Monday, June 25, 2012

Book Club: "Lost Horizon"

For the first time in a long while all the members of our small neighborhood book club were present and everyone had read the book. It proved to be one of our better discussions.

Hilton, perhaps best known as the author of Goodbye, Mr. Chips, published Lost Horizon in 1933. It introduced Shangri-La, which has become synonymous with utopia. It's been decades since I first read Lost Horizon, and ages since I'd seen the 1937 movie on television. Over the years I had mashed the two together, so rereading the book was an eye opener.

The story is framed by a gathering of old school friends as narrated by an unnamed (until the end of the novel) member of the group. The narrator and Rutherford, one of the schoolmates turned novelist, later continue the discussion in private. The intriguing subject of the novel is Hugh Conway, a former school mate of the friends who had been admired as a student and was hailed as a hero during a revolution in the near east. As British Consul in Baskul, Conway had assured the safe evacuation of British citizens from the area. He was also involved in a fantastic episode related by Rutherford that becomes the basis of the novel.

Conway, his young Vice Consul Captain Mallinson, British missionary Roberta Brinklow, and American Henry Barnard board a custom-built airplane owned by a Maharajah among the last to flee Baskul. Without their knowledge the airplane is hijacked and instead of escaping to Peshawar they are flown high into the Himilayan Mountains where the plane crashes in a high valley. They are rescued by the locals and taken to a lamasery called Shangri-La where they discover a paradise on earth. The secret valley enjoys a quirk of microclimate that provides for the farming of crops not associated with the frozen mountains. The lamasery is serene, elegant, and tranquil. The pace is leisurely yet busy. Their host is Chang, one of the lamas in training, who answers many of their questions about Shangri-La, but cannot provide key information. Conway is enchanted with the location. Miss Brinklow and Mr. Barnard are uncomfortable about their predicament at first but soon succumb to its charms. But young Mallinson is eager to return to civilization. The lamasery hosts a variety of people,  but most intriguing is the beautiful young Lo-Tsen to whom both Conway and Mallinson are attracted. Eventually Conway meets the High Lama who tells him of the unusual proviso of Shangri-La that receives guests but does not allow them to leave. The High Lama also informs him that certain of the residents are far older that they appear to be.

The tale is twice removed from the events at Shangri-La, as it is the narrator's retelling of the story told to him by Rutherford based on his long conversation with Conway. This distance allows for doubt about the events and makes for fascinating conversation.

The book is a study in contrasts:  youth (Mallinson) versus experience (Conway), moderation versus passion, free will versus confinement (even in paradise). Conway is a veteran of the Great War (WW I) and it affected him greatly. Although he acted heroically at Baskul, he appears perfectly content to accept a passive existence at the lamasery to escape the memories of war and pressures of politics. Young Mallinson, unlike his older companions, chafes under the lack of action and cannot comprehend why  take-charge Conway has become so passionless and inert. Although Shangri-La is a paradise, several thousand inhabitants of the valley and lamasery live under the control of the High Lama and his order. The extended lifespan of many residents contributes to the slow pace, while the English and Americans are described as charging around the world in a state of continual and preposterous fever-heat.

Was James Hilton prescient? We found it interesting that the novel addressed issues that are still affecting us today. For example, Henry Barnard turns out to be Chalmers Bryant who is wanted for banking and Wall Street irregularities. With reference to Baskul, Delhi, London, American banking, war making, and empire building "...the whole game's going to pieces." The High Lama warned of the Coming Storm when there would be no safety in arms, no answer in science, it will cover the whole world in a pall, and result in a long age of desolation. When the book was published in 1933, Hitler's invasion of Poland was only six years away. When asked why the residents of the valley and the lamasery do not vote Chang responded that they would be shocked by having to declare that one policy was completely right and another completely wrong. A declaration that has our politicians stymied.

Conway and his companions left Baskul in the hijacked plane on May 20. On October 5 he arrived in Chung-Kiang with amnesia accompanied by a very old Chinese woman. Did Shangri-La and the secret mountain valley really exist? What happened to Mallinson during the trek out of the mountains? Was the old woman Lo-Tsen who had lost her youth on leaving the lamasery? Conway later admitted to Rutherford that he did not know whether he had been mad and was now sane, or had been sane for a time and was now mad again. Had Conway, as Mallinson charged, believed what Chang and the High Lama told him without evidence because, like most of us, he was inclined to that he found most attractive? Was Shangri-La a heavenly refuge? Or was it hell, as Mallinson found it?

You decide.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Maybe I should have kept the Schleese forward seat saddle that was custom fitted to Phantom and me. But at the time I decided to sell it I didn't have the funds to take jump lessons.

Anyone who has done hunter-jumpers knows it requires several lessons a week to work on position and timing. And for safety's sake you shouldn't jump on your own. Dressage, on the other hand, allows for solitary "homework" between lessons. Plus, one is less likely to go flying over a fence sans horse. I could afford one dressage lesson a month and an occasional in-barn clinic. So I opted to sell my forward seat saddle.

The good news was -- the sale of the saddle paid for Indy as well as the vet bills for his baseline exam and to have him fixed.

However, there are times when I feel like I'm fighting against the dressage position. Particularly when cantering Phantom. His initial canters can be difficult to engage since he bulges against the inside leg in his effort to crossfire on the depart. Once Phantom attains the canter I struggle against the desire to take a half seat to move him forward. The whole dressage deep seat thing goes against my natural inclinations. Hunt seat seems so much more natural to me.

Given various factors in my life it's pretty obvious that I'm not going to do anything with dressage. If I'm just going to hack Phantom around the arena a few times a week and maybe venture outside on the track -- I could do that in a forward seat saddle.

So the last time I rode Phantom (when I was alone in the arena with no one to wonder "what the heck?") I tried a half seat at the canter. It confused Phantom a little. But I felt like I could make better use of my legs to massage him forward into the bit.


The whole idea of saddle shopping is depressing even without contemplating where the money will come from. Phantom is a mutton-withered, round Arab. I have short legs and a generous derriere. Our combination is a saddle-fitting nightmare. And to think I gave up a custom saddle!!


There's nothing like twenty-twenty hindsight.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Rock Star

I'm not really a rock star. I just feel like one what with the entourage that follows my every move.

There's something about the second set of paws thundering after me that I find entertaining. Indy has always monitored my activities. However, if it appears that I'm not going into the kitchen or outside he usually resumes his nap.

Trixie's presence has changed the dynamic.

Neither dog is about to be left out of anything I do. If I dash up to the loft to quickly retrieve something, step outside to water the hanging flower baskets on the front porch, or whatever -- I have a herd of two dogs chasing after me. The race up the stairs to the loft can be hysterical given the size difference in the dogs. Trixie requires a running start what with her short doxie legs. Indy can gallop right over the top of her without throwing either one of them off stride.

The galumph galumph that accompanies my every move is just too funny.

So for the remainder of the month I have an entourage. Just like a rock star.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Dogs Will Be Dogs

I signed up Indy for a "Reactive Rover" class at the Oregon Humane Society before agreeing to dogsit Trixie. The "cousin" dogs are quite the pair. Trixie is a typical stubborn little German who pushes Indy around. She's small enough to walk underneath Indy, yet he always backs off to let her have her way. I'm grateful that Indy's such a gentleman, although he is a little bent out of shape since Trixie squeezes in wherever he goes.

The Reactive Rover class is for dogs that get overly excited or aggressive at the sight of another dog. Indy is basically a friendly guy who lunges at other dogs and people when excited. He's nearly tripped up me more than once, and pulled over my mother a couple of years ago. Although OHS is quite a distance from our current location, I grew up in the neighborhood and all of our family dogs are interred at the OHS columbarium. So it's a familiar place and its training program has a good reputation.

Indy is doing quite well in the class where we are learning different techniques to distract our dogs and prevent the escalation of excitement that triggers the unruly behavior. Our class includes Tom the Pembroke Welsh corgi, Dave the border collie mix, Ollie and Kitty are fluffy lap dog breeds, and Sarge is a shepherd mix. The trainers work in pairs, one giving instruction and the other leading around a variety of dogs to attract the attention of our lesson dogs. Our first session involved a stuffed dog, but we've since graduated to live dogs from the shelter.

Today we worked with a red hound dog (redbone?) and an English setter. The hound dog was calm and quiet but gave the handler a healthy tug when he discovered an interesting scent. While I was working with Indy to reward him whenever he looked at the other dog without barking or lunging, the hound decided to look out the window by stretching to full height with his paws on the sill. I don't think he was trying to escape the intimidating (LOL) Fluffy Puppy -- more like he wanted to search for scent tracks outside.

The English setter was pretty laid back. After a few trots up and down the classroom to challenge our dogs he (she?) started laying down on his side whenever stopped. When Ollie's owner told him to sit during his practice session the setter obediently plunked down also. Too funny.

Tom the corgi is just plain cute no matter what he does. Dave the border collie has the breed's intense expression. He's quite a challenge for his owner but only doing what he was bred to do. Sarge has improved quite a bit since our first session but still a notch below Dave in intensity. Ollie and Kitty are lively characters that don't scare anything when they bark. All are dogs just being dogs. But society imposes rules on our pets as well as us -- so sensible canine behavior is expected.

As my grandmother always said, you have to be smarter than the dog to train it. Hmmm.