A ride up Creek Road

I like the milk run up Creek Road and into the hills. I like driving the car past the old places of my childhood. I like the old places of memory, Still so close, not much changed. A house gone, a house remodeled, a barn disappeared, a barn reroofed. Fields. Meadows. Sumac. Maples. Hop in the car. Turn on the engine. Back out of the driveway.

It is better on a horse, I remember. At least, better on Nicky. First I had to catch Nicky. He wasn’t the smart one in the pasture. That was Jimmy. Nicky was the pony that said “Gee, do you really think we should do that?” Jimmy was the pony that said “A little push at the fence right here, and then we are on the other side.” Jimmy tested the boundaries. He tested the will of the rider. He tested the balance, the fortitude, the seat of the rider. Jimmy’s trot was bone-cracking, teeth-slamming. Jimmy’s favorite gait was a trot. The right rider, with the right presence of mind, early in the ride, might be able to shift forward in the saddle, bring thighs to bear on the message boards of Jimmy’s brain, shift him into a trot like a car with a bad clutch. The unwary rider, whose legs numbed at the constant banging, whose eyes blurred from the bobbing, ended up in riding a very fast trot, as long as Jimmy wanted to trot. Fortunately, or not, depending on where the rider had actually wanted to go, Jimmy’s preferred destination was the barn. Back to the barn. Back to the oats.

Nicky, separate from Jimmy, was up for whatever the rider wanted to do. Fast canter, slow easy canter, long easy walk. I went out and called the ponies on a glorious early afternoon. They both came, curious. I hopped on Nicky, no saddle, no bridle, just halter. Nicky followed his afternoon grazing, moving deeper into the pasture, passing the orchard for succulent grass along the fence edge. The sun warmed my back. I embraced his neck. I felt his muscles move his legs under me.

One bright day the fall of my senior year I called Nicky. He came up, nuzzling his soft nose into my palm to find the bits of carrot I offered. I curried him and brushed him. I cleaned his hooves and saddled him up. I road out Creek Road. I took the second Y, up Rider Road. Nicky and me and the sun. Nobody was out in the fields. No one was picking clothes off the lines. We passed a field of hay on a high hill. Nicky picked his way down to the ditch alongside the road and then a little jump took him up into the field. We walked slowly through the field, the sky a bright blue overhead.

I slipped down off the saddle. I pulled the reins over Nicky’s head. He was happy to munch slowly and move quietly. I lay down on the warm hay and looked up at the sky. Fluffy clouds, not that far away from the hill, moving across the sky, or maybe they are stationery and the earth is turning underneath. Me. Hay. Clouds. Sky. Pony.

Long after we got home, long after Nicky was unsaddled and freed up for his familiar pasture grazing, long after the cold rains of fall made memories of hot hay pastures a fantasy, I wrote about the afternoon. I wrote it first in pencil, then recopied it in pen as my essay for college admission. I write it now on keyboard. Sure enough, nouns and verbs and adjectives take me back to a high hay field.

I get in the car and drive up Creek Road. If I just take the left at the Y instead of the right, I can pass that field. The farmer who ploughs it, seeds it, hays it, passes over that place many times in the summer, pays the taxes on it, probably thinks he owns it. He is wrong. I don’t need the car. I don’t need a pony. Just shut my eyes, see the hay waving overhead, wonderful patterns of yellow and blue always changing.

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