The View from Mattie’s Pillow

Fine snow sifting through the air—a day of gray on gray.  I went out to the corral to rake up manure and add it to my newly-half-built manure compost bin and spend time with Mattie and Sam, who are on their long winter layoff.  Though the darkness comes earlier now, there’s still a time during mid day when the sky is full of light and the snow seems to catch the light and magnify it in the air—even on a day like today when there’s no sun, just flat, filtered cloudlight.

I just finished a conversation with my friend Joe, a brilliant poet who has been part of my writing community for the thirty-plus years I’ve lived in the Interior.  He is ill; in the midst of a visit to his brother back east, two summers ago, he was struck down by a seizure and discovered that he had a brain tumor.  Now, it has returned, and he is back in Ohio, living through rounds of treatments, MRIs, hope and despair.

I have been thinking of him, of how fast our lives can turn and on how little.  Here at Mattie’s Pillow, I find it possible to believe that I can fend off trouble with good intentions.  If I keep my hands in garden soil and horse manure, I magically believe, I will stay healthy and strong.  I recommend it to anyone who asks; the transformation of hay to manure to compost to soil to tomatoes to the delicious meal of pasta I can share with a friend such as Joe seems powerful to me.  The best part of the magic is that the horse is in the middle of it all, the agent of transformation, health, and strength.

But I know there’s more to it than that.  There’s randomness to disease.  It does no good to search back to the time the disease began, for that moment can’t be predicted or changed.  We can only go forward.  I told Joe that his friends here love him and asked what I could do.  I wish I could send him this snow—so dry and fine, falling with a soft hiss and softening the edges of fences, trees, rocks, the trucks parked for winter, the horse manure pile.  I wish I could bring him here for a few moments to run his hands over Sam’s thick coat, lift his pale mane, and breathe in the yeasty horse smell.

I’ve been reading a book called The Horse in Human History, by Pita Kelenka.  I’m going through it slowly.  It’s an academic book, dense with facts and details.  But it suggests that the connection between horse and human goes back farther than we have previously assumed.  The horse is part of our psyche—whole cultures have evolved as they have because horses were made with strong backs, fast legs, and a predisposition to move in concert with others of their herd.  The horse exists deep in our collective memory—swift, powerful, mysterious, and willing all at once.  And we exist deep in theirs, if it makes any sense to draw a parallel.  At least, the horse as we have bred it reflects our deepest dreams of what we want it to be—and what, by the same token, we want ourselves to be.

Another writing friend, Sue Bowling, has been blogging about horse color varieties—the variants of palomino, for example: cream, champagne, dark gold, and more.  She gets into the genetic details, the places on the chromosome that change for each color.  For me, thinking of horse colors touches on the dreamlike qualities of horses—the colors have significance to horse owners, they go in and out of fashion—and how we respond to the colors from deep within.  Sam, the fleabitten gray, seems white in winter.  Seeing him looking over the corral fence from the road below, a neighbor girl called him a magic horse.  And Mattie—I blame much of her “issues” on the response some early owner had to her dark coat—the “Fury syndrome,” I call it.  She lived up to the negative expectations some humans placed on her as a big black horse.  I know they’re not really black and white; Sam has flecks of brown and black, and Mattie is really a dark bay.  Still, it’s beautiful to see them together in the snowy corral—the light and dark, yin and yang.

I want to send Joe a bit of what Mattie and Sam give me just by standing in the snow, letting it blanket their winter coats, and letting me lean against them for a while.  I want that magic transformation for him and for us all.

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

  1. KD Says:

    Thank you for a gorgeous meditation on horses. Just being in their presence is often a definition of peace and safety.

  2. William Lawson Says:

    “It does no good to search back to the time the disease began, for that moment can’t be predicted or changed.”

    In 1895 everyone lived in a world of horses, and could not imagine a future without them. Every farm, town and city was awash with the importance of their existence and use; watering troughs, hitching rails, stables, harness gear hanging from hooks on walls, and yes…horse manure everywhere.

    By 1905 a newly discovered ‘disease’ began to rapidly displace the ‘organic’ tranquility of the past. Within ten years the internal combustion engine began to take over the towns and countryside. And by the 1920’s no one could imagine a future that wasn’t ‘ruled’ by cars and trucks. The horse-drawn era was effectively over.

    No one saw it coming back then. Yet today it is hard for anyone to imagine it otherwise. The last trace of a ‘reminder’ (for me) disappeared in the late 40’s, when the hitching rail in front of the local hardware store was finally removed.

    Was it a terminal illness unleashed? Is it possible we can ‘chemo’ our way out of the resultant mess? In a few more years, I suspect many will wish they could be ‘energizing’ the business end of a pitch fork…as you are doing…instead of waiting in line for their turn at a (soon to be empty?) ‘pump.’

    Count your blessings…for know it or not, you are clearly far beyond the crowd on the path ‘back’ to our ‘unforeseen’ future. (And please give Mattie and Sam a gentle pat from me.) 😉

  3. mattiespillow Says:

    Thanks, KD and William–and, William, it’s good to hear from you again. I forget here in Alaska how far from the day-to-day interaction with the land folks are in other parts of the country. All I need to do is visit NJ once in a while to remember how lucky I am! Hope all’s well in the ergo world.

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