Happy, Healthy & Horsey: Winnowing, Part I

Esther explores the process of winnowing and self-discovery.

No, not whinnying. Winnowing. One of Mirriam-Webster’s definitions of the word winnowing is, “to treat (something, such as grain) by exposure to a current of air so that waste matter is eliminated; to free of unwanted or inferior elements.” 

Ancient agricultural societies utilized winnowing to separate the chaff from the grain during harvest season. Some segments of humanity still do. You take a basket full of rough-harvested grain — which includes the chaff and the grain — and you toss the basket’s contents high into the air; the chaff is blown away, and the grain falls to the ground.

There are probably several great metaphors about the weightlessness, or nothingness, of the waste versus the weightier substance of the valuable grain, but that’s a discussion for another time and place. (Anyone wanna meet at one of Knoxville’s great array of eclectic coffee shops, just lemme know — coffee’s on me!)


But, for this article, note that the winnowing process requires tossing all the contents of your basket into the air. What you consider valuable, and hope to keep is just as vulnerable in that moment as what you want to get rid of. The act of winnowing, then, arguably, requires a great deal more faith than a mere Kondo-esque reduction of material “stuff” in one’s life.

Since my last H3 column, I have been in the process of winnowing in many areas of my life. The past months of rehab, riding occasionally as my body feels up to it, daily fighting the “battle of the bulge,” running a business, running a farm and publishing and promoting a book, all while trying to maintain an active presence on social media and regularly write this column for all you amazing, incredible folks who are on this journey with me, well, friends, the sense of “overwhelm” got SO bad, my world came crashing down. Not in binge eating, I’m delighted to say. Not in a massive meltdown (although, raw honest, there were a couple of tearful convos with trusted friends).

And not, thank God, in choosing a permanent solution to some temporary problems. Full stop here, friends, for the phone number that could save a life: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

I offer the above suicide prevention info because, during the past few weeks, I’ve had the privilege of helping a local friend in need hang on when they got the point of overwhelm where that “permanent solution” was, for them, on the table as one option. If you’ve ever helped someone hang on through their darkest moments, yay, you. Life can be really hard sometimes, and that Scriptural instruction to, “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) is one of our highest callings as human beings, in my opinion. My friend is stable at the moment, and every day is a new beginning, so the sun rises and on we go.

My own sense of overwhelm manifested itself in dragging me down where I could hardly function. I didn’t feel like riding or working or doing anything beyond the most basic chores to keep all my fur-family fed and watered and their various litter boxes/stalls cleaned out.

In an effort to shake off the massive doldrums I found myself in, I made an impromptu drive to the ocean for a weekend. Raw honest — I could hardly move once I got on the beach, so I sat in a chair — for hours — and let the warm breeze, the salt air and the rhythm of the waves soothe and cleanse my soul. Winnowing at its best.

Loving the ocean breeze. Selfie by Esther Roberts.

I took a trip to the mountains. Pisgah Inn is one of my favorite places on this entire planet. I hiked a little, but again, I mostly sat on a balcony with a panoramic view of North and South Carolina, and let the crisp breeze, the mountain air and the symphony of songbirds soothe and cleanse my spirit. Winnowing, again.

Stunning view from Pisgah Inn. Photo by Esther Roberts.

And my overthinking brain kept churning this question: Who am I?

Kaliwohi, being his perfect self.

The first word I ever spoke was “pony.” From my earliest recollections, I have self-identified, and been ID’d by those who know me, as one of the “horse girls.” And yet, over the past few years, the joy I once felt whenever I was around horses seemed to fade into a blur of bills and chores and injuries and heartbreaking frustration. Riding was no longer fun, but a chore — a duty I owed my young mustang to educate him.

Who am I?

I love to write — social media posts, articles like this one, books, notes on lovely stationary to friends. Writing my thoughts is my all-time favorite means of communication. And yet, after My Friend Sam was published late last year, it seemed like my creative juices slowed nearly to a halt. I’m overdue on a couple of writing projects, even as I type.

Who am I?

When asked, “what do you do?,” I can rattle off all sorts of glib answers: “I’m a lawyer,” “I’m a writer,” “I’m a rider,” “I’m a pianist,” “I rescue animals — what’s your superpower?” and on and on. But the simple question, “who are you?” has brought me to a screeching halt.

used to be a top student of an elite piano professor; I graduated and he retired. I used to be a federal attorney; I left federal service and went into private practice. I used to be a crazy-confident equestrian who hauled her little paint horse Sam all over the place from the Great Smoky Mountains to the wide open spaces of Oklahoma — and rode alone, fearlessly. I used to be five-foot-two and a cute size six. I’m still five-two, but size six is an illusive goal at the moment. That was then.

But now? Who am I? Not who was I? Who am I?

Who are you? Do you know? Are you sure?

These days, I am, quite literally, tossing everything in my life up for review. My farm is for sale. Maybe it will sell; maybe it won’t. But I’m open to change. Perhaps less land, thus less responsibility, would be a good change for me.

My career is up for transition. Maybe I’ll take a different job; perhaps I’ll continue as a solo practitioner attorney. Perhaps the routine of a “40-hour week” and being around a group of colleagues on a structured, regular basis, would be good for me. I don’t know. But I’m open to change.

My perspective is changing, as well. I want to shed more pounds, but not in some egotistical attempt to regain my youth. No, indeed. I just want to feel healthier and enjoy my present life without the hindrance of excess weight.

Over the next several months, I will be sharing with y’all this phase of my journey and how I’m navigating these transitions — not because my personal life is so exciting (it’s not, trust me), but because I know that there are so many of y’all out there going through similar transitions in one form or another.

Nobody has talked about this phase of life or cut us a path to follow — at least, nobody I know of. Folks tend to talk about horse folks who are “active riders” in their twenties and thirties and then, poof!, something happens and we’re supposed to be old and grounded forever or something. That rare “octogenarian equestrian” is celebrated like some mythical unicorn. Make no mistake — I am in awe of our elders in the saddle, and they should be celebrated.

But what about the rest of us? Those of us who aren’t thirtysomething but also aren’t yet members of AARP. Those of us who are overwhelmed with responsibilities and expectations, yet who still feel thirtysomething in our heart of hearts. The outside is starting to show a wrinkle here or a shimmer of silver hair there, and yet I am not old.

Who am I — now, at this phase of my life?

I’m gonna do whatever it takes to find my answer, and I invite you to join me and share this ongoing journey.

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