There was this one time I was leading a horse into a field. I was maybe 12 years old and well-acquainted with horses, especially this one. Though he knew me, this horse did not know the field or the other horses in it and he did not feel super relaxed about going through the gate. He communicated his hesitation to me pretty effectively through his body language, a special skill of horses. I tried to relay his message verbally, as I understood it (“No”), to the person who had asked me to lead the horse into the field. She maintained that he had to go in there, and that I should insist.
I insisted. He resisted. He planted his feet firmly. He tossed his head around mightily. And when this failed to overcome my continued attempts to urge him forward, he did some impressive snorting and whinnying, thrashed his head pretty hard, and then he reared up. In order to prevent him from running away at the high speeds I knew him to be capable of, I leaned hard into holding on to the lead line, sitting straight back. When he came down, one front hoof met my thigh. He didn't want to step on me and I didn't want to be stepped on, so we re-adjusted quickly and for a few weeks I was lucky to see a bruise in the form of a perfect, blue (then green) print of a horseshoe, complete with nails, where one degree less of self-preservation on my part or self-awareness on his might have meant looking at a big plaster cast.
I have a few stories like this that I’ve picked up in my turns around the sun, occasions that flicked past in a few minutes without real disaster or much global import but are still sticky enough to keep attracting my attention, even as my memories of so many other things fade. In this particular anecdote’s ongoing life as a metaphor, the meaning and the characters are not fixed. Often I see other people in the role of the person, or the horse. My mind slides from the resistance to the care-taking that we both exhibited. And then there’s the field. And the gate. It’s a rich dynamic that seems to be visible and relevant all over the whole wide world in my experience.
In other news that’s not all that separate, there’s a really wonderful yoga class that takes place near enough to my house that I have no reasonable way of saying that I just can’t get there. Actually there are probably 58 of those classes every day; I live in yoga country. The thing is that though I have a healthy respect for its value, I hate doing yoga. Yoga classes (to generalize broadly) make me feel crabby and sad and as though I am a wooden Nutcracker doll at a Gumby convention. But somehow about five or six years ago I fell sideways into this one particular class with one particular teacher that not only could I tolerate but that I loved, and I went to her class three times a week like I imagine a person who is very devoted to church goes there. I’m pretty sure my attendance would have been perfect even if she had taught it five times a week, even if I had needed to sell the sofa to pay for it, even if it had taken place in the middle of the night. I only missed it when the circumstances of my sister being very ill and then dying in locations other than my home zipcode made it truly impossible to get there.
And then came the punches of grief and a bad back injury--basically a fog of pain. I explored any number of therapies and exercises and procedures that might help my back and help me avoid the eyeball-popping experience of any more full body spasms, but even when the back issue gradually became more chronic than acute, I never went back to yoga. I can give you lots of reasons why, and most of them are really persuasive. They persuaded me every day for years.
Sometimes you have to be the horse and the person holding the lead line at the same time. The horse in my actual story went through the gate, after our little tussle. What he was resisting turned out to be a field of green grass, which is not always the case in the metaphoric version. Sometimes we invest in resisting inevitable things that are not so pleasant to chew. But it can usually be said that the horse, once in the field, finds that he has been fixated on the wrong associations.
Which is not to say that I am grazing happily in yogaville now. I still feel like the Tin Man in the land of the bendy people. And I do not love the part where getting past pain means getting deeper into it—no, no. I do not love that part, or the part where one’s limitations have to be acknowledged and confronted, or the part where you try to confine all your crying to child’s pose and you would wipe your nose on your knees if you could just fold over far enough to do it but you can’t. Plus when I took my yoga mat down from its shelf in my closet, I found that actual mice had been living and hoarding almonds in it, speaking of humbling discoveries.
But I tossed my head around, and then I went through the gate, and I am telling you about it because if I say it here then it will mean I have to keep going. The honor system and all that.
Yoga teachers like to say congratulatory things at the start of class along the lines of ”you got here! That was the hardest part!” Of course this is before the other hard part starts, but I see their point. Once class gets underway, sometimes they say, can you soften your shoulder? What if you could soften your knees right there? And the other day what was actually said (to the whole class, not just to me) was “can you soften your head?” It made sense, in the context of how we were being asked to touch the tip of our left ear to the back of our right knee, with a soft gaze upward. But still: therein lies the task. Can you soften your head?
If you are looking for me on certain mornings, I’ll be snuffling my way through to shavasana, which for the uninitiated is the part at the end where you get to take a nap, and is a Sanskrit word meaning “because it’s over” and “the best part.”
Meanwhile, we need to eat. Spring is a nice time to do that, because it’s still so exciting to be able to tromp outside and snip fresh green things that just about anything comes across as wildly delicious if you fling some herbs on top. Scrambled eggs or any plain white dairy-ish glob (ricotta or cottage cheese or a nice soft goat cheese) or a humble bowl of rice get exciting very quickly when exposed to chopped fresh herbs.
Compound herb butters are the next level of difficulty up from just sprinkling things, still a super easy way to make little flavor bombs you can use now or sock away in the freezer for later deployment, on a roasted vegetable or a grilled protein or rice or noodles or a hot-damn version of garlic bread, such as was served to my lucky family at Greek Easter last week--just a loaf of good bread, sliced and slathered with ramp butter and baked in foil.
Some time ago I was at a restaurant that served radish butter with its bread course, and though it sounds (and tasted) fancy, it was just butter pinked up with radishes and a little salt and pepper. That idea knocked around in my softened head with springtime and its little green things and so it comes to this.
- 3-5 radishes
- 4T unsalted butter, at room temperature
- a scrape of lemon zest
- 1-2 T of some fresh herb, minced as finely as you can manage (I used sorrel and lovage, but thyme or chives or parsley or ramps or anything lively would serve)
- fresh black pepper or a pinch of red pepper, depending on the heat of your radishes
Trim the little mousy tails off the radishes. Using a microplane, grate the radishes finely. A tremendous amount of water will immediately begin to collect around the pile.
Mound the grated radish up on the back of the grater, and use a spoon to press as much water out as you can. When the grated material is dry enough to pull together into a ball, use your hands to squeeze out the remaining water (it does not need to be bone dry). Knead this substance into your softened butter, then add the herbs and seasonings to taste.