It wasn't as if the dark midday skies hadn't tried to warn me. It wasn't as if Kessy hadn't tried to make her opinions known, by walking away when she saw me grasp her halter from its peg on the wall. I chuckled at that, for she'll do it about half the time. It's a game she enjoys. Sometimes she'll even run a lap around her wooded pasture, bucking and snorting. I just sit on the old stump by her barn and wait and she comes to me, when she's proven it's sure enough her idea. The eye she cast skyward as she stood next to me, now that was a bit unusual.
But you know, by golly, it was Sunday, and Sunday is the only safe riding day in deer hunting season, and even though it was growing darker, and more windy by the moment … we were heading out.
As we readied and tacked up I asked Kessy if she thought it would hold off until we got back. I said one nod for yes and two nods for no … She shook her head and snorted. I didn't know for sure what that meant, so we did our pre-ride exercises and I swung up in the saddle, called Saturday and we were off.
It was like riding into the sunset, without the sun. Sort of like riding into the darkness.
But I had a plan … I have this little Christmas tradition I started just two years ago when I found an old stone foundation and fireplace chimney deep in the woods, well off the trail and in a part of the forest we rarely ride. It's a beautiful spot, the old homesite, but difficult to get to in good weather with good footing as the banks are steep and the brush thick after leaving the trail. But atop the knoll, by the old foundation the view was beautiful and the setting as peaceful as any I've ever enjoyed. Towering ancient Oaks had kept underbrush from crowding it out, and all around the foundation is an almost open lawn. It was easy to see why some long ago pioneer had selected that little hill above the wide stream to build a home.
The first time we'd ridden up to it had been Christmas week and I got lost in thoughts of children all snug by that warm fireplace eagerly anticipating Christmas morning and guessing what surprises their parents may have for them. I pictured the hand-hewn kitchen table and chairs, on a dirt floor, and an old rocker by the fire. I could see the children sitting on a rag rug, knee to knee, by the hearth singing Christmas songs. I remember singing Oh Holy Night, well at least most of the first verse, right there as if those children could hear me caroling outside.
Well, I'd decided each year around Christmas I'd ride up to that old homestead and sing, most of, the first verse of Oh Holy Night to those youngsters of long ago. The brush seemed thicker this year, the footing was slick as Kessy climbed the hill, but surefooted as ever, she made her way safely to the tired old chimney. The yard and chimney welcomed us like old friends. Then the clouds opened … I sang a few lines anyway, tipped my hat, tossed a smile toward the hearth, then turned Kessy down the hill.
In those few moments what had been slick footing turned into pure grease and the straight line downhill didn't feel like a good option, so I angled Kessy down toward the trail. The brush was thicker but the way safer and soon we were back on the solid trail. But an hour from home, and it was raining like it meant it.
Kessy didn't say much as I untacked and rubbed her down. I put her cooler on as the temps really dipped and she was wet to the bone, like me. I heard her snort as I headed for the house.
It took me all afternoon to get warm, but it was a fun ride and after all, if a fellow's set on keeping a silly tradition, he might as well get soaked doing it! I don't know if this is a Christmas story or not, but that's what Kessy, Saturday and I did yesterday.