Now, this one most certainly is a parable. Or at least, it is in the mazy halls of my own mind.
This morning, I walked the mare up into the Terrifying Wood.
At this point, you have to imagine timpani drums and flights of trumpets.
You see, the Terrifying Wood had become a bogey. I am ashamed of having bogeys, so I did not speak of it. I do not get stopped in my tracks by a bit of sloping timber, oh no. I cannot possibly admit to such craven weakness.
In fact, the last time we went there, many weeks ago, Red had a proper, cinematic wig-out. Up in the air with hooves pawing the vacancy; all we needed was John Wayne and Champion the Wonder Horse and we would have had a party.
She has done this three times since I’ve had her. I put it down to the fact that she had never done anything in life on her own. Racehorses and polo ponies work in great strings, and she found strange places without the comfort of companions properly frightening.
I put it down to all sorts of things. At one point, I convinced myself that she was having acid flashbacks to the starting stalls of her hectic youth.
But really, the dark voice in my head was saying it was my fault. I was not up to it; I was not a good enough horsewoman. How the real experts would laugh and mock.
Lately, all the time and patience has paid off. All that groundwork, all those cold mornings, all those hours of concentration. The bond of trust is forged. It goes to my new theory which is: it takes a year. Maybe there are people who can get a new horse and do anything with it after three weeks. I am not of that cohort.
Anyway, today it was lovely and sunny and I had decided to do no work, so I had all the time in the world. Red’s bruised foot is still faintly tender, so we were going for another amble on the lead rope. A kind man has cut us a lovely grassy track through the wilderness, all the way round the set-aside and past the far paddock rail and over the old granite bridge, and into the Terrifying Wood. I was just following it, admiring the delightful new facility, where we would be able to canter, when I reached the bridge, and thought: oh, well, why not?
The wood has alarmed me for a long time. The trees are so dense that hardly any light can penetrate. It has all the spookiness of the old-time fairy tales, and is exactly the kind of place one might find goblins and sociopaths. (All this runs through my head, despite my daily battle against magical thinking.) Even before the mare, I never went there. But it is the way out to the great riding places; once over the hill, you find miles of forestry tracks, snaking north. Despite the fact that Red had freaked out last time we went there and I am not so keen on it myself, we would have to master it eventually.
Because we just came, without plan, to the threshold, following the new track, it was not a thing. I did not wake up this morning and decide to conquer all my fears. It was just there, and I looked at my dozy girl and said: come on, then. And up we went, into the dim cool, where the shadows moved and played and the world was silent, as if someone had thrown a switch.
And the wonderful thing was that it was not frightening at all. Red moved easily by my side, not even lifting her head when Autumn the Filly, missing her lead mare, started yelling from the field below. Stanley the Dog waltzed about, picking up scents. Even when he buggered off on the the hot trail of some deer or pheasant or rabbit, callously leaving me to the mercy of the forest psychos, there was nothing to fear. The mare and I inhabited the wood, so that it was no longer a place of dark imaginings, but a benign, delightful Eden. There were carpets of pine needles on the good earth and blue wildflowers bending their elegant heads. Shafts of sunlight lit the close trees and the quiet spread out like a benediction.
All this time, I thought, watching my happy horse pick at the thick green grass, I was looking up at this crowded slope and thinking of it as a great and daunting obstacle. And now it was an enchanted glade.
Well, it feels like a parable to me.
I’m always banging on about love and trees, but I don’t take that many pictures of the trees. Trees drive me nuts, because they look so majestic and filled with awe in life, but on camera, they lose all their beauty. If I take a photograph of a great beech or a mighty oak, it comes out flat and dull, for some reason. But since today is all about trees, I thought that some photographic tribute was called for.
These are rather bark and lichen heavy, because the best way I can capture the loveliness is to go in close:
The Terrifying Wood:
And the happy herd:
I love this face. This is the look she gives me when I am leaving. As if to say: you’re not really going? Not when I look this adorable?:
Mr Stanley the Dog, who had a high old time: