The Woods

‘Enlightenment isn’t about imagining figures of light, it is about making the darkness conscious.’ (-Carl Jung)

Once upon a time there was a little girl. She wore buckle up shoes and a little red dress no matter what the weather. She loved to climb trees. The taller, the better. And when she got to the top she would see a new tree, a higher place to which she could climb if she got down from where she was and began again somewhere else. There were other girls in the trees too. But as the years went by, more and more of them seemed to choose to stay on the ground, to make lives based on what they could see as opposed to what lay just over the horizon. And so it came to be that the girl with the red dress- her buckle up shoes long since discarded, as she could climb better in her bare feet- felt as if she was all alone up there, journeying amongst the wind and the sparkle of the stars, a slim grey branch in each hand, climbing. Then one day the wind brought a new thought. “What if freedom isn’t about limitless choice” it whispered. “What if it is about choosing a path; finding a tree that is yours and yours alone, and climbing it in order to better offer a gift to the world?” The girl came down out of the tree she was in, and sat on the forest floor. She thought about all of the trees she had climbed: some gnarly and some smooth, some reaching for the horizon in both directions, some growing towards the stars straight as arrows. There was one trunk that she remembered. It was huge and smooth and impossibly tall and somewhere, high up in its branches, a mysterious kind of fruit sparkled. The girl realized that she had been circling around this tree her entire life, not quite able to look at it, but not able to leave the circle of its power either. I must find this tree she thought. So she lit a lantern, and she began to search. She wandered for eight days and eight nights, slept huddled on the forest floor, instead of high up in the branches as she was used to. The people of the forest tried to take her in, but she would not go to them. “I’m looking for something” she said.  DSCN4153 On the morning of the 9th day she found it. The great and silver trunk that she remembered, as if it was a dream. She stood at the base of the tree and put the palm of her hand against its bark. The tree seemed to shimmer against her hand, as if in recognition. She was just beginning to find a finger hold for herself in the bark so she could begin her climb, when she heard a sound. Out of the depths of the forest there came a man, mounted on a silver horse, a falcon perched on his arm, a silver hood pulled over its eyes. “What are you doing here?” the man asked. “I’m climbing this tree” she said. “Why?” “Because it sang to me.” She could think of no other reply. The man looked up at the tree, looked back down at her. “Climb on the back of my horse” he said. “There is another tree I know of not far from here, that contains the very thing you are searching for. It is much easier to climb, and you will not have to climb it alone.” The girl looked at him, then looked up into the branches of the tree. It no longer seemed to breathe against her palm. Perhaps it was not the tree she sought after all. The horse the man was riding tossed its head impatiently, clinking the metal of the bit between its teeth. “Alright” she said. “I will go with you.” She got onto the back of the man’s horse, and they journeyed for many days, deep into the heart of the forest. After three days, they came to a clearing. And there was no great tree. Just a group of men and women working, clearing brush and burning it in a fire. The girl looked around her in dismay. The world she had been promised did not exist. Still, she was far from anything she knew, and would need to regain her strength if she was ever going to make it out of this place. So she got down off the horse and began to work. She ate the food the man gave her, and burned brush with the other men and woman, realizing it was not mere brush, but the limbs and hearts of great trees. A forest had stood here once, and it was now being burned. Every few weeks, the man would go out riding, and come back with another traveller, someone weary, who trudged towards the fire as if it were an island and they were shipwrecked. They had a blankness in their eyes, where there should have been the light of dreams. The girl began to tuck away pieces of bark and slivers of wood, a small handful that grew and grew until it was a tinder bundle, a nest for a spark that would lead her back the way she had come. Each day she would tuck away another piece of bark. And one night, while the man was out riding, she slipped away. She tucked two coals from the fire into the nest of the tinder bundle, and walked out into the forest, in the opposite direction from the tracks the horse’s hooves had left in the clay. After days and days of wandering- cold, tired, and exhausted, blowing on the little coals she had left in the tinder bundle, praying they would not go out- a horse came to her. It was a white mare, and she spoke: “do not think you are the only one who is left.” She pawed the ground with her hoof, as if making a point. “I, also, have chosen to leave the ones who captured me. Climb on my back and let us journey together.” So the girl- who was then quite exhausted- climbed on the back of the mare, and they went on together, far into the thick of the forest. When the mare was tired, the girl would feed her scraps of the bark from her tinder bundle which, miraculously, still burned warm in her hands. Then one morning she awoke to the mare’s nicker, and saw that the horse had stopped at the trunk of a great tree. Its bark gleamed silver in the early morning light. The girl held her breath, and put out her hand. And faintly, just faintly, she felt the tree sigh against her palm. She slid off the mare, and turned to thank her. “My journey leads elsewhere” the mare said. “But I hope that, from time to time, we can continue to give each other strength.”

The girl placed what was left of the tinder bundle inside her shirt, and began to climb the tree, curving the arc of her body around the heat that burned into her chest. Cautiously at first, as her fingers asked the tree’s permission, asked it to grant her a handhold, a place to anchor her toes so she could climb one step more. When she got to the crotch of the tree- the place where the branches forked off in all directions- she laid the tinder bundle down, and lit a fire in the heart of the tree. “Light me like a lantern for all to see” the tree told her. “Feed the fire with offerings of other branches, and I shall not be burned.” And so the girl sat in the tree’s branches, and tended the fire. When she was hungry, the wind blew down a bit of fruit for her to eat. When she was tired, she curled up and slept. Many days and months passed. One day the girl got up, and realized that she had become a woman. And each morning there was a new sound on the wind: the sound of footsteps growing closer, the feet of many people walking, looking for a mysterious light someone had seen burning, deep in the forest. And so she slept, and tended the fire, and waited.

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All That Came Before


It’s been a long time since I posted on this blog.

Since I could add to the thread of the story with something simple: things didn’t go as planned.

And, from this far away place, this home-again place, I can see that the spool of things has worked out perfectly in its own way. Behind me there is water falling down a mountain and into a river; in front of me more mountains slowly walk themselves North, until they become part of the Tantalus Range. I’ve been back in BC for a little over a month now, and some things feel like I never left. Other things- relationships, MY relationship with the world- have changed completely.

Outside the room where I am writing this by the light of a salt lamp, there is a field where horses are grazing. One of them is my gelding, Dublin, come back to me from the far away ranchlands North of Cache Creek. The fact that he is mine again and that we are both here is something that every day feels like a miracle.

I thought for a long time about what I was going to write in this space: what words I would use to break the silence. Whether I would let the thread of this particular story go, or whether I would light it up in flames. But I think that the real answer is more subtle then that. The re-story, the re-new, the re-gain.


I am holding the door open for you.

Will you walk with me?

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Dreamwalk// Lovers, I Have Borrowed Your Names

At Burning Man this year I walked into and out of so many dreams, it was like a dream drive through; a movie edited and spliced together sideways, where some of the frames were lived backwards and some were lived forwards; things that were entirely new in this lifetime seemed more familiar than the fields I grew up in and no longer recognize.

I once lay in bed with a boy and we asked each other questions. “If you could return to any moment of your life, which one would you choose? No thinking. First thing that comes to your head.” And my answer: I would return to this place. The desert, 2 am. My friend Pete is burning an art piece called ‘The Wave’. Hours into this evening- after John has written a fake burn permit, after Sergio has dumped gasoline on the driftwood heart of the piece, after we have sifted burnt coals and bits of glass out of the ash, after all of this- a ship arrives. It’s 42′ long, and made of welded metal. Its back end is a Spanish Galleon, and its front end is the flat deck of a ship. On it welded brown horses gallop in the direction of sunrise. They’re the ghosts of the last horses of the Nez Pierce tribe. Their mouths are open. Their dark empty eyes blaze through me. An indian chief in full headdress comes up out of the dust, and a hand extends from the deck of the ship to pull him aboard. “Are you coming?” a voice asks. John and I climb on, settle onto the backs of the horses as the ship starts to move slowly through the dust, out towards the sun that is rising.

That is the moment I would return to, that moment out of a thousand moments. The first thing to come to my lips. And this year, this year it came for me. I have not seen that ship since that sunrise in 2007. And this year, 2013, it’s Saturday night and I am wandering alone across the playa when I run into Pete. He’s just burned his piece, the party’s wrapping up, and he’s on his bike, about to disappear into the night. I give him a hug and watch him go, his long coat turning into moths wings against the lights of the city. I look behind me, and just out of the corner of my eye I see a ship. It’s back half is a Spanish Galleon, its front half is a deck upon which gallops a herd of brown iron horses, their mouths open in the same ghostly screams, their eyes dark sockets, holding everything. I climb onto the deck. The ship remains motionless. No indian chief appears out of the dust. I get on the back of each horse the way I would as if they were alive. They’re indian pony sized, their backs barely the length of my spine. I slide from horse to horse, as if by visiting them in the right combination I will trip a wire that will jumpstart the memory and make the scene move. But the ship remains immobile. I tear a huge rip out of the ass of my pants, and disappear into the night in the direction of a blue volcano, looking for friends.

Sunday night I run with a man from LA who calls himself JK. And by ‘run’ I mean walk, bike, fly, swim across the dusty coming-apart playa. This is my favourite time: the edge between creation and destruction, when the teaming human city begins to dissolve back into desolate alkali lakebed. We are out near the sound camps, or at least where the sound camps used to be. Off in the distance the speakers are still going, but where we are standing it is eerily quiet. The night before, this spot was filled with 10,000 humans and the throb of bass, art cars, a million neon lights. But now the street stands empty, dawn still far away. Just ahead of us, out of the dark, looms an unlit flat deck trailer. On it is a hulk of metal strapped ratchets, huge as a whale.

“JK!” I say to the man who is with me. “It’s the nose of a plane!” And I stop and stare, because something of this feels familiar. I remember seeing the plane earlier in the week. It was a DJ booth at one of the sound camps just near here. But something- somewhere- older than that. Think, Kera, think. And then I remember. I’ve dreamt about this plane. In a series of reoccurring dreams, I’ve been in the cockpit of this plane, flying into Black Rock City. The dream happens in a different part of the world- or rather, it is the playa but not-quite-playa, an alternative reality Burning Man that I return to again and again. In this dream the plane crashes. Sometimes when it hits the ground it’s still a plane, other times it’s a boat, a huge wooden seafaring ship that runs aground. In these dreams Burners arrive and cut up the plane/ship, rearrange its pieces into different orders. The cockpit becomes a radio station, the tail a tea shop, the midsection a patio restaurant. And now, this sawed off nose of a plane floats on the deck of the trailer in front of me.

“I am walking into a dream, JK. I’ve seen this plane before.” I turn back to him, back to the plane, back to him. “It’s like there is a dream version of Burning Man that’s going on all the time even when the festival’s not on that happens on some other mythic plane of reality- just like how the subconscious exists beneath the conscious mind, the unconscious beyond even that, the collective mind farther still. I feel like the real version of Burning Man just synced up with the mythic version of Burning Man- that both realms are now the same. Or that they managed to touch just for this instant.”

“Thanks for saying that.” He looks at me like it means something. “I’ve always felt that way about this place, but no one talks about it…”

We turn. To the North sits a giant ship, immobile and unlit. We walk to it. Up close the ship is huge. I’ve seen it from far off all week. It’s an actual yacht mounted on something with wheels, but it’s so well done it’s seamless. You can’t see wheels, or controls, or how it’s manned. Both the gangways are raised far above our heads. I hesitate for a moment, then jump and pull myself up until I can hook my feet over the first step. JK climbs up behind me. We walk onto the deck, climb again to the upper deck, and cross through the doorway that leads down into the cabin. I pull a flashlight out of my pocket, turn it on. The stairs are short and carpeted. Inside, it smells of stale air and motor oil. This is an actual ship. Its engine is still there in the half ripped open cabin. The rest of it has been gutted and covered in long brown shag fur. There are a few pole dance poles from floor to ceiling, and a bathroom with a sign taped to the toilet: Do Not Use. I’m feeling jumpy at this point, expecting at any moment to startle the sleeping owner of this amazing land-faring giant. We climb back up onto the deck, to the stars, the desert air. There’s a couple on the deck, who must have climbed up while we were below deck.

“Hey.” The guy says. “Do you guys care if we have sex on your boat?”

“It’s not my boat, so you can do whatever you want.” I look at the woman standing next to him. Knee high boots, raver top, yarn in her hair. “But we get the main deck.”

JK and I go to the bow, lie on the cushions and look half up at the sky, half over at the city that is unraveling around us. Another couple climb up, 2 gay guys, who give us beer because they think it’s our boat. They disappear below deck. I can see the beam of their flashlight descending the stairs. A few moments later they return.

“Did you know there’s a naked guy asleep on a shelf in the front cabin?”


“Wait, there’s a naked guy asleep on a shelf??”



No one feels like challenging this claim. Later, after the gay guys have run off to the last remaining rave and JK and I have talked ourselves out, I get up and walk to the Eastern side of the deck, where the sun will rise. The wind comes up and hits me. My hands are on the railing, the rest of me- soul, hair, clothes- flying out over the city. And I realize that this moment is another dream, a dream from years and years ago that had much grief in it. I was standing on the deck of this ship, at this same height, with this same view, looking out over the city with John, while behind me Pedone- a lover, who is now no longer of this world- climbed down from the sky on scaffolding and silks. He had stilts on his feet and I could hear them chunk chunk-ing as he descended, though there was no ground beneath his feet. In the dream I was torn between the sky circus world and the city below me, could not decide which one held my heart. Now I see that I have been given both. I smile, staring at my hands on the railing. Holding on. The wind kicks back around, lifts me higher.

I turn and go back to JK. Down in the sound camps, they’re mixing Dead Can Dance into some rhythm and I want to eat it.

“Do you think we can get down there before this song ends?”

“I think so- let’s run!” He looks up at me. For a moment his face is Pedone’s, and then it isn’t. And then it is. We turn our backs on the ship and move towards sound, wanting to dip our bodies in its wax, lights, love.

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Black Rock City

Even though much time has passed, I would still like to keep the chronology of this adventure intact. For some reason it is important to have a time capsule of causations and choices that have led up to this moment.

(photo by Genny Stancheva)

(photo by Genny Stancheva)

So let’s journey backward. Backward to August, 2013, to a 13 hour car ride in, to the smoke of wildfires just outside Reno obscuring the mountains and holding the heat in at night like a blanket. Back to a prehistoric white alkali lakebed, to the temporary tent city that sets up there every year and calls itself Burning Man Festival, back to the wind that blows across the playa, and the almost 70,000 people who journey there every year to what is the largest gathering of alternatives and outlaws, creatives and outliers between the dominant culture and what comes next. The ones who are creating the new world. At least that’s how I like to think of it, despite the festival’s garnish of ravers and sparkly lights. There I got to stand in a dome with a microphone, on earth that had once been wet but is now dry; where creatures long-extinct once swam on or through the place where I was standing. I got to tell a few dusty humans the story of my summer, and to issue an invitation and I hope perhaps a challenge, to shapeshift in the direction of their dreams.

And really, it doesn’t matter that there was an error in the ‘What Where When Guide’ and the entire day was listed as being talks about extraterrestrials. It doesn’t matter that they forgot to write in my slot on the official schedule, and I was shuffled to the end, at a time my friends Terry and Noelle couldn’t film it because they were towing a Narwhale across the playa. It doesn’t matter that there was no one introducing the speakers and no TEDx banner. It doesn’t matter that only 10 people came, and one of them was asleep. I STILL DID A TED TALK AT BURNING MAN. So there. And here is the audio proof. 🙂

Listen to the talk on Soundcloud by clicking Here .




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Being Gifted

My second-last day at the ranch, I was gifted a ride on Bu, one of the Lusitano stallions. Iliane helped me get a few steps of Passage- a slow, elevated, exaggerated trot that feels like you’re a superhero running in slow motion with super-sized stilt legs- only more beautiful and powerful and collected than that.

And, like any good athlete, he’s learned to boy after a particularly stunning performance…
Except that he’s not yet super solid on the line between ‘bow’ and ‘taking it too far’!

He looked so pleased with himself sitting there. “Look how extravagantly I bowed! So low I lost my footing and lay down. Now can I please have my sugar?”



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Chicago… Part two. Resolve/ Reclaim/ Restory


The screening is not as terrifying as I had imagined. The theatre is ancient and gorgeous and mostly empty. They run the movies back to back with no transitions, and then have all the directors up at once for the Q and A. I have Rupert live on speakerphone, and hold him up to the mic so he can speak into the room. A man in the audience asks him what it was like to eat lung.


There is an immense amount of talent at the Festival, but not enough of an audience to appreciate the size of the gift. Jousting matches and falconers and sundancers and a man round-penning in a wheelchair and so many Baroque horses that they blow my mind completely: How have I spent so much of my life in ignorance of Mexican and South American horsemanship? I knew of course that the Spanish Conquistadores brought horses over with them when they landed their ships in the New World, but had failed to connect that they would have of course brought the Classical style of horsemanship as well, and that it would have adapted to regional influences, gathering a galaxy of textures all its own. Saturday evening there is an ‘Equestrian Extravaganza’ and the level of excellence completely blows my mind. I don’t have much to compare it to- except for ‘Cavalia’ and a training session I once watched at the Royal Esquelera in Jerez, Spain, so long ago it seems as if it was another life- and here I am clutching the rail at the very front of the ring as all of these enormously muscled stallions move with levels of collection and elevation and engagement I’ve never seen anywhere, let alone close enough I could reach out and touch them. It’s like watching a training session back at New Trails, except there are 40 Zags and no one to decipher the technicalities of what I’m seeing. Spanish walk, backwards, and at the trot (which makes it Spanish Trot?) and Terre-a-Terre and Capriole and airs above the ground I don’t know how to name. There is a dancer who falls in love with a Freisian’s black mane, and a flamenco guitarist and two dancers on 2 metre plywood dance floors laid over the footing, that a man on a Doma Classica stallion traces precise circles around with the end of his long ————, and the one that really blew my mind- that made me give up all attempts at filming in order to look at it with my EYES- was a story of the conquering of the Aztecs and their awe (and subsequent thievery) of the Spaniard’s horses, with M—- Contrerras dressed as ‘Conquest’ wearing a huge peacock feather headdress complete with skull and eerie mask on his head, mounted on a huge Fresian Stallion, the horses’s front legs strapped into boots made of brass bells that stepped an eerie dissonance to the soundtrack and made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.



My talks went well, if you consider an audience of 1 outside a roundpen in the dust as going well. I do, though. I was able to step into the space of not knowing what I was going to say and be provided with words, with story, just as I’d hoped. I’ve been in that space before reciting poems and playing music; and had hoped it would carry over into explaining the 6 stages of Horse Boy Method as well. It did, or at least it must have, because got to 22 minutes before pausing, and was relieved to see that my audience of 1 had grown to 10. If it had grown to 300, it would have been better. But there weren’t that many people to go around.


The only thing I’m disappointed about- really disappointed- is that I shied away from introducing myself properly to people in the barns. I was intimidated. I knew better than to be, but still I was. I needed someone to throw me an invitation; drop a rope down to the side of my lifeboat and shout through cupped hands that I could climb aboard this massive ship that sailed in out of the night. So instead I circle around the stalls like a hawk looking for somewhere to land, and smile gently at my uncertainty. Instead I make friends with a the evening’s MC, Rosa, who wants to connect all these Spanish horses with Hollywood, and a country singer who performs from the back of a borrowed horse during the middle of the extravaganza, and the event photographer whose warm and open advances I decide to not accept, and the staff of a Chicago therapeutic riding centre (my table neighbours) who would have driven Rupert insane. All of these possible worlds.


There is a young girl who comes to my booth again and again, who wants to ride more than anything. She asks me how much it costs to buy a horse and how much it costs to keep one. Her face falls when I tell her.

Let me tell you something very important though.” I come around from behind the table, as if I’m about to tell her a secret. “When you are 12, you will be old enough to convince your mom to let you clean a few stalls in exchange for lessons. And that will be your ticket into that world.” Her face lights up. “That’s how I got started.” I tell her. “And it’s taken me all over the world…”


And another mom, an autism mom, whose daughter is at the table with her, who I try to include in our conversation because I don’t like the way her mom is talking as if she’s not there. She’s worried because her daughter’s obsessed with horses and won’t leave them alone; should she distract her with something else? “Don’t shut her down. Don’t close that door.” I say to her. “This is how she is telling you who she is. Let her fascination grow into a career. That’s how she’ll find her place in the world.” And the mom starts crying, right there, and there is something in the way that it happens that gives her her dreams back too, though neither of us notice; it’s too subtle of a moment, and she apologizes for crying, and I tell her not to, and then I give her a hug, and take her daughter over to the ‘Walk On’ table next to mine and help her pick out a plastic horse from their bowl of free plastic horses, little brown and black and grey plastic horses that in themselves are completely insignificant, but these kids I’ve met today are also myself and I’ve just been able to give them a tiny gift, just as I was given so many tiny gifts by so many strangers; tiny gifts that I gathered and followed and lost and had taken away and fussed over and chewed on and then found again, all of these tiny crumbs that I ate and chewed and digested until eventually, eventually, they became this life. 

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“Just before you begin, say a prayer.” He says to me. “Do you want to know mine?”

I nod.

“I pray to let the story come through me. It’s not you that matters- it’s the story. That’s why your audience is there. Get out of the way so the story can come through you.” There is a ball of sun in the room at that moment. Its heat is soft and wraps me in its arms. The furniture is made of wax and leans towards centre. The space between.

“That’s really beautiful.”

I have just said yes again, this time to fly to Chicago to be Rupert Isaacson for 4 days. I said yes thinking I would be doing the riding parts in the workshop he was teaching; did not know I had agreed to intro his film at the first ever Equus Film festival and give his lectures and run the Horse Boy booth at the Festival of the Horse and Drum- AND that I would be going alone. “Good thing you bought my flight before I found out” I say, joking. Half joking. Excitement and terror spinning rounds in my heart.

I leave his house with his spurs in my hand, the right one completely bent out of shape by the warmblood mare who fell on him and broke his leg the day before. This is the reason why I am leaving instead of him.

“I’ll go if I can borrow your spurs.” I say to him. “I want to wear them on the plane.” (I dropped him off at the airport with spurs on his boots the last time he left, and could not believe security in Texas lets you fly with spurs. Rowelled ones too, apparently.) 

“Sure.” He says. “Take them. They’re still on my boots.” 

But in the end I don’t wear them, because I’m nervous that something will go wrong and someone will make me take them from me at check-in. The spurs become a talisman; the object of transformation that will make me him, the way a shaman puts on the heavy head of a buffalo in order to become the animal in a way that makes even his bones forsake their species. And I remember suddenly the statue I walked circles around last Sunday at ‘The Oasis’; one lean bronze brave becoming eagle, the other buffalo, each caught at the precise moment of transformation.  One world leaning into the next. 

“Maybe you’ll meet a boy.” Ru says. “Wear breeches. Then you have a better chance of a handsome Mexican putting you up on a Lusitano Stallion.” This is my life now. Powerpoint on my computer. ‘Live Free, Ride Free’ written across the back of my T-shirt. There have been so many open doors in the last few months and I have moved across the thresholds of them all without thinking. It’s as if I have re-encountered an art installation I once saw in the desert that was made out of old doors all framed together and rigged in such a way that when you closed one door another opened. Except this time all of the ropes have fallen away from the gearboxes and every single door is blown open as wide as it will go, and I’m moving through these open doors, my feet finding their way of their own accord, guided in a way that is precise and generous and of an immensity beyond my comprehension. 


The plane lands in Chicago. I grab a shuttle that takes me to the Advantage parking lot to pick up my car. I’m working my way through a to-do list one item at a time; a steady line of travel that will land me at the film screening this evening. I’m not panicking about the screening much, not yet. It’s far away, at the bottom of the list, and I’m not allowed to think about it until I get through all of the items before it. The car the rental place gives me is my own. The same one I left parked in a friend’s driveway in BC. Well, almost: it’s a Toyota Yaris instead of a Suzuki Swift, but the exterior and most of the interior is the same. It feels familiar in a very comfortable  way. Like those old jeans you slip on that remember, always, the shape of your legs. I drive the car to the fairgrounds and meet the organizer, Lisa, who gives me the info I need to check in at the hotel. And when I pull into the hotel parking lot and back into a space, I’m struck by the strangest feeling of familiarity. Why does it feel like I’ve done this a million times before? And then it hits me. The last time I was in the parking lot of a hotel it was to pull into a spot and sleep in my car. And the time before that. And the time before that. And the time before that. And the time before… And now I’m in the same car, except that this time the back is filled with two suitcases of merch instead of my bed and guitar and camp stove. I’m about to check into a hotel room for 3 nights, and then go to a film screening and introduce myself as Rupert Isaacson. If you told me I would be doing this a year ago, I would have not believed you. I would have said “Oh yeah, there was that movie…” And then told you to have another drink. 

And now, now-

Even the doors behind me are thrown wide open. 

“How a life is transformed.” My friend Shannon says to me. 

Winds blowing in from all across the world. 

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The Space Between

A lot of time has passed since I last wrote on here. So many things have happened.

A few days ago I backrode with a boy named Lance, who is such an outpouring of joy I sometimes feel like my life no longer belongs to me when I am with him; that we are simply taken by something else in the time he spends with us. He’s started turing around in the saddle and saying “HUG!” and throwing his arms around my neck and squeezing, with his eyes turned back and looking into mine. From an autist, this is such a huge gift. We go into the woods and call out the names of every animal we can think of, and pull on the vines as if they are train whistles (whoo! whoo!), and come back to the house with all 4 of us (Lance and I and our two sidewalkers) neighing like horses. This is my life now. What it is for.

Last month when I backrode for the first time with this boy, Rupert offered me a job down here. Continental plates colliding. I said yes. Since then, a life has begun to take shape for me at New Trails. And I keep saying yes. First softly and in the spirit of great awe, and then with certainty. Yes and yes and yes. The days are huge and filled with so many things. I sat outside a few nights ago, lay on my back on the round bales of hay in the front yard and talked to a friend on the phone. The stars were big above my head, and the wind- that amazing liquid wind that blows all night all over Texas- was on the move. ‘What’s the difference between this and all that’s come before?’ She asks me. She means all the other 13 hour days I’ve worked, all of the other apprenticeships. ‘How is there no resentment?’
’Because there’s love here.’ I tell her. ‘And it’s tribe. There isn’t even the faintest hint of hierarchy. We’re all here together, and we would all walk over fire for each other.’

There are other nuances. But the basic cohesion is that. Love. That’s what drives it. That’s what’s behind what happens with the kids here. That and a terrifically rigorous foundation of work that is so precise it slips into the background, becomes the set for the play that unfolds when the kids are here. Because you don’t want it to even look like work, or look like therapy. You want it to feel like play. Play and exploration and adventure and belonging. And that’s what brings Lance’s arms up around my neck, makes his eyes look into mine, what makes the mare who is carrying us transition into an effortless canter and fly us back up to the house- that’s what has landed me here and enabled me, through an offer I cannot refuse, to stay. To make a home in this. It’s magic. Magic and love and a monk’s regime of hard work and dedication. When you look carefully enough they are almost the same. The lines between become transparent, until work dances with love and love dances with work and you are not quite sure who is leading; your own will or the will of the dance; the thing that is larger and greater than you could ever be on your own two wings.

It is still my intention to bring this work up to BC; however, it may be as a clinician and trainer as opposed to founder of a full-time centre. But who knows. Rupert and Iliane have said they would like to have a Horse Boy Centre somewhere on the West Coast of Canada. And I feel that my roots still tie me to the mountains and the rivers of the Sea to Sky. I’ll be returning in September to gather things, sell my car, and ship my horse, and hopefully host a few more movie screenings as well before I pull stakes and head back down to Texas in early October. Those are the bones of the plan; the skeleton that is dancing to the beat of music that plays softer than I can hear.

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I stand in the centre of a circle. My feet move a little; more of a pivot than a step. I am a slow motion dervish realizing mid-whirl that I am in prayer. Instead of a white robe whirling around me, a rope extends from my right hand, a long-lashed whip from my left. The rope is attached to a bit which is in the mouth of a horse that circles around me at an equal distance. His long strides swallow the ground as he trots one circle after another. In contrast to him, I barely move at all. The more still I can remember to keep my steps, the more potent my gestures can be. I whistle to the horse and he slows.
‘Ahhhh, good.” I tell him. This dance is half command and half praise, half assertiveness and half gratitude, half authority, half awe. And then- “Are you ready?” I pause in my own small steps; gathering momentum to- “C-an-ter!” I tell the gelding. “C-an-ter!” He ignores me. I snap the whip. Ask again. Nothing. I bring his running trot back into balance and then ask again: “Are you ready?… C-AN-TER!”
(“What’s the name of your ex-boyfriend?” Rupert asks from the porch. “Think of him and ask again.” And for some reason it works: The horse canters. Vestigial anger finding its way into my voice. Or else poise. Rootedness. Confidence.)

But that’s enough poetics. What is actually going on here is I am- we are, all of us, each and every day- putting the horses through a routine of equine yoga, strengthening their back and neck and butt muscles (what horse people refer to as a ‘top line’) so that they can carry a rider in balance, with the hindquarters taking their share of the weight. This frees the horse to be more mobile, more athletic and more expressive, not to mention sounder longer. Like an athlete going to the gym, this strengthening work is ongoing throughout their careers. Also, because many of the horses here are used for backriding (riding double with an autistic child in front of the saddle) and we can’t always help them as much as we’d like when our attention is on the precious cargo of someone else’s child- the lunging also repairs any damage that extra stain may have caused. Whenever a horse backrides, it gets lunged first to warm up and stretch its back, then again after to put the muscle back on. Horses are natural athletes, and will put on or loose muscle twice as fast as a human, so each and every session really does count. Like yoga instructors, we use an arsenal of straps and bits of tack to help us make the horse go in a certain way so he develops muscle where it will be most beneficial to him in helping him carry a rider. My first few days here were a bewilderment of leather straps and tack- a tangle I sought to sort out and tame by drawing each new piece and explaining its uses in my notebook. (The first few days I walked around too much and kept forgetting to be a fixed point around which the horse could spin. All of the dervishes spun into themselves and fell over until Brittney saved me by getting me a hula hoop to stand in. Suddenly I had no where to go if I was unable to step out of my little magic circle. My feet learned. Soon I could pivot neat little circles into the sand just like everyone else without running for my hula-hoop crutch.)
Lunging Equipment
At the same time as we’re making all these horses run around in circles, we’re also taking turns sitting on them to work on our seats. ‘The seat’ is basically the coupling point where your body comes into contact with the horse’s body- namely, your seat bones and your pelvis. Before you can really cue a horse effectively and with any sensitivity, the seat must be able to follow the movement of the horses’s back softly at all gaits. Softly, and at the same time independently: You want to be able to sit certain ways at certain times in order to influence the horse to move in a certain way. This is how fine riding appears invisible- it’s all done through subtle weight aids and cues that appear imperceptible. But to the horse they are an entire felt language. So maybe what we are doing here in with all of this ‘education of the seat’ is taking our bodies to school to learn a new language. A language that involves opening when every reflex says CLOSE!, that stays soft when every instinct shouts ‘TENSE UP! HOLD ON! YOU’RE GOING TO FALL!’ So we take turns trotting around in circles with no reins and no stirrups, not having to worry about where or how the horse is going (Because the person lunging controls all that) and take the time to breathe down into those tight hip joints, and play with some imagery of being trees with long roots dragging on the ground, or stubby amputees with no legs at all, letting the bones of our pelvis trust their own balance. We sit on each horse for 5 minutes and then switch, take up the lunge rope again or stand at the edge of the ring and gently bring a rider’s attention to her hips or her elbows or the tilt of her body when needed. But mostly this is a feeling exercise, a moving meditation, where nothing but time and repetition and sometimes the right combination of imagery can speed the process. While we work on our seats, the horses build muscle, and so we have this very efficient and symbiotic process, in which all things feed back into the whole.

So this is the bedrock. The completely unglamorous wizard-behind-the-curtain backstage glimpse at how you make kids talk by putting them on the back of the horse. This is the hours and hours of work and love, day in and day out, that lets this place transform the lives of families. This is the soil that feeds the work. And it’s funny, all of these circles. I imagine flying a plane over our ring at the end of the day, before the harrow wipes our tracks away. What you would see would be three perfectly spaced hoof-print and boot print circles, with the hooves circling the centre point made of human feet; a triptych of sand mandalas like the ones monks slave over for days and then destroy as a tribute to the ephemeral nature of beauty. I can think of worse things to be doing. This is the work that sweeps the floor of the monastery. That rolls the carpet out for what comes next.

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‘I don’t know what this love is/ But I refuse to loose it’

All the last few days a quote from a poem by Michael Ondaatje has been circling round and round my head like a bird coming in to roost, flying out again from behind bushes and ambushing me softly in the midst of carrying fence posts, hosing off horses, tacking, untacking, lunging, listening to Rupert’s wonderful explanations laying out a map before me-

‘I don’t know what this love is

but I refuse to loose it…’

How ‘loose’ (to let something go)- and ‘loose’ (to have lost) have the same spelling and are therefore indistinguishable…

Sarah picks me up at the airport. “Sorry I’m late.” She says. “The baby Ibex got out and I had to catch him before I could leave.”  It is then that I know that everything will be perfect. There is sheet lightning in the sky when we arrive at the Ranch. The fields and forest surrounding it- the whole spirit of the place-  will remain a mystery to me until dawn. I stand on the porch smelling the air. The heat and dryness smells the same as high desert Oregon, except that something is different. It’s not until the first drops of rain hit the ground and move the layers of smell closer together that I realize it’s the smell of the earth itself that is unrecognizable. In the morning I see that it is red clay, and instantly a Gillian Welch song pops into my head- ‘With my red clay wings/ My red clay robe/ And a red clay halo for my hair. ‘  That is my introduction to this place.

Now, two weeks later, it is anything but a stranger. As I write this Nikki is feeding a lame baby goose at the kitchen table. “Maybe you just got the brains instead of the brawn” she tells him. Three dogs are sprawled out amongst our feet. Rabbits in the bedroom. Rats in the living room. Goats, chickens, deer, Ibex, ducks, and Guinea Hens tucked into their communal house for the night. My laundry is drying on the fence in the backyard, beyond which the horses nose through the slumped shadows of round bales. The stars are out. Texas at night is a beautiful lady you have to stay up late to see. She takes a long time getting dressed, and all through the long heat of the day she wears almost nothing at all. A necklace of Cicadas, the thinnest whisper of a shirt made of grasshopper wings. Strands of Green Briar twined around her ankles. But at dusk she sits at her night table and brushes out her hair, puts on a dark indigo robe that hides the cuts around her ankles and glides, smooth as water, out over the fields.

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