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We Are Flying Solo

Showing posts with label memorial. Show all posts
Showing posts with label memorial. Show all posts

April 21, 2020

Unexpected Loss

Saturday night, we unexpectedly lost a treasured human friend.  I still can't wrap myself around the size of the hole he has left in our lives.

I don't know exactly how old he was.  Maybe in his 70s, but up until a couple of years ago, he was strong, active, & capable of working harder than I was.  The past couple years though, he has been taking care of his wife, who has terminal cancer, which has dragged on far longer than anyone expected.  I can testify that the exhaustion & stress of watching cancer eat alive the person that you love is a deadly threat.  And so it was - Richard collapsed of a massive heart attack & a relative found him in his home Sunday morning.

"Heartbroken" does even begin to describe how I feel.

The first time I met Richard was when I came out to look at this property in 2013.  He was selling his back pastures, so he was also looking for a good neighbour.  As he carried me back through his fields in his utility vehicle, his soft-spoken kindness & gentle humour immediately put me at ease.  I fell in love with the parcel which became Flying Solo Farm, but part of that was due to added feature of having Richard next door.  For two people from two very different generations, we had a whole lot in common.
We both loved horses; Richard with Buddy the Appy, last April
FSF sits on the foundation he created.  He bought this parcel as cut-over timberland & transformed it to rolling pastures edged with mature oaks, pines, & sweetgums.  He built the fences by hand, hung the gates, established the forage that my horses use today.  He could have made more money selling this property to someone else but that was never what Richard was about.

I never could have built this place without him.  He used his enormous tractor to bushhog over-grown fields for me.  He moved & re-drove fenceposts so I could make new gates & he built the entrance road.  He taught me how to repair & adjust the hi-tensile fence so it stayed safe for horses.  He helped me improve my tractor bucket skills & pitched in to any project that was too big for my equipment.
2016: Fixing my driveway culvert
What defined Richard, though, was his generosity.  He owned every tool known to man & offered any of them to me.  It didn't matter how busy he was, if I needed a hand with something, he was there for however long it took.  And it was the same for any other person he met -- he lived to help others, no matter who they were.

As is common with those of generous spirit, Richard also had a deep & open love for animals.  His quiet, gentle way with them endeared him to dogs & horses with the same effect he had on people.  Broken hearts with darkened pasts found a balm for all the sharp edges that life cut into them.  He was a quiet port in which to rest, safe for a moment from battering seas.  It was his gift to abused equines.  It was also his gift to me.

Richard loved horses above all.  An avid trail rider, he showed me the vast network of trails across neighbouring properties that he'd strung together over the years & kept maintained.  Although he had a weakness for a flashy paint, his favourite horse, his Solo, was an old-school, plain bay TWH named Big Boy.  A big-moving, big-headed mahogany gelding overflowing with energy, the two of them used to do 15-20 miles a day the first few years I lived here.
I can't find any Big Boy photos, so here is Nobody, another of Richard's TWH & this was Richard's contact photo in my phone
Big Boy died suddenly last fall -- he was found dead in his pasture, not a mark on him, no sign of a struggle.  He was somewhere in his 20s & retired & we suspected his heart just gave out.  Richard buried him where he found him, on top of a hill looking over the fields where he had lived out a good life.  It's a little eerie looking back now, that they both went the same way. 

There's so many more good things I could tell you about Richard.  He was well-loved in this community & you'd be hard-pressed to find a person he hadn't helped.  He & his wife both grew up here in this small-town county & were related to everyone by blood or marriage.  He went far too soon & I know I'm not the only person missing him terribly.
2014: Driving anchor holes for my first hayshed w/ 100 HP behemoth
One of the things he was most looking forward to was eventually getting back to riding.  He hadn't been able to do much of anything due to his wife's health needs & he always put her first.  I worried so much that he wouldn't survive the stress, because I knew what a similar situation had done to me.  My deepest sorrow for him was that he didn't make it to that goal.  He missed riding so much & he never stopped cleaning his tack in hopes that he would get to use it again.

One day last summer, I did manage to coax him out on a brief ride in May, his first in two years.  I didn't know then it would be his last ride, but it makes me doubly glad I did.  It was a beautiful day, with summer sun dappling through the leaves & he kept telling me over & over how good it felt just to sit on a horse.  I couldn't stop smiling watching him.
That ride:  Richard & Smokey, me & Buddy
I've spent the last few days aimlessly wandering the farm & sitting on the porch, alternately weeping & cursing the unfair universe.  I miss my dear friend, I miss his gentle teasing, I miss his unintelligable phone calls of southern-mumble-quiet-drawl where I had to guess at every other word.  I miss his looking out for me:  if we didn't cross paths in his yard (my driveway goes through his farm) & he hadn't heard from me in a while, he'd randomly come back to the house & knock on my door just to see if I was ok & have a chat. 

Most of all, I miss one of the biggest hearts & kindest, most generous natures I have ever known.  I owe him so much - I tried to repay him via barter whenever I could, grooming his horses when he couldn't get to it, fixing small things for him, mowing a fenceline while I was on the tractor -- but he was so dang capable, I felt like I could never keep up.
2015: Plowing my driveway with his skidsteer (part of this amusing story)
I will forever be grateful to him for this farm, which has become my quiet sanctuary, although it will never be the same without his ready smile.  I will try to do what I know he would tell me to do:  enjoy the land, enjoy the horses whenever & however I get a chance, & enjoy quiet walks on pretty days.

I would ask this of you, readers, in honor of Richard:  look for opportunities for a small (or large) good deed, which can be as simple as checking in on someone who is on their own.  Don't wait to be asked - kindness unbidden is always a welcome gift & it is one that I will try to give more often because I know what it meant when given to me.

For Richard:  I don't think anything magical happens when we die & I don't think you did either.  Nonetheless, I choose to think of you meeting Big Boy on the other side, where you calm his anxious energy with a touch just like you did in life.  May the two of you step out together on the trail that never ends, free of the aches & worries that piled up behind you, with not a single fly in sight.  There will always be a part of you here on Flying Solo Farm & I will try my best to do it justice, even though I can never do it as well as you.  I will never forget all that you did for me & I will miss you always.

Farewell, my very dear friend.  Ride free.       

May 29, 2015

It's Not About Eventing, It's About Living: For Seema

Always a smile
I repeat often how lucky I feel, to have made friends with & learned from so many wonderful people since getting involved in Adult Riders & volunteering.

One of those people (although she surely counted for at least 3 or 4) was Seema Sonnad.  Those of you involved in eventing are no doubt already aware, but we lost Seema this week.  She suffered a fatal heart arrhythmia during an ultra-marathon in Seattle.

Yes, ULTRA-marathon.  Because Seema was Wonder Woman incarnate in a thousand ways & I think she even ultra-walked out her front door every morning.  It would never even occur to her to be 'regular.'

She would show up to work four 13-hour days at an event after usually having flown across the country from a marathon or conference with about 3 hours of sleep...and I never heard the word "tired" cross her lips. I always joked to her that I felt compelled to take a nap for her!

And she most certainly ultra-gave every ounce of herself to the world around her & changed lives on a regular basis.  Including mine.  So, Seema, I want to say thank you, although those words are so woefully inadequate.

You more than earned this beautiful tribute to your stunning array of achievements from the American Journal of Managed Care, which naturally, you co-edited.

Essential Seema -- at Waredaca
I'll never forget arriving at work one morning & opening my inbox to find your email (I don't even know how you knew my work address), informing me that there was a paid entry to any horse trial I wanted through Event Entries, just waiting for me, as a thanks for volunteering & advocacy.

I burst into tears as I wrote a thank you. It was completely out of the blue, & meant so much to me because I cannot afford to compete on my own, as you knew.

We often refer to such acts as "going out of your way."  But that never applied to you...because it WAS your way, in the most beautiful connotation that "routine" can have.  Such seemingly small things which touch people's lives in an unforgettable manner.  

You perfected what I try (emphasis on try) to live, captured by my favourite poet & author, May Sarton, another amazing woman:

"I would like to believe when I die that I have given myself away like a tree that sows seeds every spring and never counts the loss, because it is not loss, it is adding to future life. It is the tree's way of being. Strongly rooted perhaps, but spilling out its treasure on the wind."

It's tempting to say it's the end of an era, or some close cliche.  Nothing could be further from the truth, however.  Because of the blueprint you inspired us to build on, as not just eventers, but as women in science, as givers, as doers, as forces of life, being here, being now:  it's only the beginning.  Or to phrase it better, we've reached the start flags of Phase B & it's time to fly, primed by impossibly comprehensive coaching & warmup that could only have come from a spirit as fierce & gracious & bold & brilliant as this one.

April 11, 2011

On Saying Goodbye

The hardest part about enriching our lives with animals lies in the fact that they have shorter lifespans then we do.  Perhaps it is because they love so fiercely and live so openly -- a brighter fire burns more fuel.  The end result is that they break off a little piece of our heart when they go.

I am writing this today because I won't be able to do it on Wednesday.  When Dr. Bob comes and lays Smokey to rest for me.  The kindest dog I ever met deserves a tribute after sixteen and a half years of unabated love and companionship.

So this is for you, big girl, because your brown eyes will always be with me.

You have been the longest relationship of my life. When I first met you, I was a gangly sixteen. You were a timid, nondescript pound puppy who became fast friends with our bold Eskimo-cross, Sasha. You two were inseparable, so naturally, you joined her as my 4-H training project.  A little bit Shepherd, a little bit Collie, and very quickly, a big piece of my heart.

Remember when we used to get to obedience class at the county fairgrounds early and we would lie in the summer grass next to the lake? I would show you the most interesting clouds and you'd keep an eye out for squirrels.

Remember when we would visit the creek by the house and you loved it so much, you would take a galloping leap off the bank so you could relish the cool splash of the belly flop?

Remember when you and Sasha would pick some poor, unsuspecting squirrel and stalk and tag-team him each time he dared come to the ground? You two even scored a squirrel tail one time...

Remember when we would go hiking around the lake and you would catch a glimpse of a deer through the woods? You would bound into the air like your legs were on springs, Collie-flop ears all a-perk and nose working overtime with enthusiasm.

Remember when we would sled in the fresh snow behind the house and you would dash alongside our saucers, nipping at snowsuit legs and always trying to figure out where snowballs went when they hit the ground?

Remember your nemesis, the box turtle? How did he just become a seamless rock? How dare he disappear like that? You were determined to bark him out.

Remember later, when you came to join me in graduate school.  Sasha had died and you were lost in deep mourning without her.  I was 24 and you staunchly guarded my apartment against all comers, friend or foe. You rode in the creaky old elevator of the biology building, keeping a suspicious eye on the numbers, so you could visit me at work and find a new lease on life. Oh yeah, and those squirrels...

Remember long swims in Carolina lakes alongside the canoe? It always seemed to make your shoulder arthritis vanish and I saw the puppy again when you came leaping out of the water.

Remember cold nights, curled up on the couch? Your fur always kept my feet warm and your thick ruff made a welcome pillow for hugs and tears alike.

You were always there for me, always in the doorway. Always with a watchful eye on me and an ear cocked in my direction. Complete devotion, loyalty, and gentleness. You knew how to work a campfire, extracting maximum bellyrubs from all parties. You were an excellent boater, camper, hiker, traveler, and friend.

I have been proud to know you and proud to love you and you have never let me down. I can only hope that I can take the gifts and lessons of love you have given me and pass them on to others in need.

Your heart is still strong, despite your tired body. No doubt it always will be. You are free to go. You don't have to search me out anymore. You don't have to protect me anymore. You can just lie the shade of the farm trees and rest for as long as you want in the grass that you love to roll in.

But I will miss you always.

May 4, 2009

A Week Of Mourning

In a horrific and unexpected moment, I lost a dear friend and family member last week and was just unable to bend my will to writing for you.

I want to take a moment (well, frankly, because it's my blog and because I can) and tell you about a very special guy who touched my life so deeply.

He was a dirty little 5-month-old kitten with a respiratory infection when I first saw him at the Bay Area SPCA outside of Houston, TX in 2002. He'd been in that cage for two months after his previous owner dumped him. Then he reached his little paws through his cage bars and stole my heart right. That night, he crawled under the sheets in my bed and curled up next to my chest and did the same thing every night for the next seven years. His name was Nemo -- short for Geronimo, NOT the little orange fish, thankyouverymuch.

He waited behind the door every day for me to come home from work. His greatest pleasure was curling up in my lap and dozing. Each night, he nuzzled up next to my pillow and sang me to sleep with a robust purring motor. And I can't finish this post without tears because I wasn't ready to let him go.

I'll never know for certain what happened. He had a heart murmur from about one year of age on, so I believe he suffered from cardiomyopathy. The best I can tell is that his heart threw a blood clot that burst in his brain. All I can be glad for is that it was over very, very quickly. He is buried beneath the birdfeeder he loved to watch and I just planted a group of caladium bulbs over his head. I miss him terribly every day and always will; I have never known a cat quite like him, I swear he was part dog. He came when you called, fetched toys, and loved pretty much everyone.

In his honor, I decided the best thing that I could do was to help another cat, thereby giving it a happy home AND opening up a space at a good rescue for another cat, a 2-for-1 deal! I had not intended to act on this for a while, but last week, in a somewhat creepy twist of fate, a little 2 year old female who is the SPITTING image of Nemo introduced herself to me. She is so like him that I don't know whether to laugh or cry (I confess to the latter when she too, burrowed under my sheets last night). I'll never get my best boy back, but I am trying to do right by his memory and help other cats who are as needy as he once was.

Please take a second and go donate your "click" here: The Animal Rescue Site. I have blogged about them before here and hope that you can give the purple button a hit to help shelter animals everywhere. Do it for Nemo, a heart so full of love that it wore itself out. Be kind to a kitty today, it takes so little to make their lives better.