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The Whitehurst Diaries: A Lovely Day, 8 Dec 2015
By Sharon Whitehurst
The thermometer positioned outside the window over the kitchen sink showed a reading of 32 F [the freezing mark] when I came downstairs at 6:10 Tuesday morning.
The cats, Nellie, Edward, and Mima had been sprawled on our bed, and rose with me to thunder down the stairs, quickly joined by Bobby Mac and Chester.
Teasel was curled tidily on one of the chairs at the round oak table which now sits in the middle of the kitchen rather than in the alcove.
She stretched and yawned, hopping down as I opened the stove door to poke at the faintly glowing coals within.
Wood fire tended, I step out on the chilly porch with kibble for the barn cats.
Smoke puffs from the chimney of the lower house, a square of yellow light pours through a window.
When I open the door to return inside, Bobby and Nellie shoot past me and dash across the drive, ignoring the huffing of Sadie and Sally, the tortie sisters.
As I set the coffee pot over a burner Jim appears."Why are you using the electric?" he asks, reasonably enough.I transfer the coffee pot to the wood stove which is now emitting the creaks and pops which indicate a lively fire. Jim wants breakfast earlier than usual as he and Pastor Fred are planning to get up wood.
I trudge upstairs to shower, reminding Jim that I intend driving to the Post Office to send off two small Christmas packages.
Beyond that errand I have made no plans for the day, nothing particularly demands to be done.
With Fred [ our renter] taking on wood detail I don't need to load or unload the heavy chunks.
Address labels typed and printed, a roll of tape located, my packages are ready to go. On the way out to the van I pick up a Christmas CD from my desk--piano music.
It takes a scant 15 minutes to drive the winding roads to the tiny post office in the next county.
As I approach the parking area I glance between the front seats--my handbag is not with me, doubtless still at home on the dining room hutch. Strangely, I am not overly dismayed. This is not a 'senior moment'--it is the sort of addle-pated thing I've done forever.
Back at the house I consider the time--the county line is the demarcation between central and eastern time--and the post office keeps odd hours.
I stow my handbag in the van, deciding to drive to the Beachy Amish farm for eggs and see if, on the way, I can spot Jim's old truck parked at the log landing off the side road.
Our elderly neighbor, Carlie, is standing at the bottom of our lane, his pickup parked at the long shop building beyond the lower house. I stop beside him and let down the van windows.
"My little horse has done went missing," announces Carlie. He is a slender wiry man, dressed like a cowboy in wide-brimmed hat, jeans cinched with a tooled leather belt, western boots.
The horse, a 15 month old filly, was not in her enclosure behind the house trailer this morning, not in the small barn. She was not across the road visiting the gang of horses we've been boarding.
I tell Carlie about our Nellie cat who went missing and miraculously returned.
I suspect Carlie doesn't hold a high opinion of cats.
"A cat will go off," he concedes, 'but that derd-blamed horse had no reason to run away."
His blue eyes are anxious, slightly puzzled.
"I give that horse a bowl of sweet feed ever' mornin' and another bowl full ever' ev'nin.' I've looked for her til I'm plumb wore out!"
I promise to alert Jim and Fred, assure Carlie we will have an eye out for the filly.
"I've done held you up when you were on your way out," he apologizes.
"I'm not in a hurry" I tell him, "And I'll go out looking when I get back."
I head the van up the steep road to the Beachy farm, window part way down to let in the mild air.
I think I know where Jim intended to get up wood ['tops' left from a logging operation last year] but see no sign of truck or tractor and decide not to risk getting off in the 'pucker brush' where I can't turn around.
Eggs stashed in the fridge at home, hair pinned hastily back, I leave a note for Jim and begin to climb the steep ridge track. I can walk at a good pace along level going. I've never been fond of climbing and now I huff and puff when I attempt the ridge trail.
I have my camera, a good excuse to stop and catch my breath, listen for the sound of the chainsaw. I veer off the track, past a thick twist of sprawling vine.
As I stand gazing up at a mass of dark leaves caught at the top of a tree, I hear the old truck's diesel engine start. I labor over the last rise in time to see the loaded truck lumber slowly out of sight.
Turning to go home I can't readily locate the track and scuff along the edge of the ridge, cutting inwards until I hit the sunken curve of the track part way down.
Rounding the bend and heading down the steepest part, I can see through the leafless trees clear to the roadway. Carlie's white pickup is rolling slowly up the road and I imagine the old man anxiously scanning the pastures and woods on either side for a glimpse of his horse. The men, of course, have driven around Sanders Ridge and the Dodge is parked at the lower house.
I encounter Fred who asserts that when he rose at 5 a young horse was grazing on the lawn.
"I didn't know where she belonged so I herded her into the pasture across the lane. She was still there at 9 when we went out to cut wood."
I set off along the road toward Carlie's house trailer, intent on telling him that at least his horse has not been stolen! Behind me, Jim roars down the lane on the 4-wheeler, towing the wood splitter.
I wave wildly at him, continue on til he detaches the splitter and comes alongside.
I relay the horse saga, climb aboard the 4-wheeler.
We trundle through Carlie's yard--he is not there. Jim heads the 4-wheeler across our corn field, putters along the creek.
A large grey squirrel dashes in front of us, dropping a corncob in his headlong flight toward the tangle of small trees at the edge of the creek. Nowhere is there any sign of a palomino filly.
Jim examines the soft earth at the edge of the cornfield for hoof prints, then crosses at the shallow ford to wheel around the back field. The sun is warm, the air soft, incredible weather for the second week of December.
Reaching our boundary fence Jim decides to cross the creek at a wide pool. We slither down the gravely bank, water splashing. The 4-wheeler balks at the bank on the other side.
Jim whoops with glee, backs up, has at it again.
I have drawn up my feet but one shoe and sock are soaked, the other damp. We head downstream, water flying, gravel spurting, clawing back into the field.
Both Jim's shoes are soaked. The neighbor's Border Collie, excited by the commotion, barrels across the field to run alongside.
From the road we can see Carlie's truck parked near the hedgerow in his own back field.
We bounce across a shallow drainage ditch and slide to a stop as he emerges from the line of small trees and brush. He brightens, relaxes visibly when Jim relays that the filly was alive and well at 9 a.m.
He reiterates his exasperation that she should have 'gotten out', caused him this worry and searching.
"Could she be coming in heat? She seemed awfully frisky." Jim suggests a possible explanation for her escape.
Carlie isn't buying this excuse.
"She's always that way--runs round her pasture, tail up, prancin'"
We speculate that the filly must have spotted the open gate near Jim's workshop. [The Millers had created several small pastures connected with heavy gates.]
Fred wouldn't have guessed the top gate was open when he shooed the filly into the pasture across from the lower house.
My wet feet are getting cold in spite of the mild day.
We squelch into the warmth of our kitchen, drop soggy socks and shoes beside the stove.
Jim remarks, toweling his feet, "I didn't think the creek was as deep in that spot, did you?"
It is a rhetorical question, but I mutter that I had my suspicions! I do not enjoy unexpected dousings.
We agree on a hasty lunch of scrambled eggs, rounds of beef summer sausage crisped in a skillet on the wood range.
Dishes washed, a glance at the clock confirms that I need to make my second run to the post office--this time with funds.
While the young clerk weighs and stamps my packages I memorize the schedule pinned to the notice board. The PO is open 7:45-11:30; closed until 12:30 for lunch, reopens until 2:45.
This is 'fast time'--to be considered in any future ventures. At home the cats rush me clamoring for their 'tea'--they begin their fuss a bit earlier each day, motivated, we assume, by the dusk that creeps into the kitchen before mid-afternoon.
'Tea' dished out, cats polishing paws and whiskers, I settle in my desk chair.
The room is overly warm, quiet, somnolent; my eyes flutter toward sleep as I try to focus on the PC screen. I should rouse, make a mug of tea, but Teasel is a furry weight in my lap.
A chunk of wood breaks apart in the stove, the cats stir.
Beyond the north window the sun has already disappeared behind the ridge. I remember that I haven't dealt with the compost bucket or the cat litter boxes.
Pulling on down vest and gloves I tramp to the basement.
Overhead the front door is flung open, Jim's footsteps cross the floor.
"Hello," he shouts. "The horse has come back!"
I scramble up the stairs, catching him before he rushes out. "Where? Does Carlie know?"
"She's in the open spot at the foot of the track, beyond the gate. I'm off to get Carlie."
Jim is down the lane on the 4-wheeler before I can collect myself, stuff my camera in my vest pocket.
I want to be present at this reunion.
I approach the clearing with caution, trailed by Willis-the-Cat--who never misses a chance to assert his role as overseer.
Jim has parked the 4-wheeler on the verge, waits as Carlie's truck rolls up the lane.
Carlie eases out, a plaited lead rope looped over his arm, a bowl of grain cradled against his chest.
The palomino filly watches his approach, pricks her ears to his quiet voice. I am astonished by her beauty, enjoying the contrast of golden hide, silvery mane and tail. She glows against the darkening wood beyond. Joe's stallion in the adjoining pasture has noted the newcomer.
The stallion looks on as Carlie presents the bowl of grain. Carlie clips the lead rope to the halter, talking to his horse, calling her by name, "Champagne."
Jim approaches, ready to help if she should lunge. Captured, Champagne stands calmly between the two men.
At the edge of the lane Carlie pauses, plotting the next move. He will, he announces, walk Champagne home, secure her in the pasture, walk back up to retrieve his pickup.
He is tired after his long day of anxious searching.
"No need to walk back," Jim assures him. "I'll follow you on the 4-wheeler, my wife will bring the truck down."
Willis, tucked up on the seat of the 4-wheeler, watches the departure of horse and owner as they set off down the lane. Dislodged, he stalks daintily back up the lane, tail held aloft.
Champagne prances, skitters sideways, dances ahead, high-stepping, then lags behind, but she doesn't pull away.
Twilight is wrapping swiftly over the upper part of the lane, while sunlight slants across the fields beyond the road.
The interior of Carlie's truck is immaculate. A soft leather jacket is folded on the seat, the scarcely touched bowl of pelleted 'sweet feed' rests beyond it.
I ease the truck into gear, drive slowly around the house and head out; Carlie and Champagne are still pacing along the lane, Jim idling behind at a respectful distance.
As Carlie approaches his driveway a big blue pickup rolls down the hill: Joe and Laura, coming to check their own horses in our pasture, coming to make sure Carlie and his mare are safely home.
Joe rolls down his window, spits tobacco juice, talks to Jim. I sit, enjoying the quiet purr of the engine, remembering a similar truck I owned and loved.
Carlie at last has reached the small barn and pasture with his filly. Laura, in the passenger seat of the blue truck, leans across Joe and shouts good-naturedly, "We've tried to tell Carlie he needs a quiet old horse, not a frisky young one. She may knock him over yet."
When I slide out of Carlie's truck the sun has vanished, the chill of evening bites.
Carlie pushes back his cowboy hat, swipes sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand.
He gazes at his beautiful filly, safe now.
"She ain't gettin' out again!" he declares, then, "I need to work with her; its time she was broke."
He turns to us with the courtliness of a southern gentleman. 'I thank you! You've spent a lot of time today lookin' for that derd-blamed little horse. You found her."
Jim insists it was a small matter--he happened down the lane at the right moment, just as Champagne chose to reappear.
Carlie resettles his hat. He is weary, but his day has ended well. "You're good neighbors," he declares firmly. "Neighbors. You let me know if there's ever somethin' I can do to help you."
He turns toward his door, I scramble aboard the 4-wheeler behind Jim.
The distance home is short through the grey swirl of twilight.
The cold air strikes through my long-sleeved shirt and jeans and I huddle deeper into my down vest.
The 4-wheeler lurches to a halt at the end of the porch.
Jim holds the red-painted front door open and we step into the soft warmth of our darkened kitchen.
I draw the day's events around me as I would a cozy sweater: blue sky, the shuffle of leaves underfoot on the ridge trail, clear creek water shimmering over smooth stones, the sunshine of noontide, the scent of woodsmoke in crisp air.
I savor the happy ending--the relief that Carlie's naughty golden filly is safe where she belongs.
I cross to the stove, spread my chilled hands to the heat.
It has been a lovely day--a day of small adventures; and now I am home, content.
This story was posted on 2015-12-09 14:37:25
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