Saturday, May 15, 2010

In which we celebrate Saturday Stories: The Crazy Cellist's Tale

This is a story that begs to be continued.

When I tell it to a live audience or on the radio, I always finish by asking the audience what they can do. Sometimes it takes years for people to find their answer to the question.

I hope that when you discover what you can do, you'll tell me about it.

The Crazy Cellist of Sarajevo
In the city of Sarajevo, bombs were falling. Every day, citizens feared more and more to go out into the streets, because the war was so vicious.

In the city of Sarajevo, on an early morning in May, a bomb fell on a street corner, and killed twenty-two people who were standing in line outside a bakery, waiting to buy bread for their families.

In the city of Sarajevo, there lived a cellist named Vedran Smailovic.

And when this cellist heard the news, that twenty-two of his neighbors had been killed by a bomb while waiting in line to buy bread, he went a little crazy.

He didn’t know what to do. He wanted to stop the bombs—he wanted to keep the people safe. But how? He wasn’t a member of the military. He didn’t even own a gun. All he knew how to do was to play the cello.

Not knowing what else to do, and having gone a little crazy, this cellist took his music stand and a folding chair and his cello out into the street. He took his cello and his music to the street corner where those people had stood, where the bomb had fallen. Not knowing what else to do, he sat down in the middle of the street, in the middle of a war, and he played the cello.

In the city of Sarajevo, a small miracle happened that day: he didn’t die.

Not knowing what else to do, this crazy cellist went back the next day, and sat down for an hour every day to play his music with bombs falling around him.

In the city of Sarajevo, an amazing thing happened: the pilots of the planes overhead told each other to avoid a particular street corner because there was a guy down there, he was playing the cello, and they told each other to fly elsewhere when he was playing his music because he was crazy.

And so, in the city of Sarajevo, when the music played, the bombs did not fall on that part of the city.

Word spread among the musicians of Sarajevo, and they drew up a roster. The took turns playing music on that street corner, until there was music on that street, in the middle of the war, all day and all night, in the city of Sarajevo.

And while the music played, the bombs stayed away, and the people were safe.

In the city of Seattle, an author named Robert Fulghum heard the story about the crazy cellist of Sarajevo.

Fulghum was the author of a popular book called Everything I Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten. He learned what that crazy cellist had done, and he was inspired to work for peace in his own city.

But how? He wasn’t a member of the military. He didn’t own a gun. He didn’t even play the cello. All he knew was how to write books like the Kindergarten thing.

Because he didn’t know what else he could do, Fulghum did what he knew how to do: he wrote a book.

Then he took himself on a book tour of twenty-two cities, to tell the story of the crazy cellist of Sarajevo and to raise money for local peace projects.

In the city of Bellingham, I heard Fulghum tell the story, and I was inspired to work for peace.

But how?

I’m not a member of the military. I don’t own a gun, or play the cello or write books.

I’m just a storyteller.

What can I do for peace?

I can do what I know how to do.


In a village far away from here, a terrible thing happened: a child died.

All the village mourned the death of this child, but the mother mourned more than any of them.

For days, for weeks, for months, she cried and wailed and wept for her loss.

After a year and a day, the mother sought help for her sorrow from the wise woman of the village.

“Please,” begged the mother, “do you have something to help me recover from this sadness? Some potion, some pill, some herb—something?”

The wise woman thought about this request for a very long time.

Then she said, “To ease this sadness, you will need to make soup.”

“Soup? I need to make soup? How will soup ease sadness?”

“Ah,” said the wise woman. “The soup you will make is very special.

"This soup must be made in a pot borrowed from a family that has never known sadness. Make soup in this pot, and eat the soup, and your sorrow will be eased.”

So the mother visited her neighbors, asking for the loan of a soup pot.

At the first house, the youngest son opened the door.

“Welcome,” he said to the mother. “Of course, we want to help you—but remember that our grandmother died last summer.

"Our family has known great sadness. Do not take our soup pot. Instead, take these carrots from our garden, and put them in your soup. Our grandmother loved carrots.”

At the second house, the eldest sister opened the door.

“Welcome,” she said to the mother. “Of course we want to help you—but remember that our uncle died two winters ago.

"Our family has known great sadness. Do not take our soup pot. Instead, take these yams. Our uncle always grew the sweetest yams in his garden.”

At the third house, an old man answered the door.

“Welcome,” he said to the mother. “Of course we want to help you—but remember that my daughter died ten years ago.

"Our family has known great sadness. Do not take our soup pot. Instead, take these beans. My daughter loved bean soup.”

At every house in the village, the story was the same: each family had known great sadness. And each family offered something to put in the soup of sorrow.

At the end of the day, the woman made soup in her own soup pot.

She invited all of her neighbors to share the soup.

Together, they remembered the ones who were gone.

And as they ate, and shared, and remembered, the sorrow was eased.

Friday, May 14, 2010

In which I have a pity-party, but riding in the sunshine helps

Seems like most of my friends are at the Mt. Adams Endurance Ride this weekend. They've got 159 riders registered, the trails are fabulous, and the weather will be spectacular.

And I can't go.


Times like these, there's only one thing to do:

Take the pity-party out for a ride.

Fiddle was ready for something a little more strenuous than usual, so I hauled out to a trailhead that I haven't used much with her.
In fact, I haven't ridden much at this location in almost 6 years.
Navigation was a bit of a challenge.
We'd get to a place where I recognized some landmarks
...and then we'd go through a place where the trees looked really different than they did six years ago (the trees in the photo below used to be much taller)
On the other hand, the trees in the photo below used to be much shorter!
With such clear skies, the GPS was actually helpful for routefinding today, which helped a bit. I also dropped breadcrumbs...
(little pieces of bright pink surveyer tape).
We were out for about 3 hours, and covered almost 12 miles of territory including some very impressive climbs and scrambles. But ahhhh, the views from the top were fabulous!

Some of the trails were flagged...but the flags sometimes started in the middle of nowhere and then abruptly stopped. Not very helpful! Some of the old familiar trails had also been closed by the loggers. We used to run up this steep logging road--more than a mile of 6% uphill grade, and an excellent place to do a little anaerobic conditioning. Not any more! Now the road is full of tank traps. You have to walk through or around them.

It was such a pretty day. I guess I should stop feeling sorry for myself and enjoy the trails, and my lovely companion.

I still feel sorry for myself, but not as much. Thanks for the ride, Fiddle!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

In which I talk about endurance gear that is no longer useful

The first time I went to a REAL endurance ride (the old Bully Wully 1998,) was also the first time I laid eyes on real endurance gear.

I felt that I had finally found my spiritual home in Henry Griffin's mobile tack store, and would cheerfully have made up a comfy place to stay forever among the nylon, biothane, gortex and rubberized nylon tack and accessories displayed for sale in the middle of a ridecamp parking lot.

I was poor in those days (some things don't change much) but there was something in Henry's display that I both wanted and needed: a crupper. My mare Story was built like a pickle barrel, with no discernible withers to keep the saddle from sliding up to her ears when we went down a steep trail.

Better than that, Henry had for sale a purple crupper. I was in heaven.
In later years, I replaced that first purple nylon crupper with a purple Zilco crupper, which held up better in our Swampish climate. I still have it...somewhere. But I don't use it anymore. Fiddle doesn't have withers, she has a dorsel fin. She doesn't need a crupper so I don't put it on her.

That got me thinking...

There have been a lot of tack shops in my life so far, and I've used a lot of different equipment combinations.

Some stuff (like the very first biothane bridle I ever bought, in 1999) I still have and still use.

Other stuff, like a handheld heart rate monitor, I discarded after the first event, because it wasn't nearly useful enough to justify hauling it around with me. (I am notoriously lazy about carrying stuff that I don't absolutely need).

(by the way, photos in this post are taken from catalogs--because I don't use this stuff any more!)

What else do I not use...and why?

Here are some more examples:
Ariat trail shoes cost about $100. Dublin makes a similar for about half the price. I wear out either brand in 2-3 years of 3-season riding. Why pay more?
I used interference boots one time at a ride, at the insistance of the horse's owner. This horse had never worn them before, because he didn't interfere. However, the owner's other horse needed interference boots, so she wanted them on the horse I was riding.

Ever hear the advice to "not do anything new at a ride"?

There's a reason that it's good advice. The horse ended up tripping continually for 10 miles until I finally disregarded the owner's exhortations to "let him get used to them" and strapped the boots to the breastcollar for the remainder of the ride. That was the end of that.

I also no longer use one of these:

Camelback hydration pack. I hate the weight on my back, and find that when I wear the pack I tend to lean forward. Since I already tend to lean forward (I have crummy posture, but I'm working on it!), the pack on my back was making a bad thing worse.

I do like having a Platypus bag in the rear pocket of my saddle bag, with the drinking tube clipped to my shoulder. I find that I drink a lot more water at a steady pace when there is no effort to reach for the suck tube. HOWEVER, I've also found that I almost always forget that it's clipped to my shoulder when I'm dismounting....yep, yanking that tube out of the saddlebag with my leg is just not graceful. I may return to the Platypus setup when I start travelling longer miles with Fiddle, as her large size and dark color dictates that she needs most of the waterbottle contents dumped on her body as we travel.

Which brings up another product I don't use much:
My friend Henry Griffin makes and sells these soft scoops. They have the tremendous advantage of being much quieter than the clatter-y plastic water scoops made from bleach bottles that many riders carry. (Jim has a gigantic plastic scoop made from a Tropicana bottle that he has carried for yonks...he found it on the trail somewhere in Oregon and adopted it for his own).

My objection to water scoops (vs. a sponge on a long string) is that the scoop requires that the rider get off the horse. My horse is tall. I am short. I don't get down from the saddle if I don't have to, because it's a freakin' long climb back up! I am capable of climbing up onto the side of a water tank and then onto my horse, so a water scoop isn't completely useless, but for most rides a sponge is more practical, especially when there are plenty of puddles to throw the sponge into along the way.

Speaking of the long climb back to the saddle, here's a piece of equipment that I will probably never use on Fiddle:

A tailing rope is used by Ride and Tie competitors and Uber Jocks who spend a lot of miles running beside the horse rather than riding astride the beastie. Yup, not very useful to me! When doing Ride and Tie-esque activities like trail-building, I use rope reins and tie those to the tree. No extra equipment required.

Doesn't this fleece saddle and fender cover look comfy? Real Marino wool, ummmm.

It turns out that padding the fenders of the saddle with fleece makes the barrel of my horse seem GIGANTIC. I felt like I was riding a Thelwell pony, and my back and hips were sore for a week afterwards. These days, I have a Merino fleece seat cover, and my stirrup leathers are just fine being naked.

Speaking of naked:

Padded knickers? It is to laugh. God has provided me with plenty of padding, thankyouverymuch. Jim tried the men's version of these, and he didn't like them much either, even though God skimped on his derriere padation.

Here's an example of how A Little More Isn't Always Better:

The Deluxe Stowaway pack has not only pouches on the front, but also bottle holders. Too much of a good thing for my taste. I like to strap my pouches to the pommel of the saddle, not onto the neck of the horse, and the Deluxe is too wide to do that gracefully. Also, I find that strapping the Deluxe onto the front of the saddle (as shown in the photo) means covering up a huge amount of hot horse. Not ideal. I use the smaller Stowaway packs, and they work fine--a water bottle in each pouch, and a few essentials in the middle pack.

I also briefly used and quickly discarded a ridecard/map pocket that clips to the breast collar. It sounded like a great idea...but turned out to be more of a pain than a help, and was just one more thing hanging off the side of my horse. It wasn't necessary, and the cards and maps fit just fine inside the fanny pack I always carry, so the extra pocket went into the used tack sale.

What about a heart rate monitor?

Well, after I ran my last set of HRM gear through the washing machine (the electronics don't work very well after that), I've been too stingy to go get another set. It's been about 5 years. Maybe I'll replace it eventually....maybe not.

I have a wristtop GPS, and I use it sometimes. However, with the amount of tree cover here in the Swamp, the GPS often doesn't get a good signal. Especially on cloudy days. We have a lot of cloudy days. My GPS gets left at home most of the time.

Other equipment that I've finally decided I don't need:

Glow-in-the-dark halter, which only glows for about an hour after sundown....which is NOT when I wake up wondering if my horse is where I put her. Also, this product is WHITE and shrinks in the wash...anybody want mine? It won't even fit over Fiddle's nose. These days I ziptie a glowstick to her halter (under her chin). It's usually still glowing by noon the next day.

I also no longer take billions of buckets to camp, although a former riding partner insisted we needed to carry them "just in case." In more than ten years of camping with horses, I've never needed more than a big water bucket, a small feed pan and a medium-sized bucket for each horse. The other buckets can just stay home!

Oh, and speaking of camping, who in the world invented hay bale bags?

What a ripoff. I've never had a bale bag last for an entire weekend without ripping a seam, breaking a zipper, or just losing a random torn-off bit. I put the last set into the recycle bin, and now I use a tarp. I've used the same tarp to wrap haybales for 3 years.

I wrote a whole blog post about containing horses in camp, and my negative experience with portable electric corrals.

I don't miss unravelling electric tape in high winds one little bit.

Finally, there's my riding crop. It's true, I rode with one for years. Now it's gathering dust in the trailer.

It turns out that Fiddle is one of those type-A perfectionistic horses who wants specific instructions rather than a general comment. She doesn't want a tap on her shoulder telling her to stop doing something. She responds best to a light poke from my spur to indicate that I want her to move a particular foot in a particular direction at this particular time.

Yes, my mare is a potential dressage diva, and if it makes communication with her easier, I'm happier to use the tool she prefers:

Jim bought me a pair of "bling" Prince of Wales spurs. The (purple) rhinestones are usually covered up by my halfchaps, but I know that I'm wearing something sparkley. I love that.

Using the POW spurs has also refined my leg cues--so I'm not working so hard to ask for something, and Fee doesn't have to work so hard to figure out what the heck I'm asking her to do.

So that's good.

Now it's time for reader feedback!

What equipment have you tried and discarded? What didn't work? What was incredibly inconvenient--or dangerous?

Share your experience in the comments!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

In which we leave "dry" land for the day, and there are also some Pirates

We left port in Anacortes on Saturday, searching for these:

Killer Whale (Orcinus orca)

and hoping for glimpses of these:

Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus)

Instead we saw these:

Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)

In fact, we not only saw them, we smelled them...and learned why one of the common nicknames of the Minke is "stinky Minke". Ewwwww.

Here's how the day went:

Captain Carl of the Island Explorer 3 greeted us at the dock on the first bright sunny day we've had in weeks.
IE3 is moored in Everett during the fall/winter/early spring where she is closer to the grey whales feeding grounds. In mid-spring, she moves to Anacortes for the summer, in hopes of being able to see more minke whales.

The local orca pods (we have three "local" pods, known as J pod, K pod, and L pod) travel throughout the Puget Sound, so there's no way to pinpointing a place where they hang out--they hang out everywhere, and you just have to be in the right place at the right time to find them! When Jim and I went whale-watching a few years ago with his family, we were lucky enough to see a Superpod, which is the killer whale equivalent of a "barn dance"! All three resident pods gathered together to show off their outfits and their dance moves, and they entertained us (and each other) for more than an hour.

However, the tour company very correctly points out that the only way to be sure of seeing orcas is to visit Sea World. (Their whales are penned up, and can't leave the tanks.)

On this trip, we had a wildlife viewing before the crew even cast off lines from the dock:

We watched as a mature bald eagle dove down to the water and grabbed a fish. Then apparently the world's dumbest cormorant grabbed the fish away from the the eagle dropped the fish and grabbed the cormorant instead!

This picture (below) is blurry because Jim was shooting over my shoulder and got a lovely shot of my purple hat in addition to a wonderful picture of the eagle throwing cormorant feathers everywhere as he dined.
As we pulled away from the dock, we could see the local Marine Spill Response boats, clean and ready for action. The larger boats in the fleet appear to be reconfigured fishing boats, but the smaller skiffs look like they were designed especially for the work of corralling uncooperative petroleum. Some equipment and experts are on their way to the Gulf of Mexico right now, but the company keeps running drills and practice sessions to ensure that the responders here in the Swamp are still prepared for emergencies at this end of the world.

Passing the breakwater, Jim took this great picture of a seagull working on his suntan.

That wood probably feels really warm and cozy in the sunshine.

On the Anacortes side of Guemes Channel, we saw the Trident Seafood cannery. If you've ever had a fish sandwich from Burger King or Wendy's, it probably came from this plant.

This area used to be crammed with canneries, but most are abandoned or used for other purposes now.

One of the Washington State Ferries travels between Anacortes and the San Juan Islands. The WSF is the 2nd largest ferry system in the world. (The largest ferry system is British Columbia Ferry Services, just over the Canadian border to the north)
As we head into the Sound, little islands surround us. It was the first sunny Saturday in a long time here in the Swamplands, so there were plenty of pleasure boats out on the water.

We were less than 30 minutes out of port when we spotted another marine mammal:
Harbor seals aren't shy at all, but this one was headed for a nap on the warm rocks at the south end of Colville Island.
Seals are very cute up close, but from a distance I think the hauled-out seals on the rocks look like a clump of banana slugs!

We saw harbor porpoises all day, but they don't hold still very well for photos. Ah, well.

We made our way out to Hein Bank, where the water is quite shallow and there was a lot of bird activity on the surface of the water.

Birds on top of the water can indicate the formation of a "bait ball", which is a large ball-shaped school of fish beneath the water. Fish ball up when they are chased--by whales!

Finally, we saw one!

If you have trouble spotting the fin in the water, don't feel bad. They are hard to see, and even harder to catch on film! This minke whale surfaced several times, and rolled around a bit so almost everyone got a chance to see his lovely dorsel fin.

The captain wanted to make sure we got the full sensory experience of minke whales, so he came out of the pilot house and drove the boat from one of the three stations on deck.

Finally, we started hearing people in the stern of the boat groaning. Then the groans got closer and then all of us in the bow of the boat could smell it too:
Minke whale breath STINKS!
Captain Carl laughed and said that some days when the whales are difficult to find, some of the crew will stop looking and start sniffing in order to locate them.
Yep. I could see how that might work.
On the way back to the docks, we had another brief minke whale sighting (no photos, sorry). While we were treading water north of Smith Island with everyone peering eagerly over the sides, we spotted three of these:
Tufted puffins! They look more like stuffed animals than real birds, except when they turn their butts up and then dive down deeeeeep.

Coming back into the harbor.

Willy had a great time on the whale watching cruise with his friend Don, courtesy of tickets purchased by his Grandpa Richard. (Richard doesn't pose for photos on the bow of the boat, because he thinks he's a grumpy old bear. We will all pretend to believe him, right? Right.)

Jim and I stood up there for a photo. We must have been going through Guemes Channel when the picture was taken, rather than while we were travelling at speed, because we aren't all bundled up in the photo. The wind from the moving boat is cold!
I liked the sign on the pilot house window:

Back at Haiku Farm, the non-seaworthy family members were happy to see we'd gotten home in time to feed dinner and watch the sunset.
And now for some completely unrelated nautical silliness:

The theme for the library's summer reading program this year is "Make a Splash at the library". In January, the animator who produces our promo videos called library headquarters and asked if there were any librarians on staff who could dress up as a pirate.
"Um, yeah!" said my friend at headquarters. "I have just the librarian for the job."
WARNING: This video is completely silly.