The View from Mattie’s Pillow

“Snow falling night falling fast oh fast…”

This line from Robert Frost’s “Desert Places” runs through my mind each fall as the first snow falls and the days get darker. There’s something I love about the breathless quality of the line and the distantly observed beauty of fast falling snow on empty fields, the quick darkening of night. It’s something we know well here, the muting of light in snowfall, in winter.

But saying this in March is a different matter. Just when we are expecting more light, when the supermarket is filled with tulips and daffodils shipped up from Mexico and California, just when we’ve ordered our seeds and are setting up our seed starting tables and grow lights, the sky flattens with dark clouds and, for three days now, a snow fine as pastry flour sifts down on roads, roofs, the backs of horses. After the past three days, the garden is a foot farther under snow. The wood stove ash we spread there a few weeks ago is deep below white. Our spirits, about to lift with the small signs of spring in Interior Alaska–dog races, ice sculptures, the return of days longer than nights—deflate. We shoveled the driveway last weekend, giddy with the thought that it might be our last major plowing. We need to do it again and more.

Yesterday, we got six to eight inches in a day. Mattie and Sam’s corral is deep with it. The fence seems ridiculously short, as if Mattie or Sam could step over the top rail–except they’d sink in the snow on either side of the fence. They are too smart to try. Besides, what’s on either side looks the same, and they only get fed on the inside. So they stay put. They have to lift their feet a bit higher to walk through the deep snow. I hope this works as a kind of de facto fitness plan, because it’s too deep to walk safely after them on one end of the longe line, and neither they nor I can see where frozen manure piles are buried–a hazard for them and for me, and I want none of us injured.

Every spring I have grand training plans for them, starting right after Christmas. Every year, my plans discount the most important factor: winter. So far since January, I’ve been defeated by short days, 40 below weather, snow, chilblains from clicker training with my gloves off, winter inertia and counterbalancing activities–and now too-deep snow. The other night, a friend said, “Well, you don’t ride much; you just hang out with your horses like they’re pets.” I don’t think she meant ill by it, but, compared to someone in California, she’s right. I ride nearly every day in summer, barring smoke or rain, but getting two horses ready for riding after the long winter months takes lots of ground work. I feel behind. So does everyone I know, except for those with access to indoor riding arenas.

Mattie is staying dry in the back of the run-in shed. She blends into the shadows there and only comes out if she thinks I have food. Sam, on the other hand, doesn’t like to be confined. He likes to see what’s coming: airplanes flying over head, snowmachines on the road, a stray dog running by, a car coming up the driveway. His whinny is the most reliable sign that we have visitors.

Yesterday, I looked out in the thick snow and saw him napping by the fence. At that point the flakes were about the size of dimes and falling fast. Sam lay curled up in the deepening snow, his chin resting on the surface of it. I opened the door and called to him. He raised his head, looked at me, and lowered it again. I dressed as fast as I could and folded up my medium weight, waterproof blanket and carried it out to him. He wasn’t shivering when I reached him, but his thick coat was full of snow and wet where the heat of his body had melted it. I haltered him and he stretched out his front feet, stood up, and shook the loose snow from his back. He was probably OK; just napping and watching the snow fall, but I put the blanket on him anyway and he seemed more relaxed. He’s still standing out in the snow, the white stuff filling the places where the blanket makes soft folds along his back. Underneath he’s dry and warm, ready to guard the place.

Frost said–I can’t guarantee I have it perfectly–he could “scare myself with my own desert places.” I’ve always taken this to mean the places within where we know the territory–it’s ours and in our imagination, after all–but we find a familiar terror there, anyway. This may be the unresolvable questions that we all carry with us, or the vast unknown that is our future. This is the time of year when these “desert places” open their vistas to us unexpectedly, just when we’re expecting to slip on into spring unscathed.

The snow is beautiful as it falls. There’s an uncharacteristic wind, sculpting it into drifts. The tracks from our cars in the unplowed driveway will be filled in by morning and the curves of drifts may spread across them. A good day for a morning of coffee with chocolate and ginger scones. I’ll sleep on that thought.

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2 Responses to “The View from Mattie’s Pillow”

  1. Wendy Says:

    I can so relate to this! We got just enough good weather to clear the driveway – I got a short ride in on Buddy, and we’ve gotten another eight inches of snow. It’s beautiful, the snow clinging to the trees and the satallite dish, but…sigh, I’m kind of ready to say good-bye to winter. 🙂 On the other hand, I have sprouts in the basement – and caught a glimpse of green in my flower bed yesterday…won’t be long.

  2. mattiespillow Says:

    Ah, green! What’s that? We get green-up in May–usually all in a week, quite exciting. It’s still a little early to start seeds, but soon…

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