For a couple of years when I was a teenager (late high school, early college), my summer job was working at my friend Caitlin's horse farm. It was the first - and come to think of it, only - time I was happy to get up before dawn six days a week to drive an hour to work long days for little pay. I carpooled with another friend, Sara, and we'd blast The Foo Fighters or Collective Soul or the local radio station, chattering all the while. We'd arrive and make the rounds feeding all the horses before wandering off to the blackberry bushes that provided our breakfast. Since moving away from Oregon, one of the things I have missed the most is blackberry season. Berries from the supermarket simply don't compare. There is just nothing like finding the plumpest, ripest berries on the bush and eating one after another until your fingers are stained purple.
The rest of the day would consist of exercising the horses, tearing down old pasture fences and building better ones, sometimes giving riding lessons to kids, hauling hay from the barn to the fields with the tractor, cleaning out the stalls, and doing whatever else needed to be done. On one memorable occasion, we took Caitlin's truck down to the lumber yard and filled the bed up with wood shavings. Caitlin shoveled while Sara and I took turns either helping her or standing in the truck bed and doing a "rain dance" to pack the shavings down so we could get as much in there as possible.
In the afternoons, if we had time, Sara and I would take the two retired horses out on the trails. We'd take them swimming in the creek if the weather was hot, and then we'd race them back to the barn. Sir is an ex-racehorse himself, and MacDuff is a big Percheron who has been Sir's buddy for years. The boys always got excited when we would approach the galloping lane, ears pricked up and heads raised high, suddenly much lighter on their feet than you would expect of such respectable elderly gentlemen. As soon as we'd give them permission, they would be off, feet pounding the dirt and necks outstretched. On Duffy's back I felt like a warrior going into battle, with his big draft horse hooves making the earth shake.
Every night I would come home filthy and exhausted, but ready to start again the next day. If I ever find another job for which I have so much enthusiasm, I will consider myself a lucky woman.
Yesterday afternoon I got an email from Caitlin. She passed along the sad news that one of her mares, Summer, had an accident out in the field that left her fatally wounded. It's not really clear what happened, but she had to be put down. She was a good old girl, the only broodmare on the farm who only had one foal. (She was already somewhat elderly when Caitlin acquired her, and after one foal she couldn't get pregnant again.) We were all very fond of her, and she lived out a happy retirement at pasture. Upon hearing news of her passing, I memorialized her in the most fitting way I could think of - by going to the Farmers' Market and buying a package of blackberries, which I took down to the beach and ate quietly while thinking about my summers on the farm.