Because I know tomorrow his faithful gelding heart will be broken when the spotted mare is trailered and driven away, I come today to take him for a gallop on Diaz Ridge.
Returning, he will whinny for his love. Ancient, spavined, her white parts red with hill-dust, her red parts whitened with the same, she never answers.
But today, when I turn him loose at the hill-gate with the taste of chewed oat on his tongue and the saddle-sweat rinsed off with water, I know he will canter, however tired, whinnying wildly up the ridge’s near side, and I know he will find her.
He will be filled with the sureness of horses whose bellies are grain-filled, whose long-ribbed loneliness can be scratched into no-longer-lonely.
His long teeth on her withers, her rough-coated spots will grow damp and wild. Her long teeth on his withers, his oiled-teakwood smoothness will grow damp and wild. Their shadows’ chiasmus will fleck and fill with flies, the eight marks of their fortune stamp and then cancel the earth. From ear-flick to tail-switch, they stand in one body. No luck is as boundless as theirs. ~Jane Hirshfield “The Love of Aged Horses”
Is there anything as wonderful as a good friend?
Someone who doesn’t mind if you are getting long in the tooth and fluffy around the waist and getting white around the whiskers?
Someone who will listen to your most trivial troubles and nod and understand even if they really don’t?
Someone who will fix you up when you are hurt and celebrate when you are happy?
Someone who knows exactly where your itches are that need scratching, even if it means a mouthful of hair?
We all need at least one. We all need to be one for at least one other.
Isn’t it good to know? You’ve got a friend in me…
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I stop the car along the pasture edge, gather up bags of corncobs from the back, and get out. Two whistles, one for each, and familiar sounds draw close in darkness— cadence of hoof on hardened bottomland, twinned blowing of air through nostrils curious, flared. They come deepened and muscular movements conjured out of sleep: each small noise and scent heavy with earth, simple beyond communion, beyond the stretched-out hand from which they calmly take corncobs, pulling away as I hold until the mid-points snap. They are careful of my fingers, offering that animal-knowledge, the respect which is due to strangers; and in the night, their mares’ eyes shine, reflecting stars, the entire, outer light of the world here. ~Jane Hirshfield “After Work”from Of Gravity and Angels.
I’ve been picking up windfall apples to haul down to the barn for a special treat each night for the Haflingers. These are apples that we humans wouldn’t take a second glance at in all our satiety and fussiness, but the Haflingers certainly don’t mind a bruise, or a worm hole or slug trails over apple skin.
I’ve found over the years that our horses must be taught to eat apples–if they have no experience with them, they will bypass them lying in the field and not give them a second look. There simply is not enough odor to make them interesting or appealing–until they are cut in slices that is. Then they become irresistible and no apple is left alone from that point forward.
When I offer a whole apple to a young Haflinger who has never tasted one before, they will sniff it, perhaps roll it on my hand a bit with their lips, but I’ve yet to have one simply bite in and try. If I take the time to cut the apple up, they’ll pick up a section very gingerly, kind of hold it on their tongue and nod their head up and down trying to decide as they taste and test it if they should drop it or chew it, and finally, as they really bite in and the sweetness pours over their tongue, they get this look in their eye that is at once surprised and supremely pleased. The only parallel experience I’ve seen in humans is when you offer a five month old baby his first taste of ice cream on a spoon and at first he tightens his lips against its coldness, but once you slip a little into his mouth, his face screws up a bit and then his eyes get big and sparkly and his mouth rolls the taste around his tongue, savoring that sweet cold creaminess. His mouth immediately pops open for more.
It is the same with apples and horses. Once they have that first taste, they are our slaves forever in search of the next apple.
The Haflinger veteran apple eaters can see me coming with my sweat shirt front pocket stuffed with apples, a “pregnant” belly of fruit, as it were. They offer low nickers when I come up to their stalls and each horse has a different approach to their apple offering.
There is the “bite a little bit at a time” approach, which makes the apple last longer, and tends to be less messy in the long run. There is the “bite it in half” technique which leaves half the apple in your hand as they navigate the other half around their teeth, dripping and frothing sweet apple slobber. Lastly there is the greedy “take the whole thing at once” horse, which is the most challenging way to eat an apple, as it has to be moved back to the molars, and crunched, and then moved around the mouth to chew up the large pieces, and usually half the apple ends up falling to the ground, with all the foam that the juice and saliva create. No matter the technique used, the smell of an apple as it is being chewed by a horse is one of the best smells in the world. I can almost taste the sweetness too when I smell that smell.
What do we do when offered such a sublime gift from someone’s hand? If it is something we have never experienced before, we possibly walk right by, not recognizing that it is a gift at all, missing the whole point and joy of experiencing what is being offered. How many wonderful opportunities are right under our noses, but we fail to notice, and bypass them because they are unfamiliar?
Perhaps if the giver really cares enough to “teach” us to accept this communion meal, by preparing it and making it irresistible to us, then we are overwhelmed with the magnitude of the generosity and are transformed by the simple act of receiving.
We must learn to take little bites, savoring each piece one at a time, making it last rather than greedily grab hold of the whole thing, struggling to control it, thereby losing some in the process. Either way, it is a gracious gift, and it is how we receive it that makes all the difference.
All winter the blue heron slept among the horses. I do not know the custom of herons, do not know if the solitary habit is their way, or if he listened for some missing one— not knowing even that was what he did— in the blowing sounds in the dark, I know that hope is the hardest love we carry. He slept with his long neck folded, like a letter put away. ~Jane Hirshfield “Hope and Love” from The Lives of the Heart
I know what it is like to feel out of step with those around me, an alien in my own land. At times I wonder if I belong at all as I watch the choices others make. I grew up this way, missing a connection that I could not find, never quite fitting in, a solitary kid becoming a solitary adult. The aloneness bothered me, but not in a “I’ve-got-to-become-like-them” kind of way.
I went my own way, never losing hope.
Somehow misfits find each other. Through the grace and acceptance of others, I found a soul mate and community. Even so, there are times when the old feeling of not-quite-belonging creeps in and I wonder whether I’ll be a misfit all the way to the cemetery, placed in the wrong plot in the wrong graveyard.
We disparate creatures are made for connection of some kind, with those who look and think and act like us, or with those who are something completely different. I’ll keep on the lookout for my fellow misfits, just in case there is another one out there looking for company along this journey.
Ample litany, sparing nothing I hate or love, not-yet-silenced, not-yet-fractured; not-yet-
I move my ear a little closer to that humming figure,
I ask him only to stay.
~Jane Hirshfield “Not Yet”
To wait for the “not yet” is a hard sweet tension in the Christian life.
It is hard not yet having what we know will be coming.
But it is sweet to have certainty it is coming
because of what we have already been given.
Like the labor of childbirth,
we groan knowing what it will take to get there,
and we are full to brimming already.
The waiting won’t be easy;
it will often be painful to be patient,
staying alert to possibility and hope when we are exhausted,
barely able to function.
Others won’t understand why we wait,
nor do they comprehend what we could possibly be waiting for.
Yet we persevere together, with patience, watching and hoping,
like Mary and Joseph,
like Elizabeth and Zechariah,
like the shepherds,
like the Magi of the east,
like Simeon and Anna in the temple.
This is the meaning of Advent:
we are a community groaning together in expectation of what is to come in the morning.
By waiting and by calm you shall be saved,
In quiet and in trust your strength lies.