Wednesday, April 14, 2010

My Horse and His Boy

The following is a piece I've dabbled with, off and on, for several years. It borrows from my own youth and yet, it is still a work of fiction. The horse, however, and our relationship was very real. I hope you enjoy this tidbit and will leave a comment or two.

Psychiatry hadn't so much as crossed my mind at 13, but I suppose its seeds were there. I discovered quickly that my freshman year in high school wasn't going to be much fun. I made few friends, and despite my efforts to fit in, felt like an outsider. I realize now I was an outsider and for good reason. My classmates were the children of professional parents -- many were faculty at the university nearby -- and had grown up in the insular society that wealth and intermarriage create.

My parents owned a small farm and I grew up in the shadow of the Indian Peaks, a range of mountains that rises 13,000 feet above the plains of Eastern Colorado. From my upstairs bedroom window I could see the morning sun strike above the snow line, transforming them into flames of fire in the western sky. My earliest memories are images, really, of fields of snow with horses crowded together to stay warm, icicles hanging from the porch roof, and the sunrise on the mountains.

It was a different world from the one of my classmates, and while I won't say it was a better one, still, it was mine. Having a world of your own is important at 13. For me, returning home from school meant a long walk down the dirt road that passed in front of our house. It was nearly a mile from the bus stop on state highway 119, and in the fall, the huge cottonwoods that lined the fields shed their leaves, transforming the lane into a river of gold. When I came within sight of our pasture, I'd stop and whistle to my horse, Dandy, and his head would rise from the grass in response to a signal that was ours alone.

Sometimes I'd cheat the distance to the house by slipping between the fence rails and crossing through the field, eying Dandy as he trotted to meet me. The difficulty I had making friends at school stands in sharp contrast to the ease in which my horse and I shared such a simple, unpretentious intimacy. In the few years we had been together he knew me better than I knew myself, and at the same time, knowing him enabled me to know myself. He was my best friend and I was his boy.

There is great solace to be found in a relationship that places no demands on you to be or do in a manner foreign to yourself. There is a freedom in it, too, that allows you to give according to your capacity, only to find your capacity increasing with the giving.

As I look back on it, that's the way it seemed to be between Dandy and me. I felt there was an understanding between us that didn't need language for expression. On warm summer days I'd climb onto his back, and without saddle or bridle, nudge him with my knees toward a smallish elm tree that grew against the north fence line of the pasture. There, in the shade, I'd strip leaves from low-hanging branches and hold them by my knee while Dandy twisted his head round to gently nab them from me.

We'd do this for hours, him growing fat on elm leaves, me growing fat on love. Whenever I would approach anything approaching bliss in my later life, the memory of those summer days would surface, as if to remind me how I ever learned to recognize bliss at all.

(Creative Commons image by garryknight via Flickr; Text copyright 2014 by Patrick W. Conway, all rights reserved)

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