Monday, September 30, 2013

autumn and a few milestones

We have leaves falling, a little color, and lovely temperatures. I have to put socks on when I wake up in the morning so my feet stay warm!

Yesterday my husband and I did some tree trimming and made a firewood stack in the back yard. It's time to think about that first cold night and being ready to get the woodstove going.

Last week I discovered that I had one local heirloom apple left in my fruit bowl and I took it out to Salina's grave and planted it carefully. I have no experience planting apple trees from seed, but since I decided against tulips I'm going to let nature take its course and see if this little tree springs up on her mound. I know she will delight in even the idea of apples being there in her spot. I'll figure out how to keep the boys from gorging later - it will be a few years before that is even possible. Planting that apple there made me smile, and it was a milestone in the journey that started back on May 24th, when we said goodbye to the grand old mare.

Every week I see Ellen, the woman who Salina lived with before she came to live with us, at the farmers' market, and it happens without my meaning it to - I tell a Salina story and Ellen appreciates it and marvels over it. In a way, that weekly story has gotten me through the roughest parts of this leg of the journey. The first few weeks I would start crying by the second sentence. Now I am smiling all the way through. At some point the beloved memories have trumped the pure grief.

The past week or so another milestone has happened. The donkeys are braying again. 

When Rafer Johnson and Redford first came to live with us, they would bray if they lost sight of their herd. They brayed if they lost sight of one another. They brayed at meal times if we were late getting out there. For another little while, Redford brayed over his territory and what he had decided was HIS herd to rule. And then he got gelded and that particular bray stopped.

The last year and a half before Salina died, the donkeys' braying meant something was wrong. It meant Salina was down. Their braying became an alarm system for us and the sound of them would send all of us running out to the barn, dreading what we might find, but also getting our adrenaline rushing at the task ahead.

The morning she left us, they brayed. And it has been quiet ever since. Spring turned to summer and now summer has turned to fall. And November Hill has been silent. It was a blessing, in a way. That Salina was no longer subject to going down and needing help getting up again, that the long-dreaded last time was past, that it went fairly easily for her, that I had no doubt on that morning that it was time for her to go. The silence was a blessing.

The donkeys waited long enough that the brays don't send us into alarm state anymore. Now the braying of the boys means, once again, that someone is out of sight, or they want more hay, or a meal time has been betrayed by late humans. 

How did they know? How did they know we were far enough along to hear the brays without feeling that gut-wrenching "oh no, Salina's down" feeling? I think they are with us on this journey, and somehow we are all in tune with one another. We're walking it together.

There's another milestone that happened this week. I was out at the barn and suddenly I realized, not in an intellectual way, but in my heart, that Keil Bay is the oldest. And he is not the oldest simply by default. He will be 25 years old in April.

I keep waking up each morning and thinking how cool it is outside and how it's perfect riding weather. And yet I don't go out to the barn and tack him up. I spent a week getting all the tack cleaned and oiled, getting my boots all cleaned and oiled, even got so far as putting on breeches one morning. But I have not yet ridden.

Keil Bay is remarkably sound and was the last time I rode him. But I think now I'm facing some different fears. What if I get on him and something is wrong? What if he isn't as sound as he was the last time we rode? There's a part of me that doesn't want to find out the answers to those questions.

The past few days I've been walking around worrying about them. Every day when I go out there Keil looks at me like he's waiting for me to tack him up. But when I don't he interacts with me a different way, the way Salina always did, and I wonder - is he ready to retire?

The old question of Is Salina Ready To Go has been replaced by the new one. Is Keil Ready To Retire?

I don't think he is, but it's a milestone that suddenly my barn question has turned to him. We all know, all of us who live with horses, how it feels to start thinking that way about the senior equine in the barn.

I become tearful at the mere thought of saying goodbye to Keil Bay. It's not a place I want to be, even in looking ahead, even if it's many years away.

Last night I dreamed that there was a huge trail ride passing by. They stopped and rested the horses and had snacks and when they got ready to set off again, they invited me to ride along. I wasn't sure if I wanted to go. I could tell that I would disagree with a lot of the riding styles and horse management I'd seen when they stopped. It was the kind of trail ride that would go places I wouldn't want to go on a horse.

But I asked Keil Bay and he wanted to go. 

I tacked him up and got on and he was straining at the bit, arched up from his 16.2 self to about 18 hands tall. We rode into the line of horses and the first obstacle we faced was a huge flight of stairs.

I've never ridden up a flight of stairs, and I daresay Keil Bay has never done it either, but in my dream he did it perfectly. Because of the long line of horses and riders ahead of us there was a logjam on the stairway and we had to stop on a landing. Keil Bay did perfect pirouettes as we waited. He was so full of energy he couldn't stand still.

Finally we were able to ride on, and get to level ground again. We rode and the riding was perfect. It was, in the dream, like I imagine riding the 5-year old Keil Bay would be. He was extremely forward and very powerful. It was like riding the King of All Horses. And I was really good at it. 

As it neared evening, the ride stopped. There was a huge area where people and horses could rest for the night. There was hay and water and food for the humans, and after I got off and untacked the Big Bay, I went to go get food for both of us. Keil Bay came with me, like he was a person, walking close beside me, just like two friends would to go get a meal together. 

There was no reason to interact with anyone else, because Keil was my companion, he was my friend, he was my partner in the journey.

I woke up this morning feeling like I had dreamed out loud the bond that exists between women and horses. I don't know if it's stronger than that between men and horses or not - and that's not my point. But I know that what I call "pony girls" seem to be born with this bond already intact, and the first horsey goal in life is to find that first pony or horse to complete that bond. 

I guess what I'm living right now is learning how to honor the last ones. It's a tough place to be, but a good place. I'm lucky to be here and more than lucky to have the Big Beautiful Bay as my partner in zen on this next leg of the journey.


Kate said...

Very powerful - thank you for sharing this with us.

Grey Horse Matters said...

There seem to be changes going on as the seasons change at November Hill. I think the donkeys know that it's time they can stop grieving and get on with their lives as you have. Sharing stories of Salina is a great way to honor her with your lovely memories of her life with you. I hope the apple sprouts into a huge tree.

I think that even though Keil Bay is aging he still would like to be ridden. Maybe that was what your dream was about, in a way, it may have been telling you to ride. You'll never know how he's feeling if you don't give him a chance to find out. If he wants to retire he'll tell you. Now that you're not worrying about Salina anymore you might be transferring your past fears onto him. Just a thought...

Here's a quick story about a horse who decided to retire: Mellon who is older than Keil is now was in the barn aisle one day just hanging out with us years ago while I got Dusty tacked. J. commented how the saddle looked like it might fit him. I told her to try it. As she went to put it on his back he actively trotted out of the barn with a "no way you're riding me ever again" attitude. So when the big bay wants to retire, I think he'll let you know.

billie said...

Thanks, Kate. I loved your blog yesterday - did not have time to comment but read it and loved it!

billie said...

A, thank you for that wonderful Mellon story! I do think Keil Bay will tell me when it's time to stop. He is so expressive. My body is definitely telling me I need to ride - so I think you're right about the dream - I need to pay attention to body and mind and get out there and do it.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Agree with GHM 100%.
Keil Bay visited dreamland to say Come on lady. Let's go for a ride!!!

billie said...

C, I think you nailed it! :)

Matthew said...

A magical dream-ride! Making me smile.

billie said...

It was an amazing dream!