I used to look up at various points of the year and be shocked to see the season had changed. Despite my commitment to Paying Attention and my deep need to be in rhythm with the natural world, I’d still be caught unaware when the wind changed direction, when suddenly the trees were bare.
Concrete looks like concrete no matter what the season; when you haven’t looked beyond it in a while, you can forget to watch the light change, forget to bless each falling leaf. And those reminders – when the mud set in in earnest, when the water pipes froze – came from the bits of me still (and always) dependent on the turning of the earth, came from the awkward stewardship of horses on bits of land while I made it work from the heart of the city.
Here there is no mistaking the marching of time. The poplar trees turn the roads, hills, mountains and riversides a marvellous, garish gumboot yellow while the light gets lower and the nights get longer. Now, while reminders of autumn pop up in emails and Outside World things, we in the north are already allowing the thought of winter. I’m sleeping in a canvas tent, determined not to move into the house until I really, really have to. Our woodshed is getting nice and full, the chickens are moulting, the goats and dogs are so fluffy I can’t keep myself from squooshing them (it’s an industry term) every time we pass each other. There is snow on the mountain peaks that surround us…
And the horses. Oh the horses! Here’s what happened most recently… So we’re driving home the other frozen day from a de-construction project (we’re taking down a big, old lean-to pole shelter in another town and slowly bringing it home to puzzle back together), and there are horses on the road. One white, one black, one little – oh hell. I pop the door open as my mom brings the truck to a halt and slide out onto the gravel road, already winding up the long end of a ratchet strap I conveniently found at my feet. “Spoo!” I call, my maternal tone slowing Spero’s feet as he turns to recognize me. “What are you doing out here!” Oh hi, he says, and as he turns to come back toward me the mares flow behind him, bearing back this way together like a three-headed ship turning through still water.
I think for a second they might come to me and follow me home easy as that, but the logging truck barrelling down the road behind us gives them other ideas. They take off down the valley, trotting purposefully like they’re late for a movie at the Tri-Town Theatre. Then they veer off (thankfully, as I resolutely army-jog behind them) at the luscious sight of fall clover in the neighbour’s front yard, where they proceed to evade me and terrify said neighbour as they prance ever closer to her precious, just-planted tulip bulbs. Finally my sensible Amalia lets me slip the nylon strap I have over her neck and as I call out my apologies, I lead all three back out to the road. Tim follows behind, alerting oncoming drivers (did I mention it’s rush hour in our modest valley community?) to the circus act ahead while I flag the next logging truck coming at us with my free hand to slow down, murmuring to Amalia and asking her to keep herself and her family calm. Which she does. As I jog alongside Miss Amalia Brown with the Firefly and a head-tossing, oh-so-Arabian Spero loose behind, I realize I’m smiling. When life happens and you’re ready to respond to it, that’s a good feeling. When your horses are adventurous little (big) brats who love you and love each other and you’ve got human back up and the fire will be lit when you finally get everybody home – that’s a good feeling.
Anyway, I never found the hole in the fence, and the next day while I was at work it happened again. My mother had to enlist the horsey neighbour up the road to help her, but once again everybody got home okay. So I finally caved and ran the electric fence to keep them in the front field, cutting off their access to the pasture and the hills and the forest that I’d been so happy to give them free range through. But when hundreds of acres are scorned for trips down the (active logging) road and neighbour relations (the local currency) are at stake, compromises are made. Interestingly, it turns out our valley, despite private property existing throughout, is one of the last few open ranges – legally, if my neighbours don’t want horses in their tulips, it’s up to them to fence them out. Of all the places I could live, I ended up in one of the last vestiges of “the commons”, how cool is that? It doesn’t solve the road issue, though, nor do I actually want my herd stomping through anyone’s lovingly tended land. But even the idea gives my heart more room, lets me laugh off these moments more easily.
And once again my ideas of wildness and naturalness take a turn, as my horses seem not annoyed but relieved to be confined again, spending more time visiting us and foraging more vigorously and coming from the far corners of their pasture when they’re called to stand patiently to have their feet trimmed, or staring up at the house til somebody looks out the window and chucks a few carrots across the fence. Never once have they challenged the new boundary or even gazed longingly over it – no, they act like maybe being tucked back under the loose wing of domesticity is just as fun as being turned loose to raise hell. I remain, as ever, amused and curious at these developments. All of us on this land, humans and critters, have a spectrum of wildness to engage with. Safe in the confines of comfort, or face to face with our own survival, and everything in between. What a privilege to be able to choose where we want to be today.
We’ve been here only 3 months. I’m looking back at my restlessness through the early days, my reminders to myself to slow down and allow what is rather than trying to will what isn’t, the overwhelm and shock of simply being here and what that means. At this very moment, I want to tell you indeed how right you all were. That the land unfolds as we let it, as we ask to be opened to and then wait, patiently and politely, to find out what that means – and that is something bigger, stranger, and more moving than we ever could have planned for. I noticed recently how something big has shifted. That I have crossed some invisible threshold and my probationary period is over: I can be here. I can be here for a very long time.
Click here for Part 7 in this series.