Friday, November 22, 2013

Feature Friday -Giving Thanks to Our Fur Family Members-

Howdy Folks,

As we approach Thanksgiving Day and our minds, and tummies, focus on great food, gatherings, friends and family. And of course giving thanks. It's wholly appropriate to include in our thoughts and deeds our animal family members. We all have those special horses, dogs and cats. Some have crossed the rainbow bridge, but we can, and should, still send the sweet thought of gratitude for how they touched, and perhaps changed our lives. Made us wiser, kinder, better.
Kessy, Miss Kitty and Tigger join me each morning for Coffee Clutch.
Our equine, dog and cat family members are ever there for us. A shoulder to cry on and lean on as we travel life's trails together. Cats, while some folks find them aloof, are the very best for snuggling and purring. Cats do tremendous work soothing shut-ins, and folks who don't get very many visitors. Our cats, Tigger and Miss Kitty are the source of countless warm laps, and just as many chuckles.

Dogs offer unconditional love, companionship, protection and even make the best trail riding buddies. Our little throw away, Saturday is one of the best trail buddies I've ever had. Our dear Sweetness, who crossed the rainbow bridge this summer, was the best ever. She even taught herself to help horses through scary times on the trail. She taught a few horses to load, too. She was part of our lives, rides and hearts for a too short ten years. We miss her. Dogs all over the world lend a helping hand to folks.
Dear Sweetness - she loved Christmas too and opening her presents.
Be sure to be extra thankful for your horse. What would we be without them? They teach us to fly. They help us navigate rough patches in our lives. They enrich us, make us laugh, think, and grow. They listen to our problems. They help us celebrate our joys and victories. They heal hearts all over the world. They mend bodies too. My Kessy understands the demands of my body. She knows I ride so I can walk. If you follow my Coffee Clutch blog you know how she understands my limitations, and how she compensates for them. She is the most in-tune horse I've ever had the honor and pleasure of calling my partner. And we are together by accident. Or are we?
Kessy, Saturday and me just foolin' around.
There are organizations all over the world offering help to humanity by way of horses, dogs and cats. Why not say a special thanks to your fur family member by selecting one of those organizations you like best and sending a donation in the name of your horse, dog or cat. That would be a "Thank You" heard around the world.

Gitty Up
Dutch Henry

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Birdwatching From The Saddle, Along The James River

Howdy Folks,
Just hooking up the trailer I had to tie my hat on. Cold wind gusts hadn't lessened any since Coffee Clutch earlier in the morning. Had it gotten even more windy, and cold? Well, I'm one of those folks who, when I have a plan in mind, hate to squash it just because of a little wind. But I must admit, when a surprise gust just about tore the trailer door from my hand, I had second thoughts. For at least half a minute. Then there's the fact that Kessy was still in her on-again off-again trailer loading frame of mind and it would be a cold night sleeping in the trailer at James River State Park … if she decided she'd be off-again today.

However, it's hunting season and we can only ride here at home on Sundays, and I needed a ride. No hunting at James River State Park, a short half hour drive away, so I'd told Kessy we're going. She loaded nicely, took about two minutes, Ravishin' Robbie handed me my thermos of Folgers, baloney sandwich, carrots for Kessy, and we were off. 

No one greeted us at the Park greeting station, must have figured nobody would be coming on such a blustery day, so I put my $3 in the little yellow envelope and set out to park by the big oak in the pretty grassy lot on the edge of the forest.

Kessy and I were alone, with only the wind for company. When I opened the door for her to step out, a great gust whipped up the shavings, startling me. Not Kessy though, she stepped off like a pro. Pre-ride exercises done and saddled up, we hit the trail. The trees groaned and branches rattled as they swayed in the wind, but our first sighting was only a few hundred feet into the woods. A Hairy Woodpecker busily tore at a dead limb, tossing chips into the air. We paused a second to watch the show.
Down the trail we go - "The best view in the world is between your horse's ears."
It's about a half mile through woods to the river trail, with a nice hill to navigate. Along the way we saw several Chickadees and Titmice. We entered the river trail through a canopy of brown vines and brush. The dense thicket was alive with Robins. They flew all about us setting up a delightful chatter. I stopped Kessy to watch as they bounced here and there. Mixed in with the Robins were White Throated Sparrows, Juncos and White Crowned Sparrows.

There was no escaping the wind, and as we snuck along the trail, riding among more birds than I'd seen on any ride in a long time, I wondered if the blustery day had driven them down to the brushy cover along the river. No matter, I welcomed their silly antics and lively banter. 

On both sides of the trail the thickets were alive with winged beauties. A Mockingbird sat on the trail until Kessy could almost touch it with her nose, and then it flew only to sit on a branch at eye level. For a second I looked right into its shining eye!

At one point the trail meanders through a tall field of dry reedy grass. As tall as my head. This had Kessy just a little nervous. The wind had the reeds roaring, not rustling, but she worked through it with only a few added dance steps. One of her moves would have had Derek Hough on Dancing With The Stars smiling. It did me too.

It's a flat trail along the river, in and out of tall trees, mostly Sycamore. Sometimes the trail is next to the wide river and the rapids roared above the wind. Sometimes the river can't be seen. But always today there were birds. Over the years Kessy has learned to stand quietly when I ask to look at the birds, it almost seems she's looking for them too.

She had a tough time with it though at the pond. The wind was creating tiny waves, and that worried her. A lot. She stood though and, in the pond, among the reeds and stalks I spied a Great Blue Heron, a few Diving Ducks, and I heard a Green Heron. And surprisingly some Red Winged Blackbirds. I thought they'd be gone for the winter, but there they were.

Along the way yesterday we also saw 3 Pileated Woodpeckers, several Hairy Woodpeckers, a Belted Kingfisher, lots of Goldfinches, Fox Sparrows, Cardinals, and Bluebirds. Some others I couldn't identify. Every step of the way we had birds. It was the right combination of great habitat, a great horse, riding alone – and the wind.
Ready to go home
Back at the trailer, Kessy capped a perfect day by stepping right into the trailer, on the third try. We'd been working lately on self-loading, I don't want to get ahead of myself, but yesterday, she was as perfect with her trailer manners, and her trail manners. The wind was really bad, and she truly was splendid. It's a lot for a horse to ride a strange place, alone in high wind and stay solid, calm. And she did, even stood still whenever I wanted to search the blowing brush for hiding birds. What a day, great birding and a terrific partner. Thanks Kessy for your friendship!

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry

Monday, November 18, 2013

Grandpop and Sportsmanship

Howdy Folks,

This is the Seventh in my series of Grandpop stories. I began writing about Grandpop, June 27, 2013, with what at the time I imagined what would be a standalone short story, "Perhaps I've Just Lived Too Long." You can read that story (and find links to go on) (HERE)   Folks said they like visiting with Grandpop, so I wrote more. Frankly, I enjoy him too. I hope you enjoy today's visit with Grandpop.

"Grandpop and Sportsmanship"

"Hey good to see ya, young fella," Grandpop stopped brushing ol' Blue, and waved me into the barn. I was surprised to find him in the barn. Usually on Sunday afternoons he'd take in a football game or two relaxing in his recliner drinking coffee and helping the coaches by talking to the TV screen. I'd long ago lost any serious interest in the NFL, but had to admit watching with Grandpop was still a treat I looked forward to every now and then. Thinking about it, those Sunday game gatherings had begun to dwindle in the past few years.
Kessy, Saturday & me writing a story
"No game on today?" I paused to give ol' Blue a friendly scratching on his shoulder.

Grandpop moved to Blue's tail and brushed the full length with slow, deliberate strokes. "None that interest me. I reckon things change and it's hard for an old fella to keep up."

"How's that?"

"It just doesn't seem to be the same sport anymore. Of course they say your memory lets you remember things the way you want to, and polish those memories up a bit, but it feels like the game lost some of its dignity." Grandpop paused to examine Blue's shinny tail. ""It feels hollow now, just about winning … at any cost."

I felt him study my face, well yea I thought, winning is why they practice, and show up. He must have heard my thoughts; he's good at that, because he answered me.

"Oh yea, a team's got to win, but where'd the sportsmanship go? All you hear about now is concussions, players switching teams for more money, and this thing a little while back about coaches paying players to take out the other team's players. That's not sportsmanship. It's not fun to listen to, and I think it's a foolish example for our young'ins."

"Don't you think it's more about the news folks just wanting to hype stories?" 

"They couldn't hype 'em if it wasn't going on. What I worry about is the steady drift to winning at all cost is so acceptable. I remember the first time I thought uh-oh, back a good while when an NFL coach told a reporter on the sideline after a game he does not go shake hands with the opposing coach, he wants to beat him, not be his friend. That's not sportsmanship, I thought way back then already."

"I think I remember that." I said.

"It's a busier, faster world now than we could have ever imagined and it's easy to focus on the outcome more than the journey. I worry that the young'ins might miss learning that. True sportsman has a way of teaching respect, honor and dignity. Sometimes it's good to loose, builds character. Today I think it's hard for youngsters to find good role models."

Grandpop led Blue out to his paddock and stood, leaning on him soaking up the warm sun. "We used to say 'never let the end justify the means.' Now even our government leaders seem to have turned that on its head and the teachings and beliefs seem to be, win at any cost, and the means don't matter. A body can lie, break the rules, even cheat - if they win, well then by golly it's just dandy. I'm not foolish enough to think there wasn't always some of that, but it wasn't seen as a good thing. Used to be if a fella got caught lying or cheating it ruined him, today it's excused, almost celebrated as courage, because you've got to win … Today it seems popular to insist the end justifies the means. I don't think that's good sportsmanship. I think it's backwards. And I don't think it's good for our young'ins to grow up thinking it's okay. But I'm just an ol' cowboy."

He slid the halter off ol' Blue and we moseyed to the porch for some more talk and a pot of hot black coffee. We never did watch a game that day.

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry