Changes Great & Small

“Unless one says goodbye to what one loves, and unless one travels to completely new territories, one can expect merely a long wearing away of oneself and an eventual extinction.”  –JEAN DEBUFFET

Change is a scary thing — no question.  It can mean great gains. It can mean great loss. But not changing? Not growing? Even scarier. So…

Changes anyone?

On June 1st, I will leave SW Missouri and move to Houston, TX where ‘changing things up’ will come in the form of swapping my full-time teaching responsibilities for full-time writing. After years of teaching at Missouri State University, the time has come to embrace a bit of fear and ‘travel to new territories.’ I’ll still teach a few classes a year online for MSU. I enjoy nudging the next generation of creative talent too much to say goodbye completely, but the time has come to make some changes. To embrace other aspects of my life including writing, my marriage, and! Living in Houston will provide me with the opportunity to live in an international culture more in line with my New York state of mind.

farmFor the past seventeen years, I have squeezed as much experience out of farm life, teaching and parenthood as possible. For a NYC girl who then went on to spend years in Los Angeles, life in the MidWest has been a daily culture shock, but in between the wonderful and bleak, I’ve made exceptional friends and worked with extraordinary colleagues. Not all of those friends were two-legged, either. Our home has been blessed with a panoply of animal friends who — through their generosity of spirit and unconditional acceptance — taught us a great deal about the capacity to love.

While Houston was an active choice, oftentimes change is out of our control. It rips open our doors, punches us in the gut, and snatches away elements in our lives that gave us meaning. And while I recognize that life has a ‘funny’ way of forcing us forward, loss is never a form of change I do well with.

busterSadly, the other big change that has happened recently is having to say goodbye to my horse, Buster. At 24 years of age, Buster’s heart began to give out. My noble friend and longtime companion could barely walk, and while a dog or cat can continue for a while like that, it’s no life for a creature whose daily joy was derived from running like the wind across the pasture (with his miniature donkey pets in tow). Half Thoroughbred, half Quarter Horse, Buster was the king of our farm. Any animal or person who took up residence here was nuzzled in welcome. He loved everyone and everything — a genuine believer in interspecies love. Of course, he had his particular favorites. Any time the cows were in an adjacent pasture, we could always find Buster at the fence nuzzling a particular Black Angus cow with a #10 tag. Buster had a pet barn cat for many years as well — Daria — and to this day, I’m pretty certain that the cat believed she owned the horse not vice versa.

A few months after Daria showed up on our farm — pregnant and barely out of kitten-hood — she took up residency in the horse barn. The two were inseparable. Whenever I took Buster for a ride, Daria galloped close behind. If I took an afternoon to give Buster a bath, she would curl up by the wash bucket and mew occasional instructions. Trust me, it would take HOURS to bath Buster: At 16 1/2 hands, he weighed close to 1400 pounds. That’s a lot of horse!

I bring up Daria, because my fondest memory of my gentle giant of a horse is the day she gave birth. We had gone down to the pasture only to discover that Buster was inside the barn. I walked in and found him over by his hay manger, a wooden tray built into the wall. Inside the tray was Daria and five mewling newborns. Buster’s nose was barely inches away as he gazed on those little furballs.

I strode up beside him, petted his neck and asked, “So… What do you think, Buster?”

He lifted his head from the kittens, turned toward me and sighed, content. A moment later, I was forgotten as he returned his attention to his new room-mates.

Buster and Daria join our daughter on a picnic. Taken in 1999.

Those kittens were a change he embraced fully. As the weeks went on and they learned to walk, Buster would gently nudge their wobbly legs back under them. Eventually, they were given new homes with friends (and with us), but Daria stayed with Buster for many years, oftentimes curling up on top of him when they’d lay down to sleep.

I’ll miss them both and although they’ve passed away, the lessons learned from their friendship will stay with me a lifetime. Pluralism comes in many forms and while our country, and indeed our world, seem unable to understand the value of accepting and relishing diversity, the fact that a cat and a horse had no difficulty makes me all the sadder that this change — the loss of these noble animals — has occurred in my life, but…

“Forward, forward let us range,
Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.”