Maya’s little literary vacations — a barn on a late summer’s afternoon
Stressful day? No time for a vacation? You can have one in the privacy of your own mind. Take a break from the stress of the holidays and hearken back just a few months. Read on…
It’s early September. The heat of summer has passed, but the days are still warm even though the nights have cooled. The crickets are out in force with their chirping flirtations – as you walk toward the big old barn with its peaked roof, presided over by the rooster weathervane, the gauzy insects dance their sunlit ballet in the air. The grass in the field is high and dry – its sweet scent enfolds you.
The door creaks as you open it and immediately, two long equine heads pop over the doors of the stalls. They know it’s you and they know what you have in that bag – sweet fall apples bursting with sweetness. You smile as you fish into the cloth depths for the biggest apple. Sal, the rescued, retired mahogany bay draft horse bobs his head up and down, lush mane tossing with all the grace of a fashion model, then reaches with almost impossibly delicate care, his enormous teeth breaking the apple precisely in half. He tosses his head back, catching the half apple in his teeth, then biting down, his eyes closing in bliss, spraying apple juice everywhere. You laugh as you dodge the droplets, but step forward again to offer the second half.
This is too much for Marie, your palomino quarter horse. She whinnies in protest that she, the prima donna, was not first for your attention, but she’s quickly mollified when you pay her proper tribute with her own apple. Satisfied, she wanders back to her hay and grain.
It smells sweet in here. Up in the loft, most of a winter’s worth of hay has been put up. The rest of it is out in the field, almost ready to be threshed and baled. You stop by the goat’s pen – Nanny and Papa, pygmy goats of some antiquity share cut up pieces and a head scratch each before you move to the last stall in the barn.
Inside the stall, the straw on the floor is thick and fresh – mucked out just this morning. Alejandro, bay and white pinto pony of gentle soul and wise demeanor, ambles toward you, lush lashes shading eyes of melting brown. In the manger, nested in the hay, a tiger tabby cat is nursing her four tiny kittens – their purring, mama and babies, mixes with the peaceful sounds of the barn, seeping into your heart and soul, letting the tension so customary it is nearly unnoticeable begin to flow away.
There are brushes and curry combs in a basket nailed to the wall. Covered with pony dander and bits of hair, they speak of long afternoons of devotion. You slip your hand into the strap and bend over Alejandro’s back. He’s no more than 8 hands high – 32 inches at the withers – his coat thick, his mane and tail a shaggy mass. He delicately takes the smallest of the apples from your hand and crunches, the juice drooling down his soft chin.
At the first touch of the curry comb, the skin on Alejandro’s back twitches and ripples in pleasure. Down his back in the same direction as his hair you comb, long, slow strokes that send hair soaring into the air, caught by the invisible breezes that swirl through the barn. They are lit by the gentle, gilded rays of sun that filter through the dusty windows – hair and motes of dust that glow like tiny suns as they drift in random patterns. The intoxicating scent of horse rises to blend with the sweetness of the hay.
Down his sides you comb, down furry legs that end in diminutive hooves. He’s canted slightly sideways now, one back hoof up and his eyes are half closed in pure bliss, savoring the gentle hand you run over his body in pursuit of the comb. You look over his back to see the mother cat gazing at you approvingly with half open eyes until she is distracted by the need to wash a kitten. You return to your worship of this hoofed bodhisattva, thirty years old, confidante of your childhood and youth, whose sole purpose now is to be loved.
The sun is fading, the air cooling. It’s time for all good creatures to turn in for the night. In their corner, the hens are crooning sleepily. You press a tender kiss to Alejandro’s forehead, gently stroke the mama cat and run a tender finger down the tiny backs of her nursing kittens. Stress gone, you close the stall door behind you and then batten down the barn for the night. All is peaceful.
All is well…