Grab My Wrist

Photo of Linda Eskin - Grab My Wrist

Hi. My name is Linda Eskin. In May of 2009, at age 46, I came to Aikido to improve my horsemanship. It's become about much more than that for me.

Aikido is a Japanese martial art. It's not about fighting. It's about being aware and responsive, not defensive or reactive. We learn to work with others and with circumstances, rather than opposing them. The lessons from Aikido permeate my life. Our training applies as much off the mat as on it. My teacher is Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego.

I speak from my own experiences - technical and philosophical, physical and spiritual. I discuss training and writing, learning and teaching, seminars and meditation, freedom and discipline. Underneath it all, it's about connecting, with ourselves and others.

Everything I say here is just what I say. Don't believe me. Find out for yourself at a dojo near you.


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A LITTLE ABOUT ME
Most of the posts here are duplicates of my posts from my blog on AikiWeb.com, a very active and friendly community of Aikido students and teachers. If you are a member of AikiWeb, and would like to comment, please do so there.

I am a beginning student of Aikido, a martial art that, like horsemanship, takes a lifetime to master. These posts are only my own observations on my own experience. You should not rely on anything I say here. Any inept or incorrect information is my own responsibility, and should not be a reflection on others.

I am grateful to Dave Goldberg Sensei for being an extraordinary teacher, and for creating an engaged, thinking, and compassionate community of students and teachers at Aikido of San Diego. If you are in the area, visitors are always welcome to observe classes. If you are a student at another local dojo, keep an eye on our dojo calendar for upcoming seminars and other events.

Copyright © 2009-2014, Linda Eskin. Please feel free to share any of my poetry, online, or in print, keeping my name and any other acknowledgments with it. I will almost certainly be happy to let you use anything else I've posted here, with proper attribution, but please ask first.

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Linda Eskin



MORE AIKIDO READING


Don’t Buy Into This

A random thought I had while chatting with a friend just now…

I think a really serious public health problem in our country, or at least our culture, is the constant messaging we get about how things get worse as we get older. It results in a fatalistic hopelessness, where people stop trying to stay flexible, stay active, stay strong, etc. they excuse all their aches and pains and weaknesses as “I’m just getting old.” Not to say age doesn’t have its challenges, but if we give up and sit on the couch, we are way more screwed than if we had kept active.

An Intense Intensive

I have just returned from George Ledyard Sensei’s 4-Day Randori Intensive at Aikido Eastside in Bellevue, Washington, near Seattle.

Wow.

For my non-Aikido friends, randori is a multiple attacker scenario, usually one of you, three of them. It can be intimidating and exhausting training (and a lot of fun). Four days of it… Whoa.

I first heard of this seminar shortly after I started training in Aikido. At the time it had been offered for 20 years! It sounded amazing. Four full days of weapons and randori work. One of the intended audiences for the seminar is people preparing for dan (black belt) exams. The word “Intensive” isn’t just in the title to sound cool on the flyer.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to go? A learning experience and rite of passage rolled into one. I always thought it would be fun to take the train up, too! 1,500 miles. See a whole lot of the country on the way.

For the first few years I didn’t have the required rank (or skill, obviously) to go. When I first met Ledyard Sensei in person I mentioned that to him - that I was looking forward to the time I would be able to participate in this seminar.

Then last year, when I did qualify to go, budget and timing interfered. Also, knowing more about weapons I became concerned about that aspect. My training is based on Saito Sensei’s weapons, and theirs comes from Saotome Sensei. I don’t know their forms at all - not even some of the terminology. I thought I would be lost and in the way. Underfoot, you know.

So with that combination of factors in the mix I didn’t go. I gave up the whole idea of going. I figured I’d do a different seminar with Ledyard Sensei one day, but none really called to me the way this one had.

Life went on… My teacher asked me to test for shodan (first black belt) this coming December (2014), so I’ve been training extra diligently. I’m not working regular hours now, as I lay the foundation for a major career change. Meanwhile, Michael and I undertook some home renovations, and I happened to put all the purchases on my formerly-unused Amtrak mileage credit card to keep them separate.

Then this spring I saw the event listing for the upcoming 2014 seminar: “4-Day Randori Intensive with George Ledyard at Aikido Eastside.” Wait, what? Randori only! No weapons! The 25th year it’s been offered. “The 2014 seminar will be specifically geared to ASU Yudanhsa Test preparation and is intended for teachers preparing students for testing and test candidates and ukes. However, it is open to students from any organization.”

Holy crap!

I had time. I had a free train trip. I had enough rank/experience. I had a yudansha exam coming up. OMG! It was perfect! How could I not go?

But being, ahem, “between careers” means money no longer grows on trees. Staying in a hotel and renting a car would have been a problem. I asked a friend who trains there if she knew of anyone who would let me crash on their couch, maybe in exchange for my paying their registration. Bless her heart (and her husband, too), she invited me to stay with them.

I registered for the seminar back in May, and made the train reservations (2 days each direction). Then I got my gis mended, ordered a shinai (more on that in a moment), and packed everything I might need for an adventure on rails and at the dojo. Finally I was really going to go! 

I was pretty nervous, I’ll admit. Being on unfamiliar turf is always challenging. I tried to keep an open mind, remembering to enjoy and learn from whatever we did, but my hopes were so high there was a lot of potential for disappointment.

I was not disappointed in any way.

I knew the group would be small. It’s limited for maximum personal attention. But you know how sometimes the first day of a weekend seminar is even smaller because people can’t get Friday off work? Yeah… For the first morning we had four participants on the mat. Me, three sandans (if I recall correctly), and Ledyard Sensei, a rokudan instructor with 25 years experience teaching this particular seminar (and way more than that, overall). That’s some serious hands-on personal attention. There was no hiding in the back row here! As the weekend went on, more people arrived, but there was still constant attention to each student, with immediate and specific feedback, corrections, and coaching.

We worked on (among other things, and in no particular order) strategies for starting randori, direct techniques (dropping people where you wanted to), managing the relative positions of the attackers, using one attacker against the others (throwing them at each other, and using them as barriers or shields), seeing the lines of attack, judging (and creating) spacing and timing, executing techniques quickly (so as not to get bogged down with any one person), and getting out of trouble. We also worked on good (useful) ukemi for randori and with shinai, and safety in training at speed in groups.

Something completely new to me, but it’s on their tests, was randori with shinai. Three attackers wielding padded bamboo sticks. The techniques are like our bokken work (sword-like), but with shinai you can actually aim to clobber someone and not do any damage if they fail to get out of the way. That means the attackers don’t need to hold back when they come after you. We did several exercises in dealing with attackers coming from different directions, and I got to see a few full-speed shinai randori with people who were preparing for their exams.

On Saturday afternoon one of the dojo members took her shodan exam, too. I was lucky to be there to see it. It was a very impressive test!

I meant to do daily blog posts after the seminar each evening, but I was too mentally and physically exhausted, plus we had to get dinner, and needed to be up early the next morning, so that didn’t work out.

On the train ride home I alternated staring out the window with writing notes from everything I’d learned. It’s actually kind of hard to write on a train - too many distractions and too much being jostled about. But I wrote a bunch anyway. Assuming I can read my handwriting later I have a big chunk of a hardbound journal filled with notes, sketches, and ideas to play with and refer back to in coming months and years.

——-

Something that has been particularly touching for me is everyone who made it possible for me to participate in this event. This was not just some random thing I thought it would be a hoot to do on a lark - it was a long time dream and goal to be there. I try to be a pretty independent, self-reliant person, but I simply could not have done this without a lot of support.

I’m so grateful to my friend and her husband for making it possible for me to be there. I’ve been on that side of hosting people during seminars, and while it can be fun it’s still a major disruption to deal with a house guest when you’re already quite busy enough as it is. They and their cats were awesome hosts, and I really enjoyed my time with them. I hope I can repay their gracious hospitality someday.

Much appreciation to my husband, Michael, for making it possible for me to be away from home. He took over care of feeding of our donkey, an assortment of cats, and a friendly raccoon who expects dinner each night, not to mention keeping our acre of thirsty trees happy during hot weather. Plus he did a bunch extra yard work while I was away! Oh, and got me to the train station at oh-dark-hundred, and then picked me up again in the wee hours when I came home.

I so appreciate everyone at the Intensive. Some folks had participated many times before, and are teachers in their own right. I was the newbie in the bunch, and the lowest-ranked, but they never let me feel like an outsider. They made me feel right at home at the dojo, and were generous and gracious in their coaching on the mat. But no taking it easy on the new kid - they were determined that I should do my best, and worked with me with warmth, compassion, and high expectations. And for that I humbly thank them. :-)

Most importantly, many thanks to George Ledyard Sensei for his attentive, demanding, thoughtful teaching, for leading such a great community of aikidoka. Oh, and for some pretty funny stories over lunches, too. I hope to have many more opportunities to train with him.

——-

Whether you have heard of this seminar for years and just haven’t gotten around to going, or are learning of it for the first time here, go. Put it on your 2015 calendar now, and just go. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Every aspect of the event exceeded my already high hopes. It was challenging, technical, fun, useful, supportive, demanding, friendly, detailed, clear, funny, and intense. It definitely lives up to its name.

Photos from the 2014 Randori Intensive on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10153275674208484.1073741826.113852463483&type=1

Randori, Day 1

Today was the first day of the Randori Intensive with George Ledyard Sensei at his dojo, Aikido Eastside, in Bellview, Washington. This is going to be a short post because I’m tired, and tomorrow starts early and will make today look easy. :-)

I had a great trip up on the train. I will post photos eventually, but it may not be until I get back. It’s a pretty busy weekend here. I’m lucky to be staying with a friend whose also doing the seminar (she’s done it several times before, too). We had a lovely day yesterday, out walking among trees and along a lakeshore.

This morning was a relatively small group on the mat, so tons of personal attention. Immediate, specific, detailed feedback and coaching. Some of it is familiar, some is similar to “how we do things back home,” just presented in different ways, and some of it is flat-out new or different. No pretense of “beginner’s mind” here — I really have to stay open, watch and listen closely, and try to do what I see and hear without thinking about it.

Attending to so many things at once is the most challenging part. I remember to irimi behind my partner, and forget to keep my base. Or I keep my base and forget to drop down into the technique. A lot of it is new info, but a lot is also stuff I know, and forget while I’m focusing on something else. So that’s a fun challenge.

It’s mentally and physically exhausting. Mostly mentally. I always have this experience when going to a new dojo - everything is different.

I’d best be rested for tomorrow. Off to sleep. :-)

On the Road Again!

I’m off to a seminar in the morning. This time I’ll be taking the train from San Diego to Seattle (39 hours each way!) to participate in George Ledyard Sensei’s 2014 Labor Day Weekend Randori Intensive at Aikido Eastside. Funny… My last train trip was also to train with Ledyard Sensei. Cool!

I’m just ridiculously excited about it! I’ve been wanting to do both this seminar, and a long train trip, for years. Now I get to do both. Plus I get to meet and hang out with another of my fellow writers on The Mirror team from AikiWeb, Katherine Derbyshire, plus a bunch of other folks. Woohoo!

I will be posting a lot for the next week or so. Some of it won’t be directly about Aikido - lots of photos, random observations, etc.. Follow along!

:-)

Inner Peace, World Peace

I really enjoyed today’s seminar with Richard Moon Sensei and Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego. The subject was “Aikido is Medicine for a Sick World.” We may not have solved all the world’s woes, but generated some good insights, and maybe made a few connections and shifts within ourselves. Afterward, at lunch, we decided it was a good training for mind, body, and spirit.

In related news, I’ve been feeling really overwhelmed and under a lot of pressure with everything I need to get done before leaving for Seattle at oh-dark-hundred on Tuesday morning. I’m determined to have all my preparations done by Monday afternoon before class. Months ago I had a long, complicated nightmare about missing the train, in spite of last-minute scrambling to throw everything together. I’m determined not to live it out in real life. LOL I’ve been feeling pretty stressed about it, actually - sure I’ll forget something critical, or run into some problem that will screw up my trip. Now, after an intense 4 hours of working on dealing with pressure, blending with multiple attackers, and moving into the open spaces, I’m feeling a lot calmer and more capable of seeing and managing the big picture instead of staring in panic at ever little detail (attack). I can see the whole system, and it’s something I can handle just fine. It’s not world peace (yet), but it’s my peace, and it’s a start.

Aikido is Medicine for a Sick World

We have a seminar coming up at our dojo a week from Sunday, with the teaching inspired by the O Sensei quote “Aikido is medicine for a sick world.” A couple of weeks ago when it was announced it seemed very appropriate in light of the fighting between Israel and Palestine. Right now Ferguson, MO (and many other places in the US) seems to need the same healing and reconnecting.

We cannot have police forces that see people as the enemy, who aim weapons at peaceful protesters. We have to get back in touch with our shared humanity. There is no “us" versus "them.”

I found this quote from a news article telling, and chilling:

“We’ve done everything we can to demonstrate a remarkable amount of restraint,” St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said in an interview outside the command post.

Restraint? Restraint from doing what? It implies they would like to be more violent, more forceful, but are trying to hold themselves back. It comes across to me as if a large, angry, powerful man had just backhanded a child, and then expects to be congratulated for showing restraint for not beating the kid further. 

Police must not act out of anger. They are supposed to care for and protect their community. They should act appropriately, and with the least amount of force possible under the circumstances. If they need to “restrain themselves” something has gone very wrong in the underlying thinking. 

It sounds like “Don’t make me have to hit you again!”

We have lost our collective minds - or maybe our hearts - when somehow two young friends walking down the street at night, bothering no one, escalates within seconds to one of them being shot dead by a man who was supposed to be protecting them. 

There’s a lot that’s right in the world, but this sickness needs to be cured, and “we” have cure it. We.

Time Flies

If you ever want to make a year fly by, here’s how to do it.

First, anticipate that you will likely be testing for shodan at some point this year.

Next, sign up for a study course to be certified as a Group Fitness Instructor (GFI). Plan to be done with it by summer. Ready to rock in your new career. Along with your writing you can help people be healthier and happier. Buy a notebook, highlighters, and pens. Put everything in a big tote bag so you can study anywhere, even at the park. Dive into the material. For a week.

Now, decide that this is the right time to remodel the house. Drop writing studying like hot potatoes for 6 months and instead focus on choosing flooring, rearranging furniture, and picking paint colors.

Meet with Sensei, along with a friend who will also be testing, and schedule your shodan exam for December 13th. Many months away. Plenty of time to train and prepare.

Refinish the kitchen cabinets. Landscape the driveway entrance. Collaborate with the contractor. Throw a big party when it’s all done.

Whew!

Check the calendar and note that if you don’t schedule your pre-paid GFI certification exam in the next 2 days you will have to pay again to schedule it later. Schedule the certification exam for Friday, October 24th - as far out as you dare without being too close to your ranking exam. Dive into the material again.

Discover that you don’t know anything that’s going to be on your shodan exam. You’ve seen and done it all before, of course, but it escapes you now. Kazushi is kaput. Ma’ai is MIA. Even your gi are all goners. Start training on Sunday afternoons with your testing partner, friends, and sempai. Take all your gi to a tailor. Train, train, train. Make progress, slowly.

Get back to working on your books.

Realize there is more to do on the house. A lot more. Only the contractor’s part is done. Try to divide your time 50/50 between studying-writing and house projects. Study and write Sundays-Wednesdays, work on the house Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.

Try to settle into a routine.

See that your elderly, arthritic donkey friend is getting worse week by week. Try everything you can to help. When that finally doesn’t work, let him go.

Get back to work.

After a few days adrift your brain starts churning out ideas again. Branding concepts, business models, marketing messaging… Blog posts resume writing themselves. Jot down ideas everywhere. Wake up inspired to write. Forget to drink coffee one morning!

Today will be about putting away all the stuff in the bedroom that’s still out after construction. And then there’s making a salad for the big dojo summer party after tomorrow’s kyu exams.

How is July almost over already?

Vale, Eeyore.

Tuesday

Just the thought of checking the oil in the truck feels like I’m plotting the murder of a dear old friend.

And I am.

I rarely use the truck anymore, since I gave up horses. I need to make sure it’s safe to start it. The truck and trailer are in the way. At least he won’t have to go in the trailer. He hates trailers. I think most donkeys hate trailers.

Yesterday I called the neighbors, the ones with the grandkids and the pool, to be sure they would not be around. Bible camp this week? Convenient.

My chatty neighbor is full of kind advice. “You’re doing the right thing. With our old horse… I wish we had… It’s always hard. We’ll pray for you at camp.”

Tears.

And then the vet’s office. I had to schedule around other commitments. “Thursday? 9 a.m.? OK then. We’ll arrange everything. We’re so sorry.” Simple.

I hang up and cry some more.

Convenient and simple, but terrible and hard.

For years he’s had a hitch in his get-along. Arthritis. He’d stand up in the morning and cuss under his breath for minute, then shake it off and get on with his day. Just a bit of a limp in the right hind. Happy for ear rubs, excited about treats, glad for company.

We all have our aches and pains, right? I do, and I’m not ready to give up. He didn’t look ready, either.

More and more often, though, he rests lying down in the shade. His favorite place recently is under a pecan tree up the hill, where he has a view of the yard and the house, and the ground is sloped, making it easier to get up from resting. His friend munches her hay nearby, not hovering over him, but never too far off. He looks like a cat, lounging with his feet tucked under one side. Sometimes he chooses an open place in the midday sun, and stretches flat out, sunbathing as donkeys do.

Is it so bad to spend one’s later years relaxing in the shade and sunbathing?

But now I see the weeping sores on his legs from lying down so much. Generous layers of soft wood shavings may make him more comfortable - when he’s willing to lie in them at all - but they don’t help the sores.

Trusted friends give advice and sympathy. They’ve been here, too, and it never ends well. Ways to help, ways to let go. How to make it easier on his friend. Words of wisdom, shoulders to cry on.

Suggested sprays and ointments are rubbed off within the hour. Recommended bandages refuse to stay put. And he hates all of it. I decide he would prefer to be left alone and have sores than to be pestered with treatments that don’t help anyway.

Is it better to have life, with suffering, or to not exist at all? There’s a point where the scales tip. But where?

Every day I watch from the house as he buckles to his knees trying to rise from a nap in the shade, and hold my breath. He gives a mighty heave and gets to his feet, bracing wide against falling again. He makes it this time, and wanders off to nibble at his hay. But how many more times?

When will I come home and find that he’s been down for hours, exhausted from struggling in the hot summer sun? I’ve experienced that horror before. I want to spare him from it.

I see him crash to his nose one day, front legs failing him, too. I had wondered how he’d scuffed up his nose. Now I know.

He seems to do better when he takes his time. He rushes to jump up if he sees me come out the back door, so I watch out the window, waiting for him to stand on his own before going out to feed.

He stands and cusses a bit longer nowadays, tucking his leg tight to his belly. Are the muscles cramped? Is a nerve pinched? Do the sores sting?

He rubs his graying face on my jeans as he’s always done, and I’ve always let him. The seams and pockets are at just the right height for scratching an itchy forehead and eyes. He digs into his food with his usual combination of enthusiasm and desperation. He’s a fat little donkey. I think at some point in his past he went hungry, or lost the shoving matches at the feeder. He’s always afraid there won’t be enough food.

I hide his medicines in a delicious mash of soaked pelleted feed. He loves the treat, as long as he has some hay to eat along with it - it’s too mushy alone for his tastes - but the medicines might as well be inert dust for all the good they have done.

He has seen us through 3 horses and 16 years. We found him at the Humane Society in 1998, when we needed a companion for a herd-bound gelding. A family had lost their home and had to give him up. He was fearful and defensive. It took 3 hours and 4 people to load him my trailer. He was hard to catch, and harder to handle, but he never kicked. He wanted to be friends, and wanted to be good. With patience and kind training he learned the world could be an OK place, and that he could relax. We boarded him with friends when we took vacations, and he learned that trailers don’t always take you away from home forever. He surprised us years later by running to the trailer and jumping in when we evacuated ahead of a huge wildfire, embers falling around us. He knew he could trust us, and would be safe if we stuck together. He still doesn’t like trailers, though, and I won’t have to ask him to get into one again.

The sores have gotten worse. Sometimes blood drips down his legs, directed by the long fur, like rainwater. I kneel to take a closer look, and he threatens to kick me. “That hurts. Leave it.” I respect his request.

He walks down the hill to his water, and stands with his friend in the afternoon shade of the house, dozing. For years they’ve had the run of the yard, a sloping acre of fruit trees and dry weeds. No point locking them up in a barren pen. Neighbors have fed him grape leaves through the chain link, and he’s watched their kids grow up. Our citrus trees are all pruned bare to eye level - the leaves being tasty, apparently - and the fallen fruit makes a juicy snack. He’s had a pretty decent life. Now he wanders, picking at the short grass growing where the lawn used to be.

It’s been cool and cloudy for a few days. A welcome break from usual sweltering heat. Sometimes he doesn’t look so bad, walking slowly but purposefully back to his soft place under the pecan tree. But I remember the scuffed nose, the sores, the cussing, and the inevitable return of the blazing sun, and I know it’s time.

Now he is nosing through a half-flake of forbidden alfalfa - a legume hay too rich for donkeys, with its dark green leaves and flat, dry purple flowers. I’ll give him more this evening, too. Consequences be damned. Screw the nutrition and weight issues. The hell with long-term health risks.

Since he is up I take him a sweet slice of watermelon and some peppermints. He trumpets an increasingly rare he-he-he-haaaaawwww when he sees me coming with his blue plastic dish. Enjoy your treats, buddy, and a little shoulder-scritching, too. Enjoy everything you can - life is short.

I’ll move the truck and trailer in the morning - today it feels too much like treachery.

~~~~~

Wednesday

Today is about enjoying the day.

I have a short talk with him and tell him his troubles will be over soon, that he should relax and enjoy everything he can. If there are any things he had been meaning to do, unexplored corners of the yard, he should take care of those today.

I think of all the things he’s never liked, things he will never have to put up with again. He’ll have no more weather in the hundreds, salty from sweating behind his ears. No more huddling on the porch of the run-in shed for days on end during storms, with no dry place to lie out under the stars. No more gnats biting the insides of his ears bloody, and no more flies irritating the fronts of his legs. And no more fly spray, which is almost as bad as flies. No more loading or riding in the trailer. No more being tied to anything. No more hoof picking. And no more arthritis. No more pain.

Next is a good brushing, warm wash cloths to clean his ears and under his itchy tale, and all the treats I can think to give him. Marshmallows, peppermints, apple wafers, a banana — a new thing, which he enjoys, and a big handful of common sow thistle from the front yard, which I had been meaning to get around to picking and giving to him. Today is not a day for waiting for the perfect time, or putting off until later. Today is for experiencing everything right now.

I double up on his medication at lunch, which isn’t wise in the long run, but there is no long run, and it might make him feel better right now.

And I check the oil, which is fine, and move the truck and trailer.

Later, running errands, six huge Fuji apples, and three bags of fresh, crisp carrots from the farmers market shop. Just five dollars and ninety-one cents. Why haven’t I done this more often? Oh, right… Too much sugar. Not good for donkeys. Well today that doesn’t matter.

At bedtime I hand out bowl of the carrots and apples, a few pieces at a time to avoid choking. They were worth pinning ears over. I find myself wishing I’d fed him more carrots and apples.

I remember his vet’s words from a couple of years ago, when I’d mentioned that maybe I should put him on a diet, get some weight off… “Just let him enjoy being a donkey.” I pretty much followed that advice. He got treats, and a bit of alfalfa with his responsible grass hay. I wonder, what if I’d given him more carrots, more apples…? A happier, but shorter life? Is the trade-off worth it?

There is just one more arthritis pill left in the bottle. Good timing, I suppose, to run out exactly to the day. I didn’t plan that. In any case, it isn’t going to do him any good to take it tomorrow, so I give it to him now. Because why the hell not? So what if it causes kidney damage?

They get more alfalfa than usual for the night, and I head back to the house.

Before turning in I confirm my checking balance to be sure there is enough to pay the vet and hauling company, then set the alarm for daybreak and try to sleep.

~~~~~

Thursday

The day begins like any other. Michael has already made coffee by the time I get up. I have to figure out what to wear. The cats are excited to go outside.

He is out at the barn, eating. Eeyore. Our little brown donkey. Like his namesake, he is a mopey sort of character. Capable of delight and mischief, but for the most part pretty sure the world is not quite a safe place.

I leave him be and have some coffee and a handful of Brazil nuts for breakfast.

There are so many details… I will need to have two checks ready, one for the driver, and one for the trucking company. I will probably need Kleenex, so I fold a few into my pocket. Must have a manure fork handy — I wouldn’t want to have him go down in a pile of poo.

And now he’s lying in the shade under his pecan tree. I let him rest.

There’s 200’ of water hose lying around out front, and I reel it up so it’s out of the way. Check to make sure the gate key is where it belongs. If I couldn’t unlock the gate… We will need both halters. I can’t ask Clementine to wear Eeyore’s halter when I take her out front afterward.

He’s on his feet now, so I go out to say good morning.

He chomps through the first apple and handful of carrots, all diced into bite-size chunks, in no time. There are more in the fridge, and why shouldn’t he have them all? For an instant I can’t find the apples. The big, crunchy Fuji apples I bought at the farm store just for Eeyore. They can’t be missing! Not now! There’s a brief frantic search, and then there they are right in front of me.

We can lose our centers so quickly. I take a deep breath, and exhale. It’s OK…

I cut up another bag of carrots and three more apples, in a bigger bowl this time, saving one apple and another bag of carrots for Clementine. She will be on her own after this morning, and will need plenty of attention and pampering.

8:01 a.m. An hour until the vet is to arrive. What might a donkey want to do with his last hour? What if I only had an hour left?

I cut a tiny bad spot out of a carrot slice, because no one should have to eat even a tiny yucky bit of carrot in their last hour.

The pragmatic voice in my head tells me to drink plenty of water so I don’t pass out. “Go to the bathroom now,” it says, “so you don’t have to leave anymore once you go out back again.” It’s always there, arranging things, being logical, unaffected.

A few friends who have advised me throughout this process text me now to wish us well. I reply, and realize that in all this time I never taught my my phone how to spell Eeyore’s name. I probably meant to get around to it. Someday.

With just a few minutes left I halter him, and lead him out through the front gate, and he drags me towards the nearest grass. Just then the vet’s office calls. He’s delayed 30 minutes. A lucky thing, too. I wonder for a moment if they don’t “accidentally” delay all euthanasias by 30 minutes, knowing everyone needs a little more time.

Eeyore spends the extra time out front, grazing and eating more treats. He used to be afraid to go out there. Today he was dragging me around looking for the best grass. I finally just toss the lead rope over his back and let him enjoy his freedom. What is he going to do? Limp off down the road? He’s not particularly interested in company. He’s busy with his donkey business.

Actually, he’s looking pretty good, walking around, grazing under the trees. But I remind myself that he’s on triple the normal dose of pain meds, and that he doesn’t have the strength to reliably get up from lying down. And he’s been getting steadily worse. He gives a good impression at the moment, but can’t go on this way.

It’s a lovely way to spend his last morning, grazing freely, eating all the forbidden treats he enjoys so much. I’m glad he can go on a morning like this, not down and struggling, frightened and hurting.

Meanwhile, Clementine is furious. Locked in the back, behind the gate, while Eeyore eats all the grass and all the treats. Not fair!!! I give her a few carrot and apple pieces (still mindful of her long-term health, at least). She takes them greedily, and goes back to pawing at the ground, kicking the air behind her, and banging the gate back and forth in her teeth. Not!!! Fair!!!

The vet, Dr. Chandler from East County Large Animal Practice, who has helped us all these years, turns into the driveway. He explains everything, and gets out what he needs. Sedation first, then an overdose of anesthesia. Yes, “blue juice” really is blue. You never want to mix that up with anything else. He is kind and skillful. Eeyore goes easily - drowsy, and then no more. Less traumatic than having teeth floated. I try to get up from squatting down after it’s over, and things go fuzzy. Even with all that water I drank. Back down to the ground, until after a minute I can stand.

Dr. Chandler gives me a hug. I thank him for helping Eeyore out, and he thanks me for giving Eeyore a good life. More tears. Sadness, but also relief.

I have arranged for an hour’s pause in the day before the truck comes, so that Clementine can come to her donkey-mind understanding of what has just happened. She can see from her spot at the gate - he is just on the other side. I let her stand there and look. The pragmatic voice says “Take a break. Have some Gatorade. Get your checkbook and a pen.” I do as instructed.

Back outside, I lead Clementine through the gate for a closer look. She looks, sniffs, and walks right past. Grass! I let her eat for a while. She shows no concern or interest. She’s out front, and there’s grass. That’s all that matters.

It’s getting near time for the truck. I ask her to come back up near the gate, but true to her donkey reputation she refuses to budge. I screw up my courage to drop her lead rope for a moment, and run back to the gate for the bowl that’s still half full of carrots and apples. Finally she’s willing to follow me back. I give her another chance to see her friend, and although she clearly notices him there I can’t discern any reaction. She lets herself be coaxed through the gate, following the bowl. The padlock is slimy and spit-covered from her earlier escape attempts. I click it shut so she can’t shove the gate open and get in the way.

The hauler arrives on time. He introduces himself - Jesus. Nice guy. Soft spoken, courteous, thoughtful. I can see at least two horses through the narrow gaps of the sides of the truck, which is tastefully enclosed to shield folks on the road from this harsh reality. I thank him for doing a tough but important job. He tells me he’s been doing it for 20 years, and it’s hard work, long days, but he likes it. I write out both checks and go inside, leaving him to his work.

Even as I’m hearing the truck engine and wench motor in the distance I discover an injured bird in the garage - a juvenile Phainopepla. It must have escaped from Miss Kitty after she brought it inside. Its wing is injured, but it’s bright-eyed and lively.

I put it in a cat carrier for the moment, and after the truck leaves I go out to check on Clem. She has been knocking a trash can around, dumping old hay everywhere by the side of the house. She’s perturbed, but it’s hard to tell if it’s about Eeyore, or about being kept from all that grass out front.

I put everything away, give Clementine a few more treats, and get the house closed up, grab my car keys, and take the little bird to the Project Wildlife triage center. They are hopeful about its recovery.

~~~~~

Later Michael jokes that we can say Jesus took Eeyore away. There is humor even in difficult times.

~~~~~

Vale, Eeyore. 17 July, 2014

Listen: “Aikido, Empathy, and Neurodiversity” with Sensei Nick Walker, M.A.

I have a podcast to recommend to you. I’ve listened to it a few times before, and just listened to it again, twice, while doing some gardening at sunset out in the front yard.

The interview provides an excellent, clear, accessible, and thought-provoking introduction to Aikido. If you are not yet familiar with Aikido you’ll learn a bit of its history, and how it’s distinct from other martial arts. Even if you’ve trained for years, there’s probably something new here to consider about your practice.

The podcast is just over an hour long. At about 16 minutes Walker Sensei makes a very interesting point about the practice of Aikido, in contrast to non-contact practices like (most) yoga and meditation. He also discusses his work in neurodiversity and autism rights activism.

Interview #323
"Aikido, Empathy, and Neurodiversity"
with Sensei Nick Walker, M.A.

The source is Shrink Rap Radio, with interviewer Dr. David Van Nuys, Ph.D. (AKA “Dr. Dave.”) He is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Sonoma State University.

According to the brief bio on the site (from 2012), “Nick Walker received his M.A. in Somatic Psychology from California Institute of Integral Studies, where he now teaches in the undergraduate Interdisciplinary Studies program. He holds the rank of 6th Dan (6th degree black belt) in aikido, and has taught the art of aikido to adults, teens, and children for over 30 years. He is founder and senior instructor of the Aikido Shusekai dojo in Berkeley, California.

I will be looking up other podcasts from Shrink Rap Radio, too. There is another with Walker Sensei, and #268 – Visual Thinking in Autism with Temple Grandin Ph.D. Hundreds of interviews. Good stuff. They also have apps for iOS and Android, plus you can download the podcasts from iTunes.