In 1980, Mike and I moved to the Napa Valley. The weekend trips from San Francisco to see my sister at Napa State Mental Hospital had encouraged us to get out of the city. And it became evident that it would be easier on my brother-in-law if I took care of his surviving daughter during the week, while he worked. Moving near the hospital would facilitate my supervising visits so that my sister could see her daughter. At this point we were trying desperately to normalize the situation. Once again, my days were filled with caring for my niece. I loved every minute of it, just as I had with Tara.
My emotions were jumbled as I shared full and profound love with this child, another child of my sister’s, and yet I had no child of my own. I suffered a miscarriage in that first year, and it did not do anything to heighten my regard for the Universe. After a year or so, my brother-in-law was transferred to Southern California, the antagonistic behaviors of my sister became too much for me to bear, and Mike gave me the second of two ultimatums that involved my sister; her situation was again coming between us, and I had to make a choice. It was an easy one.
Mike and I had been spending our weekends riding at a stable in the eastern hills of the Napa Valley. After a few months we each bought our own horse, moved to a house with a barn and pasture, and brought them home. For the next five years, my horse Ashwa-Pati (Sanskrit for “Horse Lord”) was my raison d’être. The communication that I had with him and the rhythm of caring for him was the closest I could come to a spiritual practice; riding together was also a bonding time for Mike and me. We were able to cross the distance between us as we crossed the vineyards and hills together. I had sensed his relief at my having another miscarriage, and the issues of our having children and my grief at the loss of Tara Jyoti were never open for discussion with him.
I found the greatest solace riding through the early morning fog and mists. It was the North Bay fog that cooled my raging spirit, and I was always disappointed when the sun burned through the fog, opening the sky to a huge cloudless blue mass under which there was no softness or shadow. Each summer I hung on to the morning fog and dreaded the long, hot days with no relief from the intense heat and the blazing sun.
The autumnal weather changes were a great relief to me. The cooler air brought the scent of rain and the promise that the summer-parched brown hills would turn emerald green once again. The first rains were exciting, leaving the air fresh and cleansed of the dry summer dust. The chill of the early morning was softened with a good fire in the woodstove and a warm drink. When the rains slowed down, I stepped out in to the freshness of the air to greet the day.
Petrichor is the word used to describe that certain fragrance that hangs in the air when the first rain moistens the parched soil, a musty yet sweet smell given off as the water releases the earth’s dormant energy. As I walked across the yard to the stalls, I was aware of the absence of sound as the newly wet yet still parched grasses gave way under my boots. As I walked along, my eyes searched for the first hint of green signaling the new growth of winter. The moisture softened the brittle grass in the pasture, muffling the horses’ steps, and we all walked in a world of misty quiet.
The clouds moved across the sky in their stormy fashion, lumbering in from the West in various shades of grey. Some came in wispy fingers, light and airy, while others loomed dark and menacing, their lowness adding to the feeling of quiet and closeness to the earth. Even as the winds aloft pushed the clouds along, there was often no breeze at ground level. On past the Eastern hills they would move, and if they spared our little canyon any more rain, I would saddle up to ride.
It was evident that Ashwa-Pati was aware of the changing seasons, too. He would breathe a little deeper and would be a bit more eager as I made the preparations that signaled we were going out for a ride. On days such as these, our start was usually not a slow one. His stride would be long and full of joy. I would have to strain a little to hold him back; I did not want to let him go fully until he was warmed up and his muscles were stretched. When the time came to urge him on, we moved as a single unit. We started around the large pond at a canter, neither of us startling to see the geese take to the sky as they moved away from the sound of our motion. We jumped what water there was in the spillway, went up the rise and down the lane through the cattails. The spicy fragrance of newly-moistened anise would wake my senses anew. We would wander around the hills until time or returning rain sent us home again. Once he was cooled down, we stopped by the clover patch on the way to the open pasture where he buried his nose in the clover as though he would never be able to get enough of it. Even if the rain had returned at that point, it usually did not matter. Eventually I would walk him to the pasture, and head back to the house and a rejuvenated fire. The joy I felt on these days kept me going; I was reassured by the sturdiness and the gentleness of my equine companion. He helped me to slowly heal the pain, the sorrow, the loss.