We Ride Through It
The wind was picking up just as Merlin moved from a fast trot into a full out gallop. We were on our way up the mountain, heading towards the farm. All around us the yellow, orange and blood red colors of Father Autumn glow. The new squall of bright leaves surround me and the black horse as we climb upward. Every reach of his feathered hooves goes a little farther. I can sense the muscles in his strong back change and lengthen. I lean to his neck and tell him in a whisper, "home" and he is alive in a way a fiddle is in an Old Time solo. He isn't a racehorse, he's a highland pony and past his prime and so am I. We are moving fast and I am feeling everything in his gait. My left side slides deeper into that stirrup for balance, my body leans forward to meet his own center of gravity. We are a nothing near as graceful as a poem but certainly as comfortable as a chorus to a favorite song. He is my horse, and this is my Holy October, and the world was created for this moment.
As the wind slows down and the last sheet of leaves fall I pull gently back into a trot and then a walk. At his hooves a pile of sugar maple leaves swirl, just touching earth for the first time. It must be a humbling fall. I say a prayer under my breath, as this is the month of reflection and mortality. Merlin is sweating and snorting and flicks his mane a bit as he calms himself into a walk. I pat his neck and sit deeper into the saddle. This is Autumn.
I was in kilt and tall boots, a comfortable sweater around my stout body. A black helmet I used to wear in the dressage ring protected my head. I needed the helmet today as we were out on an adventure. We had just been down at Jon Katz's farm, a three mile ride that involved crossing a small highway and some new grassy fields. Merlin didn't care about the trucks whizzing past his hide but he hated the new, wide, field of grass. He must have felt exposed, or smelled a freshly killed deer. I will never know. I can just ride out his panic. A woman from a few months ago would have been scared at his protests, stomps, and crow hops. But I had come to know this horse the way you know a beloved old pickup truck. I sang to him, a few verses of I Will Go, and took in deep breaths. If I was calm and confident, he would feel better. And he did, and we got within a few yards of Jon's back pasture's electric fence when we realized the only way to come to the front door was to turn around and hit the highway (which I wasn't going to do). Oh well, the saddle bag with the bottle of Slyboro Hard Cider would have to wait till I saw Jon again. He was just back from a book tour, and he and his sweet wife Maria deserved some seasonal booze.
We headed home up the mountain at that walk, which is a mode of meditation in a way. I don't have to think much about his auto-pilot amble but I am ready at any second for a rifle to explode on the mountain and spook him (poachers are rank around here) or a car to meet us around a turn. I accept these possibilities but do not ride like they are going to happen, not really. I accept his each step, and the way the hillside smells like wood smoke and dead leaves and think about my dinner recipe of wild rice and yesterday's pheasant. I am contemplating a glaze of honey and butter and coarse seal salt on a bed of kale, served over wild rice. Merlin will have some of Nelson Greene's hay. He skips the honey butter glaze but not by choice.
I think about the two beating hearts on the road. Me and my three decades, Merlin and his fifteen years. I think about the last flight of the pheasant I shot, about the bright yellow leaves on the road, soon be brown. To so many people Autumn is a time of death and coming fear. Halloween is a cartoon. To me this is the one month in the whole year I can not help but wake up and shake with gratitude that I, Jenna Woginrich, am still among the living. I haven't taken my last flight across the tall grass yet. I haven't fallen from the tree. This is a season of death and somehow, someway, I am able to ride through it. It fills me with a wholesome appreciation. It makes me shake a little, the swiftly passing beauty. October is a red fox trotting through a field of corn stumps. It is a pheasant's bright red and green plumage on the tall grass frost. It is a black horse and rider in a flurry of singing leaves.
This is my Halloween. my Great Holiday, the oldest holiday, the most primal holiday we have as a species that lives in common and hunts by daylight and not because of old Celts or modern costumes. Halloween is my greatest Holiday because if I let it be the festival it once was—it reminds me that I am alive in a way that only *just* surviving near death can invoke. It fills me with hope, rebirth, compassion, forgiveness and reflection. Halloween saunters and ambles through us and washes us with life itself. It has for over 3,000 years. It turns us from the confused and distracted into aware animals. He leans over our tight, stretching, necks and gently whispers,
....and it is all we can do to not stop running.