Friday, June 21, 2013

The Night the Horses Screamed

Do you ever have a night
when you just can't sleep?

When you spin around and around in bed 
tangled in twisted sheets 
long into the dark hours?

When things unwanted bubble up

from the depths of your past,
and you just can't stop 
the images, the sounds, 
the flood of feelings?

That happened to me the night before last.
Twist and turn.
Twist and turn.
Between many, many, long, long minutes 
staring into the black night.

Sword of Orion in the Night Sky
Source:  Wikimedia/NASA

Then, when you finally 
fall asleep in exhaustion, 
you wake up again,
and you watch the clock and the sky thinking
"Please God!  Will morning ever come?"

That happened to me the night before last too.

I woke and watched a slow hour
crawl from black toward the red dawn.

I finally gave up on sleep,
and my feet were on the floor
just as the first meadowlark 
sent its gorgeous song into the
brightening red sky.

I had been worrying about Boomer.
Not just Boomer, 
but Paj, and Ben, and even Reggie
(whom I've heard 
from a reliable source can be a pistol!)

Boomer is a gorgeous brown Clydesdale 
with a white face and nose, 
and four big white feathery feet.
He lives on Moondance Ranch 
somewhere south of me.
I've never met Boomer, 
but I took his picture in a parade last December.


I’ve never met Boomer, 
but I’d love to sometime.  
I’d like to pat his pretty nose 
and feed him some carrots or apples ~ 
even though I am frightened of horses.

I could tell my life story in horses!
Horses and I have not had an easy time of it
when our paths have crossed in the past.

Horses can size me up in a nanosecond.
Horses like to mess with my head.
Horses have laughed at me.

I swear I've heard one horse say 
to another with a wink,
"Watch the fun I have 
when This One gets in the saddle!"

This One would be Moi.
And yes, that horse had a great time 
and no doubt shared Big Horse Laughs
with his Bud when the fun was over.

If you don't believe that,
then you don't know horses!

So why would I be losing sleep 
over a horse I've never met 
who lives somewhere south of me?

Why would I be out on our deck
in the dark of night
checking the horizons
and sniffing in the air in deep, slow breaths?

Good question.

That night had been a typical evening 
for the E-P and me ~
well, except for that awesome fourth game 
in the Stanley Cup Finals
between Chicago and Boston.
I love watching the boys on their skates
battling it out with their sticks ~ 
especially in overtime.


Logo Source:

Action Source:

The only things 
that would have made the game better 
would have been a few rowdy Canadians 
tossing an octopus or two out onto the ice
or more frequent and harder body checks
and pounding among the players.

After the game was over the E-P went to bed, 
and I went into my study 
to wrestle with a poem I was writing.

Me!  A poem!
I rarely read them.
I never write them.

An utterly unexpected flow of words
had hopped out my fingers the day before
and had landed in my computer.

I worked on the meter of the poem,
trying to match it to the beat
in a favorite blues song.

Bing! ~ Zing!  Bam! Bam! and Slam!

Words to go with the compelling beat
of hard drums and blaring tenor sax.
Bing! ~ Zing!  Bam! Bam! and Slam!
I found myself getting increasingly anxious.
As I wrestled with other parts of the poem
that required a different meter/beat,
that Bing! ~ Zing!  Bam! Bam! and Slam!
kept pounding in my head.

But this is what I was hearing:

Bing! ~ Zing!  Boom! Boom! and Slam!


Bing! ~ Zing!  Boom! Boom! and Boomer! 

OMG!  Bam!  Slam!  Boomer!

I took a deep breathe,
I suddenly smelled something NOT GOOD!

I smelled smoke.
Not Smoke-That-Is-Okay,
but smoke that is definitely Bad.

I smelled smoke from burning trees.
Boomer!  Boomer and his buds!

I was on our deck in a heartbeat 
scanning and smelling the dark night.
I thought the Black Forest Fire
was no longer a danger.
All that smoke had cleared out earlier.
Why were there shadows of fire smoke
whispering along Piney Creek?

Do you think 

I could find anything on the TV ~ NOT!!!

Out on the deck again I scanned and smelled.
Just thin smoke drifting.
Safe enough to go to bed,
but not to sleep.

Words from my poem ran through my head:

          I can't think.
          But I can feel.
          Don't want to feel,
          but to forget.

I wanted to sleep

and not remember
the sounds of horses screaming in the night.

Put horses and fire together
and I get very, very anxious.

Horses and fires together 
have crossed my path twice in life.  

Mostly I think of my second real memory.
I think of 
The Night the Horses Screamed.

Horses plagued my earliest nightmares,
and they have haunted my waking dreams.

That long ago night with smoke on the wind
was in Charlottelown, Prince Edward Island, Canada.

I was really small, maybe 2 ½ or 3 years old:
Small enough to stand with my feet on the window sill;

Small enough to have to hold my hands 
just above my head 
to grip the wooden rail 
on either side of the catch
on the lower part 
of the double-hung window;

Small enough to be wearing one piece PJs, 
pink-footed and fuzzy.

I may have been really small, 
but I was big enough and smart enough 
to know that I had to hang on really tight 
because I was two stories up 
and I was afraid of heights. 

I was big enough and smart enough 
to know that those screaming sirens 
and flashing lights
slicing through the dark
and racing down Fitzroy Street 
toward the racetrack and the stables were 

I was big enough and smart enough
to know my Great Uncle Chester had race horses,
and one or more of them might be in those stables.

Ha!  They didn't call me Big Ears for nothing!
I knew many things 
that might surprise the adults around me.

Uncle Chester and Aunt Olive
with children Barbara and Halbert and family pet
Photo possibly taken in St. Peter's Bay, P.E.I. around 1920

The horse is likely one of my Great Uncle Chester's race horses.

Photo:  "This is my driver held by ???"
(confusing notation of UC's  because the driver is the "jockey" in sulky racing)

The horse would race in harness pulling a light-weight cart or sulky.
A driver sits in the cart and guides the horse in sulky racing.

I was big enough and smart enough 
to know horses were trapped.
I could hear the horses screaming in the night.

I knew the horses were terrified 
in the smoky, flame-licked dark. 

I knew that they were trapped in their stalls
and very, very afraid!

I heard their screams, 
and I knew that some of them would die.

I clung between the rail and the sill,
and I cried into the dark too,
because I could hear them, the panicked horses.
And then I screamed into the night too.

My mom burst into my bedroom,
grabbed me from the window frame,
and held me tight,
rocking me in her lap on the bed,
shushing me and telling me 
that the horses would be fine.

I told her I could hear their screams.

She told me it was my imagination.
That I couldn't possibly hear horses screaming.
That they were too far away.
Besides, even she and Daddy 
didn't know yet where the fire was.
She told me Uncle Chester's horses would be fine,
and she held me in the dark 
until I fell into a fitful sleep.

My grandmother Ella MacDonald 
with my mother Sara MacBeath
and me (Weesie, holding a razor clam)
at Stanhope Beach, Prince Edward Island

The next morning I asked 
about the horses and the fire.
Mom said that, yes, 
there had been a fire at the stables
but that all the horses were fine.

"But Mommy, I heard their screams!"

"You were just imagining things, Weesie," 
she said.

Well, I was big enough and smart enough already
to know that sometimes parents 
told you things that weren't true.
So you wouldn't feel bad or worry.

So Big Ears listened and learned.
Learned that some panicked horses 
had died in the fire.
But not Uncle Chester's.

Learned and wondered why it is that parents
don't believe you when you tell them
you hear horses screaming in the dark.

Big-peeps should listen 

to Little-peeps more carefully.

The dawn was red red yesterday

stained by a thin veil of smoke.

On the morning news I learned

that the Lime Gulch Fire was burning
in Jefferson County, 
and I realized that the smoke had come 
from this new fire and that
Jeffco and Moondance Ranch
were probably far enough apart
for Boomer and buds to be A-OK.

This morning 

(which thankfully had a soft pink dawn)
with sweaty palms, 
I started googling Charlottetown,
the intersection of Fitzroy and Edward
where our house was,
and the location of the racetrack.

A straight line from my window to the racetrack
was a distance of about 3,000 feet.

I also googled horses screaming

and discovered that 
their high-pitched, ear-piercing screams
can travel surprising distances, 
well over 3,000 feet.

Big-peeps should listen 

to Little-peeps more carefully.

This-peep won't ever forget 
The Night the Horses Screamed and Died.

It was not This Peep's imagination!

Here is a link to where
Boomer and buds hang out:
Moondance Ranch


  1. Oh goodness this was written with such vividness!! I can't imagine hearing those horse screams :(

    1. Hi OE!
      Thank you for using "vividness!" It meant a lot to this struggling writer! Those screams have haunted me all my life. But they remind me that no matter how it all ends or how tough a path I may have to walk, it is worth it, because I got to live. What an unimaginable gift that is: TO BE! I AM! Someday it will be I WAS. So what? I WAS!!!!! And hopefully, those horses had magnificent horse moments; they got TO BE! Maybe as an OE, you'll get this totally Keith!
      Have a great day!

  2. Damn, you really have things in your head
    That surely cause dread lol
    And yeah have those nights too
    Hate em at my zoo

    1. Hey Pat! I've had a lot on my mind in recent weeks, so I've not been very regular on Blogger here at my zoo. Hopefully I'll get my act together here shortly! LOL I think if you don't have those hated nights at some point, then you have never really lived. I'm thinking that part of the reason I wrote a poem a few days ago was because of experimenting with rhyme and reading your blog. You just cut loose and let her rip which I love! My "poem" doesn't have many rhymes! LOL! Hope all is well with you!

  3. Sometimes I take a long time to settle down too, and I'll keep talking to my Mom! But after I do fall asleep, I sleep all the way through; I don't think I even dream! You have so many nice old photographs. I love horses too, but I feel bad seeing them in harnesses and things. Yup, sometimes parents tell you things so you won't feel bad or worry!

    1. Hi Rebecca!
      Loved your comment ~ thank you for leaving it!
      A good sleep is so wonderful, and sometimes I sleep a long time, almost dreamless. I love how you feel when you wake up after a night like that.

      I am fortunate to have lots of old photos from both sides of my family. I'm trying to identify and organize them, so I can pass old stories on to my nieces and nephews, so they won't lose our family history!!!

      I think horses are some of the most beautiful living beings in the world, even if I'm scared of them.

      Keep writing your amazing blog! There is only one you ~ ever!!!! You'll treasure your posts when you get to look back many years from now, and you realize just how amazing you really are. I find all people amazing, when I really stop and listen to their stories. I hope you are all doing well.

      Do you know that Singapore is one of my most favorite cities in the world!!!!! I'm so sad that you are having all that smog. I have wonderful memories of my visits to Singapore. Did you ever see Gracie, the dugong, at the aquarium at Sentosa? I loved Gracie, although it is sad she wasn't in the wild. But maybe when people see her, they will realize just how important it is to protect our environment. And maybe they will realize that animals have important rights too; that we share their world as much as they share ours.

      Take care!

      Right now there is a terrible flood where my three sisters and their families live in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. fortunately my family lives on hills or terraces well above the Bow River, so they are all okay. But so many people (and animals and plants) in another city I love are suffering badly from this flood. But Calgarians have amazing spirits, and they will so rise above this disaster!

      You have an awesome day!

  4. Oh my goodness! What a terrible fire in your childhood! My heart just dropped reading this. Thank you for thinking of Boomer and his buds - we are all fine. But like you, the new smoke in the air put us all on edge. I was so ready for summer after the long winter, but now I'm worried what the summer will bring for Colorado.
    Boomer and friends would be honored to meet you.

    1. Hi Terry. Thank you for your kind comment. I, too, worry about what summer may bring. I keep telling myself, "One day at a time. One day at a time." I am relieved that you are all fine. That was a rough night, but I got a lot out by writing the story about that long ago night. I don't know what it is about Boomer, but I feel a connection with him somewhat like I feel for SophieDoodle! I can't explain it! Have a great day!

  5. Those things that happen to us in childhood write on our brain and affect us more than we will admit. Somehow all your memories were stirred up. Smells can do that. I hope for a peaceful night's rest for you tonight.

    1. Hi Peggy! Thanks for your insightful comment. I've had a number of things stirred up in recent weeks, which is why I haven't been too present on-line. Smells are very provocative. They can instantly zap you back into a time and a places
      a lifetime ago. I have been sleeping better these last few nights! Hope all is well with you!

  6. Wow, Louise. I realized I was holding my breath as I read this. I can only imagine how scary that must have been for such a young child. I do have nights like that when I toss and turn and think of all kinds of crazy, random things. Like you, I've also had horrendous luck with horses and have a terrible fear because of those experiences. My daughter Clara's middle name is Louise and I often call her "Weezy". I was so thrilled when I read that is one of your nicknames as well. I love the name "Louise" so much that I've often regretted not using it as her first name. It has a certain continental elegance....

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment, Audrey!
      Another "Weezy!" I actually have a cousin named Claire Louise, so close in name to your Clara. Louise is actually my middle name. My parents wanted to call me Louise, but Myrtle Louise MacBeath flowed better than Louise Myrtle MacBeath. I haven't been on line the way I want to because my life has been really hectic, but I do think of you all and Hubbell. I'll get back on track here soon! Take care!

  7. Early childhood memories like that stay with us forever, as fresh as the day they happened, don't they? Glad Boomer and his buds are okay.

    1. Hi Debra! Some memories never leave you, for sure! I hope that you and yours are all okay, hopefully well north of the flood waters. We haven't heard a lot here about the Calgary floods, but they have been very much on my mind. My family is okay. I've talked to them all. My sister Barb told me that water rose up to the 14th row in the Saddledome.
      Now that was a graphic image I could get. She told me thousands of people have signed up as volunteers to pull the Stampede off. If anybody can do it, it will be Calgarians and other Albertans. Take care!

  8. It must have been a frightening experience!. I have many wakeful nights wihen I awake at 3:30 with things on my mind. Can spend hours getting back to sleep.

    1. Hi Paul! Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. I've been very busy and preoccupied these past few weeks, so I haven't been visiting blogs the way I want to. But I knew that you are one of those who who are awake at 3:30! I hope that you are making good physical progress and that maybe you are already in your new home. I get back to my blog buds better very soon I hope. Take care.

  9. Oh Louise. I wish I was near so I could give you a hug. That must have been a horrible experience for you at such an young age. And to be carrying this around for years as well. However, you have managed to exorcise this experience and maybe see it more objectively now than keeping it inside.
    I too think that we tend to underestimate what not only children can and do experience but what certain adults are capable of experiencing. I believe you are very finely tuned in to 'things' we mere mortals are not connected to. Just a hunch.
    I have had those nights, not many mind you, when sleep is the farthest thing from my mind. Can be difficult the next day!
    Hey, take care and good to see you back.

  10. Damn powerful this story ~~ oh yes, nights awake wondering if I'd ever get back to sleep ~~ chamomile tea anything please to stop the racing mind! I've learned many techniques to relax and utilize which ever pops into my mind.

    Smells and situations are so impactful and stick in your mind until the day your leave this earth. In my case it is hot bathtub water ~~~ I shudder and just deep breath, for it is the only recollection I have of my father. So weird , I know!

    Your concern for Boomer and family really is heart warming even if it is difficult for you. The fires in your state and the waters in Alberta have set us all on edge waiting for the next because Mother Nature is so active this year!


  11. Powerful. And yes I have nights like that. Unfortunately.

  12. Hi Myrt, it's Barb - we have so many nick names for you LOL - cause we LOVE YOU :D It's been a while since we've talked about your horse dreams - I've had recurring dreams about being trapped in a barn with barn swallows flying over head - I haven't a clue where that comes from - I hope your dreams settle down. Keep up the excellent blogging,

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