Last week I stopped at a campground for the night; rode in looking for the campsite with the best grazing opportunities for the ponies. This turned out to be right behind the restroom. It wasn’t until I’d unpacked and tethered the herd that I realized that I was in the Handicapped spot. Oops. I pitched my tent back away from the cement slab and picnic table and figured that if a handicapped person showed up needing the spot we’d work something out. A man came strolling by and stopped to chat. I said that I wasn’t even sure I was supposed to be there with the ponies and he said not to worry, that there wasn’t anybody official around. There used to be a camp host, but since camping was already free he wasn’t sure what they’d lured him with.
He told a story about a man coming in to camp and the camp host directing him to the handicapped spot because he was missing an arm. The man drove around, found a beautiful spot and set up camp. The host showed up, quite upset, and tried to send him back to the handicapped spot. The man replied, “I’m not handicapped, I’m just missing part of my arm!” I remarked that perhaps the host had been pushed around all his life and the chance to be in charge was the lure? The other camper laughed, “Yeah, give him a badge and he’ll work for free!”
A few days later I stopped to chat with a 10 year old girl who was fishing with her dad at a small pond. She said she loves horses more than anything in the world and every year she asks Santa but all she ever gets is stuffed animals. I said that I hadn’t gotten my first horse that was my own until I was 11, and that horses are a lot of work, but if she was creative and willing to work hard I was sure she’d have her own horse eventually. She looked down, scuffing her shoe on the ground, dejected. “No, I’ll never have a horse, they’re too expensive and I’ll never be able to afford it.” I rode off feeling sad, thinking that I’d just met a child who was truly disabled, not physically or intellectually, but in terms of her belief in herself and her own abilities and potential to achieve what she wanted for her life.
When I was 24 I got hit on the head by a tree. Among other things, I lost much of my ability to recognize faces. Most of the time I don’t think of this as a disability, but it’s definitely a uniqueness of my brain that I’ve had to learn to work around. Last week I met the mayor of Flora and we chatted a bit. Long Rider Lucy Leaf stayed with his family for three days on her ride back in 1976 (when he was 14!) When he returned later in a different vehicle, wearing different clothes and a cowboy hat and bringing a bale of hay I honestly didn’t recognize him until he made mention of giving me his business card. That’s par for the course for my brain. Since the concussion in early January I’ve had a really difficult time with remembering names and recent events as well. Before the accident I could list where I’d stayed, name the people I’d met and recall an anecdote from each stop. Now I’m having a hard time remembering the name of the person I’m speaking with, much less three stops back. This does sometimes feel like a disability and I worry about inadvertantly being rude. As Shakespeare reminds us, “In Nature there’s no blemish but the mind. None can be called deformed but the unkind.”
The thoughtful kindness I have encountered in Mississippi has been amazing. They call it “Southern Hospitality” and starting with the Natchez Sheriff’s Department bringing us across the big bridge from Louisiana it has been a blessing and a wonder to me all through the state. The most common greeting is no longer “are you lost?” but “when’s the last time you ate?” Mississippi is a venison state but not venison like I’ve ever enjoyed it before. Think venison kielbasa with green onion and cheese, bacon garlic venison burgers, venison summer sausage, etc. I had my first frog leg last night (I prefer the venison ;-)) and have heard rumors of wild turkey being a delicious treat as well. Friday night I was invited to a jam session potluck in Sabougla that happens about twice a week and draws between 20 and 400 people depending on the weekend. That morning as I rode a woman who’d seen me on the TV came out with bran muffins. Later in the day it was home made candy! I felt so welcomed and it was great to be around good live music that night! Someone even offered me a massage which I accepted very gratefully. The next day I had riding companions on the back roads up to Calhoun City and the miles went by like nothing.
However, lest you think all of life has been rosy, I do want to tell you about the donkeys. I was riding along and saw a big pasture with a good fence and a pond. I followed the directions on the sign on the gate, explained that I didn’t want to fish but I’d love to be allowed to pitch my tent. No problem, no charge, they’d even bring drinking water over for me. Brilliant. I found a nice camp spot, untacked the ponies and turned them loose, enjoying watching them graze by the pond while I set up camp. When the owners came with water they asked if either of my horses was a mare. Turns out that there were two donkey stallions loose in the pasture, currently down at the far end, oops! Just about the time the donkeys realized that they had company I managed to catch Finehorn. Jesse James ran interference (really well, I was very impressed!) and we put the ponies into a side pasture, tying the gate shut securely. Apart from the brays of a love lorn donkey I enjoyed a fairly peaceful night.
The next morning I made an error in judgement. Finehorn wasn’t in heat and I wasn’t feeling well and I just didn’t feel like I had the energy to drag all the gear up to the ponies. I broke camp, packed up, got everything ready and brought the ponies to the gear. All was going well, Mr. James was tacked up and keeping the donkeys at bay and I had Finehorn all packed up, wizard’s cloak in place and was starting to rig the diamond hitch. I was reaching under her for the girth when suddenly a donkey got around Jesse, made a mad dash and was mounting Finehorn from behind. Finehorn objected. Strenuously. She got away from me and the rodeo commenced. Bucking and squealing and packs flying and saddle twisting and me running after them, across the fields, past the barking snarling dogs, trying to rescue my pack pony before she became the mother of a mule. There were a bunch of guys sitting behind the store, drinking beer and smoking and watching this whole thing unfold like it was all some Reality TV show staged for their morning entertainment. I shouted for help, thinking one of them might at least think to go inside and let the owner know that I was having difficulties with his donkeys. No such luck (speaking of disabled?)
It took me an hour to catch Finehorn. I got her and Jesse James on the far side of a fence from the donkeys and started gathering gear as I led them back to camp. The donkeys broke through the gate and were on us again. I got them up the hill and into the pasture from the night before and tied the gate shut before going back to retrieve the packs. Straps were broken, a few ropes I never did find, I was beyond exhausted and there was No Way I was going to stay another night. It was 1pm before I rode out of that lovely pasture, exiting through a gate that was about grown over with lack of use. A couple of men in a truck were in the pasture with the donkeys, gathering firewood. As I rode past the main gate I suddenly realized that they’d left the main gate open – and here comes the donkey! I yelled at them that the donkey was getting out and they said they’d deal with it later and I just lost it. I started screaming that I needed some help NOW! That I’d been fighting off that critter for the entire morning and I sure didn’t need it following me to Maine! One of them finally came over and shut the gate after Jesse and I managed to herd the donkey back into the enclosure. People ask me why I don’t carry a gun. If I’d had one that day I sure enough would have disabled that donkey!
That night I was grateful for the haven of Gowan’s sale barn. The ponies were safe in a secure fenced area away from the two resident donkey stallions there, and the paint stallion was in his own paddock. We took a rest day and I used the office as an office (as well as a place to sleep!)