Archive for category: Animals

Silent Spring

Categories: Adventure, Animals, Biking, Buddhist Practice, Cancer, Conscious Living, Family, France, Health and Fitness, Horses, Psychology, Relationships, Travel

My life has been so blessed overall–but I/we surely got dealt our lifetime ration of yuck over the past six months!!

In January, my beautiful young Rocky Mountain Horse, Shambhala Sunrise, died ;  our local property “caretakers” did the opposite of taking care of us and our property, instead figuring out how to destroy our yurt, and bilk us and the state of California, no more said about them, but we don’t miss them; the son of a (unbeknownst to us uninsured) roofer fell off the roof of our ranch in the Sierras; my truck was vandalized and my wallet and ID was stolen by a ring of sophisticated identity thieves; we had to cancel our long awaited trip to visit our godson in South America when my beloved husband, Jim, was diagnosed (mis, fortunately) with colon cancer; my new horse bucked me off twice and fractured my collar bone.  I didn’t feel like talking much about it all!  IT seemed like a good time to observe “SILENT SPRING” and wait until the dark clouds passed over.

Today, in celebration of the end of that Silent Spring, we are back on track-marking the end of the winter of our discontent and celebrating our 30th Anniversary with a tandem bicycle trip following the Rhine and Moselle Rivers,  More to follow!

My Beautiful Brave Paso Fino Horse

Categories: Adventure, Animals, Conscious Living, Horses, Pets, Self-Improvement, Women's - Tags: , , ,

This story, sent to me by my Paso Fino horse-loving friend  is so inspiring to those of us who cherish our horses, I had to  share it with you.

LAKE TAHOE – Melissa Margetts and Cabo, “my beautiful brave Paso Fino

horse,” made history upon completing the Tevis Cup, the world’s hardest

and most technically difficult 100-mile endurance ride, from Lake Tahoe

to Auburn, Calif.Horse and rider have 24 hours to complete the 55-year-old race, and only
50 percent of them make it.
Melissa Margetts and Cabo Complete Fabled Tevis Cup

Cabo, a buckskin-colored Paso Fino, is the first of his breed to have
ever completed the race, in which 98 percent of the equine participants
are Arabians – their strides maybe half again as long as the stride of
the quick-stepping Paso Finos, who are known for their  smoothness.

“His natural four-beat lateral gait’s short steps make his ride so sure
footed and smooth,” Margetts says of Cabo, “but it also means he is not
as efficient as an Arab” – and that her horse “probably did 150 miles to
their 100!”

Most horse-and-rider teams are pulled out of the race because of
fatigue, or because either they or their horses are not able to because
of the technical difficulty, lameness, dehydration, metabolic imbalances
caused by the altitude and temperatures of over 100 degrees in some of
the canyons.

The trail is treacherous, narrow and rocky in places, with granite
trails especially slippery, with sheer drop-offs into the abyss.

Hardship notwithstanding, riders from all over the world apply for the
Cup a year in advance, in the hopes that they will be lucky enough to
have a spot among the maximum 210 riders that every year take on the
challenge.

This year, riders came from Australia, Japan, France, Switzerland and
the United Arab Emirates, in addition to the American riders.
International riders who do not have passports for their own horses pay
roughly $5,000 to lease a conditioned, Tevis-worthy horse for the one-
day ride. Most of the riders are from the U.S., however, and have spent
years conditioning themselves and their mounts for this ride. All riders
and all horses are required to complete hundreds of miles of documented
endurance rides either nationally, with the American Endurance Ride
Conference, or internationally with the Fédération Equestre
Internationale, headquartered in Switzerland.

“To finish is to win” is the motto in the endurance world, and to that
end the Tevis Cup offers no monetary prizes – its only prize is a much-
coveted silver belt buckle with a picture of a pony express rider at a
gallop and the words “100 miles…One Day.” The buckle is only given to
horses and riders who have proved themselves to be “fit to continue” the
grueling race and cross the finish line.

Bottom line, Margetts emphasizes, is that “it’s all about the horse, as
it should be.”

As is the case in other major world-class sports events, participants’
blood is drawn regularly to ensure no performance-enhancing drugs are
being used (or drugs to mask the pain from injuries). More than 700
volunteers and 17 top veterinarians (with 30 veterinary assistants) man
17 Vet Checks and Stops along the route.

“They couldn’t care less if the rider is dead in the saddle and held in
place with duct tape and bungee cords,” Margetts says, by way of
describing the race’s central emphasis on peak condition horses. “Your
horse had better be in fine shape every inch of the way, and they are
there to make sure that happens. At every vet check, they look at each
horse’s capillary refill, heart rate, respiration, hydration levels,
muscle tone and attitude, and check for soundness. They listen to the
horses gut sounds with their stethoscopes to make sure everything is
moving and even check ‘where the sun don’t shine’ for anal tone if your
horse looks a little off. I’ve never had such a going over myself, but I
can guarantee you Cabo has!”

All that information is then marked and recorded on the vet card riders
carry with them to the next vet check.

“Cabo got all A’s and B’s every time,” Margetts relates proudly.

Margetts herself rode with with a heart rate monitor attached to her
horse’s girth to transmit his heart rate to her watch every three
seconds, to ensure he was being kept at an aerobic pace. “You are
trotting for the entire 100 miles and are hardly ever at a walk,” she
explains, so as to not “squeeze all of the toothpaste out of the tube”
at the start.

“Another way to give both you and your horse enough energy for the whole
ride – and a better chance of finishing – is to get off the horse
wherever you can cover ground on foot just as fast as he can with you on
his back.”

To that end, Margetts says, “I ran on foot down all the steep canyons,
leading him over the rocks and holding onto his tail and one rein to let
him pull me up the really steep terrain.

“There is a lot of training and conditioning,” she emphasizes, for both
horse and rider to prepare for the Tevis Cup. “This ride is like the
Olympics, and these horses are the elite athletes. The sport is
dominated by Arabian horses who, in addition to their long and efficient
stride, have thin skin “to help dissipate heat, large nostrils for
taking in oxygen and a large lung capacity.”

Living at 9,600 ft. on Wilson Mesa and “being able to train at altitude
ranging from 10,000 to 130,000 feet gave Cabo what he needed for most of
the ride where we were climbing up over the Sierra Nevada,” Margetts
says, praising the horse for being “sure-footed and fast” in mountainous
terrain.

“We were well-conditioned” from training for the race, she says, adding
that “our biggest challenge came when we hit the canyons midday when the
temperatures reached around 105 degrees and I was running down 3,000
feet and then ‘tailing up’ the next 3,000 feet. “You are so happy to
climb out of those canyons and get into a vet check,” and meet up with
the pit crew, before descending into the next “hotter-than-Hades
canyon,” she says.

While the horses and riders guzzle water with electrolytes, the vets are
swarming all over each horse, the crew is taking off the horse’s tack
and dousing him with buckets of cool water, and buckets-full of grain,
cut-up carrots, apples and alfalfa – and then putting on a dry saddle blanket.

“Then it’s tack back on, jump in the saddle, grab an energy bar on the
fly and you’re off again.” As night falls, and horse and rider come into
the next Vet Check, glow bars are duct-taped onto the horses’ breast
collars to help them see, as headlamps and flashlights are too
disorienting. Now the rider grabs a jacket for the trail and horse and
rider take off for yet another the part of the ride showcasing the
camaraderie and teamwork between horse and rider.

“It really does take a leap of faith to trust your horse, who can see
the trail better than you can at a full trot in the pitch black,” says
Margetts. “One misstep and both horse and rider could be cartwheeling
over a cliff.”

That did happen, she adds, although it was an accident with a relatively
happy ending, as the horse was “just a little cut up, but not seriously
hurt,” and the rider broke several bones, punctured a lung, bruised his
liver and after several hours in the dark perched precariously on a
ledge, was rescued and helicoptered out.

“You spend a lot of time with your heart in your throat,” says Margetts,
who is still ebullient from the experience, “but I am always amazed how
a horse sees so much better than we do at night. You just need to trust him.

“It’s an incredible experience to ride at night, and at that pace,” she
adds. And then, “just when you are really starting to enjoy the
experience, despite the exhaustion, it comes time to swim your horse
across the American River, following a path that volunteers have marked
with glow bars on ropes attached to the rocks underwater.

“It was so beautiful!” she says.

The river’s dam is shut off (for just that one day all year) so the
Tevis riders can swim across the river without getting swept downstream
by its swift-moving current.

And then the last lap begins. “Drenched up to your thighs, you start
climbing up the very last canyon, across No-Hands Bridge and into Auburn
to the finish line and your victory lap around the stadium in the
fairgrounds – and to a cheering crowd of camera-toting fans, “food and
rest and tears of joy when you receive that coveted silver belt buckle –
and that even more special prize of burying your face in your horse’s
mane, throwing your arms around his neck and crying, knowing that the
two of you just accomplished something very special and that you both
took care of each other.”

Margetts, who recently retired after three decades as a wildlife
rehabilitator and educator, founded the Telluride region’s much-loved
Rocky Mountain Ark Wildlife Center.

She says she’s enjoying her so-called retirement – and viewing the world
from between the ears of her horse. Emphasizing that she has never in
her life owned a cowboy buckle, and has “always kind of shied away from
real cowboy attire,” she says: “You can bet yer boots I’ll be sportin’
this thing around for a while!”

So if you see Melissa Margetts around town, once you’ve recovered from
the sun flashing off of that silver buckle, tell her congratulations.

And give her an apple for Cabo.

HOW I HIT THE JACKPOT!

Categories: Adventure, Animals, Biking, Dining, Gourmet, Health and Fitness, Hiking, Pets, Travel - Tags: , , , , , , ,

Hiking High Above KESSLER CANYON RANCH, COLORADO

We have been book tour traveling off and on since Pulling Up Stakes: Stepping Into Freedom (http://www.pullingupstakesbook.com) was released in April.  This month we have dates at bookstore in Vail and Boulder, Colorado.  Of course, being savvy travellers, we’ve cherry picked our trips and it has really worked out well for us.  So when we were confirmed at Bookworm in Vail (http://www.bookwormofedwards.com) and Boulder Books Store (http://www.boulderbookstore.net)  in Boulder, I went on the web to find out what else we might do to light our fire while in Colorado.

One of my favorite websites is Luxury Links (http://www.luxurylinks.com). We’ve stayed at some amazing places all over the world during our sabbatical that we found, bid on and won at Luxury Links.  This time I found a property called Kessler Canyon (www.kesslercanyon.com) that looked like it might just be the spark to light our fire for the Colorado tour (oops, too many wildfires are burning right now in the west….anyway, you know what I mean).

It was a competitive bid, but luckily, this place must be the best kept secret in Western Colorado.  SO, drumroll….I won the auction—3 days and 2 nights, all meals and activities included.  But, we didn’t have a clue we had won the JACKPOT until we landed in Grand Junction, got a free upgrade to any car of our choice (a 4 wheel drive Jeep SUV) because they were out of compact cars.  We drove north to DeBeque and 17 miles west through high desert before we found the gates to Kessler Canyon and drove 4.5 more dusty dirt road miles into a canyon surrounded by rugged sandstone and shale peaks before arriving at the oasis that is this private resort.

Kessler’s Homage to the Wild Mustangs Greeted Us–6 Larger Than Lifesize Sculptures Galloping Across the Crest of a Hill

We were greeted like long lost relatives, I was immediately hugged and called “Lil Darlin’” by Chef Lenny, a generously proportioned cowboy (definitely gourmet) cook/chef.  They’d been waiting for us and couldn’t wait to welcome us, help us get settled in this amazing place. Our huge room has original old west paintings, leather easy chairs, hand carved wooden tables and chests and a gorgeous spa-like bathroom.

We soon learned that the Kessler family fortune was made in the 1970s with the establishment of the Days Inns along highway interchanges.  This canyon has been the family’s private 23,000 acre hunting and fishing retreat from managing over a dozen other boutique hotels throughout the south. We’re here, it turns out to our amazement and delight, with only two other guests and a hand-picked gifted staff of 19.  Oh, My!  If there were stars to award and five was excellent, this place would rate a ten!

 

 

 

 

Cowboy Chef Lenny in a Rarely Pensive Moment (He is Usually Laughing or Singing)


 

 

We have been treated like visiting royalty.  Encouraged to fish in one of the lakes, take lessons in shooting skeet (this is a private big game hunting lodge during hunting season)—both shotguns and high powered rifles.  Now as a Buddhist, I clearly clo not believe in killing, but I certainly don’t object to shooting skeet and tin targets at 250 yard, especially when a Navy sharpshooter who has been teaching for almost twenty years offers himself as your private guide and instructor.

We’ve also been mountain biking and this morning we took Tess, the family Springer Spaniel, a reportedly $10.000 dog who recently gave birth to eight wonderful puppies, on a challenging hike up to the top of the plateau overlooking this canyon (see above photo)—about a 3,000 ft climb.

 

Mama Tess, the Amazing Springer Spaniel

We really feel we deserve the phenomenal gourmet meals Cowboy Chef Lenny prepares for us each meal.

We also were invited to learn (fast) and take out our own ATVs —for someone who’s never done that, and always only hiked, biked or ridden horses, that’s another adventure into a testosterone-drenched world, like shooting guns,.  Suffice it to say, we didn’t flip our ATVs. But there were more than a few “Yee Haws!” as we swooped down through stream beds and up steep banks to gun it (lots of guns here) out the straightaway.

Well, all I can say, is “Present Moment, Wonderful Moment” has many unexpected, sometimes challenging, yet extraordinary meanings.  It does appear, for the price we paid and the amazing experience we have had, that we have surely hit the jackpot.

Llama Drama: An Opportunity for Practice

Categories: Adventure, Animals, Buddhist Practice, Conscious Living, Family, Health and Fitness, Hiking, Meditation, Mindfulness - Tags: , , , ,

All Black Llao Llao Grazing by Matlock Lake

Arriving in bliss with the llamas and our dogs, high in the John Muir Wilderness, we chose a relatively off the beaten path lovely lake to set up camp for our week.  While the Kearsarge Pass trail gives access to both the John Muir Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail and thus sees lots and lots of backpackers this time of the summer, Matlock Lake is a hidden gem.  We are the only ones here.  It is in a basin surrounded by gnarled weather bent White pines and granite outcroppings against a backdrop of jagged minarets.  From here we can explore Flower Lake,  Gilbert Lake, Heart Lake, and Bench Lake.

Packing with llamas gives us some luxuries backpacking must deny, such as a commodious tent, extra thick sleeping mats, a hammock, a table and two low Crazy Creek chairs, my small inflatable boat the “H.M.S. Sassenatch” launched summers ago on Crabtree Lake into Bench Valley, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables and other delectables.Feeling immeasurable gratitude for all their exertions in making this possible, I wanted to offer the llamas something in exchange.  Down by the banks of the lake I saw a wonderful garden of fresh green bunch grass, their favorite.  I could liberate them from their stake out line, up the required 200 feet from the lake, and let them enjoy an hour of grazing while I paddled across Matlock Lake in my little boat on a reconnaissance mission.

Paddling H.M.S. Sassenatch with Beau and Tashi on Matlock Lake

Jim had warned me that that he had seen Kalmia Polyflora,a toxic form of heather,  the same noxious neurotoxin that had killed Llao Llao’s grandmother Hopi on a pack trip many years ago.  I had seen a bit of that plant down by the lake but felt that there was so much good bunch grass available for the llamas that they wouldn’t eat it, especially if they were only allowed to graze there at the lakeside for an hour.

Last night we climbed into our tent early, read for awhile, buttoned Tashi and Beau into their bright red fleece sleeping jamis and fell fast asleep.  That is, until I was awakened by my muse to write ” The Zen of Llamapacking in the Wilderness” as Jim and the dogs snored on.   I finished writing just before turning out my headlamp to go back to sleep.  But not quite!  I heard a disturbing noise.  Was it a llama choking and sputtering?  I knew it could be the worst.  Terrified, I pulled on my camp mocs and jacket, and rushed out of the tent to discover my worst fears realized.

Llao Llao was frothing at the mouth, just like his grandmother Hopi had done before succumbing to paroxysms of neuromuscular trauma and death.  OMG.  At least this time I had fully stocked our llama emergency first aid kit and was prepared with activated absortive charcoal, a camelback and tube for intubating a poisoned llama, as well as an injectable bio-sponge to absorb toxins from the gut.

At first, so chagrined that I had not heeded Jim’s admonition, and dreading the inevitable “I told you so.” I hastily mixed the granulated charcoal in water in the camelback and tried to administer it by myself to the downed llama.  As soon as I approached Llao Llao with the hose to intubate him, he got to his feet and I knew I couldn’t wrestle 325 lbs of even a sick llama by myself.

I had no choice but to swallow pride and wake up Jim for help. Torn between terror about losing Llao Llao and dreading Jim’s reprisals, I called out imploringly to him.  Aroused, he snarled, “I knew it!” but pulled on his pants and shoes and came to my side.  Realizing we had to figure out a way to immobilize Llao Llao’s head and incredibly strong neck, I haltered him and led him to a large granite rock, pulled his head down onto it, wrapped the lead rope under and around the boulder and handed the rope to Jim to immobilize him while I tried to get the hose down his throat and into his stomach, not his lungs.  Not easy at all, as naturally he fought with all his might and when I did snake the tube in he tried to grind it up with his molars.  He didn’t try to bite my hand inside his mouth per se, but I did get some cuts but somehow managed to pump quite a bit of the bladder full of charcoaled waters into him.  We released his head and watched for awhile, until we figured there was nothing more to do for him but pray.  Charcoaled water all over my clothes and feet, I looked like a refugee from a coal mine.

Jim couldn’t resist telling me that I had shown way too much hubris.  Meekly, I replied that I thought it was misguided compassion more than stubborn pride. Nonetheless, deeply sobered, I realized it was definitely time to practice, to breathe, to meditate, to embrace humility and calm, not get feisty and defensive.  So, exhausted, we returned to our tent and fell back into deep slumber.

The following morning at daylight we checked on our patient and to great relief found him standing and even tentatively chewing his cud.  To be extra safe, remembering Hopi,’s prolonged fatal poisoning ordeal, we repeated the procedure this time with the orally injectable bio-sponge.  The whole drama was such a practice opportunity!  Breathing in my humiliation, breathing gratitude that a potential tragedy had been averted, and that Llao Llao would not die, I realized that compassion and gratitude must be tempered by good judgement and common sense.

Confirming the crisis had passed, I was able to feed and water the llamas then stake them out far from the lake and the heather.  Assured they were cared for, secure and safe, we were able to actually take a great day hike, climbing to the top of spectacular Kearsarge Pass at 11,804 ft.  Surrounded by jagged minarets, we found a new vantage point overlooking our breath-takingly beautiful high Sierra world!

Jim & Me with Tashi & Beau on Kearsarge Pass

 

 

 

A String of Pearls: Summer’s Beautiful Days

Categories: Adventure, Animals, Buddhist Practice, Family, Gourmet, Health and Fitness, Hiking, Mindfulness, Self-Improvement, Spiritual, Travel - Tags:

After yesterday’s potentially life-threatening “Practice Opportunity” with our llama, which, gratefully he survived,  we have had day after day of bliss and beauty.  No Internet, no phones, no appointments , just clouds  to  watch forming and reforming across the Cerulean blue sky, hours drifting  lazily by. Nowhere to go.  Nothing to do.  Don’t do something, just sit there!

Beautiful Summer Days Roll By Like Pearls

Time in the high Sierras, for me, is like the most replenishing meditation retreat. I practically never look at my watch to see what time it is.  I find myself living solely following the rhythms of nature and of my body, awakening to the sun, we nap or rest or swim in the lake  when the sun is high and hot. We go to bed when it is dark, and find ourselves sleeping deeply, like hibernating bears, snug in our den (tent). I wake up, refreshed, remembering dreams more vividly, finding my dreams far more compelling and meaningful at high altitude.  I have time lying in the tent to reflect on them, adding the gift of reverie and introspection as the sun slowly rises.

Swiss Fondue and Fresh Veggies, anyone?

Because this campsite on Matlock Lake is so gorgeous and blissfully private, we decide not to pack up, pull up stakes and move on as we have usually done in the past, but we’ll stay here and take day hikes to the surrounding lakes and passes.  Thus days have a simple routine defined by carrying water for the llamas and the dogs, filtering it for ourselves,preparing meals (grain in each llama’s grain basket, dog food in the dog’s little bowls, making coffee, serving granola and fresh fruits in our breakfast bowls), sitting, meditating, then reading, talking softly, holding hands and intermittently smiling appreciatively, then washing the dishes, carrying more water, sitting again, watching cloud formations magically shift and observing the change of the light throughout the day from bright fresh dawn to the warm alpenglow following sunset.

We hike or fish when it is cool and we feel invigorated.  The days literally glide by according to our own bio-rhythms and the patterns of nature, stringing a sweet Sierra necklace of pearls of each present moment, one after the other.

                                                                            Summertime, and the Livin’ is Easy...

 

The Zen of Wilderness Llamapacking

Categories: Adventure, Animals, Buddhist Practice, Conscious Living, Health and Fitness, Hiking, Meditation, Mindfulness, Pets, Travel - Tags: , , , ,

This is our 21st summer packing with our Llamas into the High Sierras.  Over the years we’ve had ten llamas: Machu, Pichu, Hopi, Mica and Sierra all now walk the next world; Miwok and Jambo, the parents of Llao Llao and Zuni, and Tio Sequoia are with us now. 

Over the years we have packed into the Lost Coast of Northern California, all over the central Sierras including the Dinkey Wilderness, Black Cap Basin, Red Mountain Basin, Bench Valley, the Silver Divide, out of Florence and Edison Lakes and Courtright Reservoir, and into East Lake out of Bridgeport, commemorating the place Jim and I met 32 years ago, backpacking before we had our llamas.

This summer we decided to cross the Sierras and head in near Mt Whitney from the jagged and dramatic Eastern slope, planning to hike over 12,000 ft Kearsarge Pass into the Rae Lakes Basin.  It sounded fabulous until some of our llama buddies warned us that there is no grazing and no dogs allowed across the pass in Sequoia National Park, only in the Sequoia National Forest on this side of the pass.  We can get along with no grazing as we can carry sufficient food for our llamas, but no dogs?  No Tashi and Beau?  That’s a non starter.  So we decided to stay with the plan to drive from our ranch near Yosemite, south across the Sierras past Lake Isabella, to Lone Pine, boarding the llamas overnight at the Lone Pine High School as guests of the Future Farmers of America.  We would drive north next morning to the 9000 ft Onion Valley Trailhead out of Independence, and trek up toward Kearsarge Pass, but not across into the National Park.  That plan assured maximal happiness for us all: our five llamas, Jim and me, and our two athletic backpack-carrying  poodles, Tashi and Beau, a perfect recipe for the Zen of Packing with Llamas into the John Muir Wilderness!

So it was that we set out three days ago, and so it was that I am breathing and smiling  deeply and broadly here in the gorgeous High Sierras.  What is truly Zen about this experience is that packing up the llamas, each with their colorful packs is a meditative ritual, and setting out on the steep ascent is a devotional exercise.  Jim takes the lead with the two girls, Miwok and Zuni and Sequoia, followed by Tashi, with his own little “Search and Rescue” lime green pack.  I follow with the two boys, son Llao Llao and his father Jambo.  Puppy Beau elects to bring up the rear carrying his own small blue pack of dog food and toys.    Climbing ever higher, one step at a time, slowly, slowly into ever thinner air, we ascend 1600 feet, switchback by switchback over a beautifully maintained trail.  With each breath, I feel Llao llao’s gentle breath cooling the back of my neck.  As we fall into a rhythm, I turn on my iPod and listen to Buddhist chanting, the meditative strains of Avolokiteshvara, and fall into a perfect Zen reverie.

Matlock Lake/ Near Kearsarge Pass

We are back in the high country we both so love, this haven of natural beauty and restorative calm.

Peace Is Every Step.  I have arrived.  I am home.

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