Say hello to Bruce. He is the spokesmodel for The 2018 Long Ears Tour, an unexpected title bestowed on my last stop in England. My head was still spinning but a tourist usually stands around blinking, almost always the last one to figure anything out. Best to celebrate awkwardness, I think. Thank you, Bruce. Very handsome.
It’s my new hobby; I’m a tourist. That means among other things, I hold out my hand and ask shopkeepers to pick out the money they want. It’s tourist math, I smile and say thank you. And this thing called jet lag; depending on direction, shouldn’t it be called jet spurt? Any other reason for me being bright-eyed alert at 2am?
My real job is being a clinician; I arrive at a horse facility where a group of horses and riders are organized for two or three days of equine education and sharing. Sometimes people are a little starry-eyed about me, but I am ridiculously un-cool, especially about my new-found crush on UK ponies.
I caught an airplane cold on the way over. At one clinic I discretely (I thought) moved my microphone to the side to blow my nose, but instead managed to alarm one of the dozing auditors. Another yelled, “Good one!” I’m surprised that someone hasn’t called it The 2018 Phlegm Tour.
For me, a clinic it feels a bit like being the perennial new kid in class. I’m slow at learning participant names, a bit quicker with horse names. The nametags usually stay on until mid-morning the first day, after that, I guess. Everyone is passionate about horses, and it’s a clinician’s job to stir that up a bit. Days run long. We barely catch our breath. Horses lift us up, surprise us, and manage to teach us just what they need us to know. I love this work. I might have been born for it.
It was a great group at Market Rasen. Everyone was funny and kind and really cared about horses. People took care of each other and I so wanted to show my gratitude. Participants had been quick to get me tea, so I made a pot and brought it to the group table. I hoped I got it right when I asked, “Shall I be mother?” It isn’t like I haven’t watched Masterpiece Theatre all these years. I poured tea. Bad tea. It was so pale that milk would have made it darker. Tourist tea.
By Sunday night, it’s time to wrap up the clinic. It’s always similar. We go around the group and people share their feelings. I’m always surprised by what comes up. We’re vulnerable after two days with hoof-prints on our hearts. I feel my throat tighten giving my parting thoughts. I care about these horses, they’ll stay in my mind forever. I’ve fallen in love with their people, too. Riders who try every day to do their very best, as a way of thanking their horses for the privilege of their company. We are the lucky ones. Horses have made us a herd.
It never gets old or easy or simple. As the journey to the next clinic begins, I leave part of me behind. This gypsy lifestyle exacts a cost, but if it doesn’t hurt a little as the clinic ends, then you aren’t doing it right.
I travel on, delighted with the best view, the rural part of a country where horses live. I know I gush on about how beautiful each country is, and England is no different. Words would only minimize the view. We’re blessed with a magical planet. I wish we’d stay fresh to that fact.
Getting from one clinic to the next is a creative endeavor because I don’t want a rental car. I fear that I’ll make news for scaring pedestrians rather than breathing with horses, but does one sound less disconcerting than the other?
Traveling by train is comfortable and it suits my English literature fantasies, skimming across the land that my favorite authors immortalized. I toss my 44-pound suitcase on board like a bale of hay. It announces me: Tourist! As if the Crocs aren’t a dead giveaway.
Sometimes, I leapfrog along to the next stop hitching rides with horsewomen. We talk into the night, learning how alike we are. One stop, I got to meet a lovely pack of Siberian Huskies, over two dozen in a large enclosure. They whispered a soft-mumble howl like a cool breeze. A family pack that lives naturally, they reminded me of the Przewalski’s horse herd in Scotland. Wild among us.
I write, especially when I travel. Words are my companions, experiences become real only when my words meet the images in my mind. But then they surprise me. Maybe I write a simple declarative sentence, something like I’ve completed the UK clinics and am spending a couple of days editing my next book in Dorset. And I pause, as the words mock me, “Are you kidding? Really, who are you and what have you done with that horse-crazy gray mare?”
On a rest day, I’m a tourist version of Christopher Columbus. In the wake of my totally-amazing discovery of kangaroos in Australia and castles in Scotland, I would like to announce my equally totally-amazing discovery of cathedrals in England! The one in the photo (above) is a thousand years (that’s one, comma, and three zeros) old, Wimborne Minster. It stands witness to history, outside the window, just on the other side of my cream tea. Keen eyes will note that I’ve desecrated my scone by putting jam onto the cream, seriously flattening it. Sigh. Tourist.
Big news! I’m also the tourist version of Margaret Mead, fancying myself an anthropologist with my totally-amazing cathedral/barn discovery. Cathedrals all have the same floor plan; they are a cross-shape flat to the ground. Not the best use of space inside perhaps, but the symbolism works. The ceilings are incredible interlocking domes but look with I found! It’s a farm shed, a cross-shape to the ground, and okay, the ceiling is a bit more rustic and the photo is from a different angle, but really. There it is, a dome. It’s the missing link between churches and barns! I’ve always known them both as sacred spaces, but here’s proof. You’re welcome.
Finally, an apology for a previous mistake, a poor word-choice correction. It seems I’ve alerted the world that I don’t like hugs. Apparently, I’ve said it more than once, but I misspoke. This mistake was made obvious to me at every clinic. Oh my, so sorry. I think what I meant to say in the beginning was I don’t like being grabbed by strangers. I never meant to make you feel awkward, too. But meeting so many good people has turned me around. Now I find myself blurting out, in fine bluntness, “I’ll need a hug from you!”
A great, noisy, tourist-sized thank-you to the clinic organizers, volunteer drivers, participants, new friends, and most of all, the incredible horses who always find something to teach me. I am so grateful. And please know that a little bit of you came home to Colorado with me, too.