Not very long ago, one of the fine old gentlemen died. He was of a great age, and had run his race, but all the same I felt a profound sadness. He was my father’s first cousin, and he was kind and clever and funny and generous, and I remember him well. He was a proper gentleman of the old school, filled with elegance and grace.
Today, it was his memorial service. I could not go south for it, but I wanted to mark his passing. So, as black-clad mourners filed into The Guards’ Chapel, I drove west, to Glen Muick, which is my own cathedral.
I often go there for the dead. I went there for my dad, and I went there for both my dogs. I went when another cousin, who died stupidly young in a freak accident, was laid to rest, and it was another five hundred mile journey I could not make. I thought of her too today. They were from different sides of the family – one from the rackety Irish side, one from the much more respectable English and Welsh side – yet they were quite alike. Both had flashing, infectious smiles; both drew you to them; both had a goodness which shone out of them, bathing you in its gleam.
It was one of the most beautiful Scottish days I ever saw. We woke to frost as thick as snow, and then the dazzling sun came out and gentled the cold land. The November light was thick as honey, taking on that magical amber aspect which always somehow astonishes. There was a profound stillness in the air, as if the very world had paused on its axis.
The blue mountains stood, beyond their silver loch, as strong and eternal as a vow.
I lift my eyes to them because they have been here for millions of years before I was ever dreamt of, and they shall be here for another million after I am forgotten. That is why they are my church.
I said my goodbyes. I remembered the tall, elegant gentleman, and all his manifest kindnesses. All the dear departeds had their roll call, right down to the sweet black canines, still missed, and the little white pony. There is an absurdity to remembering a small Welsh pony alongside a grand gentleman, and a rightness too. Love is love, as my sister wisely reminds me.
Stanley sniffed the air and turned his head down the valley. There were deer there, moving fast into the distance, their wild nobility lifting my heavy heart.
I shed tears and sang a bit. I like to sing for the departed, and there were only the old hills there to hear.
And then I drove home and got on my red mare, who is so alive that I can feel every dancing atom of her body speaking of the reality of the present moment and the hope of things to come. And we cantered round the field on a loose rein and she pricked her dear ears with delight and I exclaimed out loud.
Death and life, my darlings. And love and trees. And hills and memories. And the human heart, chipped and bashed, and put back together with binder twine and glue. And, as always, buggering buggering buggering on.
Back at the field, trying to pretend I am just an old cowgirl:
I wish this next photograph had come out in focus, but I think you can see something of the exhilaration shining through the blur. The Remarkable Trainer and I have been working on quiet transitions for a while. Even though I ride in an English saddle and in the English style, I throw a little Western into the mix, so I just hold one hand forward, give a click and roll Red into a loping canter. She used to get excited about speed, which was for so long her job. The head would go up and it would all be zoom, zoom. Now she relaxes into it, and I relax into it, and the sweet stream of silent communication flows back and forth between us, across the species divide, and the joy of it goes beyond words. She has been my best professor in all things equine. As I came back to horses after so long away, I learnt so much that I needed to know from her. But she is my professor in life too, and today she reminded me that sorrow does not cancel out happiness. The two can exist alongside each other, jogging in tandem like old familiars. There really can be tears in one half hour, and wild smiles in the next.
And then, just for the hell of it, we did some stuff with no irons and no reins. The cleverness of this red mare sometimes leaves me breathless:
Also, it makes me laugh that she is so relaxed in this picture that she appears to be having a little doze.
And so, I finish what was in many ways a melancholy day on a happy note. Red’s gift, as always.