Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Autumn ...

The light has changed. The shadows are beginning to reach long, skinny fingers ever further from beneath the trees. The breeze has an edge and the pinon trees drip pine nuts, pitter-pat, as they have not in three or four years. The birds and squirrels and I have a quiet competition to see who gets the most, they in their lofty perches, or me down here on the ground, picking up what nuts may fall.

Our barn swallows have absconded somewhere else and even the blue jays have become strangely quiet. This morning I sit in my garden with a cat and a cup of coffee, watching the flowers grow straggly and threadbare. I don't mind the turning of the seasons when it comes like this, time like molasses in the cool sun. Life is good. Peace and love, my friends.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Post National Sheepdog Finals blues ....

I think I have a touch of post-Finals depression. For weeks my whole focus has been on that one goal and yet it didn't go anything like I imagined. Hubby keeps telling me if my truck had to break down, at least it broke down in a place with cell service, I was towed to a garage that was nominally open on a Sunday, and I had a wonderful friend who was willing to detour and drive me the rest of the way in. Most of all, I did pick up the pieces and go on to run my dog at Finals for the first time.

So I do have blessings to count. Of course I kind of wish my run with Nick had gone better, but any number of other handlers wish the same thing. I even saw some top hands with good dogs come a-cropper. Finals is tough.

I think I'm mostly sad that I could not hold on to that sense of full-hearted gladness that I was heading out on an epic road trip to a great adventure. But I lost that while I sat by the side of an empty road at 7 o'clock in the morning, with help over 2 hours away and steam rolling out from under the hood. The anxiety, worry and unexpected costs just kind of built from there. I suppose this means I need to Cowboy Up!

Anyhow, I have a young dog to get on with training and fall is in the air. People are starting to talk about things like candles, wool sweaters and pumpkin spice. Life is still good. And I was pretty darn lucky to be at Finals at all.

A big thanks to the Strang Ranch and Bridget Strang with all her crew for putting on a fantastic event. It was a beautiful venue and a gorgeous field with consistently healthy and challenging sheep. The setout crew was wonderful, as well as picturesque on horseback, and I can't fault any of the organization, judging or running of the trial whatsoever. I'll be back someday!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

First judging assignment - Kelly Hill Sheepdog Trial

Well, I'm getting organized for another trial this coming weekend, but this time as a regular spectator. This past weekend, though ... well, that was something pretty wonderful. My dear and wise friend, Teresa Yamamoto, invited me to come judge her Kelly Hill sheepdog trial up there north of Kettle Falls. Spectacularly beautiful country, wild and remote, and a trial to match.

It really was a wonderful experience. To have the privilege to watch and offer my opinions on the work of some 38 dog/handler teams was amazing. (And yes, that's a fairly small trial but my little hobbit brain worked very hard!) I knew in the abstract what to watch for: gauging influences of the field, the sheep and weather against whatever the dogs may be doing, maintaining fairness across all runs, striving for consistency, weighing point deductions against whatever's happening on the field throughout the day, etc. etc. etc.

But honestly, watching that many runs that intently is a heck of a learning experience. Every run has a lesson to offer. From the dogs and how they handled the field (a long mowed fetch after a mostly-blind hill outrun) to the handlers and how they ran their dogs, there was a lot to learn. So much to evaluate and weigh and consider, from things I could let slide to things I had to nix as unacceptable to my idea of good sheep work.

To my surprise, I found I honestly enjoyed the whole thing. There's a heck of a lot to keep track of and I maintained a crib sheet of shorthand-ish notes for every run. Sue MacDonald was my course director and did a fabulous job of cracking the whip to keep things going plus diplomatically offering support if I needed it. She also showed me a clever new way of keeping notes more efficiently, in the unlikely event that I ever judge again - super cool! And though I had to work to keep my focus sharp by Sunday afternoon, I found myself drawn into the runs keenly enough to make the job enjoyable.

Overall, I think things went well. I did everything in my power to maintain consistency across the board and to date, I haven't heard any complaints. Maybe somebody somewhere is chanting my name over a voodoo doll, but so far, so good! In fact, though the majority of people up there were not personally known to me, they were a remarkably good natured lot. When a nearby thunderstorm necessitated a halt to proceedings, and when we had to pause again for escaped sheep or moving sheep up from exhaust, the folks over in the peanut gallery never lost their senses of humor. That was pretty cool.

But perhaps the nicest thing of all was this: Kelly Hill was a tough trial with tricky, challenging sheep and rather variable weather. Dogs got lost on the outrun, hung up on set out, or outsmarted by runaway sheep ... and yet virtually every handler ended their run, whether a retire or a DQ or success, by taking their dogs to the water tank and offering their partner words of thanks and praise. I think that speaks very well of the folks out there in the Pacific Northwest, and it certainly made me even more glad to be offered the chance to lend my services.

Many thanks to everyone who helped keep this trial on its wheels, including but not limited to Ron Green, who judged Friday's Pro Novice, Nursery and Ranch classes, (and who thus gave me the chance to get my mind situated while acting as his course director,) Norm and Vickie Close who stepped in countless times to help in many ways, Jan Staroski my tireless and organized scribe, Sue and George MacDonald for being my course directors and moral support, and especially our amazing, super-human setout crew including, Alison Deilke, Susan Crocker, Sue McLean, Cam Lefler, (the only person I've ever seen jog up and down hills in 95 degree heat with a cast iron post pounder over his shoulder - Semper Fi!) - plus Lee Lumb and Noelle Williams, and everyone else who braved the heat, hills and wiley sheep to do their jobs ... and a dozen more people I can't think of right now. Plus Gaynor Edwards who drove me up to Tea's place and Cam who drove me back to the airport. It takes a village and my pal Tea gathered an awfully good one to pull off the (hopefully) First Annual Kelly Hill Sheepdog Trial.

Thanks, everyone, for all you do. This was a weekend to remember. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Ireland 2016 ~ After thoughts

~ * ~

So my adventure ends. I'm still not sure what, exactly, I am to think of Ireland. When I first went to England, I expected medieval castles, ancient churches, old coach inns, red phone booths and mystical Neolithic stones. I found all that. When I first went to Scotland, I anticipated stone cottages, heather and highlands, kilts and sheepdogs and isolated lochs where sheep grazed next to tumbling, tea-colored streams. I found that, too.

But after returning to Ireland a second time ... I don't know what I was looking for. My great-great grandparents immigrated to America about ten years before the Famine. Everyone to whom I mentioned their surname - Barry - immediately said," Oh, yes, they're from County Cork." But I don't know where in Cork, what village or parish or town, or if they were Catholic or Protestant or what. Did they leave to seek greater religious freedoms in America, or did some other compulsion drive them to risk all and abandon everything they'd ever known?

Of course, there is still that idealistic vision of green Irish hills crisscrossed with stone walls, of musical pubs and old men on bicycles and whitewashed cottages crowned in thatched roofs standing along crooked little lanes. Last year, my first full glimpse of "the auld sod" turned unexpectedly emotional when I stood on the Hill of Tara and beheld the green, sunlit expanse of Ireland spreading for miles at my feet. "Mine...," my heart sighed. But as soon as we started driving towards Galloway ... what the hell? Where were my thatch-roofed cottages? Where were my quaint little farms? And why were all those big, ugly modern houses taking their place? I suspect a hazy wish to connect with my Barry roots, or at least somehow glimpse the Ireland of my forebears' time, colored my expectations and not finding that left me feeling a little hollow.

But in reality, I have no way to know if my great-great grandparents left with sighs of regret or tears of joy. When reading the history of Ireland, it can appear that often what seems like the simplest times were actually the most turbulent, with sectarian and religious divisions played out on a violent stage. The stereotypical view of Ireland wants to freeze her in amber, in a vision of romantic poverty that may have never really existed.

On one hand a person could think Ireland doesn't really value its more distant past. How else to explain ancient abbeys where locals have been digging up the floors as a graveyard for generations? Or a forgotten Norman castle among whose ruins modern houses squat, its only purpose now to limit access to a light house that takes all the tourist glory. But if one were to take the builders to task, perhaps they'd just be baffled, saying, "Well, why shouldn't we? Everything is right where it's stood, we just made better use of the place."

In another light, it could seem that a cosmic ax clove Ireland's history between the Famine and everything before that, and another cleaved time between the Rising of 1916 and the remainder of the 20th century. Perhaps Ireland is so layered in history, vigorous and dynamic and often still-green, that it's never had the luxury of wallowing in nostalgia. If an Irishman sings of heroes or battles, you have to listen close to discern if he's singing about something that happened in 1916, 1816 or three hundred years ago. The past is alive in Ireland's mind, a nationalism that builds its own myth and has little need of ruined old castles or haunted abbeys to keep those tales alive.

Which leaves us, the lost great-grandchildren of Ireland, possibly a little out of luck if we're looking for a stone to touch or a hill to climb and claim as our birthright. But maybe that's the point. Maybe our task is to embrace all of Ireland, with its convoluted history and mosaics of struggle and rebirth, and heroes who may also be villains, depending on the song.

Ireland is a complicated place with a complicated history and a complicated people, a land that reinvents itself every generation or so. I'm still a little disappointed at the scarcity of thatch-roofed cottages ... but I've gained a new appreciation for just how well the Irish have managed to proliferate and prosper in almost every corner of the globe. There's the old joke that God invented whiskey so the Irish wouldn't take over the world. But if you look close enough, perhaps they already have. And I've fallen a little in love with rural southern Ireland. :)


Ireland - June 2016 - Part 10

June 14th - DAY 10. I'm in a hotel in Dublin this evening, taxi booked for the run to the airport in the morning. We woke up this morning to sun peeking through the clouds and gorgeous views from our upstairs skylight-window. Oh, Ireland, how sweet you are in your gowns of patchwork green and sunlight. 

Clouds began to move in as I went out for a walk on the farm lanes while Cel took care of her morning ablutions. Across the road from our lodgings the local cows marched in a long, straggling line from their milking shed to pastures beyond. On the other side of the river I glimpsed another farmer moving his freshly-milked cows up another lane with the help of a quad bike. I tried to spend a little quality time in this last while with Ireland, walking one last narrow lane amidst acres of grain that nodded in the fields not occupied with grazing cows. Among the hedgerows birds twittered and wild roses wafted their perfume on the breeze.

I finally headed back to the house and breakfast. There Cel and I ate with a view of the garden where the sun briefly warmed the roses and petunias. Breakfast was delicious with all the fixin's and then it was time to bid the garden and the house with its beautiful conservatory farewell.

Rain showers punctuated by glimpses of sun escorted us northeast towards Dublin, but even now we weren't in any hurry to return the press of civilization. Celebsul opted to shift off onto the N81 and so we wended our way through little towns and rolling green fields. At Blessington heavier storms began oozing in from the sea and we stopped there for lunch, picking a traditional-looking pub and restaurant. There Cel introduced me to the wonders of chicken pate - actually very yummy when served with toast and a garnish of some kind of jam. I ate my fill, that's for sure! Then as the rain moved in again, we moved on.

At last we arrived in Dublin, maneuvering our way around the M50 highway that circled the city to find our lodgings at the Skylon Best Western Hotel. Let's just say that website photos may not be quite accurate. The place looked a bit tatty and *tiny,* tucked between taller buildings and we in fact missed it on the first pass. They had a parking garage but their pay-and-display kiosk was broken so we got to park for free. But the desk people were nice and a young man cheerfully hauled our luggage from the car to our room. The room was surprisingly spacious, more than enough room for the two of us and I reckoned it would do.

Once freshened up, Celebsul and I went into the city center on the bus and submerged into the boiling busy-ness that is Dublin. It's big, boisterous, cosmopolitan and avant-garde, the old dragged bodily forward in time by the new. On its busy streets I saw more varieties of human in the space of three hours than I normally see in a year. This city bustles, strides, teems, honks and lurches down narrow streets in two-story buses, and between it all whisk the derring-do on bicycles.

We took a brief, lovely respite from the throng by touring Christchurch Cathedral. It is indeed a bastion of peace and the keeper many tales. We explored it thoroughly, paid our respects to whatever Presence lingers there and even visited the historic catacombs under the building. Here amongst the displays of relics and shadowy but nonetheless ornate stone memorials to noblemen long forgotten, I was more than a little amused to find a gift shop down in those dark, stony bowels. I wondered just how much business the little gal minding the shop actually got. Back up in the waking world, I took a look at the black stone effigy of Strongbow and marveled at the stained glass windows. Then out we fared into the aged streets once more.

We rambled through a few cramped little shops and found a cozy little nook for supper, where besides yummy sandwiches they kept a mouth-watering display of baked goods. We resisted the temptation, however, and once fed we resumed our wanderings. Funny how just coming at the city from another angle makes it seem new all over again. I was here a year ago and yet the simple fact of a different hotel and a different bus route gave me a slightly disjointed sense of finding things strange and familiar all at once.

Dublin is too much city for me to stand for very long, but perhaps she is a fitting simile for Ireland today: a place with an ancient and storied past, but in far too much of a busy hurry reaching the future to fuss much about things that are gone. Except the Rising of 1916. On every lamp post and corner it seemed I saw banners or signs commemorating the century since Irish patriots - or perhaps Irish zealots, depending on who's telling the story - blasted their ill-fated way into history and perhaps carved a path towards Irish independence. One never loses track of the fact that one is, unequivocally, in Ireland.

Finally the hour began to grow late and we caught a bus back to our hotel. One more morning, one more long flight home and the great adventure is over. Thanks, Celebsul, my friend of many adventures, for coming with me on this incomparable journey through the land of my forefathers! Slainte!