Equine power

We were staying with family in Houston when the coronavirus pandemic started to kick off big time, but it wasn’t yet worrying enough for us to cut short our visit and head for home while we could. That panic came a bit later, and we were able to enjoy a brief period of respite from the mounting anxiety in this earlier part of our stay.  We went along with granddaughter to her Saturday riding lessons at a ranch in the country, a short drive away.

We’d heard a lot about the horses she rides at the ranch – they are Athena and Tarzan. Tarzan (shown here, rear view with her riding) is a big horse – 16.5 hands high – and whereas I’d be treating him with all due respect, granddaughter shows no fear at all and loves her equine interactions and all the hands on grooming before and after her ride.

What was so soothing and calming was to visit the stables and meet some of the other horses there. Cloud, the all-white horse, listened patiently while I talked to him and photographed him. I felt quite an affinity with him.

There are several mini horses at the stables, and the beautiful tan and cream one, whose name I can’t remember, had recently given birth. Her foal, a boy, was with her and at just three weeks old was a joy to behold.

In the midst of the current crisis, the worry, the anxiety and the reality of the unsettled and unsettling world we now inhabit fell away. It was a blessing to be able to get alongside these powerful and beautiful animals, and share some of their simple “being-ness”.

Life in lockdown

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How come I seem to be even busier in these days of lockdown than I was before, when I was following a fairly normal, daily routine…….ah, of course, there’s the answer. Routine. Structure. Doing things at a sort of allocated, usual, habitual time. But now, with our daily framework gone all wobbly, we have to dig a bit deeper and find ways to focus, get through what needs to be done (like washing, ironing, deciding what to use from our food stocks then cooking it, and so on).

Yesterday I felt like the proverbial blue-assed fly, flitting from one distraction to the next like a headless chicken (excuse the mixed metaphors). Having successfully joined FaceBook in order to be able to easily message granddaughter in the US and take part in the Rock Choir daily Keep Britain Singing at 3 pm (I’m a member of Rock Choir and need a singing fix to keep me going), I found I was suddenly thrust into more techno-connections than I’d ever been.

Suddenly people I know were appearing on FaceBook wanting to be my “friend”. With extended French family (our daughter-in-law is French), the combination of choir members I know and French family I know got just a bit challenging at one point when I received a message – in French – from my daughter-in-law’s godmother. I had a bash at responding in rusty French and was part way through when I noticed there was a translate button. So I was able to translate her message into English, and if I wrote in English, she’d be able to translate it into French. Phew. I switched from rusty Francais to English promptly.

So that leaves the daily Rock Choir 20 minute sing to schedule for 3pm, and the Great British Home Chorus being led by Gareth Malone for 30 minutes every day at 5.30pm. That’s before I’ve even got near the on-line PE, yoga and keep fit classes.

Then there’s the WhatsApps arriving from friends and family, the face to face calls, the  phone calls, the chats with neighbours over the garden fence – all at a safe distance of more than 2 metres – the emails and the one daily walk to schedule for us and the dog, who, it seems has cracked this lockdown lark rather well.

He’s even decided to watch the daily sing, but he doesn’t join in…..

Travelling home as things close down

Thanks to my other half who wrote down this saga of a journey back home while my version of it was still forming in my head, here are the accurate details of the journey we had and would not want to do again. Yes, the 1st class experience of an overnight flight on a reclining seat which converts to a full llength bed was a good one. I slept more than I’ve ever managed before on a night flight, with a real pillow and duvet to hunker down under. With the words of Vera Lynn’s famous song “We’ll meet again…” from WW2 sounding in my head, and with tears in my eyes about our hasty departure and leaving the grandchildren, I eventually fell asleep.

I can't believe it!

“I imagine you are both enjoying seeing the grandchildren grow up,” said a friend by email, while we were out in Houston with the family. We were, but this was soon curtailed by the developing coronavirus panic on both sides of the pond.

We were due to fly back to Manchester 7th April, but it was becoming clear that we’d have to do so sooner. President Trump stopped people flying in from Europe from Friday 13th March. Maybe we should bring our departure forward by a couple of weeks to Tuesday 24th?

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The Four Freedoms

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Freedom of Speech by Norman Rockwell

Last week – ahead of starting to seriously social distance ourselves – we went to the Norman Rockwell exhibition at Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts. Because of fast-moving global events around coronavirus it turns out that this will be the only “treat” outing we’ll have while we’re here, visiting family.

The dominant theme of Rockwell’s paintings is Franklin D. Rooseveldt’s Four Freedoms which are extremely appropriate to the state of the globalised world and what’s happening all over it right now. Rockwell painted them during WW2, when they  were reproduced in The Saturday Evening Post for over four consecutive weeks in 1943, alongside essays by prominent thinkers of the day.

The Four Freedoms are as significant now as they were back in 1943:

Freedom of speech – Freedom of worship – Freedom from want – Freedom from fear

Rockwell illustrated each freedom differently; each is powerful in its own way. The jacket worn by the model in the painting shown is on display at the exhibition, and the occasion itself was based on a real event where a man spoke out on a controversial topic at a community meeting, where he was respected and heard out.

But the final freedom – Freedom from fear – at this moment has the greatest charge for me. Fear is rampaging through our world because of coronavirus. I realised today that I’m now more alarmed at what is happening all over the world because of the virus (lockdowns, curfews, panic buying, borders closing etc.) than I now am about catching the virus itself.

Fear is a powerful weapon. It was FDR himself who, in his 1933 inaugural speech said, “We have nothing to fear except fear itself”. Fear is power. If we have fear we’re not fully in charge of our own liberties, we’re reined in, restrained in some way,  not connected to what is essentially good within us.

Two other mentions of fear also come to mind: the book entitled “Feel the fear and do it anyway” by Susan Jeffers. It’s a personal growth book which I read many years ago and found helpful. The other book – a big one! – which touches, amongst many other things, on coping with fear is A Course in Miracles.

The quote from the Course which stands in my mind and is the one I go to in times of stress and anxiety, such as these, is “There is no need to fear”. That has got me through a lot of tough, challenging times and as a mantra it has a calming effect. I’ve added the link for this lesson of the course; it may help, it may not. It works for me.

But what of the other freedoms? To be free to speak out, to worship whichever higher being  nurtures our spiritual needs, to be free from want, through hunger or not having shelter are all important. Sad to say all these freedoms are not fulfilled in our current world, making The Four Freedoms as relevant now as they were when they were voiced by FDR.

Freedom from fear, for me, is the freedom which underpins them all. We can so easily be paralysed by fear, which would hamper us speaking out, as would being afraid to openly worship in ways right for us, and likewise we can be afraid of not having enough to survive on.

The world we know seems to be crumbling apart, but as scary and unsettling as this is, there are some good things emerging. People, marooned in communities locked down against the spread of coronavirus are starting to form support groups and organise how they can help each other, especially those seniors who may become isolated. Today, for  about 30 minutes I was distracted and delighted to hear from all my cul-de-sac neighbours in the UK who have formed a WhatsApp help and support group.

Although I’m in Houston and hoping to get a flight back home, I felt buoyed up by the friendship and community spirit as all of us joined in and added our twopenny-worth of energy to the enterprise. The fear retreated and something brighter and more positive took its place.

 

Down by the bayou

This great blue heron was hanging around Buffalo Bayou in Houston as we walked along the path used by walkers and cyclists. First seen on a treetop heronry, where there were a few nests, then a little later in the water under a flyover, foot  poised.

The shots are not perfect, with background distraction in the one with water, and taken against a grey sky background with the treetop one, but I liked the visible tongue in the tree, and the foot raised from the rock in the water.