The moment the first part of her emerged, I was there anticipating her arrival, a foot. Was that alright a foot coming first? Then her nose, I could see it, slick shiny dark, black or brown? Nostrils flared, I smelled the earth, the sea the universe in her first breath. With a gush, she lay in the straw at my knees, I was wet with her. Mocha, my Arabian mare, her mother, sniffed her, me, her again. We called her Mosaic and later Mozie. I was ready for her, held myself around my middle in wonder, the beauty of it, not a miracle, no, it was so absolutely basic, expected, perfect.
Mocha pulled off the sack and licked her offspring’s head, her face, sides and bottom, becoming her mother tongue, from whom the bay filly would learn everything in those first few months, years and become a horse, a member of the barnyard, an individual being, with her own spirit, but responsibility to her herd.
A quarter hour later she stood, legs like a rickety folding table, a tripod, but four, bamboo in the wind, a kid on skis, a sapling. She nuzzled, nursed and they both laid down. What a morning . Mozie closed her eyes, so Mocha could too.
An hour later I cleaned the stall around them, brought Mocha some hay and started in on the filly’s foot, still a bundle of hair, the pointy ends flattened by her first steps, flattened to get to her mother, her smell, the hay, the barn, the trees shifting in the breeze. Flattened into a tiny strong hoof, ready for the soil outside, the trails, rocks, gravel and the world she’d inhabit, the people she’d depend upon, all of it-interdependence. I took her foot in my hands and ran my hand up her leg, her thigh and down again. I stroked and hummed as I rubbed each of four kegs, her back, rump, chest and belly. As she dried, her dark brown coat caught the sunlight, a scruff of a mane, fluff of a tail black as night with a rhombus of white, on her face, a window into her soul, there it was.
I pressed my cheek against the white, her barely cheeked head an upholstered light bulb that would “dry out” overtime to become a sculpted Arabian, hooded eyes, boned face, a bay beauty. What happened that day changed my life and began hers. When I brought in a flake of hay, she’d rise, assemble her legs and move to me like a dog seeking pets toss my hand with her nose, follow me through the paddock as I cleaned, pushing the blue wheelbarrow full of collected manure, raked up straw. I’d toss acorns over the fence, limbs of trees, stones and pine cones tossed out of her way. She watched me as I groomed her home, cared for her, two moms, Mocha and her human. Like a toddler, she nuzzled the tip of the rake, tried to climb in the wheel barrow, tipped it over and dashed back into the stall then peeked out from behind her mother to review what she’d done.
There were days she’d bite me, my clothes and shoes and pull my laces, tasting her world, testing me. Kicking, charging, nipping, colt behaviors required limits, socializing, and that I find her someone to play with…
I could go on and on today about me and Mozie until I reach her final breath outside on the grass, with me at her feet, stroking her legs, saying goodbye. But, this morning I am thinking about Liza instead. That’s what got me thinking about bonding, how I made a physiological, neurological, deeply emotional connections with a young filly. Connections that kept her following me around the paddock, watching me like a child using social referencing, wanting to know if we are okay, how we feel about the scuffling sounds in the brush, about ourselves. Are we safe?
To Liza I was a barrier, one that kept her from her mommy, a nagging presence, defined me as “not her mommy” yet she had no other. Everyone needs a mommy. I tried a few nannies, then took the reins myself. There was just me, so, like starting at the foot, not yet flattened for walking the earth, I stroked her, bathed, read, sang, fed her, played, became an unrelenting presence, though unwelcome. As she probably could tell, I was not sure I liked it being the one rejected over and over again. I thought I might have to strap her down, ride her through bucking, twisting, hazardous falls and uncontrolled rage. But like with Mozie, I waited for her to teach me how, like waiting my turn at jump rope, in tune, knees bent, flexing ready for anything, arms ready to catch her.
I tried for awhile, then didn’t anymore, I decided I couldn’t. I was mad at her daddy, a world that left her mother untended, on the streets, a system that failed then dropped Ellie at my door. Was I mad at my mother, or the mother I once was, inaccessible when I reached for her? Or maybe, just maybe I felt the burden of untended hurts of my own so I couldn’t bear to witness hers, confused and thinking it was my own.
Oh, that blue wheelbarrow how is glows in the foggy dew, the rake and shovel now tossed back into the empty barn where an old cat lives today, stalking mice, raiding nests in the eaves, cobwebs in her fur. I close my eyes and remember the smell of damp soil after a rain, the tartness of fresh manure, the flat edge of the shovel worn thin, from scraping at the dry packed soil. Fingers of the rake scratched dust plumes rose, the tang of urine in a mat of hay.
I used to take time sorting the good hay from soiled, remove what was soiled, preserving what could be salvaged. As it is with Liza. I created space for us to sit and take the stones from our shoes, pried open my knees offering her shelter, my hands soft on my thighs, waiting for her to crawl in, she’d stopped seeking my comfort, wouldn’t enter the triangle safety of my lap or drop her head to my lap. We danced around one another like chickens in the barnyard. Her step mom stepped in and she got a mommy again. So I waited to become her grandma. Just that, her grandma. She didn’t seem to know what to do with me, how I could have gone from mommy to grandma. She had quit me.
But then today, this morning, when she stopped in to borrow a pan, I saw she had been following me, using my words, my tone, putting her lips just so. She’d watched my face those first three years to see how we feel, cried when I left her, peeled her off my legs. I hadn’t I noticed. As she heads down the drive, back to her home where her mommy makes apple oat bars for lunch box treats, and you are helping, I have to let go. I did the best that I could, maybe better. It’s time to sell the blue wheelbarrow, clean out the barn. Do grandma’s get children ponies? I have so many things to figure out. gma
3 thoughts on “Hay, buddy want to listen in?”
Oh, what a piece, earthy and celestial at the same time, all about wonder, fear, patience. Lovely, rich, deep, Nancy.
As always – your understanding, honesty, struggle – your beautiful words – moves me to tears.
Tears for Ellie, for you, for Ann, for Brenda…
Tears for the gift of your writing….don’t stop!
Thank you, Nancy, for demonstrating not only your writing skills, but your grandmothering insights. Both talents are well documented in this piece.