Many years I was fortunate to be a part of both large and small family gatherings for traditional Thanksgiving meals. This year, however, a variation on the theme prevailed. In consideration of young adult children dispersed across the nation, and schedule changes for an exquisite sit down meal prepared by my brother and his family (attended by my mother), this year I ventured to make alternate plans for the weekend. There is no question in my mind about the value of traditions around the holidays, but finding myself, once again, in a state of transition, a new venture called me out to risk something different.
Over the past few years, my heart has been won, broken, and tenderized by beloved dogs, horses, and friends, who came into my life for a season, before death or personal choices put us on divergent paths. Each year, going forward, has been a challenge not easily met by traditional methods of healing. So, in a deliberate effort to move in more positive directions, I’m finding attention given to the needs of others can be a prescription for refreshment and restoration.
(Isolation rarely works for me anymore, unless I’m focused on writing, studying for a test, or indulging in formative stages of artistic expression. I’ve spent enough time alone to know there is a point at which finding a place to contribute within a community becomes the stabilizer too often missing.)
Drawing on memories of horses loved and the simple care I was privileged to provide for them while living in Kentucky, and considering the needs of a friend’s off-track Thoroughbred rescues, I purposed to combine skills being acquired through recent training at a Massage Therapy school with my love of horses and country living. Too many horses, no longer able to “earn their keep”, find themselves discarded or neglected after their “usefulness” has passed. I knew there were good-hearted people creating sanctuaries and alternative life-giving opportunities for off-track race horses, and I wanted to help one 501-C3 in particular (Race Horse Rescue Reclaim in Ft. White, Florida), even if in a small way. The overseer, Deb Adams, had given me timely advice on the feeding and vetting of one such horse brought to my farmhouse door in Kentucky.
A Sunday morning take away lesson from a local pastor had been echoing in my mind: Start from where you are, offer what you have, give with good intentions, and it will be enough.
Loading my small SUV with all the accessories needed to set up a booth in a donated space at the “Old Tyme Farm Festival & Swap Meet” this past weekend (hosted by Spirit of the Suwanee Campground and Music Park near Live Oak, Fla.), my only sadness in starting the drive north was the parting look on my dogs’ faces. They’d always traveled with me on road trips over the past few years, and couldn’t understand why I was now leaving them behind. When they’d rushed out to a fully packed car and I opened the door, the looks on their faces seemed to say, “Where is our space?” Otherwise, it was a beautiful “sunny and 75” afternoon as the interstate eventually took me out of the congested suburbs and past the Paynes Prairie Preserve where a subtle aroma of Sage from roadside brush wafted through the car’s open windows.
Arriving at Suwanee Park shortly after sundown, a winding road with festively lit trees lined the entrance-way. Navigating around golf carts and pick-up trucks perusing the grounds, a friend directed me past an overstuffed round-bale Turkey to the vendor sites. After some discussion with event organizers, an alternative to the assigned spot next to a woodcutter, who’d be demonstrating with a chainsaw and electric sander, was found. The seated-chair massage I’d proposed to accept donations on behalf of a Horse Rescue for winter hay, was relocated between a fiddle-maker and goat product display where square bales had been arranged as a pen for baby goats, in a “prime real estate” pavilion. (Thanks to the Cornett Family, who organize and host this and other events at Spirit of the Suwanee Park, the site given for the fund-raiser provided the best possible “neighborhood” for attracting visitors.)
After unloading the display table and accessories for an early morning set-up, I hurried over to the Music Hall where a popular Karaoke night was already in full swing. (Yes, I sang too, after a short panic attack because the small monitor displaying lyrics wasn’t initially visible from my place in the lineup. It was some consolation to know others weren’t just singing from memory, and I wasn’t the only one wearing glasses to take advantage of the prompter when it was finally pointed out!) I had been missing karaoke get-togethers with farm neighbors in Kentucky, so this was “good medicine” to start the weekend.
Morning came early, but a hot cup of coffee kicked it into gear. My first neighbor to arrive was the fiddle-maker careful to set up several handmade instruments whose tones varied with size, wood and finish. (I had brought a small CD player, but live demonstrations throughout the weekend became the easy pick to spark conversations and even dancing.)
Speaking of dancing, the two-week-old “kid” goats brought by another neighbor, The Healing Goat lady, stole the show with their “wait don’t leave us” bleating, spontaneous cavorting, and curly-tail wagging. As they followed her around and the fiddlers played, laughter delighted all who came to watch or scoop the four-hoofed-toddlers into loving arms, as a spirit of exploration made them prone to wander. Only at “nap time” in the makeshift pen of double-stacked bales of straw did their “mama” have time to take short breaks. I have to mention that my own Mama, was first to respond to a Facebook post of me holding one of them: “No, you may NOT bring one home. Your dogs would love it to death”, not to mention the probable fate of perennials in her backyard that had recently survived a hurricane.
What I love most about outdoor events like this one is the diversity of people who are brave enough to meet and greet new faces, wade into a diverse pool of artsy folk, try foods, and allow themselves to just enjoy their surroundings. Granted, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect, but there was an energy and humor amiss that kept everyone on a natural high. I never grew tired of hearing peoples’ stories, or answering questions about why I was there on behalf of horses I’d never met “in person”. More than one heard my reason for being there: “Horses are Spirit animals, and by caring for them, they somehow care for us. I‘m here to care for a small part of you, to help connect us all to something bigger.” (And that’s the condensed version of a book still to be written.)
The smell of fried foods like the pickles and frog-legs I chose to pass by, the brilliant colors of fresh produce and organic foods at the Saturiwa Trading Company truck where Wildflower Honey had been my only purchase; the glass blowers and shawl weaver whose “Wildfire” southwestern wrap drew me to her loom; the antique tractor parade around the vendor encampment site, the animal “train” whose cars were made from discarded barrels and pulled by a safari golf cart, to a performance-stage featuring musical talents of the young and old, as well as costumed troupes of square-dancing children; the impromptu playing of musicians who seemed to be in their own world of harmonic bliss, but not so detached they couldn’t invite a passerby to stop and sing along — all added to the backdrop of Old Tyme Farm Days at the Spirit of the Suwanee this Thanksgiving weekend. Families intact, as well as those displaced or in transition, all seemed to find something of value to carry away with them—-if only good memories.
Sunday morning came too soon, and temperatures hovering above freezing woke me to find warmer socks and clothing. After the car was packed once again, I found a small group of friends loading their horses before they headed back to Georgia and Kentucky. After snagging a cup of hot coffee from one of them, since the camp store hadn’t yet opened, I referenced a map and headed east across a part of Florida I’d never driven, determined to avoid holiday traffic on the interstates.
Passing through Gainesville, a neat college town with a lot of progressive entrepreneurship going on, I saw beautifully restored Victorian houses made into B&B’s, but one in particular prompted me to pull off on a side street to take in: The Florida School of Traditional Midwifery. Dreams from a time in my younger years seemed to hover then move on. Others were living theirs, and it was a warming thought.
As the urban polish wore off, an agricultural landscape on the road east reminded me of years spent in Kentucky on a small farm living simply “off the land”, and a pang of homesickness came then dissipated as I set my sights on a short lunch stop with a classmate in the historic town of Palatka. The Magnolia Café on St. Johns Avenue with good company, followed by a view of the St. John’s glistening blue waters flowing north in the afternoon sun, added a bright thread to the tapestry of the day.
The allure of St. Augustine on the east coast where an acquaintance had an art exhibit I hoped to find, drew me to its Spanish Mission architecture and history. Lucky to find a free parking space along the seawall, I set off in search of the “Healing Hands” artist/exhibitor at the St. Augustine Gallery & Cultural Arts Center. Instead of the person, I found a tactile art exhibit, created to be touched by the visually impaired. I too couldn’t resist the urge to run my hands over the various media, and one textile wall hanging whose sea-creature theme and textures I found fascinating. A brief conversation with the curator also made me aware 300 islanders nearby were still recovering from the impact of Hurricane Matthew that had made landfall only a few weeks prior. Once again, I found myself thankful for food, clothing, transportation, and a place to lay my head at night.
One “take home” lesson for the weekend: Even in transition, we can find reasons to be thankful. We are not alone. Many are currently displaced or face uncertain futures, but there remains the option to be in community, find the good where we are, and contribute in whatever way we are able. The words at the end of a simple lesson came back to me: Start where you are, use what you have, offer it with the best of intentions, then try to simply trust it will be “enough”. A horse somewhere down the road may thank you.
Thanks to Spirit of Suwanee Music Park and Campground hosts for making a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend possible for so many. Donations towards the Race Horse Rescue Reclaim’s Winter Hay Fund made a truckload of difference We look forward to joining you again soon!
Hope everyone stays balanced and joyful during the upcoming holidays. Remember to be thankful, smile, and offer what you have with the best of intents….and it will be enough.