December Dark

Thu, 12/13/2018 - 8:15pm

Earlier in the week we had a sunset so magnificent the thought of taking out a paltry phone to try to capture the sheer majesty of it was not even formed. I happened to be out, in the stillness that sometimes comes at day's end, talking with people come to tend the horses that live in my reclaimed pastures.

The horses are Icelandic and their coats are thicker as the nights lengthen and the deep cold sends out warning signals, hints that it will settle, that price we pay for the return of the sun in these northern climes. The horses look like plush toys, carefully crafted Christmas presents that existed only in the pages of books when I was a child, and, perhaps, in expensive stores in the cities and, certainly, in my imagination.

One year a pony-sized rocking horse appeared in the Christmas catalog we awaited in the fall, the forerunner of Amazon, people who did not grow up in rural areas are finally beginning to say as though they have made a great discovery. Sears was the sort of generic reference for print as Amazon is today for on-line buying.

We were far too old for rocking horses, and the price far exceeded anything we could expect to receive, but the image was so strong I remember it still. Or think I do, it was a long time ago. . .

Now, there are real horses out in the field, three of them escaped from the confines of a book or catalog, or the prison of feet affixed to glider rails or a curved rocker.

They are amazingly temperature, these animals whose main mission in life seems to be nosing for extra treats — and, in one case, throwing his shoes, and making a great fuss when the other two are taken out for rides and he is left behind. They were quiet while we stood on the grass on the other side of the wall, marveling at the colors in the sky, even when there was a gun shot not so far away, probably a deer going down on the land of a neighbor, in that broad definition of neighbor, used in places where houses are not close together.

The horses kept their nose to the ground, trying to find a last bit of feed fallen from their mouths as they gobbled down their dinner. I thought of them in the springtime, when they were moved back and forth between new pastures, not to, rather away from, the newer better grass. One side was truly greener, not good for them in quantity, and after they were brought back they would stand by the gate, gazing over it, exiles looking over Jordon to the Promised Land.

This season, they stand by the gate to the barnyard, longing for someone, anyone, to feed them.

The place of the sun, with its early dropping from sight, is a visible reminder of the time of year, as sure as the temperature and the thick coats of the horses. By the end of the week we will have reached the far side of the plateau of shortest afternoons and, imperceptively unless one is especially attentive, the nightfall will come later.

The absolute symmetry I think should be a part of the cycle of the year does not exist. The days will grow longer after the Solstice but the dark will continue to gnaw into the morning until January.

The salve upon it comes in these colors in the sky, a consolation prize for the December dark.

The extraordinary sky was fading but it was not dark and I picked up a tangle of what appears at first glance to be rope, lying on the ground. It is another of Autumn’s “toys,” one I noticed she had recovered from some hiding place a day or two ago. It was a surprise, I thought it was gone, this remainder of a braided rug that was outside, ready for the dump, when a puppy came to live with me. She took to it like the toddler she was, sticking her head through a place the stitching had opened up, running around sporting a “cape.” She seemed especially taken by the sound of the synthetic material tearing and attacked it fiercely, joyfully, endlessly.  I'd throw away one length after another, and would have guessed it was all gone.

She tosses what I hope is the end of the rug — purchased at a Bradlees (!) near a cousin's house in Foxboro — into the air, and thrashes it but manages, somehow, not to trip herself up dragging it about the yard and over the road into the field. I had earlier followed her, trying first to capture that explosion of  joyful energy then only to take a picture of her with her prize but she kept heading southwest, into the afternoon sun.

Perhaps it is the beautiful wreath I found affixed to the weathered wood of the old shed one afternoon, or the bright lights in town, or just the knowledge of the season that trips a memory of my mother out in this yard, trying to take a photograph for a Christmas card. We did not have the luxury of a camera with a flash, and film had to be sent off, processed, the returned snapshots reviewed with hope one would work. The negative then went off to be printed, light years from even today's still-on-paper cards, created from a digital file sent though the air to someplace dot com.

But, before any of that, we had to stand facing the sun, to assure our faces, seen by so many distant relatives only in these annual missives, were not in shadow, a direction and rationale which totally eludes Autumn. The best I can do is to get her to stand still for an instant and be grateful I am not trying to pose her under the wreath for a Christmas card perfect shot.