Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Campnesia Excerpt: Join-Up & Cross Country


Today I thought I'd post an excerpt from the book I am working on about all my camp experiences. Each short story starts with a confession. Today's two confessions are from a horse camp I started going to at eleven-years-old called Dreamcatcher Ranch. Enjoy! 

Confession #8: I’m a horse whisperer now because of camp. 

If you’re a Robert Redford fan you’ve probably seen The Horse Whisperer. If not, no worries, I’ll sum it up for you: it’s a film about a teen girl and her horse who get into a traumatic accident, in desperate need of healing her mother drives the two out hundreds of miles away from their home in order to receive help from a unique horse trainer name Tom Booker played by the one and only Robert Redford. Now Tom is based off of an actual horse whisperer named Monty Roberts. Monty came up with this technique called join-up. Join-up is a great bonding exercise to do with a horse you are either familiar or not familiar with. All it involves is a round pen and a lunge line.

Join-up was something we learned on the second day of camp. On that first morning after the horses were fed and after we ate breakfast, we’d all gather into the garage—which was set up more like a room with rugs, two couches, a television, a table for arts and crafts, etc—and look to the whiteboard Carol scribbled on each morning, listing which horse we’d be paired up with that day. Before gearing up to catch our horses we watched a film on join-up, learning its purpose as well as how to do it. 
After spending years as a young boy in Nevada studying herds of wild mustangs Monty Roberts noted how horses communicated with one another non-verbally and incorporated what he learned into a non-violent training method rather than sticking to the traditional “breaking” of new horses. This method involved entering the center of a round pen with a horse that usually stood at the edge. There gripping the lunge line in both hands you would then push the horse out to the edge of the pen, asking the horse to either trot or canter around the arena by lifting your arms up much like a predator would. With a swinging motion of the arm parallel to the horse’s rump you are to urge the horse forward around the circular arena. You also change the horse’s direction a couple of times, by stepping in front of the horse and raising the arm that is parallel to the horse’s head. This non-verbal cue will send the horse in the opposite direction. Through this body-language you are asking the horse, “Will you flee or will you join-up with me?” 

Here I am at eleven-years-old doing join-up for the first time. (I guess I didn't need to the lunge line.)
Now as you are doing this, you are looking for three specific verbal cues that essentially mean that this horse wants to join-up with you. 
An ear will flick toward you.
They will begin licking and chewing. 
And lastly, their head will lower.
Once this happens, you are to stop, turn away from the horse, and drop your lunge line to the dirt. This is the moment when the horse hopefully walks up to you and smells your shoulder.

Once you feel the horse’s soft muzzle against your shoulder and their hot breath breathing into your shirt, you slowly turn around and without looking the horse in the eye you begin rubbing his face, feel his ears, slowly move down his neck, glide your hands over his back and belly and rump to prove that you are safe since these are usually the vulnerable areas where predators will attack, and then lastly, you lift each foot up as if you were going to pick the dirt out of them.

After this is done, step in front of the horse and slowly begin walking around the arena, if the horse has truly chosen to join-up with you he or she will follow you around the arena. It’s truly a magical experience. 
Kinetic decided to follow me outside the round-pen too. As you can see I am taking this very seriously. 
I learned how to do this at eleven-years-old. What a gift I got, learning how to truly listen to horses by watching their non-verbal cues in order to partner up with them. This wasn’t just a lesson on how to be a better equestrian, but also on how to be a better human being. The world could use more listeners. 
Confession #9: I’m an adrenaline junkie.  

If you aren’t familiar with the equestrian world you probably associate the term cross country with running, which actually makes it easier for me to explain cross country jumping. Running on a track is to jumping in an arena as cross country running is to cross country jumping. It’s the only sport I competed in as a child that my mom refused to watch and I honestly don’t blame her; riding is dangerous. Take Superman actor Christopher Reeve for example: on May 27, 1995 his horse refused a cross country jump which sent Reeve flying headfirst into the fence, shattering his first and second vertebra, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down and wearing a breathing tube for the rest of his life. See that’s the scary thing about riding cross country because the jumps, unlike the ones in the arena, don’t budge.

That’s why in the Olympics you’ll often see a horse slathered in what looks like sweat, but it’s actually grease, that way in case the horse happens to not lift their legs up high enough they have a better shot at sliding over the fence rather than crashing into it.
See how this horse's legs are greased up.

When it goes terribly wrong.
As a kid, though, you don’t think, I could potentially fall, hurt myself, and never be able to use my arms and/or my legs again. I mean, maybe some kids did, but I certainly didn’t think that way. Instead, I thought, Wow, that’s a huge jump! Bring it on! According to my mother, I started walking at nine months and shortly afterwards climbed all sorts of dangerous things. Before hitting one-year-old I was already a little adrenaline junkie.  

At Dreamcatcher Ranch, we learned the entire cross country course over a couple of days with Carol watching and critiquing our every move. She led us around the course via golf-cart, which was pretty cool actually.  First we start in the shade, down by the round pen where join-up takes place; it’s here where we jump over a rising oxer composed of fallen trees and from there up to the arena. You jump into the arena and out of the arena. Then you jump all sorts of things: wine barrels, car tires strung on a poll, antic fences, a gully, miniature red barns, etc.
Here I am at eleven-years-old riding the cross country course for the first time. 
Favorite picture. First jump on the course. I think I was 13-years-old here. Horse's name: Kinetic.
Second favorite picture. Aren't these jumps cute? Horse's name: Jubilee. 
Then comes that magical day when you get to ride the entire course by yourself. So here’s how it goes. Everyone gathers into the arena to warm up their horse with a couple of small exercises and then exit the arena one by one to start the course. 
When riding cross country you must wear a safety vest to protect your chest, spine, and tail-bone in case you fall off. In addition to this, a walkie-talkie is fastened to your saddle? Why? Excellent question. Carol had us wear a walkie-talkie on our saddle during riding lessons so that she didn’t have to yell, otherwise she’d probably lose her voice halfway through the summer. On cross country course day, the walkie-talkie was used as a count-down so that you’d know when to start your course. 
Oh man, there is nothing quite like that first ride. You’re riding this eleven-hundred pound animal who is just as excited about the course as you are. Vibrating up your calves you feel his heart-beat. One of his ears flicks briefly in your direction, wondering why you haven’t given him the cue to start yet, so you pat him gently on the shoulder and whisper, Hang on. We have to wait buddy. Then Carol’s voice comes over the walk-talkie as she begins the countdown. Ten…nine…eight…seven…six… He hears the numbers and he knows, gripping the reins and sitting back in your seat a little bit, you remind him that he has to wait until they say, “Have a nice ride!” Five…four…three…two…one…Have a nice ride! You extend your hands forward meaning Ok let’s do this! and he’s off flying.
Jubilee and I jumping out of the arena. 
Look at that determination on both of our faces!
Sorry for the obnoxious high contrast on this photo. 
Suddenly Eye of the Tiger plays in your mind as you gallop up to the first jump, the pacing is on point, everything flows perfectly as you sail over each jump. With no one critiquing your every move you are both more cautious than you’ve ever been before and yet freer at the same time. There’s a rhythm and a balance to your horse’s hooves pounding the earth and the little snorts coming from his nostrils. The sun is warm over your body, the wind refreshing against your face, and when your horse’s feet launch from the ground for a second you forget about reality—you forget about all the hard stuff in life: your parent’s divorce, moving to a new school, the death of a beloved pet, etc—and for a moment you feel as though you are flying and that anything is possible. You feel invincible like life has never been this good before.

I guess that’s why they call it “Getting high off of life.” I’m so blessed to have had that experience at least once because the thing is I’m not invincible, whether I like it or not I have to play by the rules of reality, but it was nice to pretend. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Southern California


As most of you already know by now I am currently living in Southern California--Orange County to be more specific--for an internship through UC Irvine, volunteering with the 90+ Study, researching Alzheimer's Disease. Learning lots and enjoying this adventure I'm on. Just wanted to update you on all the things I'm doing here. 
  1. I pump my own gas now. Also, I love driving down here (when there isn't traffic that is) because I get to go fast--I have to drive 80 to keep up with everyone and people still zip past me at insane speeds--almost feels like real life Mario Kart.
    (Confession: I prefer pumping my own gas.)
  2. I intern at the Clinic of Aging Research and Education in Laguna Woods with Maria Corrada and neurologist Claudia Kawas, who are both incredibly intelligent and kind. I love asking them questions about the brain.

    My internship involves driving to different homes and delivering both oxygen and blood pressure monitors for the participants to wear overnight, which I then pick up the following day and then log into the tracking system on the computer. I love my internship because it slows me down and makes me look at life's big picture. Last week I met a 98-year-old woman who has really lived life to the fullest. She has traveled all over the world and at 91-years-old she quit skiing because she broke her collarbone. We discussed her backpacking trips in Nepal, her Red Cross days in Northern Africa, and her favorite spot in the world Lake Geneva. I told her about when I studied abroad in Florence and how I had bed bugs in my hostel in Rome. She laughed and we had a great afternoon. She reminded me that life is truly about deep relationships, adventures, and laughs. So grateful!

    On Tuesdays at the clinic we gather in the conference room and discuss patients who have passed away, trying to figure out if they had dementia and if so what kind, possible reasons as to why, and try to determine when the onset was. We watch tapes of the person, look at their medical reports, and neuropsych tests. I learn so much from these meetings. At the end we guess the brain weight (average brain weight is 1400 grams), plaques/tangles, APOE, etc. A couple of weeks ago based on the patient's behavior, I guessed that their brain weight was 950 grams. It was 970! I can't tell you how excited I was about that!

  3. Another fun part about my job is working in UC Irvine's Neuroscience Lab in the tissue repository. On September 28th I wrote this Facebook post: 

    Holy smokes people! Today was phenomenal and here's why. I went into the lab, expecting to file away brain slides, which is pretty boring, but instead I got to help out with something exponentially cooler. Ryan, one of the people I work with in the lab at UC Irvine, is on call for when someone dies. His job involves getting transportation for the body, removing the brain, and then dividing the brain up into different slices and putting some of those slices on slides and then into the freezer. Well today he had a case and asked if I wanted to hang around and watch. I was like: OF COURSE! I quickly put on some gloves and a lab coat. Ryan took the brain out, we weighed it, and then began separating it. He explained everything step by step and even asked me if I knew what the meninges were for as he cut a sample of it off. I told him yes and then went on to explain, "It's a protective layer, covering the brain. There's three layers the Dura mater, arachnoid, and Pia mater." He was impressed! And then he let me hold the brain. When it's freshly removed it feels like jello. I had all this cerebral spinal fluid on my gloves, but it didn't gross me out. Ryan sliced the sections up and then I put the pieces on slides and placed slides on dry ice, so they could freeze. It was so AWESOME! I wanted everyone to know how perfect my morning was. I was dying for the Trader Joes cashier to ask me how my day was so I could tell him all about the brain!

    Now, after this incredible experience I think I'd like to pursue neuropathology as a career.
    Neuropathology is the study of disease of nervous system tissue, usually in the form of either small surgical biopsies or whole autopsies. Neuropathology is a subspecialty of anatomic pathology, neurology, and neurosurgery. I still need to take some biology and chemistry classes to get into grad school at either UC Irvine or USC, so I will be starting classes at Santiago Canyon College in January.

    Love this campus!

    Here's where the brain gets sliced!

    My awkward-hope-no-one-sees-me-taking-a-selfie selfie. Worked in UC Irvine's neuroscience lab today filing brain slides. It was so much fun! Mostly because I got to see a freshly extracted brain today and I was singing along to Britney Spears songs on Spotify they had playing when I arrived.

  4. Since my internship is unpaid I decided to get a job at Disneyland where I will be a hostess at a restaurant in California Adventure. Not sure which restaurant yet, but I start this Friday and I'm so excited! I like that's its completely different from my other job. I think that will keep me from ever getting bored and will be a good balance.

  5. I've also went sailing in San Diego with my aunt and uncle.

    (Don't let this picture fool you because I actually got really seasick and threw up about four times.)
  6. I've also found an awesome church to attend called Rock Harbor in Costa Mesa. I love it there!

  7. I also swim just about every day here.
    Here are some things I've written about the pool on Facebook.

    As someone who suffers from chronic back pain swimming is critical to my health. I'm limited to what I can do physically, but I CAN swim and for this I'm eternally grateful. The pool is my freedom from pain. Every time I jump in I deeply appreciate this freedom, smiling as I move through the refreshingly cool water pain-free. Swimming serves as a reminder of how lucky I am. I might not be able do the things I desperately want to do anymore like ride horses or rock climb or go on intense backpacking trips, but I do have this. I am truly blessed.


    I am admittedly a very sensitive person. Drives me crazy! Mainly because I tear up at incredibly stupid commercials, but I've also been known to take people's pain on too easily. With all that's going on in the world--mass shootings, hospital bombings, Syrian refugees struggling to find a better life for their children--I find myself subconsciously sad. And I hadn't been aware of this until I went swimming this afternoon and watched a mother and her two young children playing in the water together. Normally when I see a family at the pool the parent is either A.) on the phone, disengaged or B.) yelling/speaking harshly to their children. But this mother was beyond wonderful, she played with her kids, hugged and twirled both of them around in her arms, telling them how much she loved them. Even when they were being rowdy she spoke gently to them and had patience. When she was out of the water she was still engaged with them, applauding the two for their great jumps and dives into the pool. She read a book, but she was still very aware what was going on. Her daughter climbed out of the pool, ran up to her, gave her a kiss on the cheek, and then leaped back into the water. Oh gosh people, I'm ridiculous because I nearly started bawling. Just watching how much that family loved each other and how kind they were to one another melted my heart. Compelled, I went up to the mom and said, "You are a great mom! You were so intentional with them and engaged and I feel like that's rare, so thank you. It really warmed my heart." She told me, "Well, thank you. I certainly try. Have a nice day!" Kindness goes a long ways, not only to the people you are kind too, but to the people who see your kindness. That mother's kindness was not only a gift to her children, but a gift to me too today. It lifted my spirits and gave me faith in humanity!
  8. The reason I haven't blogged in a while--both on this blog and The Be Ok Blog--is because I am currently working on a book about all of my camp experiences from camper to counselor. At this point, I've written 26,000 words and it's going great. The few people I've allowed to read it so have loved it. My plan is to finish it by the end of this year and start sending it to literary agents who I've already researched. I've already published a short story in it on my blog called The Ouija Board that you can read. Also the Be Ok Blog is currently being put on hold right now until Delaney gets back from her mission. Squarespace requires that I pay $95.00 to keep it going another year and I just can't afford that right now. It saddens me that I have to let go of it for now, but I know it's for the best because it was stressing me out too much. So, that's why you may not find the website right now. I apologize for this.

    I can't wait for people to read this book I'm writing because I have some crazy camp stories. 
  9. And on the weekends I've been incredibly fortunate to visit friends and family in both Oregon and Montana.
    Portland, Oregon. I hung out with eleven friends that day. I'm laughing here because I spent too much on stiff tofu. Haha!
Checking out my brother's new work as a commercial producer in Helena, Montana. So proud of him!  
Hiked Mount Helena. Super steep, but great view!
Visited the Cathedral of Saint Helena. Absolutely beautiful inside & out!
Well like I said life is great and I'm enjoying this adventure! Hope you are doing well too.