The View from Mattie’s Pillow

When I first started writing these posts, it was deep winter. I wrote from a comfy chair (see the post on Ed’s Chair, March 2) close to the wood stove, so I could write and stoke the stove as I went. The energy-inefficient but psyche-efficient wall of glass that looks out over the Tanana River valley was mostly dark, reflecting the cozy room back to me as I wrote.

Now the day is bright and light lingers in the northern sky past 10:30 at night, a kind of watery blue at the horizon deepening to ultramarine above us. Gradually, in the weeks to come, the darkness will bleach out of the sky altogether, leaving us with only a few hours of deep pastel sunset/sunrise and hours and hours of blissful sunlight.

Already, I can feel the drive of energy that summer brings. The people I know here feel it, too. We’ve started our long-season seeds–I have tomato plants three inches high on a shelf by my wall of glass. They’re ready to be transplanted into small yogurt containers that I spent hours drilling drain holes in last summer. I have more starts to plant as the weeks go on and we get closer to our optimal outdoor planting date, June 1.

But spring has its downside. There are people among my friends and acquaintances who are struggling now that winter is finally, inevitably passing. The snow is still good for skiing, but will be too mushy and slick soon; the roads will be subject to black ice as rain starts to fall; all the trash and horse and other manure will be emerging soon. If things aren’t well with the psyche, now is when it really shows. March is tough for us all here–we’re impatient by then. April can be delightful for some, but others fall away.

So is April the cruelest month, as Eliot suggested? Or is it cruel in that it reminds us how separated from the rhythms of the land we’ve become? Like the redpolls that flit through the willows to dive-bomb my feeder, like Mattie and Sam dozing sideways to the sun, like the swelling tips of willows ready to bud into pussywillows, we feel the urge of spring, even though it’s not quite here in the Interior. If the life we lead keeps us inside out of the breeze, the melting snow, the mud, something primal chafes. But if we can get out in the air for even a little while, perhaps that chafing can heal. Even better if we can be out in it with friends.

For me, besides my human friends with whom I’ve been working on some difficult projects lately, being outside with Mattie and Sam, feeling those partnerships renewed as we work towards our first riding day of the year–after the ice has melted from the corral and the inevitable puddles have drained through the sand–restores me to balance. Yesterday the temperature was near 60 by the hay barn, and I stood detangling Sam’s mane and his full tail. The snow, melting, fell in chunks from the greenhouse roof, and Sam would startle, then relax. He wasn’t as pushy as he usually is, and he seemed to enjoy the attention. After nearly four years, he is starting to trust me. Later I did the same for Mattie, her black coat so warm in the sun it made me sleepy.

I often tell my friends to come pet a horse when they feel weighed down. They laugh, thinking I’m joking. I’m not. There’s nothing better I know.

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