Autumn Harvest

Driving the truck around is cumbersome, and slightly embarrassing, today, because it’s still stacked with a tower of hay. The bales are packed so tightly that I can’t get my fingers under the twine, and those suckers are heavy: One bale probably weighs around sixty pounds or more.

My back still aches from the fall off Junior two weeks prior, and I have procrastinated the unloading.

I need a break, so I trundle my mountain of stacked timothy into town. I consider stopping at the Tee Pee for ice cream, but I decide I don’t want to park my hay wagon in sight of the evening crowd.  I head down to Wazz’s party store to pick out a movie.

Driving back to camp, I spot a dirt bike on the road behind me. I figure the rider can’t see around my load to pass, so I pull off to the side. It flies by, buzzing down the road like a self-important hornet.

I realize that I am exhausted. This summer trip North is not going well and Drummond is not serving up its usual peace of mind. Even the horses aren’t helping with that.

There is too much stress; too little sleep, too many family problems. There is a hitch in my abdomen. For days, I have tried to have a satisfying inhale, a healing lungful of air. But it never comes. It stops just short, my muscles tighten, my fibers taut as wire.

I’m a mess.

I get to camp, and there’s the dirt bike, heading my way. I wait for them to pass. But the driver stops, motioning me to turn in.

So I angle the lumbering harvest up the short camp road and park it by the horse trailer. The bike follows me in, so I now know who the rider is.

Amanda had told me that our cousin Autumn had a new motorcycle.

“Is that who I think it is?” I roar, as I climb out of the truck.

“Yes, it’s me! I just came to hug Trudy.”

“She will love that!”

My mom and dad adored Autumn. Her baby picture still sits in a frame on the shelf in the trailer. “Autumn Bailey, almost 3, Summer of 2005,” my mother has written on the back. In a pose that I now find hilarious, the photo shows her wearing a huge pink bonnet, like a mid-eighties Strawberry Patch kid.

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It’s not that Autumn isn’t growing into a pretty young woman. It’s just that Autumn doesn’t know it. Her skin is as flawless as a newborn’s. Her eyes are round, wide-set and bright, and her hair is straight even falling rumpled from the helmet, the indescribable color with tints of auburn that people pay big money for salons to splash on their heads.

Autumn plays on the boy’s football team. Today, she is wearing her football jersey and her feet are covered in mismatched boots. One is an old leather motorcycle boot, covered with stainless steel spikes and accents, and a plate that goes up almost to her knee.

On her right foot is an ordinary hiking boot.

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“Wouldn’t you know it,” she says, pointing to that side. “When I ride through a puddle and have to put my foot down, it’s always this one.”

She looks up at the truck. “I see you’ve been busy.”

“Not me. The farmer. Now I get to be busy. Let’s just say it’s been an exercise in procrastination.”

She flexes her bicep and points at it. “Let’s do it.”

“Are you serious?”

She holds out her arms. “Really? Look at me.”

There are twenty-two bales left on the truck, each weighing over sixty pounds. Autumn climbs up and throws them all down. We can’t lower the tailgate, which is jammed, so she lifts the last row up over the edge and tosses them.

Then, she helps me shove and roll and stack them into the small space Dad had delegated for them, now around the lawn mower.

During the grunting, pushing and sweating process, we have to stop working because we are laughing too hard to lift anything.

I ask her about football. She says she is about to enter high school and they won’t let her play on the boys’ team.

“There’s baseball, though,” she says cheerfully.

“Oh cool. Girl’s baseball!”

“No! It’s boys! My friend Shauna was going to join with me, but she couldn’t make the tryouts.”

“Oh too bad. Then you wouldn’t have to be the only one.”

“Oh, that’s okay. I want to be the only one.”

I pause, leaning against the truck’s tailgate. This, I think, is the most fantastic thing I have ever heard her say. It reminds me of a t-shirt I have picked out to wear during Clifford’s library visits: “Do Your Own Thing.”

I sneak an admiring look at her, but she is bracing herself against the hay bale, pushing hard, trying to shove it back in under the raised door.

After we roll down the green garage door to close in all that hay, Autumn climbs over the fence and goes to Trudy. She lays her head on the mare’s withers, resting there gently, and runs her hands over the smooth, soft hair on the horse’s shoulders. When Junior comes nosing over, she pushes him away. Trudy stands with her eyes half-closed, appreciating the gesture.

I am touched and grateful beyond words. “I am going to take you for ice cream.”

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She shakes her head. “Nah. I gotta fly.”

I follow her to the bike.

“Well, if you ever need some horse love, you know where to be.”

“Kay.”

She straps her helmet on and kicks the pedal. The machine coughs, sputters and dies.

“Shoot.”

She kicks it again and it starts.

“Hey it’s not too noisy.”

Apparently that is not a compliment. “Hrmph,” she says. “Wait until we get going!”

I listen to the fading whine of the bike as it whizzes away. I hear it for a long time, imagining where she must be; passing the farm road, now on pavement, now heading up the hill past the old laundry.

The evening sun warms the withers of the horses, painting strips of light through their manes, and their tails swish like glowing curtains as they munch fresh stalks of timothy.

I stop, hearing the distant bike for a long moment. A mosquito hums by my ear. The horses crunch, crunch and stomp in the stillness.

I breathe.

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Coco-Nuts

This hasn’t been my most favorite summer.

But today I got a gift box from Skinny & Co.

The company emailed me in August, and they explained it like this:

“Skinny & Co. produces small batch, extra virgin, cold-processed coconut oil, made with nothing but 100% pure, raw, wild-harvested coconuts. No chemicals, fillers, or preservatives.”

Now, I can get behind a sustainable business. I love the whole idea of natural products. I agreed to try it out.

The gift box contained a jar each of facial oil, coconut oil, body butter, and most curiously, something they call, “Oil Pulling”, which is flavored like peppermint. It has the consistency of lotion, but can be used as toothpaste. I tried it and was surprised at how light and clean my mouth felt afterward. It removes plaque and naturally whitens your teeth and freshens breath. It leaves a really nice, clean feeling in the mouth. Very interesting.

Now for my favorite product: The sugar scrub. The smell is warm and delightful.  Yes, I said sugar. The taste is reminiscent of burnt maple sugar. It’s supposed to be an exfoliator, but it’s all I can do to resist just licking the jar clean.

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Thank you to Skinny & Co. for this little box of goodies. You brightened my day. I may be permanently hooked on this toothpaste.

After the jar of sugar, I’m going to need it.

 

 

 

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Dear Probate Court

This is the petition the court denied:

 

Chippewa County Probate Court

319 Court Street

Sault Ste. Marie, Ml 49783

 

Report of Guardian on Condition of Individual with Developmental Disability

File No. 90-22523-DD

Amanda C. Bailey

 

August 19, 2016

 

Dear Probate Court,

 

I am enclosing a petition stating that the situation has changed in the guardianship status of my sister, Amanda Bailey, a 45-year-old, highly functional adult with Down syndrome, to one that is harmful to her.  This is due to:

 

  • Death threats by her temporary custodian, Dan Bailey in Michigan.
  • Forced separation from family members despite Amanda’s wishes.
  • Cessation of communication with family members by Amanda’s guardian.
  • Amanda being subjected to violent exchanges via speaker phone.

 

Please see attached affidavits from a number of Amanda’s friends and relatives, some of whom have known her all her life, who can attest to Amanda’s ability to speak for herself.

 

I would refer the court to the 1975 Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act (DD Act) which mandates the establishment of a state protection and advocacy system and guarantees rights of individuals with developmental disabilities.

 

Please note:

 

“The Michigan Mental Health Code emphasizes that guardianships for individuals with developmental disabilities are to be utilized only as is necessary to promote and protect the well-being of the individual. Perhaps more important, the code emphasizes that the individual’s abilities are to be taken into consideration and the guardians are to ‘encourage the development of maximum self-reliance and independence’ in the ward. In addition, the code states that ‘if the court determines that some form of guardianship is necessary, partial guardianship is the preferred form of guardianship for an individual with a developmental disability.’ (Mental Health Code of Michigan, 1974)” – COPYRIGHT 2002 Council for Exceptional Children ISSN: 0014-4029

 

Please note:

 

“…The supported decision-making process should be incorporated as a part of the guardianship if guardianship is necessary.” – National Guardianship Association

 

Please note:

 

“Under all circumstances, efforts should be made to encourage every person under guardianship to exercise his/her individual rights retained and participate, to the maximum extent of the person’s abilities, in all decisions that affect him or her, to act on his or her own behalf in all matters in which the person is able to do so, and to develop or regain his or her own capacity to the maximum extent possible.” – National Guardianship Association

 

Please note:

 

“Visits by family members and friends are basic to quality of life. The NGA (National Guardianship Association) Standards of Practice state that ‘the guardian shall promote social interactions and meaningful relationships consistent with the preferences of the person . . .’ and ‘the guardian shall encourage and support the person in maintaining contact with family and friends, as defined by the person, unless it will substantially harm the person.’ (Std #4).” – AmericanBar.org

 

Despite these guidelines, the law gives very little governance to guardianship. Therefore, we families must rely on the court to mandate good behavior on the part of a guardian, on an individual basis.

 

I’m requesting that this guardianship be amended from plenary guardian to partial guardian, with “supported decision-making” to give Amanda more control over her life and choices.

 

I’m requesting that Amanda have a psychological evaluation by a court-appointed professional, in order to determine her ability to communicate.

 

Also please list me as standby guardian, which was Amanda’s original request, as well as our father’s, for her protection. Note that my goal is not to disrupt Amanda’s life by taking over the guardianship. I am asking to amend the existing guardianship to a status that is more appropriate and healthier for Amanda, as well as the preferred form of guardianship per Michigan Mental Health Code.

 

Amanda’s plenary guardian is our older brother, Ted Bailey. Amanda moved to Mesa Arizona in 2013 following the death of our dad.

 

March – June 2016:

 

I was trying to honor Amanda’s request that we spend quality time together during her two months (June into August) in Michigan. Amanda’s guardian was not cooperating with our wishes. We were strung along for three months. There was never a straight, reasonable answer as to why. (Ted bases a lot of importance on someone’s income and occupation, rather than on Amanda’s level of trust and her history with them.) After my numerous attempts to reach an agreement with him, on May 3 he had an attorney send me an email inviting a petition, and I reluctantly made the decision to file.

June 21, 2016:

 

Perhaps deeming it a family squabble and failing to recognize the civil rights issue, my petition was “denied on merit” by Judge Harold Johnson, despite four glaring problems:

 

  1. Though she was in Michigan at the time, Amanda was not present in the courtroom to express her thoughts, nor did the judge agree to meet with her privately.
  2. Amanda’s court-appointed counsel, Charles Palmer had never even spoken to her.
  3. There was no cross-examination.
  4. The court was presented with vicious hearsay in letters from our sisters, spewing lies and resentment over a book Amanda and I co-authored. (Their anger over this book admits to their conflict of interest, thus nullifying the effort.)

 

I chose not to appeal the decision, being that Amanda was still in Michigan at that time and I was still communicating with Ted, attempting a peaceful resolution.

 

July 2016:

 

Once the deadline to appeal was past, Ted blocked my phone calls. I can no longer even trust that Amanda will receive my letters.

 

In some circles, this would be considered an abuse of power. It certainly constitutes emotional abuse, and should in fact be a criminal act.

 

Amanda had her hopes to see me dashed time and again, and was subjected to screaming fits over speaker phone by my brother Dan, who was her caretaker for the two months.

 

Considering Dan’s history of drinking and violence, I postponed any attempts to meet with Amanda if he was involved. He refused to remove himself from our time together. His belligerence toward me is hard on Amanda. I elected to wait until August when Ted returned to Michigan.

 

August 1, 2016:

 

With Amanda still in his home, Dan threatened my life, saying he would “put a bullet between my eyes”. (See EatonCounty.org PPO case # 16-841.)

 

At that point I knew Amanda’s situation was deteriorating badly and I began organizing this petition.

 

Had Ted simply heeded Amanda’s and my request last spring, and allowed her to spend a few days with me, it would have spared a boatload of heartache and grief: Especially for Amanda.

 

Ted is not a bad person – just naïve and very stubborn. He thinks he is infallible, and the system has enforced his blinded dominance by granting him absolute power. He is more interested in having control, than in understanding how his actions are abusive to Amanda.  But I believe with the court’s guidance he will come around and perhaps even let bygones be bygones, for Amanda’s sake. Sadly, he is not going to do this on his own volition. He is not a listener.

 

Summer 2016 marks the second time Ted has placed Amanda in an abusive situation, hundreds or thousands of miles from his Arizona residence, and in blatant disregard or denial of her circumstances.

 

The first time involved our sister Raechel Kolb in Colorado. Amanda stayed with her for 3 weeks in 2015, during which time Amanda lost 17 pounds. (Amanda is about 5 feet tall.) Ted had no idea anything was amiss, because Amanda wouldn’t tell him. She waited until the visit was over, and then she called me and said, “Raechel starved me,” and described horrendous episodes of verbal battery from Raechel and our other sister Rebecca Bailey.

 

At that time, I encouraged Amanda to talk to her guardian. I presented the situation to Ted’s wife, and Amanda finally was coaxed into spilling the story about her traumatic Colorado visit.

 

In spite of the 2015 Colorado scenario, and despite my warnings to Ted about Dan’s history with alcohol (including at least one DUI and the suspension of his driver’s license), Ted still insisted on cutting me off and leaving Amanda with Dan for two months.

 

During this time, Amanda was unable to call me for help, or ask me to come and get her, or contact me if anything was wrong. Amanda was forced to live under Dan’s roof witnessing his behavior, and she had no recourse. And this time, she can’t even call me to say what happened.

 

It is difficult to imagine anyone being this heartless to a woman with Down syndrome. But this is who my siblings are.

 

Now Ted will insist that Amanda is fine. How does he know that?

 

He doesn’t.

 

Amanda tells me things she will not tell anyone else. I have been her most trusted “safe person” through her entire life. She therefore needs to be able to reach me AT ALL TIMES.

 

Please restore Amanda’s personal security, which has been stripped away by this guardianship.

 

  • Amanda must be free to visit wherever she is welcome, if she chooses; especially immediate family members.
  • She must not be forced to stay anywhere she feels uncomfortable or unsafe.
  • She must not be afraid to ask for what she wants.
  • She must have communication restored with her loved ones, including access to her own cell phone, and be free to call her relatives and friends at any time.

 

Amanda is not a tool to be used in a game of spite. She is not a child, an invalid, or a house pet. She is a socially adept, witty, adult human being. Beyond that, she is intelligent, a great diplomat, and will be a tremendous peacemaker on her own behalf. Help us improve her quality of life, by restoring the freedom she lost when our father died.

 

Please be aware of the urgency of this situation. I am risking more backlash (toward both Amanda and myself) from these toxic siblings by filing this petition, but I cannot be silent about this. Amanda needs protection, and the best way to give it to her is to allow her to ask for it when she needs to.

 

The court has let Amanda down once. Please make this right by amending her guardianship. Follow the Michigan Mental Health Code. Help set an example for people with disabilities, like the state of Virginia did for Jenny Hatch in 2013, without taking a year to do so.

 

All people should have the right to see their loved ones, to live without fear and intimidation. Those who are vulnerable must not be subjected to bullying, or forced into silence just because they have Down syndrome.

 

Respectfully submitted,

 

 

 

 

 

Nancy J. Bailey

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Dear Amanda

Maybe someday I will get lucky and you will see this.

Or maybe someone will read it to you.

I just want you to know that, even if I never get to see you or talk to you again, (which it’s starting to look that way)  you are a great sister.

I went to the judge and asked him to look at our case. I was trying to get a Girl’s Day Out.

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He wouldn’t listen to me.

I will keep trying, and I won’t give up on you, because you asked me to.

But the law is really messed up.

It lets a guardian do whatever he wants. If the guardian is mad at me, he doesn’t have to let us talk on the phone. Or visit. Or write. He can cut us off.

And that is what Ted has done.

And it’s legal because the court is allowing it.

The court is not looking out for you. That means you have to look out for yourself, because they will not allow me to do it anymore.

So there are a few things I want you to know:

There is nothing wrong with you.

None of this is your fault.

You are not handicapped.

You just have a disability.

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It is unfortunate that the people around you ARE Handicapped.

They are selfish. They are greedy. They are simple minded. They think that money is more important than family.

They are wrong.

They don’t get it.

Don’t let them get to you.

Treat everyone how you want to be treated.

Don’t do things that you know will piss them off. Try to be considerate and try to remember they don’t understand much. You might spend some time explaining things in simple terms. Remember they are not as smart as you are.

I want to say thank you for all the good times we shared. I think about you every day, and you know I will always be with you in spirit.

Amanda and me at DeTour Harbor

You keep on writing. Don’t ever stop. You are really good at it.

I hope you keep your sense of humor, and remember not to take yourself, or your guardian, or anyone, too seriously.

You have to be patient with ignorant people.

Remember the signal! Ca-CAW! Ca-CAW!!!

Think of me. And I will think of you.

We will always be Blood Sisters.

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I love you to the Moon and Back!!!

  • Nancy

 

“It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator.  All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear and speak no evil.  The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain.  The victim demands action, engagement and remembering.”

–Judy Herman

Trauma and Recovery
The aftermath of violence –
from domestic abuse to political terror
by Judith herman, M.D.  pp 7-8.

Posted in abuse, amanda, down syndrome, empathy | Leave a comment

Florence Fosters Knee Jerks

The first thing that struck me about the movie Florence Foster Jenkins is that Hugh Grant is aging. Sad, but true. It’s happening to all of us, but there is little gratification in seeing it on him.

Grant has played his share of bad boys, roles which he seems most comfortable with. Indeed, he shines in one of my all-time favorites, About A Boy, in his narcissistic-yet-lovable skin opposite the ever-formidable Toni Colette. However, in this movie, he manages as longsuffering hubby to wannabe opera singer, Florence. As the facts of Florence and her struggles unfold, the thought recurs time and again how the real Mr. Jenkins should have been inducted into sainthood. He was clearly a man of tremendous compassion.

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Grant does get the opportunity to cut loose a little with some swing dancing, which is fun to see.

The second reactive moment was when Meryl Streep’s version of Florence’s  bad singing went on way too long. Way, WAY too long. I mean like, we get it already. Why must we suffer?

The appearance of Simon Helberg offers a welcome respite from the auditory onslaught. Nobody can make a mortified face quite like Simon Helberg. He offers a whole plethora of boggled, plaintive expressions.

The movie is sweet, dripping with loyalty and devotion, personal sacrifice and protected innocence. It hits home the point: True love means supporting the dreams of your partner, no matter how misguided they may seem.

There are a few occasions when the tale’s oddity clangs with the notion that this stuff actually happened. It falls under the too-weird-to-be-true-but-it-still-is category, kinda like Eastwood’s The Changling, only happier.

The story moves along pretty briskly and the cinematography, the color palette of the era is engaging and delicious.

At the end, the credits roll with some of Florence’s actual recordings, and it hits home how screechily accurate Meryl Streep’s wailings are. However, that probably doesn’t come as a surprise. She is, after all, Meryl Streep.

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I came away not cramped with laughter, but actually a bit melancholy. It is worth seeing, though.

If you can stand the noise.

 

 

Posted in empathy, movies | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Bullying

This blog post is worth a revisit:

From January 21, 2015

Prior Lake Priorities – On Bullying

I know everyone likes to see nice and sunny, funny stories about my sister Amanda, who despite (or maybe partially due to) having Down syndrome, has an offbeat, self-deprecating sense of humor and a characteristic bluntness.  Her one-liners quickly became a hit when I started publishing them on my FB page.

For instance: Amanda is obsessed with past relationships.  I was married twice; once in a prior lifetime, back in the early eighties.  Even now, all these years later, she still occasionally brings that up — an ancient history that I would just as soon forget.  Now Amanda and I both are drifting into *gasp* middle age, complete with the side effects of wrinkled brows and curly blonde chin hairs.  But she still loves to ask people about their exes, and to my chagrin, she has extended this inquisition to various men that I’ve dated.  She queried one guy about his ex wife’s appearance and he replied, “She’s four feet tall and has a beard and a mustache.”

“Oh,” Amanda said.  “She looks like me.”

Unfortunately, with these light-hearted moments come an occasional darker one.  It’s especially sad that for us, the darker ones are usually dealt by family members.  It was my normal MO to ignore other people’s bad behavior, and focus on the positive side of life.  But now I am finding that ignoring bad behavior doesn’t make it go away.  The book I co-authored with Amanda has raised a number of eyebrows, with or without the chin whiskers.

The bottom line is, bullies don’t like being called out.

Today the trend on Facebook is all about the video of one Bradley Knudson, from Prior Lake Minnesota, whose daughter is the victim of bullying.  Mr. Knudson is calling them out by name, in a YouTube video now thankfully going viral.  I say, “thankfully” because shedding light on this problem is the best way to solve it.  I applaud him.

People who don’t have enough conscience or personal integrity to self-monitor should be stripped of their cloaking devices.  My siblings have threatened Amanda, her guardian and me with lawsuits and who knows what else, because we have exposed their bad behavior in THE NORTH SIDE OF DOWN.  We’ve even lost one of our five-star Amazon reviews, which our reader apparently deleted after the threats went public.

The funny thing is, in reading these reviews, one sees that they don’t focus on the bad behavior of siblings. They focus on Amanda’s strength, her inherent wisdom, her bravery.  This tells me that our message is ringing true loud and clear:  Get your affairs in order.  Be kind.  Stay strong.  Follow the love.  No matter who you are, what your disability, age, color, gender, chromosome or DNA, you have a voice.  Don’t let anyone force you into silence.

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9 August: In case you were wondering, I didn’t get to see Amanda. She is back in Arizona now. Our efforts to reunite were effectively tamped down by belligerent threats and obnoxious behavior.
Not by Amanda, of course.
Although sometimes I wish she would stand up for herself.
However….  The last thing she said to me was, “Don’t give up.”
For those of you who are beaten down by the white male dominant society, who don’t think you can overcome a proverbial (or maybe physical) smackdown by someone who is bigger and stronger and has more economic muscle, who calls you crazy because you stand alone in the crowd… Think again.
Don’t give up.
You can be an example of strength. Just use your brain and you will find the way.
Posted in abuse, amanda, down syndrome, down's, down's syndrome, empathy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Excerpt: Twelve Days On An Island (Rough Draft, Working Title)

I have decided to pony Trudy just in case she lags behind. My choice of horse to ride is always Clifford. He is stumbly now because he can’t bend his left knee, but hasn’t lost his spritely vigor, and his withers twitch with anticipation.

But Trudy isn’t cooperating. Come to think of it, I can’t remember a time when I have ever attempted to pony her off the back of Clifford. She doesn’t seem to appreciate it. She is pulling so hard that it’s taking every ounce of strength I have just to hold the rope.

“COME ON!”

Her neck is stretched out to its full magnificent capacity, her nose forward, her eyes rolling back in her head as she reluctantly plods along, dark-skinned and glossy and recalcitrant as a seal being hauled up on the ice by a harpoon.

Finally, I give up. I dismount, take the saddle off Clifford and throw it on her.

Now it’s Clifford I have to pony. These guys are both in their twenties and they do not mind being left behind. They’ve been up and down the road so many times here, that I worry they will elect to just stay and eat grass.

Clifford clip clops along on a loose lead, heeling like a well-trained dog. But as soon as Trudy starts walking, I can feel the reason for her reluctance. She is stiff, perhaps due to the six-hour trailer ride.

“Oh for crying out loud!”

I get off her and we start walking. I am thinking how absurd this is — I’ve got three horses, and can’t ride a single one of them.

We hoof it on foot all the way down to Clifford’s Bay. When we reach the sandy fork in the road, I tell Trudy, “Okay, this is a soft surface, and we are going to soak your feet in Lake Huron. So I’m getting back on.”

She stands while I climb aboard and we clump along through the trees. Jr prefers to lead, even though he has never seen this place before and to my knowledge, has never seen a lake that looks like an ocean.

We reach a gap in the thick woods, and he stops briefly and stands there looking. The cove is unfurled beneath the gray sky, flat as ice, the trees dark and pointing upward. The grasses are sharp and poke through the water’s surface. There is no beach.

We squish down the two-track toward what was once the expanse of sand. The water seeps up over the horse’s hoofs, and before Jr knows it he is ankle deep in Lake Huron.

He dips his nose in, once, twice, then splashes around. He hangs close to us, circling Trudy, crowding and bumping her. He keeps his head down so he can slurp and blow bubbles in the water.

jr cliffy shore.jpg

Clifford stands comfortably in the coolness, just looking out over the bay with eyes half-closed, enjoying his soak.

Jr is not nice to Trudy in the field. He bullies her, bites her, doesn’t share food. But this day, she is his mommy. He clings close to us; so close I am pushing him away. Trudy just tolerates it, although she does offer to kick him when he bumps against her rump.
He finally sloshes over toward Clifford, who is eating the tall shore grass, and he takes an experimental bite.

The colt’s excitement is evident because he doesn’t stay in one spot very long. He is enchanted with this bay; the air, the water, all of it.

In watching his antics, I understand why the adult world is so enthralled by youth. There is a voyeuristic appeal in watching someone see and experience things for the first time. The freshness, the wonder serves as a gentle reminder that we came from somewhere, that we were once the new, excited witness to the beauty of this earth.

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On To Bigger and Brighter Things: Like A New Book About Morgan Horses

It’s pretty hard to be sad when you have horses who like to play on the beach.

Kerry 7th Gen has made his debut on Drummond Island and he is finding out exactly why his older pasture mates have become migratory beasts.

Over two decades of summers on Drummond has led to some pretty spectacular experiences for horses: and a new book!

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Working title: Twelve Days On An Island: A Family Of Horses

The story is about a five-year-old Morgan and his first summer in the great tradition of his relatives. He inherits the experience, much as I have, from my ancestors before me.

When Jr., as we call him, arrives on the island, I suddenly realize that he has one behavioral idiosyncrasy that is going to make life very difficult for both of us:

He refuses to stand tied.

A horse that won’t be tied up is a big problem.

When his halter is attached to anything, he dances around. He digs holes with his feet. Worst of all, he has developed a habit of leaning back into the halter and breaking free.

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Jr. cherishes his freedom, but the real problem is that for some reason, the experience of being tied up just terrifies him.

His story is intertwined with that of my sister, Amanda, and how the struggle continues to liberate her from the shackles of an emotionally abusive situation. Amanda is my co-author to our award-winning book, The North Side Of Down. Unfortunately it has turned into only the first part in the story of her quest for social freedom, and a human rights battle that is not uncommon for people with disabilities.

Twelve Days includes the usual cast of characters, with Clifford the Library Horse, and Trudy, and a bevy of dogs.

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I’m in the process of polishing the manuscript, which is in journal form, much as the original story, Clifford of Drummond Island, began.

I am scouting around for publishers, but if it doesn’t work out, I will self publish and hope to have the story available by the Christmas season.

BTW, in my search online for expert advice on solving the tying issue, I didn’t find any method similar to how I fixed the problem. It just goes to show there is more than one way to skin a cat…. Or secure a horse.

Posted in Clifford, empathy | Tagged , , | 18 Comments

The Day I Kidnapped My Sister

I hope to give some uplifting words to people who are being lied about, or gossiped about, or bullied.

Take heart!

If evil people are maligning you, you must be living right.

Just stay above it and keep on track.

I wanted to include this excerpt from THE NORTH SIDE OF DOWN.

I am so glad I documented all this right as it happened, because when I look back now, I still can hardly believe it went down this way.

In one of the most atrocious actions my sister “R1” has ever pulled off, she called the police when I took Amanda to the movies, and told them I had kidnapped her.

R1 at the time was Amanda’s temporary guardian. It was shortly after the death of our dad.

This scenario, in my opinion, is a perfect example of how our justice system fails people with disabilities.

I feel sorry for my siblings, actually. It must be so exhausting to have this negative energy, grinding away at you day after day.

I have recently tried to get down in it with them, and I just can’t. I am no good at it. I don’t want to hang around down there.

I admit it’s hurtful that, after all I did for every one of these people over so many years (you know who you are) they would put so much energy into trying to tear me down.

There is not a single one among them (save Amanda) who has stood by me through the hard times.

Not. A. Single. One.

But that is fine — I just have too much to do to worry about it.

I really like our book, Amanda. I wish I had gotten a professional editor to look it over, but I guess we did okay.

I probably won’t try to revamp it. The story is told — it was a very important phase in my life.

North with BRAG

I do not know the answers to the problems that our legal system faces in scenarios like this. But I do know that people with disabilities need better protection from predatory family members.

Here is the portion of the chapter about the “kidnapping.”  (We actually went to the movies.)

The North Side of Down, Chapter 10 – Excerpt

I met R1 to pick Amanda up after an appointment.  We met in the Wendy’s parking lot and R1 got out of the car and stood in front of the passenger door as if to block Amanda from getting out.  She handed me her cell phone.  “Here.  Rose wants to talk to you.”

I took the phone.  “Hi. What’s up?”

“Can you please go to the credit union and talk to them about Dad’s account?” she wailed.  “They won’t give me any information because your name is on it.”

“It’s gonna close,” I said.  “By the time I get there it will be after five.”

“Not if you hurry.”

I sighed and looked at the clock.  “Okay, I guess we will do our matinee tomorrow.”

I was looking right at R1 when I said it.  She just stared at me.

We hung up and R1 finally permitted Amanda to get out of the car.  “See you later,” I said cheerfully.

Amanda and I took the hour’s drive, listening to our music and laughing.  

“I hate driving fast when I’m this tired,” I said.  “My judgment is like the weather: A little cloudy.”

“It’s not THAT bad.”

“Aw, thanks Manda!”

“I meant the weather,” she said.

“Ha, ha, ha.  Very funny.”

I turned the music up.  “Sister Golden Hair” was playing on a CD my friend Steve had made for me.  Amanda said, “Nancy do you get it? Will you meet me in the middle.” She pointed at me.

“Will you meet me in the end,” she pointed to herself.

We were indeed the middle child and the “end” child. I smiled.  “Brilliant!”

We pulled in to the Credit Union lot that overlooked the ferry dock.  “Wait here.  We can go over to Desi’s afterward,” I said.

Dori in the credit union informed me that as estate executor, in order to get account information, all R2 needed to do was submit a copy of the death certificate.  I smiled and thanked her, and asked her to print me a copy of the account’s activity.  It showed the account was empty, and had been for some time.  I kept a copy in case I needed to face any more accusations.

I held the door to the Mainsail open as Amanda crutched up the ramp and inside.  I left her near my usual table and went into the restroom.  When I came out, Amanda had bellied up to the bar and was surrounded by a half dozen locals.  They were all laughing boisterously.  “My family is crazy!” Amanda was saying, then she spotted me coming around the corner.  “Oops.  I guess I better go sit down now.”

There was more raucous laughter from the group.  “Nice!” I said, and followed her to the table.

We only had a couple of hours to hang out until R1 was supposed to meet us.  But she was running late.  Meanwhile, I bought Amanda a late lunch and while I sat there with my computer, Desi came over and said, “Amanda, do you want a magazine to look at?”

“Yes, please,” Amanda said.

Desi gave her a gossip rag so Amanda had some celebrities to catch up on, while I skimmed Facebook.  “You can keep that,” Desi said.

“Hey thanks!” Amanda said.  She stood up.

“Where are you going?” I said.

“I’m going to the bathroom.  And I’m not speaking to my guardianship.  I’m going whether anyone likes it or not!”

As the afternoon waned, we sat together and Amanda gave me updates on the celebrities featured in her magazine, and showed me pictures of various people, and who they were dating, and who looked best in the same dress.

Two hours later, R1 finally arrived.  “Okay Amanda, let’s go.”

As I unplugged my computer and wrapped up the cord, I watched while Amanda stood up.  Her crutches were leaning against the wall.  She fumbled with her coat while R1 stood in front of her, making no move to help her.  I put my computer in its bag and put my own coat on, meanwhile watching as Amanda struggled with her box of leftovers, her magazine, and her crutches. R1 simply stood there with her hands hanging by her sides, looking on.  I couldn’t stand it anymore.  

“Here,” I said to Amanda.  “Give me that.”

I carried her magazine, her lunch box and my gear, and held the door for her while she crutched outside. I put her items and her crutches in the back seat and helped her into the car.  “See ya tomorrow, Blood Sister,” I said.

The next day I was greeted by a thousand white blobs of petals as the trillium bloomed all around R1’s trailer in the woods.  There was a small cluster of daffodils near her front step.  The hardwoods were covered in a bright green mist.  There was nothing so beautiful as spring in the UP, I thought.  Amanda and I drove to the Soo listening to our music.  This time it was Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney, “The Girl is Mine.”

“She’s mine, mine, mine.  Hey!  That sounds like you and Raven,” Amanda said.

“That’s not funny!” I snapped.  She chortled with glee.

When we came out of the theatre, the sun blasted through the front entrance, revealing a sky so deep I felt we could dissolve into it.  The birds regaled us, cheering en masse from their budding heights.  Even though it was mid-May, the air was still and smelled like snow.

“Let’s take a drive down by the Locks,” Amanda said.

“Okay.”

We drove down the hill, through the aged brick-and-mortar town, past the corner bars and the fudge shops, down by where the ships pulled carefully in to the massive stalls known as the Soo Locks.  Tulips bloomed along the walkways, bright splashes of color against the cement.

“Let’s take a little walk,” Amanda suggested.

“Okay.”

I glanced at my cell phone.  It was a little after 3.  If she was getting off work on time, R1 would arrive at her trailer ahead of us.  But Amanda still would be back in plenty of time for dinner.  I pulled over and parked, helping Amanda out with her crutches.  “I just didn’t want to go back yet,” Amanda confessed.

“I understand.  It is such a beautiful day for a walk.  Hey, I’ve got an idea.  Grab one of those little flags I got you, and I will take your picture by the tulips!”

The flags were in a small packet, tucked inside Amanda’s purse.  I had spotted them at Wal-Mart and instantly thought of her. Portable patriotism.

Amanda obligingly crutched over by the flower bed.  I took the crutches and leaned them against the fence, and aimed the camera. She posed with her little flag, smiling against the backdrop of bright colors.

“Perfect!”

We walked through the iron gates, into the park by the Locks.  I looked up and down the river in both directions.  “No freighters today!  Dang it!  Go figure.”

She was quiet, not her usual buoyant self.  She was heading for the stairs of the viewing platform.  “They have a ramp,” I said.  “Do you want to go up there?”

“No,” she said.  “I’m just looking at what this says.”

She had stopped and was facing a square of concrete, an engraved plaque on the wall below the viewing deck.  I stepped over and began to read aloud.

When I finished, I said, “Isn’t that nice?  They give money to the families of lost sailors.”

“That is great,” she said.  We turned and walked along the fence line by the water’s edge.  

I nodded toward a grassy area where picnic tables were scattered.  “We were here about this time last year.  Remember I set up the camera and took our picture?  I think we were right over there.”

“Yes I do remember that!”  She crutched along in silence for a moment, holding tightly to her little American flag.  The young leaves above us moved softly as the Lake Superior wind touched them.  Suddenly, Amanda added, “We are gonna be okay, Nancy.”

I looked at her.  Her eyes were down, concentrating on her steps.  “Yes,” I said.  “We are.”

The walk angled sharply and took us back to the gate near where the truck was parked. We followed it reluctantly and climbed back in.

“I wish I could come to your dog class on Saturday,” she said as I started the engine.  I would be teaching an obedience workshop at JD Kennels, a new business that had opened up in Cedarville.  I was quickly becoming fast friends with Jane Doty, the proprietor.

“I know you’d like to be there.  You can ask Raven.  I would come and pick you up.  But I am sure she has plans for you Saturday.”

She looked out the window.  The corners of her mouth turned down a little.  There were tiny lines on her forehead, long and fine as hairs.  It was hard to see her looking so sad.  I was developing a new appreciation for people forced to share custody of their children.  I thought it ironic that, even though I wasn’t a parent, I was enduring this kind of separation, possibly the same type of pain.  The difference, of course, was that Amanda was an adult.  The law had stripped her of her freedom to make choices; even choices as simple as where to spend her Saturday.

“I don’t know how you do it,” I said.  “I don’t know where you find this strength.”

“I don’t think I am strong.”

“Well, you are.  You are so composed.  You are so calm.”

“But on the inside, I am not.”

I knew it wasn’t the weekend that was bothering her.  It was the whole business.  It was the idea that a mere sister, who should have been her peer, had complete control over her every moment.  It was degrading.  It was depressing.  She had to be wishing that Dad would come back and set everything right.  There had to be some way to make these next few days easier for her.  I searched for something that would help.  Suddenly, I knew the thing.

“Do you remember what I said to you, at the meeting following the hearing?  When you started to cry, and I was hugging you, and I whispered something in your ear?”

“No, I don’t remember what it was.”

“I said to be brave.  And you stopped crying.  Do you know why I said that?”

“No.”

“Do you remember the Special Olympics creed?”

“Oh, yes. Uhm…  Let’s see.  ‘Let me win.  If I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.’”

“Yes.  Do you remember the time I was waterskiing?  And I had lost a ski and I was getting scared, floundering around in the deep?  And you and Marcus were in the boat?”

“Oh, yeah!” She was laughing now, amused at the memory, so confident in her own swimming abilities.  “You are really scared of deep water.”

“That’s right.  I was starting to panic.  And you called out, ‘Be brave, Nancy, be brave in the attempt!’”

“Oh yeah.  That’s right.”

“It really helped me!  So, that’s what I was thinking about when I whispered in your ear that day.”

“Okay.  But Special Olympics isn’t the same.  That’s not what they meant.”

“That’s true.  But it still works. Because there are all kinds of bravery.”

She was silent for a bit, pondering this.  Finally, she said, “Okay, I know what you mean.  But I still don’t want to go back there.”

“I know you don’t.  But just think.  Tomorrow is Saturday.  On Sunday, Ted is flying in from Arizona.”  I knew R1 would keep Amanda to herself all weekend.  The dog class wasn’t going to happen for her.  She needed something to look forward to.  So I added, “On Monday, Ted will be here in Michigan and on Tuesday is court.  It’s supposed to rain on Monday.  That could be our next movie day!  We could see the new Star Trek movie.”

“That would be good!” She brightened visibly. “Thanks for taking me to the Locks.  You sure made my Memorial Day.”

Memorial Day was still a week away.  “I did?”

“Yes.  Giving me the flags, and then reading that sign down by the Locks, about the lost sailors.”

“Oh, yeah.  That was a good Memorial Day thing.”  I hadn’t thought about it.  She was right, though.  If she went with Ted, they would be flying out the Sunday preceding Memorial Day and she wouldn’t be able to visit Mom’s grave, or see any parades, hang Dad’s flag out, or enjoy any of her other rituals.  A simple walk by the Locks for me had been something much more significant for her.  She was seizing the moment.  She had been thinking of our Dad, our fallen Merchant Marine, and carrying her little flag in his honor.

“I’m glad I could help,” I said.

“You still have Dad’s flag, right?”

“Yes.  It is in a safe place.  But you can have it back now if you want it.”

“No.  You keep it until May 21st.”

“Okay.”

“I was just checking up on it.”

“I see.”

We drove on, along the road lined with misty green trees, through the woods spattered with clouds of white trillium.  We pulled up in R1’s driveway.  Her car was parked there, long and black, like something a dour reverend might be driving when he shows up to deliver the worst kind of news.  We got out of the car and I helped Amanda hobble slowly up the steps.  I ran back to the car and got her coat.  As I trotted back with her coat, R1 flung the door open.  

“Hi!” I said, handing her the coat.


R1’s face rumpled into an ugly scowl.  “Nancy, I am gonna be straight with you.”

“No.  Don’t be straight.”  Whatever this was about, I wasn’t going to allow it within Amanda’s earshot, especially with her fragile state of mind.  Amanda put her head down and crutched through the open door past R1.  I turned around and walked back to the car.

“Come back here!”  R1 yelled.

I waved.  “Have a nice weekend.”

Nearly an hour later, as I headed back into the tenuous cell phone range of the Cedarville community, my voice mail chimed in.  It was R1. “If you don’t call me back within five minutes and tell me where you are with Amanda, I’m calling the sheriff!”  

I hung up.  She should have known we were out of range.  Cell phones were useless throughout most of the Eastern U.P.  I forgot about her threat as I pulled in at Jane’s and proceeded to walk around her kennel, discussing our plans for Saturday’s class.  Later that night, my phone rang.

“Uhm, is this Nancy Bailey?”

“Yes.”

“This is officer West from the Chippewa County Sheriff’s Department.”

I stifled a laugh. She had actually done it.  

“Hi,” I said.

“Are you in Sault Ste Marie?”

“No, I am closer to Cedarville.”

A half hour from him.  He hesitated.

“Can you pick a time to meet me, or if it’s okay, can you discuss something with me over the phone?”

“Sure, we can do it right now.”

“We had a call from your sister, uhm – “

“Raven.”

Better known as R1.

“Yes.  Raven.  She said that apparently you had taken your other sister to the movies?”

“Yes.”

“She said that you did this without her consent, and she is the guardian.”

Temporary – God willing, knock wood, cross your fingers – temporary guardian.

“Okay.”

“Well, I just called to get your side of the story.  I did talk to your other sister, Amanda, who said- “

“You talked to Amanda?”

Great.  Just great.  The poor girl had obviously not suffered enough.  I immediately started thinking of ways to help her deal with this new punishment.  I decided that slapstick would be our best defense.  Blood sisters at the movies.  A felony.  No, a Miss – Demeanor.  De more movies we miss, demeanor we get.  We were going to have a field day with this one.

“Yes,” he said.  “I talked to her.  She said she looked forward to Girl’s Day Out. She said that you went to the movies and took a walk down by the Soo Locks.”

Fun at the Soo Locks – sue me!

“Yes.”

“Well, you do understand that you need Raven’s consent to take Amanda.  I don’t know if you could get proof, or whatnot.  But she has the paperwork and you could go to jail.”

“Oh yes, I understand.”

Girl’s Day Out turns to Girl’s Day In – in the slammer, that is.

“Do you have anything to say?”

I sighed.  Why bother?  Was the whole thing even deserving of a response?  It was ludicrous, but, to at least one person, this appeared like a rational course of action.  Maybe the best thing to do was clarify it, for the record.  “Yes. First of all, I want to apologize for you having to spend time on this trivial issue.  I know there are other things you could be doing.  Raven is lying.  She thrives on drama.  She absolutely knew I was picking Amanda up.  I told her yesterday that we would be seeing the earlier matinee, because we missed yesterday’s movie.  I did it out of consideration for her work schedule.  We have a court date pending on the 21st and she is getting panicky.  I think she is angry because I was an hour late taking Amanda back and then I wouldn’t stand on her porch and listen to her squall about it. Now, it’s her word against mine, so she’s decided to do a little chest-thumping.”

“Okay,” his half-distracted voice told me he was writing.  “So you say she’s a drama queen?”

I laughed.  “Yeah, put that.”

“Well, you know it is your word against hers.”  He was polite, and sounded completely unbiased.  I could tell he was young.  I thought an older cop would have said something like, “Yeah, I agree it’s crazy, but just cut me a break and play along.”

“And Amanda has no say in the matter?”  I asked.

“No, none whatsoever.”

“Interesting.”

“So unless you have some documentation, or whatnot, proving that you have Raven’s consent to take Amanda, if it happens again, you could go to jail.  Do you understand this?”

“Oh, yes, I understand very well.”

Hit the Soo Locks, then throw away the key.  

I thanked him and hung up.  It immediately occurred to me that, in a normal community, this wouldn’t help R1’s case at all.  I was starting to think that maybe she needed to be on some kind of prescription medication.  Her behavior was becoming more and more blatantly irrational.  Poor Amanda!  I knew that strange things could happen in a courtroom.  I didn’t have a lot of faith in this judge, based on what I had already seen.  I could only hope that what was glaringly obvious to me – that being in this person’s control was very unhealthy for Amanda – would be obvious to Judge Temple.

First thing Monday morning, the day she could talk freely, I had a voicemail from Amanda. “Hey Nancy what’s up? I just wanna find out how you’re doing this morning.  I missed you the other day.  You know why, the other day, because Raven’s been calling the cops!  And I was scared.  And she approached them in the house. They asked me the questions. I wondered why they asked me the questions about you, Nancy.  Ugh. I can’t handle this. I was scared.  So I hope you get my message. This is your baby sister. I hope you call back soon. Bye.”

My reaction to this phone call was pure, unadulterated rage.  I thought I could feel blood swelling up in my ears.  It was as if R1 was now inventing ways to further traumatize Amanda.  I realized her actions were due to her own agenda.  But the fact that she had no inclination to put her weird impulses aside at a time like this, even for Amanda’s sake, infuriated me.  I had decided to treat the situation with humor, but Amanda didn’t have a full understanding of why the police were involved.  Apparently no one had bothered to explain it to her.  And really, it defied reason.  It was no wonder she was confused.

The first thing I did was forward her voicemail to Ted, thinking he may need it to help his case. Once I had calmed down enough to where I could make light of the situation, I called her back.  “Hello?  Amanda?  It’s me, your blood sister. I’m in the klink.  They gave me one phone call.  Can you come and bail me out?”

“Oh, very funny!” she said.  But she was starting to laugh.

“Can you believe she called the cops because we went to the movies?”

“I can’t believe it!”

“Was the cop at least a good looking guy?”

“Oh yes.”

“Hot cops!  Okay, that’s good.   Was he nice to you?”

“Yes.  He was very nice.  He said his wife has horses.”

“Oh, you told him about Clifford?”  

“Yes, I did.  I told him my sister was an author, and artist, and trains animals, and does dog shows.”

“Nice!  Thank you!”

“You’re welcome!”

“Well, you know why she called them, right?  Did they explain it?”

“I think so.  But I still don’t get it.”

“Actually it doesn’t make much sense to me, either.  But what happened was, Raven got mad for whatever reason.  Who knows.  Maybe because we stayed out too long.  And then I didn’t call her back, because we were out of signal range when she called.”

“I see.”

“So she called the cops and told them that I didn’t have permission to take you to the movies.  Because she has a court order stating that she is your guardian – “

“Temporary guardian,” she corrected me.

“Yes.  She showed them the court order saying she is your temporary guardian.  So she has the legal right to keep you from going to the movies.  If she claims she didn’t give permission, the cops could take me to jail.”

“They could?”

“Yes.  It’s not their fault.  They are just doing their job.  But they have to do what the court orders.”

“I see.”

“Yes.  When I picked you up at Wendy’s on Thursday, I told Raven we would see the earlier matinee on Friday.  So she knew we were going to the movies.”

“Yes, I remember that!   Nancy.   Do you know what she said to me?  She said, ‘I forbid you to go to the movies!’” Amanda’s tone was angry. She was practically spitting the words.

“She did?”

“Yes!  ‘I forbid you!’ she said!  How can she forbid me, Nancy?”

“I do agree that is pretty extreme.  It’s a good thing we will be in court tomorrow.  We need to get this straightened out.”

“Yes, we do.”


If you read the whole thing, thanks for sticking with us. If you like the story, you can order it on Amazon. It is also available as an audiobook.  Amanda and I split the royalties. It is her life, her story…. Our story.

I hope those who read it will see that all people, in fact all living things, deserve respect.

Just because a person has a disability, it should not make them a tool at anyone’s disposal. Amanda is not a child. She is not a house pet. She is a person: A super smart, funny, generous, loving and sometimes exasperating person.

She is the best sister. I am lucky to have her.

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A Trail Ride By Design?

 

Ponying the baby, on Thursday:

I grab the lead rope that is hanging on a fence post and snap the end on the colt’s halter.
“Come on.”

He pulls against us at first, but then he gets what’s going on and he ponies quite nicely. He walks away with his head by Clifford’s right hip and doesn’t seem to mind going.

We head up the hill. As we reach the top, past the sawmill, Clifford’s head starts to bob, every other step.

“Are you kidding me?!”

He continues to limp. I decide to keep going.

“Let’s just walk this out. You were fine a minute ago.”

We keep walking. He seems better, but then the head bob returns.

“Oh for crying out loud.”

Then, Clifford stumbles. It isn’t just a stumble. It’s stumblestumblestumblestumblestumble as his neck stretches out before me, and he struggles to catch himself for one, two, three, four five six beats. I think about bailing off, making quick decisions to throw the lead rope away on my right and jump off his left side.
But he rights himself.

“Okay. I get it.”

I climb off.

“So now I have THREE horses here and can’t ride a single one of them?”

Today:

When I get back to camp, Clifford nickers to me, signaling that he is ready to ride. Isn’t this the time of day we usually go?

He is standing in the early evening light, outlined in gold. His white blazed face is turned to watch me intently.

After twenty-three years, he knows what time it is on Drummond Island.

“Well, the last time we went, you limped. And, you almost fell down.”

He just keeps watching.

“Okay then. But if you are ready to turn back, you let me know.”

It will be just me and him. I don’t want to drag Trudy out, and I don’t want to put Clifford through another episode with the colt.

I decide that tomorrow, when I go to the Soo for lunch with my friend Lori, I will stop at the feed store and get some anti-inflammatory for both of my elder horses. I just want them to have a chance to enjoy the island, not be stuck in a corral putting up with this bratty punk all day and night.

Til races ahead as Clifford ambles up the hill by the old sawmill. The horse’s ears are perked forward and he strides out with purpose. He loves to go.

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Normally, in years past, there would be a lot more trotting. He was always in a big hurry. But now, I don’t have to hold him back anymore. He walks right out.

We go about a mile and a half down the road, and then he wants to turn down the little two track to Pat’s Lake.

So I let him.

We get about halfway down to the big, swampy lake, and are stopped by a tree that has fallen across the trail.

I look around for an alternate path, but Clifford uses it as an excuse to turn and head for home.

I take this as a signal he has had enough.

I am riding him with just a halter with a rope attached, but I hardly use the rope, instead letting it lie over his neck. He picks up a nice, long stride heading back for home. There is not a single sign of a limp. He still stumbles now and then. He can’t help that. He forgets that the knee won’t bend.

The ground is soft from the morning rain, so maybe that’s why he has had an easier time than the other day; less impact on the joints.

Still, I have to wonder about his sudden stiffness when the colt came on board. The exaggerated stumbling. The eager trot for food after the colt was put away.

I can’t underestimate Clifford. He is, at times, eerily smart. I look up at the trees, overhead, waving their tops in the gusty breeze.

Clifford walks into camp, straight over to Wheelzebub and then with no bidding from me, parks himself in the usual spot. I am laughing.

I slide down. “Well, that was a very nice ride! I do feel better! And thank you so much!”

I can’t resist flinging my arms around his neck and hugging with all my might.

This is why, I tell myself, this is exactly why some of us have horses. I feel, at that moment, nothing short of exhuberant. All my cares are gone.

He looks pleased. I open the trailer door, reaching into the bag for an apple wafer. He accepts it gladly, with a look.

Would that be… Smug?

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Posted in Clifford, empathy | Tagged , | 3 Comments