When I was sixteen I lived with my parents in the Midlands of England. In the UK one could get a motorcycle license at sixteen. I got my license and my parents bought me my first motorcycle. I commuted to my school on it. It was a 250cc Triumph Tiger Cub. That was fifty-four years ago. I now own a 1200cc Triumph Bonneville. In between these two bikes I have owned three Harley’s, a BMW, two Honda’s, a Bultaco and two BSA Lightnings. Just as with all the humans and animals in my life, each bike had its own distinct personality. I won’t go into the details of the quirks of those old friends but I will say that motorcycles have put me as close to flying on my own while still being on the ground.
Traveling on a motorcycle is unlike being in any other motor vehicle with the possible exception of a convertible. The operator is in the world instead of traveling through the world. Smells that would never make it into the cabin of a car, can be so strong on a bike even at speed that the operator can’t help but connect to them. The rider can also taste the air. The sense of touch is activated by the wind that is created by passing through it at speed. Birds can be heard as can can conversations of people in the street. So, all senses are activated. The rider also feels and hears the motor underneath them and their body reacts to the terrain upon which the motorcycle is traversing.
I took my first ride of the season on Ruby, my Triumph Bonneville last week. Just as with riding Cyra, my mare, being on a motorcycle never gets old. True, I am much more conservative in my riding style as compared to when I was in my twenties but I still get after Ruby from a dead stop asking her to rocket me from zero to sixty in mere seconds. That never gets old either. My current riding approach is to find a half hour or so to go out on a route I have crafted that keeps me mostly off busy throughfares and gives me twisting roads and hills to carve through with my two wheeled friend. I have taken longer journeys in the past on my bikes. I once road the interstate the length of Vermont in the rain with my college roommate on the bike with me. Those days are behind me now.
I respect Ruby’s power. She has the potential to get me into serious trouble but that is not what I seek with her. I know what she is capable of. I also know what I am comfortable doing on our adventures. I am content to hop on Ruby when weather and time allow even for short rides to reconnect to the feeling of flying while still on the ground.
During my working life when asked what I did for a living I would reply, “I do work that flows from my soul in service of others.” Over the years that came to mean many things. I volunteered at Maine Audubon for eight years as an environmental educator. I volunteered for New Beginnings, a homeless teen support non-profit, for seven years. I taught at our local middle school for eleven years. I taught horseback riding to disabled adults and children also for eleven years. I helped found and worked at an equine assisted psychotherapy practice for five years.
All of these jobs and volunteer stints have helped me to realize just how blessed I have been in the ways that I have been able to choose to spend my life. Of course all of these various endeavors were not always with out challenges. Quite the opposite was true. What they did all hold however was the ability to feed my soul as I helped others on their journeys. The other common thread to all of these experiences is that there was always a component that connected me and my charges to the natural world. Even in my role at the middle school, I frequently designed units for my students that would take us outside to view and record natural phenomena.
For the last sixteen years of my working life I partnered with horses for teaching riding and participating as a support person in equine assisted therapy sessions. The last five years of my working life my four footed partner was Cyra my Clydesdale cross mare. Now that Cyra has retired she has taken on a new role as “The Village Horse”. In this new role (which suits her to a T), she and I make nearly daily rounds in the village to places where there is a likelihood of finding kids and grown-ups to visit with. While we are not always successful, that does not matter for quiet rides with just the two of us are equally wonderful in a more meditative way.
The Grange Hall Road seems to be our best shot at finding kids out playing in the afternoon. There is a trampoline on a lawn just off the road where we often find as many as five kids and a dog bouncing and laughing. They all know Cyra and will joyously greet her by her name as we approach. A vigorous love fest ensues with lots of hard scratching on Cyra’s neck and face. When we leave, the kids always asks us to “GO FAST!”. We are happy to oblige. Cyra is very capable of a walk canter transition so we always aim to please the delighted kiddos.
Another favorite stop is our friend Joyce’s house where carrots are always on offer which Cyra hungrily accepts. That is a more settled stop but no less enjoyable. Joyce had horses in her past and always enjoys Cyra Time. Next stop might be Kevyn and Lori’s house where in good weather we catch them playing cribbage on their porch. The Town Hall complex is next up. Often there are folks in the parking lot who, not expecting a horse in their travels, are always eager to chat and give Cyra a pat.
Cyra is not my only four footed partner out in the world. Mocha, our seven year old female English Shepard, has passed her AKA Advanced Canine Good Citizen test. This has opened doors for us at nursing homes, schools and libraries. Our current gig is a weekly visit to the Auburn Public Library. While there kids read to Mocha in fifteen minute blocks that they have signed up for ahead of time.
All of these experiences, past and present, have brought and continue to bring me so much joy! While no longer a young man, my life shows no sign of slowing down, or depriving me of gift of joy each day offers.
In 1982 my wife Julie and I took up residence on Woodman Road in a home I built myself with help from family and friends. We were new to New Gloucester, having grown up in Maine but with no connection to our new town other than the land we purchased after our marriage in 1974. We both wanted to settle and raise our family in Maine. New Gloucester was where we landed. One of the first things I did to get to know our new community was to begin volunteering for our local paper, the New Gloucester News. At the time, my duties were to help with paste-up of the paper and then help with distribution.
At the time one of the contributors was a lifelong resident of New Gloucester named Alma Berry. Alma wrote a weekly column, The Nature Notes. In her column she reported her own wildlife sightings at her farm on Cobb’s Bridge Road. She also passed along sightings that other residents phoned in to her at their homes. When Alma died in 1986, Verna Hobbs, the paper’s editor, asked me to pick up her column. I was honored to be asked to attempt to pick up where Ala had left off. I called my column, Greetings from Norumbega. Norumbega was what we dubbed our home on Woodman Road.
I wrote my last “Greetings…” in 2008. The paper had become the New Gloucester Independent. It ceased publication in 2009. In the twenty-two years of writing my column it became a way for me to reflect on my journey not only in nature but also my journey in life. I still bump into people who remember me as that guy from Norumbega. In 2021 we built a new home in the Lower Village across from the Congregational Church. My mare, Cyra moved with us as of course did our two English Sheperds, Mocha and Sadie. We have throughly enjoyed getting to know our new neighborhood. Our wanderings now include the Interurban as well as ways of linking together other opportunities to walk and ride, both on foot and on horseback. While I miss Norumbega’s streams and trails, I have found many wonderful ways to immerse myself in the healing power of the natural world.
I have missed my weekly time of reflection that my former column provided. I am resolved to begin a new series of articles about our life in the village. I am not sure what form these missives will take and how often I will find time to write but be assured that this will be the first of what hope will be many new columns where I will share my journey with all those who are interested to journey with me. So, I will see you again soon! Michael Fralich from The Village House on Gloucester Hill Road.
Winter Stillness A star speckled canopy overhead, A field of smooth white in front of me, The jingle of Rosie’s collar, Rings out impossibly loud. I have stood at this spot, Hundreds of times before, Always listening, To the sounds of the marsh, To the sounds of the night. But now a silence has fallen, Along with the winter’s cold. I know it is not the stillness, Of death, There is life here still, But it sleeps. The little creatures, That will fill the air, With buzzing, chirping, Humming and singing, Are either gone, Or waiting, For the icy grip, Of winter to loosen. So I have come here tonight, To not listen to sound, Rather the absence, Of it.
The silence is just as magical, As the sounds will be, Come spring. It tells me to slow down, To be quiet myself, Like the world around me, I too should rest, And wait for the warmth, To return in spring. So I leave this place, Wrapped in winter’s cold, My spirit quiet, As the fields, That surround me.
Over the top of the banking it comes, A white wave of tumbling, driven snow. Out in the white glare of the open field, Eddies swirl and dance their winter jigs, As pines plaintively sigh from pasture’s edge. A winging crow quickly rises and suddenly falls, On restless air that speaks of northern climes, With its stinging teeth and freezing blasts. These are the gifts of the winter wind.
I had eaten breakfast watching a Downy woodpecker eating suet as the snow fell outside the sun-room in our house in the Lower Village of New Gloucester. We had a rare day off from babysitting and other commitments. I had not been out for a walk with Mocha and Sadie, our two English Shepherds, for several days. It had been murky, wet and icy. I was eager to do my breakfast dishes and dress for an adventure with my girls. I donned my buffalo plaid wool coat and pants, topped with my red beret. I put the girl’s collars on, hooked them to their leashes and headed out the door. I was wearing “Ice Bugs”, my waterproof winter boots with built in cleats. I knew how icy the driveway was. I figured this would be a good choice of footwear for our adventure. Grabbing my muscle-wood walking staff, we passed by Cyra’s stall. We paid our respects. She seemed eager to join us. I had thought of a ride after chores but deemed it too icy for her still barefoot hooves. Winter spiked shoes are due to be put on the next week. I did not want to take the chance that she might slip and go down. This would have to be a canine human outing.
Down the Chandler Land Road we went. When we came to the intersection with the Interurban, we took a right. In the summer I call this stretch of the Interurban “The Green Tunnel”. Trees overhang the trail creating a true growing tunnel. Now this was “The White Tunnel”. All the trees were coated in snow. The air was full of falling snow. A slight breeze caused some branches to shed their snow in waves of white. There was no sound save the striking of my staff on the ground, and the tinkle of Mocha and Sadie”s collar tags. I had given Sadie and Mocha a USP (Unlimited Sniff Pass) so the going was slow. What was the rush? I had my four footed friends with me to share in the joy of being out in a snow storm. The cold air woke me up to the beauty all around us. Even the breeze in the trees seemed to be telling me that I was right where I was supposed to be.
I had to pay attention to my footing. Just last week this part of the trail had been flooded with a rivulet running down the middle. This had all frozen. It was covered in new snow. I knew ice lurked below. I am not a big fan of falling on frozen ground. Twice the ice tried to bring me down but my cleated boots saved the day. I began a meditation walk. I focused on the sound of my staff hitting the ground, counting up to ten then starting over again. I have found in the past that this helps me clear the chatter that all too often fills my brain. It also helps me really see where I am, to hear the breeze and the sound of Mocha and Sadie’s collars. We came to the snowmobile bridge, the brook running under it adding its voice to the winter forest. We went straight through the intersection with “The Milk Road”. We dropped down to Steven’s Brook. We stopped. We took in the view of the snow clad rocks in the stream.
I took the girls to the edge of the stream. I unhooked them. They vaulted over the icy rocks. They scampered up the steep bank on the other side. I did not scamper. For my seventy years I felt I kept up a respectable pace until I crested the top. My heart was working hard which was not a bad thing. Before us was the Lower Village Cemetery, pristine in new snow. Sadie and Mocha could now be off leash. No one but the dead were here with us. Strong gusts traveled across the open ground, picking lacy swirls of white as it passed. My face felt the wind’s bite. We headed to the one bench in the cemetery that has a back on it. It is my favorite rest spot. On our way to it Sadie ran in joyous circles, teasing Mocha with her faster speed. It brings me so much joy to witness their joy. It is one of my most potent “medicines”. It is an integral part of my maintaining good mental health.
When we got to the bench, I sat. I invited Mocha and Sadie to sit with me. The cold wind had picked up. I was grateful for the snuggling warmth of my two companions on either side of me. Together we watched the snow swirling across the ground in front of us. My wool clothing had kept me warm. With my girls near and our warm home not far away, my heart was full of gratitude at the life I lead. After a contemplative break, we struck out for home. We crossed the granite bridge over Steven’s Brook. We threaded our way through the gravestones. At the road I clipped the girls to their leashes. A couple of cars past us. We mostly had the winter landscape to ourselves. Cyra spotted us as we entered the driveway. She called out a greeting, hopeful for a snack from me. In these crazy historic times, it is good to get out in the world away from the deluge of bad news that threatens to overwhelm us and reconnect with the beauty and healing power of the natural world.
I have had animals in my life all of my life. My first memory of a pet is of Mickey, our cocker spaniel. He came into our lives in the mid ‘50s when I was six. We lived in Ohio then. We came to Maine in 1959. Mickey did not make the transition to New England successfully. He became fixated on our mother. She could not go anywhere without him or risked disaster in her absence. In my young mind I came to realize that the relationship we had with our animals was just as complicated as our relationships with our fellow humans. That perception has not changed for me in the six-plus decades since Mickey was in my life.
In the intervening years I have kept not only mammals but birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians as well. Every animal I have had under my care has connected me not only to the natural world but more importantly, to myself. At the peak of my animal husbandry I had over the years kept a barn filled with horses, rabbits, sheep, a goat, pigs, chickens, geese, turkeys and ducks in various combinations. In the house we gave a home to an ant farm, parrots, guinea pigs, freshwater fish, mice, a snake, a turtle, dogs and cats. I have learned many things over the years I have been a keeper of animals. The most important lesson I’ve learned is that my animals are my greatest teachers.
My menagerie has shrunk since we moved from our farm on Woodman Road to our Village house. I now take care of two dogs, English shepherds Mocha and Sadie, and one mare, Cyra. She is a cross between a Clydesdale and a Newfoundland pony. As with all my animal charges, Cyra has reminded me many times in the fifteen years we have been together that a person can never have enough patience in dealing with four-legged as well as two-legged beings. I have also learned the power of mutual respect and trust. When those are in place, amazing things happen.
Since our move to town–we are located directly across from the Congregational Church in the Lower Village–my relationship with Cyra has continued to evolve and deepen. Gone are our days of working together in an equine-assisted psychotherapy practice. Now we live for enrichment of each other as well all those we encounter in our rides through the village. This is the first time in Cyra’s life that she has not lived with other horses. She does not seem to mind one bit. She lives in a stall that is an integral part of the garage and house. My study shares a wall with Cyra’s stall. I can sit at my desk and watch her whenever she is present there. Gone is her old three-stall barn with hayloft and acre of pasture. Now she looks out, as we do too, at the world that flows past our house on Gloucester Hill Road. She now has a small forest paddock when she feels the need not to be so social.
Together we now spend more time together than I did in the years my life was centered around the three hundred acres we called Norumbega on Woodman Road. We have asked and been granted permission to ride through neighbors’ yards and fields. We have stitched together rides that are every bit as beautiful as the world we left behind at Norumbega. We can choose rides that are contemplative away from people. We can also choose to ride through the village with the express desire to see people and be seen by people. One loop on the quiet side of the ledger takes us down the Interurban to the banks of Stevens Brook and then up to and through the Lower Village Cemetery.
Our social rides take us on a combination of Grange Hall Road, Cobb’s Bridge Road, Intervale Road and Church Road. We have figured out ways to shadow those thoroughfares without actually riding on them much. Late afternoon seems to be the best time for horseback conversations with on-the-ground neighbors. Summer afternoons are prime time for not only seeing my adult friends but also the many children that make our village so lively. Grange Hall Road is the most reliable kid zone.
The road is dirt and so when the kids call to us to “Go fast!” we have no problem with busting out a canter for their entertainment. I ride with no saddle and only a simple rope halter. We make quite a sight with Cyra’s thousand pounds running pell-mell down the road. I also frequently pass by the Community Building behind Town Hall. On those rides I often see children from the Rec Department’s Kids Club program. If appropriate, I invite them over to say hello and to give Cyra’s neck a scratch. That is as thrilling for me as it is for the children. I love to share Cyra with people of all ages. One time when I was at the Town Hall complex I even returned a library book from Cyra’s back.
Quieter visits with my adult friends are equally enjoyable. We will often park ourselves in a neighbor’s dooryard, and I will chat and catch up on news as Cyra does her best at keeping their grass short. I will often pick up news that I might not have otherwise heard and pass it along to my next stop. One time I came across Kevyn Fowler in his driveway as he sat in his WMTW vehicle and edited a video from the day’s shoot. He put down his window and in went Cyra’s big head to say hi.
We ride all year round. I put studded shoes on her January to April so ice and snow do not keep us home. Winter is one of my favorite times to be out with Cyra. There are no bugs in winter! It is also so quiet in the winter woods and fields. Since I always ride bareback, her warmth is especially welcome on our winter rides. In the winter I drape my grandfather’s sleigh bells over Cyra’s neck. The chiming of the bells is a joyous sound that says to the world, “We are here and happy to be so.”
On our summer rides, I go out before dawn to catch any coolness left from the night. There are fewer bugs in the morning before the heat of the day begins to build. I try to ride out at dawn as many days as I can. There is nothing quite so magical as witnessing the sunrise from Cyra’s back in a small village not yet awake. We have found a way (and gotten permission to be there) to make it all the way to the banks of the Royal River. I will be forever grateful to these landowners for allowing us passage over their land. There is a chain of emerald gems of grass that I never knew existed that I am allowed to explore to my heart’s content. I am routinely filled with joy and gratitude on our adventures. I have seen deer many times on our rides and seen and heard eagles soaring above me.
At seventy, with Cyra north of twenty, I joke that we have hopefully a solid ten years of adventuring together until our bodies say, “Enough!” I ride to keep me grounded to the earth and to my equine companion. She never refuses my request for trips out of her stall. I also ride to stay connected to those who I share this village with, be they five or eighty. The magic never goes away for me. Every time my leg swings over Cyra’s bare back, it is as if I am a young man again experiencing something truly amazing. My gratitude begins with Cyra for her willingness to share with me this place we call our home. She has become known as “the Village horse.” I am just the guy happy to be upon her back.
I have a neighbor and friend named Field Rider. Since moving into the village, I have gotten to know him better. He lives right down the road from us. I frequently walk across his property with Mocha and Sadie, our two English Shepherds. One of Field’s many talents is being able to fly a plane. We have talked about flying together but until today, we had not made it happen.
Field sent me a text mid-afternoon asking me if I wanted to fly. He told me to wear a bathing suit. I jumped at his offer. Field picked me up at 5:30. We drove to Twitchell’s Airport in Turner. Field has two planes. Today the plan was to go out in his float plane. He keeps it tied up on the Androscoggin River. Field pulled into a dirt road at the airport. This turned into a grass track. This took us to the bank of the river where Field’s 1976 Citabria two seat float plane was waiting for us.
I followed him down to the river, excited to be going up in a small plane. I had not done this for ten years. I took off my shoes. I felt the mud of the riverbank ooze through my toes. It had rained before our arrival. The ground was soft and warm under my feet. The storm clouds had slid away leaving a rainbow in their wake. The sun was hiding behind a remaining cloud-bank. Rays of its light shot out from the edges of the cloud.
Field told me to climb into the plane and settle myself into my seat. It was located behind the pilot’s seat. I rinsed off my feet and stepped onto a strut below the wing. I climbed into my seat and fastened my seat belt. I had a secondary control stick between my legs. There were also secondary foot petals flanking Field’s seat. Field informed me that in the advent of his death in the air, I had everything I needed to fly the plane at my disposal. I hoped that would not be necessary.
We both put on our headsets. Field explained what was going to happen. He did an equipment check. He started the engine. We began to taxi into the main channel of the river. With my headset on, I could focus on the visuals and not be distracted by the roar of the engine. I once again glanced up at the rainbow as we began to skim over the water. In what seemed like no time at all we were airborne. The river receded below us. The waters of Androscoggin Lake dotted with islands its shores an unbroken wall of green forest. As we flew Field pointed out features below through our headsets. I was so happy every cell of mine was smiling.
We flew over the village of Leeds. It looked like a model of what a New England village should look like. It had a white steeple church, a cluster of buildings and homes all surrounded by fields and forests. The sun was peaking out from behind a cloud off to our west. Below I saw a herd of about twenty beef cows, little black dots on a field of green. After about ten minutes in the air, Field pointed out Lothrup Island. It was our destination for today’s adventure. His intention was to land on the lake adjacent to the island and then to beach the float plane. We descended to the surface of the lake. Soon the water was just below our floats. The floats then made contact with the water. Jets of spray shot up into the air. Field throttled down the engine. We coasted onto the black sands of the island’s beach.
Field hopped out. He gave the plane a tug to firmly beach the floats. I shed my shirt, grabbed my towel and joined him on the beach. He explained the origin of the black sand. I could not recall a time I had ever seem a black sand beach in Maine. Field said he had learned that where we were standing millions of years in the past had been the site of an active volcano. The black sand was from an eruption of that volcano. My bare feet already had taken on a dusting of ancient blank sand.
I waded into the water of Androscoggin Lake with Field right behind me. I dove into the lake and swam under water for several pulls of my arms. The water was warm. When I came up for air, I looked around me. I marveled at what this summer afternoon had presented to me. The lake was surrounded by trees. My vantage point offered me no sign of humans. No boat traffic broke the stillness or rippled the surface of the lake. I was in heaven. I love to fly. I love to swim. Never had I ever combined these two passions of mine.
We swam out a ways. I found a submerged rock. I sat in water up to my chest. The air and the water were very close in temperature which was around eighty. Field and I chatted about this and that. We were both enjoying this day and each other’s company. After a pleasant interlude, we headed back to the shore and the waiting Citabria. I stood on the warm black sand as Field pushed the plane out and turned it around.
With the plane headed out into the lake, I rinsed off my feat, wrapped my wet bathing suit in my towel and climbed back into the plane. Field did the same. He fired up the engine. We taxied out. Field revved the engine. We were soon skimming over the lake with plumes of spray fanning out to each side. We became airborne. We climbed to nine hundred feet. The sky was a golden hue from the setting sun. The air was calm. The plane flew straight and smoothly towards home base.
I felt so blessed to be where I was with my friend at the controls of this magic carpet of a plane. We descended to the surface of the river. When Field cut the engine and we were once again on the banks of the Androscoggin, I hopped out with my heart full of gratitude and joy.
I was in Cyra’s stall at 5am this morning. I could see that it had rained overnight. I checked to see if it was still raining. It was not. The sun was not due to rise for nearly another hour. Gray light greeted me as I walked out to fetch the wheelbarrow. The train horn called out from the Intervale crossing. The rich smell of the manure pile came to me as I prepared to do my chores. Cyra nickered to me as I opened her stall door. With her grain tub in my hand, we walked over to the corner where I feed her. She was very respectful of me. She did not try to grab an early bite of her breakfast. At one thousand pounds, I appreciated her good manners.
I decided it was a fine morning for a ride. I kept my raincoat on in case the rain started up again. I gave Cyra’s mane and tail a brush. I brushed her body. She continued to eat her breakfast hay as I attended to her. The sound of her chewing blended nicely with the awakening bird songs. I put her rope riding halter on her. I donned my helmet. I led her to the mounting block in the driveway. She stood quietly as I swung my leg over her bareback. She knew where we were going. She headed out the driveway to the left and up Gloucester Hill Road.
Three houses down on the left, we crossed over a stonewall and onto my neighbor’s yard. We skirted his mowed lawn. We entered the woods behind his house and were in the gray of the forest at pre-dawn. We picked up the path to the Interurban. The muted light of the overcast morning and the hour of the day gave the woods a magical feel. I could see but the light was dim and sounds were also muted.
Cyra snatched a mouthful of ostrich ferns as we walked along. Off to our left a red squirrel scolded us for disturbing her morning. I could here distant crows having a conversation. It felt like a morning where one might catch sight of woods fairies. At the Interurban we turned left into the green tunnel of the old rail bed. I kept my hands and body light and loose (I hoped my mind too!). Cyra did not need directions from me. She knew where we were going and how to get there.
We emerged onto the the Roger’s lawn. We crossed Intervale Road. We entered Grange Hall Road behind the still sleeping houses on Cobb’s Bridge Road. I asked Cyra for a canter. She obliged. Her bare feet rang out on the packed earth of the dirt road. We were headed to Aaron Mosher’s fields opposite Eastgate on Cobb’s Bridge Road. I stopped in Aaron’s field to let Cyra graze. As she did, I took in the misty view in front of us. The far side of the field was softened by the moisture in the air. A hint of pink colored the eastern sky.
We crossed the field and dropped down to Gina and Charles’s fields below Aaron’s. The road down was steep and gravel strewn. It was there to service the haying equipment used to cut the lower fields. This was Cyra’s least favorite part of the ride. She’s not fond of going downhill. Add to that the uncomfortable footing and its no wonder why. I too am not a fan because of the wild roses that reach into the path to snag my clothing. I go this way because at the end of this access road is the most beautiful chain of fields I have ever ridden in.
At the bottom of the tractor road we came out into a rolling hay field green from the summer rains of late. Cyra’s ears pricked up and I followed her gaze to see three deer on the far side of the field. They saw us too. They bounded off, white tails flashing in the mist. I could hear the call of a raptor off in the pines at the edge of the field. I had seen a bald eagle in this field. I hoped I would see it again. We stopped at an apple tree. I picked and apple and fed it to Cyra. We crossed through a break in a narrow brush line into another field. The terrain here was a gentle rolling of the earth. The rounded knoll in front of us gave way the a stand of fir on the far side of the field, conical tops all pointing to the sky in a line.
We picked up a wooded trail that led back up to the farms along Cobb’s Bridge Road. When we entered the trail I collected a handful of Cyra’s mane, shortened my reins and asked her for a canter. She willingly responded and began to charge up the hill. We came to rocky section and her hard hooves clattered and dug in the rocks for traction on the hill. She soon ran out of steam. She came back down into a walk, huffing and sides heaving under me. We got in one more canter before we topped out in the fields behind Shady Lane Farm with its big wedding barn off in the distance. I let her graze as I too let my heart slow down from our mad dash up the hill.
We took the rest of the way home at an easy walk. It was not yet 6:30 and we had already had a wonderful adventure together. I can’t imagine my life without Cyra. As a life long horseman, I feel blessed at seventy years old to have such a willing partner for my morning rambles and a body that still lets me enjoy my passion.
The Village House Gloucester Hill Road Michael Fralich
I firmly believe that the view out our windows helps define who we are and gives us a sense of place. For thirty-eight years the view out my kitchen window was of a wall of green forest. It was mixed hardwoods in one direction and a planted pine stand in the other direction. In this place we dubbed Norumbega, the woods were our comfort and our escape. No matter the turmoil, internal or external, it could all be left behind by simply walking out the door and into the forest. On three sides of our house, the woods hugged us in a Silvan embrace.
Now as I sit at my computer composing this, the view is quite different. I am in the study of our new Village House. It is located directly across from the Congregational Church in the Lower Village of New Gloucester. The window just above my computer screen looks out into the stall of my Clydesdale mare’s stall with Gloucester Hill Road and the church in the background. Cyra is my mare’s name. Her stall is attached to my study and to the garage.
It is windy today. Brown leaves are skittering across the pavement of the road. Cyra’s mane lifts and falls with each gust. I am listening to Benny Goodman on vinyl. Cyra occasionally comes to the window to put her blue eye (her other eye is brown) to the glass to check up on me. Other times I will come into my study to find her snoozing with legs tucked under her body like a dog.
At our farm at Norumbega, Cyra lived in our barn, a hundred yards down slope from the house. While it was not far away my access to and connection with Cyra is vastly different in our new house. My view of her out my window is more than a glass pothole, it is an open invitation to go out and explore our new neighborhood.
Looking beyond her, I can watch the world go by in ways not afforded me on Woodman Road. I see walkers, bikers, strollers with babies, and of course many cars and trucks in the course of a day. I can still see trees but they, like I, are watchers of the village life that now surrounds us. I loved the view from our Woodman Road kitchen. It was peaceful and comforting. My view now is vibrant with life moving past our house in all manner of ways.
We love village life as much as we liked country life. Here we can walk to the Village Store, Church, Town Hall, Library and to the house of our many friends who live in the village with us. My window has not only a view of Cyra, it looks out onto the rest of my life.
Everything has changed. Nothing has changed. These two opposing statements seem irreconcilable and yet they describe my feelings every time I go to the barn to care for Cyra and prep her for a ride. I have ridden horses for nearly six decades. I have been a horse owner for over three decades. The horses have changed. The venues have changed The routine has changed very little in all those years. Horses need to be fed. They need to be watered. They need to be cleaned. Their stalls need to be cleaned. When I head to the barn in the morning I know what awaits me. I know what I need to do. This grounds me in a time when it is easy to become ungrounded by a new and sometimes threatening reality.
When I am in the barn, the world falls away. My world then is a broom, a shovel and a wheelbarrow. The average horse produces forty pounds of manure a day. My barn currently is home to two horses, Cyra, my Clydesdale cross mare, and Teddy, my friend Karen’s Quarter-horse gelding. Karen and I take turns doing the chores. I do the morning. Karen does the evening. First I give Cyra and Teddy their grain. Mocha, my female English Shepard and all around side kick, heads into the stalls to clean up any spilled grain that falls on the stall floor. I sweep and shovel the manure. I put out hay. I take the manure in the wheelbarrow to the manure empoundment where I empty it and return to fetch Cyra to be groomed.
With her rope riding halter on, she stands patiently in the aisle as I curry her coat and brush out her mane. All of these tasks push away the troubles of the world. They focus me on the job at hand. I take satisfaction in caring for my equine friends and providing them all they need to be healthy and happy. In return, Cyra gives me her 1100 pounds of unconditional love. Its not a bad trade. That’s not to say she does not have her own opinions about life. Being pulled (ever so gently!) from her morning hay is concerning to her but not once has she ever refused to come with me out of the stall to begin a new adventure.
Once curried and combed I lead her to the mounting block to throw my leg over her bare back and settle myself into the contours of her body. With Mocha leading the way we head down the barn driveway to Woodman Road. At this point it is easy to let my thoughts intrude on our time together but I have tools in my mental toolbox to forestall that. I listen to the sound of her right front hoof coming down onto the ground. I count to ten using the sound of her hoof as my metronome. This focuses me on the world we are passing through. It is like life itself, full of ruts, rocks and roots. Cyra’s body has to deal with these impediments to our travel and in so doing transmits a lot of physical input to my body.
The counting of her hoof falls guides me to feel all that input by shutting down my spinning brain, all too often overwhelmed by all that is new and scary in our new world. I become much more in harmony with her efforts and her body movements as we pass through our woods. We almost always take the same route. We enter the woods at the Stream Loop Trail East Trail-head. This has sometimes been a problem for us. In the past Cyra has expressed quite strongly her aversion to this route. I always told my students that you will never win a physical battle with a horse. They are always stronger that the rider. It has taken patience, stillness and slow breathing to overcome Cyra’s dislike of this trail. I am happy to report that this morning we only had a brief “discussion” before she acquiesced.
This trail rises steeply from the road. We are rewarded at the top with a spectacular view of Talking Brook. By now my counting has blended with my “being” in the woods making my way on a big beast who knows the trail so well I can let the reins go slack and enjoy the ride. Mocha takes a much longer route than we do. I frequently lose sight of her as she explores the scent inspired stories of the woods. We follow the brook to a big pool then turning right and heading up once again to the top of a ridge. We always stop at the to let Cyra catch her breath and to let us both take in the beauty of the open hardwood forest below us. We also try to spot Mocha as she makes her way back to connect with us. We are halfway out now. She is content sensing she is now headed back to the barn and her breakfast hay. I am content having shed the troubled world and replaced it with one of quiet beauty shared with my two favorite four legged creatures. Michael Fralich May 4, 2020
It was 4:30 when I arrived at the barn. The light of the day was already draining away. Cyra and Teddy were both in the barn waiting for their dinner. I expected that Cyra would object to my request for a ride. This was out of pattern for both of us. Our routine is to ride early in the morning. I could not remember the last time I had asked her for a ride at dusk. I was wrong. Cyra accepted her riding halter willingly.
When I led her to the mounting block I feared that we would not have enough light left in the day to ride safely. With Mocha trotting beside us, we headed up Woodman Road towards the trail head to Big Falls. I had ridden in the woods earlier in week and was confident that Cyra could handle the snow cover. When we reached the trail head I expected Cyra to object to my choice. Again, I was wrong. The last time we had ridden here was after the big rainstorm some weeks back. Then it was the middle of the day with full sun. The falls had been spectacular, made even more so because I saw them from Cyra’s back.
We headed into the dusk woods with Mocha leading the way. While the light was still fading, we still had enough to see the trail. Though the light was dim it was also beyond magical, it was mystical. It was the time of day when the boundary between this world and the world of the spirits is very thin. Cyra was handling the fading light and snow cover with easy confidence. I kept losing Mocha in the dark recesses of the woods. She would reappear if I gave her my two note whistle. While I frequently did not know where she was when we are out in the woods, I know she always knows where we are. I have not lost her yet.
We passed the 1947 Plymouth coupe, its rusty hulk now covered in snow. We headed down the hill to the banks of Meadow Brook. When last here, it was a leaping torrent. Now it was a dimly visible bumpy aberration in the forest floor with occasional windows of whispering water.
When we headed into the pines I wondered if this was a good idea. It was now quite dark. The tall pines with their interwoven canopy blocked out what light that might try to reach us. The light of day was rapidly giving way to the cloak of night. When we reached Big Falls it presented a very different image from the scene at our last visit. Then the icy rocks were being pounded by a large volume of water from a recent storm. Now the falls were silent. The cascading water had been locked in place by cold January nights. It was difficult to even pick out details of the scene I had witnessed many times before.
On Cyra, with Mocha running along behind, I marveled at how blessed I was to be able to share these adventures with my four footed friends. When we emerged back on to Woodman Road and were headed back to the barn, we had become one with the transition from day to night.
As I was riding on Woodman Road this morning, headed back to the barn, I glanced down at the road. I saw our tracks from a ride we took over the weekend. Then the ground was soft. The tracks were deep. Now they were frozen in the dirt of the road. Seeing those tracks made me think of the commitment I made at the beginning of December to ride as often as possible. Its taken me twenty years with Cyra, my Clydesdale-cross mare, to realize that taking a ride can be as simple as slipping her riding halter on, taking a look at her feet then hopping on bareback and riding away.
In the past when my work centered around horses (I co-founded and helped run an Equine Assisted Psychotherapy practice for six years), I rode Cyra to work. She had her own client base who she interacted with every week. In between work days we typically did not ride much. I would occasionally meet up with riding buddies and ride on the weekends. That was a very hit and miss affair. When the practice was on break for our vacations, I might not ride at all for days on end.
I am retired now. I ride because while in past I focused my horse life to benefit others, I now ride because being on Cyra with Mocha, my English Shepard, running along is my medicine. It is what keeps me mentally and physically healthy. Put simply, it feeds my soul. It does not matter how many times I throw my leg over Cyra’s back, every time is a thrill and a challenge.
It is thrill because I am never really sure what awaits us as we head out. It does not matter how many times I travel the same roads or trails, every ride is different. It is a challenge because sitting on top of a thousand plus pound living being with her own strong opinions about life requires focus, strength (physical and mental) and patience. In the two decades we have been a team, I have continually learned new things about my equine friend.
Cyra has an eagle feather attached to her riding halter. It is never still as we make our way out into the world. Even though most of our rides are at a gentleman’s walk, I still feel like I am flying above the Earth Mother from my perch on Cyra’s back. Since I began this new phase of our journey together on the first of December, I have ridden forty-nine times. I am nearly sixty-nine. Cyra is somewhere around twenty. I figure we have a solid ten years together before one of us gives out. I look forward to many more times when I glance down to find we have been this way before.
The woods outside my windows,
Began to transition from velvet night,
To a new day covered in snow.
Muted tones of brown and needle greens contrasted,
With the brilliance of the gift of new snow.
Going out Mocha signaled her joy.
By rolling in the downy covering.
Fat flakes covered my shoulders and head,
As I slid back the big barn door.
Cyra was standing in her stall,
Beseeching me with patience,
For her morning grain.
My love for her poured from my soul,
Into her different colored big soft eyes.
I slipped her riding halter,
Over her big shaggy head.
I led her to the mounting block,
Already covered in a deep layer of snow.
As we made our way down the drive,
I saw that the town plow had not been by.
Two tracks from a morning commuter,
Were all that greeted us on Woodman Road.
It would have been a day for horse and sleigh,
Cyra’s round tracks would have no companion,
Parallel runner tracks was not for this day.
With radiant joy Mocha was positively aglow.
Silence was our companion until,
The sound of two winged beings,
Greeted our ears as we walked.
A crow caw and the drone of an airplane,
Made me wonder at their choice of flight,
On this very stormy winter’s day.
Turing at the new house perched on the marsh,
I headed home with snow now coming into my face.
I felt little bursts of cold joy,
As each flake landed on my warm skin.
Nearing the barn we heard Teddy’s cry.
A pleading tone expressed his sadness.
We’re almost home Teddy I whispered.
With confidence in Cyra’s studded shoes,
We picked up a trot to end out this morning,
When we got out before the plow.
Cyra’s studded shoes crunched on the ice as we made our way down the barn driveway. Behind us Teddy let out a whinny to express his despair at being left behind. When we reached the marsh, I could just hear the water of Meadow Brook as it flowed under the ice.
The damp air carried the sounds of the turnpike miles to our west. A single crow called off to the east. Mocha ran parallel to us in the fields to our left. I could hear the whisper of her passage over the crusty snow. We passed a house where I could hear the barking of a dog inside, alerting her mistress as to our presence.
I could no longer see Mocha so I called to her. I was between two houses facing each other on opposite sides of the road. My voiced echoed off the houses in my calling Mocha. Far out of sight and out of sight in the clouds a twine engine prop plane passed over us.
We turned around at the new house overlooking the Thurston Wildlife Marsh. I could ducks calling from the still open water of the marsh. One of Cyra’s hooves slipped on hard ice and made a skittering sound until the studs caught on the frozen dirt of the road.
Cyra sneezed startling me out of my moving meditation. Blue jays called from a grove of poplars to our right. I could hear the tires of an approaching car before I could see it coming from the direction of the barn. The sound of a big rig using its air breaks on a road far bigger and busier that the one Cyra, Mocha and I were on.
The rattling sound of the town dump truck and its plow rig came from behind us just as I spotted a school bus coming towards us. The School bus turned into Durham Road. It did not pass us. The town truck slowed down and waited for us to turn in at The Blackburn farm. I saw that Hannah’s car was running and heard her say, “Good morning Michael” as Cyra and I passed her sitting in her car.
As we neared the barn, Teddy let out a plea for our return. I clucked my tongue. Cyra picked up a brisk trot. The sound of her footfalls changed with her upward transition of gait. I dismounted. I scratched her neck as a thank you. I led her into the aisle of the barn.
Her studded shoes made a grinding sound as she walked on the cement floor of the barn. We passed into a stall onto the rubber mats. The sound of her hooves changed again to a muted whisper. I untied her halter. I slipped it off her shaggy head. I gave her one more scratch before she walked out of the barn into the barnyard.
I went down to the barn at approximately 7:00 am. It was not quite day yet but it was also no longer night. As I neared the barn, the heady aroma of large animals came to me in the cold winter air. Mocha was bounding through the new eight inches of snow to keep up with me. Cyra and her barn mate, Teddy, were out in the pasture. They were standing in the small stand of pine trees at the far side of the pasture. I grabbed Cyra’s riding halter and trudged through the new snow to get to them.
I gave Cyra’s shaggy neck a strong scratch before I slipped the rope halter over her nose. I noticed to my dismay that her forelock and leg feathers were full of burrs. Walking back to the barn with her I resolved not to take her out for our New Year’s ride until I had removed the burrs from her hair. When we entered the barn aisle with its concrete floor, Cyra’s studded shoes crunched on the hard surface. Mocha trotted after us, barking at Cyra to let her know she was herding her into the barn.
I pulled apart the burrs with my fingers as Cyra stood patiently, enjoying her hand grooming. I finished off my chore with a mane and tail brush, swept up the aisle and led my friend out of the barn and to the mounting block. I had added last year what I call my Senior Risers to the mounting block. These consist of 4×4’s attached to the bottom of the block. Because Cyra is so short (not technically a horse, she is a draft pony), getting on her is a joy. I always ride her bareback so when standing on the top stair of the block I actually am higher that her back. It makes this old man smile every time I get on her.
Walking down the driveway, I gave her a choice at the end to go either left away from the public road or right towards Intervale Road. She chose right. Mocha danced along side of us on her own adventure. The sky was a brilliant blue with the just rising sun about to clear the trees. The morning sun made the newly fallen snow a blinding white as we crunched down the road. Cyra was alert but a willing participant in our new year’s adventure. When we neared the Blackburn Homestead, she decided to turn in for a visit. No one was out as it was still early. We left our tracks to give them clues as to our visit.
When we returned to Woodman Road and neared the Bolduc’s driveway, Cyra became agitated and attempted to turn to go home. Having a physical “discussion” with a thousand pound plus animal while on her back is an interesting challenge. First comes strength and next comes patience. With considerable force (no bit in her mouth so all pressure is on her nose) I hauled on the reins to head her back in the direction we were originally headed. I asked her to stand. I took several deep breaths. I waited. After what seemed an appropriate amount of time, I soothingly asked her to walk on. She had shifted in her mind to accept my agenda and off we set.
With no more complaints from my partner, we made our way past the Thurston Wildlife Marsh and up the rise overlooking the marsh. Cyra continued to show interest in every driveway we passed but did no more “dancing” in the road. When a vehicle approached us, I called “Over” to Mocha and she trotted to our side and sat when asked. In a stand of poplars, we heard blue jays talking to each other. The low dawn sun cast a long shadow of Cyra and me on the white road. I, like Cyra, rode with awareness. My motto in riding is “Loose and Light”. Loose on the reins and light on her back. Combined with an awareness of her body language and the world around us, we did OK.
When we got to the Pierce Farm, we turned into their barn road, turned around and headed home at a trot. Trotting bareback requires one stay as centered as possible. The movement transmitted from a moving thousand pound animal is considerable. With no stirrups to ground the rider, he or she must find a place of balance that is kind to one’s mount and keeps the rider over the horse’s core. The temptation is to clench one’s thighs but this prevents the rider from finding a physical harmony with the horse. It is a workout for both of us but great fun too. I let her choose her transition, coming down into as walk when she was ready. We would walk for a hundred yards or so. I would cluck my tongue and of we would set off at a fast clip. Mocha “Dog Trotted” beside us.
When we got to Durham Road we slowed our pace to a relaxed walk. I closed my eyes. I let the reins go slack. Cyra knew the way home. There would be no more trotting. She was not so anxious to get home that I could trust her not to bolt for the barn (she has never done that). I trusted her to take me home safely. I counted her strides for a while as a sort of moving meditation. I let that go and just relaxed into the movement of Cyra’s body. I felt when she turned into the barn driveway. I opened my eyes. We were home. We had seen in the new year and new decade just as I had hoped. I felt so blessed. Michael Fralich Norumbega Farm
We had gone a slightly different and longer route for our morning outing. We turned right instead of left out of the barn driveway. Cyra’s steel spiked shoes crunched on the frozen dirt of Woodman Road. Up the Cider House Road we went, and then into the pine stand on the corner of Woodman Road and Meadow Lane. Cyra’s shoes now landed on the frozen duff of the forest floor. Mocha’s paw whispered in the light coating of snow on the ground.
Our morning ramble took us along the ridge overlooking the orchard and the now empty hog house. The winter sun was a brighter spot in the otherwise gray sky. Passing the Cider House we entered the woods once again riding to and then over Ben’s Bridge below our parent’s chapel. Cyra’s shoes bit into the wooden deck. A crow called in the distance. A woodpecker hammered out a morning tattoo in search of bugs on a tree we could not see. Mocha drifted in and out of our sight lines as she did her own exploring of Norumbega’s woods.
Snaking our way through the forest, Cyra suddenly stopped. I had not asked her to stop. This was her choice. This rarely happens. I was in no hurry. I did not ask her to walk on. Instead, I stilled myself as well. I watched her as she watched and listened to the woods. I could not see anything or hear anything that would have caught her attention and caused her to stop. She was not nervous. Her winter fuzzy ears moved around as if to catch the sound of something only she could hear. Her big head slowly drifted from side to side, sweeping the view from where she stood. Mocha was nowhere to be seen. Curious, I let her stand until she decided she had had enough of stillness and was ready to end her reverie and move on. I can only guess what she was thinking. I savored our stillness until she decided to resume our walk.
I could not say how long we paused to stand in the quiet woods. In retrospect, I am sure the sense of duration has taken on more than the reality. What I do know is that in choosing to stop, Cyra reminded me of my need to stop and really see the world around be. That she had only done this a handful of times in our nearly twenty years together added importance to her equine communication to me.
We reemerged onto Woodman Road. We walked down to the grassy verge surrounding Talking Brook. As was our pattern, we picked up a canter for the last fifty yards before coming back to a walk to climb the slope of the icy driveway. We always find magic together on our morning rides ( I have ridden twenty mornings in December so far ) but this morning reminded me that there is always new magic to be discovered when one slows down to listen….Micheal Fralich Norumbega Farm
I am sixty-six years old. I have had many jobs in my working life. For all of those jobs there was a commute. On a few occasions I have lived close enough to my job to walk to work. Those were times I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts and my walks to work were city walks full of the sights sounds and smells associated with city life.
I once lived in Brookline also in Massachusetts and had a job as a landscaper in Newton. I rode my bike to work to that job. For this commute I had to stay very focused on my surroundings as I shared the road with many cars. That wasn’t as pleasant as my walking commute but it was still outside and I still was a part of the world around me. As such I could still see, hear and smell what the world had to offer.
For a time here in Maine where I now live, I commuted to work on my motorcycle. This still allowed me to be a part of the world I was passing through even though I was now traveling at the same speed as the cars around me. On a motorcycle the rider can still smell and hear things that would not be possible to experience while traveling in a car.
Then of course for years I also commuted in a car. In a car the driver is passing through the world and is not as much as a part of that world as one would be on foot, bike or on a motorcycle. Now at the end of my working life, I have a job that involves horses. My mare is an active participant in the work that I do. I now commute to work by horse.
I live in rural Maine in a town of under five thousand people. The town is New Gloucester. All of the roads around our three hundred acres are dirt. I have seven miles of trails on my own land. I work at an equine assisted psychotherapy practice at a farm approximately one mile from where I live. If I am short on time, I can ride on the road and be at work in about twenty minutes, fifteen if I ask my mare, Cyra, to trot and canter part of the way.
When I am efficient in doing my morning chores, I leave between forty-five minutes and an hour for my commute. This allows me to thread my way through the woods and fields between where I live and where I work. This alternate route puts me on a road for only about fifty feet. My favorite back-co
untry commute takes me deep into our woods. I cross a stream, several stone walls, slog through muddy stretches of trail, over a wooden bridge I built with my son and then pick up an old abandoned county road that gives us multiple opportunities to canter if we so choose. The forest looms over us forming a green tunnel through which we pass.
We occasionally see deer on these rides as well as wild turkeys, ruffed grouse and many squirrels and sometimes woodchucks. We have heard coyotes talking to each other off in the distance. We are always serenaded by numerous birds whose homes we are passing through. At the end of our ride, we come out of the woods and pick up a trail that takes us along the edge of a fifty acre hay field that is now lush with soon to be harvested grass and clover. Here we exchange a green canopy of leaves for a blue often cloud studded dome of sky. These rides are rich in sights, smells, sounds and tactile stimulation as we frequently brush by and under branches of trees. I ride Cyra bareback and so am in intimate contact with her body as it moves under me. She has a very full mane and I frequently grab two handfuls of her hair for stability if we are cantering or going over rough terrain or up a hill.
For a lifelong horseman, these rides are a dream come to life. It never gets old being on Cyra deep in the quite peace of the forest. In winter, our work keeps us at the farm after dark. On moonless nights we make our way home either under a dome of stars or on cloudy nights in darkness so black that the road is a barely discernible gray line stretching out in front of us. On nights with a moon we slide into the woods in the gray moonlight. In the woods, the ethereal light is just enough to find our way. In the fields I feel like We are bathing in light so different than that of day that magic always seems close at hand.
I have to close this reflection with praise for my equine partner. We have been a team for over ten years. She trusts me. I trust her. She knows the way to work and often I will drop the reins of the rope riding halter I made for her (no bit in her mouth) and let her take me where she knows we need to go. I sometimes ride with my Native American flute, playing tunes from my heart to the world we are passing through. I know that I can do this and trust that we are OK with her on auto-pilot (who needs a self driving car when one has a self driving horse?).With Cyra I have come to a place in my life that fits me so well that I have to pinch myself at times to know that this is real. I am a very lucky man.
It has been many months since I have sat at my computer to reflect on my life at Norumbega Farm. Much has transpired since I last wrote. It would be futile to attempt to summarize what has transpired since my last entry. The cycle of the seasons marches ever forward whether or not we pause to take note of the passage of time. What I can say that I have done with more discipline than I have mustered for my writing is to daily try to change the way that I view the passage of time.
Over a year ago I was introduced to a teacher of meditation by the name of Andy Pudicomb. A Brit who has studied Tibetan Buddhism for years, Pudicomb took his vows to become a Buddhist monk and resided in Buddhist monastery before coming to the realization that he wanted to share what he had learned with people outside of his world of fellow monks. He moved back to the United Kingdom and created an app for users of smart phones called Headspace.
Through this app subscribers can choose many customized guided meditation “packs” to address areas of struggle in their lives. Examples include but are not limited to: balance, stress, depression, anxiety, self-esteem etc. The Headspace subscriber chooses the pack he or she wishes to focus on, chooses the length of the session and then hopefully incorporates the meditation into a daily practice. Andy guides the student through the process also leaving space in each session for silence.
A fair question to ask of me would be how this meditation practice has changed the way I view the passage of time. The answer is both simple and complicated at the same time. The simple answer springs from the root of Andy’s teaching and in fact the root of all meditation practice, mindfulness. Simply put, mindfulness is the awareness of the present moment to the exclusion of all other moments, past and anticipated. When practiced successfully, the past falls away and the future does not exist. The current moment is all that exists.
The complications arise from the fact that we human beings find it very difficult to “turn off” our thinking brains and truly inhabit only what is currently happening in each precious moment. With Andy’s guidance, I have found a pathway to glimpse the possibility of this amazing ability to truly just be where I am without analyzing how my past has brought me there or where I might be going in the next moment. I do this by focusing on my breath.
We all have to breath to live. Our bodies do this for us. We do not have to think about it. It just happens as an automatic system to keep us alive. Rarely had I taken the time to observe my breath and use it as a tool to combat the spinning of my overactive brain. Now that I have this simple but powerful tool in my possession, I am able to slow down my thoughts, put aside my past, not fret about my next task and just relish what my life is experiencing right now. Time takes on a new meaning when there is only “right now.”
Of course I will never master completely this way of being. I would not choose to if I could. There are times when my past should inform my present. There are times when the future must be planned for. What I do strive for is a way of being in my journey that does give me the ability to truly be present for the magic that happens in every moment of my life if I am but awake to see it.
With Andy’s guidance I can stop time and just be a witness to the wonderful mystery that is my life.
I have been a horseman since I was a teenager. I began my riding at a resort in Virginia called The Greenbriar. I had gone there with my family. I don’t remember much about that first ride other than my horse sneezed when I was in the saddle. It scared me to the point of never wanting to get back on a horse again. Fortunately, that did not happen. I went onto ride in many places during my youth and later as a young man in my twenties. When we were first married and living in Boston I would travel out to Concord to ride out of a barn there. I gained the trust of the barn’s owner and was given permission to fetch an horse and go on my own on the trails in the adjacent countryside. I rode a Belgian mare whose name escapes me now but the memory of our rambles lives on.
We did a spell in Ann Arbor when I went back to college at the University of Michigan. There I leased a horse at a barn in Hell (small town near Ann Arbor, not the legendary Hades). Again my mount’s name escapes me but I do recall that he was prone to spooking at anything white that we came across on our rides. It could be a discarded fridge or even a scrap of paper by the trail but he never failed to think he was about to be eaten by a monster and would launch himself sideways with no warning. I learned to be ever vigilant for all things white.
Fast forward to the present day. I now am the owner of two horses. Cyra, my mare, is a cross between a Clydesdale and a Newfoundland pony. She looks like a miniature Clydesdale but in fact is small enough to be still technically a pony. I also own a gelding by the name of PJ who is 16 hand Tennessee Walker. It is an interesting pairing, the pony and the big rangy gelding but I love them both very much for the very reason that they are so different and provide me with very different riding experiences. Cyra is very steady and slow. PJ is spooky and fast. It is Cyra I am going to write about today.
I work at a barn about a mile from my farm. Both of my horses are involved in the work that I do. I am the co-founder of an equine assisted psychotherapy practice called Healing Through Horses. I ride PJ to work on Tuesdays and Cyra to work on Thursdays. With Cyra’s broad back, short stature and even temperament, I choose to ride her bareback. Sitting on her is like sitting in a warm overstuffed easy chair. PJ is too tall, too bony and too hot for a bareback ride. I ride him in a western roper’s saddle. On Thursdays our sessions go till after dark so our ride home is in the dark. I have equipped myself with the same lights a bike rider would wear, white in front, red in the back. The rides home after dark are always different. There are some nights when there are no stars or moon and perhaps even some fog. Those nights are very interesting as I have to trust Cyra to not be bothered by the sudden appearance of the headlights of oncoming cars and trucks.
Several weeks ago we made our way home not on a dark cloudy night but a night filled with stars and a nearly full moon in a cloudless sky. It was so bright, I turned our lights off. I normally ride home on the roads at night but this night was so bright that I decided to thread my way through the woods and fields to get back to my home barn. Coming out of the driveway at work, feeling the warmth of her body under me, I turned her toward home for a short stretch before disappearing into the moonlit woods. Riding by moonlight is a wonderful experience. The light is so ethereal that it feels as though you have entered into another world, similar to the day world but strangely different as well. Everything is softer with muted shapes and light that tricks the eyes into seeing things that are not there.
We crossed an open field at one point and the snow glowed softly in the moonlight. The apple trees that dotted the field seemed eager to transform themselves into other forms. I half expected to come across sleeping deer under those trees but did not. I grabbed a handful of Cyra’s thick black mane and picked up a trot and then a canter. Cyra’s hooves threw snow into the air in swirls at her feet. She was wearing a string of sleigh bells and the tinkling sound of the bells added additional magic to the already mystical ride. We reentered the woods at a walk, making our way though the dusky pines. We were soon back at the barn, welcomed by the whinny of PJ. I slid off her bare back, gave her thick neck a hug, fed her a treat and led her into the barn. It was a ride I will not soon forget. Michael Fralich email@example.com