I was up early, just after first light, alone and whistling softly, in good weekend spirits, preparing a batch of agua de sandía, a beverage engineered specifically for shirt-drenching workdays. Watermelon, a pinch of cane sugar, a squeeze of lemon, water. Blend, strain, pour, and chill until needed more than air itself. Nurse in a shady spot. Tell yourself again that farming is the Lord’s work. Wipe chops. Get back after it. Repeat often.
But as I gathered and sorted the ingredients something felt askew. There was some kind of disturbance in the barnyard. The dogs were restless, barking gingerly, the sparrows tentative in flight and abnormally talkative. I looked out the kitchen window and realized the cause: 1,000 lbs. of runaway horse standing on the driveway just outside the front gate, quietly grazing.
I rubbed my eyes of the last bits of sleep and clodded out to take a closer look.
The morning air was warm, but light. A front had passed through overnight, dumped some much-needed rain, and relieved us of the suffocating humidity that had strangled outdoor productivity for several days running. My shoes moistened immediately in the leftover precipitation clinging to the long blades of fescue and clover.
It was a big, proud creature and I took a quiet moment to admire it.
Long, smooth expanse of flank framed by expertly packed curves of musculature, sinew, and bone. Majestic blonde spark of tail and mane. A substantial, coiled aura with no hint of wasted tissue or movement. Spotless fawn-colored coat, three shades lighter than the dark coffee brown of fenceline, stretched taut over the abundance of graceful lines. This was Mother Nature’s answer to Lululemon. No synthetic fibers, no child labor, no embarrassing recalls. Some species are just born with it.
And yet all this sophisticated machinery was powered by such a simple, primitive thing as my overgrown lawn.
I went to the barn and grabbed both an old Wilson tennis racket and a bucket of oats, unsure if carrot or stick would be most effective.
The carrot was all I needed. One shake of the wrist and one audible swish of oats and the horse came trotting right over. Together we walked the five-hundred feet or so back to the neighbor’s barn. It was a peaceful, quiet stroll. Nothing but the clack of hoof and shoe against empty morning road, the rustle of oats, the steady gulping sounds of horse, and the distant chattering of early birds getting their worms. My first real movement of the day unlocked trace scents of yesterday’s dried exertions, lending an earthy, salty flavor to the fresh morning air.
The neighbors were up north for the weekend, so I led the big creature in, left a note for the caretaker, and locked up.
Empty bucket and racket in hand I started back home. Our farm looked altogether different from the neighbors’ perspective. Stripped of the texture of actually being there, right smack in the middle of it, the place looked more like one of grandma’s old two-dimensional postcards. Beautiful and vivid, yet somehow distant and impersonal. I was five-hundred feet away, gone for maybe fifteen minutes, yet I already missed it dearly and was anxious to get back.
I heard a distant rumble of equipment. You typically get about twenty seconds of forewarning, enough time to drop whatever it is you’re doing and get in position to look out at the road. Then the big equipment lumbers by, you wave and marvel, and there is your instant farm status update. It’s what passes for a social network out here.
On cue a fifteen-foot tall John Deere combine, scraping along the underside of the hardwood canopy, followed by a white Ford pickup toting its twenty-five foot header, approached. I waved and marveled. It looked like Fred would be harvesting wheat at his place today. I turned my hand over and gave him a big thumbs up. I like this, I thought.
I felt a spring in my step as I crossed the street and walked home. These are sacred Saturdays. No Vice Presidential duties. No conference calls. No boarding passes. Just the usual battery of chores. The feeding, watering, milking. The maintenance.
Then we’ll spend the rest of the day splitting and stacking wood, gradually making order from that mammoth pile of oak and cherry behind the barn. We’ll tune hay equipment, work the garden, rearrange the firepit, and tidy up the yard. We’ll guzzle plenty of ice cold sandía, take a quick nap under the maple tree, and maybe gin up an impromptu ball game. We’ll sit at the kitchen table picking at fresh peas and peppers, cucumbers and lettuce, and wonder why we can’t seem to make any progress on all the outlandish projects we keep dreaming up. Like running that thousand feet of fencing, building that outdoor kitchen, finishing the second floor of the carriage house, and restoring that vintage travel trailer.
We won’t get it all done on Saturday. But that’s okay. There are very few hard deadlines anyway. Out here time isn’t so much a unit of measurement as it is a feeling. We’ll do what we can and the rest will have to wait for another day.
Walking back up the driveway, I could hear the house already vibrating with activity. Little kids played with kittens and asked in hungry voices “what are we having for breakfast?”
Stray bits of sun wove through the branches of the big walnut tree and reflected off the grass, making a bright green mosaic pattern. There was a lot more of that grass than I had realized. Maybe I’d get around to cutting it later. But maybe not.
One thing was certain though. Next time around I’d let that horse stay a little while longer.