Equine therapy…

There’s something therapeutic about being in the company of a horse. They listen without judgement to words left unspoken.

Anxiety has become a copilot for many, so heading into the holiday season, I wanted to share a technique that I learned for grounding. It utilizes the senses and can be done anywhere, at any time. A panic attack can feel quite debilitating, but this exercise might help to quell the clanging of that alarm bell.

Panic attacks can be triggered by a multitude of events—a smell, words, a loud noise, something you see, or stress, to name a few. Knowing what those triggers are for you can sometimes take away that element of surprise.

The 54321 method of grounding walks you through the five senses. Begin by taking some deep breaths and focusing on your environment. For this example, I’ll use a barn. Take time to really notice your choices, don’t make this exercise a rapid-fire checklist. In your mind, mentally squeeze every last detail out of your selections.

Five Things I See: steam rising as sunlight hits weathered wood, symmetrical stacking of bales of hay, a worn leather saddle, a chestnut horse, grooming tools

Four Things I Can Touch: the metal clasp on the stall door, the satin coat of the chestnut gelding, the coarse strands of hair making up his mane, the softness of his muzzle as he snuffles a treat from my hand

Three Things I Can Hear: a radio softly playing a country song, a puff of breath from the gelding’s nostrils, the swish of a tail

Two Things I Can Smell: clover scent of fresh hay, earthy smell of manure

One Thing I Can Taste: lingering taste of my morning coffee

Don’t let the holidays become a source of stress. Focus on the people who matter most to you and if you get overwhelmed, breathe, and take a few minutes to ground yourself.

Series on Tracking and Sign…

Mountain Lion

I’ve had a love of tracking ever since being introduced to it during my years doing Search and Rescue. In those days, we were largely looking for human sign to get a sense of direction or perhaps a location to start a dog.

These days the tracks I look for are of animals, and often I’m just as excited to find an indication that an animal has passed by as I am to see the animal itself. The mountain lion above was photographed in captivity, I have yet to see one in its natural habitat. It’s one of the animals that I am content to see only the tracks of! These powerful predators are the fourth largest of the cat species and can take down moose, elk, bighorn sheep and other large prey. While in their territory you’d be well-advised to look up as they are known to ambush.

My husband and I have found fresh tracks of the mountain lion on at least two occasions and spotting them never fails to send that little shiver of excitement through me.

The cat track above was located in a creek bed alongside those of a grizzly. The area had dense brush on both sides, and we left shortly after photographing them.

Tracks are but one indication that an animal has passed by. In future posts I’ll share some other signs.

Life in color…

We got up early and drove in darkness to catch this brief moment of light and color in the mountains. We don’t mind the drives—they’re a perfect combination of companionship and conversation without interruptions from phones.

It’s been the most beautiful of Octobers. Cool mornings, warm days, and many opportunities to view the colors of fall. For once, the winds haven’t snatched the leaves from the trees.

This particular place is one I’ve photographed before and hiked through the trees in the background. The mornings when the water is burnished in copper by the mountain’s alpenglow are special though. It doesn’t happen all the time.

And that beautiful red bush on the beaver lodge! How perfect…

Fall colors…

I wasn’t the only one enjoying the fall colors! This is bear #10 for the season. As always, shot with a telephoto from the safety of the vehicle then cropped. This guy was stuffing himself with snowberries and though he was well aware of our presence, he seemed satisfied that we meant him no harm. I feel privileged every time I get to see one of these in the wild.

Courts and kokanee…

I recently spent several hours in a courthouse observing Family Law cases being ruled upon. You might call it research for my current novel.

Relationships fall apart and divorces, especially the contested ones, are emotionally, physically, and financially draining. What I found interesting to observe was the dynamics between the couples who were all visibly male and female couples or at least appeared so in the cases of ones joining by webex. What struck me about the cases being heard was the volume of men present to fight for more time with their children, and in one case, to have his name listed on the child’s birth certificate as the father.

Men have virtually no rights to their unborn children, and there remains a heavy bias when it comes to custody—80% in favor of the mother vs 7% to the father. Shocking statistics when one considers what’s at stake is the best interests of the child. All men are not violent and abusive and all women aren’t nurturing care-givers. I was pleased to see that in one case, custody remained with the father and support payments made to the mother were ruled to be returned to him, and he was to receive child support going forward.

The judge was compassionate but not swayed by drama and unsubstantiated allegations. Like a captain steering a vessel, she gently guided each conversation back to the law being applied and then made decisive rulings.

I was encouraged by her decisions and left with the feeling that perhaps men will be heard and maybe given time, be considered more than just wallets when it comes to family.

The image above is one of kokanee spawning. In their life cycle, after 3-4 years have passed, the fish turn bright red and travel upstream, the females to lay eggs and the males to fertilize those eggs. It isn’t peaceful. The males fight for dominance and the females fight to keep their nests, called redds, safe. They linger and die there. The males too.

Not that different, humans and animals.

Remembering 9/11…

Recently I was asked to describe some defining moments from my life. (Before you read on I’m curious if, when you think back, your defining moments are happy, sad, frightening or?)

For me I found that happy moments were not what came to mind.

Although the year changes, I never forget this date. September 11, 2001 reinforced the idea that things can change in an instant.

I was standing in line at a coffee shop waiting to pick up some bagels to take to a friend who was ill, when images began to fill the screen of the wall mounted tv. The sound was off and I thought, like those around me, that a movie was being shown.

The chatter from other patrons soon died and we watched in horror as footage of planes crashing into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York played out on the screen.

My phone immediately began ringing and the next few hours were consumed with phone calls, primarily from team members of the Search and Rescue team I belonged to.

At the time I was living in Florida and handling a bloodhound, a scent specific dog utilized when we needed to find one particular person, but the events of 9/11 called for the usage of dogs trained to search for anything living in collapsed structures.

Several of our team members who trained such dogs were deployed to New York with FEMA Task Force II to be a part of the search.

A defining moment as vivid today as it was twenty-one years ago. That day brought home awareness that the world can change in an instant. Many lives were lost in the attacks and more through the years as a result of the attacks. That day changed me in ways I’m only beginning to understand.

My bloodhound has been gone for many years, the hound in the image above was one that I had the good fortune to photograph one cold winter morning.

Sky pools…

Cumulous clouds reflected onto a wavy lake, both simple and complex at the same time. I like to think of optics as moveable art. There’s something meditative about observing how light interacts with the environment. It dances on the surface interacting with the objects found above and below it—never duplicating, always changing.

Versions…

I read something interesting the other day. It was a conversation about how many different versions exist of the same person.

We form opinions about people we encounter based on our interactions with them—sometimes good, sometimes bad—but likely different from someone else’s opinion of that same person. Today as a result of social media there’s an additional dynamic of having a friend that you may have never met in person, yet you’re comfortable engaging with the screen version of them.

How do you decide which version of them is the true one?

It’s pretty simple. If you’re searching for the real person their actions and patterns need to match their words. What’s the history look like?

Pay close attention to red flags. Victim patterns like the plucky little thing tryin’ to get by but somehow always ending up as the victim. Does the world owe them everything just for existing? Are you their servant? Do they isolate you from your friends and family? Do their stories stay consistent or do they change when they’re caught in a lie? Are they capable of empathy?

So what do you do if you see this kind of history? Run. Run as if your life depends on it. Because it might.

Predators are chameleons skilled at finding and exploiting weaknesses. At first they will be whatever they think you want or need them to be. Don’t be fooled into thinking someone is the version they’ve presented you with unless their actions and patterns match.

I’m presenting the version of the above photograph to you as a coneflower.

Is it a coneflower?

I guess you’ll have to decide.

An excerpt…

“How pretty,” Annie said, gazing at the patterns drawn upon the leaf. A slight breeze wove its way through the forest—the clattering of the leaves signaling its arrival.

He loved that about her. That she was always able to find beauty in unusual places and circumstances. He considered telling her the lines were created by insect maggots crawling through the leaves while eating the tissue but, she looked frail, and he hadn’t seen her face light up that way in a very long time. Slipping his phone from his pocket he stole a quick shot of her as she leaned in to have a closer look.

Humans and insects. They aren’t all that different. Some leave the results of their handiwork in full view while others, the worse ones, make sure the damage can’t be seen from the outside. Garrett’s eyes darkened as his thoughts turned to Leah.