Erstwhile Horse Girl

When I was a little girl, I wanted a horse.

Wanted isn’t even really a strong enough word. I needed a horse. I needed a horse like I needed to breathe air, like I needed the blood circulating in my veins and the cells regenerating in my body. It was fundamental to me, a building block at the very core of my being. I would sit awake at night, imagining morning rides through dewy fields, just my horse and me. Wild, together, and utterly free.

My parents had no interest whatsoever in owning a horse, and it broke my almost-a-Horse-Girl heart. Money, to me, was no object when something so very important and vital to my happiness – nay, to my life – was on the line. Alas, these are lessons we learn with age. Money is always an object. And so as a consolation, my mom put me in riding lessons, where I learned the basics of care and maintenance, and the ins and outs of entry-level equestrianship.

This did not fill the void, though I enjoyed the lessons and learned a lot, most of which I have retained, I think, in some dusty, rarely used corner of my brain.

I never got a horse. And eventually, my interest in (read: obsession with) horses waned. I moved on to other hobbies, and for many, many years, I didn’t think much about horses at all.

Then, we moved to Hunt Country. Here, I am surrounded by horses.

Here, I live alongside hobby riders and polo players, foxhunters and trainers, jumpers, grooms, farriers, rescuers, and all manner of people who love their horses.  Here, I’ve met one of my very best friends, who is fierce, powerful, and astoundingly unbothered by the various injuries one can sustain when falling from a large, moving animal.

Her fearlessness inspires me on so many levels, but it doesn’t inspire me to own a horse. I find this curious, that I, who so desperately ached to be a Horse Girl all those years ago, should now be so unmoved by the prospect. That now, when it’s entirely accessible to me and imminently possible, I should think about it and decide, “Eh, no thanks.”

I guess we really do become our parents.

I can’t help but wonder, though, just where that little erstwhile Horse Girl went.

I do still love horses. I find them beautiful, strong, and smarter than some people would like to think. To my friends who care for them, they are devoted companions. When I see a horse galloping through the fields or resting under a tree on a warm day, I do still feel a little twinge, the smallest, tiniest tug on my heart. And so I know she’s still in there, somewhere, that almost Horse Girl. I carry her with me. I’m not that girl anymore, but I’m grateful to her, that spunky little wannabe daredevil. She taught me to be brave, patient, and kind, and to crave adventure, and to use my imagination.

She isn’t who I am today, but she helped me get here. And here – writing in my comfy chair on a rainy day, listening to the dog stir in the corner, making up stories from this lovely little corner of Virginia – is pretty darn good.

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Blossoms in the Rain

We had our first big thunderstorm last night. It started at around 11:00 and lasted about an hour, with lots of lightning, loud thunder, and heavy rain. Then it moved on, but it left the rain behind.

This morning, things are looking damp and cloudy, but there’s beauty in that, I think.

A gray sky against dewy, green leaves and blossoms – there’s something so peaceful and striking about that.  

And I figure, whether you like it or not, the rainy days will come. So, better to just appreciate them for what they are, and find joy in a darker sky.

In Search (A Short Story)

Two local men missing since April 15th. No leads. Parents plead for information.

*

I don’t like the term “monster hunt.” Humans can be monsters, but everyone goes on and on about Bigfoot. Spare me. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We set out around noon on the first warm day of spring. There were two of us. There was me, and there was Ty, my best friend. Ty carried the map, the tent, the food, all the other “useful stuff” (his words), and the dog’s leash. So, I guess there were actually three of us – Ty, me, and Septimus.

I asked Ty once why he named the dog Septimus.

“Because,” he said, “he looked like a Septimus. Just look at him”

In front of us now, walking up the trail into the woods, Septimus sniffed and explored, nose to the ground with his floppy, pendulum ears dangling into the leafy brush, drool trailing along behind him in a silvery, viscous path. He didn’t carry anything.

I held the camera.

“I don’t know what you think you’re going to find,” Ty said, craning his neck around to get a glimpse of me behind him. “And I don’t want to be in whatever video you make when this is over.”

“‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep…’” I replied.

“You didn’t come up with that.”

“No,” I said, “that was Robert Frost. But it makes my point.”

“Which is?”

Ty walked on ahead.

“Which is,” I said to his back, “that you’ll never find anything if you don’t go looking, and there’s no place like the deep, dark woods to get started.”

“I think they made a movie about that once,” Ty said. “But seriously, it’s a good thing I came with you. You’d get lost looking for fairies and we’d find you half-starved and crazy two days later.”

“I can read a map,” I said.

“No, you really can’t.”

“What are you even complaining about? You love this stuff.”

Ty loved the outdoors the way that some people love cake. He couldn’t get enough, even it meant too much outdoors and not enough paycheck.

“Monster hunting?” he asked.

“No, of course not,” I said. “Hiking and camping and stuff.”

And thank goodness he did love the outdoors, because I wouldn’t have wanted to do this kind of thing without him, it being my first monster hunt and all. Ty and I had done everything together since he taught me how to catch grasshoppers in kindergarten, a lesson my mother was never particularly fond of. I’d always been the reader, the researcher, and monsters – fairies, pixies, Bigfoots, Wampus Cats, selkies – they were my first love.

“This is my best friend, Drew,” Ty always said when he introduced me. “He’s a weirdo.”

Over the years, I’d come to embrace my weirdness, but I’d never felt quite bold enough to do anything about it. That changed last week, when a couple of day hikers spotted strange lights on the Dragon’s Den trail. They also reported odd noises, footsteps and rumbles from the woods, from all around them.  

“Come on, man,” I said. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”

“In the backpack,” Ty answered. “Along with your toothbrush and the three books you insisted on bringing for one night.”

“Knowledge is power,” I said. Because that was true.

*

Missing:

Tyson Collins, age 26

Hair: Brown

Eyes: Brown

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 180 pounds

Andrew Miller, age 26

Hair: Blonde

Eyes: Green

Height: 5’10”

Weight: 175 pounds

Last seen at the Dragon’s Den trailhead, Saturday, April 15, at 11:45 a.m. Traveling with one dog, a red bloodhound. Please contact….

*

We set up camp that night about a mile from the trail, which Ty said was already pushing it. Ty dealt with the tent, while I found a good spot for the camp stove and took out the dinner supplies.

“You’re not supposed to go off trail in these places,” he told me. “It damages the forest floor.”

“I think it’ll be fine,” I said. “It’s just the two of us.”

From his perch beside Ty, Septimus howled.

“And the dog,” I added.

“Still, they have designated spots for camping.”

“Those places are too crowded,” I said. “We’d never see anything.”

“We’re breaking the rules,” Ty answered, flat and short.

“And I’m catching it all on camera,” I joked, and snapped a picture from across the camp stove.

Ty set about making dinner, a box of Velveeta shells and cheese, while I rummaged around in the backpack for my book on mountain legends.

“I bet it was just a bear,” I said.

“So you brought us all the way out here to look for it?”

Ty stirred the cheese sauce into the noodles. Septimus drooled beside him. He spooned two heaping portions into our plastic bowls, and handed one to me.

“I mean, I don’t want it to be just a bear.”

“Make sure Septimus doesn’t eat my dinner,” Ty said.

I stared at Septimus as Ty wandered off into the woods.

“I hate peeing in the woods,” I told the dog. “Probably a luxury experience for you, huh? New and different?”

Septimus panted back at me.

From somewhere to my right, Ty yelled, “Stop it, man!”

“Stop what?” I called back.

“Stop messing with me!”

“I’m just sitting by the campfire, dude. I’m watching the dog like you asked.”

Ty came back a couple of minutes later.

“Not cool, Drew,” he said.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Septimus didn’t touch your food.”

“Walking up behind me that way,” Ty said. “The footsteps. I know you’re trying to scare me.”

“Wait,” I said, and choked down my last bite of pasta. “You heard footsteps?”

“Yeah,” Ty answered, “and I know it was you.”

“It wasn’t me, but we have to go check it out.”

I stood up and grabbed the camera. Ty didn’t move.

“No,” he said. “We don’t, and we shouldn’t.”

“Ty, that’s why we’re out here!”

“If it wasn’t you,” he said, “then it was probably a bear, and it probably smelled our food, and we should probably just leave it alone.”

“But…” I started.

“Unless you want to be mauled by a bear,” Ty finished.

“Fine,” I said. “Just, fine. But if it happens again, I’m going to go look, and you’re not going to stop me.”

Ty let out a puff of air, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “It’s late. We should just get some sleep.”

I wasn’t about to argue with Ty in a bad mood. I’d learned years ago that it wouldn’t work. And so we pulled out our sleeping bags and crawled into the tent.

“You gonna brush your teeth?” he asked me.

I glared back at him, unsure if he could see it in the dark.

“Okay, then,” he said.

We settled in, boots off and tucked into a corner, with Septimus nestled between us, already snoring.

*

Tracks found in search for two missing locals. No sign of belongings or human remains. Parents still hopeful. Reward offered for any information.

*

I awoke to the high-pitched sound of Septimus whining in the dark. Outside, something stirred near our campsite. I could hear the twigs snapping, the underbrush rustling, and if I strained my ears enough, I was pretty sure, something breathing.

“Ty,” I croaked.

My heart raced, and my hands shook. I wasn’t sure whether this was fear or excitement.

“Ty,” I said again, louder this time. “We have to go look.”

Ty rolled over and said, “Leave it alone, Drew.”

“No,” I yelled. “I won’t. I told you if we heard anything else, I’d go and look, and I’m going to.”

I squirmed out of my sleeping bag and pulled on my hiking boots.

“You’re being stupid,” Ty said.

“No, I’m investigating.”

I grabbed the camera, pulled its strap around my neck, unzipped the tent flap and flung it open. Before I could catch him, Septimus shot out like a rocket, barking and snarling, more aggressive than I’d ever seen him. And certainly faster.  

Ty was up in milliseconds, pulling on his own boots, huffing and glaring at me.

“We have to get Septimus,” he said.

And then we both ran, out into the woods, away from the tent and into the night.

“I thought you said I was being stupid,” I grunted out, between breaths.

“That’s my dog, man,” Ty answered.

We could still hear the bloodhound, somewhere ahead of us, howling wildly into the trees. And all around us, just like the hikers said, we heard other things, strange grunts and heavy breathing, the sharp crack of branches breaking.

“What is that?” I yelled.

Ty ran ahead of me, and I struggled to keep up. The camera banged into my chest with every step.

“Slow down, Ty!”

Ty broke into a clearing ahead of me. He stopped so abruptly, I ran into him. Septimus sat at his feet, entranced.

I saw lights. So many lights. Dancing in the tree line, lighting up the sky. Lights, and something else. Something big, twisted, looming, waiting. Something…

“Oh, my God,” I breathed.

I raised the camera to my eye.

*

Found, 1 mile from Dragon’s Den Trail, marker 10:

1 camera, Pentax K3, damaged, SD card intact

1 dog leash, blue

*

I don’t like the term “monster hunt.” You think you’re hunting them. You’re wrong.

**********

Thank you for reading! This is the fourth of twelve stories I’ll write as part of my 2022 Short Story Challenge. Twelve months, twelve stories, and the theme this year is: Folklore

Here are the first three, if you’d like to read them:

The Winter Woman

The Lady in the Stars

Silly Superstitions

I hope you join me in the challenge! I think it’s going to be a very good year for stories. But just reading is good, too, and I’m glad you’re here.

The next story will be posted at the end of May.

April’s Short Story

It’ll be up tomorrow! In the meantime, here’s a preview. Enjoy!

**********

I don’t like the term “monster hunt.” Humans can be monsters, but everyone goes on and on about Bigfoot. Spare me. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We set out around noon on the first warm day of spring. There were two of us. There was me, and there was Ty, my best friend. Ty carried the map, the tent, the food, all the other “useful stuff” (his words), and the dog’s leash. So, I guess there were actually three of us – Ty, me, and Septimus.

I asked Ty once why he named the dog Septimus.

“Because,” he said, “he looked like a Septimus. Just look at him”

In front of us now, walking up the trail into the woods, Septimus sniffed and explored, nose to the ground with his floppy, pendulum ears dangling into the leafy brush, drool trailing along behind him in a silvery, viscous path. He didn’t carry anything.

I held the camera.

“I don’t know what you think you’re going to find,” Ty said, craning his neck around to get a glimpse of me behind him. “And I don’t want to be in whatever video you make when this is over.”

“‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep…’” I replied.

“You didn’t come up with that.”

“No,” I said, “that was Robert Frost. But it makes my point.”

“Which is?”

Ty walked on ahead.

“Which is,” I said, “that you’ll never find anything if you don’t go looking, and there’s no place like the deep, dark woods to get started.”

Old House Problems

I figure, as long as I’m here, confessing some insecurities (Haven’t read Monday’s post? You should!), I’d talk a little bit about my house.

It’s old.

Like, really old.

If you’ve ever watched anything on HGTV, you’ve probably heard the phrase “old house problems.” It comes up over and over: On renovations shows, when homeowners encounter shoddy updates and outdated pipes and wiring. During house hunts, when starry-eyed first-time buyers see anything built before 1990 and worry about how much work it might need (LOL…).

“You buy an old house, you get old house problems.”

I’ve heard it myself, from my dad, when Graham and I first started searching for a house with a story.

My dad used to build houses, and I trust him, and I know that he knows what he’s talking about. But as children do, I considered his advice carefully, ignored it entirely, and did what I wanted.

I think it’s important to point out that any house will have problems. Our first home was built in 2007, and we poured thousands of dollars into fixing stuff that broke, big stuff and small stuff. We replaced a faulty sump pump that flooded our utility room and an HVAC that died not once but twice. We installed a radon mitigation system, we sanded down doors that stuck as the house settled, fixed nail pops, bought a new refrigerator…

My point is, any house, regardless of its age, is going to require some serious maintenance and upkeep. But I’m willing to admit that it takes a special sort of crazy person to commit to the maintenance and upkeep of a home of…advanced age.

I am that crazy person.

So is Graham. I didn’t pull him into the insanity with me. We met there. And here we are today, in our very old house, happy as can be despite our ever-growing list of “old house problems.”

Why am I sharing this now?

Well, a few reasons. The first is that I wrote a post earlier this week that just got me thinking about it. The second is that Graham replaced our kitchen faucet over the weekend, and it took about two hours longer than it should have because everything was crusty with lime buildup and rusted together. The third is that, as we think about fixing small issues like that faucet, we’re also starting to discuss what larger projects we might want to tackle over the course of the spring and summer.

And believe me, it’s super easy to “find” projects in an old home.

We’ve been sort of laisse faire about things so far. We’ve done some interior and exterior painting, but we have a lot more to do.

We’ve fixed issues as they’ve come up, but we haven’t really sat down and developed a strategy for making improvements, adjustments, and repairs. To be fair, we’ve only lived here since 2016, and it’s taken almost that long to really decide and settle on how we want to use spaces, how we want them to look and feel, and what “home” looks like for us here.

But now, it’s time.

Truly, it’s past time.

We bought this house to make it a home, and to be good stewards of a piece of history. I think it’s about time we made good on that commitment.

So, cheers to old house problems! (I’m holding up my coffee cup.) And may we learn to be patient and enjoy the process…  

To Be a Gardener

Yesterday, we went to a local flower and garden festival with some friends. Earlier last week, I decided to join a local horticultural society, so the festival came at a good time. Or a bad one.

Let me explain.

I am decidedly NOT a gardener. I don’t really like dirt under my fingernails, or worms, or ticks, or (worst of all) little, harmless garden snakes. I don’t enjoy spending hours in hot sunlight, though I love being outside, and I will get a horrible sunburn in less than ten minutes. I’ve never been able to reliably keep a plant alive, much less help one grow from seed to bloom.

But, I’ve always loved flowers. I love nature. I love the sound of buzzing honeybees and the earthy, sweet fragrance of lavender and roses. I love the way light dapples through green leaves, and the feeling that everything around me is breathing and part of something bigger, something that will last long after I’m gone.

All of that to say, I am NOT a gardener, but I WANT to be.

I am surrounded by amazing gardeners. Graham’s mother is so talented, and her back garden looks like something out of a fairy story. Many of our friends care for boxwoods that are over a century old. We never have to look far for vegetables fresh from someone’s back yard vegetable patch, and they really do taste so much better.

Meanwhile, the state of our garden is mostly…wild. I’m being kind to myself here.

The honest truth is this: I’m intimidated by it, and so I’ve let it grow untamed and unkempt for most of the time we’ve lived in this house.

I’m not proud. In fact, I’m mostly embarrassed, and a little ashamed. But it amazes me that even without any help, any human hands nudging things along, it is still a beautiful space, and flowers still grow, like clockwork, every year.

I spent a lot of time thinking about that yesterday, as we walked by lots of stalls full of little green stems and leaves and colorful blossoms that I could not identify and would not know the first thing about planting. On the one hand, knowing that the earth will do what it does, regardless of my meddling, is something of a relief. On the other, I can’t help but imagine what our garden could be if I just learned to try, to get over my worry and my fear that I’ll do something wrong, and just…garden.

I don’t trust myself, but I do trust nature.

And so, I think that this will be the year. This will be the start. I’m going to learn to plant things, and nurture them, and help them grow. I’m going to be patient with myself, but I’m not going to allow myself to make excuses. I’m going to try. I’m going to go for it, because it’s worth going for, and because I know I can, with a little effort and time. I’m going to do it, even if it’s hard.

I’m going to be a gardener.

Our Only Place (A Poem for Earth Day, 2022)

Home,
and more.
Mother and Maker,
from the good dirt
to the blue water,
the mountain
to the shore,
this place is ours.
Our only place,
from solid ground
to deepest sea,
to be.
In all of space
and time,
this earth
belongs to us,
nurtures us,
gives to us
and takes,
brings life and death
and all things between.
And in turn,
we belong –
to land and sky,
to ocean and sand,
to each other
and this planet.
How great
and terrible
a lesson to learn:
that here,
we have
everything.

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Bluebell Season

My other favorite sign of spring here in Virginia: the Virginia bluebell.

Just like the bright, striking pink of the redbud tree, the calm blues and purples of these little beauties just make so happy. And when you happen across a field of bluebells, it honestly feels a bit like stepping into a fairyland.

I wrote a poem about them last year, which I’ll share at the end of this post, just below.

I tell ya…there’s just something a little bit magic about Virginia in the spring.

Blue Belle (A Poem)

Lady Blue,
now ring your bell
through forest, field, and fairy dell,
from riverbank to village green:
the time has come for growing things.

April Showers

I think the weather today got a little…confused. It’s raining. That’s normal for April. It’s also cold. And sleeting. And just a few miles down the road from our house, it’s snowing.

Snow in April isn’t unheard of around here, but it was so nice and warm, just beautiful and sunny and breezy on Saturday, that the cold and damp today just feels a little like whiplash. I suppose that’s Virginia for you – Fool’s Spring, Second Winter, False Spring, Third Winter. Maybe by this time next week, we’ll officially have some actual, lasting springtime.

And I can’t complain. Or, I shouldn’t. I’d planned over the weekend to spend today in, reading and writing, and resting and generally just getting to work and keeping my head down. It was a busy, super fun, and ultimately very tiring weekend, and so I knew I wanted some quiet time today. So really, I suppose, the weather’s just cooperating with me. Because I certainly don’t want to go outside and play in the almost freezing rain!

So, onward, and hopefully soon, Real Spring. In the meantime, happy creating, y’all!