Several times when I’ve gone in to schools to speak with the kids I’ve been asked “What’s the best gift anyone has given you on this Journey?” A few reporters have asked the same question. It’s a hard one to answer and instead I’ll generally tell the story Jesus told about the widow who gave her last tuppence and how that gift had more value than large amounts given by the very wealthy. Still not a very satisfying answer to the question – and the truth is that the answer at the top of my mind changes with my mood and situation. I have received an abundance of gifts and kindnesses in the course of this Journey and my mind doesn’t naturally think in terms of superlatives: best, worst, funniest, hardest – yuck!
The 25th of March, 2012 wasn’t my best day. It started out well enough, waking to a beautiful sunrise on a secret little lake just South of Phoenix, the ponies munching contentedly and an egret fishing on the shore. I looked at my map and decided to follow the broad sandy bed of the Gila River, thinking it would be a much nicer ride than the alternative pavement and traffic. The first hour was beautiful and peaceful with good footing for the ponies on packed sand within sight of the river. When the salt cedar got too thick I followed the ATV trail that matched the one on my map. Things started to get a little surreal: half bicycles and dismembered baby dolls sticking up from the sand, the aftermath of floods lending a postapocalyptic feel to the terrain. I was utterly alone, the only sounds of Civilization an occasional plane overhead and I called a friend on my cell ‘phone to try and dispell the spookiness. It was getting hot. Many hours later the ATV track deadended at a large cedar tree with a bunch of spent shotgun shells on the ground. I looked at my map. To the North I could see a housing development but couldn’t figure out how to get there from where I had landed. It was a long disorienting way back, getting lost again even while trying to track myself in reverse!
So much for urban Wilderness. It was late afternoon and I returned to the pavement, more concerned with finding water and a place to stop for the night. I stopped at an abandoned cow lot with lots of dried manure and big fans turning idly in the breeze but nobody answered when I knocked on the door of the house. I continued on, following what looked to be the most direct route to a recreation area back along the Gila River. I was riding on the sidewalk through a ritzy housing development where every house shared walls with its neighbors and the “yards” contained nothing but varying arrangements of rock, gravel, cement and cactus. I didn’t think people would appreciate it if the ponies and I drank from their fountains. It was rush hour for commuters coming home and people were sticking their smart ‘phones out of their windows and snapping photos as they drove by. Nobody talked to me, nobody waved. I felt like an exhibit on a not-so-fun-ride at Disney. Not only was this not a pony friendly area, it didn’t even feel human friendly.
I finally made it through the worst of the congestion, past a strip mall and on to where I could see some open country up ahead. No water, but at least an end to the traffic and clutter of buildings. I stopped to ask directions and learned that the road that had looked like a short cut on my map didn’t exist. A man stopped and asked if he could take some photos and I said yes. The sun went over the horizon. I was tired and thirsty and worried about my ponies, wondering where in this crazy terrain I could find them a bit of comfort for the night after a 20 mile day. A couple on bicycles stopped to see if they could help. I was explaining my situation and the man with the camera was being really intrusive, using a big flash and going for strange angles. I felt like he was trying to take photos of the inside of my nose and I finally asked him to stop. He didn’t, replying that I’d said it was ok. I said that I’d had enough and he needed to stop – Now. He refused. The couple on the bicycles watched as things escalated and I eventually (after warning him first) charged him with the ponies and threatened to break his expensive camera. He wouldn’t back off until I finally was reduced to yelling that I bet he was the kind of man who, if a woman agreed to shake his hand, would figure that was licence to date rape her. At that point he finally left. I was shaking, embarrassed, angry and exhausted – and I still needed to find a place for the ponies to rest for the night. Not my finest hour.
Blessings on the bicycle couple. They were still there after all that! They took matters in hand, made a few ‘phone calls, got permission for me to bring the ponies back to the empty cow lot, found a bale of hay and were reassuringly calm and polite. Surprisingly, after seeing me acting like a total psycho, they invited me back to their house for dinner and a shower and a bed for the night. They even introduced me to their children! 😉
Fast forward to February, 2013. I’d made the difficult decision to leave Luna Jack behind, I was still feeling the effects of my tumble back in January, thunder and lightning and tornado watches were the new challenge (not to mention finding suitable bridges over ubiquitous water) and I received an e-mail from the woman who’d rescued me that night almost a year earlier. She wrote of the positive impact I’d had on their family and introduced me to a Finnish word: Sisu, which she said I embodied, encouraging me to google it if I’d never heard of it before. (I hadn’t, so I did!)
According to Wikipedia: Sisu is a Finnish term loosely translated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity. However, the word is widely considered to lack a proper translation into any other language. Sisu has been described as being integral to understanding Finnish Culture. However sisu is defined by a long-term element in it; it is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain an action against the odds. Deciding on a course of action and then sticking to that decision against repeated failures is sisu. It is similar to equanimity, except the forbearance of sisu has a grimmer quality of stress management than the latter. (there’s more – but you can look it up yourself if you’re interested)
I am writing today from Lawrenceburg Tennessee. In the wonderful serendipitous way of this Journey I am staying with the woman who was my very first riding instructor – I hadn’t seen nor heard of her in 35 years! Jesse James had a severe allergic reaction to the iodine shampoo I was using to treat his rain rot and it’s looking like it’s going to be awhile before he’s ready to carry me on his back. It’s been a difficult two weeks since I last posted a blog entry. I’ve been worried about Jesse James and how to figure out and do what’s best for him, freaking out about my ability to make it to Minot by 8.November, stressing about finances, options, logistics, weather, time slipping away and the blog post that I wasn’t writing because I couldn’t figure out what to say. I was afraid to open myself up to criticism by being honest about my current situation. Then I remembered Sisu and the family in Arizona who believes in me, which reminded me of all the other people I’ve met on this Journey who have been so encouraging and kind. It helped me to remember who I am and did a lot to drown out the few harsh and negative voices I’ve encountered.
So – since quitting is not an option – what are the options? It’s been suggested by several people that I find another horse to continue on with, leaving Jesse James at Meriwood Farms with LSK while he rests and recovers. That doesn’t feel right to me, partly because of the difficulties of finding another suitable horse, partly because of herd dynamics – but mostly because I am committed to Jesse and Finehorn as “the herd” – they’ve come this far with me, the two of them are tightly bonded and I hate the thought of leaving either of them behind. Another idea has been to postpone the finale for a year, finding a place to stop and rest and recover before heading north to Maine next spring (arrive 8.Nov. 2014) – which would bring us into Minot 60 years to the day from when Mesannie Wilkins left. While this option isn’t 100% off the table, I’m afraid that I’d lose a lot of momentum, not only in terms of the Journey, but in terms of the blog and fb – and I worry about what that would do to the book I’m planning to write when the riding part of things is complete. (Never mind the logistics of finding a place to go, figuring out how to get there and setting up a viable life for 9 months!)
Which brings us to option #3: Walking. I’ve walked before. My heart is not singing with joy at the prospect (and my feet are absolutely cringing) – it’s summer and it’s hot here and muggy and walking along the side of a road leading two horses isn’t the most fun I can imagine, but I can do it. I’ve hiked 750 miles of the Appalachian Trail (admittedly 12 years ago) and this is a lot less mountainous and strenuous than that. I’m still toying with the idea of leaving Jesse here to recover a bit more, heading out with Finehorn and having Jesse delivered by trailer in a couple of weeks or a month. The downside of that is the stress of separation for the ponies; no way to explain to them that this is temporary. I can keep doctoring Jesse while we’re travelling and he’ll heal just as quickly walking down the road as standing in a pasture – unfortunately I am honestly worried about a certain stripe of well meaning animal rights activist seeing his back and deciding that he’d be better off without me. That sort of conversation can be time consuming at best and logic generally doesn’t enter into it.
The past two weeks haven’t been entirely bad. I’ve gotten to see jousting for the first time, had an introduction to falconry and learned to milk a goat. I’ve reconnected with my first riding instructor and had a chance to get some badly needed rest. The ponies and I have come over 3500 miles together, we’ve got around 1400 miles to go. Even if we only cover 60 miles a week we’re still on track to reach Minot, Maine by 8.November. Sisu.
Hey grrrl – I guess if there had to be a heal-up layover you at least landed in the best possible place for it! Glad to hear Mr James is improving. 60 miles a week could be a nice relaxed pace, whatever the makeup of the herd & riding or on foot… I know you’ll choose the best option for the ponies and yourself. Finehorn pulling cart, Mr James tied behind? hmmm
Thank you all so very much for your comments and encouragement and suggestions and support and prayers – and most of all for simply being there with and for me through the ups and downs of this Journey I’ve undertaken. Chuck, I am curious as to your objection to the word “Saga”? By my understanding it’s a long Norse (Finehorn from Norway apropos there?) prose narrative relating the events and achievements in the life of a person or family or other group (herd?). Perhaps I’m not quite there yet in terms of looooong? (or historical?) I’m a bit of a word nut and this has piqued my curiosity.
i don’t like the word saga.not for this adventure.i have had the opportunity to meet this woman we know as sea.that is such a word.it truly describes u to the t.the sea is an open free inviting adventure just like u.No restrictions allowed.u r an open book of nothing but adventure.it has really been a honor to meet u.but most of all for my daughter to meet and work with u. the instructor u speak of also has been teaching amber sense she was appr.7 years old.ANM LOVES HER MORE EVERY TIME SHE IS ABLE TO SPEND ANOTHER DAY WITH HER.u also will forever have a place in her life as well.i really hope to get to she u again before u continue ur journey.we will b in touch often.chuck.a new friend for ever.play safe please.but most of all enjoy ur self.
i need to do more research on alot of the words i use.i just completely misunderstood the meaning of saga,sorry for the confusion.sencerly chuck.
Wow! Such a saga, written from your heart and punctuated with tears and sweat, smiles and laughter! May you continue your journey with an angel on your shoulder and the sun at your back! Let us all know how your funds are holding up!
Sea, you have some wonderful ideas of resolution and I know you will pick the right one. I just finished reading “The Last of the Saddle Tramps” and she didn’t have a set time to arrive, she handled what ever was in her path, and for her to set out in the winter time was a feat in itself! She was given an extra horse in Tennessee too!
I’m now reading the book about the young Abernathy boys in Oklahoma that took off and rode to Santa Fe New Mexico, which was a preparation to ride to New York! They were small children.
Read the blog of Wagonteamster.com, he had a semi rear end his wagon in Mississippi, killed 2 of his horses, put him in the hospital. But, he recovered, got another wagon and headed out again and is now living in Oregon. He came from a state on the east coast and decided to just quit his job and head out.
This is your journey and you will come through and you will do what is best for you and your horsey friends.
When you get done and you settle down and get that book written, you need to invite all of your readers to join you for the celebration – a place where we can haul our own horses and camp out and celebrate with you!
I have no doubt that you and LSK at Meriwood Farms will have Jesse James in shape to travel when it is meant for you to leave Lawrenceburg. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, God knew I needed to meet someone like you rite now. I will be praying for you and following you anyway possible, I can only imagine the good and the tough days that this Journey must bring. Just remember God is always walking beside you and even carrying you at times. It was definetly a priviledge to get to meet you. I have no doubt I will meet you again one day. Hopefully I will get to come back to Mrs L’s farm before you leave..You gave me strength..Looking forward to the book you plan to write…
Oh Sea! How refreshingly honest you are!! Bravo to you, brave woman!! Your dilemna s are foreign for me to analyze but I understand them. And I am committing to pray for WISDOM from our God to give to you the knowledge and judgement you need just now.
Your chapter corresponding to these weeks will be the heart of your book?????
I am so glad you are in our acquaintance!
And we count it a priviledge to call you our
Friend from your early days of adventures.
Sending love in form of prayer!!
Thank you for this post. You touched my life briefly in Thomastown, Mississippi. I’m praying for you and the horses and can’t wait for the book. Keep safe. Teresa Bryant
You don’t really have to decide right away which plan you are going to use to get to Maine, do you? You will figure it out, I am sure. This challenge with “The Mr. James Adventure” will add to the excitement of your story, your book’s material and your journey.
Enjoy your wonderful posts. So many people are concerned about you, Jesse James, and Miss Finehorn. Praying daily for you all.
What a wonderful post. Sisu certainly fits. Been thinking of you, Jesse James and Finehorn. Sorry Jesse has been having setbacks in recovering from the rain rot.
I trust your judgement in decision-making for the herd. I like the idea of continuing on foot until Jesse is healed. You 3 share a profoundly deep bond and though I think that Jesse and Finehorn can adjust to changes, I feel that walking together, at an easy pace might be a great solution. Can Jesse wear a fly sheet both to protect from flies and alleviate the encounters with well meaning activists?
All the best,
Also, horses can recover from allergic reactions remarkably fast. Are you giving oral antihistamines?
I loved this posting, love the photos of the jousting and the others that show and share just a bit of your journey. Your ‘words’ are incredible. Thank you for including your trials as well as triumphs.
May I just say something about your herd? A true herd of horses is a fluid, constantly changing entity. Somebody is always moving up with greater power amd ability to lead and somebody else is always moving down, aging out, less powerful, less capable. I think your wonderful horses are more able to change and go with the flow than you know. JJames would appreciate an extended rest and Miss Finehorn would have the new guy whipped into shape in a day or so. Granted, finding another Roadworthy Horse won’t be easy. As you can tell, parking Jesse James (possibly trailering him join you later) and continuing on is my vote, if I got a vote.
I hope your decision becomes clear and easy, soon. May you progress in safety and good health and I can’t believe aim saying this, under radar of animal rights activists.