For a Mint

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 7:45pm

My big golden dog is a sort of pointless sentry. She lies on my bed in the morning sun, looking out over the meadows, imagining herself on some high alert, making a little noise, somewhere between a purr and a baby growl, in the back of her throat, barking on occasion, usually at something I cannot see even by putting myself at her eye level.

It is deer out in the brush, I imagine, taking advantage of the paths cut first for hunters and recut for horses, or some bird in the leaves, or the flicker of one of the turbines more miles away than Autumn can imagine.

Of no concern, I have learned, is an annoying starling perched on the outside sill less than two feet from the end of her nose. Nor does she stir to offer even the least threatening “woof” at a noisy gang of them — and these birds are more a gang than a flock.

One morning she did stir, bounding over to one of the east-facing windows and barking, clearly with hope in her heart. It was early and I rolled over to see horses in the pond lot, at the end of the lane behind the house. I did think, briefly, that they didn't belong there unless they were being ridden around a quite entertaining “course” made of such things as an old headboard set upright. It is white and looks, from a distance, like a real jump, as much as I know of such things. There is a colored pole, quite official in its appearance until one notices it sits on milk crates, and at least one orange pylon marking a turn. I love it all.

But, there is a gate between the north pasture and the pond lot and the Icelandic horses who came to live here last spring are not so clever that they can unlatch a gate, nor are their keepers so careless as to leave one open. The animals, though, do know that back field is the way to the gap in the wall, through which they are generally ridden, then around to the front field and those cut paths that lead to the road and, ultimately, the Mansion Road and the beach.

They were fine, I told myself, they couldn't just have gotten back there, the way out had to have been closed while I wasn't paying attention. Autumn had already lost interest and I didn't give the wayward beasts any more thought.

It was the day Sen. Whitehouse was coming to visit and I had a few things to do before going out to meet him. As I went through the house, a movement caught my eye and I realized the horses were no longer in the back lot but had moved to the front yard. They had, officially, escaped.

These particular creatures are, I know, “herd bound” and unlikely to scatter in three different directions. They are, like all Icelandics, descendants of Viking horses, adapted over centuries to surviving harsh winters with sparse food. The common theme of social media pages, “run” by equines, is the constant struggle to gain access to the thick green grass always on the other side of the fence, never mind too much of it is not good for them.

They were quite happy chomping my yard filled with the good grass that grows in the fall when the temperatures are cooler, the rain more plentiful, but the earth still warmed from the summer sun. Still, they needed to go back where they belonged.

They are lovely, gentle animals, these horses. I can walk into the pasture and with no more than a push make them move the way I want. So, I opened the gate and tried to persuade them to return to the pasture.

It was a fool's errand. Autumn running about did not help matters and I gave up and went back inside and sent out texts hoping someone would be able to come to the rescue.

In that moment they disappeared, down the length of the wall of the front lot, to a low spot from which they had a direct shot to the road and beach. Someone was coming to help but I did not like their position, then remembered them running, always, up across the pasture wherever people arrived to feed them the surprisingly small handful of food they are apportioned every day, and of Autumn appearing at the slightest sound of what might be a meal, and I went out to the shed and rattled the cans in which the feed is stored.

Pocketing three peppermints I walked the short distance back to the gate and front field and was stunned to find they had reacted to the faint rattle — or perhaps the faintest smell of cellophane-wrapped mints — and were returning.

I coaxed (lured) one of them back through the open gate, the other two followed, and only after they were securely enclosed I offered each one a single, small, mint. They chomped on the candy then went for the water trough and drank deeply, smashing my fantasies of successful horse wrangling. They were just thirsty.

A few minutes later their — and my — rescuer arrived and went out to investigate how they had gotten free in the first place. They had, somehow, managed to break the chain holding the back gate closed, probably more by sheer luck than any nefarious plan. He went off to secure it against additional transgressions and I went back to going out to meet a U.S. Senator.

The horses have gone back to ignoring me but for a while after that day they would come to the gate whenever I came home. They did not wait for me to approach them, they simply stood there, doing their best good horse impression, wishing, I am sure, for a repeat of that adventure's end, until the hope of a single crunchy mint from my hand faded.