I’ve been at the lake for almost a week, just enough time to slip into the rhythm of a lake dweller. Someone who has forgotten the minutiae that occupied my mind before I arrived, someone who eats meals on the deck and no longer cares about washing my hair, someone who takes note of the wind and checks the surface of the lake each time I’m outside. Someone who cools off before dinner with a swim.
Here at Lake George the weather shifts from cool and windy to warm and sunny to damp and rainy within a few hours. This year, we’ve been blessed with beautiful days where we’ve enjoyed being out on the boat, swimming to the float at the family beach, spending a morning on a dining porch or an afternoon on a dock chatting with cousins, watching the sun set over the mountains.
The first few days, we rushed to get everything in, still running on the energy of our regular lives. But today, my last day here, I want to slow down and absorb the messages this place holds.
On our first days, we took Sydney tubing with a cousin, went kayaking around the bay, swimming at the beach. We gathered with cousins for our annual family meeting and picnic. There was a flurry of activity and fun.
Midway through our time here, something slowed inside me. My daughter and I canoed to Joshua’s Rock. The wind was so strong, we hardly needed to paddle on our way out. We sat on the ledge that I’ve shared over the years with my mother, my siblings and cousins and looked out on the expanse of lake. Neither of us said much. My daughter picked wild blueberries from the bush beside her as I studied patterns of moss on the granite under my bare feet. On the way home, we had to dip our paddles deep to keep from floating backwards with the current.
Before sunset, the wind died down and we took our friend’s pontoon boat out. The water in the bay was like glass and the sky a tapestry of greys.
Today, I walked down the hill to the beach and felt the echo of my childhood footsteps, how I couldn’t stop my young legs from running, skipping over the stones that rose from the green grass like the brows of my uncles.
The sight of water behind the tall pines along the shore never fails to lift my heart. And on a day when the sky is china blue and sketched with white clouds, this place feels like a small piece of heaven.
I woke early to the raucous sounds of birds and the early morning light filtering through the pines and into the windows of the Owl’s Nest, my great great grandfather’s home. It’s always a bit disorienting to wake here, after the flurry of packing, a long day on the road and the rush of unpacking, checking the house, settling the dog and so on.
Suddenly, all is quiet … except for the birds. Actually, it’s more like time has stopped … or I’ve entered a place where time has new meaning … it loops back on itself, reveals spirals, reinterprets the life I thought I knew.
I am deeply attached to this place, and yet I don’t always like it. Maybe it’s the fact that the layers of memory are so deep. It’s never a simple vacation … a place where we can “get away from it all.” Rather, it’s a place where the old returns.
Sometimes that is a gift and a deeply comforting one. My mother is near to me here. I see her making beds, walking up and down the creaking stairs of this old house, sitting on the stone porch. And I feel her love of place and family. It is so ingrained in who I am.
But this place also holds memories of losses – the years when my mother’s mind was slipping away, her confusion, the hurts she held onto. Things I don’t want to see.
Yet, it also reminds me that these things are like the rings on a tree. Passing phases in the life of a family. Last night when I walked down to our dock, I took a photo of the waning sun and studied what used to be my grandparents’ boathouse.
I remembered making my way as a child through spider webs to climb into the old teak motorboat. For years, the boathouse was dilapidated, until a cousin recently did a major renovation on it. Now it has new life, yet its image still holds the past within it.
Perhaps some of what is difficult about being in this place is the jumble of old and new all mixed together, like the chaotic blend of birdsong this morning. A part of me is busy sorting, sorting through the amalgam … trying to understand the different songs and figure out where I fit.
After the scare with Foxie going missing the previous day, I wasn’t sure what I would find in the big pasture the next day. I was so relieved to catch this “first glimpse” of the horses in the morning. They were together, resting under the trees. It looked like a glimpse of Eden.
I called to them as I walked up the hill. Both horses turned to face me. It took some time, but eventually Shady took a few steps towards me. We hadn’t established a morning routine yet, and, without April to lead her, I knew Foxie might not walk towards the barn.
I walked back to the barn and grabbed a feed scoop with some grain in it. This time when I called to the horses and shook the scoop, Shady walked purposely towards me. He liked the sound of breakfast. And Foxie began moving slowly behind him.
That morning was drama-free, and I enjoyed watching the horses as they ate their grain, and later, as I turned them out into the shaded paddock beside the barn. Maybe we were turning a corner.
The last week and a half has been full of transitions in our little horse world, and I have been holding the tension of two opposites within me: grief over saying goodbye to April, a horse who has come to mean much to our family, and celebration over the welcoming of a new gelding for Sydney’s friend Lauren-Kate.
April played an important role in my daughter’s development as a rider, and she became a fixture in the pasture beside our beloved Foxie. April and Foxie spent this past winter together in a paddock at Runneymede, and when they returned home, it was as if they were attached at the hip. I took so many photos of these two mares, delighting in their companionship.
April was the horse whose head would lift each time I called out to the horses, and she would come walking, sometimes trotting over to see me, with Foxie lagging behind. Sydney and I noted how April and Foxie stood together under the shade trees head to tail, brushing flies off of each other’s faces and nibbling at the itchy places on each other’s backs. Foxie, with her typical Quarter Horse build, often stood next to, usually a little behind April, with her head lowered, as if she were hiding. While April, with her thoroughbred/Welsh Pony breeding raised her head with curiosity and friendly interest each time she saw us.
We first met April last July, on a 100-degree day near Charleston, SC. Our family was returning home from a beach vacation and we’d heard of this horse, a sweet mare whose “default was whoa,” according to her owner, who had worked with Jo, a dear friend of ours. Sydney had been riding Foxie and was head over heels in love with her. But Foxie was taking advantage of her inexperience and taking off at the canter with her. I figured with a little training, I could break Foxie of her habits and Sydney could gain confidence by riding a horse that she would be comfortable learning to canter on. April was that horse. I knew the first time Sydney rode her, on that 100-degree day. A couple of weeks later, Deirdra, a friend of mine from my old days as a riding instructor delivered April to our farm. Sydney began riding April several times a week, and within a few weeks, she was cantering with confidence and ease. By the end of the year, she was back riding Foxie and enjoying her again, thanks to April.
It’s always hard to board horses when you’ve been used to taking care of them yourself. But Sydney’s intense school and basketball schedule left little time for horse care in the evenings, so we knew it was the right thing to board them through the winter.
Sydney’s friend, Lauren-Kate, took over riding April when the horses moved to Runneymede, and the girls had many great lessons there together. They also had a taste of trail riding when it was clear both horses were getting bored with ring work.
In the spring, when the horses returned home, their joy was palpable. They left the winter dry lot pasture behind and discovered their familiar paddocks, lush and green with new grass. They dropped their heads to the tasty tufts and never looked back. They even seemed to love their stalls – where they could stand side by side or look out their back windows towards another field of green.
As the horses grew accustomed to the grass and were eased into 24/7 turnout, I delighted in seeing them each day as I walked. They were always in close range of each other, always moving in time; if one started walking, the other lifted her head and began walking too. There was never a scratch on either horse…they watched out for each other, never fought, always enjoyed the other’s presence. Having been around horses for most of my life, I know how rare this is. But I believe these two horses genuinely loved each other.
We often joked that April was a person inside a horse body because she was so curious and interested in people. Every day she greeted whoever came to the barn – whether it was a person or Foxie – with a whinny or a nicker. She was truly present. And how she loved food! She never left a speck of hay in her stall, even if she’d spent the last 24 hours eating grass. If she didn’t want to do something she’d let you know…stopping on a hot day, after a longer-than-usual lesson, turning around to look at you if you tried to urge her to go, as if to ask, “Are you serious?” then capitulating if you meant business and brought out the whip.
Sydney and I had discussed how April would be leaving the barn sometime during the summer because our year lease was ending. About a month before our lease was up, we learned that Lauren-Kate had found a potential horse for herself. I was in communication with April’s owner and knew that she felt that the mare had more good years in her as a school horse, and I agreed that she would be a benefit to the right program. But I knew it would be hard to say goodbye. I went down to the barn to talk with April. I told her what was going on, that she would not be staying with us, but that I loved her and hoped we would find a special home for her where she could help other students gain confidence in their riding. To my surprise, I had a sense that April, though deeply connected to Foxie and appreciative of our farm, was aware of her role and ready to accept whatever her new assignment might be. She met my gaze with her perpetual friendly and open curiosity and what felt like a sense of trust. I believe this sense of trust came from her owner’s firm belief in her talents and a sense that our family would oversee this transition.
A week or two later, April had her hooves trimmed, and I remember watching her blissful face as the farrier worked on her. It was as if she was enjoying to the fullest every last experience with us on the farm.
It’s been a wonderful year with April. Thank you, Kelly, for sharing her with us. We will always have a warm spot in our hearts for this sweet mare. I’ll finish this post with some of the lovely sights we were blessed with during this past year.
Coming soon: Transitions at the Farm, Part II: Welcoming Shady
The farrier came this morning, and I’ve never seen our horses in such a state of bliss. They both thoroughly enjoyed their hoof trimming.
Foxie and April are home after being boarded for the winter. It’s such a joy to see how happy and relaxed they are back at the farm.
The horses were so thrilled to discover all the grass that they barely picked up their heads. Because they’ve been on a dry lot through the winter and the grass is so rich in the spring, we’ll have to be careful about transitioning them. But they seem to be enjoying their stalls too.
Sydney and LK worked hard last week preparing the barn for the horses’ arrival.
Thanks to my friend Lynn for the use of her BIG truck!
Sunny loves having the horses home too.
Foxie looking fetching as she sports her lovely French braid.
A birthday kiss for Foxie. (Her birthday was yesterday.)
Foxie’s not the only one who’s happy she’s home.
The clouds were gorgeous this morning as Sunny and I took off for our walk. I couldn’t help but marvel. There was a coolness to the air and a beauty that lifted my heart. Something about the blue moon last night reminded me that we live in the midst of a glorious story…despite the pain and suffering embedded in our lives. If we step out of our daily grind, look up, we might just capture some of the brilliance that surrounds us.