It’s well reported that plants
clean the air. Green is a relaxing color, and the outdoors is proven to
reduce stress, etc. etc.
I *love* plants. I have a harder time walking out of a
garden center empty handed than just about any other type of store. I tried
counting over the winter, how many plants were in my house—not even really
counting the army of annuals that I’d moved from my deck to the guest room
upstairs—and I lost count. The plants winter in the guest room because it is
the brightest room in the house and they would all die if I tried to keep them
It’s scientifically proven. Oy. Poor things. Every winter I
drag in my herbs with the hope that I can keep them alive indoors, but they never
quite make it through with the limited light. This winter I bought a grow light
in February, and more of them made it than before.
If I did the plant count today, there would be…um…sixteen on
the main floor and fifteen on the bedroom level. Not counting the plants in
with the fish (three bettas in three bowls). And that’s with all the other plants
out for the summer (including my lemon trees, rose of Sharons, clematis, and
I suppose that makes it sounds like I have a green
thumb…it’s more that I read labels.
When I don’t read the label, I buy plants that won’t ever
survive in my house and they die. This is what happens in the fish tank (to be
fair, though, the labels on those plants are utterly useless), and I have yet
to sort out what’s going on there. Java ferns, anarchis, nameless ground
covers…all die. I’ve only just turned to the internet for solutions, feeling
pretty dumb for taking so long. Apparently, they sell substrate just for water
plants, to build a proper eco system with bacteria and everything. Not to
mention even water plants need light.
We’ll see how that experiment goes.
For all this…you’d think I’d be better at painting them, but
I feel woefully inadequate. It has taken me forever to render a succulent that
I actually felt proud of. But, I did! Finally. I’ve managed a little better with
roses, but I’ve been at roses longer.
I guess that’s a huge part of both gardening and painting, you just have to keep practicing, keep training the eye, keep trying. And…possibly read the instructions.
(A number of these pieces are for sale on Redbubble)
I don’t know who started it, but I belong to a family of
birders. Compared to a truly avid birder, we aren’t, but compared to the folks
who aren’t sure what a robin is, we’re absolute bird nerds.
Growing up, we had a couple blue bird houses in back and a
hummingbird feeder hanging off the deck. But my grandparents maintained a
monstrous contraption of a bird feeder, with suet, thistle, sunflower, and
probably a couple other extensions. My grandfather had a longstanding contest
with the local squirrels, but unlike me he was actually pretty successful in
building baffles to keep the little moochers off. It wasn’t until recently that
the trees had gotten too big and too close, and the squirrels could just LEAP
directly onto the feeder.
But for years, the squirrels foraged under the feeder and
the birds fed at their appointed places and splashed in their heated (in
My Grandparents received Birds and Blooms magazine, and whenever we arrived at their house for a visit I would immediately grab a magazine and flip through the pages looking at all the spectacular, brilliantly colored, photography. I never read the full length articles, just the short little blurbs and funny stories. But oh, those pictures.
Phone calls, letters, and conversation centered on the
happenings at the bird feeder—what notable bird visited, or the time the fox
came through with a half-eaten something in his mouth, or the day the hawk
visited and ALL THE BIRDS avoided the yard for hours. I imagine, if there were
a zoologist historian at some point in the future, they would like to have my
grandmother’s letters. But given that they are all written in cursive, they won’t
be able to read them.
The aviary is my favorite part of the zoo, and I always try
to stop and listen to the birds, even though I have only the barest grasp on
which birds I’m hearing. Now that I’m grown and have a house of my own, I have
a sunflower seed feeder.
I hang it off a tree branch I can reach from my deck, so I
had no illusions about keeping the squirrels off—though I do throw cups of
water at them sometimes when I feel like they’ve been on the feeder Every
Single Time I’ve been out there.
I don’t mind at all when the cardinal in the tree outside my
bedroom window scolds loudly because the feeder is empty. I love watching the
housefinches, chickadees and the occasional titmouse pigging out on the feeder.
After a lifetime of drawing horses, I was surprised to find an
affinity for birds. I really love painting birds, and half the time I really
love how the paintings come out. I attribute it to the hours and hours I spent
poring over Birds and Blooms, staring at breathtaking hummingbirds, titmice,
tanagers, orioles, chickadees, bluebirds (east and west), blue jays (east and
west)…of course, the more shy, insect eating birds I know essentially nothing
about (there are armies of wrens and warblers and sparrows that I’m only seeing
now because I have an uncle and an aunt who are Real Avid Birders with a Really
I’ve started to experiment with different looks and feels
for my bird paintings, and will probably start asking various wildlife and
raptor rehabilitation centers if they are interested in having a piece to auction.
What about you? Do you bird watch? Or are birds those mysterious avian monsters from that Hitchcock movie? Which of these birds did you like best and want to see in the Etsy shop? (The Blue Vireo is already there)
It’s been quite a while since I’ve given an update on Midas—we’re
still riding! We had some interesting setbacks last fall, ironically due almost
entirely to the success I’ve had remaking Midas into a good citizen. He’s got a
teenager now who rides him a couple times a week, and my rides now include a
good bit of retraining. Anyone who grew up at a lesson barn on lesson horses should
understand how lesson horses, with the rare exception, are the way they are because
they have so many riders at so many skill levels that they either get away with
murder or they plod along keeping their heads down.
Midas would be the one getting away with murder. It’s not
really because he likes murder, per se, it’s just his default solution to
things. A regular murder-hobo, that one.
We have definitely spent a lot of time rehashing issues I’d buried
years ago. It’s really interesting to see which parts of the training unravel,
and which parts you have to focus on in order to restore the whole.
I get the impression that most people find manners either
dull, cute, or otherwise optional until the manners are so bad that they are
obviously dangerous. But manners are everything, and the only way to get them
is to teach them and insist on them.
One of the most important things in re-establishing behavior
and boundaries is the grooming time. I require that the horse stand still while
being groomed, and not wander off to eat unless given express permission. For
example, Midas knows that if I point to grass and say “OK, eat” he’s clear to
stuff his face until I have something else for him to do. It doesn’t count as
permission if he dives for the grass and I say, “ok, fine, whatever, I’m tired
of fighting with you.”
In return for respect, I try to provide an incredibly
pleasant grooming experience full of kind conversation and itch scratching.
It’s important the horse not move unless asked or released,
because I’m the one in charge. The last thing I asked was for the horse to stop
and stand still, so he should until told otherwise. He’s not loose and alone,
he’s with me.
It’s important to note here that I don’t tie the horse, haven’t
in years, and haven’t used crossties in so long that it startles me to see a
horse cross-tied. Now, you don’t START with a horse who stands quietly without
being tied, but you can’t get one unless you teach him.
There are some days we spend the whole grooming time with Midas
trying to walk off or eat, and I quietly put his feet back where I left them
and refuse to let him tune me out. On a very bad day, I hold the lead rope the
whole time I groom. Days like that pretty uniformly mean that our mounted work
will be rudimentary and fraught.
Sometimes, though, I can recapture his mind with groundwork—since
he already knows yielding in hand, I try to change things up. New locations, mixing
commands with just following me at trot or walk or through figures. We had to
give up total liberty for a while, but we’re getting back to following work
without the rope as a training measure.
As spring really kicked into gear, we started to have
mounted work that felt like the work from last spring. He stopped charging into
trot again, and I invested a few rides in making him stand and wait outside the
ring and the payoff was the ability to have a nice long hack on the buckle
around all the neighbor fields.
I mix up my rides as much as possible, one day we use a
saddle and work on softness at trot and transitions. Other days we use the bareback
pad (or nothing at all) and focus entirely on seat and legs and mounting block
manners in the ring and abroad using woodpiles.
A couple weeks ago I got on him with just a lead rope from
the woodpile down the driveway and rode him utterly gearless back to the barn.
Last week we wove cones at walk with just a neck rope.
I’m starting to hope that we can, again, start working at
Each ride varies, and I’ve no doubt that the mindset I walk
in on is directly tied to what happened when the teenager rode him.
But what doesn’t vary is that he won’t calm down if I am not
calm. He won’t obey if I am not the leader all the time—isn’t there a line from
something, “Am I not Queen?”—either I’m Queen all the time or I’m not Queen.
I’m a good Queen. I work very hard to pay attention to his
needs, to make sure gear fits and is smoothly in place, to scratch itches,
reward good tries, and not punish things that weren’t intended as slights or
rebellion. I try to listen when he has something to tell me, so he knows that
he’s not a slave. But….he is a subject.
Midas isn’t a fool. He appreciates considerate behavior. But,
he has this baggage, and sometimes can’t bring himself to just BE considerate
himself. Last year I’d mostly re-structured his responses so we were working on
canter and brideless and liberty.
But, the introduction of a beginner intermediate rider brought
his baggage roaring back. Not as bad as it was—not by a long shot. He was still
ridable, for one thing. I don’t think he’s bolted outright with her, for
example. But he does charge around like an idiot, and he doesn’t exactly steer or
It’s good to see, though, that he doesn’t lose everything. That I was able to give him a new lease on life, another level of usefulness, another way of relating to humans that doesn’t shoot first and ask questions later. At least…he sticks to kneecaps…baby steps, right?