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.