“Artists are people who are not at all interested in the facts—only in the truth. You get the facts from outside. The truth you get from inside.” --Ursula K. LeGuin

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Your Story Matters, Chapter 29, "Thursday"

Chapter 29


Natalie Goldberg tells of a writing retreat where she read a poem about going for one's dream and asked the class what they thought the title was. "Go for a Dream, To Dream," etc. "No." she said, "Do you want to know the title?"



 They all laughed. 

"The best titles are like that," she said. 

 On a Thursday many years ago, two friends and I visited the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.

 Florencia, Sherrie, and I traveled with three others who had prepared the trip to see Sathya Sai Baba, a supposed Holy Man. We had seen a film where he produced Vibhuti (holy ash) from an urn, and it just kept flowing, more than you would assume that the container would hold. A trick? I don't know. Sai Baba could produce vibhuti from his hand. I questioned his ability to produce trinkets out of his hand, as they looked like the trinkets being sold at the gate of the area where his audience assembled.

 If you want to impress a devotee, produce a trinket with their image instead of your own.

After visiting Sai Baba in New Deli, as we were having dinner in the courtyard behind our rented house, someone yelled over the fence. Sai Baba was going back to his Ashram in Puttapartti. We shook our heads in wonder at the grapevine—a curious thing in some parts of the world.

We bought thin mattresses and strapped them to the top of our taxi. The driver took us to Puttapartii, where I commented that I wanted to see Sai Baba's elephant. The driver drove us right to it. She was not colored with chalk as I had seen in pictures; she was just an elephant, quietly munching hay.

 We slept on our mattresses in a cement room and attended Sai Baba's Darshan. Once, we ate rice with our fingers at the cafeteria, but the rest of the time, we subsisted on Cayenne peppered cashew nuts and lime soda. We also had been drinking water through a straw laced with iodine—it tasted awful. But we didn't get sick.

 We left our mattresses behind for others to use and got a train from New Delhi to Agra, across India's countryside, to visit the Taj Mahal.

At one train station stop along the way, we saw a couple washing their baby's bottom from a bottle they had carried for that purpose. 

Toilet paper is in short supply in India. The trip preparers had told us this before the trip, thus, half of our suitcases were filled with toilet paper. The residents use faucets often supplied beside the toilet. If I can be indelicate, taking or giving food with the right hand is customary. People without toilet paper but with water wipe their bottoms with their left hand.

On the train to Agra, we had a compartment to ourselves. It had bare board walls and a flop-down platform for a seat or bed. Sherri and Florencia took the drop-down bench. I took a small bench on one side of the window and stretched my legs to another bench on the other side, hanging between the two. That way, I had a panoramic view as we rattled through the Indian countryside.

 I wondered why the dogs I saw had a red clay-colored stain on their hindquarters up to their mid-belly.

 I laughed when I got the answer. A dog sat in a large red mud puddle, with the water coming up to his midsection, exactly where the other dogs were ringed. He was a perfect half-dog, half Indian red-clay dog.

 Before the train stopped in Agra, young men jumped on board, offering themselves as guides. That way, those men would beat out the other guides waiting at the station. We had one such man for a time, but he was so tenacious that Florencia finally got tired of his persistence and chased him off. 

 The reflective pool in front of the Taj Mahal was dry. The guide said they only filled it for celebrations, as the water quickly evaporates. The following day, we heard that it was upwards of 120 degrees. Could that be right? It didn't feel that hot.

 Our summer before last here in Oregon felt hotter.

 My first glimpse of that magnificent Taj Mahal left me completely dazed. I would have sworn that the building was vibrating, about to launch into orbit. The collision of sunlight on that swan-white marble embedded with semi-precious stones caused it to shimmer like Apollo 11 before the rocket ignited.

 At the time, I didn't know the Taj Mahal was a mausoleum built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to immortalize his wife, with whom he was inseparable during their 19-year marriage. The Shah was grief-stricken when she died giving birth to their 14th child. To commemorate her life, he built the Taj Mahal, now considered to be one of the 7th wonders of the world. It would have taken billions of dollars to make in today's market. When it was built, 1000 elephants hauled materials, and 20,000 artists crafted the structure.

 We removed our shoes and slipped on paper booties before entering the temple. There was a sarcophagus on the entrance room's floor, a dummy of the real one that lay beneath the ground floor. I wonder if that fooled anyone. However, that structure was an architectural marvel with towers on either side designed to look straight when viewed from a distance.

 A ghetto surrounded the Taj Mahal, with many vendors producing art pieces using the inlay method, such as the artisans employed in the white marble of the Taj Mahal.

 What did I get from viewing Sai Baba? 

 "That no man is my master."

 I saw how desperate we are to know ourselves. We will tolerate the piercing heat, sleep in cement rooms, and expect someone to give us answers. I think Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz had it right: "Click your heels together three times, and say, there's no place like home. There's no place like home."

 Home is not our physical dwelling but the home we carry inside. And perhaps the home we will go to eventually. 

 Don't ask me how that works. While searching for answers outside us, we discount the answers that lie within. 

 The travel itinerary was mysterious in India, for we went to Agra in a cattle car and returned to New Delhi in first class. I don't know why the cattle car was more fun. In first class, I watched an affluent young couple with a baby about one year old. That baby behaved as I would expect of a child that age. He bounced all over both parents. The babies we saw in the ashram and on the streets were subdued.

 Florencia and I had been in The World Healing Center together, and we traveled together to see Sai Baba, who had a school at the ashram and said not to give to the beggars as it encourages them. Our other traveling companion, Sherrie missed her husband and went home before us. So, Florencia and I traveled together.

 Florencia liked white wine, and as the sun dropped low in the sky, she would give forth her husband's battle cry, "Is the sun over the yard arm yet?" I would answer, "Someplace in the world it is," so we would dive into the in-room refrigerator, for it often contained a bottle of wine, or we would go to the restaurant for a glass. Once in such a hotel, we went to the restaurant for a drink, I didn't order wine, but Florencia did." "White wine," she said, and they brought an entire bottle. She was shocked when she got the bill. Forty dollars. Outside, we had ridden a rickshaw taxi for 10 cents, and inside a hotel, we were drinking a forty-dollar bottle of wine. The contrasts of that land and the guilt of travelers.

 On the way home, Florencia and I stopped in Copenhagen because I loved it from Neil’s and my earlier trip. From hot India to cold Copenhagen where we had to buy sweaters. And there, I purchased an Icelandic Porcelain Polar Bear, about a foot and a half high, that I had seen at the Scandia House in San Diego. It cost a quarter of the price of the one I had seen in the States.

 The store where I bought it packed it in a three-foot-by-three-foot wooden box and shipped it for me. My daughter, Lisa, used the box as a house for Thumper, her rabbit, for a few years after that.

 We stopped in London on the way home and saw a stage production about a Girl's School. It tickled me how the British can stretch a short word, like a girl, from one syllable to about four.

 I told you all that so I could tell you this. Sometimes, the things we ask for and then forget about (or take our energy off) come easily. When I began the six-month training at the World Healing Center, the instructors asked us to list what we wanted to accomplish in the next six months. I don't remember my list, but I remember the afterthought I scratched at the bottom of the page. "Oh, I want that porcelain polar I saw at the Scandia shop in downtown San Diego." 

 When I wrote my list, India was the farthest thing from my mind, and I knew nothing of Sai Baba.

 I bought the polar bear, and it has moved with us—from California to Oregon, from Oregon to Hawaii, back to California, and back to Oregon. It now sits in our living room, a reminder of the power of asking and receiving.



Monday, July 1, 2024

Chapter 28, What a Difference 40 Years Makes


Chapter 28

What a Difference 40 Years Makes


When I was about to be married, I sold Boots to a cowboy who said, "Marry people, not horses." I thought there was some truth to that statement, so I agreed to sell my beloved horse. Also, Mike said if I didn't sell him, he would.


I cried all day.


Mom eventually got tired of my crying and told me to stop. When I was younger and cried, she told me I was feeling sorry for myself, so I learned not to cry. That day was different. I deserved to cry. I should have cried as long as was necessary. I was feeling sorry for myself. I was grieving over a lost love. It was the most significant loss of my life. And it wasn't through death, as was the loss of my dog, Silver. I was abandoning Boots.


Boots had been living with a group of horses at a farm across town, and the new buyer picked him up there, so I didn’t see him go. And I have learned since then that crying is a healthy way to release tension. I’m sorry, but sometimes parents get it wrong.


“Forty years later, my daughter asked me, "Mom, don't you want a horse again?'


She was thinking of getting a horse and was tempting me to do the same. I decided that, yes, I did want another horse.


I found her on my birthday. After driving to Portland to look at my Uncle Al’s Morgan horses and not making a connection with them, a girl visiting his farm told me a young girl was selling her elderly mare because she wanted to move up to a jumper.


Sweet Duchess. I fell in love with her. I couldn’t ride her bareback, though; her backbone would kill me. The day I finally decided to buy her, after looking at other horses to make sure she was the one, I lay in bed that night telling myself, "I'm going to be happy all the days of my life."


I thought I was finally relieved of my grief over selling Boots. Duchess was 24 years old, which is old for a horse, but she had Arabian blood, and Arabians are known for their longevity and endurance. She could out-walk any horse in the valley. However, a few years later, I noticed Duchess's hip occasionally jerked, so I knew I couldn't ride her much longer and decided to get a young horse and let Duchess raise it.


DD and I went to the Hermiston Horse Auction in Hermiston, Oregon. That Auction used to be such fun. One of the auctioneers had a gallop in his voice. Once, three guys played musical chairs on two Icelandic Horses, hopping from one to the other, one guy on one, the other pulling him off, ripping jackets, and setting the audience into a roar.


DD bid on one of the Icelandic horses, but another outbid her.


The Hermiston Auction held an extra bonanza horse sale in February, and for a couple of years, DD and I used it as our birthday celebration, as her birthday and mine are two weeks apart. One year as DD entered the motel room from getting snacks, I said, "This television has gone psychedelic."


"Oh no,” she declared, “it’s gone Ice Cream Cake!"


We had put an ice cream cake on top of the TV to keep it away from Cherish, DD's Great Dane dog. 


I called the office and told them their TV didn't work—sorry.


DD "flipped" a horse once. It was a sweet little mare named Sweetie. DD bought her at an auction in Eugene, we drove her to Hermiston, and sold her for a profit. The owner had neglected her feet, and the Ferrier I hired to trim them said, "You're too sweet a horse to have this happen to you." (When hooves grow too long, they can cripple the horse.)


A mother and her little girl bought Sweetie, and a few months later, the buyer called DD and asked what stallion had bred her. During the night, Sweetie had given birth to a foal.


They were delighted. We were shocked.


When I spotted a beautiful six-month-old filly whose coat looked like charcoal brown velvet being led down an aisle, I decided she was my horse. But first, I had to outbid another person who also wanted her.


I was so nervous bidding that DD held up the numbered paddle. I would nod, and DD would hold up the number. Someone else would bid. I felt I was going over my price, but I wouldn't give up. The auctioneer would look at me, and I would nod, and DD would hold up the paddle. I outbid my competitor—put her on my American Express card and got frequent flyer miles. 


We were exuberant. The crowd applauded. 


Afterward, a cowboy approached us and said, "Watching you girls buy a horse was more fun than buying one myself."


A year later, I bought/adopted another six-month-old filly, a Mustang, from the Bureau of Land Management in Burns, Oregon. That was Sierra, a curious gem of a horse. The sweetest thing.


She was born at the Burns facility, so it was apparent that the mother had to do the run while pregnant. What a character that horse was. My pickup truck’s hood carried "Monster claw marks," aka Sierra’s teeth marks for the rest of its life. People thought they were funny, so I kept them as a conversation piece.


Duchess became the matriarch of the herd living until Sierra was five and Velvet was six and is buried on Davis Mountain.


I would turn the horses loose, and they would stay around the house. (We lived in the forest, so we had privacy, a cleared area around the house, and access into the forest. However, I kept a close watch on them, for once Velvet and Sierra ventured along a path up the hill into the forest, and when Duchess and I went searching for them, a man had his tee shirt around Velvet’s neck and was leading her to his place. He thought he was rescuing them. I said it was a white man’s thing: a horse must be confined. (I trust they would have come home for dinner.) Later I worried about what would happen if he had confined them, and I wouldn’t know what had happened to them. I was always outside with them after that.


I fed them morning and night and kept their 12 x 24 run-in barn and paddock clean. My morning meditation was with the horses while they contentedly munched their hay. That was after they had greeted me with a whinny and raced across the paddock coming to a screeching halt at the gate. I held two grain buckets on the six-inch diameter log that served as our gate, and kissed the tops of their heads while they licked and slobbered the rubber containers clean. After pushing a wheelbarrow of hay under the log, they would politely walk with me, not stealing hay along the way, to the barn where I spread their meals. The three- sided barn was easy to clean as it had rubber mats on the floor, and the horses used one side for a toilet and kept the other side clean.


A freed horse is such fun.


They would race up the gravel drive that served as an emery board for Sierra’s strong mustang feet. Velvet’s not as perfectly formed Quarter Horse feet had to be trimmed, she, though, could do a perfect Lipizzaner leap from the hill above the retaining wall down to the driveway below. Both horses would roll in the Oregon red soil, crack their knuckles, and settle down to graze the green grass that grew around the house. 


Those were eight happy horsey years.



P.S. A brief commentary by Joyce--off the subject.

I remember that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s staff hid his infantile paralysis (he was crippled by Polio) from the American public because they wanted to present a strong president. He was never shown in a wheelchair, and he laboriously taught himself to walk short distances with the aid of steel leg and hip braces. He usually appeared in public standing upright supported by an aid or two or one of his sons.

Yet, he will always be remembered for his New Deal, and to this day, we see the effects of the Civilian Conservation Corp in which thousands of men, after the great depression, found jobs. (Go to Timberline Lodge on Mt Hood in Oregon. Artists from the CCC carved many of the banisters. And the old road that wound over treacherous mountains and connected our little town of the Dalles, Oregon, to Portland was built by the CCC.)

Some have likened Joe Biden’s infrastructure package to Roosevelt’s New Deal. Yet we don’t hear much about it. When I saw a small notice of a Native American village getting electricity for the first time ever, I checked out the infrastructure package that funded it. (Aren’t you running into road repair all over the place?) And no other president has put forth a package as strong as the one regarding the environment and the global warming crisis as has Joe Biden.

I grieved for a day after my man’s poor showing at the debates. But really, folks, does a poor delivery from one candidate make the other one great?

“I know I’m not a young man, to state the obvious,” Biden said after the debate. “I don’t walk as easy as I used to. I don’t speak as smoothly as I used to. I don’t debate as well as I used to. But I know what I do know: I know how to tell the truth. I know right from wrong. And I know how to do this job. I know how to get things done. And I know, like millions of Americans know, when you get knocked down, you get back up.”—Joe Biden.

“I remember something that Thomas Jefferson once said. ‘We should never judge a president by his age, only by his works.’ And ever since he told me that, I’ve stopped worrying.”--Ronald Reagan