Just when I get a nice tidy blog post about appearances and perceptions coming together in my brain I wind up with a surprise 4 stitches in my eyebrow and the whole thing gets scrambled up again. Any last vestiges of getting by on my good looks got shot right out of the water last night when I tripped on a piece of farm equipment in the dark. I don’t recall ever having a black eye before and frankly, I look a bit scary right at the moment.
A week ago Sunday the ponies and I set out to discover what we could of the state of Ohio. We had an offer of a place to stop early in the day, but since we’d only come 4 miles I said thank you for the brownies and ice water and decided to ride on. After 10 miles the ponies were letting me know that it was time to start looking for a place to stop and so I did. I tend to look for people who are already outside and the first person I approached crossed his arms and looked suspicious as I rode across his lawn. His neighbor (who has horses) came over to see what was going on and 5 minutes later their voices sounded friendlier but it was obvious that I was not welcome. In my head were the warnings of people I’d met in the South about how Northerners aren’t friendly, the people in Ohio are rude, it’s going to get harder from here on out and so on. The next people I saw were a bunch of guys with guns piling out of a pick-up truck at a place that looked pretty much abandoned. They told me where to find the owner (they just had permission to hunt there) and I rode on, found the trailer, knocked on the door; nobody home but barking dogs. Next place I stopped I could hear the TV and knocked on the door which had a large “God Bless This House” decal. I heard dogs and voices but nobody answered. I knocked again. A teenage boy came out, looking scared, shut the door firmly behind him and said in a brave quavering voice “Can I help you with something?” I asked about camping on the lawn for the night and he went in to ask his mom, came back out (door firmly closed behind him) “I’m very sorry but my mom said no.” I thanked him and rode on. Saw people up a side road, headed that way, they disappeared. Finally I saw a man working on something in his garage. I rode up and asked if we could camp. “Won’t bother me any.” So I thanked him and asked about water for the ponies. He went in to ask his wife who returned with a big Tupperware tub. Joy!
Later it came out that there had been a psycho in town recently so people were a bit nervous about strangers – but the man’s wife laughed and pointed out that with his size and tattoos people were generally afraid of her husband – and there was no way he was going to be afraid of me! It turned out to be a great night camping on the lawn and when the father of the teenager got home he apologized and said that he would have been happy to have me stay. His twin daughters had only seen a horse once before and with very little encouragement they spent most of the evening loving on the ponies.
Fast forward a few days of beautiful riding, a night in the back of the Methodist thrift store in Fulton (with great graze out back!), a night in the garage of a family in Chesterville and I was riding into Ankneytown. The ponies were ready to be done for the day and we were being very politely moved on. A woman on a riding mower stopped to talk. Her lawn was many, many acres, perfectly manicured – and waterlogged. There’s a certain breed of mature, land owning New Englander, often a bit crusty, who do all their own yard work as a matter of principle (tho they could obviously afford to hire somebody) and I mentally put her in that category. We agreed that her yard was no place for ponies and she said that I’d probably have to go another 2-3 miles to find a suitable place. I thanked her and rode on. The next woman said the same thing. Then I saw Leedy Park, which had everything I needed, and asked the next person I saw if I could possibly camp there. He didn’t think it would be a problem so I went back and set up camp.
People are complicated! The next morning an old pick-up truck pulled in and the woman I’d met on the lawnmower got out and walked over with an adolescent (rescued) raccoon crawling all over her. She apologized for not thinking fast enough the day before and invited me to her house for coffee, a shower and laundry. Turns out she’s a retired HS Physics and Chemistry teacher who is now teaching part time at the outdoor school. Her dream was always to hunt and trap and she found somebody willing to teach her and showed me a few of her hides and a photo of last year’s catch hung up on the front of the barn – 160 hides and she ran out of room on the barn! She went to the fur sale and not only was she the only woman there, she had the most hides and they went for the highest prices. The men there didn’t believe that she’d gotten them all herself – but she had. Appearances can be deceiving! She was living her dream and was excited to be part of helping me to live mine.
So – after two days rest at Leedy Park – I rode out Saturday in the pouring rain. A very clean cut man drove up in his pick-up truck and asked if I wanted a place to get out of the rain. I was getting directions when it became clear that our communications were crossed. The rain was forecast to last all day and he wasn’t offering a place to stop for the night. He pointed out that he didn’t know me and that he had a responsibility to protect his family. I said that I understood perfectly and that I had no way to remedy that situation but I did have a blog if he wanted to see photos and read about the Journey thus far. He said that they were a Christian family and thus didn’t want to bring a computer into their home. He had plenty of questions but sitting on my pony in the rain chatting wasn’t my idea of a good time and so I politely made my escape. Twenty minutes later he returned with his daughter in the truck and her dress marked them as Mennonites; he offered a home cooked meal and a shower, but still wasn’t comfortable with me spending the night on his property. I pointed out that since it was going to rain for the rest of the day I needed to find a place for the ponies and I to stop for the night and it wasn’t fair to Finehorn to ask her to stand packed in the rain while I ate and showered. It takes most of an hour to unpack and pack her and I just didn’t see the point. Again, I had to make my excuses and extract myself. I felt bad for the man on one level because he was obviously wrestling with himself regarding right action in this situation, helping a stranger versus protecting his family. It was tempting to start quoting Bible verses but again, what would be the point? By that time I’d decided this wasn’t somebody I wanted to stay with anyway.
I was riding along, thinking about fear and admittedly feeling a little judgemental (and grumpy). I’d come into an area where most of the farms I was passing were Amish. I suddenly realized that I was afraid to go up to an Amish house and knock on the door and ask for a place to stop for the night. What we don’t understand, we fear. I’d heard many stories and supposition, over three states, about the Amish people from the English (which is what the Amish call the rest of us ;-)). The few experiences I’d had with the Amish in TN and KY had been very positive. I’d had great help with Jesse’s back and Finehorn’s feet and they’d been very understanding about Jesse’s fear of their buggies. Several Amish had stopped to ask where I was going and what the Journey was about (just like everybody else) and still, I was viewing them as “other” and suffering from fear of the unknown. That isn’t who I want to be. So, as I was thinking these thoughts I saw three young Amish men outside of a nice house on a hill to my right. I rode up the driveway and spoke with them, asking if they knew of anyone with a spare pasture for the ponies where perhaps I could take shelter in the barn to get out of the rain. They asked a few questions and said that the next 3 miles were mostly Amish farms and nothing came to mind. I rode back out the driveway, psyching myself up for another three miles of soggy riding but hadn’t gone a quarter mile when a tractor rolled up behind me. The Amish man driving it said that they had box stalls to spare in their barn if that would work. I thanked him and asked if it would be all right if i camped in their barn. He looked at me like I was crazy and said “if that’s what you really want to do?”
I untacked the ponies and put a nervous Finehorn into a big box stall. She wanted OUT! I put mr.James in with her which helped a little bit, tho he would obviously have preferred a room to himself. I was invited into the house and with incredibly gracious hospitality offered a hot shower! There is a saying, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” but of course one must first determine what it is that the Romans are doing! I think this had been a lot of my fear – not knowing how to behave and committing some awful and embarrassing social blunder. I face this quagmire most nights that I’m invited in, and have realized that it’s always easier to stay in my comfort zone and try to pick houses where I think I already have a clue as to the “culture” and what’s expected of me. In California it was always scarier riding up to a Mexican house: what if they didn’t speak English!? In this case, I needn’t have worried. I helped peel peaches for dessert while home made pizza baked in the oven. My brother’s family has a “Friday night – Pizza night” and this family had that same tradition on Saturday night. 7 layer salad, ice cream to go with the peaches, interesting conversation and I felt very much at home. After dinner the family gathered in the living room and sang in 4 part harmony and my upstairs bedroom was beautiful and comfortable. After breakfast the devotional focused on Matthew 25: 31-46. I was invited to Sunday School, but elected to ride on, feeling very grateful for the night’s rest, the company, and the names of relatives I could stay with further on my way.
It was a beautiful day’s ride, cool and breezy on back roads with very little traffic. I passed a campground full of RVs and screaming kids and I cringed and didn’t even slow down. As the ponies started to flag I started looking for a place to stop. Lots of “no trespassing” signs – and a red truck that came up slowly behind me 3 times, full of 20-somethings who all waved and smiled, waiting to pass on the narrow roads until I found a place to get the ponies off to the side. The third time I asked them if they were lost and they laughted and said that they were just driving around. I asked if they knew of a place I could stop for the night with my herd. They told me about a church camp up the road a bit with a creek and I was riding in that direction when a woman in a red car drove up behind me. Her kids had told her I was looking for a place to stop and she invited me to come back to the house I’d just passed. It was a beautiful spot and I tethered the ponies on the lawn, just out of reach of the corn and tucked my gear in the lean-to. I was invited in for a dinner of fresh veggies and grilled wurst and then went out to check e-mail and set up my hammock.
As it was getting dark I went to move the ponies, wound up speaking with the neighbors over the hedge for awhile and was walking back towards my hammock. By this time it was dark and I was walking towards a bright street light and my vision hadn’t adjusted yet. I tripped on a piece of farm equipment and hit my forehead. It didn’t hurt too much and I picked myself up and continued walking across the yard when I realized that there was blood running down my face. I went to the house in search of ice, worried about bleeding on the floor. My wonderful hostess stayed very calm, brought me to the sink, took a look at the gash and called a doctor who goes to their church. He suggested that she bring me over so he could take a look and off we went, driving into the darkness at 10pm. My hostess was thoughtful enough to tell me where we were going “so I didn’t think she was kidnapping me and driving me out into the middle of nowhere in the dark”. Dr. Scott Brown invited me into his house, laid me back in a recliner and said I needed stitches. He just happened to have everything he needed in the truck because he’d thought he needed to stitch up one of his sons two days before. He was on crutches due to a hip replacement a month prior, had on a shirt that read “got garbage” (he used to work as a garbage man) and the whole scene was a bit hilarious, my hostess taking photos (per my request) and yours truly being very brave (and grateful for the local anesthetic!)
4 stitches later I was on my way again. I offered to pay the doctor for his work, well aware of what this would have cost (in time and money) had I needed to go to the emergency room. He declined, and then half-jokingly said that if he charged me then I could sue him. How sad is that? The idea of suing anybody for my own clumsiness and bad luck just hadn’t occurred to me. But in our current American culture, every time somebody allows me onto their property, every time somebody is kind to me and takes me in for the night, they are running the risk that I could repay their kindness with a lawsuit. How awful is that? Last night on the ‘phone my dad had challenged me to write about some of the less wonderful experiences I’d had on this Journey. When I called home this morning to tell them about my stitches I asked him if this counted. He said, “No. This is more like yet another miracle and everything working out perfectly. This of where this Could have happened. You easily could have been coming back from the emergency room at 4am, with a huge bill – and that’s IF you could have found somebody willing to drive you!” And he’s right – blessings once again on the incredible brave kindness of strangers!
PS – Finehorn had banged her eye while in the stall the night before, so originally I was going to say that I’d banged mine in a gesture of solidarity, but it never quite fit in the post.