She’s been asking for weeks to go with me beyond the fence. There is always a reason not to, and usually I can argue the legitimacy of those reasons. The days are short. I haven’t been well. I have to move hay, or fix the electric, or move cows out of pig pens and pigs out of goat pens and goats off of truck windshields. In truth, the tasks are few these days. The deep lethargy of winter has taken me over, the hours of daylight are frittered away easily. I do mean to. I just…haven’t yet.
One afternoon I reach an impasse in my work. The moment I’m alone with nothing to do, she’s in my head. Come. Take me out. I can’t argue.
As I drive to the farm, I mull about how to get her out without everyone (of every species) trying to follow. We have a complex system of fences and gates and electric, some of it temporary and some of it unfinished, most of it completely ignored by the animals, but there is a way to get a moment’s grace – long enough to safely get a pony through the barbed wire gate – if I can just get Firefly to the right position without anyone following her. It’s a relatively big “if”.
When I arrive she is with her herd, and the cows, and the pigs, industriously working on the round bales on the hill. Maybe she’s busy, maybe she’s changed her mind. I’m talking with my mom and considering a cup of tea when I see from the kitchen window that she’s coming into the barnyard. All the horses have a way of, when they want something from us, looking right up at the window even from a hundred yards away, their beetle-black eyes boring into whoever happens to be washing dishes or admiring the light on Sidina Mountain. Firefly shoots me a meaningful glance.
By the time I get my boots back on and myself out the door, she is standing in the alleyway, a channel between two fences that leads into the Great Beyond. The rest of the horses are still eating. This is precisely the position I need her in to get her out the gate without the whole bloody menagerie on our heels – the horses will follow her eventually, but if the timing is right, they will rush to the corner of the field and miss the opening into the alleyway. I quickly hurry the pigs into their pen, who have come trotting in from the field when they saw me, angling for an early dinner. I quietly betray them and close the gate – I do not have the patience to bring fourteen bratty pigs along today. The goats – thank god – are busy wreaking havok somewhere else.
I march right past Firefly and head for the gate to freedom. We have an hour of daylight left. She follows calmly behind. That she would wear a halter and a lead never enter my mind – she certainly can wear one, but in this context really doesn’t need one. This is partly the driving factor behind all these machinations: I know I can manage one horse at liberty (or “off-leash”) in the Great Beyond, and I have also chased enough animals through those woods by now to know not to push my luck with more than one at a time for now.
Fly waits while I unhook the gate, steps backwards as it collapses into the snow, watches me walk through, cocks an ear, and follows. The light is low in the sky and we are walking in an endless soft shadow.
She comes up the old logging road, but by now her herd has, as predicted, run to the top of their field. They call out and she turns to run back to them, and I lose sight of her.
“Firefly!” I call, rivaling their promise of security with my own promise of adventure. She’s been asking for this for a long while. I know she can’t resist.
Behind the spruce and alder, a shadow flits. I aim the camera and wait, until a bright little burr-crowned beauty emerges.
She comes to me and we reconnect, taking a moment together to scratch itches and inspect camera bags.
We wander up to the pond, taking turns breaking trail along the snowy road. One day, all this will be open to them. When we can fence the perimeter and open the inner gates, they will carve new trails and forage long into the winter. Besides the materials, equipment and labour, we need to consider how punching a fenceline through this forest will affect it. We need to locate and account for game trails, and plan so that the wild ones can still come and go. We need to decide how we feel about trees being taken down and soil being churned up. But it’s the biggest thing on the List. It will happen as soon as we can make it happen. I pass this all on to Fly, and whether she takes it in or not, she doesn’t seem to be in any particular rush.
I can feel her stretching the elastic connection between her and her family, even as she is pushing the boundaries of her own internally mapped territory. In one breath the tether reaches its limit and she wheels to tear back to them, kicking up snow as she careens through the avenue of evergreen.
I follow, slow as always, snow down my boots. She’s at the gate again, looking over her shoulder at me, oh Prehensile Being, to let her back in. Do you really want to go home already, Fly? I don’t mind. But you know how rarely I can let you out back here.
She turns casually from the gate, wanders a few steps, nibbles on a fluff of dead fireweed. Suddenly she is in no hurry to return. I watch her explore, and then find her way back to me. We muck around in the trees, on the open slope, in the ditches.
When we do return, it’s a mutual decision. We look at each other and shrug. Might as well get back. She waits patiently while I wrestle with the gate, then steps daintily back in. The other horses crowd us, welcoming and scolding and recalibrating. There is a thrill of leaving, there is a swell of return. We are reabsorbed into the collective. We promise each other we’ll do this again soon.