constance

CMP Lark

Constance means constant or steadfast. It also happened to be the name of one of my most steadfast friends and self-proclaimed adoptive mother.

Constance Plumb came into my life in 1988 when she responded to a “companion horse available” ad I had posted in the local feed mill. She had just lost an aged gelding, and the remaining horse was not coping well being the sole equine on the farm. The horse I had available was Élan, a 20 year old Thoroughbred (TB) broodmare who had recently foaled and given me a beautiful TB-Swedish Warmblood filly. It was my intent to place the mare in a new home when it was time to wean the foal. Connie was interested, and we set up a time for her to come meet Élan.

It was a gorgeous day in May when Connie drove down the long farm lane to the barn in her big silver Cadillac. When she got out of the car I liked her immediately. She was tall and elegant and spoke in a wondrously deep voice. She had white naturally curly hair, and her complexion reflected the years she’d spent outdoors. Her whole essence spoke of *Main Line wealth and breeding. But Connie was the most down to earth and least pretentious person I’d ever met.  She displayed no airs and exuded a warmth that she reserved only for those she deemed worthy.

We walked into the barn together so she could meet Élan and her filly Lady Ariel. I quickly realized that Connie was a horsewoman in the truest sense of the word. Not only did she have a vast amount of equine knowledge, she also understood the psyche of the horse. I knew almost immediately that I’d found Élan’s new owner.  And almost simultaneously I realized that Connie would become a very special friend. I knew our souls were entwined in many ways but brought together through our mutual love and admiration for horses.

When it came time to wean the foal, I loaded Élan in my horse trailer and delivered her to her new home on the Plumb estate with Connie and her husband Rumsey, more affectionately called Rums. It was my first visit to the farm, and I was in awe as I drove into the gated property. The long driveway ended in front of a classic 1800’s Bucks County stone house. The nearly 100 acres was protected under the Heritage Conservancy. Large horse pastures were bordered by woods and a stream which was spanned by one of the county’s historic covered bridges. Élan had just arrived at equine heaven under the care of two people who spoke genuine horse.

This was the beginning of my friendship with Connie. I was starting to school my 4 year old *Anglo-Trakehner mare Lark in basic dressage. Lark was a 16.3 hand dark bay with a small star and one white foot. She had the sweetest and most willing temperament, and Connie fell in love with her. As Lark progressed in her training, I began to take her to some small schooling shows. Connie would sometimes come to Lark’s shows and her quiet calm presence was always a welcome support.

We would often meet for lunch. These were wonderful occasions. Connie was an amazing story-teller, and she had the gift of being able to laugh at herself. I’ll never forget the story she told about mowing the horse pastures and fields which spanned acres of the property. One warm summer day she was mowing the open fields on a large farm tractor in a semi-hypnotic state, hour after hour, lost in a reverie of thoughts — aware enough only to guide the tractor in even, over-lapping rows. As the sun beat down, and gnats flew around her head, Connie guided the vibrating tractor along the edge of the woods that adjoined the field. Suddenly she was jolted out of her reverie when she saw something lying on the grass right in front of the tractor. She tried to avoid it, but it was too late. Just as the tractor rumbled over the object, Connie realized  it was clothes. They were sucked into the blade and burst out of the funnel shredded to pieces.  In high alert, Connie immediately slowed and scanned for people so she would not hit anyone with the tractor. Suddenly out of the corner of her eye she saw a young boy and girl in the woods, stark naked, and obviously in the throes of ecstasy. “Well,” Connie said in that deep voice of hers, “I just pretended I didn’t see them and kept on going. I don’t know how the hell they ever got back to civilization because I had just shredded every last bit of clothing they had.”  I never tired of hearing this story, and only Connie could tell it. No matter how often I heard it, I would laugh so hard tears rolled down my face.

Another of my favorite stories was the day Connie fell into a grave.  Because they had horses and Great Danes, they always had a large open grave so they could bury any animals that died during the winter when the ground was frozen.  One day Connie was walking along the hedgerow when she took a bad step and tumbled into the grave. It was quite deep, and she was unable to get out under her own power. She called and yelled for help, but no one responded. So she gave up and just sat there hoping her son or husband would soon miss her and come looking for her. It so happened that Rums was doing errands, and it wasn’t long before he came driving down the driveway, not far from the hedgerow and open grave.  Before Connie could gather herself to try to get his attention, the car slowed and Rums called, “Honey, is that you?” when he saw the top of Connie’s white hair.  “Hell, yes!” Connie grumbled.  “What are you doing in the grave?” he asked. Usually, by this point we both were laughing so hard that the rest of the story was assumed. Rums got out of the car and managed to get her out of the grave with great difficulty.

As Connie approached her late 80’s she started showing signs of dementia. She also had several driving incidents, and eventually it was not safe to leave her home alone. Her son and daughter ultimately made the difficult decision to put Connie into a nursing facility for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.  Hannah and I would go to visit her. It was difficult for me to elicit any response from Connie, but she always responded to Hannah.  As time passed Connie became less and less responsive, and the last time I saw her, she was in a vegetative state.  I knew it wouldn’t be long, and I said my good byes.

She’s been gone now for over two years, and I miss her. There’s this void that Constance Plumb used to fill with her blunt honesty, generous heart, gift of laughter, and strong essence of being. Constant and steadfast — yes — that was Constance.

*Notes: The Main Line is an unofficial historical and socio-cultural region of suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, comprising a collection of affluent towns built along the old Main Line of the Pennsylvania railroad which ran northwest from downtown Philadelphia parallel to Lancaster Avenue (US Route 30).

Anglo-Trakehner — An anglo-trakehner is a horse that is half thoroughbred (anglo) and half Trakehner, a German Warmblood breed originally developed at the East Prussian state stud farm in the town of Trakenen from which the breed takes its name.

PHOTO ABOVE — Connie with Lark

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fishing with dad

Dad fishing Color Efex Pro copy
On those hot, humid summer evenings of my childhood, my Dad would often ask me, “Do you want to go fishing?” My usual answer was an enthusiastic, “YES!”

There was something magical about going fishing with Dad. He was an expert fly fisherman who firmly believed in catch and release — so the fish would be good sport for another day. We also fished with barbless hooks. It made it a little easier for the fish to escape once hooked, but was a challenge to the fisherman to land the trout expertly and gently. The battle was more fair that way.

We discussed where we would fish that evening. It was easy. The Cumberland Valley in south-central Pennsylvania abounded with beautiful cold-water limestone streams where trout fishing was sublime.

One of my favorite spots was Green Spring, a tiny stream that wandered through fields, woods, and a farmer’s pasture. When we arrived, we would park the car and start to prepare for our time on the stream. Hip boots were donned, bug repellant was applied, fishing jacket with its many pockets was slipped on, net was hooked to the back of the jacket, and finally the fly rod was assembled. Dad would light his proverbial cigar. “Smoke keeps the gnats away,” he would mumble.

Then we would walk to the stream to see if there was a hatch in progress. That meant we wanted to find out what kind of insects were hatching and flying above the water. Finding a hatch was exciting. Dad would cup his hands to capture an insect so we could identify it and try to match a dry fly. I was passionate about fishing dry. I loved casting the line upstream and watching the fly settle lightly upon the water and float towards me. The anticipation of a strike required careful observation of the lure.

Light or glare on the water could make it difficult to follow the fly. Obviously, in shaded water, a light colored fly was easier to see, and in water reflecting sunlight, a darker lure was better. But matching the hatch was critical, regardless of lure color and visibility. Riffles could also mask the fly in the splashing channels as the water found its way through rocks and varying creek-bed terrain.

Live fly activity would usually increase as dusk approached — the crowning hour for a fly fisherman. Unfortunately, the growing darkness carried with it a regret that the fishing would soon be over. Eventually it would grow so dark, we would not be able to see our fly. That made it difficult to see the fish strike and respond by setting the hook.

The visions of Green Spring remain vivid in my mind. In the haze of a humid, summer evening, the creek sparkled and giggled as it flowed through the verdant fields and woods. I recall sections of the creek by the trout that lived there.

A favorite riffle was the home of Flippy, a trout named for his habit of flipping his tail as he leaped out of the water. I have no doubt that Flippy allowed me the sport of catching him on several occasions. He would always give me a good fight, showcasing his trademark leaps. I think he knew he would always be gently released.

Releasing a trout is an art in itself. A spent trout was to be guided gently to the angler and handled as little as possible.  If the hook could be removed in the water, my Dad encouraged that. However, with my awkward, youthful hands, that was not always possible, I often had to lift the trout out of the water to remove the hook. If the trout rolled over on its side or belly-up after being returned to the water, Dad had taught me how to massage the gills gently to increase oxygen flow; it was done by moving the fish forward and rearward in the water. It always worked. Slowly the trout would regain its equilibrium and then swim away. Dad always encouraged me to thank the trout for the sport.

As I worked the water, I entered the section of the stream that flowed through deep woods. Around one bend lived a huge trout, easily 25 inches in length. I had named him Tremendous. He was a worthy opponent for my father with his years of fly-fishing experience. I always fished that part of the stream with great respect for that trout. Dad was fortunate enough to hook Tremendous a few times, but he was never able to land him.

As the stream exited the woods, it flowed past a beautiful farmhouse. The farmer owned a Brittany Spaniel named Zeke. When Zeke was loose forget about fishing. Anytime the dog saw a fisherman he came dashing to the creek in anticipation of “going fishing!” He would watch the line intently, with tongue dangling and ears flicking forward at any unusual motion. My Dad used to swear that Zeke would “point” trout. When a trout was hooked, Zeke would make a flying leap into the water and retrieve the fish, bringing it to the angler. Took all the fun out of playing the trout, but Zeke thought it was great sport.

This farm was also home to a herd of black and white Holstein cows. On evenings when the fishing was slow, I would set aside my rod and venture over the barbed-wire fence to “talk” to the cows, mooing my lungs out. Usually the cows ignored my foolish attempts, but one evening they, too, must have been bored. When they saw and heard me, they decided to investigate. Instead of plodding over slowly, they came galloping towards me. Even though I was a country girl at heart, I was afraid of cows. I thought all cows with horns were bulls! I hadn’t yet learned to look on the underside to confirm sex. I panicked, bolted over the barbed-wire fence, and got hung up on the top strand. A barb ripped into the soft skin on the inside of my thigh. No matter how I struggled to free myself, the barb stayed embedded. My father had to come and untangle me, all the while chuckling quietly to himself.

Another evening, at that very same spot, Dad fell into the creek. Water flooded his hip boots and drenched his trousers and socks. He took off his boots and socks and hung them over the fence to dry while he proceeded to fish in his bare feet. Considerable time passed, and eventually Dad was ready to move on. He returned to pick up his wet garments only to find a cow standing by the fence lazily finishing off his socks.

When darkness settled upon us we would stop fishing. Our return to the car was accompanied by the smell of water and fish mingled with cigar smoke, sweat, and insect repellant. Our rubber boots would thonk and swish with each step as we exchanged stories and matched numbers of fish caught that evening. Tree frogs trilled from the treetops as the tips of our rods disappeared into the darkness. We walked the final mile in silence — a father and daughter intertwined forever by their love for the outdoors and each other.

*note: I took this photograph of my Dad one evening as the sun was setting, circa early 1970’s. I scanned the print and attempted to rescue it a bit in my photo-editing software.

shamanic journey

Image

I had quite a bit of interest and many comments on my crow story. Readers shared their own crow stories, and I was asked to write more about my shamanic journeys. I had kept a journal of my journeys which I’ve not been able to locate, but I did find notes about one of my most unusual journeys.

When one starts to journey, it is important to create a sacred space by calling in the seven arrows which guard each entrance of the sacred space. The energies are cleansed and balanced through this rite and the use of smudging with sage in the process. The seven arrows are north, south, east, west, earth, sky, and heart. It is a powerful Native American ritual.

During the introduction to shamanic journeying, an individual is led through a process of creating a sacred space within the journey. In many cases, the destination is reached through a hole in the earth — it can be a physical hole such as a cave or a hole in a tree trunk, or a more abstract type of hole as a puddle of water.  My hole was a cave opening which I discovered near a creek in my hometown. This route led me to my sacred space which was a small rainforest pool with a waterfall and lush foliage and flowers surrounding the pool. I would enter this destination through double doors and the waterfall, which was my “marker.”

We were instructed to spend time in our destination and become familiar and comfortable with the sourroundings. Afterwards we were instructed to return via the same route but visualize walking through fire at the end of the tunnel before exiting. This would assure that our entire being was being cleansed as we passed through.

After establishing the basics of journeying and becoming familiar with traveling to and from our destination, we were encouraged to allow a journey to “happen.” The journey is not a planned event, rather it is a heightened sense of relaxation where we “allow” the journey to happen and embrace the intent one expresses before initiating a journey.

On the journey depicted in my montage, I expressed the intent to find the meaning of the five points of a starfish in a sand dollar center which had appeared in a previous journey.

I entered my tunnel and went through the doors to my  sacred place, coming through the waterfall into the tropical rainforest pool. Lumen, the cougar (my guardian) joined me immediately. Often I would be able to look into Lumen’s eyes and see things or symbols. One day I asked him why I saw things in his eyes, and he replied “Portent . . . portent . . . portent.”

 I retrieved the sand dollar from the pool where I had left it in a previous journey. Lumen and I proceeded into the jungle where we met an ape whose name was Myst. I told Myst that I wanted to discover the meaning of the remaining points of the starfish in the sand dollar. I had already learned that three of the points signified truth, trust, and love.

Myst directed Lumen and me to a path. We walked down the path, and the crow flew in to join us. The crow was a frequent companion and identified himself as my power animal. I asked the crow what he was called, and he told me his name was Abbo.

Abbo, Lumen, and I continued to walk down the path, and eventually we came to a clearing. In the clearing was a labyrinth which was in the shape of a starfish. We entered the labyrinth. Abbo was on my shoulder, and Lumen walked beside me. As we journeyed through the labyrinth, the final two meanings were revealed — honor and respect. 

All three of us sat in the center of the labyrinth when we reached it, reflecting upon the five meanings — truth, trust, love, honor, and peace.  Abbo took a feather from his wing and gave it to me.

We exited the labyrinth and took the path back to the rainforest pool. We met Myst, and I told him that my mission had been successful. Abbo left us, but Lumen accompanied me to the pool. We parted there, and I took the black feather with me through the fire and back to the earthly present.