Sunday, January 13, 2019

Muck Less, Enjoy More

Does your luck ever get so bad that it crossed your mind that you might be cursed?

Mine has.

Judge for yourself:

My first horse died of a disease so rare, she was the first mare ever (on record) to have contracted it without benefit of virus, bacteria, or parasite.

On Christmas Eve, 2018, I found my 6-yr old mini-horse (Class C, rather big, rather fat)  shaking his head, refusing his hay.  The vet arrived at 8 pm and left at 10.  (A suspected object in his cheek, or else an abscess.)

One week earlier, Tanner reeled back into his door latch and ripped open his side.  It was Sunday night, of course.  The vet was there from 8:30 to 11.

But it was Cooper's abscess, not Tanner's door latch accident, that made me wonder if I should smudge sage over the barn doors, or in the horses' stalls, or on the horses themselves.  Should I braid an amulet into their manes?

One of my closest friends did not laugh at the idea, though I was only half-serious when I texted it.  It couldn't hurt, she said.

The vet returned on Thursday to look in Cooper's mouth and to remove Tanner's stitches. I half-jokingly wondered aloud if my barn could be cursed.

She said she had some sage at home that I could have.

Thanks, I said. But I already had some fresh sage in the fridge leftover from a Thanksgiving recipe.

I wondered if the vet kept sage to keep curses off her own barn.

I wondered if it worked.

I began to think that it might be careless of me not to have rubbed sage in the barn before now.

Did I go directly to the produce drawer in my refrigerator, grab sage, return to the barn, and smudge?


Did I continue to give serious consideration to the possibility that there might be a hex on my barn?


I instant-messaged a friend who sees dead people--not piled up  like cord wood in a bad dream, but like the kid in "Sixth Sense."

I don't thinks she sees them all everywhere, all the time, not sure who's dead and who's undead.

She has occasional sightings. I believe she can identify them easily enough, since they do walk through walls and such.

And if it sounds to you like I'm being flip, that's just my natural turn of phrase.

This friend of mine has total credibility in my book.  I would not doubt her for a second.

I'll tell you why.

I've had encounters with the dead, myself.

Once, in our old Middleborough house, I was painting one of the rooms that had been the maid's or butler's quarters in the attic. I had already scraped off all of the wallpaper, a faded pink floral chintz, when I very distinctly heard a man's footsteps coming up the stairs.  I assumed it was my husband's footsteps.  The footfall was heavy and deliberate, like a man's, or like a weary, heavy-set woman with flat feet.

But there was no one there.  It hadn't been my husband, who later that night said he had been working in the basement the whole time I was painting.

I did not resume painting that room for two months.  When I returned, I brought with me a boombox and played music so loudly it would drown out any footsteps on stairs.

I had a brief interview with someone dead. She was not from my own life but from a friend's.  She was taking precautions: Not only was I asleep, and therefore receptive to conversation with dead people; I was also a neutral party who knew who she was but had not been around for her violent and perfunctory suicide. I would not judge.

She asked me to remember her to our mutual friend, and I did, months later, over dinner, where I learned that my dream had taken place on the anniversary of her suicide. Which left no doubt in my mind that it had been a visit.  (Moreover, my dreams are usually about me--my obsessions and my anxieties, of which she had played no part.)

So, you see, I'm receptive to the possibility that there are forces at play that we don't understand.  But I don't want to hear the dead, and I don't want to see them, either.  I don't want to be super-sensitive to bad juju, or to the cold presence of a still-potent hex.

I IM'd this friend of mine who sees the dead, knowing that she had friends with similar aptitudes. I asked if she would refer me to someone about a curse.

And she did.

She gave me a name and a phone number.  She said this woman was the real thing, and she was expecting to hear from me...

I pictured a stylish baby-boomer earthy-crunchy crone pulling up in a Prius packed with herbs, candles, stones, and crystals.  Jet-streaming patchouli (a scent as tenacious as skunk), she would look around inside the barn (being very careful not to get any on her) and prescribe a combination of remedies which I hoped would not require the sacrifice of a bird.

But after reading a little about curses on Wikipedia, I started to imagine the scene differently.

The crone would be the same, but instead of rubbing sage and placing stones and crystals among hoof picks and tack, she would look at me squarely, and soberly ask, "Who do you know who would want your horses dead?"

And then it hit me: If anyone had cursed my barn, it was me.

According to Wikipedia, a curse can happen unintentionally, in the way a beleaguered mother might wish not to have had children. She doesn't really want her children to die, and if anything bad happened to them she would feel the full weight of concern and care.  A husband who occasionally envisions a life without a wife, according to this logic, might convey an unintentional curse.

I had imagined that life without dogs could be tidy and clean; that books, travels, and a miniature horse could substitute for the puppy I got, the one that devours my time as though it were an old leather boot.

I have occasionally wished to be free of my horses--the daily grind, the relentless chores and responsibility that go with horse-keeping.

As harsh as it sounds to admit that I am the most likely purveyor of curses upon my own charges, it comes with a liberating epiphany:

I could afford to be a little less attentive to their upkeep.

Few people who have horses muck out a stall as meticulously or as often as I do.

Few people who have horses would feel guilty if they didn't cut up apples and carrots into bite-sized pieces for them every night.

Few people who own horses worry that if their barn isn't swept out entirely every day that their horses will develop a respiratory infection.

Taking care of horses doesn't need to be so intense and worrisome that it is impossible to actually enjoy it.

I am  now convinced that if I relaxed just a little bit, my horses would be just fine, and I would never wish them to be otherwise.

That brings me to my New Year's Resolution 2019:  I will try to be less excellent.

I will muck out the stalls once a day (in the evening, to be clean and nice for the horses at night).

I will bring them carrots or I won't, as it suits me.

I will enjoy and love them more, and bless them every day (instead of smudging the barn with herbs).

Maybe curses are real, and maybe they are not.

Maybe dark wishes escape our grasp, shape-shift and make manifest experimental thoughts that were meant to be private, fleeting, and ultimately lost.

There's less freedom in the idea that idle, un-acted-upon, uncommitted thoughts could have disastrous unintended effects.  It seems stridently Christian, as much as pagan, on a par with sinful thoughts.

Not to mention, narcissistic and grandiose to think a fleeting thought could kill a horse.

All of this by way of explanation: why I did not call the lady (crone, Prius, patchouli) to have her diagnose a curse.

To call her,

To place crystals and smudge sage,

Gives weight to a long list of possibilities that I'd rather not entertain. About curses and feelings and thoughts.

So instead, for now, my plan is simple: Muck less, enjoy more.