We are walking along the graveled section line and it is raining. Not a lot, just a little. The clouds are a low, gray ceiling over our heads, and the thin strip of sky at the horizon glows a misty gray as well. To the west, a field of sunflowers bow their giant, brown heads, and the crows rise up into the rain as the dogs bound passed.
“Come on, this way,” I yell. The puppy turns first. She is suddenly the biggest member of the pack, and she is still growing. She stops to push her cold nose into my hand before racing ahead.
We hook east, and I lean down to step over the sagging lowest wire of the fence. The dogs sail through, but I get stuck, my flannel jacket snagged on the line of barbed wire above. I reach behind my back to ease the fabric loose from the sharp tooth of the barb – I’ve finally learned how to do this after tearing a lot shirts. The key, like almost everything in life, is not to struggle against it, to go easy, to slip through slowly.
It’s almost October, so the clovered pasture is brown, and thick with waist-high, reedy stems. It’s rough going. My jeans cling to my knees and thighs, already soaked through, but my feet, in black rubber boots, are snug and dry.
The puppy stops to investigate a large puddle, clear as a river full of pebbles. She sniffs it tentatively. How can she know what it holds or how deep it goes? In her three months on the ranch she’s never been this far north. Usually we cut through a different pasture. She looks concerned, but I walk on, so she does too.
Today, I posted a short film of myself on facebook that was recorded and edited over the summer. I can’t stop thinking about it. When I saw the first rough cut about a month ago, I cried. It was me. So me. Me as I know myself, including awkward moments where I look away from the camera, embarrassed and unsure. Meanwhile, it uses my words, and the images of this place I call home, to tell a story I would never have been brave enough to share. It is, as a whole, revelatory: a strange and rare opportunity to see myself, not as I fear, or imagine myself to be, but as I might appear to someone who knows me well. It is a familiar me, but still somehow it is surprising to be so revealed.
The dogs and I loop around the little pasture, until we are heading west again, back towards the house. Usually this is where we stop and visit the horses, but they are in a corral by the barn today. They watch our descent down the hillside, hoping we’ve come to liberate them. We haven’t.
“Hello, boys!” I call. They linger at the fence line and the gray horse, Wallace, stretches his slim neck out to me. Carl comes up next. Charlie is last. They watch my pockets closely and humor me by letting me coo and stroke their noses, but lose interest when neither food nor freedom is offered. Carl, especially, is not particularly keen on being a pet. But he listens when I talk, and looks at me, his big, brown eyes unblinking, trying to puzzle out what I am about. He is the one I ride most often, and he treats me kindly because he can tell I am still a little intimidated by him.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” Our vices can be quite a burden -- humility is a virtue that repays the virtuous by freeing them from the exhausting cycles embedded in narcissism. The work of the self-obsessed is never done. Horses do not worry about such things, nor do dogs – they just aren’t built to care about self-curation. I try not to care about it too much either, but I AM built to care, and when I made my living as an independent musician, it was actually part of my job. Creating an image, branding myself, maintaining a profile on every possible platform of social media. I found it overwhelming and debilitating, but that was the cost of doing business.
Even now, far away from any music “scene,” it is hard for me not get wrapped up in the desire to be renowned, or at least well regarded. How do I, as an artist and as a person, carve out enough space to finally get over myself? A place where the very human desire to be liked quiets down, and something softer can be found? I once told a friend that when I sing I feel like I am holding hands with God. What I didn’t tell her is how hard it was, and still is, to believe I can measure up. Measure up to what? I don’t even know, because the scale keeps shifting. That’s just the way it is with ego.
Slowly, very slowly, it is getting easier to think less about all of this, and that is by far the best solution I’ve come across. Getting older helps too, as does being in a relationship with someone who believes in me, and tells me so all the time. And it’s why I take walks with the dogs, rain or shine, to visit the horses. Wallace and Charlie and Carl don’t notice that I am way to old to be an ingenue, or wonder if I’ll ever finish that next album, and they have never once mentioned that no one at the indie music magazine Pitchfork knows who I am. They don’t love me for my accomplishments and they don’t care if I am marketable. They love me because I bring them treats and because I am familiar.
Pretty soon I will go inside and sit with the guitar, and I might write a song, and I might not. But first I will stuff my pockets with horse cookies and head back to the corral. Right here, right now, it’s Carl and Wallace and Charlie’s approval I am seeking. Right here, right now, that is enough.