Blog

The Ballad of the Valkyries ~ The Denmark Saga, Verse II

Find Verse I of the Saga here

 

“Have you no shame, woman?”

“This is Denmark. Keep your shirt on.”

I am wearing one. Which is the issue, as it were.”

“You’re such an American!”

Thus I awoke, on our first morning on the magical island of Rømø, to a friendly squabble between obviously well rested teenagers. Teenagers frolicking in the morning sun, out on the patio. Wait – we have a patio?

Denmark I
The things one discovers at dawn’s first light…

Picture it: Denmark, 2016. A midsummer morning dawns over a charmed little island in the Wadden Sea. Skinfaxi of the Shining Mane has only just gotten underway, but the sunlight is already trickling into the cozy little room where an American mother of two lively teens blinks with bemusement at the unfamiliar sheets of a large and fluffy bed. Very fluffy. One could bury a horse in here and never find it again. Through the open backdoor the sounds of other early risers filter towards her ears. Seagulls, mostly, apparently protesting the teens chasing one another across the grass. Once again there is a smell of roses, and the nearby ocean. Still feeling the past day’s long journey in her bones but ready to seek adventure and coffee (not necessarily in that order), Mother of the Fiery Mane rolls out of bed and lands with a soft little thud.

They had expected a hotel room, the three scions of proud Scandinavian warriors and sailors. What they got was a little apartment with kitchen and bathroom and living room and two bedrooms – one with a solid wood bunk bed right out of a Danish Dream – , spacious yet cozy. The place is past its glory days, that much one can tell. Yet what makes the fine German couple next door frown and harangue the amiable staff, is precisely what the three ladies love. That “Je ne sais quoi”. That elusive magic between nostalgia and rustic charm, between Scandinavian simplicity and playful whimsy. The wood panels, the patio with untended, scrappy rose bushes. The creaky but criminally comfortable couch. The complimentary coffee in the cabinets!

Coffee!

Mother has a mission. While older daughter (She with the fine stature and stopping power of a Shieldmaiden) consents at last to cease frolicking in her shorts and bra to appease younger daughter (92.3 pounds of distilled Viking energy), an aging appliance coughs and gurgles its way towards producing a heavenly brew. Books and covers. Judge not.

There is a breakfast buffet already available, but the ladies have not yet discovered the marvels it offers. Far, far from Continental horrors, the sunlit room with tongue-in-cheek overdone maritime decor holds Denmark’s most prized firstmeal treasures. The traditional round breakfast rolls of course, with assorted jams, jellies, and local honey. Local is the cheese as well, and so is the wienerbrød. Cereals, assorted fresh fruit, ymer. Tiny, piping hot sausages. One might think the kindly staff is expecting the Æsir to pop by for a spell. With a couple of hungry giants in tow.

Since they do not yet know of the feast awaiting in wood-paneled Nóatún, the caffeine-fortified graces go exploring. Their curiosity and the never ending call of new horizons will not let them linger any more. What lies hidden behind the screen of shrubs that protects the little island of grass behind their rooms from the eternal wind? Well, what but the sea?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A smattering of red and white cottages to the right, a little pasture to the left. Hello, Mr Donkey, was it you who serenaded us to sleep last night? (“I shall call him Eeyore!” – “Because he looked as if he was going to say ‘Thanks for noticing me’ any moment?” – “Ah, you noticed, too!”) A little further down the sandy path they stumble across an assortment of travel trailers – that bright yellow teardrop one is without a doubt the literal highlight – and some fellow tourists wave sleepy “Good morning” greetings.

Then after scarcely 400 yards, beyond more wild rose shrubs and patches of sweetbriar, a riot of blossoms in dozens of shades of pink draped over lush greens, the hardy grass gives way to white sand and black mud. Very clingy black mud. What in Hel’s name is this stuff?

(Denmark Lesson the First: Thou shalt not look for seashells striding barefoot through unknown mud! It may smell better than Gorilla Glue, yet surpasses the latter’s adhesive powers by an order of magnitude!)

It’s a merry little trio that walks back towards the hotel. Bathed in mid-morning sunlight, clutching their pretty oyster shells and resembling friendly Mud Monsters, or at least escapees from an unconventional spa. Their growling stomachs would suggest Monsters. Yet there’s nothing for it, a shower is in order lest they want to practice saying Undskyld! for the rest of the day for leaving squishy onyx-colored decorations wherever they go.

Well scrubbed and positively ravenous, they enter the hallowed halls of Rømø breakfast battles, and though they be late for the party, there is hardly a dent in the abundance. This, of course, must be rectified immediately.

(Denmark Lesson the Second: Thou shalt go easy on the spicy little sausages if you’ve a 2 hour trail ride planned that afternoon. That, or bring a pack horse with waterskins)

“They keep feeding us like this, we’ll need a freighter instead of a ferry to get us back over.”

“So be it. You’re still going to eat that …whatever it is?”

“Yes. Hands off. Say, weren’t there little black bicycles outside? Can you rent those?”

“Sister mine, I like the way you think. Wonder how expensive it is. Mother, you should inquire. Ow! Fine, I’ll get my own food. Hello? No don’t take that away yet. I mean, hvis du vil være så … not take. Jeg sulten… yesthankyou. Tak. Tusind.”

(from this day forth a young Danish man shall be so utterly enamored with the tiny Viking cousin from afar, he will staunchly defend the buffet tables from being cleared until the fair maiden signals she is fit to burst. Either that, or he cannot believe it is possible to eat one’s own weight in ymerdrys every morning). 

Denmark II
“Sancho”, faithful metal mount, survivor of many a battle and carrier of cookies

A pittance. That’s how expensive it is to rent three bicycles in Denmark for a week. A “one loaf of bread and a carton of milk” pittance. Of course, they’re the Volvo of the two-wheeled world: sturdy, reliable, no pointless shenanigans. A big basket for shopping, though. Which leaves a small dilemma: Until it is time to saddle up, shall the three graces soak up the sun and frolic in the pool, or shall they descend upon the nearby supermarket for an impromptu raid? Shall they explore? It is getting rather hot again …

Once more, the call of the horizon wins. Must be something in their DNA.

Onward, faithful two-wheeled Rocinante! (yes, mother has drawn the bicycle farthest past its prime). Gosh, I hope that supermarket takes American credit cards, I’m perishing of thirst.

Picture it…

Two stunningly lovely young ladies, riding dusty black bicycles down a dirt path towards the sea. Laughing and trading amiable insults. At a slight distance behind them pedals a third lady, muttering savagely elegant curses under her breath. Her sweat soaked auburn hair is plastered to her temples, her vehicle squeaks and groans in protest. If the young graces are shining Valkyries seeming to float above the path in the bright summer light, mother Valkyrie resembles a disheveled fox freshly pulled from Allfather Óðinn’s mead barrel.

The baskets on their bicycles are stuffed to the brim with essentials – water, cookies, milk and bread, apples and pastries, some exotic Danish delicacies. They have decided to take a small detour on the way home, to pass by the horses and scout the place they mean to honor with their presence a little over an hour from now. Behind a row of the ever present wild rose shrubs and hedges, two donkeys eye mother Valkyrie with skeptical expressions. Wise old creatures, they know this will not end well. As the mumbled foreign curses move beyond the shrubs, and Rocinante emerges along the fence, they sagely nod to one another and waggle their long ears. Wait for it…

There are potholes, and there are potholes. Then there are badly disguised portals to Jǫtunheimr. It is one of the latter which mother fox enters unwittingly. Just as the young Valkyries have effortlessly evaded the yawning crater, their dam effortlessly finds the spot of maximum calamity (what can I say, it’s a talent).

Only a perplexed “HNFF!!!!” followed by a suspicious thud alerts the young graces that something is amiss – that, and the lone wheel bouncing towards them, free and unfettered, unburdened of the rest of the bicycle. Or unicycle now, as it were.

Less than glorious mother Valkyrie may be, but she’s a wily fox. One who has fallen on her face and every other body part, literally and figuratively, so many times it has become second nature. So she’s quite fine as she sits in the dust, mumbling and surveying the wreckage of her unicycle. The bread hasn’t fared quite so well, having been landed on, and a few of the apples have sailed far enough for the taller donkey to make a bid for them through the fence.

The young Valkyries come coasting back, suppressed laughter on their faces as they contemplate the carnage and make certain mother is truly and well unharmed beyond her dented pride. “Dearly beloved,” intones the younger “we are gathered here today to bid farewell to Rocinante…” – “I seriously thought you were going to go with the spilled milk!” declares the elder. – “Naw. Too obvious. But really, mother. That one was at least a nine point four.” – “Thank you, daughter mine. Now would someone get the apples before … never mind. Velbekomme, Mr. Donkey.”

 

Fully prepared to pay for the damage, mother was informed by kind Therese that this “happens all the time” and insurance is included in the rental. But watch out for potholes, they’re everywhere. Now she tells me. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

“The eleventh is Noatun; | there has Njorth
For himself a dwelling set;
The sinless ruler | of men there sits
In his temple timbered high.”

 

The Saga will continue as the Valkyries finally are introduced to their noble steeds and boldly ride towards new adventures. Inclement Weather Warning: Some adventures may come without pictures due to non-submersible phones/camera equipment.

Advertisements

We Go North the Rush Is On ~ The Denmark Saga, Verse I

Picture it: Germany, 2016. A gleaming white ICE rushes towards the majestic Hanse city of Hamburg. It has departed ancient Nuremberg in the early hours of dawn, its nose unerringly pointed north. For over 300 miles it has traversed the country; rushing through Frankonia’s hills and vineyards at breakneck speeds, carefully navigating the forested highlands of Hesse, and finally barreling into the flat expanse of Lower Saxony like a very German and thus sleek, efficient, and air conditioned Bat out of Hell. By now the midsummer sun stands high in the sky. Black and white blobs dot the green landscape basking in the heat- they might be cows. At 170 mph it can be hard to tell. One of the three lovely American ladies who are firmly ensconced in the on board café gives her empty cappuccino cup a mournful look. Is there time for another?

“Guys, I think we’re slowing down.”

Hamburg
Ooooooh we’re halfway theeheere

 

And so they are. Coasting into fair Hamburg, city of elegant mansions and merry red-light districts, rowdy soccer fans and obscenely rich merchant nobility. Canals and harbors, sailing ships and mighty container vessels, and of course the busy Hauptbahnhof.

Picture, if you will, the three Americans confidently grabbing their eclectic assortment of bags and suitcases, some of those emitting a faint aroma of horse. One by one, they spill out onto the platform, bright eyed, bushy-tailed, and their necks craning like baby owls’ to take in this new, unknown place in all its fascinating details.

They’ve drawn a bit of attention on their journey, those amiable ladies (being Teutonic attention of course it was mostly discreet). Whether it were the distinctly military looking duffel bags propped against a sturdy red Samsonite (which by the looks of it is the only one to have seen a war zone), the mentioned equine scent, or their animated chatter in a foreign language; they are exotic this far from any of the Army bases tucked into Bavaria’s deep forests. Which is not a bad thing, as it turns out.

They have traveled the world. They have safely navigated some of the planet’s largest airports, and at least one of them is equipped with a carrier pigeon’s sense of direction. Surely, they can find their way from one train to another?

Maybe not. Where is Ariadne with her wool when you need the old girl? A map wouldn’t go amiss, either. Golly, I swear I just saw Dr. Livingstone.

“Do the ladies require assistance?” A “Hanseat” appears, as if conjured out of a stereotype parallel universe, complete with smart suit and affable dignity. Utterly charmed, the ladies nod in unison. Why yes sir, they do. They do indeed.

Perhaps they still tell tales of the three American ducks following the Hanseatic swan. Hamburg is a harbor city, and sailors love a good story. “The Soldier and the Merchant Prince” has a nice ring to it. Or so the young ducklings would have agreed, if not for the stubborn mother duck being more interested in food and that wretched train. A magical romance, withered beneath the German summer sun before it could blossom.

We’ll always have Hamburg…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It’s quite a different train that takes the urban German from the bustling metropolis out to the coast, and onward to the fabled island of Sylt. Chugging along at a pace sedate enough to identify the black and white blobs as large, gentle Holstein cows; crossing rivers and seemingly endless plains, one lazy hour after the other. It is nearly mid-afternoon when one of the hitherto peacefully dozing Americans sniffs the air and strikes a heroic pose (as heroic as one might, hemmed in by luggage and German bicycles haphazardly piled upon one another) and declares: “Thálatta!”

Riding a train through the Atlantic Ocean sounds rather more dramatic than it is. The Hindenburgdamm, while a triumph of German engineering I’m sure, does not inspire much awe from actual Germans. Yet it is a sight. A teenage Teuton is happily explaining the history and geography of the region to the youngest American, while outside the windows eternity seems to stretch on in a thousand shades of blue. All too soon the ocean gives way to dunes and scrappy heather. And then the Americans spill out onto another platform, bushy tails looking rather a bit more travel worn by now, yet their spirits remain undimmed.

Moin!” Once more, the travelers are proving exotic enough to alert their Taxi driver that these are indeed The Americans She Is Looking For. And thus they are gently shepherded into the Mercedes that will take them North yet again, to the harbor and the ferry. Clear across the island, past the windswept dunes and the summer villas of the rich and famous, past the simpler yet infinitely more charming dwellings of the locals, past Chanel outlets and trendy bars.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

At a place located at 55°0′N 8°26′E, the heat should not be permitted to be this oppressive. Even the breeze from the open ocean provides only little relief. After bidding their kind driver a fond farewell, the travelers shoulder their luggage which seems to inexplicably have gained 50 pounds since Hamburg, and meander their way through flocks of tourists and inquisitive seagulls. The older teen is the first to spy the Dannebrog flying high above the ferry that sits on the picturesque little harbor’s outer edge. Vikings of old have shown less enthusiasm storming towards Paris than these three Americans do charging towards this second to last leg of their long journey. They probably didn’t sweat so much, either. 

Ferry
Yes, but why is the rum gone? –  (overheard at the Duty-free)

 

It’s the loveliest part, and thus of course the shortest. Propelled across the open water by powerful engines, the little ferry crosses the distance in less than an hour.

At first it’s only a pale smudge on the horizon. Then a dancing mirage in ivory and green. At last, the coastline of Rømø, stretching out under an almost ridiculous postcard-blue sky.

Velkommen til Danmark.

The Americans disembark amidst a flurry of automobiles and bicycles. The hotel is supposed to have arranged transportation for the final leg, but much as they strain their aching necks, they cannot locate a bus, or anything resembling a shuttle service.

Horse people know one another. It’s a constant in the universe, one that has been proven time and again. Thus the tall, bearded descendant of mighty warriors has no trouble honing in on the three ladies walking in bewildered circles.

“Hej! Hvad så! My Americans, ja?”

“What gave us away?”

“Away where?”

Thus they are piled into a sturdy old Land Rover. At long last, exhaustion and heat take their toll; or perhaps it’s the soothing aroma of horse and saddle soap that permeates the Rover’s interior, but the three ladies soon resemble a baroque painting. A slightly odd one, with three graces in jeans and t-shirts languidly draped over horse blankets and assorted tack. Still, they instantly become alert when Olaf mentions a seafood buffet just as they come to a stop after what felt a mere five minutes.

Dusk has fallen by the time the three graces stumble from the magnificent little hotel restaurant, having done their ancestors proud by executing a flawless raid of every dish in evidence, and going back for seconds. Then thirds. You better believe I have room for dessert. Their room awaits, as does their luggage which kind and thoughtful Olaf has already deposited there. After 15 hours on rail, road and sea, they are ready to postpone the adventure of Denmark until dawn.

But it finds them first.

As they round a corner, the sun dips below the western horizon and warm lights spring to life, illuminating a path to the pool and the front door of what will turn out to be a charming little apartment. A breeze from the ocean rustles the trees, carrying a scent of salt and roses and horses with it.

“This is it. I live here now.”

A donkey somewhere behind the trees brays his agreement.

Romo Hotel

Vafthruthnir spake:

“The father of day | is Delling called,
And the night was begotten by Nor;
Full moon and old | by the gods were fashioned,
To tell the time for men.”

 

The Saga continues here: Horses, bicycles and assorted calamities connected therewith. More pictures.

 

 

Tu Felix Austria

Picture it: Austria, 2017. An aging BMW is moving through the autumn chill, past fallow fields and silent, mist-shrouded mountains. Having left the noisy Autobahn with its monotonous roar of traffic behind, the sturdy, faithful vehicle is navigating ever narrower roads, climbing, climbing. A couple of gentle eyed cows with heavy bells around their necks give the passerby a glance before returning to their task of nibbling at the tired grass. Here and there a brightly colored leaf still clings defiantly to a barren branch, but as the BMW draws near its destination, the brooding shapes of pine and spruce dominate the landscape with their rich, dark greens. Then the teenager stretched out sidelong in the back of the car, one long leg languidly propped against the passenger seat, breaks the companionable silence with the age old question dreaded by parents far and wide.

“Are we there yet?”

Brenner Pass

 

“Not quite my darling, not quite”

“That’s what I get for asking that question, right?”

“She said darling. We’re not at DEFCON sweetheart yet” pipes up the sister teen in the passenger seat, swatting away a playful foot poking into her shoulder.

“Speaking of threat levels. If we don’t find coffee for mother soon, we’ll have a Situation.”

“Mountains to mole hills” nods the elder sagely “with extra craters and blue smoke. Oh look, more cows!”

“I hear they don’t explode well. Say, those 5 seconds when I had cell reception earlier, I found a cafe. About 4 klicks southwest-ish”

“Which would put us…”

“2 o’clock! Now now NOW!” with the honed reflexes of the military child, younger teen barks the order and braces herself against long suffering sister’s shoulder, split seconds before the vehicle decelerates rapidly and swerves right.

“Impeccable timing,” proud mother declares as the BMW coasts towards a small parking lot in front of a – Google be Praised – charming little Viennese-style Kaffeehaus.

“Tu Felix Austria,” nods the youngling in the back “even though they have no kangaroos.”

“No what now?”

“Oh, don’t worry. I took a picture.”

Austria

 

 

 

Little Vikings and Wounded Warriors

“Leave the thinking to your horse, he’s got the bigger head!”

This advice, delivered in a merry voice and translated almost 1:1 from an ancient German proverb, floated towards my ears in the middle of yet another standard leg-yield exercise gone awry (for non horse-people: a sideways walk that looks easy and is in fact not too challenging for a decent rider, but can turn into a hilarious turkey-trot performance if said rider overthinks the thing. Drastically overthinks, like an engineer fixing a carburetor trying to apply quantum physics).

And so I had. Again. For the umpteenth time. Adjust speed. OK, his head is at the correct angle. No, just a little more. Now the shoulder isn’t moving right. Too slow. Shoulder

turkey trot
Think how exciting this would be with four legs!

good, now gentle pressure to the … cue the Charleston music, we’re off to the dance! It is a testament to the Icelandic Horse’s renowned amiable and good-humored nature, that my dear friend the “Night-traveler” did not unceremoniously dump me into the sand and waltz off to find somewhat more interesting to do. Possibly a root canal.

But coach’s equally good-natured advice snapped me out of the vicious circle of tension and thinking and planning, of angles and posture and watching every twitch of my horse’s ear, analyzing every change in his gait, every tremor in the reins (I am convinced that his half-sideways nod is nothing other than an equine eye roll, especially when accompanied by a distinct, deep-throated huff).

Leave the thinking to your horse. Coach might have said “Stop treating him like a finicky bit of technology that will blow you halfway to Russia if you get it wrong, and just bloody well GO with it!” but she didn’t. “He’s got the bigger head!” He’s a living being with thoughts of his own, let him do his part. Let him carry you. STOP overthinking every damn thing. Wasn’t that why I had gotten back in the saddle after a long hiatus in the first place?

The long road back

It’s supposed to be like riding a bicycle. Due to muscle memory and “once learned, never forgotten”, you’re supposed to pick up where you left off, and canter into the sunset. Maybe for some people that is true, but my experience was rather along the lines of “once learned, relearning everything”. Some of it certainly had to do with the switch from Western to English Riding, and from steady, eager, happy-go-lucky Quarter Horses and Appaloosas to five-gaited “Devil May Care” miniature Vikings with a quirky sense of humor. But there was also, perhaps mostly, the difference in the rider herself.

There were, in essence, two separate riders.

The Force of basic, fundamental trust we develop (or don’t) in infancy was strong with the teenager who considered climbing out of yet another shrub somewhere in the Northern Adirondacks just another adventure (do not blame Binky, I should have known Image result for horse lover stable mindbetter than to ask such a sharp turn of him when he was distracted by the charming chestnut mare). The immortality and invincibility of youth, combined with a deep-rooted sense that it’ll all turn out alright in the end, that the annoying broken leg will heal before long, that the bruises only mean you had fun pushing another limit, and that there were always people who would pull you out of the shrub and slap a band-aid on your arm (but dammit, that was my favorite ratty old shirt), left little enough room to doubt myself. Or the world I lived in, for that matter.

Horses were boon companions, as were dogs and bunnies and chickens and whatever critter dad brought home to nurse back to health any given day (mom drew the line at that baby wolverine though, much to my dismay). Being smarter than most humans, the 1000 pounds of muscle I fed and brushed and saddled on a regular basis picked up on that cheerful confidence with ease, and responded in kind.

Many years, several deployments. and far too many close encounters with the darkest, most hateful and vicious side of humanity later, that cheerful serenity had been replaced with a wary cynicism on a good day, hypervigilance and obsessive situational awareness alternating or concurring with emotional detachment and numbness on a bad one.

It’s not that the US military hasn’t learned some hard lessons from the past. There is help available. Nor is the stigma of seeking said help as prevalent as it once was. Like as not I’d have cowgirl’d up eventually either way, because once your ability to get the job done becomes compromised, all excuses are feeble. I wasn’t raised to make excuses. “I don’t like shrinks” and “I’m tougher than this” doesn’t fly when you’re responsible for other people’s lives.

But it does help if your superiors support you in your decision to fix a mild issue before it becomes a major one, rather than take your admission of being less than 100% as ‘unfit for duty’. And it certainly helps to have other people in similar situations covering your six. Thus the slightly unconventional suggestion to seek out a barn in the beautiful Middle of Nowhere, Bavaria. “You had horses as a kid, right? I know this place where they do amazing physical therapy with veterans – no EAP per se, but…” “Horses?”

Well, my dog has been my reality check and guardian against nightmares more times than I can count. So, why not let horses help me to remember a simpler, more innocent time? Help me reconnect with the teen of days gone by? What could possibly go wrong?

I should have remembered how much smarter they are.

Murphy’s Law of Combat 5.1: If it’s stupid but it works, it ain’t stupid

Contrary to what you may have been told, the Icelandic Horse doesn’t care if you call him a pony. He doesn’t even care if you treat him like one, as long as it involves carrots. He is, Related imagehowever, as tough as his Viking ancestors, and about as easily persuaded to deviate from a chosen course. Unless of course you’ve managed to gain a measure of respect (or have a limitless supply of carrots available).

Fortunately for me, the barn in Nowhere, BY is run by one of those legendary women who can take you for a 20 minute walk across a pasture with 45 horses and then match you to your partner based on how the herd reacts to you. Which, in the beginning, was a gentle, playful bay gelding by the name of Náttfari.

I’ve never been one to subscribe to the notion of signs and omens and secret meanings. It’s quite likely my buddy with the rockstar mane and the smooth gait was named for the legendary first permanent settler of Iceland, rather than the literal “Night-Traveler”. But it felt apt all the same. If the little guy had a knack for navigating dark places, I’d not turn up my nose at the help.

And so he did.

Bit by bit, week after week, rain and sun and wind and snow and ice, the brave little Viking horse shouldered the responsibility of teaching a wounded human how to keep moving forward. How to take the dark and the light as equal parts of life, and that watching your step in the dark doesn’t mean weakness, but translates to common sense. That keeping a vigilant eye out for predators doesn’t mean you can’t graze and flirt and play. That trust doesn’t mean you’ll never fall, because stupid rocks and slippery mud can pop up out of nowhere. That if you just keep moving, there’ll be unexpected carrots along the way.

In the arena and on the trail, he kept murmuring those lessons to me. Kept moving through setbacks and dense fog, always carrying the weird but pleasant enough human along. Remember. Remember. One step after the other. I got you. Remember. Trust. Feel. It’s just a shadow. Trust me. Remember.

The Path Untraveled

The day that my equine pal and expedition guide so kindly refrained from dumping me, aka “this overanalyzing nuisance on my back”, into the dust was not a quantum leap event for my riding. Rather, it was one in a series of events big and small. Some of them inching me along, others gaining 100 yards at a time, but until that moment always trying to move towards the “Rider that Was”. The one who never had nor ever needed formal training, because a horse is a horse, right is right and left is left, slow is slow and fast is YEE-haw. The one who knew in her bones that it’s never the reins he follows, but the human saying “I got this, buddy”.

It was the day I realized there was no going back to the First Rider, much as I wanted to leave the tense, overalert Second one behind. Because life doesn’t work that way.

The lesson my quirky, amiable Viking had tried to get into my stubborn head all the while suddenly seemed so simple. I could have sworn that for a moment the famous light bulb did not so much appear over my head with a cheerful ‘ding!’, but rather hit me with the ‘whoomph’ of a 1032 ergs solar flare. Remember, silly human. Forward is the way to go. You knew this, once. What you were, what you are, has brought you here. You are the First Rider, you are the Second, both of them will be part of the Third. Let’s go see what she’ll be like. And she better bring carrots.

Related image
My work here is done…

 

It’s been a year and a season since.

And even as my little buddy has moved on to help others while I’ve been exploring the New Rider with two other, quite different horses, I often find myself drawn back to him. If only to stand near the pasture gate for a while and watch him play. Or for those moments when he comes strutting up to blow warm air into my face and nuzzle my hair.

“Looking good, funny human. I saw you with that feisty mare yesterday. Not bad. Did I mention I have a bit of a crush on her? That swish of her tail when she tölts … oh, brother! Hey, remember when we ran into that patch of mud and Snöggur fell on his bum? And you got out the saddle to help his rider up, and then you both fell on your bums? Did the four of us ever make a picture. But anyways. Got carrots?”  

Confessions of an Accidental Liberal, or: Speak Softly and Have Air Support on Standby

I should have listened to Nancy.

“Just say no!”

But like millions before me, I saw no harm in a little curiosity, some entirely legitimate

Mrs Reagan and 99 Luftballons?

scientific spirit of inquiry, and I tragically misjudged the slippery slope that my wide-eyed, guileless poking at the unknown should lead me onto.

The unknown of differing political viewpoints, that is. Radical, exotic, tantalizingly extravagant viewpoints. Elitist, even (don’t blame me, elite sounds so charmingly French! How was I to know the word that once meant ‘choice’ and later meant ‘of great quality’ is now yet another bad thing)?

Honestly, I thought I could quit any time. Even as my descent into flower-powered liberaldom was already painfully obvious to innocent bystanders, I still firmly believed myself the poster-child of the Moderate Independent. You know, the girl who goes both ways. The reasonable one who balances the scales and chooses political candidates not based on party affiliation but on (oh, dear) common sense.

It took nothing less than a full frontal intervention by a trusted buddy for me to see the terrifying truth. Engaged in the time-honored military maneuver known as “Hurry Up and Wait” we were completing a tactical analysis (debating which Hollywood movie contains the biggest FUBARs in terms of depicting the military), when Murphy (don’t ask)  declared in a matter of fact tone: “You’re such a Liberal!”

Naturally, my response was a decisive “Am NOT!”

“Are, too!”

“Am SO not!”

“Are so, too!”

Yes, we’re the people entrusted with your safety.

 

And it all had started out so well

Granted, mom has always been a staunch Democrat. The proud blue collar daughter of 3rd generation German immigrants (add a generous dash of Louisiana French for spice, and of course there’s great-uncle George the cranky Alaskan but every family needs one of those) has always been pro unions, pro reasonable taxation in exchange for social safety nets, and has some rather fierce views on healthcare. Yet to many of her fellow Democrats in the Empire State her political leanings tend rather a bit too far right of Mr Bill Clinton, disqualifying her from the “Centrist” label by 20 degrees starboard of fiscal responsibility. And please don’t get her started on Mrs Clinton. Or Mr Sanders, for that matter.

One wonders how she ever gets along with the Republican she married -holy cow – in 1967. Or perhaps not, seeing as the gentle Scandinavian bear, self-chosen blue collar son of a white collar East Coast clan, declares himself a Moderate Republican (when he can be bothered to have any label affixed to his broad shoulders). Far, far out of right-swirling waters in matters of environment and education, he was (and is) nonetheless the poster-man of Reagan voters (“Bad actor. Good president”), and still champions supply-side economics and much of the Gipper’s free-market philosophy. Dad also quite reasonably decided that voting for Bush the Elder and (less enthusiastically) the Younger, gave and gives him license to exercise his 1st Amendment rights at his leisure by offering mild rebukes and occasionally scathing commentary on either’s performance in the White House. Please don’t get him started on Mr Trump. Seriously. Please don’t.

So what happened?

How does a child destined to walk the moderate, centrist ground of politics suddenly find herself tumbling out of that comfortable, stable middle ground and slide headlong into the rabbit hole of the (gasp) Libertarian Left? cartesian plane with horizontal left-right axis and vertical authoritarian-libertarian axis

As a good Snowflake/Hippie/[insert insult of your choice here] should, I blame my parents. That’s right, the ex-Catholic (aka Agnostic with an Attitude) Democrat and the laid-back Protestant Republican, who huddle snugly in the political middle. The couple who for over 50 years now have made an art of not merely coexisting with a different opinion, but celebrating their differences (admittedly, that celebration sometimes involves ballistic kitchenware from the Democrat and pithy retorts worthy of a Spartan warrior from the Republican).

On the political compass it’s astonishing just how close these two warring lovebirds are –Image result for churchillboth are floating companionably near Winston Churchill in the middle to lower left of the blue, with mom but a bunny-hop and a skip left of dad on the economic scale, and him (my goodness) beating her and any other self-respecting Republican on the social scale with a noticeable southward drift. “Must have been the porn questions” spoke the Viking and went to stack some firewood.

Mother dearest disputes this conclusion and places the blame squarely on his insufferable feminism. Sometimes I really can’t tell when she’s joking.

And I guess therein lies the rub. They don’t fit the stereotypes. Despite loud (or laconic) protestations to the contrary, my parents are fierce individualists, liberal in the literal sense of the word. The “Believer in Liberty” sense. The “Freedom and Pursuit of Happiness” sense. Each of them may have chosen to align with a party that most closely resembles their views, but within that framework they refuse to be pinned down, corralled, labeled, or herded along party lines.

How did they end up raising a scion who snuggles up with Nelson Mandela (not that I’m not mildly flattered, if bewildered) in the green square?

I believe it’s because they’re Americans. Yes, you read that right. Solid, patriotic, “Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground” honest Americans. Firm believers in

Image result for statue of liberty
Looking good, old girl!

the First Amendment (please don’t get them started on the Second, though. The last time that discussion happened we had to evacuate half the county and apologize to Canada for that friendly-fire teacup), in self determination and inalienable rights. Including their daughter’s right to be a gun toting Hippie, a grown-ass woman in uniform who volunteers for animal rescues and pesters the commissary for more organic food (I draw the line at kale, though), who believes that putting her hind end on the line for her country means she damn well can argue for renewable energies and better health care. And don’t get me started on minority rights, or protecting my beloved rivers, lakes and mountains. Seriously, don’t. My weapon was made by the lowest bidder.

The Oxymoron resolved

How does this individualism square with the lovebirds’ relatively high scores on the authoritarian scale, and mine own willing endurance of the most hierarchical command structure available?

I recall asking dad many years ago, before donning my own uniform, how he had resolved the dilemma for himself. Thusly spoke the Viking: “Freedom isn’t saying no to authority just because it’s authority. It’s saying yes when and because you choose to. Now go help your mother with the horses.”

Yes, dad.

 

 

 

A Soldier’s Christmas

It sucks not being home this time of year.

There are perks – amazing ones – to being stationed in Germany, rather than tracking Santa via NORAD from another sandbox. All throughout the Holiday Season there are distractions galore. Magical Christmas Markets beckon. Small towns and major cities engage in a quintessentially German competition over who has the best decorations, the most whimsical attractions, the finest foods, the most awesome events. You can tell they’re German, because they’d rather traverse the Arctic in pink satin shorts than be caughtImage result for romantic christmas market regensburg doing anything tacky, overblown, … *coff coff* American *coff*. No, it’s elegant understatement for the Teutons, or if you have to go all in, do it in a playful, not quite taking yourself seriously way. So you get rows of miniature log cabins decorated with intricate woodwork and tasteful lighting, serving food and drink and selling handmade toys … right next to a bunch of donkeys with Santa hats. Yes, live donkeys, and a rather bored looking cow. Do watch your just purchased Lebkuchen around the longears.

With Gluhwein and Bratwurst Semmel warming your insides, and your new best friend Josef the donkey searching your pockets for leftover crumbs, the pangs of homesickness are just that. Little bittersweet specks of frost in the warm glow.

But it still sucks.

The native population – an attraction in their own right – will not let you dwell, however. Not once they’ve adopted you, like one would a friendly, if rather quirky and not very bright puppy. Now that you’re theirs, you’re dragged to ski trips, beer league hockey games, and cheerful gatherings at the local inn. These will resemble pagan revelry and involve the lighting of candles (unless Ms Sabine accidentally burns down the wreath Related imageagain), a mildly inebriated Mr. Florian playing the Zither (or a three man band in Lederhosen bringing the house down), and ever more fantastic dishes. If you thought you knew Bavarian cuisine – you ain’t seen nothing yet, brother.

You will also be introduced to the Jagerbomb’s big older brother – the Jaegertee. Do not let the sedate name fool you – this stuff is made for Bavarian stomachs fortified by pigs’ feet and fiery horseradish, and it will end with bewildered Americans stumbling from one snowdrift to the next while caroling like lovesick moose (meese? mooses?).

But it still sucks.

Because as Christmas Eve rolls around wrapped in freezing mist and all grows quiet, as the base falls into a watchful doze with those who were lucky enough to catch a flight home long gone, as the natives retreat into the loving or at least drunken embrace of their families, you look around and see those familiar faces.

The Ones Who Stay Behind

They’re not the same every year. PCS is part of military life, and the guy you worked with and had beers with last year is sending a Christmas card from Benning this year. But they are familiar in that they all have familiar expressions. Some slightly forlorn, some melancholy, some determined to make the best of it, some just grateful for a bit of peace and quiet, some settling into the routine of holding down the fort. All of them with nowhere else to go.

I’m one of the luckier specimens, with two dependents and sufficient rank to live in a nicer military housing area. We didn’t go home this year for various reasons, and my two military brats have been in this situation more than once. They take it in stride. And they, too, see those members of their tribe who got the shortest end of the Christmas tree. They’re as familiar with them as they are with the smell of lived-in ACUs, muddy boots, and DoD schools.

So a few years ago we started our own Holiday tradition. We call it Christmas for simplicity, though we’re neither Christians nor attend mass, but in a nod to our Scandinavian ancestry we have a tree and lights and a fine feast (we’re also stubbornly trying to import the Jólabókaflóð – so far with limited, but mildly encouraging success). And on the 25th we’re gathering up the stray members of our tribe. The young single soldier and the divorcee without the money to go home, the grizzled war horse who stuck around pulling duty so those with families can catch a break, the unattached SGT with estranged parents. Bring your friends. Yes, that quirky 11Bravo can come, as long as he doesn’t try to puppy-nap our dog again.

The Longest Night

Take away the ornaments, the reindeer, the carols and the shopping craze for the perfect gift, and I still believe we would huddle together as the days grow short and the light Related imagewanes. We’d still seek out our families – blood or no – and draw close to the hearth fires. Because somewhere in the ancient, primal parts of our brains that howl at the moon and don’t buy into the modern gimmicks just yet, we feel the cold claws of winter coming to take the most vulnerable of our pack.

Is it a coincidence that Christianity picked the time celebrated as the return of the light for as long as humanity has existed for their own expression of hope? And deep down, does it matter as long as the message is carried onward?

Even the longest night ends. The world keeps turning, the seasons change. The circle of life keeps rolling on. And in Ned Stark’s words: “When Winter comes the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives”. So gather your own and raise a glass to life, roast that bird and sing a song, because we’re all in this together.

It sucks not being home. Home with your first tribe, your family and old friends. Home, where everything is familiar and comforting. Even drunk uncle Harry and his hopelessly ancient and out of tune guitar. Maybe especially him.

But it’s OK. It really is.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly

Mother and children and a fluffy dog, 14 uniformed personnel decidedly out of uniform (though that ugly sweater should qualify as psych warfare), 1 DoD civilian and a stray spouse, one large turkey, a-wassailing they go…

Christians, heathens, a SGT declaring himself the mandatory Jew and cheerfully drowning out the “Jingle Bells” crowing atheist (yes they do exist in foxholes) with an off-key rendition of something with a Dreidel. “Die Hard” and “Miracle on 34th Street”. Surprisingly little shop talk. A happy dog gorged on ham and bird. Stories of home. Bittersweet.

We’re OK.

A Happy Yuletide to All, a Merry Christmas, Joyeux Noël, Peace and Hope and Chocolate! 

 

 

Winter Solstice

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it’s queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there’s some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

(Robert Frost)

Solstice

About that “National Security” speech…

Picture it: Bavaria, 2017. A cold wind stirs the snow over the nightly hills, and inside a charming, rustic inn a small group of American soldiers huddles up to friendly natives. The intoxicating aroma of ancient Bavarian brewing art mingles with the scent of pine branches, wet dog, and just a hint of cowshed. In the background a small TV set mumbles on about soccer stats, occasionally acknowledged by the indigenous population with a small groan or a satisfied huff. All is peaceful. Until … a strange man appears on the screen, his frowning visage framed by the familiar colors of the American flag. The soldiers tense. One of them discreetly scans for viable escape routes. But they are in luck. As the man with the toupee waves and gestures, his uncharacteristically stilted speech drowned by the far more pleasant German translator, the natives barely acknowledge him beyond an occasional eye roll. They have more pressing matters to attend to – one of the hunters has brought in a boar that afternoon, and there is disagreement over the sauce (Madeira. The answer is Madeira). The soldiers however keep casting wary glances at the TV – this is their Commander in Chief speaking. And his speech, painfully obvious as it is that he is parroting someone else’s words, does not do much to soothe their uneasy hearts. But whether it is the famous Bavarian aplomb with which the natives dismiss the strange man, or the rich, mouthwatering scents that begin to waft from the kitchen, or the unbroken stream of beer glasses flowing forth from the gates of Bavarian heaven – slowly, the soldiers relax. Let themselves be drawn back into the magical realm where peace on earth is found among the clinking of glasses and the telling of badly translated jokes, and a muddy dog snoring beneath the table…

When you least expect it – German Blitz

“So, exactly how is ‘America First’ different from ‘Deutschland uber alles’ anyways?”

It wasn’t so much the question itself – left field though it was – that caused the delicious Weizen beer to end up in the wrong pipe, and prompted some good natured “Americans can’t handle ze real beer” heckling as I desperately tried to stop coughing before Max the volunteer fireman succeeded in pounding my lungs out though my ears (the Bavarian approach to people choking on their beer is as robust as it is effective – a slap to the back that plants your face on the table, followed by what feels like an elephant performing the “In the air tonight” drum-solo on your ribs until shock and survival instinct prompt a huge intake of air and frantic “I’m fine!” waving of arms).

It was rather the casual, ‘a propos’, tone of the question. The mildly inquisitive expression, as if Mr Florian were trying to puzzle out the reason why Americans shun

Related image
Never saw that one coming

the delicious Obazda but will eat every scrap of liver cheese in sight. It was the fact that the very same people who, for all their nonchalant approach to any number of sensitive subjects, almost unilaterally shut down at the mention of Hitler, Nazis and suchlike, suddenly tossed this Blitz-question into an unsuspecting American’s lap. It was admittedly also the implication. The unspoken but perceived “Why are you allowed to say this, but we are evil when we do?”

My first instinct was to say “Because we don’t mean it like that!” Not in the “Germany above all” sense. The “We are better than everyone else” sense.

But with a band of agreeable Teutons waiting patiently for the American to gather and line up her scattered ducks, I choked on the words worse than I had on the beer.

How is it different?

Because it’s US saying it

It was the second thought popping into my head, and it felt imminently reasonable. Cheap, yes. A classic cop-out of the high horsed sort. But it makes sense, right?

We’re the country who fought the Nazis, for crying out loud. We’re the Shining City on

https://i0.wp.com/cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0436/4061/products/America-the-Beautiful.jpg
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

the Hill. The champion of the underdog, the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. We’ve sacrificed our own, all over the world, to help others.

Yes, fine, the Brits fought the bad guys, too, and the French and the Russians did, after the Reich had overrun them with brutal German efficiency, but we saved the day, right? And maybe others have done some good around the world since those days, and built functioning democracies with Liberty and Justice for all, but we’re the ones who came up with it. We the People got the ball rolling.

So we get to say it, right? We got the moral high ground, the highest horse in the stable. If we want to put this awesome thing first, this admittedly still flawed country that nonetheless is ours, and the only one we got, and it’s a good thing we have … we get to say it. Right? Because it is different.

Why are they looking at me like that?

Because economy, stupid

They’ll understand that. Germans are practical. Infuriatingly so.

Because we really don’t mean it in the “we’re better” way, but in the “We need to look to our own people first” way. Sure, our current administration blows trade deficits out of proportion and sometimes flat out lies about important economic issues. Sure, their way of going about it could stand some scrutiny (alright, a lot of scrutiny), but the sentiment is valid. Right?

Because we’re not talking about isolationism, just maybe scaling back the globalization a little bit until we can sort out the troubles at home. Yes I know we’re depending on the world market to an extensive degree, and protectionism is a short term fix, if that. Yes I know our government is selling it as our deliverance from evil, which it is not, but…

Ah, damn.

Stuff the excuses, buttercup

Arguing economy with Germans is like playing table tennis with an octopus. Arguing nationalism with the guys whose grandparents invented flag waving hyper-patriotism

Related image
“Is it true your Nazis smell like lemons?” – (German humor)

and mood lighting with 1000 torches, is entering a spitting contest with a llama on steroids.

And it would be pointless anyways.

Because it isn’t different.

It wasn’t different before Charlottesville, it isn’t different now.

America First. Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles, uber alles in der Welt.

So, with my capacity for speech restored and my ribs mildly bruised, I cowgirl’d up. Dismissing the first, second, and third sorry excuse my frantic mind had conjured up as the bison-sized dungheap they are, I looked my friends squarely in the eyes.

“It isn’t, guys. Not really. Not the way my people are using it right now.”

But hear me out…

It’s no secret my opinion of the current administration has gone from an unenthusiastic “Meh” about a year ago, to an irked “Do any of them have a clue what they’re doing?” around summer, to an all out irate “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, anyone? F*ckssakes!” by now.

Neither is it a secret that I’ve sworn an oath to defend and uphold the Constitution of the Image result for john wayne quote whiskeyUnited States, with my life if need be, and that I damn well meant those words when I said them. That I love my home, right or wrong, and may whatever deity you believe in have mercy on you if you try to harm it. Because you’ll get none from me.

But do my hackles rise automatically when I hear “USA!” chants, see people cheerfully wave Old Glory (I do cringe when she’s drunkenly dropped in the mud, or pretty airheads – looking at you, Tomi Lahren – think it’s OK to cut her up and wear her like a cheap scarf), or when anyone crows about how awesome our country is, and what a marvelous place to be? Hell to the no. Somewhat jaded, cynical battle horse that I am, I still smile at that kind of oh so American enthusiasm.

It’s the intent that matters. And that’s where our “America First” crowd has gone tragically off the rails.

Not only in their “National Sovereignty over Alliances” approach, because no man is an island, and even a superpower can not stand alone. Not only in their perceived moral superiority, because guess what guys, we’ve forfeited that for the time being. Not only in their at least somewhat understandable “Economic anxiety” roundhouse kick, because trade is simply never a zero-sum game, and anyone claiming otherwise might want to find a dictionary and look up the word “Recession”.

But also, distressingly, in their tolerance, even open acceptance of the “Blood and Soil” crowd, the David Dukes of KKK fame, the white supremacists and ultra-right religious groups; in the legitimizing and normalizing of hatred, blatant racism, and mad conspiracy theories (looking at you, Alex Jones. Gay frogs indeed). When you’re listening to these people, really listening, you will soon hear the theme beyond the hogwash. The “Me first! Me first! Only me!” that wraps itself in a patriotic fanfare. In their world, there is no united America that must come first, there is only their respective group. Or rather, they are America, and the rest of us are not. So naturally, being the only real Americans, they must come first, and everyone else may comply or leave at their leisure. Or die. That offer is extended disturbingly often.

Sorry, guys. Mr Duke, Mr Jones, Mr citronella tiki-torch. You’re messing with the wrong country.Image result for united states constitution

We are Americans. Our ancestors actually fought a war against would-be dictators. And then another, because we didn’t quite get that “Unalienable Rights” with the “Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness” part right the first time around.

There’s actually a lot we got wrong during our short existence. But not everything. Never everything.

Unless and until you understand this, that true love sees flaws and accepts them, takes them as incentive to do better, to become greater, you’ll never put America first. Until you realize that an ideal is something that can never reasonably be fulfilled, but is nonetheless worth striving for, fighting for, moving mountains for and changing history for, you’ll never even glimpse a shadow of what it means to be great. Unless you accept that admitting “we were wrong” is not unpatriotic and weak, but taking responsibility and reclaiming your own humanity, you’ll forever be stuck feeling like a victim and carrying silly torches to protest the mean, mean world daring to change and move on without you.

Unless and until you dare to open your eyes and look at this marvelous country we had the impossibly dumb luck to be born to, and see it, see all of it, the ideals we built it on and the countless ways we found and still find to mess up, always getting back up and trying again, trying harder, how can you love it? Really love it, in that stupid, inexplicable, unreasonable way that, yes!, makes you put it First?

“So it is different, and it isn’t”

At least, that is how Mr Florian summed up our lively debate, nodding sagely over the foaming crown of his Weizen. I did mention that German practicality, yes?

I’ll have Knodel with my Wildschwein, thank you.

 

“Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”

  “A Republic, madam, if you can keep it.”

(Benjamin Franklin, 1787)

The not so Old Girl and The Sea

It started with a Hashtag.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, the tributary streams of our modern world flowing into the big river of awareness. Then the conventional media outlets caught on and before we knew it, the Weinstein dam broke and it was Land Under in Hollywood.

I’ll admit, my brain went into ‘white noise’ mode after the first few hundred Tweets. It seemed yet another sad, frustrating déjà vu moment in history – I’ve already seen this, and not once but twice, three times … it’s like we’re forming a brave bucket brigade on the Titanic, shouting encouragement to each other while that sad, lonely SOS echoes over the frozen Atlantic. If anybody out there really gave a damn, wouldn’t they have answered by now?

So, I was resigned to have another talk with my teenage girls about why life isn’t fair,

Related image

about politics and the legal system, and that there really, really still are good men out there. I thought about calling my dad – the guy who always has, and always will top that list for me – and tell him I love him. Not in those words, maybe. He’s a sardonic, oft taciturn fellow who shows you how he feels rather than prattle on about it. I thought about checking in on an old friend, who struggles to this day with the aftermath of an abusive relationship. Offer support in case her Facebook feed had her puking and crying. Keep bailing water while the band plays on. And tomorrow we’re on to other news. Again.

Only it didn’t stop. Not this time.

When the Bough Breaks

Encouraged by the sudden, inexplicable shift in the winds, that unexpected turn of the tide, women told their stories. One after the other. A great many of them no doubt felt like having stumbled into a kind of Narnia – a magical land where suddenly the laws governing the world no longer applied and women were believed instead of dismissed, ridiculed, silenced.

But it was the stories you don’t find in newspapers that stood out for me. While the

narnia
I don’t think we’re in the 1900eds any more…

reckoning that caught the rich and powerful like a tide was important, even crucial, it was a glimpse at the ocean from a sandy beach. Or an iceberg, as it were.

Among those stories from the depths of the ocean was one one of my favorite bloggers who broke her long silence, making a quiet but powerful statement about the “Silence of The Abused” 

Like my friend, this sweet, funny, generous lady was and is suffering. Yes, even years later. Like my friend, she struggles against the dragnet keeping her down, keeping her silent, every knot made of fear and shame and dismissal.

This one hit me hard.

I have amazing parents, loyal friends, and have never been described as a shy girl, or timid woman (rather the opposite – I often have to convince people that I’m actually quite a sweetheart). And I still have #MeToo stories. Stories I don’t like to tell, because of the “Naaaww, you? Get outta here!” reactions. Because of the “You just want some payback on a guy who ditched you!” bulldung. Because it’s tiresome. Because bucket brigade.

But for my friend, and that blogger whose posts I’ve always enjoyed, and for anyone whom it may help, I’ll take my skiff out and hunt marlins (pardon the shameless Hemingway reference). Because even women who kick arse and take names know what it’s like to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. And because you need to know we have your six if you need it. All you have to do is ask.

Damn right. Hashtag Me, too.

I was 16, and had just grown from the cute tomboy into your “All American Girl Next Door” – though with the vestiges of the tomboy still clinging to me. That, combined with the facts that I was a late bloomer and that my interest in boys was still mostly limited to how well they could shoot a hockey puck, had thus far saved me from much unwanted attention – in school and elsewhere. Well, that, and Billy’s black eye after he pulled my hair in 7th grade (guess who got detention).

Mother nature caught up with me eventually, and though I never saw the point of overly highlighting my figure which suddenly resembled a 50ies pinup girl rather than a baby giraffe, it did attract notice. Like most girls, I put up with the catcalls, swatted away hands attached to grabby teenage boys and employed the occasional strategically placed elbow if the gentler methods had no effect. I gained a reputation as a “mean bitch” for not responding well to what to my mind was just plain rudeness.

But life in a small town in Northern NY, with a well known and respected veteran for a father and a veritable firebrand for a mother has its advantages – and granted me a reprieve I now know many women never had.

Until it didn’t.

As sexual assault tales go, my first is almost embarrassingly brief and undramatic. Just a young woman working a summer job at the hardware store, trying to save up a few bucks for that old pickup truck I had my eyes on. Jeans and a tshirt, some solid boots – simple, sturdy clothes for when an elderly customer needed help hauling stuff around. I was as oblivious to the men’s weird “hardwood flooring” jokes as a gerbil to quantum physics. And as stunned as a hockey player who takes a puck to the head when one of those men cornered me behind some shelves and slid a hand under my tshirt to yank at my bra.

I remember the smell of sawdust. I remember freezing like a deer in the headlights, trapped between a guy who outweighed me by at least 50 pounds, and the wood. And I remember that it hurt, worse than stupid Billy pulling my hair, and then the rush of fear followed by pure anger.

I don’t remember what I said, but my boss later told me he’d never heard such language from me before. I don’t remember kicking the guy hard enough to make him yelp, though apparently I did, earning me an ‘attagirl’ from bossman’s wife. I don’t even recall said bossman pulling the sonofabitch off me after he heard the ruckus, only that shaky feeling you get after being slammed into the boards at a hockey game. Adrenaline, fight or flight.

It stuck with me in such annoying detail not because it was horrifying (I was more angry and disgusted than frightened), but because it marked a sad end to innocence. And because of the aftermath, which is a story every victim and survivor can tell like a litany

Image result for sexual assault

in Catholic Church, the same old song, over and over, only the singers change.

“Are you sure you did not encourage him?”  YES I’m sure!

“Could you have misunderstood?”  Hard to misunderstand being pinned and groped to the point of pain!

“But you were leading him to that secluded section” It’s where the oak wood is

“You claim you did not understand the … hum hum … hardwood jokes?” I did not. I do now.

“But you realize how it might have seemed you were…” NO.

“But we never had any trouble with him” How nice for you.

“Well, no harm done, right?” Are you f*ing kidding me right now?

Believe it or not, I was lucky. Though that police officer had me doubt my own sanity for a minute, my boss’s testimony was convincing enough (a fact which didn’t much help my anger – why do you believe him but not me?). The guy walked away with a slap on the wrist, but he was no longer welcome at the store and at several other local businesses. I had to put up with some whispers about being a tease, and the already familiar “mean girl” as well as “probably a lesbian”. The fact that it required another man – in this case my dad – to silence most of those with some well placed, gruff comments and his trademark calm, no-bullshit attitude …. it should have bothered me, but didn’t. I had better things to do. Like buying that truck.

And just when you thought it was safe…

Older, not much wiser, with still a bit of that sweet naïveté but thinking I knew it all … you guessed it. College.

And of course I was asking for it, working as a barkeep in the evenings, right? Wearing those snug, comfy old jeans and v-neck shirts that let you see just enough cleavage to leave the girl a nice tip. Never mind said girl is a margarita wizard and plants your Bud Light in front of your nose before you finished the ‘ght’. Never mind it’s hot and loud and she’s working hard, and already sweating worse than Sidney Crosby in round seven of the playoffs, she should have worn a baggy turtleneck.

Don’t get me wrong – I met some awesome guys at that bar. Sports fans shooting the breeze, appreciating a girl who knows a linebacker from a left winger and can rattle off her favorite players’ stats rather than gush about their cute behinds. Quiet guys, talkative guys, sad drunks, happy drunks. All of them fine men.

I learned to handle the unpleasant ones. The octopus who seems to grow more arms every time you smack one away, the would-be poet who’ll croon odes to your female attributes and switches to crude insults when you explain you have other customers. Or don’t give him your number. Or politely decline a drink.

Again, it often took one of my ‘regulars’ to step in and remove those guys. Because a woman saying ‘stop that nonsense’ was not enough, it needed another man. Vexing, but you deal with it. Paying customers waiting. Four Molsons, coming up. Down, boy, I ain’t got time for this.

Until the night two men decided to wait for that “Cocktease bitch” and teach her a lesson. crime_sceneWith any other crime, this would have been called ‘premeditated’. They had planned it well, scouting out which car I drove, where it was parked, when my shift ended. The forced nonchalance of “Who do we have here?” wouldn’t have fooled a blind goose wrapped in cabbage leaves. It didn’t fool me. But until they actually put their hands on me, I remained in that “they’re rude assholes, but they wouldn’t cross the line to criminals” state of denial.

I’ve never been tiny or frail. I thank my father’s Scandinavian blood every day, not only for a lovely, gravity-defying rack and legs that won’t quit, but a 5’7″ frame of sturdy bones, and a left hook that will make you hear the Valkyries sing. But I had no hopes of outmatching the weight and muscle of two grown males. So yes, I panicked. The moment  my arms were wrenched behind me and I was shoved behind a large SUV, the moment that hand went for the waistband of my jeans, denial took a hike and survival instinct roared to life. Complete tunnel vision. I cared about nothing but getting those guys off me. By whatever means. Kicking, scratching, biting, slamming my forehead into a nose. I still hear that sound, and the guy’s howl. The curses. The “You’re gonna get it, bitch”. Still feel the backhand blow that made stars dance before my eyes.

I was saved again by other men attracted by the yelling – they thought it was a bar fight spilled out onto the street and went in to separate the combatants. Go figure.

And just like that, the litany started once more. Nursing a swollen, bleeding lip and more bruises than I could count, I got to explain to a dubious law enforcement officer that I had neither invited, instigated, nor sent mixed messages. That I hadn’t broken a poor man’s nose for a harmless butt-pinch. That I hadn’t flirted with the poor besotted guys and then changed my mind. That I wasn’t a college girl gone wild who then couldn’t handle what she had coming.

“But you talked to them. In the bar.” I’m serving the drinks, talking is required!

“If you saw them waiting by your car, why did you keep approaching them? If you felt threatened, why not go back inside?” I underestimated the threat. Next time I shoot first and ask questions later. Would that suffice?

“How much have you been drinking?” Nothing

“You tend bar, and no one bought you a drink?” I don’t drink alcohol at work.

“Why didn’t you call for help?” I don’t know. I thought I did.

“You realize broken nose guy is pressing charges?” Oh? What paragraph covers ‘I was prevented from raping a woman’?

“There is self defense, but you really went after those guys.” I. Was. Scared.

“You don’t look scared.” Tell it to the mother-effing Marines. I want to go home.

Again, it was the testimony of other men that changed the tune. My regulars at the bar, explaining patiently that I was not in the habit of beating up men. That those guys had shown some issues with boundaries before. A man saying “If those *%&#$ers show their faces again I’ll bury them” was shrugged off as chivalry. Me saying “I wish I had broken more than his nose” was considered vicious and vindictive.

And again, don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for the cavalry charging to my aid. I’ll never forget the guy who gave me his jacket to cover my torn and bloody shirt, and I’ll never Image result for rape cultureforget the police officer who finally barked a “You shitting me? The girl is bleeding. I’m taking her to the hospital. Get the statement later!” Much of the rest is a blur. There was a soft spoken nurse, and bone deep exhaustion. Simmering anger and frustration, more questions. Always more questions.

In the end, I was cleared of the charges – but the mere fact I had to defend myself for, well, defending myself, left a bitter aftertaste. That I was once more the mean girl who had tempted upstanding citizens into rash actions, and now was crying rape – and they didn’t even get to do it, the poor guys. Punished without getting a piece of the action. What a bitch.

Cry me a river, cry me a sea

Not at all surprisingly, the pushback in form of “Feminazis want us all oppressed” and “What about Muslim women? You don’t care about them, do you? (newsflash: I do) – bitches don’t know how good you have it” and other agonized cries of “I’m being punished for being a man!” and “I’m afraid to be chivalrous now, they’ll misunderstand and make me look bad!” is already in full swing.

Never mind that if a guy so fears being hated by women, he just might have a reason. Never mind that the horror of ‘politically correct libtards’ is all too often identical with your own nana telling you to mind your manners or there’ll be no cookies. Never mind that physically opening doors and slamming metaphorical ones into women’s faces is not chivalry.

This post isn’t about blame. Do I hope those guys learned something in the end? That maybe their grandmothers gave them a good ding behind the ear and their fathers sat them down and rehearsed common decency 101 with them? I do, actually.

But I wrote it for the women. The ones who still feel somehow their SOS calls are disappearing into the void because they’re not important enough, because their stories are not horrifying enough, because their tormentors are too close, too powerful still. The ones who are still scared to speak up. The ones who think their pain and fear makes them weak. Who still believe in some corner of their soul that they share at least part of the blame.

I hear you.

You’re not alone.

And the good guys are out there.

Any Port in a Storm

It feels as if women are navigating an ocean where not all boats are equal, and some seem to stumble from storm to storm while others sail cheerfully across the seven seas, Storm only bumping into the odd reef here and there. It’s neither fair nor right that I got my start as a well armed frigate straight out of a fine East Coast shipyard, while others have to brave the roiling waves with a leaky dinghy. It’s neither fair nor right that I have a solid home port to put in for repairs if and when I do run into trouble, while so many others are still frantically searching for a welcoming light, and harbor. Any harbor.

What does one do with such privilege? For now and always, never less than the best I can do. I’ll keep patrolling the seas, answer any and all distress calls I can reach, and keep my guns at the ready. And right now, I’ll make that call and say thank you to my dad.

Thank you for teaching me to stand up for myself. For teaching me right from wrong, and to fight for those who can’t defend themselves.

Thank you for showing me how a good man treats his woman (and yes, I know that over the past 50 years your wry comments drove her up one wall and down another so many times, there’s a groove in the ceiling. She loves you anyways. I know. She told me.)

Thank you for having my back, again and again, even when it looked to all the world that I might have been in the wrong. Even when I myself was not sure. Thank you for telling those gossiping biddies “I taught my girl to never start a fight, but to damn well finish it. So bring your beef to me.”

Thank you for teaching me it’s OK to sometimes not bother with the bastards because I’m tired of the drama, and that I’m not weak for calling in the cavalry.

Thank you for letting me fall on my face sometimes, so I could learn to get up. And for being there with the band-aids and an attagirl.

Thank you for showing me that a hard-as-steel veteran can sniffle away tears when his first grandchild is happily dozing off in his arms. That you learned how to bake for your grandchildren (and after you retired took over the kitchen completely – mom loves your cooking!)

Thank you for being you.

Of Candy Bars and Climate Change

“Dude, you can’t be serious.”

Leave it to my 14-year old to sum up a generation’s dismay and bewilderment in five words.

What prompted the above statement was an adult’s diatribe on how this past January had been awfully cold, and how the sheer amount of snow should convince even the dumbest climate-change believer that it was all a giant hoax. Invented, of course, by China.

Image result for snowball senate
Behold, The Snowball. We are saved.

“Dude, you can’t be serious.”

Alas, he was. Deadly serious. And the crux of the matter is, that both the teen and the adult stared at each other in a deadlock of mutual incomprehension. Each of them thinking:”How can you not see what is so clear, so obvious, right before your eyes? How is this possible?”

“Dude, you can’t be serious.”

Alas, he could. The approximately fifty year old man, who could not or would not believe that his generation might have tragically, disastrously erred somewhere along the way and handed the teenager standing there in disbelief a gigantic mess. Please don’t be serious. Tell me you’re not looking me in the eye and disavowing any responsibility. Tell me you’re not washing your hands off me. You’re supposed to be the elder, the wiser, the one who looks out for me. Tell me you didn’t sell my future for your comfort, and now explain to me I am stupid for asking what you’ve done? Tell me you’re joking. That you didn’t mean to make a mess, but now you realize what’s happening and you’re going to man up and try to fix it. Please don’t be serious…

“I can’t even.”

Leave it to 17 to express ultimate defeat in one pithy sentence.

But 14 would not surrender her guns just yet. After a brief recovery period involving the stages of denial (“He isn’t serious”) , anger (“That son of a biscuit IS serious!”), bargaining (“Maybe if I act all sweet and stereotypical good girl he’ll at least listen ….”) , depression (“I want piiiizzaaa! And ice cream! Buckets!”), she arrived, not at acceptance, but at:

“How do you talk to people like that?” 

Oh child of mine, if I knew that, we might well not have this problem.

So, although mom “can’t even” either, nor uneven (I can do odd if it’s any help), here’s what our customary after-dinner talk produced:

Maybe just KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid

Image result for candy bars bagBasic: If mom brings home a bag of candy with 20 bars, and I have 4 friends over, I don’t need to be a math genius to make sure everyone gets their fair share.

Intermediate: If I need to figure out when those two trains will meet, or want to balance my checking account, or want to build a shed for the chickens that won’t collapse the first time one of the feathered darlings sneezes, I need a basic understanding of numbers. You know, so many square yards for the roof. Does a steeper angle mean more lumber or less? What angle is more practical anyways? Does anyone have a calculator? Paper and pencil?

Advanced: If I want to figure out the coalescence rate of massive black hole binaries, or what the einsteinspeed of light has to do with time dilation … I need an aspirin. Or find a university that will teach me such things, along with a large supply of aspirin. I’ll need people who studied these things for years to explain to me why the increased relativistic mass of a body comes from the energy of motion of the body divided by the speed of light squared, and why this is important. I need books. I need research. I need the shoulders of giants to climb onto and have a look around.

What in the name of Frigga’s cat has this to do with climate?

Well, it sort of is like the climb from candy bars to general relativity.

Basic: If I step outside to feed my chickens (frolicking outside their new shed I hope) and see big balls of gray on the horizon, I don’t need to be a meteorologist to smell the rain. If after a sweltering hot day the wind suddenly picks up and the sky turns dark, I need no weather channel telling me that Thor is about to start a ruckus.

Intermediate: My hometown in in upstate NY. We have four seasons. (Or two, known as Image result for shrieking brass monkeyWinter and Construction). If we’ve had snow every winter for as long as I can remember, safe bet is we’ll have snow next winter, too. If I believe my elders who say it’s been the same for them, and their elders, and theirs … I’ll just keep the big coat handy. But if I want to know whether the coming one will be rough or mild, it helps to have lived there a while. How early, or late, did the geese leave? Did we need two or three layers under our Halloween costumes? I don’t need to go to college to know that if February was “Shrieking Brass Monkey cold” 34 years out of 36, mom is likely sitting under a pile of blankets right now. But a newbie to our region might not realize that planting your tomatoes in early May is a spectacularly bad idea.

Advanced: If I want to know why the horses are giving me dirty looks even though there is not a cloud in sight, I might rely on my experience and add “muggy weather plus a weird wind” to equal “Maybe not go for a ride down by the lake just now”.  Or I might turn on the TV and see satellite images of a massive storm brewing over Canada, and know for certain  (score one for the equines though, it turned south faster than the weatherman thought). But- I have no satellites, no high tech weather stations measuring temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, wind speed, wind direction, and I most certainly have never studied how to interpret those massive heaps of raw data. Which is why I’m constantly amazed just how often they get it right (and the express delivery of buckets and buckets of rain did arrive – from Canada with love I’m sure …)

norfolk-navy-base
Photograph by NASA

If I want to know why the U.S. military is worried about Norfolk and Camp Pendleton and bases in Alaska … I need another aspirin. Or find someone who can explain to me the correlation between the data gathered from buoys in the oceans and satellite images, between the Gulf Stream and the number of hurricanes in the Caribbean, between what the guys up on the ISS are measuring, and observing with their own eyes, and the numbers on old, yellowing paper that talk about summer in Queensland, Australia, in 1907.

Not enough aspirin in the western hemisphere. But lots of people who studied this stuff for years and years. Who might not know a stellar nursery from a pulsar (or in some cases, where the hell their glasses are again), but can look at a chunk of Antarctic ice and tell me how much CO2 there was in the atmosphere 400 000 years ago.

I see smart people …

So, does that mean we should just take the experts’ word on everything because they studied their respective subjects a long time and are, you know, experts?

fork-bomb
Credit: SG Atlantis “Brainstorm”

If they’re self-respecting scientists, their answer will be a resounding NO!

If you know the very first thing about scientists, it’s that there’s nothing they enjoy more than poking holes into each others’ hypotheses, theories, statements, papers, and offhand remarks about why deep dish is better than thin crust. It’s their favorite sport, and climate research is almost akin to the Super Bowl.

If you know the first thing about good scientists, it’s that they want you to look at their hypotheses, theories, statements and papers (stay away from their pizza), double checking their numbers, criticizing their methods, questioning their conclusions. Of course, if their paper is bulletproof in the end – that is oh so sweet. But if it isn’t? New stuff learned. New data to add. More knowledge. Poking holes in the old paper just helped them make a new paper. A better one. Thank you.

If they had a credo, it might well be: “Show me where I was wrong. Tell me why you think so. What verifiable data do you have to prove … oh hold on, this is interesting. Don’t tell me you didn’t see that. It’s your own paper. Can we call that guy on the ISS to confirm the readout? Whaddaya know, we were both wrong. Unless McMurdo goofed. Call them, too. And order some pizza, it’ll be a long night.”

οὐδὲν οἶδα – don’t look at me, I’m as clueless as you

So, should I trust every hypothesis, theory, statement and paper to be 100% correct and accurate and applicable?

If I want to graduate from aspirin to vicodin, maybe.

Should I pay attention when this squabbling mass of smart people who constantly explain to each other why that equation there contains a goof of Iliad-epic proportions, and “by the way, Frank disproved that data from the Phillipines last year, catch up willya”, actually agree on something?

Maybe? I don’t know. Let me check the numbers. Florida may be six feet under by the time I’m done, but at least I’ll be 100% sure. Wait, what?

 

Fork Bomb :(){:|:&};:

But they’re all elitist eggheads, looking down on simple folks like me with my haphazard chicken shed and my deep, deep knowledge of Canadian goose migration. They could tell me the sky is purple and prove it, and I could tell them a thousand times to look up, “Look, it’s blue!”, and they’d call me stupid. Because data. Because complex equation that doesn’t mean squat to me (the horse seems to think there’s something to it, though…). Because lots of big words designed only to make me feel more stupid.

You know what? Maybe I should get over my insecurities one of these days. Maybe I might Image result for blueberry clipartacknowledge that a meteorologist (BIG word alert) doesn’t call them “big fluffy grey clouds” the same way I don’t call wild blueberries “weird round things, can I eat those?” (The answer is yes. Yes, you can Mr. Egghead).

Maybe … maybe they’re trying to talk to me (revolutionary concept, I know) and they assume I’m smart. That I understand, and will start poking at their numbers, asking things like “why” and “where did you get that” and “but Frank said it’s only half a degree Fahrenheit”. Maybe they think that if I don’t understand, I’ll tell them.

Maybe, if I feel stupid, I could ask myself “But can they make blueberry jam that countries would rightfully go to war for, can they soothe a skittish horse so nana can remove the splinter?” and then I would not feel small and defensive when I say: “Once more from the top please, and this time assume I have no idea what you just said?”

But, but … conspiracy! China!

Seriously, dude?