Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Razor's Thin Edge

There is a razor’s thin edge of existence in life. I have seen it in the mountains. A place where you know if you jump into a couloir to ski it your first few turns are the most critical. If you miss any of them and lose your balance you will most definitely fall to your death. It seems that the younger you are in life, the farther beyond that edge you step.  There is nothing like the exhilaration, the adrenalin rush, the sheer thrill of pushing the envelope just beyond that edge.

When I was twenty five and skiing at Arapahoe Basin in Colorado the edge blurred into reality for me. Arapahoe Basin was then the highest lift serviced mountain in America at 12,500 feet in elevation. The main lift brought you to the top of the mountain, and you could traverse into Lenawee Mountain and climb higher to get great powder shots. You could also drop over the backside into Montezuma Bowl and ski incredible vertical terrain and deep out of bounds powder, but you would have to hike out. Looking across Route 6 at the awesome Professor with its seven cornices would orient you toward the Pallavicini, on your left and the infamous Wall, the Wall was at the same elevation as the summit except that  there was an incredible vertical drop down from the summit with a steep incline back up to the cornice. The prevailing winds would race across the giant top of the wall and create a massive wind blown hanging cornice. It was always unstable and could fracture and avalanche at any time. Often it grew to enormous proportions and would be a twenty to thirty foot drop to the steep vertical slope below. On cold winter days it was always more stable and provided and excellent platform for launching into thin air before landing on the steep lower terrain. The lower terrain vertical was such that if you were not acutely aware of bringing your arms forward and keeping your elbows tucked in you might drag your arms on the slope behind you throwing off your balance.

One particular winter day I took the leap of faith and hit the deep powder successfully. I was just starting my second critical turn when another skier, who had not seen me jump from the cornice traversed across in front of me. I narrowly missed a collision but the tips of my skis caught the tails of his. My skis stopped abruptly. I was launched into a tip roll, a somersault on skis. Skiing with my bindings cranked down tight did nothing for easy release. The motto of the day was “Deliver us from premature release.” Every time I came back up on my skis I would again roll over and bury my head and neck in the snow. I was sure that this time my neck would break and I would die, or worse be paralyzed for life. This went on for what I thought was an eternity. It was then that my right shoulder caught a boulder. My shoulder dislocated and my ligaments and tendons were torn. It however had arrested my forward tumbling. I was unable to move my neck and it took months for both my shoulder and neck to heal. I said in the brashness of my youth, someday I will get a plastic socket. Through the pain in my later years, the prospect of a major operation does not intrigue me.

It brings me back to the fine line of existence in life and the mountains. I had realized my mortality. I was no longer an immortal God as I had thought in my youth. I had experienced near death. I never again skied with such reckless abandon. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I pushed the limit, even in my later years. I however possessed fear, a good healthy dose of it. It is detrimental when you love and play in the mountains to be afraid. Fear is healthy but you lose some of your edge. If you hesitate before turning on a steep slope or performing a feat while climbing or mountaineering it can be disastrous. I lost some of the thrill, to some degree, I had been conquered by nature instead of conquering it. I am saddened today by it, but it is as the world is.

I feel today like I am again standing on that wind blown cornice. I am more than twice that age now. The sky is azure blue, the wind gently rushes through my thinning hair, the snow is deep and the sun is shinning brightly. It is up to me to take the leap. What in the world am I talking about?

I have always wanted to pursue my writing career, but I always chose the safer accepted route of a business career in the private sector. The thought of contacting agents and editors and publishers has come and gone often. I even tried self publishing with out any great success. Always like a giant Goliath, the fear was in front of me, taunting me, calling out my name. It is time to slay the giant.

Today, I welcome you to Sun Moon Books. Look us up at Our new blog. We will soon be publishing ebooks. My collection of ski short stories “White Dreams” will be available in mid to late February. I have another collection of horse short stories and two novels in the works for the next several years. Standing here on the cornice wondering if I should jump into that couloir full of snow snakes and conquer nature or be conquered by it, I am reminded of a quote that is attributed to the ages but no one sage in particular. “Leap and the net will appear.”          

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Update On Bill And Lou

Update On Bill And Lou - Rescue (Previous Post)

Just got a returned email from the folks at Green Mountain College regarding the rescue of Bill and Lou. The contact email addresses have been closed. Here is an update of current contact information;

Green Mountain College
Agriculture - Farming (Bill and Lou)
2500 Killington Road Killington, VT 05751
(800) 776-6675

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Save Bill And Lou A Working Team Of Oxen At Green Mountain College


Green Mountain College is poised to kill two oxen named Bill and Lou who have served their college farm for ten long years. ACT NOW to prevent it!

Bill and Lou have been a working team of oxen at Green Mountain College in Poultney, VT for ten years. They were pressed into service by staff at Cerridwen Farm - the teaching farm on campus - to do everything from plowing fields togenerating electricity. Over the years, they became so well loved that they're even the profile picture for the farm's Facebook page!

A few months ago, Lou became unable to be worked any longer. Bill won't work with anyone else. Therefore, the college has concluded that both of them must be killed.

DEATH is their reward for 10 long years of hard work.

 Yes, Green Mountain College has decided that Bill and Lou's long lives of service should be rewarded by their slaughter - and for what? According to their own press releases, the school will get, at best, a couple of months of low-grade hamburger out of their bodies.

This is especially heartbreaking because they have an excellent home waiting for them.

VINE Sanctuary has offered to provide Bill and Lou with permanent homes. We have the ability and resources to care for them for the rest of their natural lives. Sadly, though, the college is determined to kill them instead.

For ten years, they served the needs of those more powerful than they are.

Now it's time to let them serve their own needs.

ACTION YOU CAN TAKE - Please contact the folks at Green Mountain College and urge them to reconsider. Feel free to use and/or modify the letter below, or write your own.

 All you need to do is send a heartfelt, courteous email to the following people:

 Bill Throop Provost and Vice President for Academic

Kenneth Mulder Farm Manager, Research Associate & Adjunct Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies:

Dear Sir:

I am writing to urge you to allow Bill and Lou to live out the remainder of their natural lives, in peace and contentment, at VINE Sanctuary, a reputable organization which has offered to care for them.

Should you choose to reverse their death sentences, the rewards garnered by Green Mountain College will far exceed whatever paltry sum their slaughter would bring to the school.

 Conversely, whatever small amount of cash would be made by killing them will be far outweighed by the negative press which will follow in the wake of their deaths.

Bill and Lou have served your college well for ten long years. Students and faculty alike have expressed how much they care about these individuals. They deserve to be given the rest of their lives to live as they choose. Just because they are not human does not mean they do not care about their existence.

We will be watching to see what decision you make.


Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Pilgrimage To Swami's

I have always thought my Epitaph would read “Enter Weary Traveler.” One of my favorite lines in a song has been, “You give the appearance of one widely traveled. Miracles appear in the strangest of places sit down let me buy you a beer.” 


Looking back at a Writing Conference I attended in Telluride, Colorado, It seems like I was visited by one. 

Entering into a book store across from the performance theatre, I immediately flashed on a serene face on the cover of a book titled, “The Autobiography of a Yogi.” The picture was of Paramahansa Yogananda, the man who would become my eventual Guru.  He is the founder of the Self Realization Fellowship. I was soon to begin my studies of Kriya Yoga, and my journey to becoming a card carrying Yogi.

I don’t think I ever really believed in Miracles. Oh! I had heard of all the Biblical Miracles the great ones, but not any personal ones. I’m not sure that you recognize them when you see them. They are subtle.

A nice story at a glance, but where is the miracle? I returned to my writing loft in Vail, Colorado and continued my studies. The veil of maya was slowly lifted from my life as well as the cloud of alcohol that ruled my life. I continued my writing and ski bumming life. 

After attending a writing conference in Aspen, the opportunity to move to that city and ski Ajax  opened up. I quickly accepted it and moved. At the very same time, the manager of the local health club, the Aspen Athletic Club, was hoping to become involved with a group of people her own age and looking for a new job. Kathy, my boss and I started working together at a new fresh career. It was evident from the beginning that we not only worked well with one another but there was an attraction. I was having my mail delivered to our office as my apartment was in the same building. Yes, Main Street Aspen, Colorado across from the Main Street Bakery. We often shared a revered delivery of matzo ball soup from Benjamin’s Deli or famed turkey burgers and brownies from the Silver City Grille. One particular afternoon while sorting through our mail Kathy came upon one of my lessons from the Self Realization Fellowship from Encinitas, California. She asked Nancy our secretary about it and was told that I routinely received correspondences  from there. Surprised, she confronted me and began to explain that as a young high school surfing hippie girl they used to surf at Sunset Beach. It would later in life become Swami’s Beach. They would sit out on their surf boards until almost dark and look with binoculars into the ashram, hoping to see the swamis flying around on their carpets. We laughed heartily at her youth and she said she would take me to the ashram as it was so beautiful. It was one of those promises made that you knew would probably never be fulfilled. Our working lives brought us closer together and we became romantically involved. 

A few years later, we decided to take a month off and travel the west coast from Mexico to Oregon. Somewhere along our vacation the thought occured to us that that we may never have a month off together again and that we would get married in Lake Tahoe after our pilgrimage to the ashram. Upon arriving at the ashram, we were hoping to receive a blessing concerning our plans for marriage. While walking up to Swami’s meditation bench that looks out on the Pacific Ocean, in what I consider to be the most beautiful setting in America, our miracle occurred for us. In the sand in large letters was the name Paramahansa Yogananda spelled out. I being a devoted chela of Paramahansa and Kathy, a respected admirer of his, we viewed this as a miracle blessing for our ensuing marriage. We continued on to Lake Tahoe and were wed. Over the years the blessings of Swami and the Self Realization Fellowship has brought great joy, enlightenment and wonder into our lives.

I am soon to begin a new chapter in my writing life and begin my search for an agent to assist in the publishing of my work, ‘White Dreams, The Trials of the World’s Greatest Ski Bum,’ simultaneously in America and Europe. Hopefully in time for the Olympics that will be held in Sochi, Russia in 2014. I ask humbly for the blessing of my lord Krishna, my lord Jesus Christ, Mahavatar Babaji, Lahiri Mahashiya, Swami Sri Yukteswar, Gurudeva Paramahansa Yogananda, and all Great Saints of all Religions in my endeavor. I further ask that I may succeed in climbing the sacred mountain of self realization and stand at last on the shining summit, face to face with thee, O inconceivable Spirit Divine.

I will leave with the recitation of what is considered to be the most powerful mantra known to man.                  
                                                  The Gayatri Mantra
Om Bhur Buvaha Swaha Tat Savitur Varenyam Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi Dhyo Yonaha Prachodayath.

Perhaps my new epitaph should be a quote from  Procol Harum in the song Conquistador, from the Album, A Whiter Shade of Pale.

“Conquistador your stallion stands in need of company and like some angel’s haloed brow you reek of purity. I see your armour-plated breast has long since lost its sheen.”

Monday, September 24, 2012

Looking Toward Sochi, Russia 2014

O.K. I admit it. I have had an obsession with the Winter Olympics since they were held in Lake Placid New York in 1980. I tried very hard to organize my artisan and musician friends in climbing the back side of Whiteface Mountain at night with musical instruments and generators. It was my dream to hold a concert at sunrise. You guessed it. It never happened, that failure has not stopped me from dreaming of pulling off publishing my writing in conjunction with an Olympics. I came close in 2010 Vancouver with Of Mountains And Men. Wrong publisher and under marketing made for lackluster recognition. This Olympics I feel primed. I just recently realized that I can publish my blog in different languages, such as Russian, French, German, etc. What a great thing. Now if I can arrange to have my book of poetry already an ebook ( available in translation, double score. My collection of short stories White Dreams, (The Trials of the World Greatest Ski Bum), available as an ebook and possibly find a publisher to simultaneously publish in Europe and America I will have arrived.  Why the 34 year obsession? I want a contract to write a Historical Novel about Arapahoe Basin Ski Area in Colorado and have the funding to do it right. Well so much for the confessions of a self-absorbed obsessed ski bum writer. Wish me luck! Who knows if I can afford it I may be able to realize my Oregon Retirement Dreams.  

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Of Mountains and Men soon to be released as an ebook!

Of Mountains And Men is in the process of publication as an ebook. It will soon be available on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook. Look for it soon!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

London Is Calling

The Olympics are always a time of great inspiration for me. Just watching the Olympians excelling in their chosen fields is something to behold. The dedication and work that is involved truly is awe inspiring. They soar to such personal heights in competition. The Summer Olympics and Equestrian Events are some of my favorites. I had the pleasure of having been introduced to the Equine Athlete through the work I did with my wife, the author of The Fit Horse Companion and founder of Aspen Equine Studies, Kathy Duncan. I was able to have intimate relationships with Equine Athletes and to assist them in their old age in our work in a Rescue Ranch. I would like to share a couple of short stories that grew out of our experiences. I wish all the Athletes of the London Olympics great success. 

For Jack London

You were the best French Alpine, Nubian Companion Goat an Orphaned Foal could ever have!


                                            Slick Little Fox

                                         Albert Bianchine


     Katie Delaney looked at the little Tobiano foal struggling to stand. There was something terribly wrong with it. It looked like a hermit crab. Its front legs curved in an arc and couldn’t be brought under it to bear weight. Its attempt to stand ended the same. It would roll to one side and fall down. Katie rushed into the large birthing stall of the arena. She slid a leather halter over the mare’s nose and buckled it.

     “Easy Foxy,” she said to the exhausted paint broodmare. “It’s Ok girl, I’ll look at your baby.”

     “Will, call the vet. It’s Foxy’s baby, there’s something wrong with his legs. Then get some straw and spread it in the corner for it to lay down.”

Will Stanton entered the stall and spread out several sections of straw for bedding. He liked Katie. He cleaned the stalls of the arena and was responsible for the general maintenance. She had asked him if he would hold the horses while she worked. He was a bulldogger.  She said she didn’t understand why a cowboy would jump off of a perfectly good horse. Will liked the young brunette therapist and took the teasing well. He listened to her singing in the mornings as she was working.

     “Here Will, take Foxy. Keep her by the grain.”

She walked to the foal and knelt down and rolled up her denim sleeves. Katie feared the worst for the baby. She could only rub its head and face.

    Susan Mckenzie entered the stall. Her long black hair pulled in a ponytail hung loosely between her cap and its band. The cap read: Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy.

    “Katie what’s wrong with the foal?” I think it has contracted tendons, I’ve seen cows like this. We’ve called Dr. Trent,” Katie replied. ''The cows she had seen had been put down.”

     “I don’t see how he can make it,” Susan replied.

     “Katie, This is Dr. Trent,” Will said.

    “Dave Trent.”

    “I’m Katie Delaney, the Barn Manager. This is Susan Mckenzie, the owner.” 

    “Hi, let’s look at him.”

    The foal was lying on its side. The vet reached down and stroked him. Foxy nickered deeply and the foal struggled to stand. It wobbled and fell. He attempted to bend its leg. He stood and faced the two women.

     “It’s congenital flexural deformity and generally can’t be cured. The animals are culled. I’m sorry to be so blunt but we have not had much success with this condition.”

    “Surely, there must be some options.” 

    “I-I don’t want a deformed horse in my breeding operation,” Susan was quick to say.

    “His legs may grow out, especially with a little massage work. He has such a strong soul, Katie countered.

    “Animals are beasts of burden and they don’t have souls, I put them down all the time, it's just nature.”

    The hairs on the back of Katie’s neck stood on end. She swallowed deeply in an effort to control her anger before speaking.

    “Are there any alternatives?” She glared at the vet.

     The vet took a step backwards. He looked closely at her. Her hands were clenched, her shoulders were square, and her jaw jutted forward poised for confrontation.

    “Tetracycline is an antibiotic. It weakens the tensile strength of connective tissues. His legs are rotated out. We still need to deal with that. There is a technique called blistering. We would go in and injure the outside of the knee by burning or cutting it. It would bring increased blood flow to the area and stimulate growth. I suggest putting a 4” PVC splint on both legs to immobilize them for a period of fourteen days. I will take x-rays today. I still recommend we put the foal down,” the vet replied.

    “We just can’t have a deformed horse in the stables,” Susan said.

    “I understand your concerns about the foal. Massage is what I know. The technique of blistering seems barbaric to me, and confining him in splints wouldn’t help either.”

    “These are proven practices,” the vet interjected.

    Katie raised her hand in defense.

    “I’m sure they believed lobotomies were healthy,” Katie said with a grin. “There is a massage stroke named tonic friction. It is a vigorous stroking of an area, it’s designed to bring blood to an area and stimulate healing. I believe that through hydrotherapy, stretching and massage, with the help of the shot of tetracycline I can correct the problems in the foal.”

    “Next, we’ll burn incense and ask for a Voodoo Priestess,” the vet said, sarcastically.

     “These techniques are used on thoroughbreds around the world,” Katie retorted.

     “That doesn’t address his deformity and its reflection on my breeding operation,” Susan said.

     “I suggest we give the foal the shot, and allow me a period of two weeks to work with it. If there isn’t significant progress by then, you can put the foal down. If there is any improvement, I will take the foal home and work with him. We will geld him when he is old enough. Please, just give me a chance to see if I can help.”

     “Susan, you know my position,” the vet replied.

     “If I hadn’t seen the miracles your therapy has worked on my brood mares and stallions I’d say no right away. I believe you Katie. I’ll go along with it for the two weeks,” Susan said.

     “I’ll xray him and give him the shot.”

 The vet and Susan turned and walked out of the stall.


     Katie had the foal standing on the second day. Will walked to the stall.

     “Will, would you hand me the foal halter?”

     “Here you go, “ Will said.

   Will walked to the foal and restrained him. Katie slid the halter over the foal’s nose and fastened it. The foal struggled for a few seconds, realized he was restricted, and growled like a bear cub. They both laughed.

     “Here, help me to lay him down.”

    Will lifted the foal and with Katie’s help set the foal on its side. She slipped her first two fingers into his heel bulb. She used a little pressure and began a clockwise rubbing motion to stimulate blood flow to the area. The foal was curious and lay still while she continued. Resting a comforting hand, a mother hand, on the front of the hoof, she squeezed the tendon and began a chucking motion up and down the length of it. She repeated the motion several times. Supporting the hoof with the palm of her hand, Katie used her thumb and fingers of her right hand to effleurage the front of his leg, paying particular attention to the inside and outside of his knee joint. She then set the first three fingers of her right hand on the outside of his carpus and began vigorously rubbing them in a back and forth motion called tonic friction. This would create friction to the surrounding area to promote and stimulate growth. It would help rotate his legs straight. Katie supported the leg at the carpus and with a hand under his heel bulb gently stretched the leg forward. When she finished the second leg she set it down and stood up. The foal was asleep. Will removed the halter and coiled the lead rope. They both slipped out of the stall to the hallway.

     “Do you think you can help me? He has to be worked on every 2 hours for the next several days.”

     “If I can sleep on the other office cot, I’d be happy to help.” 

     “His sire is Slick Left Prints, and his dam is Foxy, I think I’ll call him Slick Little Fox.”

                                                    *  *  *                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

      A week later, Dr. Trent returned.

     “The x-rays show some bone growth on the lateral side of his knees and his legs appear to be turning in. They have a long way to go. The tendons have loosened and his legs have come up under him. It’s been a week already. You should let me put him down now!” the vet said.

     “Susan, Foxy doesn’t come into her foal heat for another three weeks. Please give me two more weeks,” Katie implored.

     “I don’t know, Dave says he hasn’t made that much improvement. Lord knows I don’t want anyone to see those crooked legs,” Susan said.

     “I’ll move them to the big back stall. Please let me continue.”

     “OK, but if Dave disagrees in two weeks, you know what our decision will be.”

     “It’s a waste of time,” the Vet said.

     “I’ll waste it rescuing Little Fox if I want.” Katie glared.

     “You’re one tough little lady,” the vet turned and walked off.

     “I hope you know what you’re doing with the foal.” Susan left the arena.

    Katie ran to Little Fox’s stall, haltered him and led him into the hall, his hooves clopping on the concrete.

    “I won’t let anyone hurt you. We can do it, Little Bubba,” she said, bending down and hugging him tightly.

Foxy nickered loudly. Little Fox turned and Katie led him back to her.

    “Don’t worry mamma.” She slid the halter off and walked out of the stall.

    Will set the crockpot on the small table in the entryway and plugged it in. He dampened the cloth towels and placed then inside and set the timer for 15 minutes

    “We are going to have to be more aggressive in our stretching! The heat and moisture will make the tissue extremely pliable. I want to take some photos. I have an idea that might help,” Katie said, entering the stall.

Will nudged Little Fox to stand and slipped his halter on.

     “What’s the idea?” Will asked.

     “I’m going to present Little Fox as a case study to a Veterinarian Professor from the University and try to get him to help me with Dr. Trent.”

    The timer rang and Will pulled out the towels. Katie slid her camera into her palm. He handed them to Katie and took the lead rope. He stood at the foal’s left side. She started wrapping his legs.

     “Listen, Little Bubba, you have got to cooperate. I’m going to be more aggressive. But if you want to live, we have to get through this.” Katie cupped Little Fox’s muzzle with her hands. He nickered his understanding and she bent and kissed him on the nose.

 Katie unwrapped his legs after 15 minutes had passed. She lifted his left leg, supported the underside of his knee joint with her left hand, and stretched his leg. She worked lightly at first, but began to use greater force with each successive stretch. Little Fox stood steady and countered Katie’s stronger stretches with great fortitude. She worked both legs forward and backward very aggressively. She set the right leg down when she was finished.

      “Will, would you perform tonic friction on the lateral section of his knee,” her voice cracked slightly and she wiped a tear from her cheek.

      “No problem,” Will responded. It would be his good fortune to work closely with her and Little Fox in this intimate setting.

                                                          *   *   *

      Three weeks had passed quickly. Dave Trent stood in front of Little Fox. Susan shifted nervously. Katie Delaney stood with her left hand resting on Fox’s neck. Will fidgeted at the foal’s side.

     “If I hadn’t spoken with the Professor from the Vet School, I would still have recommended that this horse be put down. I had no idea that hydrotherapy and massage therapy was having so much success with animals and birth deformities in the Veterinary Field,” he cleared his throat. “I’m an old dog learning new tricks. I understand the miracle that I see before me.”

      Little Fox rose on his hind feet with the sudden excitement and Will quickly brought him down and regained control.

     “I was hoping for this outcome,” Katie said excitedly.

     “I never would have believed this could be accomplished. If any of my other clients have similar problems, could I recommend your therapy services to them?”

     “I’d be happy to save any animal that I can.” 

     “I have many clients, and the Professor has made me aware of just how helpful massage therapy can be in my practice. Perhaps you could come into my office next week and we could talk about it.”

    “Next week would work for me, I’ll call and arrange the time,” Katie replied.

    “Susan, we should go and look at Kate and see how her baby is doing,” the Vet said.

    Turning, he and Susan walked down the long corridor. Katie looked at Will and Little Fox and smiled.

    “I’ve been waiting for this day. Is everything set?”

    “Yes,” Will replied, “The baby goat is in the trailer and I have hay spread and stacked.”

    “We might as well do it now,” Katie said, taking the lead rope from Will.


      Will walked slowly behind Katie and Little Fox. They had gone several yards when Foxy nickered loudly to her foal. The foal stopped, returned her nicker and looked at Katie. She bent and placed her face next to the foals

    “Come on Little Bubba, please,” she pleaded. “Walk on, Little Fox.

    They walked forward in silence. The sound of the foal’s hooves clapping against the concrete, were the only noise. They reached the trailer door and Will stepped around and opened it. A small brown and white Nubian French Alpine goat greeted them with a loud “Baaaa-Baaa.”

     Little Fox stuck his head in the trailer and Katie stepped in and gave the lead rope a slight tug. The horse stepped quickly into the trailer and sniffed the small goat.

     “Little Fox, this is Jack London, Jack-Little Fox, You’re going to be the best of companions,” she said and laughed loudly.

     “I’ll hold Little Fox and ride in back,” Will said.

    Katie stepped out, closed the horse trailer door and walked to the cab. She slid into the driver’s seat, started the truck and began moving forward. She couldn’t think of a time in her life that her future had looked brighter.


Girls & Horses, Templeton Thompson


In Memory of the Storm King 14, South Canyon Fire, 1994.

The Coal Seam Fire, 2002


                                   The Coal Seam Fire

                                         Albert Bianchine


     Katie Delaney posted around the arena in a walk, trot and canter, warming up Fortune. All the while she glanced at the ominous three -foot jump set up in the center. She knew the Hanoverian cross Quarter Horse, at over seventeen hands tall, could easily do it- she, herself, was the problem. She tried not to think of it, but it was like not thinking of a white elephant. Once the image is etched in your mind you can’t think of anything else. 

     “Katie, concentrate on your lead changes,” Marie Maclevey said.

     Thin, muscular Marie was an expert dressage rider, Olympic competitor and jumping instructor. She came to Storm King Mountain Rescue Ranch in Glenwood Springs, Colorado from Aspen three times a week to work with Katie.

    “Good boy, Fortune,” Katie cued him to stop and patted him gently on the neck.

    She reached into her riding jacket pocket for a handkerchief and wiped her brow. It was oppressively and unseasonably hot with no rain in over two months. Katie was acutely aware of fire danger living on Storm King Mountain, the site of the South Canyon Fire, one of the worst American Forest Fire tragedies. The fire had spared the ranch but had taken the lives of fourteen hot shot smoke jumpers from Prineville, Oregon, further up on the mountain several years earlier. The silent charred sentinels above the ridge were ominous reminders of what westerly winds whipping through the narrow Colorado River Canyon can do to a fire.

     “Stop focusing on the jump, Katie,” Marie said harshly. “I want you to make one more pass on the jump, circle around and then jump.” She stepped closer to Fortune.

     “Your knees aren’t going to save you! Get your heels down! Lose your feet and lose your seat,” Marie tapped Katie’s knee to emphasize her point.

     “Walk on, Fortune,” Katie cued him with her heels.

     She quickly broke into a canter and made a large circle around the jump. She felt the familiar fear return. It wasn’t the fear of jumping; she loved the feeling of going up into the air. It was the landing that she feared. The horse’s front legs coming down and striking the ground, so many things to remember: chin out, heels down, seat planted firmly into the saddle.

     Fortune approached the jump, lifted his front legs and soared cleanly over it. His front legs came down, struck the ground and it appeared for a second as if Katie would keep her seat. However she leaned forward and landed with a thud on her back. Fortune took several strides, returned, and stood over her looking down. Katie struggled for her breath, she relaxed and it slowly began to return. She stood and dusted herself off. 

     “Katie, you have just got to stop clamping your knees. If you do the same thing every time you’ll keep getting the same result. I don’t think you have many more extreme landings in you,” Marie simply said.

     “I know, Marie, I know in my mind what to do, but then I land and panic and clamp my knees,” Katie said as she remounted Fortune.

     She gathered herself, and started over. This time she and Fortune soared cleanly over and they trotted to a stop.

     “I just pictured myself doing just that,” she said to Marie with a smile.

     “I knew you could Katie, your jumping is all in your mind. Let’s call this a day. I’ll see you next week.”

     “Thanks for all your help Marie,” Katie said.

     She turned and led Fortune toward the barn where her husband Will and the hired hand were working with the horses.

                                                              *    *   *

      The intense afternoon sun beat down on the already baked and parched Colorado earth. The oils from the sagebrush and pinyon pines oozed from cracks in their bark.  A strong wind moved down the Interstate 70 highway and Colorado River corridor. A red tailed hawk flew along the steep cliffs and the jagged mountain sides circling, being lifted ever higher by the hot thermal drafts. A large crack appeared and the ground split open. A coal seam that had been burning for years, inside the earth, leapt to the surface and sought out the dried alpine grasses and ignited them. They exploded in a ball of flames and consumed the sage and pinion oils with a ravenous hunger. The flames growing in size and intensity leapt into the cedars and pines creating a massive orange wall of flames. It darkened the afternoon sky. Large embers and ashes flew into the air. They easily jumped the Colorado River and four-lane highway. The wind funneled between the narrow corridor whistled and howled as it raged from the west out of Canyon Creek, pushing the fire toward the Storm King Rescue Ranch. 

                                                            *   *   *

     Katie tied Fortune to the hitching post outside the barn and loosened her billets. She gently patted his neck.

     “Good jumping Fortune, I know I’m going to get it, you’re such a good boy,” she said as she slipped her hand to the back of his neck and gave the horse an exuberant squeeze.

     “Will, Will,” Katie called as she turned and ran into the barn.

Turning at the sound of his name, Will saw Katie running down the hall in her riding jodhpurs.

     “What is it Katie?”

     “I jumped on Fortune, Will.”

     “You did,” Will said, hugging Katie.

     “The smaller jumps were easy, but I fell on the big one the first time. The second time I soared over it. It was exciting. I pictured myself clearing the jump, and then I did it.”

     “I’m really happy for you. You’ve come a long way.”

     “Yes I have, Will. How are the horses this morning?”

     “They’re good, Big Will is nursing. I’ll show you what Tom and I did right after I am finished with Little Man, Sage and Buddy. We’ve already taken care of Sister and her foal Precious. Come on and look at them with me.”

     “Ok, but I’ve got Fortune tied. I’ll have to be quick, he’s in the shade but Will, it’s so hot,” Katie reached for Will’s hand.

     They walked across the hallway, past Bo the Buckskin Stallion, to Little Man’s stall. The three day old orphaned foal was standing next to the older red dun quarter horse, Sage. She moved slowly towards the couple on arthritic swollen front knees. The foal shadowed the mare closely. Even though she could not nurse him, they had become very close.

     “I have his bottle here,” Tom said to Will and Katie as he entered the stall.

     “He’s taking the bottle well,” Katie said.

     “I think he’s going to be alright, that is if we make it, between feeding him and Big Will every four hours,” Will chuckled.

     “There isn’t anything that any of us would do differently, is there?” Katie asked.

     “No,” both Will and Tom said simultaneously.

     “I don’t think that Buddy likes sharing his wife,” Will said.

     “He thinks that being twenty six makes him head of the ranch, he is a  

grandson of Poco Bueno and great grandson of King, he really is!” Katie walked over to Buddy.

     “Let’s look in on Big Will, then I need to get Fortune out of the heat,” Katie replied.

     Katie walked to the stall and stopped abruptly; she turned to the cowboys with a sheepish grin and asked, “What’s this?”

     “I guess you could call it a horse jumper,” Tom was the quickest to reply.

     “It seems to be working,” Will added. “The harness fits around his torso and the spring hanging from the ceiling is allowing him to stand and move in a small circle.”

     “He is able to nurse if we bring Brooks right alongside him,” Tom said.

     Katie turned and faced the boys; there were tears in her eyes.

     “He’s going to make it, isn’t he?” she quipped confidently.

     “Only time and a lot of late nights will tell.” Will said, walking to Katie and putting his arm around her shoulder.

     “Let’s get Fortune,” he said.

     They began walking toward the barn entrance. Buddy started blowing, snorting, pacing, and began frantically kicking at his stall door. The other horses followed his behavior in rapid succession. They looked at each other and then back at the horses.There was a loud crash from Big Will’s stall as Brooks threw herself against the stall wall and yelled loudly. Fortune returned a terrifying scream at the barn entrance. Something was terribly wrong.        

     Will was the first to react. He raced toward the entrance at a dead run, with Tom then Katie at his heels. They reached the front entrance almost simultaneously. Their nostrils were assaulted by a thick acrid burning smell; they instantly looked southwest to see the sun slowly blotted out by a huge wall of orange flames licking at the treetops. They were jumping, and racing, almost gleefully, from tree to tree, sage brush to pinyon pine, to dry brittle scrub oak and alpine grasses. The sky was dark as a large black ominous cloud billowed ever higher.

     “We only have minutes!” Tom yelled as he ran toward the flatbed and gooseneck horse trailer.

     Will looked at Katie quickly and saw the fear and panic in her eyes.

     I’ll have to hold Will or he will be trampled. We both may be anyway,” Will took hold of Katie and yanked her into the barn. 

     They grabbed lead ropes from the stall door and clipped on to the halters of Sage and Little Man. Katie gently held the young foal’s halter and urged him to follow Sage as they hurried toward the barn door and the awaiting horse trailer. Tom waited with the door open.

     “Easy Sage, easy,” Will tried to soothe the older mare.

     She spun in a circle and came dangerously close to pinning the foal against the barn wall. Katie and Little Man scooted quickly around alongside the mare. They followed Will in. 

     Tom closed the door and glanced at the approaching flames, coughing and covering his mouth. Will and Katie reached Sister and Precious. They moved them through the now thick smoke. Will brushed glowing embers off of the horses and they loaded them.

     “Katie, grab Buddy, I’ll get Bo!”

     Bo was in an uproar. He was standing on his hind feet pawing at the stall door. Grabbing the lead rope with his right hand, Will let out two feet of rope with a big knot at the end. He swung it gently at Bo to back him up. The stallion came down on all fours with Will alongside grabbing the leather halter he clipped the lead rope in.

     He busted out of the stall door and almost crashed into Katie and Buddy. They ran toward the trailer and the large orange flames just beyond.

     Tom reached Brook’s stall first and was already slipping Big Will out of his harness. Katie had Brooks clipped in her lead rope and was calming the frantic mother as Will helped Tom. 

     “The only thing I can think of is to bear hug him,” Will said.

     He reached one hand around the foal’s front legs and another around his hindquarters. Lifting the foal up he hugged him tightly to his chest.

     Big Will struggled to get free but couldn’t. He stopped struggling and let out a low growl. Will, with his eyes watering, ran behind Brooks and into the trailer.

     Katie looked at Tom and then to Will. The reality hit. There would be no room in the trailer for Fortune.

     Will set the foal on his wobbly legs and pinned him to his lower body for support. The foal struggled and swayed but with the support of Will was able to stand. He turned to Katie with a pained look.       

     “I’m sorry Kate. There just isn’t room for him, turn him loose, just pull his tack and let him go, at least he’ll have a chance,” Will turned his eyes to the ground avoiding Katie’s questioning stare.

     “I -I can’t Will, it’s a death sentence and I just can’t do it.”

     “Katie, listen to me, you have to, we have to go, we’ve got no choice, let Fortune go and get in the truck with Tom!” Will barked at Katie.

     Katie stepped up in the trailer close to Will; she reached out and touched his arm.

     “I won’t, Will, I’m going to ride Fortune out.”

     “No, No, You won’t be able to ride him, he’ll be wigged out, uncontrollable.” 

     “I’m riding him Will, I love you and I love him, I can’t just turn him loose,” Katie leaned over and kissed Will on his cheek. 

    She turned to leave.

    “Kate- Kate, If you’re going to ride him, put a panic strap on him, take your fingers and lace them into his mane tightly, and give him his head, he won’t listen, let him run at his pace. I love you Kate. Be careful.”

     “I love you Will,” Katie said as she turned towards the frantic horse.

     Tom closed the trailer door and slipped behind the wheel of the truck. The truck and trailer lurched forward and disappeared around the barn.

     Katie moved to Fortune’s side, slid the panic strap around his neck and buckled it. She reached down and tightened his billets. Grabbing the reins, and the panic strap in her left hand she slid her fingers into his mane. Katie swung her leg up and over Fortune’s back and landed into her seat. She slipped her feet into the irons and wheeled around to his left so he couldn’t rear up. Leaning forward across his neck, she whispered into his ear.

     “Run like the wind, Fortune, run!” She gently kicked him up.

     Fortune rounded the barn just in time for Katie to see the flames leap across from the trees onto the roof of the riding arena, the structure immediately burst into a ball of fire. Her gaze went to the lane, bordered by a grey stone wall and ditch all the way to the entry gates. The fire raced along the fence line toward the gate and the truck and trailer. There would be no time for Tom to stop the truck, and wait for the iron gates to swing open. The fire would roll over them before they had a chance to pull through the gates. Her heart raced. To save the horses and the boys she would have to jump three Oxers. She gripped the panic strap and Fortune’s mane tighter. She tapped him lightly with her left heel and the big Hanoverian Quarter Horse Cross turned toward the first jump and tucked his front legs up under him and soared into the air. Katie’s mind reeled; she looked at the flames, the fence, and the horse trailer with her babies and husband in it, and set herself for the jump. Fortune came down his front feet striking the earth hard at a full canter. She lurched forward her left foot slipping out of the iron. Teetering sideways, she barely regained her balance. Katie clung tightly to Fortune’s mane. The cross fence was approaching, and if she did not regain her iron she would be pitched from the horse’s back as he jumped. She used her left foot to kick the iron forward, it swung out, and she slipped her foot alongside Fortune pointing her toe downward. The iron gently bumped her toe as it slipped over it. She regained her seat just in time as Fortune leaped into the air clearing the second Oxer. He hit the ground hard, and Katie lurched forward kept her balance.  

     A large wooden loafing shed erupted into a glowing ball of fire off to Katie’s right. Fortune swerved wildly to the left, almost spilling her to the ground. She adjusted her balance, leaned forward against his sweaty neck and steadied him for the last jump.  She prayed she could pull him up in time to hit the button and open the gate.  She glanced back to the left to see the truck and trailer rounding the final arc of the curve and entering the long straightaway to the gates.

     “This is it; you’ve got to clear the fence and the ditch.”

     Fortune bounded into the air. Katie held tightly onto his mane. Driving her heels down hard in the irons, she set herself firmly into her seat as Fortune landed. He cleared the ditch cleanly but was at a full canter and approaching the gate control rapidly. Katie struggled for control of the reins. The fire roared across the dry grasses toward them. She could see the flatbed and the trailer with its precious cargo speeding down the lane. Katie relied on Fortune’s age and great instincts. He was a good horse and listened intently to his rider’s cues. She pressed down hard in her seat and set her heels down against the irons.

     “Whoa Fortune! Whoa!” Katie said confidently.

     Fortune pulled up immediately at her command. He danced and spun in a circle shying away from the approaching flames. Katie looked closely at the gate control and estimated the distance to it. Fortune was a trained dressage horse. He understood and listened for his cues and commands. She tapped his right flank lightly and cued him to side pass. Just as if he had been in an arena in full dressage regalia he lifted his big head high and stepped sideways right to the gate control. Katie reached down, striking the button. The large iron gates swung open slowly. She held Fortune in place and the truck and trailer sped by with a honk of the horn and a large hoot and hat wave out the window from Tom.

     Katie could hear sirens coming up the gravel road. She looked off in the distance and saw the Glenwood Fire Company arriving. She reached for her panic strap and tuft of Fortune’s mane. She tapped his flanks and urged him on. He responded swiftly and cantered down the lane.

     Katie looked over her shoulder as she made a sharp right turn and started down the mountainside. The winds were whipping up the hillside and pushing the threatening flames up the hill and away from them. She moved Fortune to the side of the road and pulled him up.

     “Your husband and horses are headed down the hill. It’s safe there. We’ve got the fire contained and have set up a rescue station at the corner ranch,” the young fireman said.

     “Thanks, I need to cool him down and give him water. Thanks so much,” Katie replied.

     She turned to Fortune, patted his sweaty neck, and gave him a big hug.

     “You saved us, all of us Fortune, You’re the best horse ever,” Katie said.

     They walked down the road toward the awaiting rescue station.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

If I Had My Life To Live Over

"If I had my life to live over I'd like to make more mistakes next time. I'd relax. I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I would take fewer things seriously. I would take more chances. I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers. I would eat more ice cream and less beans. I would perhaps have more actual trouble, but I'd have fewer imaginary ones. You see, I'm one of those people who live sensibly and sanely hour after hour, day after day. Oh, I've had my moments, and if I had to do it over again, I'd have more of them. In fact, I'd try to have nothing else. Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day."

Jean de La Bruyere (1645 - 1696)