We don't have many deciduous trees in Santa Barbara, but we do have them, and in the fall, they show their colors. I caught this foliage late today at the tail end of my walk at the Wilcox property, also known as the Douglas Family Preserve. (Thank you, Michael Douglas!)
I consider myself so lucky to be able to walk on the beaches in Santa Barbara regularly with my dog and friends. Last night it was an extraordinarily beautiful evening on the breakwater, looking over the harbor.
On the Central California coast, near a tiny beach called Jalama, is a 300-acre wild horse sanctuary called Return to Freedom. I visited this amazing sanctuary over the weekend with friends, and came away awed and moved by the wild horses that live freely in the hills there, protected for the rest of their lives.
Founded by Neda DeMayo in 1997, the non-profit Return to Freedom supports more than 275 horses in half-a-dozen distinct wild horse bands rescued from government roundups throughout the West.
Despite what many people believe, the American wild horse faces continued threats. Legislation meant to protect these horses has been diluted over the years and government roundups continue. Younger animals are sold, many to brokers who in turn sell them to slaughterhouses in Mexico. Older horses end up spending the rest of their lives in government holding pens. Many die of abuse or starvation. This program costs American taxpayers $100 million a year.
There are other wild horse rescue groups, but Return to Freedom is unique in that it strives to rescue genetically connected or bonded groups of horses. It is also a founding organization of The American Wild Horse Conservancy, which is raising money to buy larger plots of land to protect bands of wild horses for many generations to come.
You can visit Return to Freedom year-round (visit the website for information). The sanctuary also offers an experiential education program, works to change policies related to the wild horse population, and offers youth programs where kids can learn about the horses and volunteer. If you live anywhere nearby, I urge you to visit Return to Freedom. And if you can help support it (hay alone costs more than $30,000 per month), consider making a donation. (They also have an awesome gift shop!)
Special thanks to Connie Weinsoff, Return to Freedom’s director of education and programs, for taking us on an extraordinary and eye-opening tour of the sanctuary.
I met a man recently. We were chatting amiably, the way two people do who are testing to see if there’s common ground for deeper connection. Asking what the other person does, where they live, where they’ve been, all the usual things. Somehow the question of optimism came up.
I told him I am an optimist by nature. I believe in the inherent goodness of human beings – that evil acts and evil people are aberrations of the human spirit.
He said he, on the other hand, was very much a pessimist.
I asked him why. I’ve never had anyone tell me that before. Of course, I’ve met people I would consider pessimistic, but never someone who so consciously declared it, with no inkling of regret or sadness.
“I’m Jewish,” he said, “and European. I’m inherently pessimistic.”
As a child, he grew up in a city that had been bombed by the Germans to almost nothing. He experienced the travesty of the Holocaust. Also, he explained, Jews do not believe in an afterlife, so what’s the point of hope?
It’s an interesting perspective, one I confess confounded me.
I was raised Catholic. I grew up believing that something wonderful awaited me, if only I hewed to the values and expectations of Christianity. I would be rewarded with Heaven. While I haven’t considered myself a Catholic in many, many years, hope remains strong with me.
As an American, I hold in my cells the call to independence, to adventure, to seeking a better life and believing it’s there, just around the corner. There’s always something glorious waiting – “the shining city on the hill” – my friend said, quoting Ronald Reagan.
Reagan took that phrase from Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony John Winthrop’s exhortation as he sailed toward the colony aboard a ship in 1630. He wrote: “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world.” (From Life and Letters of John Winthrop, by Robert Winthrop, 1867.)
There have been many references to Winthrop’s “city on a hill” over the years, notably in a speech by Walter Mondale in 1984, and John F. Kennedy cited it in 1961. But it was Reagan’s reference to a “shining city on a hill” in his farewell speech upon leaving office in 1989 that is most remembered today.
Yes, I think my new friend is right: Americans are perhaps ridiculously optimistic. And I agree as well that a Christian influence is at play here. Aren’t we all hoping for some version of the Pearly Gates? But there is something more, a more basic belief system at work.
I couldn’t live without hope. Without knowing that in the end, the basic goodness of humanity will out. Will triumph over evil. Else why would we get up every morning? I have to believe that all will work out in the end. That the good guys will win. It’s not Pollyanna-ish (though I’m sure many would call it that). It’s the only way I could move through the day, could face the hard stuff, accept the disappointments and devastations. I have to believe it will all be okay in the end. It’s how I choose to live. I can’t imagine any other way.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” - Brené Brown
I'm reading Brené Brown's latest book, Daring Greatly, about finding the courage to be vulnerable. It is a hard thing, especially for someone who has had to be strong most of her life. I'm slowly realizing the gifts of being vulnerable, and part of that is also recognizing that we are enough, just as we are. I am enough.
If you haven't seen Brené's TED talks, they are well worth viewing. There are two; one on vulnerability and one on shame. Watch them both.
Maxine Hong Kingston spoke at Santa Barbara City College last night about writing and social activism, specifically, war and peace. The Warrior Woman, she noted, was told against a backdrop of war, as were her subsequent books, including China Men and her most recent, The Fifth Book of Peace.
There have been few times in our history when war has not been part of our experience. Still, she seeks peace, she acts for peace, she writes for peace.
I love these photos I took of her at the end of her reading, when she talked about the duality of our existences – peace and not peace. We are always at war, and somewhere, at the same time, someone is also at peace. She looked around the audience in Garvin Theater. “See?” she said. There are wars raging around the globe, yet, “We are here, all of us, at peace.”
What a beautiful – and hopeful – sentiment. I am carrying it in my heart.