A Mad and Magic Birthday

Some days ago I had a birthday. My 34th. I am officially in my frighteningly adult sounding mid thirties.

I marked the last one bringing my father’s ashes back home. This time, owing to a number of good things happening in succeeding days, birthday #34 ended up being a five day celebration.

Place and time:

Somewhere in the blurry entropy of schooling years, was a glimmer of light called physical geography. Learning about the continuing evolution of our planet’s wild places was somehow essential to my shielded urban life (some might call it escapism). As dry as our textbooks were capable of making such a earth-shattering subject, they never managed to reverse the spell that the subject held me under, a significant thing for a delinquent student! All the books and imagination in the world never quite prepared me for the real thing, in all its breath catching magnificence though.

I’ve been nowhere that has a national park system quite like the USA. Diversity of landscape, coupled with public accessibility means that a large number of people get to experience this natural wonder in a manner appropriate to them (a remarkable thing in itself). Having spent some delightful days in Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Glacier National Parks earlier in this trip, I really wanted to spend my birthday walking around in one.

And so it happened.

Day 1 (birthday, Singapore time): Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park, Utah.
Canyonlands National Park, Utah.

Flemming and I spent half a day walking the short trails at Canyonlands National Park. As with every National Park I’ve been to in the USA, it was mindboggling. The scale and grandeur of the gorge-riddled landscape evoke both humility and titillation being a speck in the magnificence that is this.

Day 2 (birthday, local time): Arches National Park

Delicate Arch from the upper lookout
Delicate Arch from the upper lookout

I love Arches National Park. A big chunk of Beyond was filmed there last year, and it has provided many pleasurable hours of walking around impossible sandstone formations made, surely, by the whimsy of the gods.

I’ve matriculated on the subject of weathering and erosion effects on different natural substances in the earth’s crust. If I sat down and thought about it hard enough, I could probably still draw the diagrams and write an essay or two on those topics.

But no amount of academic excellence could express the feeling of running across a large sandstone fin in Utah, high above the rest of the world with the snow capped mountains of Colorado as a backdrop, 30 years and 4500 feet away from the child who only guessed that an experience like this could be hers.

Day 3 (birthday gift, delayed for logistics): Horse-riding

Charlene horse riding
A very happy birthday girl on horseback. Ortiz and Sandia Mountains in the background. Photo: Flemming Bo Jensen

My main birthday present (tusind tak for min gave, Bodil & Flemming) was a 2 hour ride at the Broken Saddle Riding Co out of Cerrillos, New Mexico.

I’ve been horse mad since I was a little girl, but could never afford to do anything about it aside from the odd trail ride every few years. So, I’ve sat on some horses, but I don’t know how to ride. I think it’s reasonable to say I did start learning how to this time though. It was hands down, the best trail ride I’ve ever been on. I was grinning like a bloody idiot the entire time. Before the ride, we were introduced to our mounts and a five minute lesson from Harold, Broken Saddle’s owner: how to sit in the saddle properly (heels down to get your thigh muscles working, and don’t grab the horn!), determine the right stirrup length, neck rein (I was fascinated that bridles were bit free), how to get the horses stopping and going. Knowing what to do and look out for was key to learning about our horses, and how to ride them. It made all the difference. And then we were off in the hills that were the property of Broken Saddle Co, and over into adjacent Cerrillos State Park. It was just Flemming and I with our wrangler Bob, who, while offering useful riding and horse habit tips, also gave us an impressive history lesson about the area.

Walk, (fox)trot, canter. Reins lying in one hand, with the other sliding along them as necessary for control. Shoulders down, looking ahead to where we were going. Heels down, weight in seat and stirrups. Anticipating stride and gait change, trying not to lose a stirrup every time said gait change caught me by surprise. Remembering to lean with the horse, at speed, around corners without getting wiped out by pinion or juniper shrubbery. Taking in the breadth of the country around us, the grey blue mountains in the background, the old volcanic hills around us that yielded turquoise, lead, manganese, silver etc to generations of native and pioneering folk. Eventually, when I got tired, figuring out how to post to spare my backside the impact of a trot (even though one does apparently not do so, in Western style riding). Broken Saddle only uses Tennessee Walkers or Missouri Foxtrotters, both of which are gaited horses, bred specifically to be the Grand Turismos of their species, ensuring maximum ride smoothness at speed over considerable lengths of time. But to a greenhorn (read: me), a trot still feels like being a cork in a stormy sea. Until I got used to it. Then it was all “holy mother of the gods, I am riding.”

I’ve wanted to ride horses since I was 3 years old. The moment impressed itself deeply on me – the texture of the reins in my hands, the shaggy, muscled shoulder of my mount under the saddle, her breath whistling in time with her uphill canter. Right then, it felt like I was doing everything I was meant to do.

It was the best birthday present I’ve ever had. I just have to find that lottery ticket with my name on it pronto, so we can go back again. And again. And again.

Day 4: Coffee and Magic site revamp


The Coffee and Magic website has needed a facelift for a very long time now.

In the throes of saddle soreness, Flemming and I got to reverse the proverbial lack of footwear plaguing the shoemaker’s offspring, and gave our website the update it needed. Check out the all new Coffee and Magic site: http://coffeeandmagic.com/ 

I am deeply hoping that this will court more prospective clients, so I can go horse riding again.

Day 5 (Fuji’s unwitting gift to me): official X-Photographer with Fuji Nordic.

I woke up to this on Fuji Denmark’s Facebook page:


I dag, er jeg en Dansk Fujifilm X-Fotograf. 

(“Today, I am a Danish Fujifilm X-Photographer” in the best Danish I can muster to date)

I’ve had a fruitful relationship with Fujifilm Nordic (Danish division), which was further developed this year. We have an open dialogue and I am constantly surprised by how inclusive they are with their photographers. I am accustomed to the bureaucracy  of hierarchy in formal relationships, and the respect accorded to me as an individual in our interactions, is a pleasurable surprise every single time.

I am incredibly thrilled to be a part of the Fuji Nordic team. I hope to be a worthy representative to them going forward.

34 is the magic number. With much gratitude to the wizardly Flemming Bo Jensen, for making all of it possible.


  1. Tillykke med fødselsdagen! You deserved a 5 day epic birthday and I am so glad it all went perfect, all the plans :) My ‘behind’ is still really sore but the horse ride was fantastic!

    1. Charlene says:

      Easy fix for that, just gotta go riding more ;)

      Now, about that lotto win…

  2. Great story Treasure!

    We will have to go riding together sometime!

    Happy birthday and big cuddles from me!

    1. Charlene says:

      Thanks Markie :) You say the word, I’m always keen.

  3. Brian Miller says:

    Well Hppy Birthday to ya, pilgrim! Hope it’s a great one!!

    And now, seriously, a helmet?!?! Aaarrrrrgh!!

    1. charlene says:

      When one is a noob, one must suffer the consequences to one’s vanity…. esp when one is as accident prone as I am… Sigh!

  4. greg g49 says:

    After reading the last comment I had to scroll back up to indeed see you were wearing the helmut. First time through I saw nothing but the smile from ear to ear. Wonderful stuff, Happy trails.

    1. Charlene says:

      Hehe, thanks Greg. Yes, I would have preferred to be wearing a Stetson-like hat, but I a) didn’t bring mine, and b) didn’t want to tempt fate :)

  5. michaelbirkmose says:

    I want to see Flemming wearing that helmet too :)

    1. Charlene says:

      Hehe, you might get to yet!

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