Postcards from a New England Summer

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Thank heavens the heat wave broke.  I came back from my Texas Junket to accusations that I’d somehow packed up the Gulf Coast Climate and checked it in my bags through to Hartford.  No, really – the entire time I was sweltering back in the Homelands, I was getting call after call after call from Roy, the content of which was almost entirely “You will not BELIEVE how amazing the weather is here right now!! Oh, yeah, miss you.”  And yet, within 24 hours of my return, the Home Away From Home was plunged into a ghastly heatwave featuring, well, the exact same weather I had in Houston.  Temperatures, dewpoints, head indices, and all.

Dewpoints, for those of you who are unversed in assessing weather misery through the use of quantitative data, are the Real Misery Indicator.  Forget the relative humidity – that’s just a function of how close the air temps are to the dewpoint.  You can have 80% relative humidity and still be very comfortable, if the dewpoint and the temperature are both low.  On the other hand, as I type, the relative humidity in Houston is 42%, even though the area is a veritable Swamp of Suffering.  I know this because the air temp is 100.3, and the dewpoint is 73.  The heat index reflects this reality, in showing that it feels like (i.e., is as miserable as if) it is 112 degrees.

Dewpoints > 70 = Hellishly Humid to normal human beings.  The only exception of which I am personally aware to this rule is my buddy Greg, who shares genetic material with tropical amphibians.  If you really want to know, based on forecasted data, whether it’s going to be so sticky today that you want to take advantage of indoor entertainment opportunities, or so sticky tonight that you want to run the air conditioner, check on the information on this site.  There is a great deal of interesting technical information rendered into Common English, but the most important bit to me is that little chart under “So How Does Dew Point Feel?”

This is one reason that I like wunderground.  Instead of providing simple forecasts of temperature and precip probability, those dudes are forecasting dewpoints right along with it.  And if you look at the “hourly” forecasts, they have little bar graphs showing the forecasted air temp and the forecasted dewpoint on the same bar for each forecasting interval.  In general, the further apart those two numbers I am, the happier I am.  In the summer, that is.  It’s much less important to me in the winter.  The other groovy thing you get from this hourly forecast is – if you know how to read it – you can see approximately when some front is expected to pull through.  In the summer, this usually means dropping the humidity, with or without big storms.  In Texas, anything that drops the humidity in the summer is almost guaranteed to involve positively cataclysmic storms.  It’s also guaranteed to be short-term.  As in, maybe a few hours, before the sticky factor starts to rise again.  Here, at least, it should be several days.

Why is this all so important, and why am I so glad about the weather breaking, since my house and car are equipped with A/C?  It’s got to do with Huey The Wonder Horse, of course.  Everything has to do with Huey The Wonder Horse.  Just ask him.

Huey is getting worked at my pathetically feeble level 5 times a week right now.  I’ve got to get in the riding while the riding is good.  And we’re doing all three gaits (I think only racehorses consider galloping part of a regular workout).  We’re doing some conditioning, we’re doing leg yields, and Huey tells me that we’re going to have to start doing something else too because otherwise, he’s going to get bored.  B. O. R. E. D.  I told him that when he can demonstrate the stuff we’re doing on a consistent basis, we can move on.  He told me I ought to be learning faster, because it’s not his fault if I send him some cue that he confuses to mean “leg yield” when it should mean “canter”.  I told him that he is Smart enough to figure these things out and go with them, and that if he doesn’t stop jumping over the blasted cavaletti we are NEVER going to get to move on.  He said he doesn’t always do that, but since the only time he doesn’t is when we’re having a lesson and my trainer can figure out what I need to do to fix it, that”s going to take Some Time.  Then he went off about how he ought to be going out on the grass like all the other horses, and getting more carrots, so we kind of dropped it…at least for a little while.

Anyway, I am not the Heartless Creature that my cat says I am when I oblige him to get off my bed so I can make it in the mornings, or when I won’t let him sleep on my knees at night.  And because of this, I do not like to work HTWH when it’s hot and sticky outside.  I know quite well that he’s already very patiently putting up with all kinds of stuff from me that he didn’t have to deal with before he became The Wonder Horse (flopping in the saddle sometimes, accidental jabs in the side from improperly positioned heels, yanking on the mouth, etc.) and so I feel a Moral Obligation to work him at the least onerous times of the day.  When it’s vilely hot and sticky that means First Thing In The Morning.  So days of late have found me bounding limply out of bed at an Unnatural Hour, staggering in to brush my teeth, fumbling into riding breeches and a rotating selection of shabby t-shirts, and stumbling off to the barn for a Morning Work Out.  I should note, here, that when I arrive at the barn at this Unnatural Hour, the stable hands or barn owner invariably are half-way done with what I suspect to be the 5 hour job of getting all the horses turned out (or in, with the heat), feeding them, watering them, and cleaning the stalls and paddocks.  So it’s not so much that I’m ill-used as it is that I would be a Better Rider at a later hour of the day.

The break in the weather that arrived on Saturday came at a particularly auspicious moment, given my Masta Plan for the day:  Attend Horse Show as General Unpaid Day Labor, return home to make picnic dinner, and travel to Tanglewood for the Diana Krall concert, where Roy and I had tickets in the Shed and in a very good location in the Shed.

Saturday taught me that while I may have considered earlier periods to involve rising at an Unreasonable Hour, I was wrong.  This is because Horse Shows here, unlike the kind I remember from my teenage years, are All Day Affaires, and require the horses to all be loaded up and pulling out in order to get to the Show Grounds around 7am.

7am is the time of day when I like to roll over in bed, glance at the clock, and congratulate myself on having a job that requires late nights rather than early mornings, dislodge the cat again from his nest on my knees, and fall promptly back to sleep.

On Saturday, however, it is the moment that found me arriving at the Show Grounds for this marvelous small rural Horse Show.  I am assured that these shows are usually more densely populated, but the presence of a Competing Event (someother Horse Show) drained off some of the Usual Crowd and made for a smaller event.  This turns out to be a Good Thing for a couple of reasons.  But before I go into those, I should make note of the fact that I did not, repeat NOT have HTWH en train for this affaire.

This was not without it’s minor drama, I assure you.  Huey was entirely aware that a show was on tap, because a bunch of the horses got baths, and got braided, and went into slinkies, or sleazies, or whatever they’re called.  These things are completely hilarious from a Certain Perspective, and completely pragmatic from others.  Huey is not alone in his desire to get as grubby as possible as fast as possible, and the sleazies keep that from happening.  They also keep horse from undoing the painstaking hours of work that went into braiding manes, combing tails, etc.  That doesn’t change the fact that they create the atmosphere of an extraordinarily risque sort of Halloween party in the barn.

So Huey knew what all that meant, and he knew what it meant when horses in sleazies were getting loaded up into trailers at the crack of dawn.  And when I showed up to Fetch & Carry, he had a very brief moment of excitement that we might be getting to go to the show as well. Alas, it was not to be.  I did tell him that I was going to a show, and he wanted to know why he was not going to a show.  I explained that I needed to go to the show to find out how shows work here and make sure that we could go to a show together.  Huey has a Supreme Confidence in himself and scorned the notion that he would not be able to go to a show.  Because, as he said, he has been to shows.  I explained as best I could that I had not, and that I needed to check it out first.  He assured me that he would be able to handle whatever, so I had to remind him that since I am the Leader, it only matters that I know, not that he know. Then it was all OK.

The show, itself, was not at all what I’m used to.  First, it was at a dedicated show grounds rather than at a host barn.  Second, everything else.  I was used to these hunter-jumper shows where it was one horse in the ring at a time, and it was all about making the jumps and keeping very good form while doing so.  I hadn’t ever seen showing on the flat (other than at dressage shows, which were just coming into vogue when I left to go to school). This show had groups of horses and riders – from what I could tell, the same horse was entered by more than one rider at times, which would make sense for the lesson barns.  Why bring six horses when three will do?  And the show started with people handling their horses from the ground.  This was both slightly tedious and somewhat interesting.

It was tedious because, well, it involved lots of strange people and strange horses walking down a row and having the horse stand square, then trotting for a very short bit and executing a turn.  About as interesting as watching figure skaters do an “8” on the ice over and over and over again.

It was interesting because it was extremely revealing about the difference in approaches to horse handling between trainers and barns, as well as the vast differences in the relationships that different riders have with their horses.  And you got to see a lot of the differences in the horses’…I don’t know what the right word is, personalities? temperaments? training? teamwork with the riders?  I’m not sure.

One of the first things I saw when I got to the show, unfortunately, was a shocking display of temper between human and horse.  Right as I pulled in, one of the horses that was tied up to a trailer panicked and pulled back.  “Ah,” I said. “I know where this is going, because Huey has done that before!”.  But I was wrong.  One thing I’ve learned about HTWH is that he has a super-tuned hair-trigger nervous system, and he reacts before he thinks.  Yeah, I know this is true of horses in general. But Huey’s reactions are HUGE, and – having gone into Reacto-Drama mode, he does start “thinking” pretty quickly, and he settles down really fast…unless something happens to escalate the situation.  So when Huey starts wigging out, what seems to work best is for me to get as Super Mellow as I can, and to do that as super-fast as possible.  Throwing a mental blanket of Calming Vibes helps, as does keeping in verbal contact with him while he’s freaking.  Also, I don’t tie him down hard.  There’s a way of tying on the hitching post that lets the rope run through under strain, and one that doesn’t.  I’ve learned to use the first.  And if he freaks while I’ve got him on the lead-line, I just have to go with him and stay there until he settles down, which he will do pretty quickly if I don’t blast gas on the fire.  So I watched this little drama unfolding in front of me, only this horse had been tied with the way that doesn’t let the rope run through, and so what happened was the halter blew.  They are designed to do that, for this very reason.  Unfortunately, the people with this horse were of the “blasting gas on the fire” type, and responded to this situation by screaming, which anyone could have told them would just make things worse.  This was all going down right on my route of travel, so I stopped the car, set the brake, turned the engine off, and hoped the poor crazy horse would have sense enough not to plow into my car.  He did – he zipped off at a light-speed canter while cries of “HORSE!” went up all around.  Apparently, shouting “HORSE” is the Right Thing to do when one of them gets loose and rockets off.

Noted.

That wasn’t the shocking display, though.  I regarded this as a probably avoidable incident, but not exactly traumatic. What happened next, though, has been giving me nightmares.  The horse that panicked and blew off was tied up with another horse, a huge guy, who got caught up in the action.  So that trailer, having lost one horse to panic, had another one on its hands.  Possibly they weren’t Blanket Of Calming Vibes kind of horses, but clearly, they were not Blanket of Calming Vibes kind of people.  The ones that remained at the trailer got into a shouting match with the remaining (freaking-out) horses.  And – I was absolutely appalled to witness – one of them stepped up to this panicking tied-up horse, shouted at it at the tops of their lungs, and then – I am not making this up – hauled off and punched that horse in the face.  The horse backed up as far as possible and peeled its lips back from its teeth, and screamed at the person who had just socked it.   I looked at that horse and the first thought in my head was “That horse hates that person, and I wouldn’t want to be around if or when that horse finds itself alone and unfettered with that individual.”

It’s not like I didn’t know that kind of thing happens.  It was just so shocking to see it.  I ask myself if there are any conceivable circumstances under which I would think it a good idea, or find it useful, or be willing to, or even for a fraction of a second, entertain the notion of hitting Huey in anger or punishment.  The answer is an unqualified no.  Or, maybe, a No.  Or, really, I suppose, an UNQUALIFIED NO!!!!!!!

The next thing I did, of course, was to ask myself if there were any conceivable circumstances under which I could imagine anyone doing this to another horse at the barn where Huey lives, and not having Major Repercussions for it, and the answer there, I think, as well, as No.  Hell No. No Damn Way.

It was just so shocking to see this happen.  I’m still shocked.

I wondered what the hell I was in for, thinking of taking Huey to shows, whether that was the kind of stuff I could expect the two of us to be exposed to…but fortunately, there was absolutely none of that in evidence during the rest of the day.  The only drama worthy of note was the mini stallion who was Very Clearly excited to be in the presence of all of these mares; a generalized freak-out amongst the God Fearing Four Foot Walking Horses when the Wheeled Horses showed up for the driving competition (which was, itself, a delight to watch other than that several of the horses were having anincredibly difficult time dealing with it); and one magnificent pinto who wigged out during one of the Western pleasure events, and was handled expertly and with an absolute minimum of fuss by his rider, who used the Blanket of Calming Vibes to settle the horse well enough to dismount without endangering any of the other horses, and promptly took him off for some very sensible groundwork and additional schooling in the nearby warm-up ring.

All in all, very enlightening, and I think I could totally do this with Huey.  He’ll be so glad to know that, I’m sure.

Later, it was a picnic dinner (made by yours truly, rather than purchased at the deli) at Tanglewood.  Tanglewood is the Summer Home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and is a locale as much as it is an event, and a school.  The Tanglewood grounds offer idyllic picnicking.  That is, they are weed and (mostly) insect-free, with nice soft short grass that is actually a pleasure to sit on, scattered with grown trees for shade, and with interesting people-watching, if by “interesting people” you mean New Yorkers between the ages of 50 and 80.  The picnic dinner was a smash hit (recipe to follow) and the concert even better.  We’d seen Diana Krall at Tanglewood several years ago at the Fourth of July.  Her kids were toddlers then, and we saw her pushing them around the grounds in a stroller.  This time, we arrived as she was doing a sound-check, which she turned into an impromptu performance.

Diana Krall is a delightful entertainer.  The music is always superior, but she also – once the gig warms up – starts to talk to the audience, and does so in a way that is refreshing, intimate, and wholly fun.  She  clearly doesn’t take herself too seriously, and actually comes off as a little bit dorky…and I mean that in the best possibly way.  Last night, she needed to pause to shoo a pesky moth off of the piano keyboard. And later, that she might have inhaled a bug.   And shared with us an anecdote involving the kids and a trip through the drive-thru.  It boggles the mind.

The entertainment this time, as before, was stellar.  The only thing I have to say is this:  I wish she’d play more of her own music.  I love the standards – no one in this generation can do them like she does.  But the material from “Girl In The Other Room” – an album of original music – is so complex (in all the best ways), so textured, so nuanced, so feeling, so melodically interesting (the influence of Elvis Costello is palpable), and so generally superior to the other original music that is being made available in the contemporary market that I really wish I could hear more of it being performed live.  I do understand – it’s my sense that this album is a public processing of grief upon the death of a family member, and may simply be too painful to perform in public – but at the same time, it is my fondest wish to hear, if not that material, than other original material from this highly talented artist.

I promised a recipe, and here it is.  This one is brilliant.

1/4 C mayo
grated zest from one huge or two small lemons
1 loaf of good French bread, a baguette or a batard.  Something tasty and sturdy, with a crunchy crust, is the idea here.
1 ripe avocados, pitted, peeled, and mashed
2 plum tomatoes, sliced thin
4 oz shaved pecorino cheese. If you don’t have pecorino, then freshly shaved parmesan will do. But pecorino is better
bunch of watercress, washed and coarsely chopped
salt and pepper

Mix the mayo and lemon zest together, and let this sit in a small bowl in the fridge overnight.

The next day, cut the baguette in half long-ways, or cut off thick sandwich-sized slices from the batard.  Slather the lemon mayo over both cut faces.  Put a thick smear of avocado on one slice, then top it with the tomatoes and watercress.  Lay the shaved cheese on top.  Top with the other mayo-covered slice.  Salt and pepper to taste. Wrap tightly with foil and take with you to whatever summer paradise awaits.

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About Lori Holder-Webb

I'm a Southern Woman by birth and a Texan Woman by upbringing...and yet I find myself living in New England and married to a New York City boy. Up here we use the same currency as we do at home, and I don't need to travel with a passport, but the commonalities pretty much end there. The language is different, the jokes are different, the people are different, and the weather and terrain sure are different too. I moved away from Texas in 2002, and ever since then, I've been the stranger in the strange land... I've had some questions about the name of the blog - if you were not alive, or living abroad or under a rock, or in grad school during the late 1980s, Oldsmobile attempted to shuck its stodgy image with a series of commercials intended to bring brand appeal to the younger generation: this car, they said, is not your father's Oldsmobile. If you have a morbid curiosity, hit YouTube for William Shatner Oldsmobile...it will take you right there.

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