New Year!

Beginning again is always so… well, it just sort of always is, so we’re going to be intentionally optimistic about it! “But it’s already the tenth,” you protest. Yes, well… I like to let things settle and decide whether they are real before I comment, okay? You never know when we’ll all be surprised by the end of the world on the Friday after the New Year begins.

On that note I thought I might update you guys a little.

I did make a few new years goals which I’ll share despite their wonderfully cliche nature.

  1. Study more consistently–Honestly, I’m a horrible crammer when it comes to school and it’s not very good for long term retention. My grades have been better this last semester then in my first year in vet but I would still like to see them get even better and really want to keep practical information in the forefront of my mind.
  2. Be careful of my nutrition–I found myself being really lax during December finals about my food, eating more carbs and just generally not being very intentional. The problem is I feel way better when I keep my diet more consistently healthy so when it seems more difficult to do it is probably when it is most important.
  3. Increase my exercise–While I am not doing morning swims this semester, I do want to work more on my flexibility and focus on some strength and grip training, as well as trying to increase my running capacity. Part of this is because I would like to see my weight in the 160-165 lb range (or less) by the end of the summer (I am hoping to decrease or eliminate my need for a daily inhaler for my asthma and this would be a good step), and partially because I would like to increase the steadiness of my hands (for suturing) and the amount of weight I can lift (for calving and other large animal procedures).

That’s a pretty vague list as far as actionable items but I think you get the gist of it.

A few things I am excited about this year:

  1. I have two opportunities to work with performance dogs this year. One is confirmed and the other may be this year or next. Pretty pumped for the opportunity to be a student under some talented vets participating in the industry in very different capacities.
  2. My summer job! Seems crazy but I have had this lined up since November (for funding application reasons). I’m still working out accommodations and details but am super excited to work with a new (small) team in a small town this summer. Plus I’ll be close to the US border so I am thinking of maybe popping into North Dakota and Montana.
  3. Puppies! Okay so this one already happened. I was bugging a family friend about having two intact, young dogs of the opposite sex and guess what? By my estimate they conceived about a week later and the puppies were born just before Christmas. While I by no means support irresponsible breeding or keeping intact pets, I do love puppies despite their less than prime origins and I am so excited to go home for a weekend in February and visit some really cute puppies (and also check that Max, the male dog, has been to see the vet about his… eh-hem, testicles). I also get to house sit in February with some cute dogs, horses and cats.

Speaking of Christmas, I had a great one. A few highlights were having my Grandparents around, we also had Max (male, Great Dane x Brazilian Mastiff) and Sugar (female spayed, Red Heeler x Bernese Mountain dog) as Christmas guests (their families were on holiday), my new lunch box from Denmark (my sister got me a super amazing metal box from the Museum of Design or some such), my lap desk (which my mom purchased from Amazon–her first Amazon purchase ever), and preg checking cows with my dad (he’s a vet in case you forgot, we were doing this by ultrasound so there were some heartbeats and little faces and everything).

It was a quiet but good Christmas season. I swam a lot, I ate a lot, I played with dogs a lot.

Low-lights of the New Year so far: our classroom at school seems to consistently become frigid around 11:30 in the morning (no idea why but sweaters or blankets are required, and yes we do bring blankets to school since we’re vet students and we practically live there); I had some sort of 24 hour bug this week which resulted in the first time I have vomitted since grade one due to an actual stomach bug (my occasional migraines frequently put pressure on the vommition centre of my brain and cause me to be sick but it doesn’t count because it’s a neurological symptom not a physiological syndrome/disease); I’m sad to report that all of my plants, which I attempted to keep alive last year, are now deceased, let us all have a moment of silence for my poor plants.

So that’s the deal presently! Not much to talk about.

 

xx.