Tevis 2018 – Not your average horseback ride

Cressy Drummond's horse, SE Redhill Saga, at Robie Park  Photo by Cressy Drummond

Cressy Drummond’s SE Redhill Saga at Robie Park * Photo by Cressy Drummond

Tevis 2018 has come and gone.  But its effects are profound and lasting.

Friday July 27 2018

Tomorrow I’ll be following Tevis, the granddaddy of 100 mile endurance races, online.  One of the horses we bred, SE Redhill Saga, now owned and ridden by Cressy Drummond will be on the trail (team #150).  Cressy also took Saga’s 3/4 brother Legs (SE Redhill Legend) across the finish line in 2007.

I’ve completed twice and still dream of doing it again, even though it’s arguably the hardest 100 mile endurance horse race in the world and I haven’t been on a horse in years.  Gotta dream big, though, or you get nowhere in life.

 

Saturday 7:29 AM ride time

Two photos of Cressy & Saga at the vet-in yesterday.  They are on the trail now, but that’s all I know.  I’m not finding her in the standings yet (other than that she started) but that’s not unusual.  Tevis is a tough ride to monitor because the trail is out in rugged back country of the Sierras and I don’t think she’s got a tracker.

Cressy and Saga vetting in at Robie Park * Photo by Keisha Wood

Cressy and Saga vetting in at Robie Park * Photos by Keisha Wood

Saturday 10:13 AM ride time

The fascinating thing about Tevis is rider strategy.  Some go into the ride with no strategy and, IMO, they are likely to get pulled.  Some go in with the wrong strategy — these include riders who overestimate their horses’ condition, or underestimate the toughness of terrain and ride conditions, or get “Tevis fever” and ride to keep up with other horses.

The riders with good strategy that they stick to (adjusting for the unforeseeable, of course) are the fascinating ones.  Some enter the ride aiming for top ten, or for a win.  They might ride their race around the front edge of the middle of the pack and steadily pass other horse/rider teams as they get closer to the finish line.  Or they might start out in front and fight for the front all the way.  Depends on so many factors that unless you know the history of that horse/rider team, you just won’t know what’s going on inside their heads on ride day.

Others plan to simply complete to the best of their ability — but they have a clear understanding of what their capabilities are.  They have to.  The trail is tough.  They climb a total of something like 17,000 feet and descending around 23,000 feet by the time they’re done.  They have a river to ford, bridges to cross, narrow trails with sharp switchbacks and scary drops to negotiate.

Some of the trails are rocky, some are muddy, and some are so dusty you can’t see the riders in front of you.  Some are steep and you don’t dare stop once you start up or down.  Passing other horses can be difficult or impossible (there’s a true tale about a mule who stopped on the trail and refused to move — holding up the rest of the riders for long enough that the ride management had to waive cut-off times for them at the next vet check).  Riders have to make time on forest roads, even on the little bit of pavement.  They are blinded by dust, they ride in the blazing sun, and later under a nearly full moon.

All of this means training for the conditions, and having a horse that can deal with the obstacles.  Rider and horse alike have to be able to dig down deep in body and mind, and keep going when the going has gone from tough to barely possible.

Tevis riders are a breed unto themselves.  There aren’t that many of them — of us, I am proud to say — and no wonder.

 

Saturday 1:35 PM ride time

There seems to be some communication confusion between those of us who crew from our computers at home and the crew out there sweating on the actual trail, so while it’s possible that Cressy & Saga left Robinson Flat when I thought they did, that might not be correct.  At any rate, they are on their way now.

Their next checkpoint will be Last Chance, 50 miles into the ride and 14 miles down the trail from Robinson Flat.  The cut-off for that is 3:00.  They will have to maintain a good working trot the whole way to make their cut-off.  There can be no dawdling anywhere on this trail; there just isn’t time for it.  Time-wise, Cressy and Saga should make it just fine, though of course with Tevis, anything is possible.

For one thing, the longer a rider’s in the saddle, the easier it is to get lost.  Even if you’ve ridden that trail before.  Tired riders make for poor decisions.

You’d think that it would be easy to keep on the course but it isn’t.  If you lose sight of the rider ahead of you, you have to suddenly pay attention to the trail markers which you probably haven’t been doing.  Although best practice is to ride one’s own rides, in fact, aside from the leaders most everybody else follows the team ahead instead of ignoring them and focusing on what we’re doing.

So what happens when a rider needs to pee and turns off the trail?  You guessed it.  Sure, they figure out pretty quickly that they shouldn’t have followed.

Oops!  Sorry!

I’ve seen half a dozen riders coming off a side trail then gallop off on the correct one, too embarrassed to want to be identified.  They weren’t all peeing, I betcha.

So then what happens?  The next riders come along and maybe they aren’t following anyone at that point.  If they haven’t seen what went on and they come to a spot where the trail seems to divide, what do they do?  There won’t be any signs or ribbons saying “Trail thataway” and “Potty break thisaway”, there will just be a mess of hoof prints going every which way in the dust.

Believe me, it seems to happen every ride, no matter which ride it is.  There are amazing stories of people who wandered off the trail for one reason or another, even from riders you’d think would know better.

I speak from experience when I say that we’re all friends on the trail.  If you have to pee, just get off and do it.  Nobody cares, trust me.

Cressy & Saga waiting to leave Robinson Flat * Photo by Michelle Wood Thomas

 

Saturday 7:40 PM ride time

Cressy & Saga are moving along, not breaking the sound barrier, but eating up the miles.  They’ve passed through the hamlet of Michigan Bluff, and are headed for the town of Foresthill — the first paved roads they’ve seen in, oh, sixty some-odd miles.

They’ve been working hard since 5:15 this morning and they’ve got around 35 miles to go and 9 hours to do it in, though one of those precious hours will be taken up by a mandatory 1 hour hold in Foresthill.

This is the phase of the race where how deep your bottom is makes all the difference.  This is when you can’t stop, but you are desperate to stop.  This is where, if you have ever learned what it means to do endurance races, you use everything you know to keep you and your horse going.

The worst of the canyons have been dealt with, along with the worst of the heat.  Blessed cool is coming, but so is the night.

Horses have excellent night vision, but humans don’t.  Humans want to use flashlights to see where they’re going, but that messes up not only their own horse’s night vision, but all the horses around.

You can make a few riders pretty darn grumpy using a flashlight.  Worse, you can endanger your horse and others by using a flashlight.

But riding in the dark — yes, it’s dark, even just a day after the full moon because you’re riding under trees — riding in the dark means fully trusting your horse.  Your partner.  You trust your partner with your life, just as your horse has trusted you all along.  It’s humbling, but more than that, it’s awesome.  Two blended into one.  Exhausted, but One…

So you go on, down the trail under the trees in the black night, and you head for that finish line.

The average non-completion for Tevis is 50%.  That’s how hard the ride is.  The veterinarians are really, really good, though, and so are the riders.  The horses are pulled before trouble can really develop.  Most will recover and be happily trotting down the trail another day.

So Cressy and Saga and the teams ahead and behind are still out there.  Still!  They all had to qualify to enter.  They all had lots of miles under the saddle before this day.  This is it, the biggie.  Not that horses know it.  It’s just another trail for them, except it’s not.  This is another chance to see what’s around the next corner, over the next hill.  This is what horses are meant to do, what they love to do — go far, far, climb, descend, fly down the path, trudge up another.  No horse gets to Tevis that doesn’t love the trail.

Nine more hours left to cover the rest of the hundred miles.  Everything before — all the sweating, the breathing dust, the exhaustion, the pain, the doubts, even fears — all of it was just the prelude.

This part of the ride, in the dark, after so many miles, with so many more to go — THIS part is what endurance riding is really about.

 

Saturday 9:40 PM ride time

Imagine this: The winning contenders for this year’s Tevis are now four miles from the finish line.  There aren’t a lot of places in those last miles to pass.  What will the ride strategy be?

First, stay the course.  Don’t get lost in the dark.  Don’t trip, don’t slack off, don’t stop giving it your all.

Um… that’s pretty much it.

Lindsay Fisher and Heather Reynolds are ten minutes ahead of the next riders, so the race will be between them.  They’ll jockey for position or maybe they won’t.  Likely they’ll just ride on, one leading, the other nose-to-tail, getting through the last miles.

Once they cross No Hands Bridge they’ll be on an old train track bed.  Where there used to be trestles bridging the many creeks that cross the trail, now there are black holes, where the horses have to step off of the flat trail and negotiate rocks and gullies until they can get back on the train bed.  If it was dark before, those black holes are the pitch black of blindness, filled with mosquitoes.  The two will negotiate them carefully, but quickly.  Their trackers say they’re moving out at 7.5 mph.  That’s a good working trot.  But they’ve got to move out.

Because the end is near.

The trail has changed some since I last rode Tevis, but I’m pretty sure that the trail up out of the American River Canyon up to Auburn hits a road.  A dirt road that is wider than a trail – a road suitable for racing.

There won’t be anything necessary to say between the leaders.  They know and their horses know that the final race begins there.  They didn’t work this hard to be in front for nothing.  They’ll hit that road and they will race.  Full out race.  After 99 1/2 miles of the hardest miles imaginable, their horses will stretch out, put their ears back, and go for it.

Cressyand Saga leaving Foresthill * Photo by Lisa Mittler Bradford

Cressy and Saga leaving Foresthill * Photo by Lisa Mittler Bradford

 

Sunday 12:25 AM ride time

My last post for tonight, though Cressy and Saga are still on the trail, moving through the night.

They have just left the Cal2 checkpoint.  They’ve got 22 miles to go.  My memory of this part of the trail is… perhaps shaky.  It has been, after all, almost 30 years.  Besides, even though back in the day I pre-rode the section quite a few times, during the actual race it’s not nearly the same.

For one thing, the difference between riding during the day vs. the night is… like night and day.

During the day you enjoy the seeming security of group.  You can see riders ahead, hear them behind.  You see the dust hanging in the air, the fresh poop in the trail.  There are ribbons, there are hoof prints.  You can see for miles from the tops of mountains and ridges.  The canyons are deep, the climbs unending.  Your world is big, and on the Tevis trail big can be huge.

Even when there isn’t a rider in sight you know there are lots of riders on the trail.  You saw them start; you know they’re out there.

You know you aren’t alone.

In the night things are different.  Sound is damped, vision is limited.  What was sharp and clear is now vague, unidentifiable.  The world closes in and suddenly you are the only rider on the trail.  Even if there are riders all around you.

Nighttime is not human time.  Normally at night you’re tucked away behind walls that keep the dark out, or you’re safely encased in a vehicle with lights that stab into the night.  Or maybe you’re huddled close to a campfire, the flames of which warm your front and leave your back chilled and vulnerable.

In the night you don’t want to think about the things that can see in the dark.  Things that can see you, that can know you, when you can’t see or know a damn thing.

Riding at night is a whole new ballgame.  At night you ride as a passenger, at the mercy of the things of darkness.  You thought your horse was your partner before, but now your horse is ascendant and you are the dependent one.  As you leave the well-lit vet check and head out into impenetrable wall of night you have to accept that at this point your horse knows more about the real world than you do, and it’s too late to pretend you are in control.

Night time is dream time in the normal course of events.  Just because you aren’t tucked under the covers doesn’t mean you can’t dream.  I tell you from personal experience that exhaustion leads to hallucination.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s seen weirdness on the trail.  Moonlight, which should help you see, in fact only encourages illusion.

That lump over there must be a bear — it’s moving, isn’t it?

But when your horse assures you that nothing is there, if you are wise you defer to the one with better eyesight and fewer delusions.  And yes, when you pass it by, you can see that it’s a clump of blackberries.  Really, it is.

Dream time on the trail is a whole new challenge.  Now the energy is used up and the emergency stash is being tapped.  Now the body is ready to call it a day but the brain — the will — is saying no.  Now you are wondering if it will ever end, because time passes differently in the dark.  Now, more than ever, you are living in the moment, except that the moment is nothing you recognize or have any control over.

Nighttime changes everything.  For some who can give it over to their horses, the dark encourages passage from the mundane to the ineffable.  This is where the horse/human bond leaves the ordinary, where you step onto a path that no one else can follow.  This is the heart of it, the place where the magic takes over and takes you away.

If you can let it happen.

By now you understand this whole ride, the Tevis, is more than getting from point A to point B in 24 hours.  It is a test of what you’re made of.  It chews at your weaknesses and it challenges your strengths.  But the thing about endurance is that it is realer than real.  There you are, in the middle of nowhere, maybe in the dark, maybe in the glare of high noon, and you and your horse are all there is that will get you where you need to go.

Nobody can get you to the finish line but you and your horse.  Nobody’s going to save you from the boogeyman.  Nobody’s going to protect you from real risks.  Nobody’s going to get you out of trouble.  Nobody is doing this but you and your horse.

It’s all about you.

It’s real.  It’s about survival.

It’s about strength of will and triumph.

It’s about knowing you can do whatever you must do.

And when you get to the finish line, it’s about knowing you’ve done something amazing that will change you forever.

Tevis is a rite, not just a ride.

 

Sunday 10:13 AM post-ride time

“To finish is to win” is the American Endurance Ride Conference motto (AERC is the sanctioning and record-keeping organization for endurance racing).  It’s not a cutesy way to make everybody but the first place team feel better.  It is an acknowledgement that endurance is a horse of a different color, so to speak.

For endurance races, the AERC motto means a horse/rider team that is capable of completing the miles and be fit enough at the end to continue on a bit more truly is a winner.

That’s because endurance events aren’t really competitions between entrants, though maybe for the front runners it is.  Endurance for everyone else is about challenging the self that is the human/horse team.  It’s about achieving personal goals and conquering personal limitations.

It is a lonely sport.

That’s why endurance riders have to ride their own ride.  Instead of you vs. the other horse/rider teams, it’s really about the you vs. the obstacles, of which there are many.

You vs. yellow jackets, mosquitoes, black flies, rattlesnakes.  Trotting through a cloud of angry yellow jackets after a bunch of other horses have stomped over their nest in the ground is always a challenge.

You vs. smoke, heat, thirst, and dust — or rain, mud, fog, and chill.  One year the trail was partially hidden by snow.  In July.

You vs. physical obstacles, such as boulders, downed trees, congestion on the trail, congestion at vet checks.  The trail traverses the Sierras, and often consists of a two foot wide track cut into mountainsides.  No passing except in switchbacks means there will be traffic jams.

You vs. the limitations of your physical condition — your horse’s and yours — the amount of energy you’ve got access to that came from all the conditioning you did, the natural ability (or lack of) that you were born with, and your riding skill.

You vs. the limitations of your mind.  You and your horse’s willingness to go on, to endure, to push through the fear, the pain, the doubt, in spite of what comes at you.  To sustain the physical and mental pace for mile after mile.

Ultimately it comes down to you and your horse vs. the clock.

The clock doesn’t care about you.  It dispassionately divides your life into the past (which you cannot change) and the future (which you cannot know).  All you have is the moment you are in, the only moment that can alter your odds of completion.

Let’s not bandy words: This is the toughest 100 mile horse race in the world.  It is a race that traverses a mountain range from east to west.  The Donner party got stalled not that far north of the early part of the race trail.  They had to eat their livestock and then each other to survive and they hadn’t even gotten very far.

Tevis was the first official endurance race ever organized (based on a bet!) and while the course has changed somewhat over the years, the Sierra Mountains haven’t gotten any lower.  The trail hasn’t gotten any easier.

Tevis is the real deal.

This year 150 horses set out from Robie Park but 86 of them didn’t reach the finish line.  That’s more than half.  Cressy and Saga were one of the teams that got pulled.  They arrived at the Francisco checkpoint 14 minutes after the cutoff.  What they endured to get there is Cressy’s story to tell, but I can say this: Cressy is a winner.

To finish may be to win, but 85 miles of Tevis trail is like 100 miles of any other trail.  That should be worth something, too.  And it is.

Cressy Drummond & SE Redhill Saga

Cressy Drummond & SE Redhill Saga

These thoughts on Tevis were first posted on Facebook.  They have been lightly edited for this blog post.  The original posts can be found at https://www.facebook.com/lif.strand/  or by clicking on the date/times at the beginning of each section.

If you liked this post, please consider supporting me via Patreon.  Thanks!

Lyme disease

Lyme disease ticks (CDC image)I live out here in New Mexico where I’ve never even seen a tick on one of my animals much less been bitten by one, so I’m not really familiar with Lyme Disease.  It seems, though, that if you live on the US east coast, you’ve been infected, and that motivated me to look into Lyme more.

What I have learned is scary, not because Lyme Disease is a killer, but because it isn’t.  No, Lyme is a stealth disease, one that sneakily steals health and erodes a life without ever intending to kill its victim.

Googling tells me that the CDC and NIH recommend a single course of antibiotics as soon as you can after the first symptoms of Lyme Disease appear.  If you get bit by a blacklegged tick (or deer tick, Ixodes scapularis) that harbors Borrelia burgdorferi, the Lyme bacterium can persist in your body for a lifetime.

Unfortunately, while most people recover when treated with a few weeks of antibiotics, some don’t. Some don’t recover even after months of IV treatment.

Maybe the antibiotics that were used didn’t do the job for those who continue to suffer from the symptoms.  Or maybe there’s more going on — after all, there are 20 known species of Borrelia that can cause human illness. A tick can harbor two or more of them, passing them on to their human victim. Plus there are other non-Borrelia microbes that those ticks can generously share with you.

Or maybe there just weren’t any symptoms after being bit. Sometimes a person with a healthy immune system can harbor the bacteria for a long time and never display the obvious symptoms.  But the bacteria are there, spreading throughout the victim’s body to eventually become an inseparable part of his or her microbiome.

You don’t want more antibiotics, though.  Research shows that additional antibiotics don’t help people with lingering symptoms after an initial treatment. More antibiotics could make things worse rather than better. And to add insult to injury, the symptoms of chronic Lyme Disease are often incorrectly diagnosed since they could arise from many other causes.

Without a vaccine or a drug protocol that will work, right now the only thing you can do is to become generally healthier. This makes sense, given that chronic Lyme Disease is a whole-body issue. So the first step is to build up the immune system. This is the foundation upon which recovery is based for chronic Lyme and, in fact, for any health issue.

Building your immune system doesn’t mean you have to suffer!  Getting rid of symptoms won’t get rid of the disease, of course, but you don’t need to feel terrible while you’re dealing with getting healthier. Keep in mind though — healing takes time, particularly when your health has been worn down by nasty bacteria. Plus you may have other health conditions that compound the effects of Lyme Disease.

So start with this:

  • Clean up your act if you’re abusing yourself with drugs, alcohol, or too much social media
  • Get more exercise if you’re a slug
  • Get more quality sleep if you’ve been burning the candle at both ends
  • Eat healthy: more raw veggies and less meat, and of course cut out the junk food
  • Reduce unnecessary stressors, such as social media and political arguments
  • Become proactive about your health and care of your own body because you only get one and because you can’t expect others to care for it more than you do

It’s possible that with just the above you can reduce your symptoms and help your own immune system to deal with the Borrelia. You may not ever be free of it, but you might be able to live a normal, symptom-free (and by the way, healthier all around) life.

There are claims for alternative treatments for Lyme Disease. Google led me to the Buhner Healing Lyme approach. Will it work? I don’t know, but I like Stephen Buhner’s smile on his website. He reminds me of my brother-in-law, Jeff, who builds beautiful acoustic guitars.  I also liked the fact that Buhner tells you what the herbs are instead of making you opt in for anything.

Take back your life, my friends.  That’s my message for today.

Look but don’t touch

Cholla blossomSometimes when I get to feeling that maybe it’s a little too hard living here in my part of New Mexico, particularly at nearly a mile and a half above sea level, the land gently reminds me why I’m here.

Right now we’re all waiting, hoping, praying for rain.  Not too much rain, mind you, not all at once.  That’s a male rain and it leads to floods.  No, we want a daily dose of gentle female rain that soaks into the soil.

When it finally does rain it’s like a miracle how little it takes  for plants to respond.  It’s a desert phenomenon:  The air smells fresh, withered grass turns green in hours, flowers blossom overnight.

Everything is in a rush to attract, to reproduce.  We don’t get all that much rain.  Winters are long.  Strategies for survival are a necessity.

There are the hardy ones, the few plants that gamble on rain to come.  They get going early so they have longer to reproduce and, perhaps, to store up for the coming times of dry and cold.  There are seeds that germinate even though nighttime temperatures are still below freezing and daytime temps aren’t much above.  There are plants with tough stems that put out bits of green and even blossom early on, while the rest of the world is still dust.  Sometimes they die back and come back.  Tough plants for a tough climate.

But critters are desperate for moisture as well.  For every early leaf there is an insect or animal that lusts for fresh, moist, tender greens.  So plants have developed other strategies as well.  Around here it seems everything has thorns, needles, burrs,  prickles, or barbs.  Sharp ones that always end up in me.

They still have beauty, these tough plants.  It’s not always obvious, but it’s there.   I walk carefully through the sere grama grass that can slice the skin, and step around pale amaranth stems that appear so deceptively fluffy.  So intent am I on not getting scratched, pierced, and scraped that I almost miss it: the chartreuse of a fragile cholla blossom nestled in the midst of sharp cactus needles and the barbs of last year’s tumbleweed.

I am once again reminded why I am here.  I am blessed to be reminded every day that all I have to do is look and I will find beauty.  I am blessed to be reminded that treasures are most valuable when they are rare.

And I am so very thankful.

 

Love It or Leave It

Love it or leave it … or fix it.  Old Glory

Today is July 4, Independence Day in the US. Every town’s having parades, BBQs, fireworks, and concerts. Fishing derbies, flea markets, big box store sales, baseball games, you name it, whatever it takes to celebrate our country’s birthday.

It’s easy to succumb to feelings of pride in our nation on this day. After all, we’ve come a long way, baby. We owe it to ourselves to be proud.

On the other hand, many are not so proud today. Many are hungry. Many are in pain. Many are weeping while others are cheering as they wave Old Glory in the name of independence.

Many are angry, even as they put relish on their hot dogs.

This is as it should be.

Our country, the United States of America, is not a single organism. It is a group effort of many people who come from all walks of life, and who have different opinions about how things should work here. The US, when it is healthy, should be a bubbling, fermenting brew of thought, emotion, and striving for betterment. That’s a messy process.

Yes, on this day there is misery in the world. But history tells us that misery has always been part of the human condition. Our Declaration of Independence acknowledges it: “…all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

So yeah, people do put up with a lot. We want to live the good life. We are happy to be cruising along in our comfort zones.  We don’t want to think about problems. We don’t want to have to deal with our own problems much less anybody else’s. Experience tells us, though, that most people will tolerate only so much before they do something about it.

The US might not be perfect, but that’s because we’re human. We don’t live in a utopia; we live in the reality of 2018. Not everyone is celebrating, but we haven’t forgotten about them. The good news is that we citizens of the US are doing what we’re supposed to be doing. We have heaved ourselves off the couches of content and are paying attention to the problems.  We’ve rolled up our sleeves and we are slinging around the tools that will fix things: ideas.

Ideas are how it begins.

We do want to make things better, and in the US we are free here to work out how that will come about. We all have ideas about how to best go about fixing things and we’re free to have those ideas and to express them. We are free to argue with each other about the way we run the place, and then we are free to vote to make it so. Our form of government is messy, sometimes ugly, but that’s the nature of liberty.

This is, my friends, a big deal, and you betcha we’re celebrating. Tomorrow we’ll get back to work.

Rejected but not dejected

One good thing about getting enough rejections from agents and publishers is that after a while they don’t really hurt. Each new one is just another paper cut. I haven’t lost enough blood yet to swoon.

I swear, if an agent or publisher ever accepts one of my submissions I think I won’t even notice. I’ll just assume it’s another no. Gotta watch out for those kinds of expectations.

But anyway, I just wanted to talk a bit today about how we writers (and other creative types) deal with with rejection. I may not speak for us all, but I’m pretty sure how I react isn’t that unusual.

In the beginning I was shocked, incredulous that I got a rejection because I was so sure my work was way too fabulous for anyone to not love it and want it immediately.

So I had to get over that.

Then I got to where when I got a rejection I thought it was because my writing was no good.  That I was a crummy writer. This required a bit of mental judo, as I had to ignore the nearly two decades of being paid well to write non-fiction. I had to make myself believe that my fiction work was inferior — because if an agent or a publisher sent a rejection that’s what it must mean, right?  Even though that’s not logical thinking, that’s where I went.

That wore off after a while, sometimes within minutes, sometimes much longer.  Then I’d get pissed off about getting a rejection. It doesn’t take a mental giant to see that a lot of what gets published is pretty awful. My work was definitely better than that schlock. And I’d show those publishers.  Someday I would get published, and then those dummies who passed on my work would be really, really sorry.

Maintaining a perfect state of pissed-offness is energy intensive and depressing so inevitably I”d move on to vowing to never write again. As if that were possible. Okay, maybe I just wouldn’t write fiction anymore. Maybe I’d go back to working under contracts to write for others. I’m pretty sure that road’s still open to me.  But I don’t want to write what other people want me to write anymore. Nope. Not happening.

Inevitably after a bunch of moping around and self-flagellation, during which time I’d torture myself with visions of a life empty of purpose and passion, a brilliant idea would smack me between the eyes, an idea that would not be denied. I’d drop everything to capture it, scribble on a pad holding a flashlight in my teeth in the middle of the night, sit in front of the computer all day long till my eyes wouldn’t focus and my fingers were about worn off. Taking what I learned from the rejections and fixing…

Whoa there. Wait a minute. That last bit… the learn from part. NO! That’s not how it goes. You know why? Because getting rejected doesn’t teach a writer anything. Rejections aren’t necessarily about the writing at all.  IMO they are all too often about the fact that a whole bunch of agents and publishers only think they know what they’re doing.

Yup. That’s not just sour grapes on my part (well, maybe a little sour). You don’t have to take my word for it. You can prove it for yourself. Meanwhile, consider my reasoning.

First of all, let’s start with the fact that agents and publishers all have slightly different query requirements. Why is this? After all, it’s a time sucker and a real drag for writers who want to get on with writing the sequel to their novel.  Writing summaries of a book requires special skills. Writing query letters to successfully sell a novel to an agent or publisher is made nearly impossible because that special skill requires being able to read minds.

What? Yes, that’s right, reading minds. I’m sticking my neck out here, but seems to me that much of the blame for unsuccessful queries is on the people who supposedly are the experts, the ones who’re going to market those books, the agents and publishers who don’t bother telling authors exactly what they want to market. So when a writer (me, for instance) hunts for an agent or publisher to query, we have to intuit, or guess, or consult a Ouija board, to figure out whether the manuscript is a fit for that agent or publisher. Or just send out query after query, racking up the rejections.

Check it out for yourself by reading your rejections, which no doubt you’ve saved. Don’t they all say the same thing basically? Don’t they use phrases like not quite what we’re looking for right now and the fit was wrong?

Excuse me?  Not quite what you’re looking forHow could that be? I’m sure I’m not the only writer who obsesses over what agents and publishers are looking for. I don’t need waste my time querying anybody who isn’t looking for what I’ve written. And yet in the end, isn’t that what I’m doing? Spending valuable time querying when I could be writing a book?

Only to get rejected?

Could it be… the [gasp]  [drum roll] “Rowling Syndrome”?

You probably know that the author of the wildly popular Harry Potter series received 12 or so rejections for The Sorcerer’s Stone. That’s no record. Many famous authors have received more.

Rowling gets to have the syndrome named after her (by me, I just dreamed it up) because when she sought to publish the first book of her Cormoran Strike series under the pen name, Robert Galbraith – after selling millions of copies in her Harry Potter series — one rejection letter actually recommended that she take a writing course. And even more amazingly, the publisher who first turned down Harry Potter also rejected Cormoran Strike — and did so rudely.

Wait — how could this be? Why would anyone have rejected a manuscript that must have been clearly marketable?

To be fair, publishers and agents get overwhelmed by the queries. There’s an art to prognosticating best-sellers. The public is fickle, tastes change quickly these days, and it’s a long process getting a book from agent query through to hitting the shelves (or Amazon!). What everyone wanted to read then might not be what they want to read now. I get it that’s it’s not easy. Particularly when the author is new.

So sad, too bad. Letting a best-seller slip away is still an agent’s own fault.

This is a rule of life: If you can’t articulate your desires accurately then the odds are high that you won’t get what you want. If the queries an agent or publisher receives are not quite what they’re looking for, perhaps they are the ones who haven’t made it clear what they want. If you’re a writer you’ve probably been as frustrated as I am at how some agents (particularly the new ones) ask for such a broad range of genres that they’re obviously just chumming for a best seller.

So okay, no point in getting dejected that I haven’t found my agent or publisher yet. I have to believe I will find them and they’ll be way better than the ones who’ve rejected my work so far. But still.  If I was more into burning my bridges, I’d send replies to those rejections, suggesting that perhaps taking a writing course would help. I’d thank them for reviewing my query and tell them I was sorry they didn’t fit my novel’s needs.  And that maybe if they wrote better descriptions of what they want on their #MSWL Manuscript Wishlist they’d get better queries and have more successful sellers.

But I won’t, of course. I’ve still got to cross the bridges and it’s stupid to scorch my own feet.  Where is that confounded bridge anyway?

#amwriting

April Snow

Snow at dusk in April

It had been a brutal day, a hard edged wind coming from the north and cutting through the many layers she wore.  Even when the sun broke through the heavy clouds it was cold, cold for late April.  But here in the mountains of New Mexico weather was like that.  Nothing unusual at all.

For a brief moment at sunset a rosy golden light limned the mesa top, gone as quickly as it had come.  She smelled rain, but there was nothing yet to moisten the dust and the struggling grass that was already turning gray with thirst.  It would come, though, she knew it.  If she could smell it, it would come.

She built a fire in the wood stove, smiling at the fancy she’d had that she was done building fires till next fall.  She settled into the evening, waiting.

The wind stopped.  The world held its breath.  Silently fluffy white flakes drifted down into the dusk, covering the branches of the apple trees that were only this morning braving the first bright green leaves of spring.

I’m over there!

I finally went live with my Patreon Creator account after a lot of dilly-dallying about it.  Asking for money to support my creative efforts was a high bar for me to leap.  I bashed against that obstacle for a year before finally just hurling myself over it because… after some point it’s either put up or shut up.  It’s part of the creative process, this money thing.  It’s not about starving artist, it’s about validation.

Believe me, many artists would rather be validated than eat.  Chocolate or approval of my work… chocolate or approval of my work…  

Please, take my chocolate.  It would be a fine thing if you went over to Patreon and gave me a thumbs up with your patronage.  Thank you!

US Air Force OK with destroying the Gila Wilderness

Gila Wilderness 1922



“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”  Wilderness Act of 1964 (Pub.L. 88–577)

The Gila Wilderness was designated the world’s first wilderness area on June 3, 1924.  If the US Air Force has its way, it’ll become a burning trash dump.

A Holloman Air Force Base proposal would create a new military operations area (MOA) over the Gila and Aldo Leopold wilderness areas of the Gila National Forest (and over into Arizona, too). The Air Force wants up to ten thousand F-16 flights per year (that’s more than one an hour 24/7), dropping  flares and chaff as they fly over.

The Air Force didn’t think to bother notifying the public* where the MOA is proposed (Grant and Catron County in New Mexico) about this idea.  Instead the Air Force held meetings in other municipalities nowhere near the directly affected area.

Pretty sneaky, if you ask me.

So what will happen if the MOA goes through?

You mean the screaming of jet planes constantly zooming over what’s supposed to be wilderness (“in natural condition” 11 U.S.C. § 1131(a)) isn’t enough?  Well, there’s more.  Such as the trashing of the forest.  Literally.  The Air Force wants to drop chaff and set off flares (military aircraft often combine chaff with flare dispensers), carpeting the forest with military debris and maybe just burning the place down.  How much chaff and flares I don’t know… maybe that is in the Air Force’s environmental impact statement (EIS).  But with up to 10,000 flights a year I’m thinking we’re talking tons.

Chaff

Chaff is meant to confuse radar.  It’s made of millions of tiny aluminum or zinc coated fibers that are ejected from a jet and then are blown around by the turbulence of the jet’s wake and from whatever wind there is that day.  It can end up far from the release point.

Chaff fibers are about the thickness of a human hair and range in length from about a third of an inch to around three inches long.  The fibers are dispensed in cartridges or projectiles, so it’s not only chaff, but the debris from the containers (paper, cardboard, styrene caps, pistons, and other stuff) that ends up on the ground.

Once the chaff and debris is on the ground, it can be blown around by wind and updrafts from wildfire.  While inhalation is not considered to be a major issue (by people who don’t have to breathe it), wild animals will inevitably consume the chaff because it will be everywhere.  It will blanket the forest floor, the plants, and the animals themselves (not to mention hikers, bikers, hunters, and campers) with metal coated glass fibers.  And let’s not forget that these fibers and associated debris will also pollute the streams… water that ultimately will end up in Phoenix, AZ.  But hey, they have water filters over there, don’t they?

There have been few to no peer-reviewed studies examining the impact of chaff on wildlife and the environment, or humans either, for that matter.  Little is known about the breakdown of chaff in soil or in water.  It doesn’t take a study to know this:  given what chaff is made of, it’s not going to go away soon.

But hey, the Air Force is pretty sure that the stuff won’t hurt anything.

Flares being deployed from a F-16

Flares being deployed from a F-16

Flares are used to confuse heat-seeking missiles. Most are magnesium pellets ejected from tubes to ignite in the air behind the aircraft. The flares burn at temperatures above 2,000° F.   As hot as magma ejected from a volcano.

The flare pellets burn as they fall to the ground.  To the dry trees and brush below.  The place where there are no roads because it’s wilderness, so fire fighters can’t even get there unless they hike in.

If the flares don’t burn the forest down when they land, at minimum what their deployment will do is add to the feeling that there’s a war’s going on.  Jets screaming overhead.  Explosions blasting day and night.  Blinding lights destroying dark skies.

Bye by peace and quiet.  Farewell tranquility.  Too bad, wilderness.

Wildfire burning in the Gila National Forest

The future of the Gila Wilderness?

What could  they possibly be thinking?

I’m guessing the Air Force is thinking only about the Air Force.  They’re relying on people being so fearful about war that sacrificing the world’s oldest wilderness so fighter pilots have another place to train is an acceptable price.

I don’t know what they’re really thinking, but I do know that the decisions will be made by people who don’t value wild places.

Just think:  the Gila National Forest is where the endangered Mexican wolf is supposed to survive.  Where are the studies on the impacts on the wolves?  And what about the endangered spotted owl.?  And all the other threatened and endangered species in the Gila?   Let’s not forget the impact on the Cosmic Campground (the first International Dark Sky Sanctuary on National Forest System lands and also in North America, located between the Gila Wilderness and the Blue Range Primitive Area).  Has anyone bothered checking into potential damage to the Gila Cliff Dwellings from the vibrations of hourly (or more frequent) low flying jets and/or flare explosions?

No matter who you are, rancher, environmentalist, Continental Divide Trail hiker or biker, hunter, wildlife photographer, or just someone who likes to walk in the woods, it seems to me you’d be as outraged by this Air Force proposal as I am.

While I am not an advocate of petitions, for those who are unwilling or unable to take personal action there is a petition sponsored by the Gila Conservation Coalition at https://www.change.org/p/holloman-air-force-base-military-overflights-threaten-the-gila-wilderness

Better yet, write your legislators.  Write to the Air Force.  Call them.  Email them.  Make a noise in this world.
Holloman AFB Public Affairs Office
Mr. Tommy Fuller
(575) 572-1831 ext. 5406
tommy.fuller@us.af.mil

* Edited due to information received from Catron County Commissioner Anita Hand (District 1) and further research:  The Catron County Commission received a letter about the EIS too late to act on before the scoping period had closed (the Notice of Intent was published August 25, 2017; there should have been a 45 day comment period but the comment deadline was September 15, 2017).  Holloman airspace analyst Alan Shafer has stated that Holloman also sent letters to both Grant County Commission Chair Brett Kasten and County Manager Charlene Webb but Kasten said that he had no recollection of receiving any letter.  Grant County Commission did hold a special meeting to address the issue. but this was after the comment deadline  The only public scoping meetings were held by the Air Force in Carlsbad, Truth or Consequences and Las Cruces.  No scoping meetings were held in Grant or Catron County. [return to top]

Note also that the draft EIS is not available on the Holloman AFB EIS website.  If it exists somewhere, this writer sure can’t find it.  

Further reading:  Gila National Forest weighs in on Air Force’s airspace proposal

Potato Soup

Blessed moisture (c) 2018 Lif Strand

Not potato soup ingredients

Yesterday it rained for the first time in I don’t know how long.  Oh, I could readily find out — I do keep a weather journal.  It didn’t rain much the last time.  As of yesterday morning I had recorded under half an inch since the first of the year and as of last evening I had just 0.2″ more to add.

Last night it snowed.  I woke up to two inches of wet white stuff.  I have to be happy for that, because we so desperately need the moisture.  But I had to cancel a trip into town.  I wanted to pick up a load of alfalfa hay, and get some cat food.  I’m out of bananas, and getting low on peanut butter.  And [gasp!] I’m out of wine.  But more importantly, I had to cancel the appointment for a massage.

Tragedy!

Okay, it’s not a great tragedy but it is a bit of a disappointment.  I’m not in dire need of the massage and I won’t get to hang out in the coffee shop this afternoon with a book, a cup of coffee, and a pastry.   The massage has been rescheduled and the coffee shop will be there next week, so it’s not the end of the world.  It’s just one of those things when you go rural.

Living out here in the middle of nowhere means knowing that there could be days or weeks when going anywhere is not possible.  It means thinking in advance, replenishing supplies before running out, and making do.  If a person isn’t into the mentality of  preparedness and self-sufficiency then this is not the kind of place to live.

In my case, today is more like a schoolkid’s snow day than anything else.  I get to stay home.  Yay!  (That’s the hermit in me talking).  And of course, I have what I need here to make the day even better.  None of the things on my shopping list are things I’m in danger of running out of unless I couldn’t drive out for a good long time.

Except for the wine.  A wine cellar’s on my To Do list, but I’m not there yet.  I rarely have back-up wine.  I’ll tough it out.

It’s a cold, dreary day, today.  The snow has stopped and the melt has begun.  It’ll be a snotty mess out there in a while.  A good excuse to stay inside and snuggle up near the wood stove with a book.  And maybe some comfort food.  I’m thinking potato soup.

Look Ma!  No recipe!

Making do happens when you can’t follow a recipe.  Maybe you don’t have the ingredients, or the time, or that recipe just doesn’t appeal.  In my case it seems to mean being constitutionally incapable of following directions.  Oh, not because I couldn’t if I wanted to, but because it just seems so… um…

Let’s just say that some of us make our own excitement in life.

I’ve always been attracted to stories of people pushing the envelope of their very existence.  Doesn’t matter where or when.  It could be anybody, at any time, on whatever ocean or continent… or planet or galaxy.  Shipwrecked folks, lost folks, explorers, pioneers — people who went where no others had gone before and who made do with what they had and what they could invent.

It takes a special kind of person to do that.  I’ve always wanted to be a member of their ranks.  But you know, I’ve got that hermit thing going, so that has put a crimp on what I might do.  The thought of being stuck on an island or in a spaceship with a bunch of people who are in my face all the time is just too ewwww.  Plus I’d get claustrophobic without wild, open spaces to roam.

So hey — I could be a mountain man, like Grizzly Adams as portrayed by Dan Haggerty (I met him years back, seemed like a nice guy).  Except I don’t live in the mountains and I’m a woman, and no training bears for me, thank you very much.  Anyway those are just details.  The point is a life of doing whatever I can for myself by myself.  Not living by the book.  Not just marching to a different drummer — but to my own drummer: me.  Even if I can’t drum.

It’s a life of choosing to take a different road, maybe one that requires giving certain things up in order to have other things that are more important.  From the outside it might look a lot like living a hard life for no reason, but from the inside what it feels like is playing.

Yes, playing.  By that I mean, having fun doing something I’ve chosen to do the way I want to do it and enjoying what I’m doing just because I can.

So about that soup

Even if I had an excellent potato soup recipe I wouldn’t follow it.  (I do have an excellent book of soup recipes entitled Soup, by Coralie Castle; 101 Productions; distributed by Scribner, New York 1971.  It is out in a second edition published in 1996, too.)  I don’t need to look in the book to know I probably don’t have all the ingredients, or if I do, I won’t want to use the ingredients called for.  More importantly, seems to me that recipes are guidelines to someone else’s idea of what food should taste like.  It’s like making a quilt using the exact fabrics and pattern that someone else has created, or painting-by-numbers.

Not saying that there’s anything wrong with doing those things, just that it’s not for me.

You know the supposedly ancient Chinese saying about giving a man a fish vs. teaching him how to fish?  Well, teach me not only how to fish, but how to light a fire, and how to clean the fish, and how to fry or broil or stew, and you’ve taught me something truly useful.  Which, by the way, is why the early editions of The Joy of Cooking are so wonderful — Irma Rombauer provided not just recipes but an explanation of the basic principles of cooking.  That’s why that cookbook has been in print continuously since 1936 with over 18 million copies sold.

Teach me the principles of soup and I’ll make my own recipe.

Potato soup ingredients

So in case you want to know what I did, here it is, today’s recipe for potato soup, with annotations.  Next time I won’t make it the same way.  As for trying my recipe?  Do what you will, that is the only advice (apology to Mr. Crowley)

Ingredients

  • 5 potatoes of varying sizes I grabbed some potatoes that I forgot I had.  They hadn’t gone green yet and that didn’t have lots of sprouts.  Most of the rest will get planted when it’s warmer if they don’t go into the compost, darn it
  • 1 onion It needed using before it needed to join the potatoes in the garden
  • 3 large carrots because I like carrots
  • 1 cup chopped kale because I had it, because it doesn’t store well and the horses won’t eat it, and because it would make the soup photo pretty
  • A few grinds of black pepper
  • 1 TBS cumin because I love the taste
  • 1 TBS Golden Paste (turmeric) because it’s good for me.  You can use plain turmeric if you don’t have Golden Paste handy, or don’t put any in the soup at all
  • Some veggie oil
  • A big blob of butter
  • Secret ingredient:  Left-over coffee from this morning
  • Water

Instructions

  • Heat the oil in a deep pan or a soup pot.  Melt butter in the oil.  Don’t let it get so hot it smokes!
  • Chop the onions into chunks and saute in the oil/ butter.  While that’s cooking, do the potatoes. Don’t forget to stir every so often so nothing sticks to the pan.
  • Chop the potatoes into chunks and add to the onions.  While that’s cooking, do the carrots.
  • Chop the carrots into smallish pieces and add to the onions/carrots.  While that’s cooking, do the kale.
  • Chop the kale and stir into the rest.
  • Add the pepper, and the other spices if you like them.
  • Add the coffee (it was about 8 oz).  I like coffee in my sauces and soups because it adds a nice dark color and some depth and richness to the taste.  I tend to not bother with meat broths, which would do the same.
  • Add water to cover all ingredients and bring to a boil.
  • Cover and simmer on low till it’s getting mushy.  Leave the lid cocked a little so the liquid reduces some, but watch that it doesn’t reduce too much and burn your veggies.  My soup was started on the gas stove and finished on the wood stove.

OK, here’s the fun part.  After the soup’s cooked a while but before it’s done you can start adjusting the taste.  Be advised that it’s all subjective.  I like to taste what I’ve got, imagine how it might be better (unless it’s perfect already) then add a few things that call to me.

  • Add salt.  Or maybe soy sauce.  Or not.
  • Try these (they’re in my soup right now):  Tarragon, basil, coriander.
  • Heavy cream, if you’re into cream of potato soup.  I’ve got powdered heavy cream I might add later.   Or not.

My soup’s cooking right now.  It needs a few hours of simmering, but it’s already tasting interesting.  But you know the best part of this?  However it turns out, it doesn’t matter.  It wasn’t only ever about the eating part.

I’ll report later how the soup turns out,  good or bad!

EDITED: same evening.  I had a bowl of my soup straight, with some added salt.  If I make it again I’ll add salt in the beginning  It tasted fine, but it was more like a veggie stew than a soup.

For a second bowl I mashed the veggies and then added plain yogurt.  Oh my, now that’s good.  But also, I felt that the whole dish would have been improved with the addition of lentils early on.  I think more potatoes would have been a good idea.

I’m too full now for a third bowl, so that experiment is for tomorrow.  I’m going to run the soup through a blender and add the heavy cream instead of yogurt.  Actually, I think I’ll add the cream (powdered) tonight so it’ll have a chance to blend in with the other flavors.

EDITED: next day.  Oh boy oh boy oh boy.  YUMMY!  I can’t decide whether I like the yogurt version or the cream version better.  I’ll have to make this soup again to find out because it’s all gone now!

I’m giving this soup 4 of 5 stars!  ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ☆