At the Barn: Somewhere Between Winter and Spring

An Occasional Fictional Series Featuring Mary Hinds and Her Grey Mare Lilly.

Mary tucks her scarf around her neck a little snugger. The wind howls overhead, and even through the corridor between the opposing stalls. Only a few of the residents put their heads out to see her. It’s been a difficult night. It’s been difficult for trees and telephone wires, for things that tried to remain in their own places in the face of a cold, stubborn, northwest wind. It’s been uncomfortable on the inside too, with strange, sudden, loud noises. The barn’s rafters rattling even still. You might call it a winter wind. You might, if you didn’t know better by the calendar hanging on the wall, beside the kitchen window still cold to the touch, its bottom frame still covered in snow, itself shaken by the wind. You might, too, if you didn’t already hear the comments of your neighbours on its being Spring. 

Mary feels fragile this morning. The wind feels like it goes right through her. It didn’t allow her to sleep much last night, and the alarm rang especially early. Truth be told, she’s felt a little fragile for a while now. It’s been a long winter. She is, she will tell you, a little tired of snow and ice. Tired of brushing off the truck in darkness on her way to the barn, the house in darkness, the one porch light trying feebly to light her way. Once the truck is clear she then has the worry of getting stuck at the end of the laneway, and then there is the state of the roads to the barn to think about. Mary had even looked a little longingly at the cover of the travel magazine on the coffee table in the viewing room this morning when she had put her things down. Sunshine and smiles. She wondered why she keeps telling everyone that she has always loved winter. 

Saturday at the barn always has a way of bringing her home.

Still, it is a good morning all the same. A good morning is any morning when she is here to ride her horse, Lilly. Mary thinks about the peaceful feeling she gets on Saturdays at the barn. The peace that allows her fragility to find its answer. Her fragility dissolving like sugar in tea. The peaceful ... Saturday ... feeling. This feeling she gets every time she’s at the barn, whether it is Saturday or not. But Saturday is always the best. Saturday at the barn always has a way of bringing her home. Favourite barn jeans. Denim blue shirt. It is easy to be here. Breath hanging briefly in the air. Coffee still to come. 

The earliest hint of light enters the barn soft, hesitant, almost imperceptibly, at the far end of the stalls. Spring has arrived in this northern countryside in much the same way, silent and uncommitted. You have to look for it if you are going to find it, otherwise it just isn’t that easy to believe in. “We want order and predictability”, Mary muses to herself, “We want things to be themselves. We want Spring to be Spring. We want to be able to count on something good”. 

No external noise other than the wind intrudes into the confines of the barn. Mary loves the feeling that she gets when she lets herself believe that the barn is all that exists in the world. As if nothing else exists outside of it. In this moment of darkness and cold, it is just Mary, the wind, and the horses inside a wooden frame that has seen a night like last night many, many times before. The solitude of the barn at an early hour has always been a comfort. She yearns for it on the other days. The wooden beams, the silences broken only by the sounds of the horses, the imperfections in the building itself wrought by wind and rain and time, the smell of horses and hay, these are the circumscriptions of her life, and remain so even after she has long left the barn and its momentary solitude. 

The end stall on the right-hand side, illuminated by the overhead bare light bulb suspended on a cord that sways with the internal wind, is where Lilly waits for her. She has already seen Mary and knows it won’t be long. There is widespread agreement in the barn that it is time to eat.

Mary’s grey mare nods her head as she approaches... nodding up and down as if in agreement with the early morning musings inside of her head. As if knowing what she is thinking. Or feeling her thoughts. 

Ice has formed overnight in the aluminum bucket beside the shovels. A thin sheet of ice, marked by jagged lines, as though the markings of a sharp pocket knife. Looking down into the pattern, Mary takes a shovel and thoughtfully breaks the decorated surface. 

Mary turns then and reaches up to pat Lilly’s neck. Lilly steps back just a little. “Hey there, girl. Morning. Easy, now. I know you’ve been waiting. I’ve been waiting too. Maybe we’re both waiting for something, eh?” 

Mary takes up a bundle of hay and places it in the corner for Lilly. For now, she is grateful for the fact that her horse was sheltered overnight. Warm. Safe. Watered. Waiting for the winds to calm. Waiting for the earliest hint of morning light. Waiting for the day to begin. Knowing her friend Jane would not be too, too far behind her. 

Sometimes it seems to Mary that she expects too much. She needs patience, she thinks, patience with the night, with the season, with herself. But sometimes having patience can be hard. “We want things to progress in straight lines,” she thinks, “but they don’t”. 

Things go forward. They go back. ... They rarely advance in the straight line of our expectation. Things like the season, the weather, our horses, even ourselves.

Things go forward. They go back. They rarely stay the same. They rarely advance in the straight line of our expectation. Things like the season, the weather, our horses, even ourselves. There is much still for her to learn, Mary thinks, about her passage from one season to the next. She feels like a pilgrim, learning about herself while travelling from one place to another along an ancient route. The passage from winter to spring has been done before.

There is, Mary thought, beauty in the unhurried. The unhurried maturing of a field of wheat, standing still under a blue sky. You would think nothing was happening at all. There is also beauty in the acceptance of something or someone for who or what they are, even if, perhaps especially if, they inhabit the in-between. Neither Winter nor Spring. No easy way to define what lies between them. Our need to categorize laying broken, like so many pages scattered by the wind on the floor.

To move forward sometimes means having to return to where we have come. Nature does not often, if ever, resort to the straight line. There is value in finding contentment where we are. There is a need to remain patient with, and true to, our Winter dreams, our Winter selves, even when Spring is at the door.


Douglas Allen - Red Scarf Equestrian Guest Blogger

Douglas Allen is a PhD Candidate in History at the University of Toronto. His historical studies are of late medieval and Renaissance Europe. He is interested in using the lens of identity to explore and understand history, human motivation and action. Douglas is also a writer who is currently writing a novel set in the City of Winnipeg in the 1980’s, which explores the nature of indigenous and non-indigenous relations.

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