Tag Archives: horses

My Perfect June Day in Whitefish, Montana

The field of possibility...

The field of possibility…

As seen on Explore Whitefish!

June is heavenly here in Whitefish, Montana with all the birds nesting and singing their territorial symphony, the snow melting off the mountains, the rivers in full rush, the days warm, and the nights still cool.  I’ve lived here for 25 years, and I know this season for the embarrassment of riches that it is!  June also begins my summer Haven Writing Retreat season, so my idea of a perfect day is to ground myself in Montana’s splendor, as I prepare to welcome the 20 brave seekers who come from around the globe to be inspired, write, and find their voice through the written word, whether or not they consider themselves writers. Many of them stay and enjoy the area, including, of course, Glacier National Park and Flathead Lake, using Whitefish as their home away from home.  I’ve seen Montana, and Haven, change their lives over and over again, and I love sharing the container for my muse with them!  But first…a personal retreat day in paradise.  Where to begin…

  • An early morning ride on my old Morgan with my horse guru, Bobbi Hall of Stillwater Horse Whispers Ranch (who leads the Equine Assisted Learning at my Haven Writing Retreats), to meet our dear friend, Ky, from Great Northern Powder Guides, in the woods. Ride to Murray Lake on The Whitefish Trail, catch up as busy kindred sisters must, and listen for nesting loons. Maybe a morning dip in the lake while the horses graze.
  • Go home, unsaddle, grab the kids, and forage for morels near riverbeds and in forest fire burns.  (Exact location…up over Never Tell ‘Em Ridge…  Same with huckleberries in August…)
  • Be captivated by the little magenta heads of the Calypso orchids (Fairy Slippers) popping up through the woodland forest bottom while we picnic.Image-1
  • Pick arnica blossoms to make into salve for aches and bruises from a hearty Montana lifestyle!  (Combine with local Montana beeswax from Third Street Market, and give as gifts all year!)
  • Drive home past the golden fields of canola in bloom.
  • Hop in a kayak on Whitefish Lake and paddle, or if I want wind in my hair, rent a ski boat or pontoon boat at the marina at the Lodge at Whitefish Lake.  Celebrate the fact that The Whitefish Trail is now almost a full loop around the lake—a dream that came true!  Nice job, Whitefish Legacy Partners!  (Click here to help close the loop!)
  • Stop by the Farmer’s Market and see the spirit of the town in full bloom, with fabulous food trucks, like INDAH Sushi (restaurant opening in Whitefish soon!!!  One of the owners, Stacey, is a Haven Writing Retreat alum!)  Listen to live local musicians, and pick up veggies and herbs from local farms, like Purple Frog Gardens, and Terrapin Farms.  Pick up some Morning Buns from the Finn Biscuit!  Wander through all the great vending booths.  Remember why I love this town and its people so much.
  • Stop by Tupelo Grill for a craft cocktail (the Sazerac and Now or Never are my favs), and their sinful bacon-wrapped chevre dates.
  • Be overwhelmed by all of the amazing restaurant choices there are in Whitefish, realize I’m filthy from the day’s activities, and instead…
  • Go home to grill Montana steaks and (hopefully) sautéed morels for dinner on the patio with old friends and family.  Sip on Domaine Tempier rose, inspired by years of reading my favorite, and longtime Montanan, writer, Jim Harrison.  (I hope there’s DT wherever you are, Jim!)
  • Relax at dusk and listen to the birds singing their nighttime Taps, with members of the Flathead Audubon society on my screened porch, telling me who’s who in this magnificent symphony.IMG_3786
  • End the day journaling about this incredible place on earth in preparation to welcome the next group of brave seekers who are giving themselves the gift of a Haven Writing Retreat at the beautiful Walking Lightly Ranch!
  • Drift off to sleep, watching an endless sky of meteor showers from my bedroom window.
  • Dream of tomorrow:  a hike in Glacier National Park, ending at the Northern Lights Saloon up in Polebridge for dinner and chats with fellow wanderers, proud to call myself a Montanan!

Montana= Heaven’s Haven on Earth.  Enjoy!

For more information about my writing and Haven Writing Retreats, or to sign up for my blog and newsletter, click here!  

Now booking our September and October Haven Writing Retreats in Whitefish, Montana:

June 7-11 (FULL)

June 21-25 (1 spot left)

September 6-10

September 20-24

October 18-22

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The Merrier Me

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When laughing didn’t hurt…

Like a lot of people this weekend
who opted to tuck in front of the fire in lieu of holiday parties, I watched Rudolph, which always stresses me out and I’m not sure why I go, “awwwwwwwwww” when I see it’s going to be on television because that abominal snowmonster still freaks me out and all those sad toys with Rankin Bass puppet mouths, and then Frosty (ditto—he melts!  A little girl cries next to the puddle once known as his former self, and there’s a cloying bad guy that he can’t shake with a weird rabbit helper—I forget what happens in the end.  I think he moves to Brooklyn.)

download (1)And then the healing began.  Mary Poppins.  Two hours of Mary and Bert and tuppence and votes for women and evening govnah and magic umbrellas and bottomless carpet bags and sidewalk chalk painting portals into barber shop penguins and carousels with real horses and hilarious helium tea on the ceiling and and and.  Even though she leaves them in the end and they all have to find their inner Mary Poppins.download

The only thing of it is:  I laughed.  And that is a physical response to emotions I haven’t let myself feel for two months.  The who what when where why how of it has to do with a horse and my tendency to act over-confident when I’m scared.  And a loose cinch.  In short, he zigged, I zagged.  Bottom line:  if you’re going to ride horses, you’re going to end up on the ground sometimes.  You just hope you don’t hear actual bones cracking.  Three of them.  Ribs.

If you’ve broken a rib, you are now making the face I make when I see the abominal snowmonster.
download (2)It suuuuuuucks.  Breaths are reduced to small sips, coughing and sneezing are a delicacy you can only succumb to if you can’t not, sighing is not recommended, sleeping in any position at all is nearly unattainable (I seriously almost bought a recliner and put it in the living room), talking with any animation is ish-y, singing is better left to a dull hum, crying—meh…and laughter?  Laughter is verboten, like the Burgermeister Meisterburger has some sort of hold on you.

You know that kind of laughter that happens at weddings and funerals and graduation speeches that you can’t control?  It has total occupation of your diaphragm?  Well, that’s one of my central goals in life.  That kind of belly-womping primordial caccination.  With snorts in-between.  If you can’t breath deeply, you can’t pull it off, not by any stretch.  So you have a choice:  Laugh your way into scar tissue that will remind you of your stupid horse tricks for the rest of your life when you climb a ladder or reach for your shoes.  Or go deadpan.  Poker face.  In short, I’ve been officially depressed.  I lead retreats.  I needed to go on one.  Just not in my bed for two months, groaning.bdd9bf5f53c4df963b2e91e3a5b2e939

And now that it’s the holidaze, the Kay jewelers people don’t help.  Or those Folgers ads.  Or all the perfect Facebook Christmas trees.  Or the families in matching sweaters on my Christmas cards.  Or the fact that I haven’t gotten a Christmas card out this year and probably won’t.  In my mind, it’s still October.  Thanksgiving hasn’t even happened.  I’m finally going out for a ride on my horse after a grueling fall work schedule.  I’m tired.  I feel sorry for myself.  And I’m going to do something nice for myself, damnit.  He jigged.  I jagged.  And I watched fall become winter from my bed for the most part of two months.

But I’m not writing this to complain.  I’m writing all of this to say that I now know what gratitude really means.  Bless you, cup of tea that took me twenty minutes to make, including the hard launch from bed– the roll, the sidle, the squirm, the shuffle, the sit, and the big one:  the stand…the walk…and the stairs…the stairs, the pick up the tea pot, the fill it with water, the ow ow ow ow ow all the way back up the stairs, back to sit, to the slow timber back into the pillows.  Oh.  And then there’s the tea.  Waaaaaaay over there on the nightstand, a century of inches away.  “Forget it.  Let it get cold.  I’ve just done the Iditorod.”  And there she lay.  Watching the sun move around the house and the moon rise, and all of her responsibilities fall like the leaves she never got to on the lawn, and the snow that’s coming, that came, and all the people she’ll have to ask to help her do simple things and all the shame around one stupid moment on a horse that she was planning on riding every day for eight straight weeks of much-needed horse therapy.  Her new craving:  Epsom salts.  And oh, that cold cup of tea.  If only someone would come in with a fresh steaming cup and fold her laundry…  Still, I have never been more grateful for just being able to get up and make the tea, never mind drink it.

That said, all that woe-is-me managed to loop itself around to a world of hurt that I’ve never experienced before.  I’ve never taken anti-depressants, and for the first time, I seriously considered it.  And then, just as I was thinking this would be my permanent world…I caught myself laughing at something on Jimmy Fallon.  And it hurt…so good.  And I realized what was really wrong.  It wasn’t the horselessness or the shame or the frustration or even the pain.  It was the lack of laughter in my life.  Without laughter, I was living in a colorless world of fair-to-middling.  I had untrained myself out of delight.  Joy.  Unabashed explosions of glee.  And it had to stop.  I am a laugher.  No matter what.  I needed to get back on that horse.  (The other one can wait.)

So on Saturday night, in my eighth week of recovery, my ribs more mended than not, with permission from Mary Poppins and her tea-time wack-wonkery, I let myself laugh.  Ecstatic laughing.  In hee hee hees and hoh hoh hohs and hah hah hahs.  It made LOL look like mere titter.  And man…did it feel good.  My whole being felt light and alive in a way it hasn’t for far too long.  I am so grateful for this simple and essential human ability.  I love to laugh, indeed.  Laughter really is the best medicine.  LOLOLOLOLOLOL!

Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2017

February 22-26 (one spot left)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

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***According to Mayo clinic laughter is just what the doctor ordered!

***PS.  In all that lying around, I did manage to write 150 pages of a book.  So there’s that.  #grateful

 

 

 

 

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Memory Lane Monday

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Now booking 2017 Haven Writing Retreats!

February 22-26 (only a few spots left)
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat, go to the Contact Us button here.

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As you might have noticed, I resist the formulaic Top Ten lists that are all over the internet, as much as I resist the sound bytes that have become our attention span.  My blog posts are too long and likely too reflective.  But when I started this blog, it was with the express intention of making easy, informal connections with people, without the publishing world as carrier pigeon.  My true love is long form writing– the novel/the memoir, and I am hard at work on three books as I write this post.  That said, when you fall off your horse and bust a few ribs, life reduces itself to the nitty gritty, and it’s worth noting:  It literally goes step by step, and we better be grateful for each one, even though they hurt like hell-fire in our thoracic cavity.  Suddenly, I am finding gratitude for two inches to the left at night in just the right painfree position.  Dodging a sneeze with deep sniffing.  The smell of lavendar oil.  And very ungrateful when the toilet paper roll slips out of my hands and rolls…rolls…rolls…to the other end of the bathroom.  What was last week “another damn trip into town to do errands” when all I wanted was to be in my bed reading and writing during this hiatus between leading writing retreats, maybe taking a little walk…is now something I long for, just like my golden retriever when he’d see our busy purposeful steps to the truck, sure of some sort of adventure that the front porch couldn’t provide.

While these ribs heal, a few minutes on the front porch is all the adventure this body can take, never mind the potholes and washboards of a country road.  And so it brings me back to a Top Ten list I wrote, sort of mocking Top Ten lists, last year that sums up why I love living in my town– this town I can’t wait to re-visit hopefully next week, grateful for the wind in my hair, and a list of errands to do, and even a good old fashioned sneeze.

First, however, perhaps it might be useful to list the top ten possible reasons I fell off my horse and am in this pickle:

To stop working so hard

To feel grateful for tiny things

To stop multi-tasking

To stop letting unfinished projects bother me

To let the piles go

To leave the unpicked up things unpicked up

To make friends with the dust bunnies

To appreciate a firm pillow

To be grateful for a window with a view

To be grateful for people who bring me soup and make me tea

And now…Drum roll….

Ten+ reasons why I live in Whitefish, Montana

September 4, 2015

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(*note:  You’d think it has to do with skiing and golfing…but it doesn’t.)

Because I can go outside to get something out of my car naked.

Because if the UPS guy drove up while I was getting something out of my car naked, he wouldn’t make a big deal out of it.

Because I can go into town in the same outfit I slept in and no one would even notice and if they did notice they’d say, “Good for you.”

Because we have old fashioned streetlights with hanging flower baskets on them, an ice cream parlor, a toy store, a hardware store, and a brewery (and a whole lot of other cool locally owned stores and restaurants).

Because when you go to the Post Office, people ask you about your kids by name.

Because the health food store owners know more about my digestive tract than I do.  And they hold my babies when we load the car.  (I love you Rick and Dawn.)

Because we have a Winter Carnival where grown-ups dress up like Vikings and Yetis and Queens and Kings and ride floats and jump into a frozen lake.  And lots of people come to watch and think it’s fun.

Because it doesn’t matter how much money you have.  And nobody really cares, if they do know.

Because we’re all the same in a snow storm.

Because we’re all the same in a forest fire.

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Because we’re all the same when there’s a grizzly bear or a mountain lion on the trail.

Because the Great Northern Railroad comes right through town and I can feel connected to my hometown Chicago, and another favorite old haunt, Seattle.

Because Glacier National Park is on a lot of people’s bucket list and for us, it’s an easy answer to the question, “So what do you want to do today?”

Because we believe in our wandering rights and have 26 miles of non-motorized trail meandering through our greenbelt, with more to come. (The Whitefish Trail)

Because we have lakes and rivers all around us.

Because it serves up things to write about daily.

Because we have a Farmer’s Market that everybody goes to, even if it’s hailing.

Because people care about the Arts here, (not just about skiing and golfing).

Because on school field trips, my kids go snow-shoeing, ice-fishing, and skiing.

Because they broadcast the local high school football game at the grocery store.

Because people read the local paper.  That’s all we’ve got, anyway.

Because at Christmas-time, we string the same vintage bells across the street as they used in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Is that ten reasons?  I need to drive my kid to school in my pajamas now.  Oh, and I need eggs.  But maybe I’ll just get those from the neighbor’s chickens.

See more about Whitefish, Montana

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Throwback Tuesday

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Now booking 2017 Haven Retreats!

February 22-26
June 7-11
June 21-25
September 6-10
September 20-24
October 4-8
October 18-22

To schedule a phone call to learn more about the retreat,

go to the Contact Us button here.

Dear Reader –

So you know when you want something very very badly?  And you wait and you wait and then finally…it’s a sunny day, and all the great ideas beckon you out into it saying, “You can do this thing, you can be this person you want to be, you can have the life you want…and P.S…it’s not that hard.  Come.”  And so you do.  And it’s with fear and trepidation. But you do it anyway and you feel good about it.  Really good.  And then something happens and you get stuck in an old way of thinking and the fear sets in and suddenly you find yourself on your ass.  In my case, it might have had something to do with a horse and his jig to my jag.  And the consequent fracture to a few key bones making it very hard to sneeze, cough, laugh, clear my throat, breathe.

Well, it gives you pause.  Time to think.  You know what I’m talking about.  That thing that you want so badly is actually something that really scares you and you wonder why you want it so badly– why you’ve set your life up to always be hard.  Like you’re constantly saying to yourself:  “You can take it.  You’re brave enough.  You’re a bad ass.  DO IT.”

Well that’s what I hear in my mind:  A lot.  Sometimes it serves me.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  It’s helped me get through 25 years in Montana.  And it’s sort of getting me through these days laid up in bed, grateful for rolling over two inches, grateful for being able to reach a glass full of water.  It has me wondering about my relationship with personal power.  Maybe we don’t have to be so bad ass.  Maybe being able to get out of bed is a daily miracle.  Maybe this is a blessing, this time to pause.

And reflect on this woman I’ve been in these Montana years.

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In this period of near-motionlessness, I’m grateful for my laptop.  I’m not much in the mood for writing.  More for reflecting on my relationship with personal power and how I get in my own way– my jags to life’s jigs.  So, I’m looking through old blog posts about Montana in the last decade and trying to learn what it is to let yourself off the hook.  Thought I’d re-post a few of them here this week.  Makes sense, given my current state, to begin with one called “Break Me In, Montana.”  I hope you enjoy.

Here’s something that might help you in your own relationship with your personal power:
My affirmation when I went out on my first book tour was, “I give myself permission to be exactly who I am and have it be easy.”

yrs.

Laura

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Break Me In, Montana

May 11, 2009

I begged for this. This house. This land. This time. This husband and these children. I begged to know a place season for season. To use last summer’s spent perennials as winter mulch. To rake it off when the Lenten roses poke through. To know, finally, which one is the North Star, and use it to find my way home. I begged to feel my heart sink with the leaving V’s of geese. And become buoyant again with their return.

I did not know I was begging. All those years in cities. Chicago, New York, Boston, Florence, London, Seattle. I would catch myself in storefront windows and say yes, I am alive. I see myself here in the crowd. In that great outfit. Those fantastic shoes. And return to the apartment with the cockroaches and the blinking answering machine, ready to make my home in some glittering concert hall, some stark white art opening, some hushed mocha-toned new restaurant. I did not know I was begging for this when I dropped to my knees one night at the side of my bed like my grandmother used to, and said, please, please, bring me home.

Three weeks later my husband walked into our brand new Seattle house and said, “I just got a job in Montana. You would be able to write full time. We could have our kids there, and you wouldn’t have to work outside the home.”

So we left.

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  I watched the Cascades until they were little harmless divots in the horizon,    and I cried all through the dry of Eastern Washington and over the pass that  brought me, for the first time, to the Flathead Valley.
Over a hill, and there it was: Flathead Lake to the south, the ski mountain in  Whitefish to the North, the Jewel Basin in front of us drifting off into the Swan and the Mission ranges. The canyon leading to Glacier National Park off to the east. Twin bald eagles riding a thermal over us.
“It feels like a set up,” I said.

I could not receive this place at first. It felt like it had power over me like one of those guru types posing to know you better than you know yourself. More so, it felt like my enemy. The answer to a prayer I never meant to pray. Like it would break me in half if I slacked off for one second. Grizzly bears. Forest fires. Avalanches. Mountain lions. Angry loggers. Angry environmentalists. People dying for and from what I could only perceive as folly—kayaking, mountain climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, back country skiing, downhill skiing, horseback riding, ice climbing, river rafting…and on and on.

“Let go of the city,” the lovers of this country would say. “Stay. Sit a spell.” No, I secretly schemed. Letting go would mean a betrayal. Of that girl in the shop window.

Instead, I spent many years letting go of Montana. Taking hits off the city in drug-dose proportions. Looking down from my returning flight into our little valley, seeing the outline of the mountains, the five or six farm lights still on, landing, thinking I can do it this time. I can stay. Three months later, I would be up in the sky again, panting over the grid of lights below and the skyscrapers on the horizon beckoning me back.
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Until I had my first child. And the subway so suddenly went villain. The honking cars and heaving bus exhaust and hissing sewers…like land mines. I clung to my baby. I ended up in parks. Grant Park. The Presidio. The Boston Garden. Central Park. The Arboretum. Leaving the city windows to another girl’s self-fascination. Then I would hover over our little valley with the landing gear descending, see the half-dozen little lights below, the moonlit ranges, and begin to find thanks.

It occurred to me then, that letting go was not a leaving. But a climbing in. A yes. I proclaimed that yes. At first quietly. Ashamed. Then louder. Then so I didn’t know the difference between yes, and living.

Fifteen years. Dog sled racers, endurance riders, snowcat operators, medicine women, stunt pilots. Grizzly trackers, loggers, bowhunters. Helicopter nurses, heart surgeons, brewers and preschool teachers. Electric company cherry pickers, and Flathead cherry growers. Pizza parlor proprietors and organic farmers. Cowboys. Rodeo queens. Horse whisperers. Blacksmiths. Piano tuners. Cross dressers. Quilters. DJ’s, hot dog vendors, mule packers. Vietnam Vets. Ski bums. Fly-fishing guides, bartenders, computer programmers, train conductors. Double Phds that live in their car and grift at the pool hall for food money. Wives who live to hunt. Husbands who live to cook their wives’ kill.

I still have not been mauled by a grizzly bear. Still have not even seen a mountain lion. Have only come upon the aftermath of forest fire…and found a bounty of mushrooms there. Montana never broke me in– like a cowboy who thinks it needs to break the mare’s spirit to gain respect. I was never that mare. It was never that cowboy.

Instead, it was there all that time– in purple Alpine glow and sparkling wide rivers, in the sight of my child’s fingers on a trout belly, the safe back of an old horse lakeside in August, dipping its neck down and drinking slow sips of glacial run-off, in soft rains and misting meadows, anthills and golden Larch, in the little white farm lights and moonlit snowy peaks– it was there, all that long sweet time…welcoming me home.

 

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Haven Winter Series # 5

What is inspiring you?  I hope that you can ask, in the dormancy of winter:  what would happen if I took a stand for myself?

This is the fifth in a series of guest posts:   For the last few winters, I’ve offered up my blog as a place for writers to share. I believe in generosity.  I also know how important it is for writers to write.  To that end, I’ve spent a few weeks posting the alive and brave words that people who have come to a Haven retreat are willing to share.  Read these words.  Consider this experience.  Play around in curiosity and wonder.  I hope that my blog will honor all of us who sit in the intersection of heart and mind and craft that is writing.

That’s what I’m doing.  Quietly.  For these weeks.  Please think about taking this time for your heart language.

While I’m focusing on my own writing…this year, I’ve asked Haven alums to write a short piece describing something they learned or a way they were transformed through Haven.  I’ll be sharing two pieces per post over the next couple of weeks.  With huge love to your muse–  Laura

Donna Bunten and Shannon McDonough.

Haven by Donna Bunten

River stands before me solid, unmoving.  My throat constricts as fear rises like a choking fog above a swamp on Halloween night.  Not from fear of the horse, a beautiful Arabian chestnut who stands 14.2 hands, a 1,000-pound animal able to stomp me to dust beneath his hooves.  No, fear of something much scarier—that River knows I have no will of my own, that I’m a chameleon, unable to be “real” because I don’t know who I am.  That I so desperately want him to like me and I’m afraid he’ll reject me because I’m not good enough.

“Donna,” Bobbi’s clear voice penetrates the fog.  “What’s happening, what are you feeling?”

“That I don’t really need to make him move around the arena, just for me, just to prove something,” I say out loud, my voice quivering.  The inner voice finishes the thought:  “You’re not worth it.  He doesn’t like you, what were you thinking, coming here?”  I want to cry.

Bobbi’s deep blue eyes meet mine, and quietly she says, “Well, someday you might really need to make someone move away from you.   You might have to take a stand for yourself.  Take a deep breath, center your intention towards River.  Now, try again.”

I inhale slowly, trying to breathe in strength and resolve, to shush the cacophony of voices in my head.  Then, in the growing stillness, I feel something stir in the core of my being.  Something warm, firm, solid.  Something dense, yet crystal clear.  Something that’s been there all along, even though I’ve forgotten.  I sense, rather than hear, the words, “You are enough, just as you are.”  I extend my arm and walk calmly towards River, holding his gaze.  “You need to move aside,” I tell him silently.

And he does.  Just like that.  “Horses aren’t comfortable around tentative people,” Bobbi tells me.  “Their survival depends on being able to sense danger, and to know their place within the herd.  You need to show the horse that you are in charge, that he can trust you to lead.  If you don’t know your own place, you just confuse them.”

Her words echo Laura’s from that morning’s writing session.  “Get clear with the voice telling your story.  The reader wants authority.  Hold the torch, show her you know where you’re taking her.  Stop camouflaging.  Take a stand for yourself.”

Back in my room at Haven, I sit weeping on the edge of my bed, doubled over as sobs bubble up and wash over me like a melting river escaping the icy grip of a very long winter.   The heavy energy of holding fear and shame begins to shift, to lighten, to dance.

River reflected back to me both my vulnerability and my strength.  Deep within my heart, the veil lifts, and I glimpse my true nature.   I see pain, fear, and doubt, but I also see courage and the infinite capacity for love.  It was enough for River, and it is enough for me.

I Am One of Them by Shannon McDonough

Why did I come here? I asked myself as soon as I got back to my room that first night of Laura Munson’s Haven Writing Retreat. I don’t fit in. This isn’t what I was expecting at all. I needed to breathe into a paper bag, but it turns out paper bags aren’t as easy to come by as you might think on a remote ranch in the woods of Montana. I felt like I could vomit. I wanted to leave.

The next morning I slogged through the group writing exercises, fighting back tears and the urge to run from the room. You’re doing this wrong played in my head like a skipping record. Again and again…that same tired old song I’d heard all my life. I was so trapped in my own mind the only thing I could write about was that I didn’t know what to write about. Brilliant.

When the morning session was finally over I let out a long, slow breath.  But before we broke for lunch, Laura asked who would like to read from their own work that evening. In a moment of what I can only describe as pure insanity, I raised my hand. I had known we would have this opportunity and I thought I was prepared to do it. But that was before I heard all these talented writers and flung myself headlong into a bout of compare and despair. Still, something deep inside me took over and I could only follow its lead.

That night we gathered on couches and chairs and beanbags in the cozy living room of the lodge overlooking the lake. With candles lit and cups of tea we settled in for the evening session. When it was my turn I took a deep breath and read my previously private work to these women who were strangers just a week before. And it was magic. Suddenly, in this safe and sacred space, enveloped in pure acceptance, I became a storyteller.

Later, as I looked around at these extraordinary women willing to bare their souls and share their stories, I understood why I had taken this journey to the woods of Montana. In this quiet place so far removed from the rest of the world, I came to know these beautiful souls who didn’t seem to see just how magnificent they are. That astounded me. Why can’t they see their own light? I wondered. And then I realized…I am one of them.

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Haven Winter Series #1

For the last few winters, I’ve offered up my blog as a place for other writers to share. I’ve spent a few weeks posting their words while I’ve focused on my own writing. This year, I’ve asked Haven alum to write a short piece describing something they’ve learned or a way they’ve transformed through our writing retreats. I’ll be sharing two pieces per post over the next couple of weeks. This is the first post, written by Renee Lux and Tracey Yokas.

Montana Walk, by Renee Lux

This is a Crusade,
A journey to sow the seeds of my soul
Around this Montana landscape.

With you and without you,
Because of you and in spite of you.
I carry your colors on my back
And emblazoned across my heart.
Red.

Love,
Feel the warm wake of my footsteps
Setting an urgent and steady pace through these
Forests.

Do not be afraid.
I will blaze a new trail for us.
I will walk this path again and again
And see to it that we can find our way back home
To each other.

There is nothing to fear.
The black bear is just a stump,
The hunter, just a cairn of stones.
There is no mountain lion, no goat, no deer,
Only evidence of them giving us wide berth
Through this new place.

This is the after place,
The place of forgiveness
And grace.

When I know this place well,
When I have given each pine its own name
Then, I will invite you
Home,
Here,
To the new me.

 

Nothing Else Makes Sense, by Tracey Yokas

The horse nibbled the belt to my winter coat.  He’s just a horse, I thought as I stood immobile noting his size.  He dared me with his big eyes.  One of us would have to give up and it likely would be me.  Instead Bobbi swooped to my rescue.  One flick of her horse-stick and the belt hung at my side spit out like stale gum.  “I should have tied it better.”

Bobbi looked at me and said, “It’s not your fault, but you need better boundaries.”

Okay.  Wow.  My life experience summed up in one sentence by a woman I just met on a horse ranch in the middle of Montana. And I was at a writing retreat!

I arrived for my Haven retreat one week after admitting my teenage daughter into residential care for help with severe depression.  She had started cutting herself with a razor blade and was no longer safe at home.  I told my husband I would cancel, but he told me not to.  I felt scared and sad and guilty, but also needed a break. When I wrote it felt like a chore, but I convinced myself that for a few days I could put on a brave face and pretend to be a writer.

Back at the lodge after my “Your Life Exposed” lesson at the horse ranch, I sat in front of the fire.  It cracked, popped and smelled like smoke – perfection compared to our Southern California natural gas-fueled fires.  I thought about reading out loud to the group.  My chest hurt.  I might as well read my diary. The pages I’d brought were about blood.  Who wants to hear about that?  And when they did would they judge me?  I felt more than heard Bobbi’s words.  It’s not your fault.

When my turn to read arrived, I held my papers high, right in front of my face, glad I hadn’t purchased those reading glasses I need.  Anonymity made it easier to ignore the quiver in my voice and helped avoid what I might see in the group’s eyes.  Pity?  Disgust?  No.  Finished, I dropped the pages to my lap and looked up.  One’s sniffle, another’s tear.  What I found was compassion.

I think often of my Haven experience, the people I carry still in my heart and what I learned in that long weekend.  For one, you don’t have to earn a living writing to be a writer.  Second, don’t wear a long belt (or any belt for that matter) to a horse ranch or at least be prepared for what a horse can teach you with it.  But most of all, writing with honesty binds us to one another heart and soul.  You will never be alone in a room full of strangers if you are willing to write your truth: good, bad or ugly.  When nothing else makes sense, writing your way to this connection can be what does.

 

 

 

 

 

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To the Horses I Go…

 


Back to the Horses I go…  (as seen on the Parelli website)

It’s trail riding time again in Montana and I can’t wait to get back to this thing that I so love.  I used to do it for the lakes and forests, the runs across meadows of wildflowers, the swimming in the river bareback, the sacred time with my horse of 12 years.  But this season, I’m doing it with a different set of needs and dreams.  In the last three years I went from having no career, to having a bigger career than I’d ever imagined.  I went from being an unpublished author of fourteen book babies…to a New York Times bestselling author with a book published in nine countries.  I’ve been on the road for the most part of the last two years, doing book tours, major national and international television and radio, speaking engagements, teaching, workshops, book fairs.  It’s been quite a ride, not unlike galloping across a meadow– fear of falling and all.

It’s taken its toll.

I recently treated myself to a Thai massage at a wellness center where I was giving a keynote speech.  It was the day after I’d spoken to a large group of people, under a lot of pressure to perform and to hopefully help change lives with my story and my message about empowerment.  Thai massages go very deep.  The practitioner crawls all over you, walks on you, stretches you like nothing I’d ever experienced.  And I started to weep.  The practitioner said, “That’s okay.  It happens a lot.  Out of curiosity, are you going through a major life change?  Your muscles are like armor.”

“Uh, I guess I am.”  And I explained what has become my sudden new reality, adding, “I’ve had to be so focused and intense all the time.  A lot of people reach out to me for advice and sharing since my book is so vulnerable and raw.  I struggle with boundaries.  I just want to help people.  Maybe I’ve built an armor I didn’t know about in some sort of attempt at self-preservation.”

“Very definitely, you’ve built an armor.  I’m going to ask you a question:  can you do what you do without being so (in your words) focused and intense?”

It floored me.  Because it dawned on me that at the beginning of this whole published author journey, I’d made a Statement of Purpose—or a mantra if you will.  I wrote:
“I give myself permission to be exactly who I am and have it be easy.”  And then a year in, I’d added to it, “And have it be fun.”  I’d totally lost sight of this mantra.  Easy?  Fun?
Exactly who I am?  I wiped my tears and I told her, “I used to have a life in balance.  I used to work with horses.  They were my grounding and ballast and teachers.  I haven’t seen my horse in
months.  And a brutal Montana winter is no excuse.  I board him only three miles down the road where there’s a heated arena.  I miss him.  I miss who I am when I’m with him.”

And I realized right then and there, lying on that massage mat, that I needed to overhaul my entire relationship with my work, my mind, body, soul– and fast!  I don’t need to be sitting at my computer twenty-four seven answering emails, social networking, simultaneously writing a novel and another memoir, taking speaking gigs, running to the airport to catch planes to my next gig.  It’s my work and I love it, but I need to stop.  Breathe a little.  Just…be.  If even for a few hours a couple days a week.  I need to shed this “armor” and get back in my body again.

So it’s to the horses I will go this season to find that “play” again.  They will sense my armor immediately and they will not trust it, being the prey that they are to my predator…and they will teach me moment-by-moment that it doesn’t serve me one bit.  They will help me return to myself, as I shed that armor, and as they feel the way my body moves softer and softer on their back and on the ground.  They will help me to go “with” life instead of muscling it.  And if I pay attention and receive what they have to teach me, they will help me to re-set my intentions, gather my awareness, get in tune with my instincts.  I simply cannot wait.

 

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More Eyes

My sister in law died not long ago and sometimes I feel her around me, making things happen. That might sound strange to you. But maybe you know what I mean. My dad died 7 years ago, and I feel him too. And why not? It’s not something to be cynical about. If you could contact the people you love after you die, wouldn’t you?

It doesn’t really matter if it’s real or not. Let’s not get stuck there. Let’s receive it and let’s smile and apply the wisdom. I’ve always told my kids that no matter what, I’ll be in their heart. When they were little, they understood, nodding knowingly. Now at 11 and 15 they aren’t so sure. Their brains are in the way.

Today my husband is visiting his sister’s kids. They are going through her things. They found a box of horse tack. I am in need of horse tack. Just yesterday I thought about how expensive it is and how I really don‘t know if I can justify spending money on my hobby, even though it’s my therapy. We have bills to pay.

And then I get this. As my grandmother used to say: there are more eyes watching us than we’ll ever know.

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NOT a Cancer Victim

As some of you may have noticed, I’ve recently welcomed advertisers onto my blog.  While it makes it possible for me to continue THESE HERE HILLS, it’s also a result of how so many of you have inspired ME with what you’ve created in your lives.  How you’ve turned your dreams into business realities.  I’d like to introduce you to Draper Therapies.  It’s a business that is particularly inspiring to me.  Their technology has created a textile which takes the body’s energy and re-oxygenates the blood,  thereby helping to alleviate pain.  I admit to being a bit of  a skeptic when it comes to heal-alls.  I’ve tried a whole range of ways to take away my back pain– acupuncture, chiropractic, magnets…and usually just end up popping the Advil in the end which seems to do the trick, although I don’t like taking pills.  The folks at Draper sent me a shirt and a pair of socks to see if I got results, and I must say…in the week that I’ve worn them…I haven’t been in pain.  I love that their products aren’t just for humans.  Horses and dogs too.  I’m honored to have them at THESE HERE HILLS, and to be speaking at their event in Wellington, Florida.

Here is Kat Wojtylak– one of Draper’s key employees, and dedicated to spreading the word about their great work in the field of  healing and wellness.  Kat knows all about healing– mind, body, soul.  Here is her story.

Getting Out of Your Own Way:  What It Means to Me. A guest post by Kat Wojtylak

The last three years of my life have been the happiest by far.  I’ve become a fundamental part of a company whose products are set to revolutionize the equine market. I’ve found an amazing man who has given me a foundation for an exciting and stable future.  And I’ve found a complete sense of happiness in myself (which borderlines on annoying to people who aren’t in a similar mindset, but oh well.)

This is not a post to share all my accomplishments at twenty-six, but to share my hardships and how they’ve become blessings.  They’ve given me the gifts I have today and made me into the woman I am by inspiring me to learn how to get out of my own way.

In 2006, my doctors started taking notice of a cyst in my neck.  I referred to it as my little Adam’s apple. Tests deducted that it was more of a blemish than anything else. I took medication to help make it shrink– but it didn’t.  It started to  grow and I got concerned. I decided to have it removed, even though my surgeon said it wasn’t necessary, given the normal test results and size.  But my nagging suspicion pushed me to take the next step.

A day before Thanksgiving, and two weeks before my twenty-third birthday, my family came to see me through the surgery. It was relatively uneventful and they left shortly after, once I was able to care for myself. A week later, everything changed.

My surgeon called.  My biopsy results had come in.  I had papillary and follicular thyroid cancer.

I had another surgery in February of 2007 to remove the rest of my thyroid and eventually went through radioactive iodine treatment just a few months later. As everything came to an end, I went into a depression and true to the saying “when it rains, it pours,” it started to pour.

The job that had secured the last year of my life was now gone, and even though I had just beat cancer, I played the poor me card.  The truth was that I just didn’t know what to do or who to turn to for help. I made the “simple” decision that I needed to be back in New England where I grew up– to be as far away from these wretched memories and start anew.  That I was in my own way, and needed to move out of it.  Emotionally, and physically.

In May of 2007, I moved to Massachusetts. It was my chance to start over.  Albeit rash, I’d finally taken a stand for myself. I needed to move outside of blame and take control of my life– to leave all the pettiness behind and start to focus on what I wanted and needed, in order to get better.  I needed to choose my health over everything else that I used to assign power.

And then I learned about Spencer Bell.  He was an artist I found in looking for a cancer support group. Spencer Bell is a phenomenal lyricist and musician that even after death brought so many people together in a place that is now a haven for many. Spencer died of adrenal cancer, a very rare and at the moment, incurable disease.  Because of the rarity of the cancer, it hardly ever shows up on the average person’s radar, but can wreak havoc on those families who sadly come into its path.   Through the efforts of his friends and family continuing his artistic legacy, I found support in a way I never thought possible.

These ties eventually brought me into the path of Dr. Gary Hammer who is the head of the University of Michigan’s Comprehensive Cancer Center Endocrine Oncology Program. Dr. Hammer is not only a wonderfully humble man, but his passion, combined with those in the Spencer Bell Memorial community, drove me to push past my inhibitions and make the conscious choice to give back. His enthusiasm for opportunities also introduced me to Laura Munson, whose sister-in-law died of adrenal cancer and had participated in his clinical trial.  Laura and I made an instant connection in our shared love for horses and our commitment to creating happiness in our lives…and forged yet another bond in an ever growing adventure of self responsibility.

Draper Therapies, the company I work for and love, recently launched a philanthropic project to give back to adrenal cancer research in the Spencer Bell Endowment Fund. The philanthropic efforts at our company, combined with a push for further education and our philosophy of health and wellness, stretches into giving everyone the tools to a better life, starting from the inside out.

My transformation came from the bottom up, and inside out. It all started from taking myself out of the toxic environment that had become my home and allowing myself the opportunity to really look at the person I had become. I slowly began to chip away at all the things I was unhappy with and eventually came to a point where I was content and accepting of the woman inside me. I learned that I  could face any situation with patience and love, even if I was smack dab in the middle of chaos.  It was a simple mind trick.

The greatest lesson I’ve learned is that we need to take care of ourselves, whether it’s our health, our mental status, or our souls. And if the going gets tough, don’t give your power away– gain control over who is in charge, so that you can combat even the greatest hardships in life with the greatest of ease. Practice makes perfect, but you’re definitely not human if you don’t make a few mistakes along the way.  Be kind to yourself.  Ask for help.  Find what inspires you.

Kat Wojtylak is Product Manager for Draper Therapies®, a growing therapeutic company using the technology Celliant®. Celliant is a revolutionary technology that harnesses the body’s natural energy through the use of minerals and fibers. The proprietary blend of microscopic optically responsive particles works with the energy released from the body and is designed to recycle energy back to the body to improve health and overall well-being of the wearer. Products containing Celliant have been clinically proven to increase blood flow and blood oxygen levels in the body and help balance body temperature. Increased blood oxygen levels have been clinically proven to relieve pain, promote quicker healing, improve sleep quality, heighten athletic performance and improve overall wellness. To learn more, visit http://www.drapertherapies.com or http://www.celliant.com .

Here is information on how to make a donation to Laura’s sister-in-law’s foundation:

The Sandra Kobelt Hau Memorial Foundation: Committed to enhancing the lives of others in the spirit of Sandy’s passion for youth sports, the arts and healthy living.

Contact: Timothy Gilmore tgilmore@bhfs.com

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Horses in the Herd

This time of year in Montana, I feel like the world just needs to crack open like an egg with a chick in it that is fully ready to use its beak and its legs and even its wings.  But it seems impossible, like we’ll be encased in this hard shell forever.  Here’s a piece I wrote for the Parelli site which reminds me that, yes, sooner than later, I’ll be on a horse again, but for now…it’s about watching.

Watching the Herd

Watching the Herd

I decided on my 34th birthday that I wanted to get back into horses.  I was paying for my children to have riding lessons.  Why not me?  I’d ridden as a child into my teens.  I missed those amazing creatures.  But I told myself a bunch of stories about why we couldn’t afford it and weighted my peaking passion with questions:  what if I got really hurt?  Was it irresponsible to be riding now that I was a mother?  We’ll tell ourselves almost anything to keep our dreams from coming true.

I decided to tell myself a different story:  I deserved to be happy and horses had been an integral piece of my happiness as a child.  I didn’t have a big agenda.  I didn’t want to compete.  I didn’t need a fancy horse.  I just wanted to re-visit the experience of horses again and to dig around for those lessons; that feeling of connection and freedom and abandon.

I asked around until I found what sounded like the right teacher for me and the right barn.  I figured I’d be on a horse the very first lesson.  We’d go around in circles and she’d tell me when I was posting on the wrong diagonal or cantering on the wrong lead.  She’d tell me when my hands were hard and maybe if I behaved myself, we’d even do a little jumping.

The truth was, I’d never really learned about horses in all those childhood English riding lessons and all those Western dude ranch trips with my family.  I had no idea what I was in for.  And I’ve been in it for ten years now.

Here is something I wrote after one of my first lessons.

I am watching my neighbor’s herd from my bedroom window, surrendered to a late winter head-cold.  I have been told to watch the herd if I am to know horses; but I haven’t really watched a herd, until now.  I want them to gallop.  To fight or nestle into one another.  I want them to roll and nicker.  Not stand like statues in the snow.

I have gotten back into riding after a fifteen year hiatus.  I have a teacher.  But I have not ridden yet.   If you come to my lesson, you will spend a lot of time on the ground, watching horses.  Learning about the herd.  About being prey.  How the eyes of prey animals are on either side of their head so they can see what lion or bear or coyote or person lurks in the field.  About how they need each other—safety in numbers.  How their motives are pure:  to conserve energy.  To survive.

Then my teacher will tell you about that person in the field.  You.  Me.  Us.  About how our eyes are close together.  About how we stalk our kill, how we pounce and cling, take it to the ground and tear at its flesh.  She will tell us that we are not bad for our ways of survival.  Then she will ask us to look at the tree straight ahead; she’ll arc around us, and ask us to speak when we can no longer see her.

“Now,” we say.

“Look at me.  I am behind you.”

We will be dazzled by the span of our peripheral vision.

Then she’ll do the same on the other side and we will lose patience with this exercise because what we really want to do is ride, but she’ll give us this:  “The horses need to know you are looking if they are going to trust you.  They want to trust you.  They want you to be their proven leader.  They let you on their back for a reason.”

But we are not really believers; an animal that big, that unpredictable?  How can it not be a match of wills? We say we are in it to ride.  But something tells us our teacher is not really a believer.  She thinks we want to be afraid.  She thinks we want to isolate our fear to this horse:  stalk it, pounce and cling, tear at its flesh.  She thinks we want to feed on our fear.  She thinks this because she is us.  She is a predator too.  And we love her for knowing our true nature.

She’ll ask us then to look at the tree and at the peripheral her with equal measure.  She won’t give us this little speech:

We look a sort, don’t we?  Eyes on the prize.  Safety in numbers?  That’s our lie.  We are loners in the forest, with our close-together eyes and opposing thumbs, our fire and feeding frenzies.  We will share with our families, yes.  And leave what we don’t want.  But that is not gift.

Two horses will nicker and rise, head-to-head, slashing tails, and we will jump and look at her and she’ll not jump.  She has been watching the herd a long time.  She might tell us whether they are fighting or playing because we are paying her by the hour to know the difference.  To have watched the herd, even though we didn’t know it.

If we are children still, say, under the age of six, she won’t need to tell us any of this.  We’ll see the horses rising on hind legs, entangling hooves, noses to manes and say, “Look.”  We are still prey.

Now, alone with my cold, looking out my window, I blow my nose and adjust the pillows, wanting to use my predator’s pocketbook to pay the horses then; the children.  For having the patience, the guts, the pureness of motive, to watch.  For the soft eyes that see the tree and my teacher with equal measure.  For conserving energy; valuing life force.  For knowing the difference between fight and play but not needing to name it.  For fighting and playing their way to respect and trust.  For not just acting like there is safety in numbers, but by living it.

There is a coyote in the field—rare for daytime.  Each horse looks up from its hay, straight ahead but straight at the coyote and straight at me.  And then they snap into a flurry of ice chunks and hooves, until they are neck-in-neck; a photo-finish in the only race of their lives that matters.  Back to the barn.  Safe.

No predator would be stupid enough to feed on the test and proof of another predator’s fear?  Would it?

http://central.parellinaturalhorsetraining.com/2011/02/watching-the-herd-by-laura-a-munson/

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