Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), and several Kindle ebooks.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Ambling with cantors

I am a connoisseur of bad writing. I’ve mentioned before in this blog that I’m a nationally ranked bad writer. In fact, my dreadful sentence will appear this fall in a Bulwer-Lytton anthology. So, I know bad writing when I see it.

On Friday, from the rack outside the grocery store, I picked up a copy of an ad-laden freebie magazine that purports to showcase the region. This one—the February issue—had a slutty-looking bride on the cover. The multitude of ads seemed geared to up-scale consumers. At home, as I thumbed through it—one article caught my eye: “Riders of the Blue Ridge.”

Did this article appeal to me because I’ve loved horses for nearly 60 years? Because during the 1980s I used to trail ride through the Blue Ridge Mountains? Because I used to show? Because my two old mares graze just outside my window? No.

The article caught my eye because the opening sentence fragment was the dumbest piece of writing I’ve seen recently: “The creak of saddle leather and the gentle cantor (sic) of a contented horse ambling along a forest trail.”

According to the Encarta® World English Dictionary © 1999 Microsoft Corporation, a cantor is “a Jewish religious official who is the chief singer of the liturgy in a synagogue” or “somebody who leads the singing in a church choir or congregation.” Why would this person be on a forest trail? Why would a horse have a religious leader/singer? Is this why the horse is contented?

I suspect that the writer meant “canter,” one of the horse’s gaits—specifically a three-beat “rocking chair” gait that a horse uses to move fast (but not as fast as a gallop). But that doesn’t make sense in the context the author used, because he also said the horse was ambling. An amble is a four-beat lateral gait that is very smooth for the rider to sit. A horse can’t simultaneously do both gaits

If you aren’t a horse person, see if this makes sense: “The creak of shoe leather and the gentle waltz of a dancer tap-dancing along the ballroom floor.”

I doubt that a horse cantering and ambling at the same time (an impossibility) would be “contented.” Most likely the horse would have a severe neurological condition.

Another statement in the opening made me laugh: “The murmur of conversation between friends sharing the pleasure of the ride.” OK, if the friends are riding double, the poor over-burdened horse certainly isn’t contented. If there’s more than one horse, the writer should have said so. (Maybe one was cantering and the other was ambling?)

If the riders are indeed on separate horses, the conversation is probably louder than a “murmur.” From past experience, I know that—if the horses are moving fast (such as ambling or cantering)—sometimes riders have to shout to be heard over the sound of hoofbeats. Conversation usually consists of “Hole!” or “#!* bees!” or “Watch out for that branch—Oops! Sorry!” None of these verbal exchanges are murmured.

And another sentence fragment: “A horseback ride in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia can bring a sense of serenity and focus to even the most stressed of individuals.”

Well, sometimes. From personal experience riding the Blue Ridge Parkway trails in the 70s and 80s, I know it can also bring a bullet whizzing past my ear, a swarm of yellow jackets stinging the horse and me, a motorcycle forcing my horse off the trail, a limb falling in the trail just in front of us, loose dogs that challenged my horse until the dogs realized my horse liked to chase (and bite) dogs, hang-gliders that spook horses, etc.

When you ride the trails, you really have to keep your focus. When you write articles about subjects you don’t know much about, you have to find your focus.

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