For Paul —
Saturday morning in mid October, and a lull in the Pacific Northwest rain. Fall has come, and the ubiquitous green of the landscape now has tinges of yellow.
Still horses, at the barn where I’ve brought my daughter for her lesson. I sit in the car, planning for my classes, while she saddles up Shadow to ride.
The sky is overcast. Small patches of blue peek through. The white disk of sun through the clouds resembles the full moon.
My daughter’s instructor wears a black jacket over her work shirt now, black gloves on her hands – warmth to ward off the chill that no longer teases but has settled in the air.
The change in season has stilled us all, and we go about our tasks not speaking much. The horses do not stamp or pace in their stalls. They contemplate my presence quietly, coming over to be stroked when I stand in the doorway of their stalls.
Fire, the black standard-bred, nibbles my shirt sleeve as I pat his nose. Star, with her smaller triangular head – one blue eye, one brown – protests as I pass her to see another horse. She neighs loudly at me and stamps, and I change course. She is the matron of the group. If I am to be welcome in the barn, I must pay my respects to her.
The instructor drops a harness over the head of Rave, a big black Arabian, and leads him out of his stall into the fenced paddock just outside the barn door. He limps slightly, favoring the foot that had the abscess weeks ago. Like a few others, he wears a blanket buckled across his chest and under his round belly. Snoopy, the mischievous one who once flooded the barn by mouthing open a faucet, stands dully in his paddock, watching. His black and white coat has a mottling of dust.
Like us humans, the horses are hunkering down for the upcoming winter. They stand in their pens slowly chewing, tongues protruding occasionally, looking sleepy and flicking their tails against the few remaining flies.
A blue pick-up truck rolls slowly down the road hauling behind it a silver cattle trailer. A loud, low mmmmoooooo-oooo emanates from the trailer as it passes by the barn. The horses and I look up. The truck is headed down to the complex of white buildings that house the country meat market. My son and I visited that market a few weeks back when we were exploring the area. He liked the clean floors and stainless steel display cases where the white packages of meat were stacked neatly for view. Sausage patties and links, various steaks and roasts. Three kinds of bacon and even some tongue. He liked the sample of teriyaki jerky the clerk gave him. But he did not like the view she gave us into the freezer room behind the counter, where the stripped carcasses of cows, deer and even a bear, hung from the ceiling.
When the truck comes back up the road a little while later, the horses and I again look up. There is no sound from the trailer now.
My cell phone rings, and I see it’s my mother calling. In my hometown back in the Midwest, the family is planning the funeral for my uncle, who died two days ago. Pneumonia took him before the cancer could. Mom tells me my uncle has written his own obituary. Perhaps he was more reconciled to his death than we are.
When my daughter’s lesson ends, she untacks Shadow and puts him in his stall. We go down the slope across the driveway to pick apples – some red, some green – from the overgrown trees in the small orchard. I collect a few to take to the horses — a sweet crunch proffered to a velvet muzzle by a human hand. Fire bites his apple in two and drops the second half back into my palm. A handful of horse saliva. My daughter laughs at the look of dismay on my face.
Now the sun has slipped through the clouds, warming us all. I wash my slippery hand in the cold spray of water from the hose, wiping it on my jeans to dry. We climb into the car and drive back out onto the road, turning toward home.