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Flying with Field

    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. 

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Misty Morning Ride

                                                           

    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.

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The View from my Window

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.

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Riding During the Pandemic

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

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Dusk Ride to Big Falls

    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.

                                                   Michael Fralich

                                                 Norumbega Farm

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We Have Been this Way Before

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.

Michael Fralich
Norumbega Farm

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Out Before the Plow

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.

Michael Fralich
Norumbega Farm

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Morning Sounds from Cyra’s Back

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.

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Cyra Listening

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