A few mornings ago, Finehorn woke up feeling a bit glum. I went over to talk to her and it turns out she’s missing Gryph. For those of you new to the Journey, Gryph is Finehorn’s personal human and the only one who can actually ride her. Gryph was with us for the first 5 months and then returned for November and December of 2012. I was missing Gryph myself that morning and so I commiserated with Finehorn, scratching her neck and shoulders and talking to her for awhile. Finehorn reached around with her nose and starting nuzzling my leg, no teeth involved, just her funny nose “grooming” me back. I haven’t told Finehorn yet, but Gryph was accepted into NECCA (circus school) up in Brattleboro, Vermont (a huge step in living her own dream!) and we’ll be passing within 30 miles of her in late September (which is close enough for a visit – happy pony!) If you want to drop Gryph a note congratulating her on getting into circus school her e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org .
I’ve been camping out a lot in Pennsylvania, it’s August and beautiful and even though the nights have been a bit chilly the days warm up quickly which is a luxury in my world. Several nights ago I spent the night in an old, abandoned double corn crib. The ponies were tethered outside on the strip of long grass between the corn crib and the soy beans. The farmers brought water and oats in the evening and warned me that it was going to get cold. I’ve still got my summer fleece blanket, so I made my bed carefully, layering the 3 wool saddle blankets and the wizard’s cloak (or manty, the cotton drop cloth that covers and secures the packs on Finehorn) and wrapping the whole bedroll up in Tyvek to hold in my body heat. Jesse came in to inspect my camp and get his shoulders scratched and I made a tasty dinner of Knorr cheddar broccoli rice with tuna and my mom’s dehydrated swiss chard and tomatoes.
That night, after it got dark, the coyotes started in singing with lots of high yipping and not so much howl as I’ve heard in other parts of the country. Mr.James worked his way carefully through the brambles beside the crib to place himself between me and the coyotes – blessings on my brave protector! In the morning one of the farmers came to check on me and brought hot coffee! The ponies grazed as I packed up camp but even with the oats they weren’t so very excited about the day ahead.
We are all getting tired, tho’ it is manifesting in different ways. Finehorn, who has typically been very good about visiting with children and getting fussed over has started putting her head down like a furry triceratops and just grazing through them as if they’re not there. She’s not being aggressive or stepping on anybody, but just sort of bulldozing through with her big face – ignoring anybody without a treat in their hand. Jesse James is soldiering on but I can tell that the miles are getting to him. I walk with him the first part of each day now while he gets warmed up and we’re only covering about 10 miles a day on average instead of 15. For all his bravery about coyotes and bears his nerves have had enough of large machines rushing up the road at him and I’ve found that the best thing is to stay on the tiniest roads we can find and to get off and stand with him when large farm equipment and dump trucks come rumbling past.
I am grateful for the solitude afforded by the recent trend of camping. Much of the reason I wanted to embark upon this Journey was to “rediscover America” – to go slowly across the land and find out who is living here and take the time to talk with them. I’ve learned about myself that this is more pleasant and productive when interspersed with times in the wilderness where I can be alone with the ponies and my own thoughts. As we’ve come into more populated areas the stops along the road to chat have become more frequent and thus need to be shorter in duration because Finehorn is carrying 80-100# of dead weight which doesn’t come off until we stop for the day. The other day we’d stopped to talk with a bunch of kids, and then another bunch, and then as the latest bunch were still trailing along after us waving and yelling “Good-bye” a man stopped his truck to talk. I was a bit short with him, pointing out that we’d been stopping to talk quite a bit in the past hour and really needed to be making some miles. Less than 1/2 a mile later my cell ‘phone rang. Jesse doesn’t like it if I talk while I’m riding so I pulled into a driveway and determined to keep the call very short. It was my dear Aunt and she was wonderfully understanding, but by the time we got off the ‘phone less than 5 minutes later we’d drawn an audience.
The kids were fine, but then there was a man who got out of his truck and started asking questions in order to tell me how he’d do it instead. For example, he asked how many miles I made in a day. 10-15. “I’ve been thinking about doing this but I’d be doing 50-75 miles a day.” I really ought to know better than to engage this type at all. I need to learn to simply smile and say sometime vapid and polite and ride away. Instead I pointed out that he’d be going through horses pretty quickly at that rate and I’d had these two with me the whole trip. He started talking about historic times and people doing 1500 miles in a month (that’s 50 miles a day with no rest days). At that point I simply replied that he’d been reading different history books than I had and attempted to return my attention to the kids. He then said that he’d wanted to ride with me a ways (no horse in evidence – he’s thinking I’m going to wait for him to go fetch and saddle his horse?) and offered a pasture for the night. At this point, I wised up, made my excuses and left him spluttering in the road.
CuChullain (of the Long Riders’ Guild) says that the historic daily average mileage of a long rider was 20 miles a day. Recently that average has dropped to 11-15 miles a day, in large part because of these stops along the road to chat. It’s been suggested that I make up a flyer to pass out with FAQs which would enable me to keep riding rather than stopping to answer questions. I’ve thought about that but it just makes me sad. If somebody is genuinely interested in the ride and/or the ponies it seems rude to brush them off with a piece of paper. That’s the sort of non-communication that is hurting us as a people and I want no part of it. On the other hand, I don’t think that gentleman and I were going to learn anything from one another so what was the point in making the ponies (not to mention myself) stand there?
Oh dear, this is turning into another manifestation of my exhaustion. I’d set out to write a happy blog post about living with the herd. I’d wanted to talk about the night the ponies nested right next to my tent, lying down to sleep and leaving two pony sized bowls in the grass in the morning. About how Jesse (who hasn’t really even liked getting groomed) has suddenly gotten very happy about getting his neck and shoulders scratched, stretching his neck out like a great copper dragon and wriggling his lips in bliss when I use both hands to oblige him. About finding a beautiful place to camp, just at dusk, stringing up my hammock in a lovely shady grove hidden from the roads and the ponies declining to join me because the ground all around is mucky and there’s much better grass up on the hills. They are happy when I come to visit them and bring their Equerry’s Choice vitamins and some apples, but they’re not in any way interested in visiting me here in my camp. That’s a little sad, but there will be other camps where we can hang out in closer proximity. I love the moonlight through the trees casting dappled shadows on my hammock’s mosquito net as I drift off to the sound of too many frogs to count!
The flowers along the roadside are lovely. When I tire of picking blackberries for them (which they love, but not enough to brave the thorns) the ponies are munching the clover and chicory and vetch – but my favorite is the Jewelweed. This plant is a natural antidote for poison ivy (works preventatively as well) and nettles and all sorts of skin irritations and the flowers are beautiful (coming in orange and yellow) but the best part is the little pods that hang down – like the one off the tip of my middle finger. When you take one in your hand it explodes in this bizarrely squiggly way to release the seed (and the squiggly bit.) The seed is edible (tho kind of small to make it an efficient food – you don’t eat the squiggly bit) but the sensation as it pops in my hand makes me feel like a little kid – and I never get tired of it. 😉