I did not even have the dignity to fall off a horse. I fell off a pony, on what was supposed to be my Christmas present from Ida--a horse ride through enchanted snowy woods. Instead Ida and I were left to our own devices and with what little experience we had between us, we had managed to saddle the horse and taken him down to the snowy paddock. The moment I swung my leg over Manne's back, there was a second of perfect clarity before he bucked and dashed forward in what can only be seen as a gesture of perfect happiness. I hit the ground with a bang, and Ida stared bewildered at the little pony running to his heart's content down the length of the fence. It is a bit disheartening to be dismounted in the first second, and I had no greater desire to see if I could acquire another bashed knee. Ida looked very unhappy that her present had gone off like a shot.
"Don't worry about it," I assured her, brushing off my coat. "I already had a bruise there."
And she really needn't have worried. This evening, I returned home from karate bruised and bloodied. Shihan had set me against Erika, the yellow-belt-now-turned-green-belt powerhouse who pummeled me with her bloody fists for two minutes, which resulted in a red-speckled gi I vowed I would study to discover her technique and a forming blue bruise on my other knee.
Manne had by now returned to the gate, and Ida took up his slack reins and walked us back to the stables to put him away in his stall with a final pat on the rump. It was a good day. We spent it talking to Tessan and Emma and Sara, the beagle and border terrier and border collie running around the place. Porter, the big black cat, blinked at us from his window seat. Ida and I explored the stables and were delighted to find little lambs, only hours old, staggering about on long, thin limbs. To think such fragile things were being born in mid-winter! Their mothers that stamped their feet in bravado. Perhaps we were peeking too closely at a secret, private ritual between the old and the very young.
Though there were chickens and horses to see, I long stood and watched the sheep, understanding, if only a little, the feelings the Shepherd must feel for His flock, and the peace it gives to walk through a barn and smell dusty hay and hear gentle pawings and stirrings of hooves and slow-chewed cud and to see His creatures safely tucked away from the cold of the winter winds.
Ida's father has long kept sheep, and I doubt she understood why I lingered. The most curious of them put their heads through the bars, and I rested my hands on their curly foreheads and thought of Galway Kinnell's poem.
St. Francis and the Sow
stands for all things,
those things that don't flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in
words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of
as St. Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow,
and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen
snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking
blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.