Snow in the Snohomish Valley is not that rare, but none the less, it always seems to catch one by surprise. Like swans suddenly taking flight at dusk, circling and veining the sky with their graceful white bodies, snow falling in the valley catches the mind off guard, holding it prisoner in a singular moment of peace.
As if set to some celestial clock, the snow, most often, falls during the night, allowing its work to go unheeded and unhindered by man’s meddling. As if its work were private; like the secret knitting inside a growing womb. And so it was last night.
It is now predawn and the sky is clear - uncluttered by turbulent clouds. A full moon, stained with the first hint of tomorrow’s sun, floats in the inky darkness. The landscape is frozen, skeletal trees standing as icy ghost against the horizon. The crisp air burns my nose and is so still that the stars seem to shimmer - polished by night’s rough passing.
Bundled warmly, standing on my covered back porch, I hold a mug of coffee. Looking down, I ruffle the head of my golden retriever, Aramis, who is sitting beside me. Aramis is named after one of the Three Musketeers – the one who held true to the sacredness of friendship. As I am a widower, there is now but the two of us – Aramis and I. My wife, Anne had also been a member as was our daughter, Gabby.
We didn’t have Musketeer names, as Aramis has. We didn’t need them, besides they sounded funny. And of course, the count was wrong. But, somehow I think Mr. Dumas wouldn’t begrudge our group, especially now as it's what helps to bind my dog and I together.
“Think Gwen will foal today?” The steam, rising from my coffee mug, spirals and twists in the third thoughts I’ve spoken this morning. Gwen is my very pregnant ten year-old mare stabled in the barn with Anne’s horse, Sage.
Aramis looks a me, wagging his tail. The look in his amber eyes is full of thoughtfulness, as it always is.
The path to the barn is, at the moment, non existent. The barn looks abandoned with only a vaporous mercury light, secured above its shuttered doors to confirm its weathered shell. A picture of Diogenes flashes through my mind. Is truth found in darkness?” I wonder. Is it there, waiting?”
The landscape is pristine, untouched by foot treads of hoofed beast or other fur pelted wanderers. Hardened, refined by winter’s cold and lit by the moon’s glow, the snow glistens, teasing and mesmerizing the mind. Soon it will be trampled and scared, its sparkle dulled by trespass.
I set my coffee on the porch railing and walk out to the barn. Aramis bounds ahead, showing the way. This will be Gwen’s first time to foal. Dr. Lamb, our vet said to expect twins. “It is rare,” he goes on. “They might not survive.” I’m thankful Dr. Lamb will be out later this morning.
Anne and I bred Gwen for Gabby who was five at the time. We agreed that Gabby having a horse would teach her many things we couldn’t; and, along the way, she’d fall in love, creating a bond to last a lifetime. Six months ago, a drunk driver changed all that.
It was a Saturday afternoon. They’d been at the feed store, picking out a halter for the expected foal. They were turning into our graveled drive. I could hear the blaring horn and screeching metal from the barn; I can still here it today.
I open the door to the barn, switch on the light and walk in. Gwen is standing in her stall, large and bloated. Her sorrel coat glistens in the overhead light. She nickers and looks up at me with weary but trusting eyes. They momentarily hold me captive like snow falling in the valley.
One of her foals kick. “Your babies will survive,” I tell her, rubbing her swollen belly.
Memories suddenly rise and circle – silent white, flocking swans of winter. They lift me, carrying me on their wings. Yesterdays stretch out below me – pristine – untouched. Their ethereal weight, unbearable; their sparkle yet dulled by trespass. The Musketeers together, whole again – unscathed.
So much promise – so much lost.
I feel Aramis’ licking tears that roll shamelessly down my cheeks. No words are uttered, only a shared understanding of how fleeting life – how rare each moment. Knowing we shall never pass this way again.
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