The air that moves through the open porch window is less than a breeze, less even than a sigh. My parents’ house had a front porch like this, smaller but facing west and with windows on three sides. Across the road from that house then were farm fields, cropped in a corn-soybean rotation unrelieved by departure from routine or by imagination of any kind, but I had no trouble adding the imagination. This was the West, and out beyond the soybeans was the range. Watching sunset over the corn in summer, I could see in my mind clear to the Rocky Mountains.
Slightly to the north in those fields was a rectangle of untilled land. Only one small tree was visible from a distance, but I had explored to the spot on foot and knew about the cold, clear spring and the large rocks and the wild grasses and flowers, and this is where I would keep my horse when finally that girlhood dream came true, as surely it must. I would build a shed next to the tree and a fence around the perimeter of the untilled land to separate it from the row crops. Of course our time together, my horse’s and mine, would not be so tightly bounded. The world beckoned! Not the world of the East, the crowded towns and suburbs and shopping malls, but the wide-open world of the West, where a cowgirl would have room to breathe and move in freedom.
In Some Horses, a book I fell asleep reading last night and picked up again at 4 a.m., Tom McGuane writes of the way that “to go forth with an animal” enlarges both human and nonhuman, making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Poor horsemanship consists in suggesting that man and horse are separate. A horseman afoot is a wingless, broken thing, tyrannized by gravity.
He writes of a dismounted rider turned back into a
defeated, aging little man; or a crone, where moments ago a demon or a fire queen filled us with obsessive attention. And even the horses are turned into weary pensioners as, with empty saddles and lowered heads, they are led to their stalls to rest. For that burst of poetry, horse and rider have one another to thank.
McGuane tells of one cutting mare he rode and how little direction she needed to do her job: “I immediately sensed that the horse and I had the same purpose.”
In my girlhood dreams, I was as often the horse as the rider. Because we have co-evolved with canines and equines, a close bond is possible with individuals of these other species, the closest we can get to returning to Eden. It don’t need no talk, it don’t need no plan. It’s a more basic kind of knowing, and just the possibility of it in the world brings me a peaceful morning feeling.
Down on the other end of the porch in her window seat, Sarah raises a sleepy head. There is the faintest shade of rosy lavender in the sky over the barn roof, a reflection of dawn behind the house. Soon we will go outdoors. I don’t have a horse, but I have a dog, and I wouldn’t trade her for a dozen horses. The world we share is not the open range, but I wouldn’t trade that, either. Northern Michigan is perfect for us, thanks.