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Freeing The Mare

I glance at the clock as though knowing the time might stop it’s advance. Twenty, fifteen, then all too soon only five minutes remain. I struggle to keep my knees from knocking, my heart from pounding as the seconds slip by. I wish I could prevent this moment from coming, yet  I’m shocked by the relief that washes over me when the truck pulls up the drive.

Numb with dread, I stumble to the barn. A trip I’ve made a thousand times, now surreal and unnatural, altered by my intent.  Caretaker, partner, source of all things good, abruptly  transformed into a role I never wished to bear. Not wanting to startle her, I call out as I round the far end of the building. Curled like a small fragile doe, I find her laying in the corner of the loafing shed. Tired, uncomfortable, a freckled ear flicks in my direction. She knows I’m there, but doesn’t stir.

“Tia,” I whisper, and murmur my private greeting.  “Sa, sa, sweet girl.” I fight to keep my voice even, disguise the choking sorrow in my throat. Her soft brown eyes blink twice as I pause to stroke her flea-bitten gray neck before nudging her to her feet.  Fatigued, she stands quietly while I tenderly brush the debris from her side, rake my fingers through her disheveled mane and slip the tattered red halter over her lowered head. We leave the shed together and file past the boys who, being boys, barely look up from the feed rack. I want to scream at them, tell them their mare is leaving, but I know words won’t alter our course. When we reach the gate I dare to hope she might balk or refuse to pass; any sign that our destiny is premature. But my hand springs the latch and we glide through the opening side by side.

Together we continue our walk down the road, every sound, every sense magnified. The late afternoon sun sits low in the early winter sky and the golden light warms my face. If she senses anything wrong it doesn’t show. Just another stroll on a nice day. We turn onto a trail that winds down a gentle slope and empties into a large stand of ancient white pines.  This path we know well as it leads to one of our favorite places; a pretty, peaceful grove that overlooks the dormant pasture below. Off to one side the vet and my husband watch patiently as I scan the ridge, searching for just the right spot.

We walk across a thick bed of long, brown pine needles and halt in a place where sunbeams poke through drooping boughs. The mare’s fuzzy white sides shimmer in the diffused light and thin wisps of mane lift in the soft breeze. Exhausted from weeks of emotional strain, I step to her head and turn to look down the swayed length of spine that has carried me countless miles. Her soft muzzle seeks my bare, cupped hands as I try to drink in every detail of her graceful elegance. I close my eyes and rest my forehead gently against hers. “Sa, sa,” I whisper again. “There, there.” My words are meant to comfort me, soothe my wounded soul, not hers. In contrast, I sense her peace, her readiness for this transition.

Suspended in time, our breath flows rhythmically with the familiar ease of bodies that have shared an intimate dance countless times. We stand quietly for several moments before I bend slowly and kiss the downy softness of her nose once more. I look into her dark, wise eyes as a symphony of memories flash before me. I tell her I love her, always have, always will and her eyes, heavy now with sedation begin to close. I step closer, wrap both arms around her neck and hug her aged body gently to my own. A puff of smoke leaks from her velvety nostrils as a single deep sigh of contentment escapes. A shadow flashes overhead as a lone hawk drifts silently, circling on the thermals above.

I stand shivering in the late afternoon chill. Afraid to let go, reluctant to give the final signal, I wait, trusting my heart will know the right moment. In the stillness the hawk glides unseen to a branch nearby and calls once, shrill and high. The mournful sound pierces the silence and breaks the spell; a spirit guide, come to lead the mare home. I nod to the waiting men, turn away and  begin my ascent to the house. Twenty yards up the path I halt abruptly. I feel her soar; strong, powerful, free.

10 responses

  1. Marc

    Your photos are a tribute to the beauty you see.

    Your words are a genuinely beautiful, and now lasting, tribute, to your dearest of friends.

    February 10, 2011 at 2:20 PM

    • I wish I’d taken more pictures of her. I’d only gotten my camera in June and I was struggling to learn how to use it. By the time I felt like I knew what I was doing it was fall, and I was off trying to shoot landscapes and foliage. After that, the horses started getting their winter coats and I decided I’d focus on shooting them in the spring. It never dawned on me that Tia might not be here then. Never crossed my mind.

      It’s so easy to take the simple things … the things that are right under your nose … for granted. I told myself many times that I’d take more pictures of the horses … after all, they’re right here and I can shoot them any time! Well, it was not to be, and I have just a handful of “decent” pictures of Tia. Since I was never a camera buff prior, I have only maybe a half dozen pictures of her that were taken over her entire life-span. This saddens me so, as she was often quite animated and pretty. I guess I’ll just have to learn to live with “seeing” her in my dreams.

      Thanks for your kind words … they mean a lot.

      February 11, 2011 at 7:35 AM

  2. h

    Such beautiful words for such a difficult time….you write as wonderfully as you take pictures… I almost feel as though I was there with you…except I couldn’t hold you which this passage sooo makes me want to do!
    Much love

    February 10, 2011 at 2:57 PM

    • Thanks Heidi. I wrote this the next day. I needed to write it. I still really miss her a lot, miss looking out and seeing her there.

      I wasn’t going to blog this, but I changed my mind. The hardest part was going through the pictures to find one I liked. I’m not sure when that will get easier …. but I know it will!

      Thanks for always being there for me and listening. I Love you!

      February 11, 2011 at 7:52 AM

  3. very well written, along with a wonderful photo.

    I know what it’s like to wish you had more photos. Same can be said for my cat and my goats. Didn’t have much of a clue back then and only a point and shoot or less. So I will have to hold onto what I have, and learn from it. Needless to say i don’t think I will have any shortage of dog photos 😉

    Take care

    February 11, 2011 at 10:07 AM

    • Yes, I have dog photos a-plenty here too! The dogs are (for the most part) so much easier to work into a photo shoot. Horses, not so much. I found my own horses very tricky to photograph. Either I was too critical of the results or I just had a really hard time keeping them far enough away from me and natural looking to make it look the way I wanted. Most of the best pictures I have of them just “happened” when I was out shooting something else and they were nearby. And hungry … that helped a LOT!! 😉

      Thanks for the kind words.

      February 12, 2011 at 5:01 PM

  4. sister marie julie

    Freeing the Mare is the perfect title. I understand about the pictures, but often the heart takes a picture, and those are the best….

    Thank you for allowing all of us to catch a glimpse of Tia’s beauty, and for permitting us to take that last, long walk with you.

    In the snowflake, in the falling leaf, in the shooting star, in the shimmering cobweb, I know you find Tia. But you can’t touch those without losing them, and I know how painful it is when you can’t touch those who now travel in another dimension. That’s really all it is, though, isn’t it? Another dimension that only the heart knows.

    I think we are all diminished by her death, but so enriched by her life.

    May her memory be, for you, a Blessing.

    smj, Marc’s sister.

    February 13, 2011 at 9:45 AM

    • Thanks for sharing such kind and comforting words.

      I have many memories of Tia and that is indeed a blessing!

      February 14, 2011 at 7:14 AM

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