Unexpected Visitors

Mary Casanova horses
The Casano­va hors­es (l to r): Mid­night, Sable, and Ginger

As writ­ers, we learn to expect the unex­pect­ed and be ready to cap­ture expe­ri­ences in words. One such moment stands out from this past win­ter for me.

My hus­band and I were sleep­ing in our cab­in loft, on 60 acres where we keep our hors­es. I woke at 3 am to crunch­ing snow below our win­dow. I sat upright, won­der­ing what sort of late night intrud­er it could be. An escaped con­vict head­ing north to Cana­da? Our three hors­es? Had they escaped from their pas­ture? No. We had tucked them in the barn in warm stalls due to 30 below temps out­side that night. That left a moose. Or two. The crunch­ing of snow con­tin­ued. I crept to my win­dow and gazed down at the entry steps.

Three dark rumps of … hors­es! But they could­n’t be ours. I woke my hus­band. We threw on boots, jack­ets, hats and gloves. The moment we stepped out­side, we caught the sight of not three, but sev­en hors­es as they trot­ted off through the woods under a star-sprin­kled sky. The air, deep cold, turned the sound of hoof­beats into drum­beats as the herd trot­ted off down the coun­ty road.

Now what? We could­n’t let hors­es dis­ap­pear into the night with­out try­ing to res­cue them. We’d wok­en more than once to the blood-chill­ing howls of a wolf pack. Oth­er times the shriek­ing cries of coy­otes. Riski­er still was for the hors­es to con­tin­ue down the coun­ty road, which joined up even­tu­al­ly with a busier high­way. The hors­es, we start­ed piec­ing togeth­er, must have escaped from our friends’ ranch in the oth­er direction.

From our barn we hasti­ly gath­ered hal­ters, lead ropes, and a buck­et of sweet-feed: a mix­ture of oats, corn, and molasses. In our Ram pick­up, we set off. A mile and a half lat­er, our head­lights caught the star­tled eyes of hors­es to either side of the road. Char­lie slowed to a stop.

I hopped out, sat on the met­al tail­gate, and shook the buck­et of oats. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. The hors­es ears piv­ot­ed toward the sound and they nick­ered. Though skit­tish in the truck­’s white beam, the hors­es zeroed in on the buck­et. “Go!” I called, know­ing that one buck­et and sev­en hors­es could turn dangerous.

Char­lie turned the truck back toward our barn and pad­dock, all sev­en hors­es trot­ting along, jostling to get clos­er to the buck­et. A tail­gate in 30 below zero is dan­ger­ous­ly cold with­out long under­wear or snow pants. I’d dressed in a hur­ry. Now I wor­ried my skin would freeze through my jeans to the met­al. Ori­on and the Milky Way looked down as we turned into our dri­ve­way toward our barn.

I hopped off the tail­gate, hur­ry­ing with the buck­et toward the red met­al gate and unlocked it. Gate wide, I scat­tered oats on the snow-cov­ered ground and dashed out of the way. The hors­es squealed and whin­nied, cir­cled and kicked in com­pe­ti­tion for the grain. When the last horse entered, I shut the gate, then I threw them extra hay bales from the hay shed.

Hors­es with heavy win­ter coats do sur­vive cold, as long as they have plen­ty of feed. With­out a wind, the hors­es would be safe until morn­ing. We left a mes­sage on the answer­ing machine of our neigh­bors, who would wake up to an emp­ty pas­ture and come retrieve their hors­es. Sat­is­fied with our good deed, we returned to the warmth of our bed, feel­ing like true wranglers.

That night’s res­cue still feels like an unex­pect­ed dream. For­tu­nate­ly, when we awoke to run­away hors­es we were pre­pared with oats, equip­ment, and a place to con­tain them. To our relief, in this harsh north­ern land­scape, it all end­ed well.

As writ­ers, we need to be equal­ly pre­pared to cap­ture unex­pect­ed ideas. We need to las­so them with pen and note­book paper, nap­kin, or gro­cery bag — what­ev­er’s on hand. Lure them in with a quick note on an iPhone. Sit down at a lap­top or com­put­er and start typ­ing. We need to take swift action and cap­ture unex­pect­ed ideas when they pass our way. Or risk los­ing them forever..

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Norma Gaffron
Norma Gaffron
8 years ago

Enjoyed your tale. I remem­ber those days/nights when I kept a note pad on my night stand, woke up to jot an idea down. And 30 below nights while teach­ing in Duluth…
I’m glad we have BooKol­o­gy, Quer­cus, and keep­ing an eye on chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture and who’s still writing.
Enjoy spring.
Nor­ma Gaffron