18 February 2007

February blues


The cold grows colder, even as the days
grow longer, February's mercury vapor light
buffing but not defrosting the bone-white
ground, crusty and treacherous underfoot.
This is the time of year that's apt to put
a hammerlock on a healthy appetite,
old anxieties back into the night,
insomnia and nightmares into play;
when things in need of doing go undone
and things that can't be undone come to call,
muttering recriminations at the door,
and buried ambitions rise up through the floor
and pin your wriggling shoulders to the wall;
and hope's a reptile waiting for the sun.

--Bill Christophersen
This poem captures the mood here at the Quinella Castle better than any explanation of recurring water main breaks, subzero wind chills, feline projectile vomiting, canceled vacation days, the death of Barbaro, and NO VISITS TO THE TRACK SINCE NOVEMBER ever could.

Suffice it to say: We're in a funk here. We can't even summon up interest in the Derby trail. Yes, truly, it's been that bad. Fortunately, other members of the TBA have been picking up the slack with posts about Nobiz Like Showbiz, Hard Spun, and Teuflesberg and an entire blog devoted to Derby hopeful Birdbirdistheword.

Still, these winter blues have continued unabated for more than a month, so I've had to turn to fiction for some bibliotherapy. Last week, finally, I picked up Horse Heaven by Jane Smiley. I haven't finished it yet -- the large print edition I grabbed off the shelf weighs in with more than 900 pages -- but already, its characters have captured my attention, set up residence in my consciousness, and in general, completely distracted me from recent ice storms and my as-yet-unfinished tax return.

In rather unsentimental yet engaging prose, the book follows a huge cast of characters -- owners, trainers, horseplayers, breeders -- at a variety of tracks and farms, deftly switching viewpoints between bored socialites to unfortunate trainers to obsessive gamblers, and even to the horses themselves. And though it's not what I would call "a happy book," a too simplistic term for such a rich, sprawling novel, there are sections that make me smile, such as this reflection from Tiffany, a former Wal-Mart employee who's now part of a wealthy rapper's entourage and has logged a whopping three trips to the races:
The others had begged off going to the track today -- even Ho Ho, who really was going to own the horse should they get one, thought it was kind of boring. They all liked fifteen-minute quarters, for example, not sporting events that ended a minute and a half after they had begun. But Tiffany couldn't wait to come. She had made a tape off the radio of a guy calling the Kentucky Derby. Quite often she played it. All the words he used and the excitement in his voice made her happy. She had a whole new list of words that she sang voicelessly to herself: furlong, off the pace, sire, dam, yearling, gaskin, withers, hock, router, cannon bone, garden spot, long shot, favorite, girth, blinkers, colt, fetlock, and of course, filly. That was the loveliest word of all, she thought, a word of great sweetness. She had noticed that Dagoberto always said that word a bit affectionately, hard-hearted and hard-headed self-made man that he was.
It's at this point, as I think about the great sweetness of the word filly, that I realize the sun really will come out sometime, February will be gone -- and there are only 67 days until the Kentucky Oaks!


John (AKA Not Too Swift) said...

Geez Tracey

You need a vacation. Reading a book under a palm tree somewhere is a good remedy for many things.

photogchic said...

I can't read Jane Smiley, I kept tuning out during "A Year at the Races." Rent Caseys Shadow if you want a good track story. Or just get away from it all and read "Water for Elephants," a story about reflections of an old man who worked as a vet at Barnum and Bailey. A good read.

Rising Rainbow said...

What kind of name is Birdbirdistheword? Geez, the poor announcer.

But I'm with you on this winter, talk about a funk........

QQ said...

Photogchic, I, too, faltered with A Year At The Races, but I'm finding Horse Heaven a much better vehicle for her thoughts about horses and racing. In general, I'd say her novels are worth a try; her Pulitzer Prize winner, A Thousand Acres, is to my mind a real gem. Haven't picked up Water for Elephants yet (ever the friendly neighborhood librarian, I've been waiting for the reserve list to thin out before I check it out!) Thanks for the recommendation!

QQ said...

John, I think you're on to something with that palm tree idea.

Nellie said...

Thanks for reminding me that I need to pick up Horse Heaven at some point - perhaps that will be my spring break reading... have you read Moo
(also by Jane Smiley)? I've had it on my shelf for years, but finally got around to plucking it off a couple of months back and thoroughly enjoyed it. If you haven't, and are interested, let me know.

And lest anyone think that she's just whining about the weather - I can confirm that it's true (or at least was). But really, the snow we got was what I saw daily growing up!