Homeless Horseman – A Real Life Alastar Connolly

Horse-Keeper (CCBY20 BRAYDAWG on Flickr)

In the story, An Irish Miracle, Alastar Connolly’s horses were not only his companions, they were his best friends. Friends that always listened. Friends that never judged. (Well, almost never.) During dark times, Alastar’s horses were his only family, and he often slept in their stalls, burrowed deep in the fresh hay.

A real-life Alastar Connolly made the local news recently. A state fire marshal inspection on the backstretch of the Cal Expo Harness Racing Track near Sacramento ousted farrier Johnny Walker, and many other grooms, from the barn tack rooms where many of them had been living for years, near the horses they cared for and loved.

From the report in The Sacramento Bee:

Farrier Johnny Walker, who has owned and trained horses at Cal Expo
for 20 years, has been sleeping on a cot outside the stall of his
only horse, The Goose.

"He's my family," said Walker, 64. "I've had him since he was a baby.
I just love him."

"As long as we're racing and keep making money, that keeps me going,"
Walker said. "But if I couldn't keep (my horse), that scares me."

Hopefully, after renovations ordered by the fire marshal are completed, Johnny Walker and his fellow farriers and grooms will be reunited with their living quarters, and their horses, at least in the short term. Tack rooms were never meant to be permanent places of residence.

Alastar Connolly would have empathized with Johnny’s physical and emotional plight. As a boy, being separated from his beloved Molly and Wilbur started Alastar on a journey that took him half way around the world. Fortunately, looking back on his life in Ireland, Alastar wrote:

"I lived a life filled with horses that I loved as friends and
friends that I loved as family."

You can read the story of the real Johnny Walker (not the pipe-smoking gentleman in the picture above) and his horse, The Goose, in the article Cal Expo racetrack workers scramble to find housing during renovations, on The Sacramento Bee website.

My editor, Robin Martin of Two Songbirds Press, brought Johnny Walker’s story to my attention. Having an editor who expertly helps me polish my words, and who watches out for me between manuscripts, is truly a blessing. Thanks, Robin!

All the best,
Rob

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In Sunshine or In Shadow

Tomorrow marks the first day of fall, the autumnal equinox. The day the sunshine starts to fade, and all the flowers start to die. The day the world begins to slide into the shadow of another cold, dark winter. Tonight, in my Northern hemisphere, I’ll say farewell to the summer of 2012. Rest in peace, beloved season. I’ll miss you.

Most folks look at me like I have three heads when I tell them my favorite weather is ninety-five degrees and ninety-five percent humidity, under a clear, cerulean blue sky. What can I say? I like to sweat … and I like to feel alive. I’ve always loved hot, sunny summer weather, and I’ve always disliked being cold. Wait, that’s not quite right. I’ve always detested being cold.

It’s no wonder Weatherly’s lyric, “‘Tis I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow”, from that hauntingly beautiful Irish ballad, Danny Boy, always leaves a lump in my throat, but perhaps Robert Frost said it best:

Fire and Ice
by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Danny Boy
by Frederic Weatherly

Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer's gone, and all the roses falling
'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.

But come ye back when summer's in the meadow
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow
'Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.

But when you come, and all the flowers are dying
If I am dead, as dead I well may be
You'll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an "Ave" there for me.

And I shall hear, though soft you tread above me
And all my grave will warm and sweeter be
For you will bend and tell me that you love me
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.

With warmest regards,
Rob

A Skyline Drive Memory

Pig Farm from the Skyline Drive

A dear fellow blogger, Cameron of growing grace farm, wrote about a recent drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway with her daughter. Her post, What Tunnels Can Teach Us About Awareness, is a lovely metaphor about remembering to travel through life with a heightened sense of the world around us … and it sparked a childhood memory I’d like to share.

Cameron’s mention of the Blue Ridge Parkway brought back a childhood memory of my dad. A 1960s family vacation found us on the Skyline Drive, winding along the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, above the Shenandoah River, and through some of the most beautiful countryside in America. At one scenic overlook, Pop pointed out a pig farm down in the distant valley. The white farmhouse had a lazy curl of smoke rising from its chimney. In the sunshine and crisp, late summer air, a slight breeze brought a hint of woodsmoke and further evidence of the pigs far below up to our noses. It was a good, earthy smell. It told us of the family farm, teeming with life below.

The Skyline Drive is over a hundred twisty miles long, and the speed limit back in 1966 was something like thirty-five miles an hour. But with so many sights to see along the way, Pop drove it slowly, with frequent stops for “Kodak moments”. It was late evening by the time we reached the northern end of the route in Front Royal, Virginia. We hadn’t planned ahead very well, with only a bag of butterscotch candy in the car, so we were all very hungry by the time we found a restaurant. I’d never seen grilled pineapple on ham before, but the smoke from the charring steaks didn’t sit well with my over-hungry, eight-year-old stomach, and I couldn’t eat much.

The smokey restaurant didn’t bother Pop in the least, however, and that night he had what he said was one of the best meals he could remember. He had a huge Black Angus steak, but he talked about his baked potato, rubbed with rock salt, for the rest of the trip. When we got home, he looked forward to duplicating that delicious potato for himself.

It’s odd how certain things stick in an eight-year-old’s memory for the rest of his life. My guess is that Cameron’s daughter will forever remember the drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway with her mom, and how all the dark tunnels through those thick, old mountains made her feel on that late summer day, way back in 2012.

All the best,
Rob

Once in a Blue Moon

August 31, 2012 – Last Blue Moon Until 2015

There was a full moon on August 1, 2012, and today, August 31, marks the second full moon of the month. Using the commonly accepted calendar definition of a Blue Moon, tonight’s moon will be the last Blue Moon for nearly three years, as the next one won’t happen until 2015. But if you side with the Farmers’ Almanac definition of a Blue Moon, the next one won’t happen until 2016.

No matter which definition you ascribe to, Blue Moons happen because the lunar month, which is always about 29-1/2 days, don’t exactly match up with our Gregorian calendar months, which vary from 29 to 31 days. (I still have to count knuckles.) Confused? Here’s a brief explanation.

In the English language, the earliest recorded uses of the term “blue moon” had religious connotations, but the 19th and early 20th century history of the term is a bit closer at hand.

Farmers’ Almanac Blue Moon

The four seasons–spring, summer, fall, and winter–divide the year into quarters, and each season usually has three full moons. Ancient cultures around the world have always named each of the full moons. Farmers’ lives are dictated by the passing of each successive season, and in North America, the farmers have names for every season’s full moons, too.

  • Spring starts on the Vernal Equinox
    • Early Spring, or Egg Moon
    • Mid Spring, or Milk Moon
    • Late Spring, or Flower Moon
  • Summer starts on the Summer Solstice
    • Early Summer, or Hay Moon
    • Mid Summer, or Grain Moon
    • Late Summer, or Fruit Moon
  • Fall starts on the Autumnal Equinox
    • Early Fall, or Harvest Moon
    • Mid Fall, or Hunter’s Moon
    • Late Fall, or Oak Moon
  • Winter starts on the Winter Solstice
    • Early Winter, or Old Moon
    • Mid Winter, or Wolf Moon
    • Late Winter, or Lenten Moon

But very little in a farmer’s life is ever easy. Because of the difference in length of the almost uniform lunar month and the varying lengths of our Gregorian calendar months, a fourth full moon creeps into one of the seasons, every once in a . . . while. These absurd, extra full moons threatened to disrupt the farmers’ meaningful “early-mid-late” naming convention, but by necessity, farmers are very resourceful folks. So any time a season had four full moons, the THIRD one was called a Blue Moon, so the last full moon of that season could continue to be called the Late Moon. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Maine Farmers’ Almanac always listed blue moon dates for farmers.

Calendar Blue Moon

Don’t worry, this is a much shorter explanation.

In 1946, in an article he wrote for Sky and Telescope magazine, James Pruett misinterpreted the 1937 Maine Farmers’ Almanac, which described years with blue moons as having “… eleven months with one full moon each and one with two.” Pruett wrote that he interpreted this to mean the second full moon in any given month was a Blue Moon. This “non-traditional” definition became widely adopted when it was broadcast on a popular radio program in 1980. Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet, either.

By the way, a Blue Moon isn’t really blue. Today, the phrase “Once in a Blue Moon” is taken to relate to absurdities, impossibilities, and events that only occur on rare occasions.

Full Moon

August 25, 2012 marked the passing of Neil Armstrong, a truly great American and a boyhood hero of mine. Neil’s family issued a statement shortly after his death:

"For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a
simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and
modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see
the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong ...
and give him a wink."

I will never be able to look up at the moon again–whether it be an Egg Moon, a Harvest Moon, a Lenten Moon, or a Blue Moon like tonight’s–and not give Neil a thought, a thanks, and a wink.

Glory Morning

CC BY 2.0 by MarilynJane on Flickr

Stirring first, I eased back the light covers and slowly swung my feet to the warm, wooden floor. A light breeze from the open window above the bed brushed across my bare back, the last vestiges of night air mixed with the warm promise of a perfect August day.

Two salt and pepper shadows trailed me through the living room, past the darkened pane of glass that would only later be allowed to connect me with the fire and brimstone of the outside world. The coffee pot had awakened to its task as I was finishing with my sleep, and the steamy aroma of the rich, black liquid silently drifted across the kitchen. The boys even ate their kibble quietly. No one seemed to want to interrupt the stillness.

Hot cup in hand, I slid the heavy glass door open and stepped down to the terracotta patio that runs across the back of the house. To my bare feet, the irregular tiles were rough and cool, having given up the previous day’s heat to the night air. Barely lit from the left, I could just see shaggy outlines, as the boys trotted to the far edge and hopped down to the narrow strip of recently mowed grass that separates the patio from the garden. Shoulder to shoulder, they disappeared down one of the vegetable-lined paths. Beyond the garden, morning light glinted off the upper windows of the outbuilding, where the end of Dillon’s story waited to be written, vying for my attention with the half-finished harvest table in the workshop below.

I sat at the round, mahogany table and gingerly set my cup down, still trying not to make a sound. My eyes drifted closed, and other senses took in the gifts of a peaceful country morning. Sunlight filtered through the trees across the field to the east and bathed the side of my face with a hint of warmth. My fingers traced the smooth edge of the table, softly rounded with my router years before. The air moved and brought cut grass, coffee, and green smells from the garden, pleasant reminders of so many summers now past.

In the stillness, my good ear strained to hear the first faint sound of the day. As it grew to a familiar whisper, only my eyelids moved, rising ever so slowly. An arm’s length away, a beautiful hummingbird hovered in the air, studying my careful smile. Her ruby head and green body were iridescent in the magical morning light, her beating wings almost invisible. My tiny visitor stopped time for an all-too-brief moment, and then she was gone.

As if on cue, the boys raced out of the garden and bounded onto the patio, demanding their morning treats in a chorus of barks and whines. With the silence duly shattered, a perfect August day was fully at hand.

 

Now that I’ve shared what my Glory Morning would look like, I’d love to hear from you. In your heart of hearts, how would you choose to start each day?

 

Re-Imaginary Friends

“Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The more I practice, the luckier I get.”
Lee Trevino

Do you have a story you dream of sharing with the world? Or perhaps yours is a life experience, a collection of songs, special photographs, or even a horror film. But is your dream locked away for a lot of “good” reasons?

  • I’m not a writer (singer, photographer, etc.), I’m a _________.
  • Probably no one would be interested.
  • I don’t have any extra time.
  • I’m afraid it wouldn’t be good enough.
  • It’s just not practical.

Many friends seem to be re-inventing–or “re-imagining”– at least a part of themselves these days. Some have had that inner spark fanned by opportunity or circumstance. Some have finally just summoned the courage needed to fuel their re-imagination passion. With the hope you will find inspiration, encouragement, or just that final nudge, please let me introduce you to some of the folks I’m proud to call my re-imaginary friends.

Mike Mahan is a college professor and graphic designer. He also loves animals. As a gift to his wife, Mike published a photographic tribute to their first three years with Sadie & Church. I admit being biased, but I think there is nothing in the world that’s cuter than a Schnauzer puppy, and Sadie has a sweet personality. Church is friendly and pretty laid back. It’s a good thing she is, too. She’s the size of a small mountain lion.


Brian Talgo is a carpenter, stonemason, ecologist, and currently an IT engineer living in Oslo, Norway. After re-discovering several long-forgotten writing journals in his cellar, Brian wrote and published The Beauregarde Affair. It’s a slice-of-life story about a bunch of hipster youths occupying (okay, okay, “renting”) a house on Morningside Drive in 1970s Atlanta … with a hognose snake named Beauregarde. To put it mildly, the neighbors weren’t exactly pleased.


Eddie Rhoades couldn’t decide what he wanted to be when he grew up … so he went for it all. He’s a musician, graphic artist, songwriter, illustrator, Southern humorist (à la Lewis Grizzard), Lifetime Master Gardener, and a former aerospace tool designer. With contributions from his brother Robert and his daughter Amanda, Eddie has written and produced Last Man Standing, Universal Love, and Songs for Your Garden. Eddie’s songs will make you laugh, cry–laugh some more–and definitely tap your toes. Remember, when you’re laughing out loud at some of the lyrics (the song, ‘Toss It’, comes to mind . . .), it’s easy to forget to clap your hands over young children’s ears.


Vickie Holt is a clown, and I say that with the utmost respect. Perky the Clown, and her husband, Steve the Magician, entertain children of all ages, and share the message of Christianity. Vickie found the picture of my sister-in-law’s garden sundial in my Flickr photostream and asked if she could use it on the cover of her latest book, The Sundials of Heart Island. I was pleasantly surprised, and said I would be honored. The more amazing coincidence was that my nephew and his beautiful bride had recently gotten married in the gardens of  Boldt Castle … on Heart Island!


Bruce and Karen Talgo both work in the field of architectural engineering and sales, and they have always been passionate about music. Bruce has been writing lyrics for many years. Karen has a lovely singing voice and she plays the piano. They decided it was time to set Bruce’s lyrics to music. They worked out the melodies, cut demos in their basement, started their own record label, and put together a studio band of talented local artists. As a result, Corrected Visionaries recently released their debut album of blues / 80s progressive rock. Their first CD, Optical Delusions, is a long-time dream come true.


Joe Laipple is a behavioral psychologist and works as a business consultant for Aubrey Daniels International in Atlanta. After years of coaching executives and business leaders on how to get needed change to occur … and make it stick … Joe wrote Rapid Change: Immediate Action For the Impatient Leader. Filled with real world examples, Joe explains the behavioral science behind successful organizational change in practical, implementable terms.


If you have visited Rob Mahan Books before, you may know some of my own re-imagination story, but here’s the part perhaps you haven’t heard. With a dream of someday becoming a writer while working for nearly thirty years as an engineer, a potential but somewhat risky and definitely complex opportunity presented itself. I’m blessed with a wife who has never said, “No.” Instead, she has always said, “Let’s find a way to make it happen.” It’s the reason the dedication in An Irish Miracle reads:

To Linda
You made it possible
With love


I’m proud to call each of these folks re-imaginary friends. Consultant or clown, designer or salesman, mother, father, friend . . . whoever you are in your “real” life, I hope you find the opportunity, the courage, the support–whatever it takes–to make your dream come true. These good folks all did it, and you can do it, too. I know you can.

What do you re-imagine yourself doing five years from now . . . or tomorrow?