Riding Barranca, Finding freedom and forgiveness on the midlife trail by Laura Chester
Published in 2013
CHOOSING TO RIDE OUT: RIDING BARRANCA BY LAURA CHESTER
Review by Lyn Lifshin
As soon as I saw the stunning, breathtaking cover of Laura Chester's Riding Barranca, the startlingly beautiful image of the horse and woman moving through rippling water, I felt I was in for an amazing journey. The horse and woman, moving as one, reflecting, mirroring the magical ride that's about to unfold.
In Riding Barranca Chester lets us inside her world where "the beauty and silence of nature --moon glow with "the enormous upper lip of the golden saucer ascending above the mountain--- in full form, balanced on the mountain line and rising surely, revealing its golden appearance" tangle with the complicated, often searing family relationships and estrangements. These passages, italicized, are a counterpoint between the soothing "listening to the horse's hooves on the hard packed road" and memories of being knifed with verbal assaults from her mother--- "whose genes are in you."
I didn't want this book to end which is always a good sign that I am in the presence of intensely beautiful writing and magic. A cremation on the banks of the Ganges takes her back to the cremation of her mother in Wisconsin. A risky horse ride in India reminds her of a time when her father rode into a bull pasture with a bull whip in his hand while she was on a pony, a trigger for anxiety. In the calmness and ease of a good horse, she sees things she hadn't before, that she has learned to say no. Through landscapes, often silent and refreshing, sacred as a church, family history reshapes itself like pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope, always there but seen at a different angle.
I can't imagine anyone not fascinated by the connection between humans and animals Chester explores. Dogs and cats, not just horses, can soothe, console and connect. Anyone close to an animal knows these creatures merge with the history of one's life and bring emotions that are rare and powerful.
The mother and daughter relationship, central to the Chester's year of watching her mother go through the last stages of Alzheimer's disease, is revealed in some of the most moving passages-- extremely intense, often painful, heartbreaking and raw and singing as they must have been years before. Having edited Tangled Vines, a collection of mother and daughter poems, I was not surprised how powerful Chester's writing is about the mother-daughter relationship: intense, ambivalent, passionate, difficult, fierce, never easy or simple, a relationship that never ends, not even with death. At the heart of the best connection, there is always some darkness, envy, ambivalence, in the worst, almost always a longing, an attempt to win the mother's love, approval. Riding her beautiful, beloved foxtrotter, Barranca, Chester takes us deep into the forest of many family relationships with their estrangements, reconciliations that no family is without--betrayals, rage, with their sickness and death as well as support and comfort.
Like the dappled light Chester and her horse move under, the book goes from joyous moments laughing with girl friends under the stars, to hurtful, terrible darkness that could trap a less strong, stubbornly determined woman, one who has survived literal and emotional falls. Riding "purges the daily grumble and allows our spirits to soar.." road."
It is quite a ride with Laura Chester and Barranca. "While riding, memories so often surface and percolate. I wonder where these odd thoughts come from, similar to the musings of a twilight reverie arriving like unexpected house guests. Images arise …family members appear as if to remind us they will inhabit us forever."
One of the most beautiful passages of the book is toward the end when she thanks her mother for the good things. It is too long to quote all of it, but I can't end without a little: "Thank you for being honestly passionate, for remaining steadfast, marrying this man, leaping into an unknown world-- the cold, often hostile, uninviting North…thank you for the magical Christmases, the stockings and gifts beneath our tinsel laden tree. …Thank you for our wonderful homes, raising us in places of order and beauty…thank you for showing us emotion-- letting us know that love is not easy but it is always worth it.
Review by Lyn Lifshin
Her many books include several books about race horses: The Licorice Daughter: My Year with Ruffian, Barbaro: Beyond Brokenness, from Texas Review Press who will publish Secretariat: The Red Freak, the Miracle in 2014 and a chapbook, Lost in the Fog from Finishing Line Press.