Saturday, November 29, 2008

An Edward Abbey loop

I left Phoenix Thanksgiving morning, heading north. I passed by Southwestern Academy and Sedona then climbed up the Mogollon Rim to the Colorado Plateau--the elevated, magical, almost mythical geophysical province that sprawls across northern Arizona, southern Utah, and spills over into Colorado and New Mexico. I continued through Flagstaff, across the "painted desert," over the Little Colorado (just east of the Grand Canyon), and paused at the infamous Glenn Canyon Dam before arriving in Kanab, Utah--where I spent 1.5 days with some friends, and their family.

This morning I began the loop back to Phoenix, heading through polygamist country (at Fredonia and Colorado City), St. George, the Virgin River Gorge (along I-15) and then Vegas where I am currently parked in a Starbucks. The next stop will be Quartzsite, and I'll probably press on to Phoenix tonight.

This is a stunning and unique part of the world. My route until I left Utah was made famous by Edward Abbey (among others), along with his fictional characters George Hayduke, Bella Abbzug, Seldom Seen Smith, and Doc Jarvis. If you haven't read it yet, and you're an American with an interest in the West--I encourage you to read The Monkey Wrench Gang, at your earliest convenience.

Frank Sinatra, hosted by Judy Collins on Sirius Satellite Radio provided the soundtrack this morning.

It was a good Thanksgiving and even with the gloomy economy I am thankful for so much. I'll mention two things briefly. First, I am thankful for my very good friend Kellie Forbes, and her family who took me in for 1.5 days in Kanab. I've always been a tourist or traveler passing through that beautiful and remote town--but this time I got a taste of the local culture which is as colorful and interesting as the culture anywhere. Kanab is American Jesus Country--Latter Day Saints style. The LDS people have become pretty unpopular with many of my friends, but my personal ties to Kellie and her family far outweigh any political opinions of mine. These are very good people.

The second thing I am thankful for is something a little more abstract perhaps. I am thankful to live in times when I can see so much of the world. Traveling is an important part of my life and it's so easy and relatively cheap to do right now. The current crash in fuel prices, while not good for our fuel consumption habits, allowed me to relish (with little financial pain) the open road of the American West--a place where I am very much at home. On this trip I paid my all time low price for diesel fuel, $2.11 per gallon (down from $5 this summer).

In his lifetime, Edward Abbey lamented the loss of the open spaces of the West--and what he percieved as the mindless "Americanization" of some of the last great wild places in the continental United States. While I share some of Abbey's sentiments (please note the word "some" I am no anarchist, for example), even two decades after his death, vast and wide open spaces still exist along the Colorado Plateau. They will likely be there for a long, long time given the scarcity of water in the region--though the inevitiable march of "progress" changes the landscape bit by bit, year by year.

Hopefully, as Americans, we'll follow the advice of contemporary thinkers like Thomas Friedman, and many others, and make American Progress more progressive.

Las Vegas, Nevada

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

As light fades into a New York November night

The past five days were busy with the Equine Affaire in Western Massachusetts. I was helping my sister and Californian Rex Peterson with their horse RJ Masterbug, one of the horses that played Hidalgo in the Disney film of the same name. RJ is one of the two primary horses who played the part (five were used in total). RJ is a true star. Men, women and children went ga-ga over him. People went crazy over meeting Rex as well, one of (if not the) top Hollywood horsemen of our times.

Today I got a late start, taking it easy this morning then finding myself distracted by non-farm responsibilities. It was late afternoon as I rode out from the barn for my final ride of the day on Spanish-native Duende, an Andalusian stallion. Duende is a gray in the horse world, but to most people he would simply be a white stallion.

As the two of us left the property today’s magic began. We rode out for about an hour as the November darkness quickly descended. I am easily taken over by delusions of grandeur, yet what could be grander than riding a horse who could have literally jumped out of the pages of a book of fairy tales?

The pockets of fall color that clung to the trees when I arrived two weeks ago are long gone. Today felt like winter. It was in the thirties and flurries of snow sprinkled down all day. Duende and I walked, trotted, cantered and galloped through the Dutchess County countryside. I relished every moment, knowing that my respite here is just about over. In the woods, a carpet of rapidly decaying leaves was underfoot. In the fields, summer grasses were long drooping as their winter hibernation began.

White tailed deer fluttered by frequently, on the run from fall hunters, and the man on the big white horse. The deer didn’t faze Duende--not much did. He’s a big sweet horse with a generous heart.

The sounds of the ride were memorable too. Flocks of geese squawking, the hooves of Duende clip clapping on the country lanes and pounding the Dutchess County dirt. The rhythm of Duende beneath me made me wish he and I could go off forever—to a mystical land.

As we were walking down the lane into the farm it was dark. A deer hunter straggled across our field toward his Dodge truck. A car pulled in behind us. The two headlights cast two giant shadows, side by side, of Duende and I dead ahead across an expanse of lawn. They were a pair of comically large outlines of a man on his horse, the perfect visual for ending the perfect ride.

I removed the tack, sprayed down the big white stallion’s legs, brushed him, and put his rug on for the cold November night. When I left him he was in his stall, munching hay.

Thanks Duende.

Jim Breitinger
Windrock Farm
Amenia, New York

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wranger Jim returns

In Springfield, Massachusetts with RJ Masterbug, star horse of the Disney film "Hidalgo." Photo by Joa Sigsbee.

Hangin' with RJ

Photo by Joa Sigsbee.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Twenty years visiting Dutchess County

With my sister Cari Swanson as my hostess, I've been visiting Dutchess County for twenty years now. Here we are yesterday. She is on Bond. I am on Cosmo.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Ang and RJ

Film legend Ang Lee meets film legend RJ Masterbug--my sister Cari Swanson's star horse. They shot a scene together in Lee's upcoming movie "Taking Woodstock" (2009). Woodstock is just across the Hudson River from Dutchess County. Shot on location, September 2008.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Galloping through the new Gilded Age

I am based at my sister’s in New York for the moment—Dutchess County to be precise. I arrived yesterday.

Late this afternoon I took Kosmo out for a gallop through the fields and woods in this beautiful part of the country. Kosmo is an Irish Sport Horse, and he’s also one of my Dutchess County buddies. We met two summers ago when I was here for an extended stay. Our ride today was an enjoyable change of scenery. Nothing beats the feeling of a powerful horse beneath you, his hooves pounding. The surrounding countryside felt like it was floating by, appearing as images brought to life from the prettiest Hudson River Valley landscape you’ve ever seen. There was a light rain. It was enough to support the delusion that I am rugged and I was roughing it in inclement weather. Some of the fall color is hanging on to the trees but it is the cusp of winter here.

Earlier in the afternoon I toured a brand new barn and riding arena. This place was truly over the top. The budget must have been $4 to $5 million on the low end for a place with a modest number of stalls and a maximum amount of showiness (I am talking about the budget for the new barn, not the property in general). To protect the privacy of the owners I will limit the details I write here. The riding arena uses no steel in the structure. Beautifully finished wooden trusses support the substantial roof. A combination of fibers and sand covers the arena floor—it’s a "dust free" type of footing (keep in mind this is a space to work horses). Rubber mats--designed to look like tiles--are inlaid throughout the aisles of the stables. The center aisle is at least 200 feet long with wood paneling from the floor to the arching ceilings. Huge lantern-fixtures, at least a dozen of them, line this spectacular space. No expense was spared. I am a barn connoisseur, this place is not my favorite, but even with all of its excesses, it is spectacular. It is also a barn I will never forget.

I am currently reading a fantastic book called Supercapitalism by Robert Reich. Reich provides one of the best economic histories of the 20th century I’ve ever read. He explains how in the mid-century incomes were closer and how in the late 20th century disparities rose to levels not seen since before 1929. Reich has some interesting and unexpected observations about this that I won’t get into here, other than to say that the new barn I saw today was a physical example of the widely disparate levels of wealth in our times.

PS--The current Gilded Age may very well be drawing to a close, though we are too close to it to know for sure.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008