It was a cold start to Thanksgiving day here in lovely southwest Idaho. I folded and tucked my sweatpants inside my insulated Bogs and shrugged on my warmest chore jacket before I trudged outside to feed the horses. There was just enough light to differentiate the grass versus alfalfa flakes I would throw to my dedicated morning fan club, and Hailey-Dan the golden retriever trotted happily beside me with her silky tail waving like a flag and a plume of steam puffing with each breath from her happy-dog face.
It was a drizzly cloudy day yesterday, and I wasn’t expecting it to be clear this morning, so I was a bit taken aback when I glanced up to see the full moon, glowing surreally as it edged toward the western sky. I stopped for a long moment and looked at the moon, reflecting as I often do on this wonderful life I get to live. Hailey-Dan stopped and looked over her shoulder at me for a bit, then gave up and came to stand by my side, her head just the right height to bump my hand and nudge me toward a few extra pats before we continued on our way.
We went right to the first customer on our route, an ancient bay gelding named Snip. Snip is in his mid-twenties and he has grudgingly become my friend after five years of my furtive petting and the occasional scratch of the withers when he is feeling magnanimous. Snip wasn’t expecting me quite so early and stood quietly under the tree on the far side of his pasture. I called his name until I saw him emerge from the murky dark, trotting stiffly toward me with his head in the air, eyes still bright. I poured him a can of senior pellets from the little bin beside his hay and threw an armload of frosty alfalfa into his feeder before meandering around the barn to where my next bevy of hungry clientele stamped impatiently as they waited for their rations.
I got to Doc’s pen first and he greeted me stolidly, patiently waiting while I stroked his face and neck and kissed his cold velvety nose and whispered to him what a good boy he was. Freckles the Red Mare, self-appointed sounder-of-alarms for the next pen over, pawed her metal feeder loudly and kicked half-heartedly at fuzzy pony Reno, pinning her ears and shaking her head unhappily while I trickled a few pellets of grain into Doc’s rubber dish. Grumpy, the undisputed patriarch of our herd, waited patiently by his hanging feeder, swinging his hind-end sideways in defense when Reno or Freckles got too close.
Grumpy always gets fed first in the pen that he shares with the two younger horses, and even if he didn’t he would run them off to eat first. He has almost twenty years seniority over the other two and he wields that to his advantage at feeding time. I thought, as I always do, that I am glad Grumpy still gets to be in charge and how I hoped that never changed, then I dumped 90% of the pellets in my scoop into his dish and most of the rest in the metal feeder in front of which Freckles pawed enthusiastically, tossing her head in rebuke over the seconds I wasted saying good morning to Grumpy.
Reno waited quietly in front of his little metal feeder for the handful of senior pellets that remained. As I dumped the feed in I looked over his back toward the west, and that big beautiful full moon was framed just perfectly inside the branches of the giant tree that sits on the edge of the property line beside the faded wooden fence of Snip’s pasture.
I am forever seeing scenes that I think would make a lovely picture and rushing into the house to grab my camera to try to capture the moment. I am not an accomplished photographer however, so most of my attempts don’t yield anything near the stunning pictures that I see in my mind. Still, I try, and this morning was no exception. I ran as fast as my Bogs-encased bare feet could run to the haystack and grabbed hay for the horses that I’d just grained, throwing it to them in batches before I sprinted toward the house. Hailey-Dan bounded beside me in amazed delight, not sure what all the excitement was about but happy to be included just the same.
I grabbed my trusty Nikon out of its dusty black case at the foot of my desk and slipped in the battery that I had miraculously charged just yesterday. Back to the pens I trotted, trying to find the same angle that allowed the round moon to peek through a just-big-enough space in the gigantic old tree. I shot a few pictures from different angles, then slipped inside the gate to get a closer view. Freckles found my uncharacteristic early morning rushing to be unseemly and disturbing, and she snorted at me in admonishment as I ran my hand over her hip on my way through the pen.
I walked up and down the fence line, taking a picture here and two there, trying to capture the magnificence of the tree and the brightness of the moon. At one point I turned around to see where Hailey was, and she stood calmly outside the rusting panel fence, seeming to look toward the glowing moon too.
I stayed outside for another half hour as the dawn light slowly crept over the cloud bank that hid the eastern edge of the valley from my view. Freckles expressed a little more interest in my project as her hunger abated, and insisted on inserting herself in some of my frames in a muddy sorrel version of the inveterate photo bomb.
Finally, my fingers frozen and my feet starting to chill in spite of the hardy Bogs, I headed toward the house. By this time the children were awake inside and each of their respective dogs ran to meet me, released from the crates they inhabited overnight in their little people’s rooms and whirling like dervishes in the bitterly cold air.
I stepped in the back door behind the herd of dogs and was enveloped in the blissfully warm air blowing from the crackling wood stove to my right. I took the gloves from my aching hands and flexed my fingers back and forth trying to get the blood flowing in them again.
As I clenched and un-clenched my fists I noticed, as I sometimes do, that the index finger on my left hand does not bend all the way closed, only a little over halfway really, and for the first time in a long time I thought about the day that finger had been injured.
It was a chilly Superbowl Sunday and I was in San Francisco, near where I lived and worked at my dream job. A whole group of us had gathered for a big Superbowl party, and we walked down the block to the Golden Gate Park for a round of flag football before the game started. I’ve never been much of an athlete as far as organized sports go, and that day was no different. I hadn’t been playing for ten minutes when I jammed my finger so hard I sat the rest of the game on the edge of the field, nursing a clandestine beer and reflecting on how the grand plan of my life was falling into place so wonderfully. I was dating the man of my dreams, I loved my job, and I could see a perfect future unfolding before my eyes.
I was in my mid-twenties (so young, now that I think about it) and I had absolutely no idea of the twists and turns my life would make before I would arrive at what was actually my perfect future. The path that I would take between my perfect-there and my perfect-now was to be windy and circuitous, rocky in some places and steep in others, and picturesque all the way.
The life I envisioned in my perfect-there was at once completely different and eerily similar to the perfect life I have now. I was engaged to a very smart guy with an Ivy League MBA and a brilliant future with a big bay area computer manufacturer. We rented a ski cabin in the winter and traveled to visit his family at their house on the coast of Maine in the summer, and I envisioned our children growing up in California and summering in Maine, aiming for Ivy League but certainly obtaining a quality education at a good college in any event. They would ski and swim and have all the benefits that could be provided to them with the fantastic lifestyle I had planned. My family loved my guy and he them, and it seemed to everyone who knew us that our future together was destiny.
Somewhere along the way though, fortunately before the elaborate wedding we were in the middle of planning, I realized that even though my betrothed was a perfect mate for someone, he wasn’t a perfect mate for me, and as hard as it was to do I listened to my heart and called the wedding and our life together off.
I would have never guessed on that damp day long ago in my favorite city in the world that I would find my true happiness all these years later living in a small farm-house just fifteen miles from the tiny town where I grew up, with the four dogs underfoot competing for space with the three barn cats sneaking in and out of the door, caring for geriatric horses and unfriendly bunnies and hamsters and squirrels and even the occasional reptile.
I could have never guessed when I met my beloved husband on the back porch of my house sixteen years ago that my life would turn out to be so similar to what I had envisioned that long ago day as I taped my swollen finger and watched a dozen or so people who I assumed would be forever in my inner circle tussle over a scuffed brown football.
My kids don’t summer in Maine, but the highlight of their summer is the annual ten-day vacation on the lake in McCall that is generously hosted by my wonderful in-laws in July; they ski in the winter and swim in the summer and will someday attend a quality college. They also ride horses, play in the mud outside until dark and have a tadpole farm in the unused flower bed in the back yard. We laugh and wrestle and they spend hours teaching the dogs to jump over jumps and the pony to bow. Zach hunts and fishes with his dad, and Annabelle and I delight in traveling together to horse shows far and near.
I am profoundly grateful this Thanksgiving morning as I wince at my sore finger and the dogs jump on me with muddy paws and the kids clamor for cinnamon rolls and a trip to Wal-Mart to buy fabric for homemade horse polo wraps that my life did not turn out exactly as I had planned.
It turned out exactly as it was supposed to.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.