Before continuing with today’s post I want to profusely thank writer/artist Maureen Doallas for the opportunity to be interviewed on her splendid, much admired blog Writing Without Paper. It is a thrill. Please add us to your blogrolls!
Yesterday I surrendered to the need to unburden myself and my friend and let go of my last horse. She was and is a beautiful Arabian mare, Amira Minjad, JL aka Bronte and she’s gone to live with an Arab/Appaloosa stallion named Picasso on a big ranch. She’s in for a surprise or ten!
I thought I’d repost a vignette from March from a series of four about my time on the Joder Ranch in Boulder, in honor of the dynasty of Arabian mares I’ve been privileged to own and love. A poem in draft follows the flash memoir.
“While she was in foal, Majesty grew fat on the mash I made for her every day. I loved to make this mash, with corn and molasses and oats and bran. I especially loved to break flakes from the carefully selected sun-cured leafy alfalfa off the bales I had set aside for her.
At night I would go down to her stall. I would brush and put my head against her flank and see if I could feel her foal move. She would nuzzle me, and we would stand together for hours, shifting our weight from one foot to the other.
One day I decided to ride her up a draw that had been beckoning me from the north end of the ranch.
By this time she was fat and sleek, due to foal in about three months, gestation being eleven. She loved to be ridden; as we set off she would lift her head and walk in that proud, long Arabian way, her eyes great, dark, and glistening, her ears pricked for all that she could hear. She, like many Arabians, was “neurasthenic,” sensitive to the least sound, the smallest ripple of breeze in the grass. Riding her was always unpredictable, as she would suddenly stop, pretend to bolt, and immediately settle herself down, quickly deciding that a dog rushing a fence, or a plastic bag caught by the wind, taking on its own life out of a trail-head trash can, was nothing to worry about. Meanwhile my heart would be pounding out of my chest, but I would always feel victorious about staying on her and with her in such a moment..
On this particular day, both of us feeling confident, we climbed the gentle draw on the north end of the ranch. We were climbing and climbing; suddenly the trail narrowed and there was just a foot on either side. I consciously relaxed and kept my heels down to stay in balance in the saddle.
Suddenly, she froze in her tracks, one ear cocked back. We were on the incline. She began to breathe quickly. Then her whole body tensed and I could feel that she could care less that she had a rider on her back. She turned her beautiful, chiseled head, seeing something, and her nostrils flared.
When she began to tremble, I knew that I would have to find a way to get off instantly. There would be a wreck if I tried either to rein her in or to stay on. I looked down to the tiny ledge next to me, knotted the reins around her neck, and vaulted off, and crouched, clinging to some tufts of grass.
Majesty reared, pivoted on her back legs, and dashed down the trail. I looked up, and saw, coming up the valley, an enormous translucent hang glider sans its pilot; it looked like a giant prehistoric dragonfly as it drifted up the draw toward us. I caught my breath as it floated up over the spruce-covered hills and disappeared.
My legs were rubbery as I walked back down the trail. I could see that it was several miles back to the ranch and my heart sank. I thought as I walked of another ride on another horse, several years earlier, when we had become stranded on a rock field near Horsetooth Reservoir outside Fort Collins. At that time those with me, also stranded, had said, “You need to learn to trust your horse.” My mare had picked her way down through the rocks like a mountain goat, even though she was shod. Such is the prowess of the Arabian.
I rounded a bend in the path and a large lichen-covered boulder that obscured my view. I saw a horse, head down, grazing, on a level patch of meadow just off the trail. The horse lifted its head and turned toward me, and called. It was Majesty, waiting for me. Her eyes said, “Where have you been?”
“You’re a load of trouble, horse,” I said, walking up to her, putting her reins back over her head and climbing aboard. We headed down the path to the buildings clustered below us, the Joder Ranch glistening in the afternoon sun, light glancing off the aluminum roof of the hay barn, woman and horse compassed to the familiar.”
This year the foals in the field off Lemay
Come the same week as the lilacs
Mares standing in misting rain, slung
In the belly:
You know that when they stop eating
And put their heads down and lop
Their ears, all bagged up
And streaming colostrum
It will be that night
And you fly out in your truck
Along the still highway at midnight
Hoping to catch a hint, a great shape in the grass
Of one of them in labor,
Although this echoes across the dark:
Your mother’s Irish admonition:
“Leave well enough alone.”
Who wants to do that, or can?
On a mission, a low mezzo voice
Singing ballads on the radio
I pull off and step over to the fence:
There they are in mare stillness,
Mare privacy, new foals
Tucked against their flanks.
There is one beached on her side
In a lea nearby: I think
I hear her straining,
That she is foaling, but she gets up,
Blowing, turning to look at me.
I am down this road again in my fifty seventh year
Come from the kennel I can’t leave behind
Dropping off two pups to give myself a break
Bedding them down, my ex asleep
Out in the open I was surrounded by sky, night sky
Whirling stars, standing beneath
A Van Gogh heaven–
Fifteen years ago now,
When my Arabian, Majesty, foaled on the Joder
It hailed on her due date
June 1–she started streaming milk
And I brought her in, took a break and then
I caught her on the sly:
I went out to the barn
Just at nine, and peering through a knothole
I could see she was down, looking at her side
And I heard the sound of the bag of waters breaking
And I could see the small hooves
Out of position, bottom side up
Under her tail.
I grabbed coveralls and Doug and I went in,
Got her up; you’re supposed
To walk them, to flip the foal; the foal
Should come nose down against his forelegs.
God forbid you should see back feet
Or have one get hung up by a shoulder.
This did the trick;
She wouldn’t do anything then but lie back down;
I sat behind her in the straw and then he came,
Sliding out like a porpoise, in a silver sack
With just a few pushes—and she was nickering,
Smart thing, veteran of all of this.
He landed in my lap, black colt
With a white star,
All miracle and legs and ears down.
In a second he sat up, shaking his beautiful head:
Smelling my hands.
Tonight I watch, out into the dark, a sentinel
Hoping for an epiphany
As if I could ken a birthing without a flashlight,
Discern the newest porcelain-delicate baby
In the dark:
Hoping to know it again, the emergence
Of a new living thing
The new joy of the mare
Even in great pain,
How a horse left alone to foal
Does it quickly,
Clambers up, breaking the cord
And whirls, nose down
Licking away the sac,
Guttural murmurs that mean “Get up, get up!”
But the mare I think might go
Has had enough of me and ambles off to graze
Or pretend to graze, until I’m gone:
I walk back to the car
Where my Golden, Tess waits in her crate,
Leaving the private nocturnal pasture
To the common lassitude
Of a herd in darkness
Removing the scent of a human being
That lingered in the air.