The other day I was walking across campus when the old scent of molasses and animal feed drifted from Tindle Mills. Suddenly I was flooded with memories. I recalled early morning marching band rehearsals at Harrison Stadium. It would be seven o’clock in the morning in the first weeks of October. When we arrived at the field, the muddy grass (and later Astroturf) would be wet with dew or brittle with frost. If we arrived directly on time like we were supposed to, the sky would still be dark, with only dim streetlights illuminating our visible breath. We’d shiver and complain miserably and try to warm up our horns, but the cold notes sounded tinny and useless. By the time we had taken our positions on the yard lines, the sun would begin to rise behind us. If we had the opportunity to turn around, we could catch the first frail orange fragments as they broke over the horizon. Those first few minutes were always spectacular. They made missing sleep and braving the cold worth it. Later, after an hour of marching and playing, we’d troop back to school to begin the monotony of the day. As we walked along Central Street, the nauseating smell of Tindle’s molasses would overpower and gag me.
Anyway. It was a warm Missouri winter day, and as the odor wafted to my nostrils, I smiled fondly at the memories of high school band, and I thought too about the bags of feed stacked high in the barn to feed the horses. Happy thoughts. The weather was so nice I removed my jacket and lamented that my destination was the basement of the Olin Library, far from the comforting breeze and birdsong, ugly and fluorescent and subterranean. I rejoiced in the day while I could, for warm weather in February means two things: spring and tornadoes. Indeed, that night we received a downpour of cold rain, and a tornado briefly touched down in Springfield, doing damage to some local businesses and traffic lights.
The spring peepers are out. I heard them last night, and a few weeks ago I saw a robin, the alleged harbinger of the season of renewal. I’m ready for the change, though I dread the hazardous winds and weather than are sure to accompany it.
I rode Bones tonight. I took her over to the 20 acre neighboring pasture and began our routine of trotting. Naturally, she quickly decided that we were going much too slowly, and she dove and plunged to escape the bit in an effort to break into a lope. As I laughed and fought her (who can blame her? she’s a young and healthy horse bred to run) I caught sight of four whitetails ahead of us, watching us carefully. I slowed the mare and approached the deer carefully, a few steps at a time. They were wary, but not truly frightened. One watched us. One grazed. One scratched her head with a hind leg. One squatted to urinate.
The first seemed curious, and she took a few tentative steps towards us, then retreated. Then she approached again, getting fairly close—within 20 or 30 feet, I’d say. The other hung back, and Bones held stock-still, watching the other animal with mild interest. Finally the brave doe decided that she’d had enough, and she returned to her fellows. They all began to move off, and I followed them at a respectful distance. This went on for some time. The deer seemed unwilling to leave the pasture, but they didn’t want to allow me to come any closer. They’d trot or run a few steps, leaping in that graceful, leisurely way so characteristic to the species. Bones waited for the cue to pursue. She loves chasing things, since that combines her other two loves: running and being mean. But I felt we had tormented the deer enough, so I pulled her off and left them to graze.
I began to canter my horse in circles when I happened to look up and catch a glimpse of two deer quite near to us. My eyes returned to the spot where I had left the original group, and sure enough, all four were still there. Where these two new additions had materialized from, I have no idea, for they were coming out of seemingly empty, open field. To my great surprise, they were coming at a good clip, running straight towards us. I thought at first they were challenging us (Were they sick? Were they defending their territory? Family?) but they seemed not to notice us at all. At the last instance they veered and continued on by us, slowing just enough to hop the barbed wire fence and continue on out of sight. Strange.
I continued the ride without further incident, and paused at its conclusion to admire the sun set. This evening it was brilliant pink and red. Even as I watched, the vibrant colors faded to gray. Cows lowed in the distance. I could hear the noisy utterances of what sounded like a very large gaggle of geese, although the birds themselves never materialized. A gray heron, a patch of features missing from its right wing, flew directly overhead. The first star appeared in the still-bright cloudy sky, subdued, dusty, and dim.
I paused in repose. What was this emotion washing over me? Oh, yes. Contentment. Despite it all, life is still pretty damn good.