Nomadology: Through the Looking Glass
"The mysteries of life, the most potent gifts of existence, quite often arrive on the backs of black horses." - Linda Kohanov
I've always loved liminal places - hotel rooms, airport terminals.... There is something about the generic in-betweenness of them that makes me feel safe. Like a closed door that gives you an excuse not to worry about what's on the other side, because you can't see it anyway, those in-between places bless you with a liberating lack of commitment to before and after. They are a kind of purgatory, a place and a time to work things out while reality waits patiently in suspended animation, just for a little while. I always felt as though if I stayed here long enough, no one could find me. Nothing could touch me. At least that was the way it seemed.
A riddle: What lies ahead of you, is always chasing you, and never catches you, opting instead to stalk vexingly a few steps off your flank, always? Space and time run on parallel tracks, and yet we still believe we can escape the future by moving, as if running to a place far far away will mean we never have to face what lies ahead of us. But just because one track stops does nothing to interrupt the other. The egg timer of life continues to tick down no matter how deep our heads are buried in the sand. I understand this. This is not why I ran away. Travel won't change this, but it will change you.
I've loved horses all my life. Anyone who has spent any credible amount of time with them knows they are a reflection of our most primal, intuitive selves. Furthermore, they are nomads, a concept whose value is lost on most modern societies. In the wild, horses survive by a philosophy of maneuver as opposed to battle, of mobility and sudden disappearance and reappearance, of intelligence rather than brutal, unstoppable advance. "Nomadology", as author of The Tao of Equus, Linda Kohanov describes it, is a culture "based on decidedly equine behaviour.... Here is a technique through which the weak become stronger than their oppressors...by becoming centrelessness, by moving fast across space... Horses live in the moment, and their influence keeps riders from becoming mired in projections and tricks of the mind. Their nomadic nature encourages a fluidity of thought, emotion, and behaviour that sedentary life subconsciously discourages."
When I was ten, I helped hand-raise an orphaned foal at the barn where I took riding lessons. Anyone who handled her became quickly acquainted with the unruly wild streak which defied her distinguished bloodlines and refined confirmation. As for me, this filly became my first love. I watched as her teddy-bear-brown baby fuzz grew out into a sleek black coat, the integrity of which broken solely by a small, perfectly centred white mark just above her eyes, a gleaming north star in the darkness. I clung to the fence, enamoured, as she stormed the perimeter of her paddock at a flat-out gallop, throwing in a savage fly buck here and there to showcase her frustration at running over her own footprints. I know, I silently commiserated. I can't stand riding in circles either.
Not long after her second birthday, I was watching her run her circuit when all at once she slid to an abrubt halt, as though she knew she'd suddenly crossed some abstract line. She turned to face me, and a chill ran the length of my spine as I got the distinct sensation that she was looking through me. There was a triumph lighting her eyes that seemed to say, "Watch this!" And as I stood there, frozen, she pivoted on her powerful haunches and raced head-on for the paddock fence. Certain she would pull up before reaching it, as any sensible horse would, I found myself unable to react when she only picked up speed on the approach. As she gathered herself, I remembered the advice my instructor had given me during my last jumping lesson: "Always jump heart-first". If you didn't throw yourself whole-heartedly into the effort, your mount was sure to sense your reservations and bail out. That same coach had also forbid me from ever uttering the phrase "I can't", because there was nothing I couldn't do, she said, if I only had the heart to try. This filly clearly didn't need this encouragement. Watching her through wide, unblinking eyes, I knew without a doubt that the only reason she was able to fold her delicate legs underneath of her and launch herself five feet over that four-foot fence to freedom, was because no one had ever told her she couldn't. That horse's name was Paris, but after that I nicknamed her Looking Glass.