As I was riding Gemma-horse one morning this week and feeling the rhythm of her foot falls in my dusty arena, I began to hear and sounds of the morning one by one as they came to my awareness. The gentle 1-2, 1-2, 1-2 of Gemma's trot methodically drummed tup-tup-tup-tup between the movement of her diagonal pair of legs. Then the new tempo of 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3 sounded out a waltzing canter and provided the beat for all the players surrounding us both near and far.
A hypnotic mood was developing and I let my mind roam while physically performing the motor patterns necessary for riding my horse. These motor patterns are well ingrained in my core, to the cellular level, and often I don't think when riding, but just react where appropriate. To multi-task is essential with horses. And even more important is to have the ability of reacting without thinking. But this not usually because I am day dreaming.
The distant sound of passing cars on our road was the filler in the background with a whoosh and a fade. The incessant clucking of the chickens from 400 feet away never left the sound track since the cackling hens were like scratches in an old record, signaling the arrival of eggs. And the sound of my horses light but deep breathing filled the spaces between my ears. All these sounds floated around my empty brain forming a record or some kind or another.
I could hear my own steady breath sucking wind from the crisp air; my own involuntary biological need for oxygen was making a pattern among the cluttered field of noises. Lastly and most importantly, the swallows chirping and sputtering and squeaking and twittering above us, reminded me that others were foraging to feed their little ones.
With my neurons firing in strange and disconnected ways, my thoughts were triggered to a time in the past, years ago on the Cosumnes River. It is the only big river without a dam on it in the the Sacramento Valley of California. It's a mostly wild river and not in a threatening whitewater kind of way, just wild in animals and plants and nature.
While riding the 20 meter circle, patterning my horse in her current training curricula, I noticed the specific flight pattern of the tree swallows. Their dipping and diving occurred just above our path as they were cutting through the morning air. They were gathering insects disturbed by our air turbulence. A horse in a sand arena, riding a circle, can effect the bugs in the air above. Who would have thought?
My mind a jumped to thoughts over a decade old but vivid and clear, since no lapses in time can remove the rhythm of a tin canoe in a wide open river slicing cleanly through the water. The path of the bow was causing disturbance to insects, it's metal point braking through the water and air just so. The turbulence was just enough to unsettle insects resting on the water's surface. As the bugs fled from the water and rose into the air, the bats snatched them on the wing. The gnats and the flies and the mosquitoes were effortlessly swallowed by hungry bats fluttering under a rising moon.
As the bats dipped and dived showing their velvety black wings, they disappeared into the darkness, slipping quietly just out of view to my human eyes, carrying away crunchy treats. They were wonderful and graceful showing how the mighty small can hunt upon the even smaller. The silent marauders made no sounds, and the only evidence of their rhythm was my observation of their determined attacks, again and again, from my position in the front of the canoe. So, those without sound can make a rhythm too.
I am never shocked how associations link my thoughts to one another. Ideas seems random, but really are not. Present links to past and past links to present. It is a never ending circle of remembrance through exposure.
We always took the canoes out under a full moon in the height of summer since the light was just enough by which to travel, but not so bright as to discourage the animal kind. Simply put, we embarked upon the river just as night was descending because that is when the magic awakened within the summer time forest.
The blackened waters, dark only due to nights decent, flowed slowly but steadily downstream creating quiet ripples which sparkled under the rising moon. Dark bands of cottonwood and valley oak trees hugging the banks were almost continuous along the length of the river. Their silhouettes against the sky resembled men with hulking shoulders and lumpy backed monsters out of "Where the Wild Things Are,"or otherwise terrifying only to those who are unaware of their own power in the woods. Smooth, dark waters passed slowly under the canoe, while the gently swaying giants bordered the banks. Our paddles quietly pushed our boat upstream as to not break the spell of these ancient ones.
The long reaching limbs hanging over the water created gentle breaks in the shiny black surface, reminding me to reach my hand in the water and feel the river move through my fingers. As the full moon rose to the tree line casting it's bright light across the river, it filled my heart with a quiet reverence and awe. The transitions in life, while brief, are sometimes the finest moments.
Ghostly white egrets roosting in the trees startled as they moved through the canopy jostling for the best place to sleep. Their awkward sounding squawks and angular white bodies bobbing on the tree tops reminded me night was really descending. Egrets sleep in groups on the tops of trees for protection and their gathering indicated time for bed. But I was not one bit sleepy.
On the water, I remember how loud and shocking the slap of the beaver tails were as our canoe neared them. A loud "whack" followed with a splash and the nocturnal rodents swam away to feast on tree saplings along the river bank. The splosh of fish in the river and the shine from a white breaching belly would surprise and remind me of the lives under water which were invisible beneath the black cloak of the surface. Millions of crickets calling to their mates in what seemed like unison made me feel small and large all at the same time. The rhythm of the river was broad and expansive, encompassing layers of sounds and patterns which are all so intricately connected that no one could compose it's song and do it justice.
When we turned the canoe around and headed back to land I felt sad and uncomfortable to leaving the magical boat on a river so alive with creatures of all kinds. Back to my square box of a house was the last place I wanted to go, but to all good things an end must come. The best part of this rhythm is I know where to go to recreate it and I can pass it to my children when they become old enough to follow this song.
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