Rode Starboy, ponying Fae, up the Snow Gate Road — until the ice, still unmelted, turned us back. My first ride in six long weeks, due to frozen weather and my routine work and travel.
I made mental notes, and I recall them now.
Starboy’s movement glides beneath me, ears pricked forward, ready to roll – Fae, following along on a rope off our left side, mirrors our pace.
We trot up the long grade to the neck of the hidden dirt road. Burst into a gallop. Then slow due to the slushy patches of ice.
Speeding. Slowing. Again. Again.
At the top of the first hill near the camp, the ice covers the road even thicker, threatening our hooves with slipping and falling.
(We’ve done that before – No-Thank-You!)
I steer Starboy off to the side, into the low brush and mud, to avoid a blunder. Fae picks her footing on the worst part of the road rut, skidding part-way, but still staying upright – catching herself just in time, like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz.
From here the iced-over road gets worse.
We can’t go forward, so we turn into the empty camp, shut down for the off-season and the cold. The camp path is damp but free of snow.
Walking, we amble past the short row of cabins. Past the mess hall. Past the fire pit.
Past the open-air amphitheater, waiting, like a movie set, for next season’s campers to fill the wooden benches that arch around the stage.
I’ve galloped past the campers before, knowing that at least a few of them must have taken note of our fleeting form, on the other side of the thicket – wishing they, too, could ride. . .
Like me, as a kid, gawking and aaahing over every horse I was lucky enough to see.
We turn now and follow a small jeep trail that leads downhill, into the woods.
Gazing upwards, native Jeffry Pine trees tower a hundred feet overhead. Other than hoofbeats, the sounds of silence surround me – not even a birdcall.
How old must this forest be? How tall are these trees? A girl with two horses seems so small, so insignificant compared to all this.
I breathe in the smells of the forest. Earthy. COLD.
Yes, cold has a smell. Invigorating. Like a walk-in deep-freeze.
Looking down, beneath me on the forest floor, short-stemmed grasses hang on to life in the mud, under the snow, waiting-out winter – ready to grow with a moment’s warmth.
Pine cones, pine needles, oak leaves dot the earth in Nature’s monotone mosaic. All of life seeming to be on hold right now, in hopes of the signals of spring.
My body rocks with the movement of Starboy’s walk. Fluid. Steady. His muffled hoofbeats treading the boggy Earth.
Fae’s big Shire feet plodding, reverberating. Her hind feet, shod, scuffing, dragging somewhat, in rhythm with her gait.
I feel the air, fresh and cool.
Yet in my coat and layers, I’m comfortable – my upper thighs and legs, warm with the friction of fabric in motion, the undersides warm from the woolen fleece saddle cover.
The only cold spot, the very-back-sides of my legs, circulating the frigid air with every swaying step.
We pop out of the woods now. Back onto the road. Below the ice. Headed home.
Past our distant-neighbor’s snorting, prancing, head-tossing herd – two pintos, two bays, a chestnut, buckskin? Can’t really tell with the mud and lowering light.
Onto the main road now, setting sun behind. Indigo shadows fill the Vee between the ridgelines. Orange-tinted pastels brighten the horizon.
Walking home, two dogs, barking, run out in greeting, still inside their fenced enclosure.
Trotting again, down the straightaway.
Starboy whinnies to his stablemates.
And we round the final bend toward home. . .