Yesterday I received sad new. It wasn’t unexpected, but it was hard to hear, nonetheless. My aunt, who has been sick for some time, passed away.
I got the phone call in the late morning. Though I now live in Iowa, I grew up in Arizona. Most of my family is still there. My aunt had the majority of her loved ones with her in her final days. I was not among them. It is interesting how, at times, technology makes the world feel so small. Then something like this happens and the distance between West and Midwest has never seemed so vast.
As soon as I set the phone down, I felt a pull to get in the car. Within half an hour of saying good-bye to my mother, I was at the barn. One other boarder saw me, and perhaps wondered about my red-rimmed eyes. She left only a few minutes after I arrived. I found myself alone with Steen.
I have observed before that my horse often seems aware of the nuances of my emotional state. Yesterday was no exception. I spent a long time grooming, then took Steen out in the trees for the first time this year. At first we wandered in aimless fashion, working on weaving figure-eights around the trunks with the reins set down, or picking up a lead on a straightaway. At first, my mind was suspended, drawn back towards the sun-scorched deserts of my youth. Gradually, my ride brought me back here, and helped the new grief settle from a torrent into a quiet pool.
I am not a religious person. When I am hurting, I do not turn to a book or a pew or anything made by the hands of man. I go out into this world. I dwell where wonder and beauty collide with loss and decay and rebirth. I remember that I am part of this – as little and as great a part as the leaves left over from fall that blow on the breeze – leaves that will break apart and sink into the ground and again become part of trees that stand taller than a house and older than a man. Yesterday, I rode at the base of such trees, Steen and I continuing our journey towards understanding each other through the language of touch.
My aunt had no children. When I was small, she was always there – an exceptionally cool non-parental adult who took me and my brother and sister for sleepovers, showed us movies we were too young for, and never once forgot our birthdays. She grew up in Iowa, though she’d been too sick to come back and visit since I’ve been here.
I rode Steen around in the trees for a time, then opened the gate into the big pasture. We cantered up to the hilltop and came to a stop. The grass is just barely coming up for the season. I got off and sat down, nothing but fields, woods, pastures, horses, and farmhouses visible on every side. It is almost the landscape of my aunt’s youth – a glimpse at how her world might have looked in the time she existed before I was born. Now it is time for me to continue in a world she no longer inhabits. I am grateful for our period of overlap.
After sitting for a while, I rode Steen back in. I rubbed him down in the sun and put him back out with the herd. I tidied things up and left the barn. On the drive home, the sadness was still in me. It will always be there, now. But my eyes were dry.
Horseback Hours YTD: 34:35