Thursday, 8 December 2011

Night Mares

I was in for another difficult night. "The planet is hard," I wrote in the log. It was also uneven, and hammering out a compromise with the roots under my Thermarest took the better part of the night. What's more, the Thermarest leaked. It always had, even before I developed bursitis. After, it wasn't less challenging.

Rain, though not the mad drub of the previous night, continued to slap leaves high and low. I like rain, as long as I'm not in it, and my new tent was doing a fine job of that. But it was cold, a musty cold that draughted freely through its mesh inner walls. I had not taken off my tuque since I got off the truck, was sleeping in it, and also in my meditation pants and three shirts. I had a cotton bag liner between these and my nylon mummy, and had pulled my robe over the whole. And still the dank penetrated my bones.

Past midnight I was roused from a dull unsleep by a throbbing pound that bypassed my ears and went straight into my skull. Something large and fearless, galloping full-out in the streaming black as if in broad safe daylight, transmitting its thudding cadence through the earth itself. I rose to an elbow and listened.

It was the horses. Running, snorting, panting on the meadow slope thirty feet from where I lay, they chased each other up the hillside, this far and higher. I couldn't see them, couldn't have even if I'd unzipped tent and fly and stuck my head into the night, but I saw them all the same. Even now, the memory is visual: the two thundering beasts, nostrils gushing smoke, spray and steam flung from their sodden backs as they tagged through brush and high grass, invincible and oblivious. I see them wheel and nip, eyes white, teeth bared, manes whipping with the thrust of their powerful necks. I see it as lived fact, like scenes from a radio drama.

The moment was decidedly sinister, large creatures, ostensibly domestic and diurnal, hurtling through the palpable black like banshees, when all good and decent things were asleep or trying. Since the dawn of prayer horses have conveyed magic and license, transport and power, believed like cats, on some back shelf of the brain, to be biding their time with us while they await, we know not what. Something in a horse tells us he knows he could crush us with a tap, that he's chosen for the time not to, but the choice, like the time, remains occult.

That night I was particularly primed for such reflexions, lying among that Grimm's landscape of twilight and greenery. The fact is, the Squirrel Grove was and would remain the kind of place you'd expect to find teenaged girls dancing naked in the night, where gremlins sit parliament and the holly root draws the blood of Styx into its winter fruit. The place would always smell like Platform 9 3/4, like a bus stop to Hell, not the Hell of church propaganda, but the real one, that place which is simply, and hideously, Not Here.

And so my initial alarm at the stomping, grunting gallopade beyond the curtain was only partly allayed when I realised these were my neighbours, mundane animals I'd met earlier, though in day. These were them, and so they were me, but a primordial dread, a wary recognition, rose from wells where steep the bones of my Druid ancestors.

"Not of us," it said. "But not hounding, tonight."

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Image courtesy of the Chauvet cave painters, WikiMedia, and a generous photographer.)


  1. Even mundane horses are magical.

    (if it was Escort out there he'd of hit you up for a carrot)


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