Time spent with Sibyl

(Courtesy lottongallery.com)

(Courtesy lottongallery.com)

His home was on the water.

The water was a noisy neighbor. Constantly thrashing, gurgling and slamming as it hurried along toward the sea. It was rude and pushy because it had to be. Sometimes his neighbor would break into his house in a drunken stupor and tear his furniture apart. Chairs would be flung. Paintings ripped and torn. The walls would be stained.

And then the apology would come. The sun would come out and the birds would sing songs of riveting remorse. She would sing, too. She would sing in a voice sweeter than Orpheus.

His body would shake. He was bitter and distraught. Despondent. And then he would give in. He would forgive. Goodbye to the bygones.

He loved his neighbor. She was confident, maybe even gallant. Beautiful, yet quietly powerful. She had a way of being. Simply. The bottom of her dress flowed forever, despite the incessant whispering of a jealous breeze. Always confident, but not swollen with pride.

On warm days the aging man would spend all day patiently sitting with her. He would hear the river shout, and he would understand. This, he thought, is knowledge. He heard wisdom in her rapids. The fish spoke of the infinite knowledge of their landlord. Their landlord had seen the world. From the West to the East, North and south. She had met the Earth in its’ infancy. She and the Earth were childhood friends!

Among the water the old man felt connected. It was as if being among such wise company made himself wiser. He was wise. There is so much – too much – to learn among a channel of cool blue.

The old man asked about the waves in the ocean. He felt the answer slide past his submerged ankles. And what about the grass? A bead of water rolled down his hair and dropped onto his leathery, sun-bleached  back. He senses the answer. His questions about the stars and the moon. All answered. He implores about the wind and the glowing ambers after a fire has long since fled. And the answer comes.

He bathed in the river, and she bathed in him. He drank from the river while she drank him in. She was nurtured by him and he was nurtured in return.

Sometimes he would just watch Sibyl (she needed a name) as she carried on her timeless task. She was Sisyphus, but more graceful, and much more content.

Sibyl spent much of her life as a mirror. The sun looked down on her so the sun could see its’ own reflection. The old man would look down at Sibyl to see himself in all his imperfection. He watched as his youthful skin, once pulled so tightly over his cheeks began to sag. His muscles, once so defined and promenant began to wither. He watched himself decay like a flower before winter.A corpse in the ground, but his heart was still puttering along.

Sibyl never gazed at herself. She had no worry. She was perfection. She had curves in all the right places. And her clothes were always turquoise. The old man told Sibyl often that she looked best in that color. So she wore it. Everyday.

And one day as he lowered himself into the lazy current, he was startled. Something was wrong. He looked down toward the water and saw his bellybutton above the current. The old man looked up from the water and shifted his gaze in the direction of the bank. There was water-beaten dirt exposed. He told himself it was normal. Natural. The diagnosis was promising. It was nothing more than a common cold.

He awoke early the next day to visit his gaunt-faced lover. She was doing worse than the day before. And he cried. Not because he knew it was over, but because he knew the ending was near. There was so much left to do. So much left to see. Journeys to make. Villains to slay. And as he cried he prayed that his tears could fill Sibyl’s thinning frame. He cried until he had no tears. And then he just sat, convulsing and heaving like a worm cut in half.

Eventually sleep came.

In the morning, he woke to gloomy morning light. He was curled up next to Sibyl, hoping he could comfort her with his presence. When he looked into her bony eyes, there was almost nothing left. A powerless stream of water, no more than an inch wide trickled past. Sibyl is the ghost of her former self. The old man rubbed his eyes, half expecting the mirage to dissipate. His hopes were left out to dry.

As the sun spiraled down toward the horizon, and reds, oranges and yellows splashed across the sky, the old man went into his house and grabbed a worn brass cup. He walked, like a patient walking for the first time after a coma, toward Sibyl. As darkness began to wash over the world, he dipped the brass cup into Sibyl’s withering body. The cup, now partly filled, was raised to his lips with trembling hands. His body was shaking.

The cup was cold on his dry, cracked lips. It felt surprisingly pleasant. He tilted the cup back and felt Sibyl within him. She felt beautiful on his tongue. And as he took her in, he felt himself growing dizzy. And then he was tired.

So the old man lay down on top of Sibyl, in the bottom of the riverbed. He heard her whisper her final words in his ear as Sibyl went dry. And then he blew out his last breath.

And he died, atop his deceased lover. He died as Sibyl flowed through his veins. Temporary is life, forever is death. Forever one.

Unadilla: Arriving at the auction house

Trailer pulls into auction house lot.

Trailer pulls into auction house parking lot

My day in Unadilla began approximately seven hours before the horse auction was slated to begin. As our small group pulled into the parking lot of the D.R. Chambers auction house, there were already horse trailers in the parking lot. Equipped with two-horse trailers (room for six horses total) myself and four others (I won’t refer to exact names in order to protect the rescues interest at the auction) backed into our spots in the dusty, rock covered parking lot.

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Dark aisle horse

As we opened our doors and stepped onto the uneven ground, a grey truck with a picture of a horse on the driver’s side door and an electric blue trailer hitched to its’ back pulled into the spot directly next to ours. The movement of a horse could be heard from the back of the dilapidated-looking trailer. A little man wearing a cowboy hat, a snug fitting Coca Cola shirt and jeans jumped out from the driver’s side door of the truck and came around to the back of his trailer as the others and myself waited to ask about the horse that was locked away inside the tiny blue trailer.

Waiting inside was a 22 year-old gelding with smooth brown hair and a slight cut over the bridge of his nose. As we sat listening to the story about why that horse was placed in auction, my mind began to drift away as I wondered whether or not you can believe any of the stories that anybody at these auctions say. If he was such a wonderful horse, why would you be selling him at an auction that could possibly lead to your horse ending up in a Canadian slaughter-house. When asked why, he was selling his horse, there was no answer, as if he just did not hear the question directed at him, or maybe it was that he did not want to hear it. Stories at these auctions, as it turns out, were as flimsy and fake as the people telling them were.

Number 1555

Number 1555

At around 1130 a.m., we made our way into the auction stable area where the horses are left to wait, some waiting for rescue, others waiting for death, the line between blurry and indecipherable. With six and a half hours until auction, there were already about 10-15 horses tied with bailing twine to a wooden beam. In the dark aisle, the aisle in which the majority will go to slaughter, there were horses of all different shapes, sizes and colors. The only way of really referencing them, however was through the green circular tags placed on their rears with numbers on them. These horses were nothing more than numbers. They were no longer somebody’s pet, a little girls dream present or even animals. Just number 1548, a white pregnant mare. She was living, breathing, but at the same time she was now just a number; numbers don’t breathe and they don’t come alive. Names are too personal. Names belong to things that have futures. Numbers are assigned to products, to anything that needs to be impersonal, to anything that won’t be around long enough to need a name anymore.

In a small stall further inside the confines of the auction stable I found where the minis were kept. As I approached I could tell that something was wrong. Upon further inspection I found that this mini had gotten its’ leg tangled in the bailing string that also kept it tied to a wooden beam. I watched as this horse helplessly struggled to remove its’ foot from the twine that it had wrapped around its’ leg. The horse began to jump and smash into the side of the wooden stall as it struggled with no avail to free itself from the bailing twine. I pulled out my keys and began to cut off the bailing twine while I began to also wish that I had brought some sort of knife so that I could have helped cut the horse free quicker. While I struggled with cutting the twine, I heard voices approaching and had to stop. I started to walk away as two chubby men approached where I had been moments before. They watched as the horse jumped, continuing to try to free its’ foot. One of the men was amused by the horses struggle and said, “We got a jumper here boy.” Where I found horror, another found humor, and just like that, the two men walked off without even thinking of helping the tangled mini. Apparently they had clear consciences and untroubled minds.

Unloading

Unloading

As the sun began to rise, so did the number of horses being brought into the stables. It was one trailer after another. A continuous stream of unwanted, or unneeded horses. Horses that were used and then tossed away like cigarette butts. As I watched the trailers come in, I felt myself beginning to go numb. There seemed to be no end to the flow of them. But the auction house employees handled it with perfect precision. They worked like clockwork, and trailer after trailer was emptied with little or no difficulty at all. It was not their first rodeo. By 430, the total number of horses (not including minis and mules) was at 70.

At around 430, the Amish began to arrive, which was a contradiction in itself. The Amish showed up in trucks, something that I had previously believed was not something they were supposed to use. The Amish brought horses that were virtually beaten into the ground. Horses used to do work until they physically could not do anymore work, at which point these horses would just be discarded at the auction. Horses who made life possible for the Amish were sold to slaughter without any type of pity, as if years of hard work was still not enough for these horses to deserve reprieve.

Dark aisle

Dark aisle

In the parking lot there was pandemonium. Men and women sat atop horses as they rode walked, trotted and cantered through a parking lot full of rocks. This act in itself could be devastating for some of the horses due in part to the fact that if the rocks bruised their hoofs and they became lame, buyers could interpret this as being a bigger problem than it was, resulting in some perfectly healthy horses being sold to slaughter because of nothing more than being a little sore.

As 6 approached, the stable was nearly at full capacity. You could feel the energy. It was a dark energy, the kind of feeling that made the hair on the back of your neck rise. It was a feeling of anxiety, nervousness and maybe even emptiness. With only room for six, I felt myself realizing that not every horse in this stable would be finding a happy ending. I looked around realizing for maybe the first time that day that there were going to be a lot of horses there that would never again be put out to pasture. Many horses would not feel the softness of green grass beneath their hooves ever again. When 6 rolled around, it would be the beginning of the end for many, but at the same time, some of these horses would also find new beginnings. For every life taken, there would also be the chance that a new lease on life would also be given.

There would only be six horses that would be coming home with us, and with nearly 100 horses there,

Waiting

Waiting

this seemed too small, but we also were not alone. Others were there who were not kill buyers. Not everyone who shows up at auctions are people looking to sell for slaughter.

It was in this moment that I began to realize the enormity of what we were doing. We were going to be a part of change. There was no way that we could save them all, but we would be able to save a few, and sometimes that was all there was too it. You save what you can, you act as the change that you hope others will be someday too. Change, I realized, was the sum of all the intricately small actions directed at a larger goal, and that day, our change was going to be six horses; six lives.

It’s Basically Life and Death

Image“Only when you accept that one day you’ll die can you let go, and make the best out of life. And that’s the big secret. That’s the miracle.” – Gabriel Ba

From my short stint of time on this Earth, I have learned two definitive things: life is valuable, and death is greedy. Death constantly attempts to steal the preciousness of life, and often is very successful in its’ endeavors. Death is a resilient and hardened criminal; a trained thief. It has no understanding of the preciousness of life and the sentimentality that each life is worth to others. A life is not just the energy that fills a vessel, but it is also a father, a mother, a sister and a brother. It is that neighbor who you have known your entire life or that cute girl who you see around from time to time. It is that majestically crafted animal that you have come to love as your own. It is the trees, the grass, the plants and the vegetables. It is the air above us and the soil beneath us. It is everywhere.

But wherever there is life, you can guarantee there is death. This Earth has given us the opportunity for life, and at the same time, it has cursed us with the terror of death. We fight death, we allude death and we often fear death. Death is the universal equalizer, making it certain that even the strongest are capable of succumbing to it. Death is the unknown; taking us from what we are certain of, to something that science will never be able to explain and that religion can only claim to have an understanding of.

Death is always around us. It lurks in the shadows, patiently waiting for misfortune. Death preys on fate and gambles on chance. And sometimes death decides to look us straight in the eyes, and even though we fight and battle it, battles are still lost. Death understands that there needs to be balance although we wish that those we love could live forever. So even though we may use all the strength that we have to battle death, sometimes death comes out on top, claiming its’ bitter victory in the battle with life.

I’ve seen death before, I’ve felt its’ aftermath and I have feared its’ presence. I have seen young friends lost and I have seen fathers and mothers perish and leave this flawed Earth early to get a head start on making their way to the polished gates of heaven, where they happily embrace those who perished before them, and patiently await the arrival of the ones they left behind. I have watched children and old men battle with cancer. I have cheered in the moments of victory, and wept in the sourness of defeat.

Through it all, I have realized that who you are does not concern death; if death wants you, it can very easily take you, and it can take you at any age. Each day we walk on a tightrope between life and death. We need to understand that life is continually depleting; a gas tank heading toward empty with no gas station in sight. We find ourselves wasting away our time as we are enveloped in our petty disputes, our unimportant arguments and our unsubstantial problems. During all our minor inconveniences, our life is slowly dwindling away as if we are all candles with a flame burning away at our limited wick of life.

Even though death may tightly wrap its’ greedy, skinny and cold fingers around the lives of those who we hold so closely to ourselves, death has no way of grasping the memories of those lost that are held within the cozy embrace of our hearts. The smiles are never forgotten. The memories captured like a still frame in our mind do not disappear. Nor do the moments relived within our thoughts like grainy, discolored homemade movies. Death takes life, but it doesn’t take the precious moments that life generously and graciously sprinkles upon us.

So say goodbye to those we’ve lost. The ones who left early, and the ones who were able to grow gray. Be prepared for the lives that death will ultimately pluck from the fabric of mortal life. Let these lives live on though through fond memories of good times, never-ending laughter and warm embraces. Death wins sometimes, but life will battle, and ultimately, life prevails.

RIP to all those lost and good luck to all those who are battling.

“Death truly does have life, and walks with and lives through us everyday.” – Nicholas A. McGirr

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