a tumble of thoughts

I wanted to write something intelligent tonight. I wanted to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned lately or some of the anecdotes that my life seems to provide in abundance.

But it seems that I am just too tired.

My fingers clitter-clatter over the keys and I make up onomatopoeia and nothing really profound appears in the aftermath.

I am still living on an island.

I am still keeping track of how many more days must pass until I no longer have to wake up to a 5:30am alarm six days a week. (47 more days.)

I am still in love with horses and the sound of waves and the way the world smells just after it rains.

I am still vibrantly alive, more so than I ever dreamed was possible in the madness of the last few semesters of school.

It is funny, how coming to Mackinac where everything is slower has quickened my thirst for life.

Because everything is slower here.

The fastest you can go on the island is 50mph when you’re biking down the three steepest hills, and that’s against the law and so you have to risk a $100 ticket. The fastest you can legally go on the island is 25mph on your bike, and I don’t have a bike so for me it’s walking or horse-drawn carriage.

Horses don’t go too fast, especially around here.

So everything is slower on the island.

Time doesn’t move slower here, but it does seem to kind of get lost. Like, I intellectually know that it is July 10th and my summer is half gone. But it doesn’t feel like July to me. Heck, it doesn’t even feel like I exist in the same dimension as time belongs in.

Most days I have no idea what the date is or what day of the week it is, or even what time it is—short of hungry vs. not-so-hungry moments.

Life is blurry and drowsy and sometimes it’s disjointed around the edges. Life is horse kisses and horse manure and telling jokes about horse pee because it makes the tourists laugh and when they laugh they sometimes tip me. Life is good songs and songs that I’m sick of and hearing all my music so often that I despair and want to hurl my headphones across the lake.

Here on the island you can’t ever be more than four miles from anywhere else on the island.

I had a child ask on my tour the other day where my horse’s arms were. My roommate had someone ask her how much the island weighed and how many trees there are on the island.

You can never get more than four miles away from the questions here, from the entitlement of the rich and the young and the millennials, from the bikers who haven’t sat on a bike in years and years and years.

Life is compressed. It’s slow. It’s early mornings and it’s long days and it never sleeps.

And sometimes, life is worth it.

Sometimes life has Oscar.

Oscar is old.

He knows things. He’s seen things.

(Maybe numerically I’m older, but you know wisdom when you see it.)

Sometimes, in the morning, when I’m trying too hard to stay pleasant because the barn is chaos and my patience is thinnest when I’m tired, Oscar nuzzles my face and gazes at me with eyes so steady and deep and pure that I think maybe I’ve just caught a glimpse of what heaven might be like.

And then sometimes Oscar goes out in the corral and rolls in the mud until he’s no longer a white horse and I have to transform him back from the brown horse that he’s become, and then I think that there’s no heaven in Oscar at all.

There is pain in the world, and degradation, and inequality, and death. And it’s here, even on Mackinac, where life is so abundant and vibrant.

Life wends its way past death with the clatter of hooves and the cushion of obliviousness and the cheery smile of a tour guide.

I’m tired.

I miss church.

I miss friends and family so deeply that I can’t sleep without them walking through my dreams, but it’s wonderful because I wake with the echo of their hugs.

This summer has already been both fantastic and tragic, both giddy and despairing.

Over the next 47 days—days made edgeless by sleeplessness and routine—why should I expect any less tempestuous a ride?

When everything is disjointed, I am so glad to be held by the God who is the I Am.

– Melissa

Kumbaya by Rend Collective

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I’m Actually Covered in Horse Hair

There are three really big hills here on the island. There’s Turkey Hill, which we don’t take tour carriages up or down. There’s Mission Hill, which is off by the east bluffs and which I’ve only driven down once. And there’s Grand Hill, which goes up past the Grand Hotel and which we drive multiple times a day.

When we take our horses up Grand Hill with full carriages, we give them multiple breaks, just because the carriage is so heavy and because we want them to pace themselves. They are nowhere near overworked, but we’re still careful. (Actually, they just get diva treatment all the time and can I please have their job instead of mine because oh my goodness.)

I think that, more than learning how to give a tour of Mackinac or learning how to drive a carriage, this summer is going to be about learning to pace myself.

All this week I have been going full throttle, throwing myself into the work and finding a new task as soon as I finish whatever I’m doing. And I don’t regret it, because I’ve proved to my superiors and peers that I’m both dedicated and competent, and I’ve moved quickly through training and should be done sooner than later, but oh boy am I tired.

I didn’t even fully realize how exhausted I am until I was stripping harnesses off horses at the end of today and met eyes with a quiet old gelding.

Horses’ eyes are actually magical, and they can plumb the depths of your soul without even trying.

So when our gazes locked, suddenly the lack of sleep and the trying so hard and the lurking anxiety and everything else just washed over me and my whole being acknowledged my weariness and tears rushed to my eyes and all I could do was burrow my face in the horse’s neck and focus on keeping my breathing steady. Believe it or not, I’m not a fan of bursting into tears in the middle of a barn of people I’ve worked with for less than a week.

Horses got cared for and I clocked out with dry eyes, but as soon as I got back to my room, I just let myself fall onto my back on the floor and lay there as I felt the tears trickle down my cheek to my hairline.

I legitimately love my job. I love the horses and everything that caring for them entails. (Except maybe the getting hit with overspray during morning baths. Because that’s freaking cold.) I love the driving and how I’m learning to keep the carriage where I want it at the speed I want it. I love the tour and discovering all the fantastic history of this island. I love my roommates and how we laugh and commiserate and explore. And I love the lake and the trees and the wildflowers and the quaint little buildings that are older than I can quite comprehend.

But I am so tired.

Part of me feels weak for needing tomorrow off, even though the day was just assigned to me; I didn’t have to ask for it or whatever. I want to be able to work harder, longer, faster than expected, to keep pace with the people who’ve been doing this for years. I want my tour to be spectacular, my driving to be flawless, my harnessing to be seamless right now.

Like the team I drove yesterday, Elvis and Hogan, I want to throw myself into the weight of the load and just push it until my heart gives out and I fall over.

Being paced is hard. Pacing myself is proving even harder.

And yes, I have lost count of how many of my coworkers have told me to slow down, catch my breath, and take it easy this week. At one point, I got sent out to the wash rack to cool off because I looked so frazzled and overheated. Oops.

I’ve lost the concentration necessary to bring this to any cohesive conclusion, because it’s after 7pm and way too close to fall-into-bed time. So suffice it to say that my goal for tomorrow is to rest up, and my goal for my next week of work is to strike a balance between giving it my all and not overdoing it. Because if I hit this tired again and providence doesn’t provide a day off the next day, I’ll end up sobbing or sick or both. And everyone up here tells me that it’s next to impossible to get healthy again once you’re sick.

Also, if you need a summer job, check out openings on Mackinac. They’re still hiring at a lot of places, and the island is fantastic.

Sleep well, my people. I know I’m going to.

– Melissa

P.S. This week I’ve spent a lot of time meditating on the words to Whatever Comes by Rend Collective, and it’s been such an encouragement. Check it out here!

In Case My Horse is Using the Internet Again

Hey, Toby.

First off, I miss you. I know you can’t quite understand that concept, but I do.

I miss you when I wander barefoot out to the backyard and the only thing that gets between my toes is clean sand. It’s not that I like accidentally stepping in your messes, but…clean pens just are wrong somehow.

I miss you when I eat watermelon and I have to choose between throwing away the rind and risking making the dog sick. I miss the giggles I can’t contain when you are so excited for another bit of rind that you drool the last one all over me. You’re obnoxious and messy, and dang it I just hate throwing away watermelon rinds.

I miss you when the sunset catches my eye and my mind jumps to riding into the sunset with the man who’s still a dream, and I know that I want to be riding off into the sunset with you in the mean time. But I can’t do that because the pens are empty and the trashcan is full of rinds.

I drive past our old haunts and I want to take another ride before life moves me on forever.

We finished the pens.

Finally.

I know you won’t care, never did particularly care, but it’s something, you know? Something finished. Something that I poured time into and you tolerated. And it’s beautiful.

When we finished putting on the fresh coat of paint and I stepped back to take it in, all I could think of was that day when we were painting for the first time and Abbie grabbed my camera and took pictures of me cleaning the pen and it turned into us snuggling.

Attention hog.

I miss that.

I want to try to wrestle a hug from you, want to pointlessly beg you go let me take just one selfie of us. I want you to nearly push me into the feedbox because you’re starving and I’m not moving fast enough.

I want to run outside, because life is too hard but the stars are beacons of hope and your shoulder is strong enough to support me while I pour my heart out to the God who made both of us. How many nights have we spent like that? It’s so different at school and I just want you here because that’s us. Barefoot summer nights under the stars are us.

I just want you here.

I know that summer will end too soon and that we’ll be back at school together. I’ll be just down the road again.

But, Toby?

Summer isn’t the same without my best friend ignoring me from just across the paddock.

Lots of Love,
Your Person

My Mirror Horse

Yesterday was remarkable.

The projected high was 88°F, and while I don’t know what the actual high ended up being recorded as, I am quite sure that the weather didn’t get any warmer than predicted.

It was overcast and breezy and there were occasional outbreaks of what we water-deprived Californians exaggeratingly refer to as rain.

Basically, it was impossibly gorgeous for June 9th.

As if the weather weren’t enough of a blessing, I had the marvelous opportunity to take a trail ride with my best friend in the entire world. (No offense to you two-legged folks. You’re awesome and all, but you don’t live in my backyard.)

Toby (my horse) can be an idiot even on his best days, but on our ride he kept the idiocy to a minimum and was mostly willing to trust me when I assured him that that terrifying noise or smell or whatever wasn’t actually out to eat him.

The pigs we passed got him riled up. But really. They’re pigs and they smell weird and they’re mostly lacking fur. Who can blame him for being afraid of those alien creatures?

Any time I get to go for a ride, it truly blesses me.

Because in my horse I see an unpolished version of myself, the version that lacks the self-control and the verbal skills that have been so carefully engrained in me.

And let me tell you what: if you’ve never had to deal with the tainted mirror version of yourself, you are both lucky and seriously missing out.

It’s humbling.

And also quite frustrating.

Toby gets up in arms about every little thing. Literally.

  • Yesterday we were frightened of a passing car. (Little car. Like, not quite Mini Cooper, but close.)
  • We were afraid of pigs.
  • We were skittish because of the orchard we’d been riding alongside for the past ten minutes but that suddenly became scary.
  • We nearly ran into a tree because we were so busy eying the house and driveway beside us. (Those things are pure evil, folks.)
  • We pranced at the sound of somebody offloading feed sacks.
  • We shied away from the wall because it was reflecting back at us the sound of the dirt bikes we’d already gotten over.
  • We were afraid of the dirt bikes.
  • We were nervous about walking on the gravel because it sounds and feels weird.

Most of these items we encountered are items we encounter on most of our outings. The pigs were new, the dirt bikes are rare, and the only place we usually encounter the noise of feed sacks is at home when he’s getting fed. Aside from those three, though, all of this should have been pretty normal.

But, like I said, Toby’s all about the drama.

Fact is, so am I.

I am afraid of the dark, of spiders, of insects, of being alone, of being in large crowds, of talking to cashiers, of talking to strangers, of talking to people I know, of talking in general, of fire, of knives, of guns, of dangerous objects that aren’t fire or knives or guns, of loud noises, of heights, and of driving.

I get anxious on a daily basis about things that, especially when handled properly, are extremely unlikely to hurt me. I let the ‘what ifs’ of life take control of my emotions and send me spiraling to places I’d rather avoid.

It annoys me to death when Toby does it, and I can’t get inside his head and change anything. Why do I approach the same behavior within myself with such a ‘such is life; can’t change anything’ type of attitude?

Toby is also exceedingly lazy.

Yesterday was better, but most days it takes us three times as long to go the .3 miles to from my house to the end of the neighborhood as it does to ride .3 miles anywhere else. Why? Because Toby doesn’t want to leave the house. Because leaving means working. Because working is hard.

Any time we get to a turn that turns back toward the house, my usually docile, doesn’t-need-steering horse becomes a tough-mouthed mule who takes every bit of natural and artificial aid at my disposal to get to continue in a straight line. I mean, it’s preposterous. We’ve walked this trail a hundred times; you should know that we don’t turn back homewards at this junction.

I should know the same thing.

How many times has that sister pushed that button? How many times have I responded inappropriately and had to deal with the consequences? So why do I yell at her this time and next time and the next time?

Why don’t I realize that the reason I’m struggling with this math problem is because I inadequately completed the last one and because I still haven’t bothered to properly learn the formula?

These are the sorts of things that go through my head when I’m applying leg pressure and verbally correcting and using my reins in the not-proper-riding-technique ways they teach you not to use unless your horse is being an absolute idiot the way mine is.

Toby points out to me my vanity, my impatience, and my lack of pliability.

Toby reminds me, as I struggle to remain patient, how much patience God daily shows me.

Toby keeps me humble, which is a remarkable feat considering my unerring tendency to be completely full of myself.

As pessimistic as all that may sound, I ended yesterday with a sense of wonder and bliss at the incredible blessing and opportunity that I’ve been given in this inexplicable bond that Toby and I share.

I would not trade yesterday’s ride for anything.

Well, maybe for a chance to join Mary in sitting enraptured at Jesus’ feet, but nobody’s invented time machines yet, and I somehow suspect that I’ll get that opportunity in heaven anyway.

Also, if you’re now kind of wishing for the chance to have a horse point out all your failings, I’m giving riding lessons this summer.

Now I think I’m off to bed. Because sleep is almost as beautiful as my beautiful, beautiful horse.

– Melissa
Lamentations 3:22-23