In southern France live two old horses,
High in the foothills, not even French,
But English, retired steeplechasers
Brought across to accept an old age
Of ambling together in the Pyrenees.
At times they whinny and kick
At one another with impatience,
But they have grown to love each other.
In time the gelding grows ill
And is taken away for treatment.
The mare pines, pokes at her food,
Dallies on her rides until the other
She is in her stall
When the trailer rumbles
Through the gate into the field,
And she sings with impatience
Until her door is opened.
Of sound and speed, in need of
Each other, they entwine their necks,
Rub muzzles, bumping flanks
To embrace in their own way.
Together they prance to
The choicest pasture,
Standing together and apart,
To be glad until
They can no longer be glad.
~Paul Zimmer, “Love Poem”
There is security in a basic routine, especially on our farm – predictable things happening in predictable ways, day after day, week after week, year after year. Somehow, dull as it may seem, the “norm” is quite comforting, like each breath taken in and let go, each heart beat following the next. We depend on it, take it for granted, forget it until something doesn’t go as it should.
Mornings are very routine for me. I wake before the alarm, usually by 5:30 AM, fire up the computer and turn the stove on to get my coffee water boiling. I head down the driveway to fetch the paper, either feeling my way in the dark if it is winter, or squinting at the glare of early morning sunlight if it is not. I make my morning coffee, check my emails, eat my share of whole grains while reading the paper, climb into my rubber boots and head out for chores.
Some years ago, as I was leading a mare and her colt out to pasture for their daytime turnout, I was whistling to the wandering colt as he had his own ideas about where he wanted to be, and it wasn’t where I was leading. Fifty yards away, he decided he was beyond his comfort zone so whirled around, sped back to his mom and me, and traveling too fast to put his brakes on ended up body slamming her on her right side, putting her off balance and she side stepped toward me, landing one very sizeable Haflinger hoof directly on my rubber booted foot. Hard.
I hobbled my way with them to the pasture, let them go, closed the gate and then pulled my boot off to see my very scrunched looking toes, puffing up and throbbing. I still had more horses to move, so I started to limp back to the barn, biting my lip and thinking “this is no big deal, this is just a little inconvenience, this will feel better in the next few minutes” but each step suggested otherwise. I was getting crankier by the second when I passed beneath one of our big evergreen trees and noticed something I would not have noticed if I hadn’t been staring down at my poor sore foot. An eagle feather, dew covered, was lodged in the tall grass beneath the tree, dropped there as a bald eagle had lifted its wings to fly off from the tree top, probably to dive down to grab one of the many wild bunnies that race across the open pasture, each vulnerable to the raptors that know this spot as a good place for lunch . The wing feather lay there glistening, marking the spot, possessing the tree, claiming the land, owning our farm. It belonged there and I did not–in fact I can’t even legally keep this feather–the law says I’m to leave it where I find it or turn it over to the federal government.
I am simply a visitor on this acreage, too often numbly going through my morning routine, accomplishing my chores for the few years I am here until I’m too old or crippled to continue. The eagles will always be here as long as the trees and potential lunch remain to attract them.
Contemplating my tenure on this earth, my toes didn’t hurt much anymore. I was reminded that nothing truly is routine about daily life, it is gifted to us as a feather from heaven, floating down to us in ways we could never expect nor deserve. I’d been body slammed that morning all right, but by the touch of a feather. Bruised and broken but then built up, carried and sustained, standing together but yet apart.
I am glad for the gifts of this life, for the ache that love inevitably brings, as pain such as this can bring revelation and renewal. Sometimes it is the only thing that does.