The pretty good books of Susan Larson

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Video: Former Wild Mustang and Two Year Old Demonstrate Equine/Human Bond

This horsie is babysitting. Although I was an older kid I was pretty innocent when I got my big ol’ horse Sam. I always felt he was taking care of me and keeping me out of trouble I was not even aware of! Read Sam’s story in “Sam (a pastoral)” a book about family, growing up the hard way and the many blessings bestowed by a trash horse on an angry and unlovable kid

Straight from the Horse's Heart

by R.T. Fitch ~ pres/co-founder of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

It’s “Feel Good Sunday” and as our readers have come to expect; we comb the internet for something horsey that is uplifting, cheering and hopefully, enlightening to share. 

Thanks to a regular and observant reader we were forwarded a video of 2 year Emma Dunn walking her good friend, Cinnamon, on a snowy walk across their Colorado ranch.

Emma’s proud dad, Justin Dunn, is a horse trainer who specializes in teaching horsemanship to children and disabled individuals.  It rather looks as if he got an early start with little Emma.

On Justin’s Facebook page the proud father wrote, “These two had and still have a special bond. Cinnamon Girl LOVES her Emma.”

It’s obvious that the feeling is mutual.

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The Alligators are Singing



Alligators were in the news again this morning. The article in the paper said that some guy in Louisiana bought a plot of land next to an alligator-infested swamp, and the reptiles ate his beagle and spooked his wife.  He has tabled plans to start a cattle operation on his acreage because of fears that hundreds of gators would flock to his land and eat steak morning noon and night.


I feel bad for the guy, besieged by large reptiles, bereft of his dog and deserted by his wife; but I must confess– I love alligators. Was there ever such a successful, fearsome and interesting critter?


Think about it. They were top predators when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and they still rule the swamp today. They will eat any creature they can get their mouths around, starting with fish and ending with deer.  They are such masters of their environment that they alter and shape it to their liking. They sing. They dance. They guard their eggs and young with tenderness and ferocity.  They even use tools.  All this sophisticated behavior, using nothing but its tiny little reptile brain!


You think I am making this stuff up?  Let me tell you about alligators.  Let me help you to respect them, and to think of them as more than something to make pricey cowboy boots from.


Alligators are engineers. They make ponds.  Called ‘gator holes, these dug-out pools serve as reservoirs during dry spells. They provide good  environment for lots of plant and animal life, some of which the gator will eat.


Alligators dig tunnels beneath the banks of their ponds: cozy gator-caves into which they retreat if the weather is too cold, or just to meditate on life and wait for an unwary raccoon or turtle to happen by.  I saw a gator munch up a turtle once.  It sounded like cracking peanut brittle and it gave me the shivers.


Alligators sing. They don’t have any vocal chords, but they sing anyway, in the contra-bass register; producing tones so low that the water jumps and fizzes around them. They like the key of B flat. They stick their heads straight up out of the water and dance to their singing.  They sing, like humans, for a number of urgent reasons, all of which must be paid attention to.


I first heard a gator song while kayaking the Turner River in the Everglades. It was performed by a large bull named One-Eyed Willie.  We had paddled (quietly, respectfully) past him and Mrs. One-Eyed, as they basked in the morning sun. When we came back at noon, the missus was still basking, but Willie had disappeared.


As I was musing on his whereabouts, I heard his song– felt it really, right through the bottom of the boat. The sound seemed to come from up close, from far away, from the mouth of hell. Every hair on my body stood up as the song rattled my bones and set my heart pounding. Our tour guide suggested that we leave the area with all due speed…


 Was Willie threatening us?  Serenading his wife? Just practicing? I don’t know, and it would not have mattered. I was overcome by the sheer blind primal terror of it.


I vowed never to go kayaking with alligators again. But two years later I was back, and this time we saw gators dancing, almost before we launched the boats. Two bulls, bellowing and vibrating the water.  Yes, we launched the boats– we paddled tactfully past, giving them both a wide berth.


Lady gators guard their eggs, then carry the babies to the water after they hatch.  They encourage the babies to ride on the maternal back; which is the safest place for them to be. Don’t nobody mess with lady gators with babies on board; they will threaten or attack at this stage. We gave the moms a wide berth also. This is not so easy on a narrow, drought-shrunken little river, but we were strongly motivated to do so and we did.


Do alligators really use tools? Documented.  Gators adorn their noses with twigs and branches, and, slipping just under the surface of the water, they wait for some unwary bird to perch on those twigs as its last act on earth.


They can also run pretty fast on land, in short sprints anyway. They get up on their tippy-toes and book it at about 11 mph. A gentleman in Loxahachie State Park told me this interesting fact. He was standing on the edge of a boat slip educating me and tossing marshmallows to a huge gator a few yards offshore. The reptile was loving on those sweets, swimming closer and closer to my knowledgeable friend… I left them to it.


 Gator scales are rows of solar panels, absorbing the heat from the sun efficiently so the reptile’s metabolism can function. If the gator gets too hot, it opens its jaws for some evaporating action, revealing its shell-pink tongue and gums. Very pretty. 


When a gator bites a large creature, it holds on tight and does the death-roll,  spinning around and round until the chunk it had glommed onto twists off. They do just like you do when you wrestle a drumstick off the Thanksgiving turkey.


Alligators seldom bite humans. There are only few recorded cases of alligator attacks on people. If they do bite it is almost always a mistake, and I am sure they are sorry afterwards.  Cocker spaniels bite humans much more frequently than alligators do, but cocker spaniels do not perform the death roll.


So, how about those alligators? Do you love them now? Whatever your feelings, you have to agree that they are awesome animals. Watch, marvel, enjoy, do not feed or annoy, and you’ll be fine with them.


My Vernal Equinox



The First Day of Spring! Never before in my memory has spring been so reluctant to show itself.  It still hasn’t. I am feeling so kind of chewed- up and spat-out by this cold darkly relentless winter, I need more than a calendar date marking the vernal equinox to believe spring is here; I need a sign, a shoot, a bud, a robin, something!


I can’t think of the equinox without thinking of Denis. 


Years ago, in the middle of the journey of our life, on a better First Day of Spring (buds a-swellin, birds a-singin and sun a-shinin), I found myself standing in an elevator lobby on the top floor of the science building at a great Massachusetts university. 


I was gazing out the window over the hills toward Boston, rejoicing in the scene that lay below me– little-lamb clouds in a baby-blue sky and the greeny-gold haze of buds on the trees; when I was joined by– such a golden vision of loveliness– a biochem grad student.


On other days, biochem grad students are not all that cute. But  It was spring, my heart was full, and the gods had sent me a youth, all pink and white, slim, almond-eyed, pouty-lipped and ginger-haired.  Adonis! Ganymede! The urge to cavort, or to suggest cavorting, arose in my bosom.


“O Young man!” I chirped at him, “It’s the first day of spring!”


“You Americans,” he shot back, “You always make up official days. Mother Day, Saint Patrick Day, First Day of Spring! Why you doing this? I never understand.”


Oh dear, a Russian biochem grad student.


“No, no, “ I replied, “Americans didn’t invent the First Day of Spring, it’s the vernal equinox, you know, when the days and nights are equal in length?  Here’s the earth, see, and it’s tilted on its axis, and here’s the sun, and twice a year the sun hits exactly half of it, see…”


I was drawing circles in the air with one fist while holding the other one still– my own portable planetarium– and gazing into those pretty brown eyes, which were now rolling with impatience. His pretty hands were making that Russian fly-swatting gesture of rejection.


“What now, you think you tell universe what to do?” he sneered. Even his sneers were cute. Why wasn’t I kissing him?


“Go look it up, kid,” I said. We got on the elevator and descended. We never said another word to each other.


I didn’t kiss Denis to celebrate the equinox. Earlier in my career I would have.  That’s how I knew I had arrived at the middle in the journey of our life.  I was forty, not so young, not so old; but I didn’t kiss Denis on the First Day of Spring. The next day it snowed.  







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How People Talk in “Sam (a pastoral)”

“They All Sound So Real!”


Several of my readers have remarked to me that the conversations in “Sam (a pastoral)” sound as if ‘real people were talking.’  I am really flattered when they say that! And I think it’s true.


I spent a lot of time listening to my neighbors Upstate in Sam-Land.  These good folks had a huge repertory of epic tales about farming, hunting, and the crazy things that they or other people had done. Their language was rich and antique, their comic timing was gorgeous, and if they repeated themselves over the years, that was just fine with me.


The characters in “Sam” are based on many of these fine folks. I am especially indebted to a venerable patriarch, a tart-tongued farmer’s wife, an elfin farm child, and a series of Zen Master farriers.


 I have their wonderful styles of talking stuck firmly in my mind’s ear, and I did my best to write them down in “Sam.” The book, with a few exceptions, is fiction, but the flavor and the savor of the talk is true as true.


I was also familiar with the wise and foolish sayings of my poor parents, as they struggled to make sense of their lives and of their children. I adopted their style of verbal flailing at their mulishly ungovernable offspring, and used it for my Mom and Dad characters; but I firmly state that, except for a few instances, my actual parents are innocent of any of the wild doings in “Sam.”


Sam himself has many things to say, which I have translated into English for the reader. He was extremely communicative and had lots of opinions. He expressed himself in pantomime, and also with grunts or moans of bliss, sighs of resignation, and his own patented lip-popping, which he used to express his frustration at not being allowed to gallop. We called this phenomenon “Mupping,” and still make the sound ourselves when we are annoyed beyond words.