Thursday, August 16, 2007

Yeehaw!!!!!!!!! Part Deux

After dinner we played volleyball... in the very corral where you see me on the horse. My first night of being cell phone free was extremely anxiety provoking. It troubled me that I could be so dependant on an electronic convenience. I had a hard time putting my mind to rest about the calls I needed to have made and the ones I was expected to receive. Needless to say I slept not too well.

I awoke, however to the most breathtaking sunrise. Fresh, pink and serene. I felt my worries slip away.

The breakfast bell rang.... what is it about not being able to munch and getting meals only at meal times that makes you sooooo hungry. Josh, the charming cook, certainly fed us well. Every meal was delicious and the fact that one could get home style cooking without the work, just cinched this very agreeable deal.

After breakfast we all donned our riding gear and went for orientation. Imagine 98 degree weather, 7 very eager guests and one somewhat temperamental horse.... we "dudes" were exhausted after orientation alone. And then came the riding... and all worries melted away as you found yourself giving your undivided attention to your horse and your surroundings.

The trail rides were relaxing... Imagine letting your mind go free. One forgets that there is a world outside of the ranch. There is only you and that moment and that is all that matters. Of course after the trail ride came the cool down walk... where you walked your horse around the corral and back to the pasture! For those of you who have seen City Slickers.. (remember the bow-legged walk of Billy Crystal??? Well that is what many of us felt like!)
Now the stiffness was not too bad on me, (I am a yoga enthusiast... it helped) and the heat was forgotten in the shaded serenity during the trail rides... for me the troublesome issue was the hair. The freakin' horse hair..... Sunblock was a must, to prevent burn (and wrinkles!) and it acted like a glue for the horse hair. Every morning and afternoon I get all sun blocked up and every time when I groomed my horse the hair would go flying. Everywhere. It stuck to my arms and my face. A couple of times I even got it in my mouth! And was spitting around in a most unladylike manner!
And then Tonomae, my chestnut mare just loved to graze. The silly animal was capable of even more amazing feats of flexibility than my yogi self and could keep grazing while the rest of her body seemed to walk of without any use for her head.... of course eventually once or more than once to be precise the darn animal actually tripped and almost threw me. I am glad to report I survived with no bones broken... again good balance a la yoga!
Aside from the riding, other activities on the ranch included tubing down the French Broad river... (where my daughter demanded I find her a box turtle!I almost caught her one too only the things were very slippery and I landed in the water trying...) And white water rafting.
For evening entertainment, there was good old western style square dancing, line dancing and yes even clog dancing! And a Bluegrass band. On Bluegrass night, all the ladies ended up taking center stage and belting out melodies with aplomb. For those familiar with "Whose line is it anyway....?" Trust me we did one better. The ad libbing is what brought about the creation of the "Big Red Boots!" as I (with relish) gave my spin on the classic "Boots" sung by Nancy Sinatra... and improvised a parody of poor Shawn!
One of the other guests meanwhile sang Amazing Grace.... only instead of singing "that saved a "wretch" like me", she has apparently always been singing... "that saved a "wench!!!!" like me.... hee hee....
Our last morning at this incredibly beautiful, relaxing, and serene vacation destination.... we all planned a secret attack on the cell phone free facility. We set our phone alarms to go off synchronized a couple of minutes apart during our last meal there. When poor Shawn got up to the head of the table and rang his bell to deliver his fare thee well speech, the symphony started... much to his chagrin and surprise. It was a classic "well executed prank" moment.... the perfect backdrop for our return to our lives.
We all made great friends and had a spectacular time. To all you Dude Ranch folks... The Nancy Sinatra "Boots" is dedicated to US!
Do play it and enjoy... (Look on the right of the page)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Yeehaw!!!!!!!!! Part I

"French Broad Dude Ranch"!!! To start of, I was tickled to death by the name of the place.... I mean how many people do you know who can say "French broad dude ranch" with a straight face. The broad notwithstanding, the idea of it being a dude ranch* (see footnote) at the same time led my mile long imagination on a VERY wild goose chase. There are far too many connotations and double innuendos that can be derived here.

My friend IQ (who is another master at the double entendre, like myself) and I, could've had a field day with this one.... but I am getting away from the main point.

The ranch is named after the "French Broad" river in Tennessee, (as I later learned while driving that a way) and has nothing whatsoever to do with a wench of French origins who capers around a ranch with her dude....or dudes.... (and I put my vivid imaginings to rest!) Speaking of "wenches" remind me and I'll add something to that particular thread in a little bit....

Now those of you who have had the privilege (or not) of travelling with me know the way I pack. You know the term "travel light"..... well that one doesn't exist in my travel vocabulary! And I have tried... believe me I have! (Let me put it this way... if I had to attend a wedding while on a trip, I am prepared!) I have gone down from three suitcases to only two (for a four day trip....) What?? One suitcase is for my shoes.... I mean gimme a break. Sheesh! A girl and her heels belong together.

But getting back to the point. I dress, well..... dressy. I like to be what one would call put together, as opposed to thrown together. Which calls for outfits. I have casual outfits... work outfits.... formal outfits and even workout outfits... ( I know... I know.... I need help!) I have been called prissy, well dressed and chic by intervals. Needless to say I own only two pairs of flat shoes. One is my pair of Botticelli ballerina flats, which I got in NYC, and the other is my beige and gold sneakers. Which BTW are not really "work out in" or "go hiking in" sneakers.... but just "look the part in" casual sneakers.

So a ranch trip demanded a shopping trip. Horses and western style riding... (I learned English style) that meant riding boots (Western cowboy kind and not the long, sleek, show ring style used in English) and a cowboy hat (instead of the riding helmet I am more accustomed to) I got riding gloves regardless of the fussy English, froo froo connotations. I will not get my hands grimy, dang it. Besides I have sweaty palms.... so it helps the err... grip!

Anyway... once my gigantic suitcase was packed (I decided that two suitcases raise eyebrows so now I go with one. Okay, it's a huge one... but when my friends tease me I can at least say I only took one bag... er... suitcase... er...) my daughter and I were off.

Being directionally challenged, I use my GPS system. My first mental panic alarm went off right after I made a turn in the general direction of the ranch (with 240 miles of uneventful driving behind me) and my sexy voiced GPS informed me that I was "entering unverified territory... please proceed with extreme caution". Yikes! The dirt road that split into two now posed a very serious problem for me. I love water so I proceeded to go with the left one that ran alongside the river. I went about half a mile, driving into increasingly more wooded brush and stopped. Next panic moment. I am lost. This is a one lane road.... forget lane. This is a dirt path barely wide enough for my car! Not to worry... take a deep breath.... you may be headed right.... call the ranch and double check... And double yikes!! Zero cell phone signal! Okay. Bless my parents for their excellent driving instruction. I am an excellent driver. I maneuvered that long, winding, very narrow- with the river a short fall away on one side dirt road and proceeded down the other road. This looked somewhat less menacing. So I followed it up to these railroad tracks. The sign said. "Stop. Look both ways. If no train approaching, cross". Hmmm.... no gates or anything. Just "look both ways". I can do that I thought. I crossed and lo and behold! There was a gate (a few planks nailed together) with a sign... "Ranch opens at 3pm". It was 3:30pm. Good. I drove through. Now the road split into three. Oh dear. I drove up half a mile one way.... backed out.... then half a mile the other way..... backed out then half a mile up the third..... And everywhere there were horses. And cows. But I saw no humans! Thank God it's not dark I thought! I would really be in some deep doo doo then. I think I stopped by one of the cabins. I banged on the door for a while. No one. Okay panic now.

Determined, I asked my daughter to eenie meenie mynie moe the roads (it's actually quite scientific... you know, process of elimination and probability and hogwash). She picked one and I started to drive. Almost a mile... no one. And then thank God! I saw Nadre! The angel Nadre. A Turkish exchange student working there for the summer. I stopped the car and pounced on her and hugged her. "Help me!" ( I think she chuckled....) She pointed out and gave directions and told me it would require backing out the mile I had driven... and then take that road..... "Oh please don't leave us here alone!" I blurted out in my shrill panicked voice. "You have to come with us and show me where to go"... You must not leave me alone".... I had been driving and backing for a good 30 minutes now and was quite understandably panicked! Oh heck... I'll admit it! I am a city gal! Dear, sweet Nadre now chuckled openly and good naturedly hopped in the front seat, squeezed between my Perrier sparkling water and Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses, and my laptop briefcase. We made it to the ranch!

It was a breathtaking lodge. Like something out of a western movie. I was thrilled. After checking in and releasing my panic of getting lost by telling everyone I encountered about my harrowing experience of being "lost" I finally lugged my, yes "HUGE" suitcase up the beautifully authentic (but in this particularly 'heavy-lugging' moment not so charming anymore...) stairs and proceeded to my room. I opened the door and instantly fell in love with my living quarters for the next few days. The furnishings were tastefully spare. A set of bunk beds built into the wall to the left. A log framed king size bed. An old fashioned sewing machine.... (my grandmother owned one just like it!) and on the walls were horse collars, and several antler trophies. Both my daughter and I gave a squeal of delight. We sat back in our rocking chairs and for a moment just took it all in. Then we got into our boots and cowboy hats and went exploring.

There was a dining room with family style seating.... a game room and lounge upstairs, and a gift shop downstairs which served fresh made milkshakes! Next to that was the wild-west style saloon complete with the swinging doors! It had a bar, and beautiful fireplace. More games and upstairs was the hotel and more rooms. Next to the saloon, at the lodge, was the hot tub! Sigh...... I think I died and went to heaven. Beyond that was the swimming pool, hitching post, corrals, pastures and beautiful views! Oh and horses..... lots of beautiful horses. The lodge was made entirely of timber, very authentic and beautifully decorated in an old west meets southern living meets very authentic cowboy/resort/grandmas home/real life ranch kinda way.....

In the dining room were carrots to feed to the horses. That is what we did next. And in a true city people, fresh out in the woods, touristy, wearing the getup... cowboy hat included, kind of way I took pictures. I proceeded to take half a roll of film of the horses. Of the horses and the carrots. Of the carrots. Of the horses eating the carrots. Of the carrots on the ground and the horses eating them off the ground.... :P

In retrospect I realize that the other guests Terri and Jenna (Joe was in the room), who had arrived earlier than us just sat and watched, amused, from the pool. They had probably taken their pictures earlier.... ;)

After I finished unpacking, I saw Amy and the girls, also guests, but arrived a couple of days ago walk right past the horses and drag themselves upstairs without even glancing at them.... hmmmmm I wondered....

Next came Connie and Chelsea... They proceeded to flit from room to room (much like me earlier... :P) and then they went to the horses and took photos! :)

The dinner bell rang (yes they had a dinner bell!) Very excited we gathered in the dining room and chattered like magpies introducing ourselves and getting the names and faces to match much like a game of match the picture.... after several tries we had the names and the families, the people and the names belonged to, right. There were 10 of us altogether.

Aside from us guests, the ranch was home to Shawn and JoAnne Gannon (owners) Bob Gannon (dad to Shawn) the Wranglers: Andy, Paul, Ryan, Sarah, Ashley and Mayan, and an assortment of wait and housekeeping staff and cooks. Then there were several dogs, of whom Cubby Bear is the only one you need to remember as he will come into the story later...

After dinner was orientation. Shawn (owner of the big red boots... to come up a little later) rang his bell and proceeded to call out the rules.

1. Meals were served at mealtime. 8:00- Breakfast, 12:30- Lunch, 6:00 dinner. No exceptions! (you no make no get fed. and there be no food to be had. only apples and oranges, and the horses' carrots.) (me not kidding) (seriously)

2. Towels were not to be used to remove make-up, mascara, lipstick! Or to clean boots. For that purpose there was a "boot towel".

3. Be truthful about your riding capability.

4. No outside liquor allowed.

5. Plans for activities would be announced at meal times. It would be helpful to be present.

6. No cell phones allowed in the dining room, saloon, near horses, in the game rooms, in the hotel..... pretty much anywhere there were other guests. That is for those whose phones still worked. (Interesting FYI... every one's but mine worked. Hmmm.... Verizon, can you hear me now? may have something to it... I have At&T). If they rang at these locations they would be confiscated (seriously) for the duration of the stay!

(Stay tuned for part II...)

Footnotes :

*dude ranch- The concept of a "dude ranch" is that it allows city folk or folk from the East (know in the west as, you got it "dudes"! a chance to experience life in the wild, wild west in a not so wild environment. It grew in popularity after WWI, and after Western movies romanticized the concept of ranch life. Several ranches have recovered from financial trouble by taking in paying guests and others have sprung up just as vacation destinations. Dude ranches give to their "dude" city/Eastern visitors a flavor of cowboy life as a paying guest.... Most of the time students work on these ranches as wranglers, wait staff, housekeepers etc.

Saturday, August 4, 2007


I said, "don't call."
He said, "okay."
He held my hand the whole drive through...
I said, "goodbye."
He said, "you too."
I could not look away...
I could not leave without saying, "I love you."
I did.
He said, "I love you too."
But he would not ask me to stay...
He did not stop me,
He did not call out,
He let me walk away...

Life happens...

Life happens. Like a gust of wind it sometimes swoops down, unannounced and takes you by surprise. Love, loss, heartache, pain, happiness, suffering, highs, lows...... thy name is life.

It cannot be tamed, it cannot be controlled, some believe it has to be endured. But the art... the art of life, is living it. To simply be.

We all have a fair share of life, in all its flavors. Love, loss, happiness and suffering all are old friends. In elaborate performances we have tangoed away loss. In great depth have we commiserated with suffering. Like bubbles in air, we are enchanted by happiness. And such is the thing called life.

In my years, I have by turns battled, endured, shied away from and turned my back on life. It was exhausting. I was bruised and baffled. Defeated and brought down to my knees. And then one day as I sat outside and gazed at the trees I understood. I watched the branches simply swaying in the breeze. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and exhaled slowly. And just sat there. That was when I learned the art of living...

Like the wind passing through the trees, does life happen our way. Like the branches gently swaying along with the wind, should we just "be". If a branch were brittle and did not bend and did not sway, it simply snapped off in the wind. To fight life is futile. To shake one's fist at it is vain...

Life has to be accepted. Life has to be understood. Life has to simply be lived. It is not the enemy. It is not a friend. It is unexpected, it is magnificent. It is simply.... life.

Being no exception, I have blundered and made mistakes. I have jumped high, and reached for the sky. I have fallen, been beaten to the ground. I have won and I have lost. I have seen glimpses of heaven and once I even stood at the brink of my own hell and looked down into the maw that sought to engulf me.

Some days, like a sailor lost at sea, the winds of life have torn at me so that I hold on to my sanity by a bare thread. Some days life overwhelms me with a bounty I feel is more than my share.

I have sought to learn from my mistakes. I have made choices knowing the price that I pay. I have vices that I enjoy. I have regrets. I am imperfect. I am happy. I choose not to settle for less. I forget. I am vain. I choose to be selfish. I do good. I live life on my terms....

And then there are days.....
And yet there are days......

When life just happens. And then I sit down. I take a deep breath. I close my eyes. I exhale. I see the trees and how they sway gently in the breeze.....

Those are the days when all I can do..... is just Be.