Posts Tagged ‘Robert Frost’

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

September 7, 2009

A lovely evening tonight.

Around 10pm, I went out to take a bag of spruce shavings to the horses to bed down their run-in shed. The air was cooling enough that I wore my horse club hoodie, but I still wore shorts. The sky was still clear—had been clear since Thursday—and there was a deep aqua light in the northwest sky, fading to cobalt to the south. It was deep dusk, but I could see well enough to drag the black plastic bag of shavings under the fence to the run-in shed and divide it between the two stalls. As I walked back to the corral, I could see Sam’s coat gleam in the fading light where he nibbled the last of his evening’s hay. Mattie, in her side of the corral, was a blacker spot in the deepening darkness. Above the southeast horizon floated an egg-shaped gibbous moon, pale orange, as if about to hatch more of the deep yellow birch and aspen leaves that we’re seeing increase each day. As I walked past Sam, back to the house, it felt like a pause in time, as if the season had hit a balance, a perfect pose like the moment a dancer poses in arabesque on pointe and we catch our breath and believe she can stay in that balance forever. I could stay in this season forever if it would delay what is to come.

We were haying all weekend. Yesterday we went out to the Quist farm at the end of Rosie Creek Road, the fields spread out green on a rolling bench of land along the Tanana River. To get there, we drive along a pot-holed dirt road through spruce and birch, past five-acre “homesteads,” then suddenly there’s the farm, the green fields striped with darker raked hay or dotted with squares of ten bales that tip out of the small trailer towed by the baler. Yesterday, the hay was still too wet, so today we gathered up another crew: Mike, Ira, Tobin, Peter, me, and rattled through the dust and potholes to the farm, then filled the trucks one-by-one with brome hay. The bales were still a bit heavy but dry enough that they (I hope) won’t start to mold before freeze up.

It was nearly seventy—not too hot, but warm and dry enough to dry the hay. We took turns tossing and stacking, and those of us not driving a particular truck, sat on the bales as we drove along the field from square to square. Rufus the farm dog came running up to check on us sometimes, and at the end of the field, a flock of a half dozen sandhill cranes moved slowly over the cut grass, their necks snaked down to find insects in the dirt.

When we showed up in our yard with truckloads of hay, Sam whinnied. He’s in the front side of the corral today, though I’ve been switching them about once a week to keep them entertained. When Mattie’s in the front and hay arrives, she leans into the fence and stretches her neck as long as she can to grab a mouthful as the truck backs up to the hay barn. Sam stood and watched intently, waiting for us to bring some to him. This says a lot about the difference between the two.

After we stacked the hay—the harder part of the job. I made a big bowl of penne pasta with tomato and Italian sausage sauce and carrots and purple and yellow cauliflower from the garden as finger food. We sat on the deck in the gathering dark, looking out across the river at the Tanana flats—gold patches of bright birch and aspen, dark streaks of spruce—the gold and dark green together are especially dramatic now. I said, “Sometimes I wish it could stay like this for a whole season.” Usually these colors fade in a week or two, usually with the first September rains. Then I realized that if the yellow were around long enough, we’d get tired of it and long for snow—or, as I am now, for spring again.

Robert Frost knew about yellow things: “Nothing gold can stay,” he says in his tiny poem about early spring leaves, dawn, and the sweet melancholy of transitions. For now we revel in the gold of our leaves–like the sun reflecting back to us twice—and we store it up to get us through the dark winter days ahead.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

March 7, 2009

“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.

%d bloggers like this: