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In the cave of Trophonios   Leave a comment

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my cherry trees have been tired for a few years now, their yield less and less. the whole 19 years we’ve been here, they’ve only given enough to pick every other year. last year they gave me enough for a pie that no one ate, and a gallon bag in the freezer for smoothies. so i was shocked this year to see both of them covered in bright red drops. you’ve got to move quickly when it happens. the birds and deer move in within a day of the mass ripening, not to mention the wasps.

so out i went in the sunshine, toting my biggest bowl, the ladder, a portable speaker and my phone. while i picked and danced and sang along to motown, the clouds mounded and darkened in the south and west.

a spear of lightning split the sky to the south, right over sara’s pasture on the other side of the lane it seemed. a huge crack of thunder shook the branches immediately afterwards. i stared up, mesmerized, as the dark blue and charcoal clouds heaved like sea lions above the sycamores. weirdly, though, no wind.

i’m kinda stupid about thunderstorms. i figure if Zeus apotheosizes me that way, what an epic way to go. so i stood in the eerie stillness, rocked by rumbles and crashes and flashes.

i could hear the rain coming. a huge, ominous hissing, right over there behind the trees lining the lane. any second it was going to hammer me, and i’d have to run for it, trying to protect my poor phone and the bose speaker.

i waited. and waited. i could hear it. it was so close.

after a few minutes i decided to take advantage of the lull, and put the ladder in the barn. then i took the phone and speaker in. finally i carried in my big bowl of cherries. then i came back out and stood in the windless orchard, listening to that monstrous hissing and waiting for the rain to pelt me.

eventually the hissing stopped. a great light opened to the northeast. shafts of sunlight started to poke through.

so, okay, no cave. no dreams. and nothing from which i needed to be healed other than the natural results of age and careless living.

but once upon a time, someone seeking knowledge or healing or prophetic dreams might descend into a cave. it seems to have worked surprisingly often. but sometimes all they’d get was a terror so profound it wiped their memories. those who recovered mentioned the God coming to them in the form of a giant snake, preceded by a huge hissing.

i wonder if that’s what they heard, lying in the cave, waiting for the approach of the God.

khairete

suz

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Posted June 3, 2019 by suzmuse in Uncategorized

The Oresteia   1 comment

The Oresteia 18-19

just got back from the Shakespeare Theater Company’s production of The Oresteia in D.C. i saw the billboards when i was in the city with my lovely beth last month for a Tarot show but when i checked and saw the ticket prices i sniffled and let it go.

but the ol’ man got us tickets for my birthday, so we went to the matinee today, followed by a dinner that couldn’t be beat at a new italian restaurant on the way home.

i didn’t know what to expect, as ‘freely adapted from aeschylus’ could mean anything from a modernization to muppets. so i was stunned to walk in and see a traditional nearly bare stage with only a skene building. i knew we were off to a good start.

the aeschylus trilogy would have taken all day to perform along with its satyr play, so i was curious to see how much would have to be cut to make it fit into 2 hours. the answer is ‘an awful lot.’ but somehow they managed to not only get the main points in, but to ping all the required nerve endings- pity, terror, catharsis.

the updated language worked very well. the ol’ man isn’t familiar with the story, so it helped to follow the story NOT having to try and unpack an archaic translation. klytemnestra was magnificent, gorgeous, eloquent and creepy. agamemnon was appropriately conflicted and tortured. humor was used to great effect. they included the iphigenia story, fortunately, since although it wasn’t in the original, the whole thing doesn’t make sense to a modern audience without it. she and agamemnon both showed up as silent, bloody ghosts to great effect.

i think the strongest thing in the play, apart from klytemnestra, was the use of the chorus. they were brilliant and effective. i was kind of hoping for black rustling wings and heaving, muttering Erinyes, but the servants acting both as the audience mirror and later as the jurors was surprisingly moving. no Apollon or Athena in the final trial, but the writer, producer and cast still brought the audience to a gripping, stirring cathartic conclusion.

the only character i didn’t quite buy into was cassandra, and that may be because i couldn’t hear her clearly. yes, i need hearing aids.

you just can’t beat live theater.

khairete

suz

Posted June 2, 2019 by suzmuse in Uncategorized

Early summer, late Thargelion   1 comment

Stood tonight in the middle of a maelstrom of fireflies, backlit by lightning and drummed by thunder.

Io Zeus! Io Demeter!

Hye Kye!

Khairete

Suz

Posted May 27, 2019 by suzmuse in Uncategorized

Bermuda Bev   Leave a comment

My best childhood friend died a week ago. We hadn’t been close in a long time- she had just become too crazy and I couldn’t figure out a way to break through it. One of her neighbors found her. Don’t know what she died from, but she hadn’t been taking good care of herself.

My initial reaction, when her daughter Christy messaged me with the news, was simply heartbreak for Christy. Bev and I had only chatted a few times in the last 10 years, mostly on FB messenger because I refused to take her calls any more.

Sounds ghastly, doesn’t it? I’m not the most kind or empathetic person at the best of times. I know Bev felt deserted by me. I guess she was.

I’m not suffering from any major remorse over it. She had become impossible to talk to or reason with, and I’ve belatedly learned to create boundaries and have good shields, and I use ’em. I’m glad there are people in the world with huge hearts and boundless goodwill and no limits. I’m just not one of ’em.

But from the ages of 10 through our late teens, and to a lesser degree through our young womanhood and mothering years, we were besties. She wasn’t my only bestie, but when I was a kid she was one of my absolute closest. We ended our letters (those are snail mail missives written by hand, in cursive, that people used to use to stay in touch before the inTraWebz, kids) with LYLAS, our own acronym for Love Ya Like A Sis.

And I did. Adoringly. She was the smarter, prettier, savvier, cockier, braver, crazier, sassier, big sister I never had. We were the same age, but she always seemed so very far ahead of me in everything.

When I was 10 I FINALLY wheedled my parents into getting me riding lessons. At my very first one, as I walked up and down the aisle between the stalls, almost peeing myself with excitement as I waited for my pony (Jomby Jay, a fat little Shetland, I remember every minute of my first lesson on him) I met a skinny girl with curly brown hair and huge bright blue eyes. She took me in hand, visiting each stall, and told me every horse’s name. Then she quizzed me on the names, and ran me through them again and again until I got it right. She took me into the stall of a big draft horse named Whitey, who stepped on her bare foot. Her lips turned white as she shoved the huge mare off her, but she didn’t cry, even as her foot turned dark blue.

That was the start.

We rode at Warwick Riding School together for the whole 5 years until I moved to the states. Most of the kids who rode there had money. Bev and I were the poor kids. When we accumulated enough miles in the saddle we got to be ‘helpers’, volunteers who worked like galley slaves for the privilege one free lesson, and, if we were lucky, the chance to be leading file in a lesson or bring up the rear on a tourist trail ride. I wasn’t aware that there was discrimination against poor kids in a rich society. I just figured Bev and I didn’t get treated like the other kids cuz we were bitchy- and we were. Snotty and rebellious and as rude as we dared to be, which, I have to add, in an English colonial territory, is awfully mild compared to the startling rudeness of American kids today.

But it was also cuz we were poor.

Here we are in the collecting ring at Vesey Street. I’m on my favorite Cloud 9, Bev’s on Rufus. Neither of ’em were particularly popular or talented ponies, but we loved them.

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I went to the Bermuda High School for Girls, a private Christian school that we could never have afforded if my Dad didn’t get a differential for working in a furrin land. Bev went to Dellwood. I don’t know if it’s still there, but it was ‘that’ school. The scary school. Kids got in FIGHTS there. Sometimes it was Bev. No one in the hushed ivied halls of BHS would dare do such a thing- maybe a slap or a hair pull. But we walked in single file on the left hand side of the hallways in silence, with no makeup or jewelry, our uniform skirts a decorous length above our knees.

Bev lived in Sun Valley, Warwick, a five minute walk from Long Bay on the South Shore, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Tiny Nol-Hil cottage was jewelbox packed with treasures, including a foot tall statue of a horse covered in glossy black real horsehair, which I adored uncritically, never considering the grim reality it represented. Bev’s dad Nolan was a handsome, charismatic charmer. Hilda, aka The Dragon Lady, was tiny termagant with tall coiffed hair, hard little brown eyes and a harsh voice. I was terrified of her at first, but came to love her. And over time I saw how she, Bev and Bev’s older sister, Judy, worked to keep Nolan cheerful. He was never less than warm and kind to me, but he was one of the very few people who could incite real terror in Beverley. When all was well she was his Boo Boo, but if he bellowed ‘BeverLEY!’ she would squeak ‘Yes, Daddy!’ in a meek tone I never heard her use with a single other human.

It wasn’t until I was quite a bit older that I saw the twinkle in the Dragon Lady’s eyes and saw the fierce relentless protectiveness and love she had for her girls- and that included me.

My mother died shortly after Bev and I met. I wouldn’t say that Ms. Lewis became a surrogate mother, but she mothered me some nonetheless. Before a horse show, if we spent the night at my house, we set an alarm, got up, fixed our own cereal or toast, and walked in the pre-dawn darkness to the bus stop on our own ( Bermuda in the early 70s it was ridiculouly safe. I had no fear roaming the islands day or night.) But if we stayed at Bev’s, we were awakened by the Dragon Lady shaking our shoulders, and got up shivering to a hot breakfast and tea, which we didn’t want but got chivvied relentlessly into eating. Our riding clothes got checked and lint-brushed, our boots polished, our hair  braided tightly, and we were driven to the riding school and sent off with a tirade of admonitions to behave our goddamn selves. It was awesome.

I remember sitting in the Dragon Lady’s kitchen on a trip back home; Bev and I were in our 20s. Bev had been working as a photographer for the Royal Gazette (Bev did a little bit of everything, and everything she did she was REALLY good at) and sometimes as a model. She showed me a photo of herself that was really fantastic. I said, ‘Wow, look Ms. Lewis, she was beautiful!’

Hilda’s head whipped around like a hunting dog on the scent, her little dark eyes flashing fire. ‘What do you mean WAS?’ she cracked out. ‘She IS beautiful.’ As I stammered and dithered and tried to fix it, she cut her eyes at me in utter disdain and plugged another cigarette into a long holder, glaring at me through the smoke.

I have a picture of her somewhere- I wish I could find it to post here. She is sunning herself in her postage-stamp-sized back yard, fabulous legs bare and tanned, a scarf covering her dark hair, movie star sunglasses, a cold drink sweating drops of condensation on the table next to her and that cigarette holder held with casual elegance in one hand. What a star.

Bev was better than me at just about everything. She was a crack rider, a talent she passed on to Christy. She could ride anything on four legs and had no fear. She didn’t teach me to ride, but she reinforced everything the instructors taught me in her own way- grooming, braiding manes, picking hoofs, cleaning tack, vaulting onto our long-suffering ponies from a dead run, going down the jumping lane sitting backwards (she did the last a lot more often than I.)

When we got older that translated into showing me how walk right (she declared my short little waddly strides ‘hideous’), taking long strides ‘like a boy’ and jumped on me pitilessly if she caught me looking down instead up and ahead. How to slow dance. Smoke cigarettes. Smoke pot (hard to come by, hard to smoke and mostly ineffective.) Talk tough. Roll my eyes the right way. Put on mascara (lots.) Walk in platform shoes- I didn’t own any but she taught me in hers. Ride a Mobylette. Shoplift. Dear gods, she had some light fingers. I didn’t ever actually steal stuff with her, but went through untold agonies if I was with her when she did. (My life of crime, shortlived as it was, began after I moved to Laurel MD so I can’t blame it on her.) She talked me into stuffing half an ounce of pot into my underwear on one of our trips back to Bermuda, scoffing at my abject terror and plaintive squeaks that I didn’t want to. If I’d have got caught I’d have had my dream of moving back to Bermuda come true, as a guest of Her Majesty’s Prison and for a long, long time. I don’t know the laws there now, but back then they had no sense of humor about it.

Here she is with one of her Really Good Boyfriends, Alan Mayne. He adored her. I love this pic of them because it shows her in a rare soft mood.

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Bev loved the boys and the boys loved her. How I envied her that. The ease with which she teased and joshed and flirted with them baffled and astonished me. I think she kind of liked my awkwardness. Sometimes she’d nudge a cast-off in my direction. With any boy I liked, she’d imply that they’d expressed interest in her. Sometimes she’d outright say it. I implicitly believed everything she said back then. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure she shaded the truth, at the very least, when it suited her.

And I was super easy to influence. Most of the time I think Bev genuinely used her powers for good. She loved me, and when things were swimming along well, she wanted me to be happy and she tried to help me be less awkward and weird so that I’d be happier. But there’s no doubt that sometimes she didn’t.

If I was down or heartbroken or disappointed or angry, no one was more in my corner. She’d pick me up, dust me off, stiffen my spine, make me laugh, threaten my enemies. She was an amazing cheerleader.

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By the same token, if I were wildly excited, super proud of myself, over the moon about a boy I liked showing interest, or (most of all) if someone praised me in front of her, she made it her mission to prick my balloon. We were at the governor’s stables with Hobby, and he hugged me and said, ‘Why can’t you be more like this one, Boo? Just be a little sweet sometimes.’ She rolled her eyes and said, ‘You can have ‘sweet.’ I’m not sweet, I’m all fire.’

I assiduously worked from that moment on to suppress any iota of sweet and tried to cultivate fire. Fire was SO much more cool than sweet.

This was my Bev. Tough, and too cool for school.

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When I was hyperventilating that Vile Wayne (the first in a long line of Bad Boyfriends- even though he was never actually my boyfriend) had casually inquired if I would be at the beach that night, she tossed off that he’d asked her too and told her to wear that sexy halter top.

When we were 18 or 19 she came out to stay with me and my roomies in Laurel. During a breakup with Bad Boyfriend Asshole Joe, I was hurt that she not only continued to hang out with him, she actually spent the night at his place. She insisted that she slept on the floor in his room, he refused to discuss it at all, my roommates were appalled at my naivete. To this day I still have a hard time thinking she’d sleep with someone I was so hung up on, but he loved to sleep with my girlfriends. She might just have.

She was here at the farm when I brought my pony Bojangles home. I was going very slow and easy with him, jollying him along, letting him take things in his own time. Impatient with me standing at the door of his stall and waiting for him to approach me, she marched in and haltered him, announcing loudly (to him, not me), ‘I don’t faff about with all this touchy-feely stuff, mate. You know where you stand with me. When I’m here, we get things done and you don’t have to worry about who’s in charge.’

Maybe she was right. Horsemanship has many nuances. But I didn’t like it, any more than I did when she decided that she was going to teach Nik to neck rein, even though I told her I never needed Nik to neck rein and didn’t want to confuse her. ‘It will make her more versatile,’ said she, and even though I was a grownass woman by then, the lifelong patterns asserted themselves and for the rest of that week, when she rode Nik she crisscrossed the reins. Nik never neckreined again in her life, but it’s true that she also didn’t seem particularly confused by the whole thing.

It was on that visit that I realized that the old patterns weren’t working for me any more. We were planting flowers in my herb garden, and Bev, who had worked as a landscaper for a while, informed me I was doing it wrong- it had to be tall to short, and colors grouped. I dusted off my hands and told her that I don’t plan my gardens that way (to my organized husband’s sorrow), I pick up a plant and ask it where it wants to go, and plant it there. It ends up disorganized and chaotic, and, to my mind, utterly charming. My old friend told me I was wrong, and where to plant the next row of zinnias. Her jaw actually dropped when I ignored her and continued to do it my way.

Was I right to do it? I think so. I found my own voice around 40, and I’ve never really looked back. But I can’t blame Bev for not coming with me on a paradigm that had worked for us, more or less, for almost 3 decades at that point. We stayed friends, but I can trace the beginning of the schism from that visit.

Well, there were earlier signs too. Bev brought Christy to visit when Christy and Brian were around 9 or 10. Brian was as bedazzled by blonde, beautiful, confident Christy as I had been by meeting her mom at close to the same age. Christy had (has) ADD, one of the early kids to be diagnosed, and when on her Ritalin was charming, and when it wore off, a pistol. Her mom doted on her with a fierce blindness that startled me by reminding me of the Dragon Lady. Bev would fuck her off and no mistake, but if I stepped in to intervene when Christy teased little Dylan it was thundercloud time. Yet there was plenty of criticism for my boys, who I felt dealt with a stark double standard remarkably well for their ages. It was a difficult visit on many levels.

I don’t know what it was like for those who were closer to her, but things unraveled from my end a few years after Bev’s divorce from Chick. I heard wild stories about her stealing his truck and burying it entirely in a sand dune, headlines gleaming through the pink coral sand. When I went to visit her, she wouldn’t talk to me or look at me until I got on my bike to leave. Then she’d act surprised, all charm again. There were wild rants of anger at random things and people. Stories kept changing.

She called me a couple of times after that trip in 2009, but the phone calls were so incoherent and rambling that I can’t actually call them conversations. They were just monologues of insanity. l wrote to her after one, trying to find my brilliant, funny, articulate, opinionated friend. She wrote back, angry and hurt. I couldn’t think of anything to do after that. So I just distanced myself.

The last few times I heard from her were sad. In one conversation she asked me if I would take her dogs, as she was living somewhere not safe and her neighbors were threatening to poison her dogs and rape her daughter. I have no idea how true any of it was, but the anguish was real enough. Ultimately, I think it was more of a cry for connection than anything else. When I offered to help re-home the dogs, she didn’t really want to send them away. So I just made commiserating noises and worried. In our final conversation, on FB messenger, she was manic with excitement, planning to bring Christy over to see the Blue Angels in Annapolis and have a girlie vacation. Unfortunately, the Blue Angels and Annapolis are too far for me to reasonably visit, so I tried to make suggestions about helping her find a hotel, and transportation, and figuring out when in this jaunt they could come stay with us. What didn’t seem to factor in was that Christy had just had a baby, and new moms tend to not want to leave their new babies. Bev’s thought was that Christy would have to go back to work soon and needed a ‘break’, but I’m not at all sure Christy was on board, because she was silent through most of the exchange. When the plans kept getting bigger and more complex, I finally bowed out.

When I messaged Christy to apologize for not being able to work it out, she typed back the four saddest words I’ve ever read. ‘Mother needs to sleep,’ I don’t know the backstory, but underlying that brief response I heard echoes of a long haul coping with a beloved and increasingly erratic mom.

I don’t really know who she was at the end. There had been years of vaguely specified legal troubles that might require her to leave Bermuda for good, plans to live with a friend in New Jersey, losing the house she bought after the divorce, cycling through jobs and periods of unemployment. Bev had been a heavy equipment operator, a truck driver, a vet tech, a landscaper, a photographer, and a bunch of small jobs in the hospitality industry (huge in Bermuda) and occasional paid gigs doing horse stuff. It’s hard to imagine her not being tops at anything she did, but I don’t think she was toward the end. It had been a long long time since I’d seen her at her radiant best.

But when I remember her, that’s not the Bev I’m going to remember. I’m going to remember the exciting Bad Girl who talked me into sneaking out, throwing rocks at the school windows from the old railroad tracks, stealing navel oranges from the farmer near the riding school, snitching ponies out of the paddock late at night and taking them for bareback halter gallops along the tracks (poor hardworking ponies). I’m going to remember us making French fries in my parents’ kitchen and watering down the ketchup so it would be like ‘restaurant ketchup’. Telling scary stories under the covers at sleepovers (the one thing we both agreed I was best at was storytelling.) Playing with her little dog Fluffy in the front yard of Nol-Hil Cottage. Getting ponies ‘on feed’ and spending a blissful week each Bermuda summer pretending they were ours. Playing horses in the Arboretum. Walking to White’s grocery store at midday on our riding school days to buy red cream soda, burgers and bbq chips. Spending a summer working aboard the catamaran Moriah serving drinks and helping tourists with masks and flippers for tips. Lying together on the beach under the star-studded sky and dreaming of what we’d do with our lives. Talking about horses. Talking about boys. Writing down the lyrics to songs we loved (you kids with the internet will never know the struggle- you should have seen how we mangled ‘Come and Get Your Love’ by Redbone before GoG came out and enlightened me.) Getting the local radio station to dedicate love songs to our crushes. Eating loquats warm from the sun, picked from ponyback.

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LYLAS, Bev.

 

 

Posted May 19, 2019 by suzmuse in Uncategorized

Anthesteria ’19   2 comments

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the Anthesteria, it’s not to get too invested in how I think it will go. So this year was interesting in both what is proving over the years to be consistent, and what veers into completely unexpected directions.

One thing that’s been eerily consistent over the years is the weather. (And now that I’m saying it aloud, it will almost certainly shift- the old witch admonition to Remain Silent exists for a reason.) The first day, Pithogia, is usually fresh and spring-like and exciting. Winter returns on Khoes, and Khutroi plummets into snow or polar vortex temps or other uncomfortable meteoroligical phenomena. And that proved true this year.

Pithogia started off gorgeous, sunny and mild with cool sweet spring-y breezes. But it clouded up quickly and stayed gray all day. At least it didn’t rain. I did my farm chores, bounced out to the Inn for a tarot client, and came home to the heart-shaped (although not spurting) meatloaf for our belated Valentine’s dinner. After we ate I set up a really, really beautiful altar- Linganore peach wine, a white candle and white and red flowers for Pithogia, 19 Crimes ‘Banished’ (for Orestes) with a red candle and pinkish/greenish roses for Khoes, and Dark Horse pinot noir with a purple candle and dark purple irises for Khutroi.

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There were also gold tapers, fresh grapes, statues and bling.

Shrouded all the shrines but Dio’s (Hestia was ambiguous but ended up covered), cleaned the hearth and selected the incenses. Opened the ritual with some pretty heavy duty cleansing in addition to the standard stuff, and read a hymn by Lykeia from Written in Wine. Later I took a pretty plate of food out to Dio and his dryad under the eerie clouds, which had thinned just enough to let the almost-full moon gleam through. While I was out there with Him, the wind shifted to the north and the temp dropped significantly. It blew across the open mouth of wine bottle, making ghost sounds. I felt spirits I’ve never encountered before in addition to the restless dead of Dionysos, the Mothers and Others and familiar nature spirits. What passed between us all is for my private notes, but I was surprised that after Her strong presence last year, Persephone was as quiet as….. well, the grave.

Later I traced and cut out my Swinging Girls.

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Khoes was spectacular, brilliant sunshine followed by a brilliant moon-drenched night. But brrrrr, so cold! It was a very pleasant day all round, really, but a strong undercurrent of miasma ran through it, as it did on Pithogia. The moon accompanied me on the drive to PA to visit some of my favorite kids, ghostly and enormous in the electric blue sky, then dramatic as I drove home through the sunset and purple dusk.

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I’m not an artistic person. Coloring my Erigone girls isn’t a process I particularly enjoy. This year, as the last several, I really wanted to just print them off the internet and be done with it. But there’s something so intimate and necessary in actually making them, adding eye color and features and sashes and buttons. I might freehand them next year instead of tracing, which is a PITA, but the dynamic poses once they’re hanging from the tree are so heartbreakingly evocative, not sure my freehand skills will be sufficient.

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Orestes didn’t actually come through (I remember one Khoes spending a lot of time shooting the shit with him under the stars on my deck) but the feeling of his role in the festival did. The role of the girls as pharmakoi, together with the silence of the night’s ritual, has given me some deep ponderings to ponder going forward.

Hestia had a surprising amount to say to me.

Khutroi was a dark, difficult day. I had a feeling this was coming (my Imbolc with Gabs gave me some heads-up that I have Things to Go Through between now and Ostara) but it was still unpleasant. I combined the dregs of all three wine bottles and carried it to the pond to perform my first Hydrophoria, which I’ll probably keep going forward. I didn’t make a panspermia this year, something HAD to give, so instead I offered the departing dead a nicely dressed plate of regular food. By the time I banished the keres it was after midnight and I was wrung out like an old sponge.

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But I was gifted with a precious, precious message from my Mom, which made all the pain, difficulty and discomfort of this particular Anthesteria all worthwhile.

When the rubber meets the road, I trust Dionysos with all of it. It’s not always fun, but it’s always Good.

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I’m glad there’s a week to breathe and regroup before the Lesser Eleusinian Mysteries start next week. The Anthesteria usually wring me out, but more so than ever before this year.

 

Posted February 20, 2019 by suzmuse in Uncategorized

Gresca’s Story   4 comments

img_9425[9521]This is Gresca.

I didn’t take this pic. I don’t have any pics of her at all. This is from her mom, whom I met on the IntraWebz recently and to whom I spoke (and with whom I cried, a lot), last night.

Gresca was a bay Andalusian mare. When I met her she was fat and funny-looking and not much liked by anybody. She changed my life in a very impactful way, so I want to share her story.

It was somewhere in the mid-90s when she came into my life. I was boarding Nik at a barn in Sharpsburg. I cleaned the stalls there twice a week to help offset Nik’s board, which sounds like a great deal, but I’m not so sure it was. There were twenty-five stalls, twenty in the new barn with the indoor arena, five in the old barn. The ‘old’ five took me almost as long as the twenty. They ALL took a long time because despite having been cleaning stalls since I was ten, and being pretty dang good at it, I’ve never ever developed any speed at doing it. I would begin around 10am, and on a good day would finish around 10pm. I remember some not-good days, sitting on the manure spreader under the icy stars at 1am, exhausted tears freezing on my cheeks as I contemplated getting up at 6 to get my kids off to school and myself to work.

I’m digressing. Not sorry. It’s what I do.

Gresca spent most of her life in a stall. Maybe once a month her owner would show up, pull  her out, run her hard around the indoor for an hour or so, and put her back in her stall dripping with sweat, flanks heaving. She never got groomed or petted or fussed over. Occasionally she’d get turned out, but she was valuable so she was turned out alone, and ran and yelled the whole time. It got on the barn owners’ nerves so it didn’t happen very often. When I went in to clean her stall she was polite (unlike some- whoo! those stallions were a challenge!) but nervous and not particularly friendly. But she moved over when I clucked to her, and that was all I wanted from her. Well, other than an exasperated and fruitless desire for her NOT to circle endlessly and mash her manure into mush.

But that’s what perpetually stalled horses do. What else do they have to do?

One day she was turned out, running and yelling, and the barn owner asked me to bring her in. She was high-headed, tense, blowing and spooking and dancing, and I jerked her lead rope impatiently. She pulled away from me, eyes rolling and showing their whites.

Something happened. We looked at each other from the opposite ends of that lead rope, and what I saw was no longer a fat, muddy pain in the ass, but a lonely, desperate soul who had nowhere to turn and no one to hear her. There was not one single thing in her life to look forward to except her next meal. Humans were either scary or indifferent. She was going to be worked to the point of pain, turned out alone, or bored to death in the confines of her stall. That was her life.

Yet somehow she hadn’t given up. Her way of pushing back against the bleakness and loneliness hadn’t won her any friends or supporters. But for some reason, in that moment, through the crowded chaotic confusion of my own life and myriad obligations, she touched me.

The barn owner talked to Gresca’s owner and got permission for me to ride her. Her owner was thinking about selling her and was doubtless happy to get her worked a little. I wasn’t (and am not) a trainer or a high level rider, but I was a competent amateur with a challenging horse of my own, so at the very least it was unlikely that I’d fark her up any more.

She wasn’t an easy ride. Despite beautiful gaits and a trot you could sit to like an easy chair (especially after my tense quick thoroughbred), she was spooky and untrusting and untrustworthy. She reliably shied and ducked away from one corner of the indoor arena, kept her head cranked up high, her back tight, and alternately balked or took off. It was fun for me to have another horse to ride, but she certainly wasn’t any easier than my own pea-brained girl.

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That’s my pea-brained girl.

But hey, I was riding a purebred Andalusian! Yeah, I was a little starstruck by that, although neither I nor anyone else there had a sufficiently discerning eye to see the blazing diamond in the rough. If the other folks at the barn made snarky remarks about her fat belly and shoulders, her under-muscled butt, her paddling front legs (which probably accounted for that divine trot), her narrow chest, her blocky head, I still got a thrill whenever I mounted her.

Which was in itself a challenge since she wouldn’t stand still for it.

Then came the night where everything changed. I was there late as I often was, even on nights when I wasn’t cleaning stalls. I worked three part-time jobs then, had two busy little boys, a house to take care of, a neglected husband, and a high-maintenance drama queen mare of my own who needed a lot of riding. So, much of my horse stuff took place after I put my boys to bed. Thank all the Gods for indoor arenas.

I brought Gresca (whom I called Bessie for no other reason that it suited her) from her stall and over to the concrete pad where the cross ties and wash rack were located. As usual, she balked at stepping onto the concrete. She always did this, and I always got after her and made her mind me and get the hell onto it for grooming and tacking up.

Looking into those beautiful eyes, once again rolling and showing their whites, something shifted. For once, the notion of ‘winning’ the ‘battle’ receded. It was late. I was tired. But my heart opened, and a new idea wiggled into it. What if I just asked?

So I did.

She said no way.

I was not a patient woman. It went against the grain to let this mare get away with defying me.

And yet I did. I sat down on a milk crate and told her mildly that she was an idiot. A silly old thing. A goofball. What a twit. I sang to her. I recited The Jabberwocky. I got distracted by own thoughts and went off in a reverie about who knows what, forgetting that I was sitting there at all. I laughed at her.

After about an hour she took a step forward. I made myself not react. She looked at me and took another step. I told her she was beautiful and very smart. Then she took in a huge, rib-raising breath, and let it out in a massive whoosh. And she stepped onto the concrete.

In that moment she gave me her heart.

And took mine.

I had never before had a horse give me that. It fundamentally changed the way I work with horses.

From that moment on she did anything I asked her. Not because she had to, but because she had chosen to trust me.

In return I made sure that I always listened to her, gave her the opportunity to tell me if she was scared or confused, and made it my responsibility to make it clear to her what I was asking of her.

She started standing quietly to be mounted.

She stopped ducking at the spooky corner, once I let her breathe through it and investigate it thoroughly.

She began to give me transitions within the gait, lovely collected trot circles and big bold extensions down the long side.

She softened her jaw and her neck and dropped like a big bay marshmallow into my hands.

She even cantered for me, difficult with her lack of conditioning and the smallness of the indoor.

I began to put my eleven year old son on her. She carried him like he was a carton of eggs. She never put a foot wrong when he was on her back.

When I cleaned stalls late at night, I let Nik out to wander the aisles and the arena. She loved it. But since she was out of her stall more than Bessie, I began to let Bess do it more often.

Nik was so very jealous. If Bessie was out wandering and passed Nik’s stall, or worse, if I led her past Nik’s stall all tacked up and ready to ride, Nik would pin her ears flat and shake her wicked head and threaten all manner of atrocities.

Bessie began to nicker when she saw me or Brian. Her lovely Andalusian mane and tail grew silky and flowy from all the brushing. She lost a little fat and gained a little muscle, although I couldn’t ride her often enough to tone her up much.

I didn’t have a good enough eye, either, to see the breathtaking beauty of what she really was. I had no idea that with the right amount of work and sunshine and fresh air and good nutrition and appreciation and love she could look like this.

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There she is with her mom, Naomi, being a spectacular dressage horse.

It was an idyllic couple of months. I knew her owner was asking eight grand for her, and that with the popularity of Andalusians he’d probably get it. But even if it had been eight hundred we didn’t have it. And even if we’d had eight hundred, no way could we have swung the board and upkeep on a second horse. It was madness as it was for our little family to have one horse (and a testament to my family’s patience and love that they all made the sacrifices necessary for me to keep Nik. Thank you, guys!)

I knew that owning Bessie was a pipe dream. But I hoped that at least her price tag would buy me some more time with her.

When I heard she was going to an Andalusian barn in Mt. Airy for training and sale, my heart was broken but I wasn’t surprised. The night before she left, Brian and I went to the barn to say goodbye. We didn’t ride her. We groomed her until she gleamed like polished mahogany, her midnight mane and tail like thick silk. We let her loose in the indoor to wander but she kept coming back to us. We cried and cried. It hurt my heart to know she was going to an unknown fate, possibly a dreadful one, and there was not one single solitary thing I could do about it. I promised her I would do everything I could to keep up with her. I wrapped her up in spells of protection. I prayed to every God I could think of to keep her safe.

She nuzzled my face and dried my tears with her mane and blew her sweet sweet breath at me. When Brian gave her a final hug, tears streaming down his face, I thought my heart might break and I’d fall down dead right there at her feet.

I contacted the owner of the Andalusian barn a week or two later and got permission to visit her. I piled up a carful of barn kids, including my Brian, and off we went. We weren’t invited back to the stalls, but waited in the huge, spectacular indoor arena until Bessie was led out to us. I have no doubt that she knew me. It had been such a short time, and horses have long memories. But she was angsty and worried. She accepted being petted and loved on by a horde of children and one weepy woman, but she was clearly tense. Her new trainer informed us breezily that Gresca now considered her to be her mother and was uncomfortable with anyone else handling her.

I wasn’t in a position to argue with her.

Further phone calls went unanswered. This was in the days before everyone communicated with the internet.

That was the last time I saw Bessie.

Years later I was reading a Dressage Today article about a new therapeutic riding school in Maryland. I was astonished to see a photograph of a polished gleaming bay Andalusian called Gresca. Could that really be my Bess? How many bay Andalusian Grescas could there be in Maryland?

I emailed the barn, but didn’t hear back. I wasn’t surprised. Who responds to some unknown kook offering a free retirement home to your horse? I could have been anyone from a lab to the meat man to a psycho.

I decided to be happy that she had clearly landed somewhere so good, and let it go.

Recently I joined a Facebook group called Find Your Old Friend. I never actually used the group’s resources (mainly because, as you can see, I’m on the long-winded side and couldn’t figure out how to condense this tale into a FB post) but it did inspire me to use my google-fu and see if I could catch up to my Bess. After all, she’d be pretty old by now, and perhaps ready for a retirement home.

Having spent several years volunteering at The Ranger Foundation, a retirement home for military, police and therapeutic horses, as well as teaching abled riders at a local therapeutic riding school, I figured I’d be in a better position to offer her a spot in which to laze away her golden years.

My old Nik left us a couple of years ago. I recently got my midlife crisis horse, my adorable Fiona, and we still have our sweet old lame and half-blind Jasmine. The spare stall is full of stuff, and we don’t need or want another horse.

But Bessie was special. We have room for Bessie.

It took remarkably little googling to find her. Up popped Maryland Therapeutic Riding, Inc, with pictures of the bay beauty I knew was her. She was clearly happy, healthy, loved and cherished. Oh, my heart was so happy.

I emailed, and got a response not 24 hours later from the director of the program, Kelly.

I’m not going to see Gresca again. She died a couple of years ago. That’s the sad news. But it’s only sad for me. The rest of the story is better than any Cinderella story you’ve ever heard.

Kelly said that Gresca ‘carried the MTR program for many, many years- making a positive impact on all those she touched!’ She belonged to the founder of the program, Naomi, and when Naomi and her husband retired, they took Gresca and two other of the ready-to-retire horses with them.

Gresca helped hundreds of disabled riders in her career. Look at this picture- the gal riding her is paraplegic, and they just did a dressage test in front of a crowd of hundreds. Naomi says practically everyone in the stadium was in tears.

img_4484[9522]Look at those eyes.

What a star.

In addition to being the foundation of the therapeutic program, she was Naomi’s dressage horse, fulfilling the promise whose glimmer I only began to perceive in my time with her. She was the love of Naomi’s life. She was to Naomi was Nik was to me. We can’t talk about our girls without bawling.

She died peacefully and is buried on Tranquility Farm, a name so karmically perfect it’s almost comical.

Naomi and I talked on the phone for a long time. She hadn’t known anything about her beloved mare’s life prior to meeting her at that Andalusian farm, and I hadn’t known anything about the rest of her life, so we had a lot of catching up to do.

And a lot of happy tears.

Naomi saw the ad for her as she was embarking on her search for suitable therapy horses. While Gresca didn’t tick all the boxes, and had that hefty price tag to boot, Naomi got nailed with the same thunderbolt I had. When she went to meet her, there was poor Bessie, flattened against the back of her stall, trying to avoid the next awful thing.

Being more patient, experienced and perceptive than I, Naomi got it right away. From that first meeting she opened her heart, stayed quiet, and earned that beautiful mare’s trust and her heart and her soul, for the rest of her life.

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Naomi moved mountains to get her. She never doubted that they were supposed to be together. For the rest of Gresca’s long busy good life there was not one single solitary day that didn’t know she was the center of Naomi’s world.

If I had been given the script to write for Gresca’s life, I could not have written a better one. If my dream had come true and I could have kept her, she would not have been more loved and cherished, and would never have touched the lives of the hundreds of people she helped.

I will be grateful to Naomi for the rest of my days, not just for what she did for Gresca, but for so generously sharing her story with me.

My part in the Story of Gresca is a small one, but she meant so much to me. How wonderful that she went on to bring her special magic to so many others.

Posted January 31, 2019 by suzmuse in Uncategorized

Lenaia 2019   Leave a comment

img_4491[9403]It had been a few years since the old woman had celebrated the Lenaia fully, all three days, and she was thrumming with anticipation as the first sunset painted the sky. There had been endless clouds recently, so the clear skies and mild temperature in January felt like a gift from Dionysos himself.

She set up the altar with love. The statue of the young God, a bottle of Primal Roots red wine. Purple candles. Dragon’s blood and sandalwood incense. A vase full of dawn-hued pink and yellow roses.

The moon was up, fat and nearly full, when she ventured out with the limnaed offerings. She didn’t bring the dogs. With offerings to distribute and the grandbeagle needing to be leashed, it simply wouldn’t work. But the big Siamese cat, always eager to participate in ritual, especially under strong moonlight, padded noiselessly at her heels.

The wet snow crunched under her big barn boots as she made her way to the shrines. First stop at Persephone’s, where grief and love overtook her. She spent some time before the shrine, head bowed, the cat slipping in and out of the trees, before she left a pink rose and moved on.

Next she went to the pine tree being lovingly smothered by Dio’s grape vine. The moon was bright and exciting through the branches of the ecstatic dryad. The woman left another rose, another libation, and kissed her hand to the entwined couple.

As she went across the boundary and into the lane, a wave of sadness enveloped her, remembering how the old dog had trundled panting through the deep snow when he had celebrated the Lenaia with her. Now he lay under the earth, protecting the gates, with the old tabby standing watch beside him. She could feel them, but they were silent and did not approach her and her cat.

The pond was polished silver, iced over, motionless and mesmerized under the moon. The always-present nervousness about being seen, clutching her flowers and dragon tankard and ritual bowl of homemade soup, receded somewhat as she spoke softly to the limnaeds. The mist-maidens were not visible, no shuddering dance on the glazed surface of the pond, but the silence was full of listening. The old woman prayed to Dionysos, thanked the limnaeds and all the local spirits for their presence, poured the wine, set down the food, and threw the rose onto the surface of the pond.

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It was still there the next day as the temperatures dropped and the pond’s surface thickened.

The second night of the Lenaia should have been spent dancing with other strange creatures at a masquerade ball, but a miserable mix of sleet and snow caused the event to be canceled. The old woman celebrated sedately with simple libations and prayers at the Persephone and Dionysos shrines. The giant blood-red full moon was hidden behind thick murky clouds, but there was an electric blue glow behind them.

The Siamese raced from tree to tree, yowling in her strange voice, serenading the moon she could feel if not see.

Later there was Star Trek.

On the third night the temperatures plummeted drastically into the negatives, wind howling in a death shriek. There was also a full moon eclipse. The old woman clutched her offering bowl and libation vessel in freezing hands, enraptured by the pageant over her head, but unable to stay out long enough to offer more than brief kleos to the God and his maenads. She came inside to warm up, then took a deep breath and headed back out with her thyrsos to wake the sleeping greenery. But it was simply too dangerously cold to visit all the dryads. Under the eerie red light of the eclipse, the moon eaten by the blue darkness, she tapped on the earth and the trunks of a few trees- Berkana, Tyr, Muninn- before fleeing inside for the succor of the fire and blankets and cats.

The sleeping green spirits had been reminded that their waking time would be soon. That they should not yet rouse themselves, but to start stirring in their dark beds.

Time to start planning the Anthesteria.

Posted January 22, 2019 by suzmuse in Uncategorized