Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Winter!

Yesterday was the first official day of winter (hard to believe, since it’s been so gosh-durn cold this past month), and to celebrate the occasion, Mother Nature hit us with exceptionally miserable weather. During the warmest part of the day, the temperature was in the low teens, and that dropped down in the single digits and below as soon as the sun set. Then, of course, came the awful wind, which blew up underneath the horses’ turnout blankets and left the poor animals shivering like mad. I stepped outside to take pictures and feed them some warm mash as an early holiday treat, and I quite literally felt as though all of my extremities were about to freeze, crack, and break off. My face and ears in particular were in excruciating pain. Whimper.

Of course, when it’s that cold, I don’t ride. It’s hard on the horse and hard on me. Both of our lungs freeze. The ground is frozen into lumpy, jagged bits and the footing is dangerous. But when it’s only slightly warmer or even just a touch less windy, I’ve got to saddle up and head out, like it or not. The horses need exercise and training, and, well, that’s my responsibility.

I rode Bones the other day, when, once again, it was miserably cold. That mare tends to pull and brace against me. She wants to run—she was born, bred, and trained to run. She doesn’t much appreciate my efforts to hold her in a rapid, Calorie-burning longtrot. She’ll get to where she’ll stick her head out and pull on me, and I’ll pull right back, and we settle into a comfortable game of pressure-and-release as we make our way around the pasture. But the continued tension is torture my hands. First I’ll feel the cold seep into my thick leather gloves (“Warm to 30 below!” the advertisement boasted). Then my hands will start to go numb. I’ll lose feeling, and my hands will start to slip on the reins. The horse will pull on me, and I find myself unable to gather up the slack. My hands won’t obey. The horse picks up speed. I can’t stop her, so in a desperate effort to gain back control, I wrap the reins around my arms. This is incredibly dangerous, because I lose all finesse and control. I can no longer respond to subtleties or even predict my horse’s movements. Were she to spook and jump aside, I’d be certain to take an unscheduled dismount, and then I’d find myself forcibly dragged by the arms unless I managed to free myself. Not a good scenario, by any means. By this point, my hands have passed the dead-and-lifeless stage. Now they’re burning. The pain is intense—the only thing I can think about. I end up ripping off my gloves and sticking my filthy fingers into my mouth, blowing on them and chewing them until I can open and close my fist at will again. Then it’s back in the gloves to lather, rinse, repeat.

But this is the life I have chosen for myself and committed myself to, and although I frequently whine and complain, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Driving home today, I looked out across the neighbor’s pasture and saw a funny lump in one of his trees. I stopped my car and got out to get a better look. Two birds—hawks? No, too dark, too big. Where were their heads? Maybe vultures? No….the first one spread its massive wings and took flight. It came nearer me, then the wind blew it back and it headed off across the pasture. The second, after a short while, followed suit. Bald eagles. Only the second time I’ve ever seen one, unless you count the crippled, broken-winged specimens at the local zoo. Fantastic. Majestic. I waved my arms in the air and jumped up and down on the frozen weeds and shivered.

Oh beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain
For purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plain….!


Mark said...

Happy winter indeed! I'm one of the proud few who loves this weather, as you know. Something about the grey cold makes me smile. :)
I remember the first time I saw a bald eagle unexpected in the wild. I was driving to school one morning and there was a giant bird sitting in the road picking at some road kill. I figured it was a buzzard, but it perked up its head and spread its wings to reveal that brilliant white hood and what looked like a six foot wingspan. It was brilliant!
There are lots of moments like that when you look for them. It reminds me of Annie Dillard's book when she talks about finding pennies in nature. I even wrote a post about it myself a while back!

Mozart said...

I don't know a whole lot about 'em. I guess they're pretty big fish eaters, which explains why I never saw one in the wild until a couple months ago--not many lakes in suburban Springfield. Not many lakes here, either, actually, so I assume these guys were just passing through. I looked them up in the bird book, though, and they do indeed have six-foot wingspans. Magnificent birds, even when eating carrion, I imagine.

And, eh, you can keep your cold weather, thankyouverymuch. Unless you're volunteering to come exercise some horses and muck some stalls for me....