This is a throwback post, reposting an essay of mine that originally appeared on the Stonycroft blog. It’s my memories of a day when I was about six years old. Today, I could really do with a peaceful, lazy time like that… Three final exams today. I won’t be home until late. I’m going to say now that art tonight will be a photo, I’m pretty sure I will have no time for painting or drawing. I’m off to the 8 am Spanish exam now.
Standing in the center of our pasture, sunshine on my head, the steady beat of the hay tedder in the background, I watch Murphy hunting mice. The shepherd mix will do this all day, until her belly is round from her feast of rodents. The new mown hay has only been down for a day, but already it is half-dry and the air is so thickly scented with the sweet smell I can taste it. Murphy gives a little yip, her black and brown body poised, tail low and steady. Then she pounces, both front feet together, jumping into the rolled windrow of hay and trapping the mouse. With a click of her jaws she has her prey, and she flips her head back sharply, tossing the mouse high into the air before catching it again and eating it with an audible crunch and a gulp. Mission accomplished, she trots over to me and flops her butt on the ground, pink tongue lolling out. I scratch her silky ears and head, surveying the length of our long, narrow pasture, looking toward Billy Joe’s house, and past it, the high road where I can see but not hear cars, the tractor drowns them out. It doesn’t drown out the high bleat of baby goats, though, and I turn toward our house.
As I walk, the dry stubble is sharp under my bare feet, but with my calluses from running around barefoot all the time, it doesn’t slow me down much. I am in no hurry, Murph has gone back to hunting mice as we move toward the half-built house. The garden with it’s rows of tall sweet corn block me from seeing our little road directly, but I can see a plume of dust that means someone is driving past our place. Our neighbor’s Brahma bull, trained to do tricks in rodeos, is leaning against the fence between our place and his, eyeing the corn with his mournful eyes.
Our animals are penned up today, while we hay, in the corral my father and “Uncle” Jim built to break mustangs in. I’m headed there. Salsa and Snakedancer are watching, heads over the corral fence and ears pricked toward me. Salsa’s still shaggy, she needs the last of her winter coat brushed out. My mother has been busy with the house construction and my sisters, so my guess is that Jim will do it when he comes to check on the horses. I’m too little to reach her back yet. Snakedancer’s off-center star is half-hidden under his black forelock, but his bay coat is shiny. He’s only a half hand too tall to be a pony, so I can reach all of him, at least when he lets me. I pick up a handful of hay off the windrow to feed them. It’s not crunchy brittle like it will be in a day or two when we bale it.
Salsa lips her hay delicately off my flat palm, and I pat her nose. It’s the softest spot on a horse, velvety compared to the coarse horse hair on the rest of her. Snake doesn’t like his face touched, and he lets most of his hay fall to the ground inside the corral after taking it politely from my hand. The baby goats have bounced over and gathered by the horses’ knees, and now they try out the hay. They are still bottle-fed, but they are starting to nibble on everything and anything. Snake puts his head back over the fence, and lets me lean my face against his cheek. I inhale his smell and close my eyes in pleasure at the combination of horse, fresh hay, and sunshine. Murphy comes and leans against my leg and I am safe and happy in the company of my horse and dog. The throb of the tractor and the bleats of the goats are good background music for my childhood hay day.