It’s been a tough year for me and my animals–we lost Magic, the elderly deerhound in January, and just last week, our thirty year old Quarter Horse Dash, the last of the red horses at our old place in California, Rancho del Caballo Rojo. I am no poet, but tonight I came upon something I wrote out longhand over ten years ago after losing another red horse, and another gray dog. I called it “Past Lives.”
The great hound sits on his small patch of lawn
Staring at the vertical lines of the white picket fence—his eyes go suddenly vacant
The small confines of his yard are gone
Instead he sees the rolling hills of a vast estate
The heather and the mountains lie beyond
The young ones sleep by the dying fire
Bodies and legs intertwined
An ember flashes—the spark illuminates a twitching foot, a wrinkled nose
The white stag beckons at the dark edge of the forest
In the morning the ashes smell of roasting meat
The old red horse looks up suddenly
His crooked white blaze a lightning bolt
His notched right ear flicks to and fro
He screams: the buffalo horses are leaving
His ghost white companion shies away in terror
There may be no heaven for these
The hart, the hound, the horse, the hunt
Yet they live on in the drums, in the horn, in the fire
And yet they live on in the chase.
A few closing notes here:
On the Deerhound: Affectionately known as the “Royal Dog of Scotland,” it is not difficult to imagine how this breed, with its athletic, well-muscled build, came by the title. The Scottish Deerhound has a romantic past, a noble bearing, and a loving nature, so much so that Sir Walter Scott — himself the owner of deerhound named Maida — described the breed as “the most perfect creature of Heaven.
On the White Stag: from Wikipedia–White deer hold a place in the mythology of many cultures. The Celtic people considered them to be messengers from the otherworld; they also played an important role in otherpre-Indo-European cultures, especially in the north. The Celts believed that the white stag would appear when one was transgressing a taboo, such as when Pwyll trespassed into Arawn‘s hunting grounds. Arthurian legend states that the creature has a perennial ability to evade capture, and that the pursuit of the animal represents mankind’s spiritual quest. It also signalled that the time was nigh for the knights of the kingdom to pursue a quest
On the Buffalo Horse–from Mystic Warriors of The Plain, by Thomas Mail: ” Each warrior had to have at least one horse which was trained to a fine point for buffalo hunts and warfare. It became his best and favorite, and was usually too valuable to sell or trade. He guarded it like a treasure and picketed it just outside his tipi at night. After all, his existence and future depended upon it to an amazing degree. A buffalo and war horse was trained to stop instantly at a nudge of the knees or a tug from the rawhide thong, called a “war bridle,” which was tied to the animal’s lower jaw. But more than that thong was necessary, since racing through thundering herds over rough ground that was riddled with bushes, rocks, and hidden burrows portended frequent collisions and spills for the rider, so during battles and hunts a fifteen- to twenty-foot rope was often tied around the horse’s neck so that its free end would drag behind the horse. When a falling rider seized the rope, his horse came to a sharp stop, and in a moment the man was on his feet and mounted again. Often one who had an especially valuable buffalo horse cut V-shaped notches in his ears.” My old Quarter horse Lucky came to me with a notched ear, so I always called him “my buffalo horse”.