I awoke this morning to the sounds of horses – a mare and a foal looking for one another and then reuniting. I looked out across treetops to the ocean, reveling in the beauty – and realized that I’d made a mistake. The mistake had nothing to do with the horses. I am in a place where horses roam free and none of them are my responsibility. The mistake had nothing to do with the view or where I find myself. I am on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, caretaking a beautiful property for my friend Frank who lives in NYC. Vieques is the island that Gryph and I left six and a half years ago in search of grand adventures. Suddenly, and rather unexpectedly, it was time to return for awhile. It feels good to be back. And the mistake? The mistake I made had to do with communication – or the lack thereof.
A couple of days ago I sent out an e-mail to about 500 people announcing that I was changing my e-mail address, had recently moved to the island of Vieques – and inviting people to drop me a line if they wanted to know more. The Mistake lay in not realizing that not everyone who got that e-mail is following this blog; that I haven’t written a blog post in over three months; that I didn’t include a link to the blog in the e-mail – and that people really were going to drop me a line wanting to know more. Lots of people. Whoops!
The mistake lay in not updating the blog before I sent out the change-of-address e-mail. The good thing about this experience is that many of those e-mails were asking the same questions – so at least I know what I should be writing about in this long-overdue blog post. There is suddenly a lot of inspiration to be writing a blog post rather than trying to answer each and every one of those individual e-mails with all the same answers over and over again. This way when I do answer the e-mails I can suggest that the answers can be found (with pictures!) over here on the blog – hurrah!
So – the first question on everybody’s mind is: where are the ponies? The herd is currently back in Big Creek with Gryph after a summer’s adventure which took them through Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee. It turned out that the ponies did not like being retired, put out to pasture – or taking a simple walk around the block. Unfortunately, after several months on the road with Gryph, it became clear that mr.James is no longer capable of walking 15 miles a day, day after day after day. This is heartbreaking for everybody, most especially Jesse James, but age does take its toll on us all and he and Saint Finehorn are around 16 years old. Time to figure out something else to keep them interested and occupied. Gryph is currently working on getting an old truck up and running, is looking for a solid stock trailer that she can afford (ideally with room for 3 horses) and has her sights set on busking with the ponies in and around New Orleans this winter. For pictures from this summer’s adventure and to keep tabs on the ponies head over to her blog at: FinehornsFancy.wordpress.com
The next question revolves around The Book and the writing thereof. Yes, I am still working on a book about the ride. I have written 14 chapters that I am very pleased with, two chapters I’m slightly less enthusiastic about – and am feeling a strong and practical need to replenish my reserves – both in terms of inspiration and in terms of finances. I’ve been living on a fraying shoestring for far too long and feeling so trapped by it. A small group of incredibly generous people have helped keep me from starving – but it’s past time that I’m back to being financially self sustaining and that just didn’t seem possible for me in Big Creek. In terms of book progress, my guess is that I’m a quarter of the way through my first draft – which is simultaneously HUGE – and not even out of California.
Meanwhile, since my muse seems to be AWOL, I’m on a steep learning curve as I rework some of my short stories and figure out the formatting and submission processes to send them off to magazines in hopes of getting published. I’ve got three stories out for consideration now, three more ready to go as soon as I decide where to send them and another three undergoing some revisions and editing before I feel like they’re ready to face the world. I am a bit behind the times when it comes to technology – it took me two days to figure out how to make proper headers and add page numbers (for instance) but I’m getting there. I’ll keep you posted as things progress on that front.
The third category of questions revolves around how I wound up in Puerto Rico, where am I staying, for how long – and what about the place in Mississippi? So – starting with Mississippi: Saint George is still in residence at the Old Dickens Place (as we’ve come to refer to the Big Creek property) taking care of the creatures there. He’s been helping Gryph out with her truck, gathering firewood for the coming winter and generally holding down the fort. Blessings on Saint George. That One, my apricot cat, was found mysteriously dead in the back yard one Friday evening; no clue to what happened, not a mark on her. The chicken population has been seriously decimated by a possum (which Saint George eventually shot) and by Gryph (out of the 18 French Marans that hatched, 13 of them turned out to be roosters, 12 of which have been turned into food.) The 5 Marans hens are doing well and Not-Bowie and Bobette are still alive and pecking. Chat Parfait (the Perfect Cat) still rules the place and Annie P and Spuds MaGee (aka Brownie) stop by occasionally for pats and grub but seem to consider all of Big Creek their territory, chewing through any and all attempts to keep them home.
Last summer while I was living in the cabin in the woods, writing and thinking and enjoying the creek and the pines, I came to the painful (and awkward) realization that I really didn’t have any desire to return to Big Creek. When I came off the ride I was desperate for a place to go to ground – a place to rest, a home. The ponies and I were all deeply exhausted: body, mind and soul. I couldn’t think much past: Full Stop. All I wanted to do was hide and not have to talk to anybody ever again. I was tired of living in public. I had accomplished my goal, lived my life’s dream, I had crossed a continent on horseback – and I had nothing left. No money, no energy, no idea what else I might want to do when I grew up.
Naively, I had thought that completing the ride would have gotten the wanderlust out of my system and now I would be ready to settle down. Hah. Realistically, I just needed to rest and recharge a bit. Big Creek was a perfect place to do that. But my essential nature hasn’t changed. At heart I am an adventurer, an explorer, an entrepreneur. I thrive on challenge, on change, on coming up with a crazy idea and figuring out a way to make it happen. I couldn’t figure out a way to make anything happen in Big Creek beyond the basics of survival. I wasn’t from there, I didn’t know the rules. I started to lose confidence in myself, my abilities, my worth. I didn’t want to go back to feeling trapped, dependent, limited by my environment. But that was home now, right?
Now I’m going to take you back in time to November, 2012, when I got an e-mail from a Canadian woman who was interested in caretaking my Casita (small house) on Vieques. Her name is Angi, and while she has yet to make it down to Vieques, we started e-mailing back and forth (as I rode from Texas on to Maine) and quickly recognized one another as kindred souls. One thing led to another until one chilly day in February, not many months after I’d arrived in Big Creek, a little grey VW beetle pulled into my world of mud. Brave woman, driving all the way down from Canada to visit somebody she’d never even spoken with on the ‘phone! I was inwardly delighted that she’d come for a visit, but was still so shell-shocked that all I could do was open the door and stand there staring at her like a stunned mullet until she reached out and pulled me into a huge warm hug. She stayed for a week or so, was stalked right into the house by a crazy redneck, attended the death of Mama Pearl the goat, made friends with the dogs and Chat Parfait, got bruises on her legs from Billy Taz, organized the kitchen, ate my first venison pie and still wanted to be my friend by the time she left, braving a rather major blizzard on her way home.
It turns out that Fergus, Ontario isn’t really so far away from the cabin in the woods where I spent the summer. Angi is working full time (and then some!) saving up money for a trip to Africa this winter. She often works 11 hour days and is lucky to have two days off in a month. She invited me up for a visit, said it’s my turn to come see her. I’ve never been to Canada. I tried once but I was traveling with a cat, a dog, a horse and a hippie and they wouldn’t let me across the border. This time Angi sent me a train ticket and suddenly I’m in a whole new country for the month of September. It looks a lot like upstate New York.
Sometimes our friends know what we need better than we do ourselves. Around the same time as Angi’s invitation for a visit, two other friends were conspiring to get me back down to Vieques. Almost before I knew what was happening, certainly before I’d consciously agreed to the plan, I had a one way plane ticket and a place to stay. Have you heard that saying: “unexpected travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God”? So here I am: http://www.vrbo.com/648651 – or at least this is where I am until Frank’s house sells – and when it’s not rented out to tourists. My job is to keep it “realtor ready” (living invisibly!) and to make sure it’s nice when guests arrive and to clean up after they leave. In return I get to stay here when it’s empty. And when it is rented out there are plenty of trees on the island a suitable distance apart for hanging my hammock!
I’m planning to earn my living this winter as a massage therapist which is one of the things I’ve done well with here in the past. In the next few weeks the tourists will start arriving and hopefully things will start to fall into place. Meanwhile I watch the huge iguanas grazing in the tree tops down the hill in the afternoons – there are often half a dozen or more, many over 4′ long. Sometimes I spy on them through the telescope. I skim and scrub the pool, try to keep the weeds from taking over the flower bed, sweep the patio and the tile floors and listen to the tree frogs in the evening. Life could be a whole lot worse!