You've heard of the quiet before the storm? How about the quiet after the storm? That's how it feels to me right now. The last few months have been mostly volatile with a few days of calm here and there. Now, the highs and lows have subsided, and I'm left with determination and hopefulness. Not such a bad outcome, after all.
I'm working on The Artist's Way, submitting children's stories, writing Dinner at Antoine's, The Battle of Picacho Pass, various poems, and a new project that will remain anonymous for now but is a lot of fun so far. I'm also thinking about the winter conference of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators in New York and Highlights Magazine's Chatauqua conference next year.
And then there are archery and horseback riding lessons. These are two activities from my youth. Archery I never pursued, but became interested again when I saw the first Lord of the Rings film (thank you, Orlando Bloom) and I found an old wooden bow in a garage we were cleaning out during a Rebuilding Together SF project. The homeowner wanted us to throw it away, so I asked if I could have it. It is beautiful whether I can use it for archery or not. Horseback riding is another story.
I began riding when I was four years old at a place that offered rides on Shetland ponies next to a beer distributor called the Pony Keg. Figures. I loved to gallop, thrill seeker that I was. At five, I took English riding lessons from a very mean man -- that didn't last. At eight, I rode every weekend with an old cowboy, Henry, and he eventually put me in charge of trail rides. I was fearless. The trail ride that sticks in my mind was with an adult couple. A small plane landed on the trail in the desert, spooking our horses. I gave that pilot a piece of my eight-year-old mind! Nothing mattered except the horses and the safety of my riders.
For years after that, I took real riding lessons from Mrs. Dali Watley, the queen of western riding teachers. I worship her memory. She had us ride bareback to really become one with the horse, and it worked. She was demanding and brilliant. I loved her and the horses. One summer, my parents rented horses for us up at our cabin at Hawley Lake on the White Mountain Apache Reservation. We chased Indian cows when they weren't chasing us and had the kind of summer that kids never forget.
Then years went by without riding at all until I went to work in Paris for a few months after graduate school. One of the secretaries had a horse at a stable and invited me to go riding. English-style riding is called a la française in France, naturally, and I wasn't any better at it than I had been at age five. The stable owner put me on a lively two-year-old and I didn't know what I was doing even less so with her instructions in French and so managed to get thrown several times. Mrs. Watley always told us to get back on if we fell off or got thrown, so I got back on until I landed against the wooden corral wall and hurt my back. They took me to a French hospital where they took x-rays with an ancient machine -- if I get cancer, you'll know why -- and gave me muscle relaxants, and didn't charge me a franc even though I was a foreigner. For the next few days, my legs felt tingly and like they weren't connected properly to my hips, but the real damage was to my confidence. I lost my nerve when it came to horses. I was afraid for the first time.
That is what I hope to regain by riding with a Half Moon Bay cowboy friend of my friends Fabian and Charles West. He also believes in the value of bareback riding, so we'll see. But enough stories for now.