Video by Anne Louise MacDonald at Hug A Horse Farm www.hugahorsefarm.com
Softly in hushed darkness it fell, blanketing villages, farms and woodlands. Delicate downy flakes, crisp and new muffled the sound of a fox hunting mice in an open field. Moonbeams transformed snowflake crystals into a myriad of tiny, frozen diamonds sparkling and shining in those nocturnal hours. Overnight minor streamlets trickling off hillsides became delicate dripping icicles clutching crags, overhanging precipices. Wind mischievously blew the helpless, swirling snow into funny shapes, packing it into little mounds alongside the road.
The mention of snow conjures up many images, some horribly troubling and some downright delightful. Eighty-nine years ago, Robert Frost stopped his horse near a forest, jotted down a few lines about snow filling up the woods and his ageless poem captured our minds and hearts. And what is the poem about, just snow and tranquility or perhaps something more? It’s interesting to note that the poet’s only companion was a restless horse reminding his owner of their need to get on with the trip and back to the barn.
Horses enjoy snow; they roll and run in it, frolicking like children on winter holiday. Obviously when horses and people play snow games together the result can be odd. The sport, skijoring, began in Sweden and is enjoyed across Europe and some parts of America and Canada. Skijoring involves a horse with or without a rider pulling a skier through a race course, which may or may not have ski jumps. What began many years ago as an inexpensive way to travel has evolved into a worldwide sport with prizes and spectators.
Of course, not everyone feels that way about snow. Drivers on a snowy day fear an accident, homeowners complain about shoveling the white stuff off sidewalks, roofs collapse under the weight of it and in cities it turns to a brown crusty mess. Blizzards dump huge amounts of snow knocking out power lines and closing roads and stores. Hapless travelers risk the danger of being trapped along the roadside when whiteouts obscure their visibility.
Last year we had lots of snow. The ground stayed covered, every few days new snow came down adding to what was already there. I rode with Karen and Marilyn last year, while it snowed and after it snowed. Sometimes, I rode alone, just Pepper and me. But the weather has been warmer this year; January with temperatures in the 50’s was more like spring than winter. I missed the snow and its crisp sound beneath the horse’s hooves as we passed through it.
Finally on January 21, 2012, after waiting so many weeks and months, a snowstorm came at night. With the morning’s light, I peered out my window and saw the snow. In all, 4 to 6 inches fell, carpeting everything, decorating the trees with white puffy clumps. It was time for the snow ride. Emma and I headed to the stables, saddled the horses and rode toward the park.
The Slochem ponies ran up to the fence and stuck their heads through the railings while all their other horses pranced and raced in the snow. As we rode by we heard the goat bleating on the other side of the barn. On we traveled, turning up Bobcat Road and into Round Top Park. The snow was fresh, not too deep. We followed the paw prints of some kind of small animal up the road. The erratic tracks of a rabbit or squirrel circled, twisted and in a wide curving arch doubled back on themselves; evidence of either a friendly game or deadly chase. As we turned a curve in the road, suddenly a large doe bounded across our path, out of the woods and down the hillside on a steep mountain trail.
Other people were out enjoying the snow; an older woman greeted us with a hardy hello. I’d seen her before in the fall, always alone but clearly enjoying a bit of solace with nature. A little further on, a middle aged couple came into view, also enjoying the winter beauty on a pleasant Saturday afternoon. Then we came to snowshoe tracks marking where an unknown adventurer had passed earlier in the day.
CJ and Pepper stopped and refused to go on when they saw a pair of park benches, newly installed near the picnic and jungle gym area not far from the baseball field. We urged them forward and made a game of circling the benches, weaving in and out, until being afraid wasn’t any more fun and the horses were ready to move on.
I looked up a snow filled path through a stand of tall, slender Eastern White Pines, remnants of a mighty forest which once covered the East Coast. Long ago the pine forests were clear cut, their straight trunks used for the masts of sailing ships. Looking at them in the snow, so evenly planted and with uniform widths, I could almost imagine hundreds of ships ready to set sail on a windy day. We continued by the pond covered in thick snow and by the stop sign dressed with a little snowcap. The yellow gate came into sight and we walked around it, off the mountain, passed a blue house where two barking dogs were usually tied to trees, but not today. The dogs were gone, taken inside for some warmth.
We came to the last hill before home. The horses extended their stride and zipped up the road passing the rural mailman in his improvised mail car, which was parked momentarily to deposit a few letters. On and on we cantered until we reached the hilltop, and then walked down the other side to the barn where the horse’s hay and grain waited. We brushed them down as they ate, picked out any packed snow and ice in their hooves, then flipped off the barn light and headed home for our own dinner.
For those who have forgotten Frost’s memorable poem – here it is:
Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
By Robert Frost