Pennsylvania


I was once certain that geese were the scum of the earth. They shit everywhere on the farm when I was growing up. Because of them our pond was coated in thick green algae. They honked incessantly and when they were mating would charge my pony if he got too close. They had nothing going for them, I thought, and every pile of goose shit smeared on my shoes would make me scowl.

This conditioned hate for geese lasted until about ten days ago when, for the first time in my life, I was nearly attacked by one. Then, surprisingly, I had a change of heart.

The day was hot, hot and so humid walking out the front door of my friend’s apartment felt like being immersed in a steamy bowl of soup. Sickening hot. But, like any endorphin addict, I needed to go running and no steamy sauna weather was going to stop me. At the tail end of my usual four mile loop along the tow path and winding, dipping, leaf draped roads of Bucks County, I cruised the tow path, my face, arms, hair, legs, eyelids, entire body dripping with sweat. On the tow path ahead, a gaggle of geese were sprawled out with their young and the first ones to notice me began hissing immediately. Now, I’m not afraid of geese. I’ve been attacked by large birds before and know the pain, but I also knew that the tow path geese were used to having people run around and among them. Most often a hiss was adequate warning for me to keep moving.

Such was the case with this group of birds except that day was different. The oppressively damp head had nearly caused me to overheat and more that once I had to stop off at a roadside creek to douse myself in water to keep running. Exhasperated, I thought only of the cool shower waiting at the trail’s end, pumping my arms faster as the shower got closer and closer. So when one particular goose directly in the path hissed at me, I stared right back and thought ‘fuck you goose, I’m not moving.’ Wrong move.

Suddenly 50 pounds of goose and flapping wings was running my way; shocked and surprised, I yelled, leapt out of the way and slid halfway into the canal in the process. I ducked low as the goose flew overhead and landed with a splash in the canal beside me. Turning just to see him spin around and charge me again, I scrambled up the muddy, goose shit slimy bank and sprinted off like my life depended on it. Who knows, maybe it did. My heart pounded wildly as I cruised the last mile. ‘Those fucking geese,’ I thought, ‘I could shoot them all!’

Later, once I’d cooled down a bit and could laugh about the matter, my friend Mike suggested we look up goose symbolism in his Native American book of wildlife totems. I was about to make a major move to San Francisco to pursue writing and Mike thought that the goose might have something to do with my impending cross country shift. Wouldn’t that figure? So we had a look, and this is what we discovered:

Keynote: The call of the quest and travels to legendary places. Well, I like the sound of that immediately; I am about to travel to a legendary place on a life quest of sorts. We read on:

The goose is a totem reflecting a stimulation of the childhood thrill and belief in stories and legendary places. The stories we most loved in childhood often reflect the life quest we have come to take upon us in this lifetime. The goose can also be a totem to aid you in communication, especially through the use of stories. Whoa, now my attention is caught. As a writer, communication is paramount to me, most important of all is communicating stories through writing. We continue:

Its feather was once a standard writing tool. Those wishing to write–be it stories or anything–can facilitate the process by working with the goose totem to stimulate imagination and move through creative blocks. Hah! This is kind of eerie. We read on:

Eight species of geese live in North America. Eight is important because the number is so similar to the symbol for infinity, which reflects an ability to move forwards or backwards. It reflects movement, particularly for a spiritual quest. Interesting, I have moved back and forth across the country twice now. I’m about to embark on cross country move number three. It goes on:

The V-formation is very symbolic, reflecting by its shape an opening to new possibilities and ideas. Like an arrowhead, it points to new directions. This formation usually indicates we are about to affix ourselves to a new path. Whoa, now this is really eerie. I’m preparing to step into an entirely new situation, to walk an unexplored path. At this point, Mike and I are just laughing. This is a little too much, how can this vicious attack goose have so much to do with my future? There’s one paragraph left and this one is the real kicker:

Goslings are quiet, especially in the first part of life, and then the learn to break free. A goose as a totem can reflect that you are about to break free of old childhood restraints and begin to come into your own.

Point taken.

Geese–I will never consider you the scum of the earth again.

San Francisco–Here I come : )

Fence rail perch

leafy breeze above

thick crusty trunk beside

a spider in the grass–

spiny black legs in green stalk jungle.

the whisper of summer hums lightly

through leaves,

orchard grass heads sway

ripe June sun shimmers

hazy cornfields bake

in Pennsylvania

“Oh, here’s my favorite one,” my mom squealed excitedly as we rounded a sharp turn in the winding Virginia road. “The Leopard-print App.” In the wire fenced pasture to our right stood a small black-spotted Appaloosa horse, a baby yet, at most two years. “I bet he’s a bad horse,” Mom said playfully; she’d been watching him grow up since she and dad relocated to the secluded Indian Valley region of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains roughly two years earlier. “It doesn’t look like anybody really pays attention to him,” she said. The horse, who had his butt turned toward us, switched his tail quickly from side to side. “I call him Mr. Spot.”

Mr. Spot

We continued driving, the tires of my Volkswagon Golf winding their way through the tight turns and steep inclines of the mountains, and around nearly every corner, Mom had another group of horses to point out. “There’s a white donkey around a corner near the farm, Dad and I call him a white ass. When it was real cold in the winter we would laughlingly say ‘I wonder how that little white ass is doing.’ It made the cold a little easier to take,” she said, alluding to the fact that the past winter had been one of the most wintery, frigid and snowy that this area had seen in years. The car swooped down a steep hill and mom pointed out, “Look, look, there he is!”

“That is a cute white ass!” I remarked, feeling only a slightly crass. We both burst into laughter, “Oh yeah,” she replied, “it’s a real cute ass.” The scraggly little white ass was a accompanied by a gray ass. They stood together beside a barkless tree, hanging their heads peacefully in the sleepy southern sun. We drove on, now climbing a steep hill lined with a small patch of hardy rhododendrons.

“Oh, and those pretty horses with a real light colored mane and tail, what are they called?” Mom asked. I scanned my memory, the years of horse knowledge tucked neatly behind college textbooks and traveling experiences had since I’d stopped riding full time. “Gosh, I don’t remember,” I replied. The horses came into view, two stocky Palomino colored horses with bright blond, nearly ivory colored manes and tails. They bowed their heads into the rich spring grass, one slightly larger than the other, both looking more like carriage horses than the riding type. “Maybe blond Percherons?” I guessed.

“I thought maybe Haflingers,” mom replied, “is that what they’re called?”

“Oh, Haflingers, I think they’re smaller, but gosh, I really don’t remember.” I could see the open page of my horse breed manual and the picture of the exact horse in front of me then but the name still alluded me. “Huh, I’d have to look it up.”

For the first 20 years of my life we’d had horses: big horses, small horses, trained horses, wild horses, show horses, old horses, baby horses, ponies, Purebred Arabians, Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, cross breeds, mutts, pretty much anything except for miniature horses. My sister and I trained other peoples’ horses, operated a boarding business right there on our 64 acre farm in Pennsylvania. During the summers I showed my horses in jumping competitions, traveling throughout PA, New Jersey and Maryland to go where the ribbons were. There were only a couple of years in our lives that we didn’t have horses and those occurred once I’d left for school and no longer had the time or money to afford their care and training.

Since she was a young girl growing up in Huntington Valley, PA, mom had always dreamed of having a horse. In the hot summer days, she would walk to the nearest stable and watch the horse shows, judging the horses herself, picking out the best performers based on her own liking to the animals. By when she and Dad gave my brother, sister and I our first horses when we were babies, they were not only making dreams a reality for us, Mom was also doing so for herself.

But, eventually the kids grew up and moved on to Australia, Colorado, the Appalachian Trail, the horses were sold, the farm soon after. Mom and Dad resettled in the Virginia hills on a farm no less beautiful than the last, though it needed a little TLC. One thing it didn’t–and still doesn’t–have is horses. Mom and Dad talk about getting a couple someday, the real mellow type that do what they’re supposed to. A constant supply of free or cheap problem horses over the years satisfied our needs for a bucking bronco thrill; we were all now more in the easy trail riding mindset. I think Mom really wants to have Mr. Spot, she’d give him all the attention he needed to be sure. They’ve also talked about miniature horses. Just today Mom drove Gabe and I past a field dotted with stubby minis. We cooed over their adorable figures while mom casually mentioned, “You know, I heard it takes a mini an entire month to work through one bale of hay. That’s pretty low maintenance…”

Until then, though, we drive the Virginia roads admiring other peoples’ horses, all the while thinking that hopefully someday we’ll again have horses of our own.

Franklin Kids on Horses, Pennsylvania

Mr. Moon

8/20/09

I want to be that little girl again,
the one who galloped
free, blond hair blowing
wildly behind,
orchard grass scratching her
hairy bare legs,
fingers tangled in
a wiry mess of dirty blond
pony mane

The girl whose shoeless feet
splashed through fresh rain
puddles as the drops
continued to fall

whose knees rarely were
without scrapes or
scabs, trophies
of her outdoor
adventures–

The days were long, stretched on
like evening shadows in
summer, each a tale of
fingers and toes in moist brown
earth, pony coat underhand,
green grass underfoot,
the crunch of raw sweet corn
exploding, filling her mouth with
the euphoric experience of

being alive.

In winter,
The pony’s stubby legs
struggled through belly-brushing snow
and the little girl
rode proud, a
commander in chief, rubber
boots kicking pony’s
barrel belly, girl and pony
in Pennsylvania paradise,
chunky snow spit out in
their wake.

I was that girl once, that
carefree bundle of
bushy hair and happiness; somewhere

beneath the layers of
twenty-three years, a four-year degree,
continuous shuffling, cross country moving,
job after job
after job, home after home
after home, scraping pennies off
the floor of my Volkswagon Golf,
sipping tea in a diner, rain
falling hard on dark windows outside, willing
it to stop so I could
find a place to sleep–

and once standing
atop a 14,400 foot pile of rocks, nearly
crying out at the ache of pure
aloneness, pure loneliness and
the realization I could only
rely on me to get down–

somewhere

beneath all that reality,
the little girl
rests inside, waiting
behind a somber mask of
responsibility and self-reliance
for those drops, those flakes to
fall, for that breeze to blow that tells her
run! barefoot, for her teeth to sink
into summer corn so crisp and sweet
she feels

at last
alive again.

Until those moments, I
am in this ambiguous
in-between, this neutral liquid state,
where I barely even know who I am and

so wish I could be that little girl
who sees it all so clearly
again.