Many decades ago ‒ about 5 B.C. (Before Children) to be exact ‒ my husband and I had near-disaster in our first holiday season as “citiots” living the rural life. After years of city living, we had just purchased our first home in the country, a tiny, run-down cottage in the middle of a swamp on a dead-end road. The basement was constantly under water, the septic system was always backing up and the mosquitoes were ravenous. We were often without power, got snowed in every winter, and the roof leaked. But the place was ours, and it was heaven.
To satisfy a lifelong dream (mine, not his), we had purchased a couple of horses to complete the picture. Now, knowing very little about horses at the time, we just scooped up the first likely prospects that came along.
Luckily my little black Morgan-cross gelding, Buck, was trustworthy and well-behaved most of the time. His only foible was that he was an accomplished escape artist; there was not a stall latch designed that could keep him in.
Case in point: the unfortunate incident when Buck let himself and his barn mates out one night, then proceeded to the neighbours’ stable to release all their horses as well. The police informed us the next morning that the small gang had been visiting the surrounding farms and startling motorists all night long. They implied that “the little black one” appeared to be the ringleader. It was all pretty embarrassing ‒ much like the cops showing up at your door to tell you that your teenager had been up to shenanigans (which also happened years later, another funny story…).
My husband Frank’s horse was the complete opposite of Buck. Dubbed Ahab the Arab, he possessed every vice known to the equine world. He hated to be caught, brushed, saddled, bridled and ridden. He tried to kill the vet on several occasions. He refused to pick up his feet to be picked out. He rolled his eyes and spooked at everything on the trail. In short, he was totally neurotic.
Nevertheless, for our first Christmas in the country we decided it would be oh so romantic to ride off into the bush one moonlit winter night and cut down our own Christmas tree. We saddled up and moved off down the deserted road and into the forest, with the moon casting dark shadows on the blue-tinted snow and the horses’ breath suspended in the frosty air.
Deep into the forest we found a lovely, full spruce and Frank set about cutting it down. As he rode western, it made sense that he would tie the tree via a long rope to the saddle horn and drag it home ‒ just like the pioneers had done.
At least that was the plan.
As we moved off towards home, Ahab rolled his eyes, spun and stared in horror at the Giant Tree Monster dragging behind him. The faster he went, the faster the tree went, shushing and cracking over the snowy ground. Seconds later he was bolting flat-out through the trees, with Frank cursing and hauling uselessly on the reins. As they were swallowed up by the darkness, I heard a thud, a single strangled cry … then silence.
Buck, in the meantime, was extremely unhappy that his friend had so rudely departed without him and was digging holes in the snow at a stationary gallop. We headed homeward with a lot of snorting and plunging, and shortly came across Frank lying face up on the trail, clothes-lined by a low-hanging branch. Deflated, we walked home, being dragged by a frantic Buck, following a trail of pine needles and spruce branches.
Back at the stable, Ahab was waiting. Steam rose from his sweaty flanks and his sides heaved from his exertions. Miraculously, he was unhurt and the rope was still attached to the saddle horn. At the end of the rope was … a stick.
It took us over an hour to cool the horses out. My husband had lost his glasses in the fray and torn his good coat. We figure the entire caper had set us back a couple of hundred dollars.
The following morning I meekly drove to the local grocery store and forked over cash for a tree. To this day, whenever I see a charming Christmas card featuring happy folks dragging home their chosen evergreen I still get a little twinge of nostalgia.
But trust me, it quickly passes.