This time of year always makes me think of Frances Hodgeson Burnett’s “The Secret Garden”, of the green veil Mary saw creeping over the dead, grey branches in the garden. That’s happening here now, the faint green buds, then bright green leaves popping out on the trees and bushes, the grass startling, almost florescent green after months and months of being dead and brown.
Behind the houses at my family farm there’s a fenced alleyway where the horses in the farthest south pasture come up for water. It’s always seemed a little like a ‘secret garden’ to me. It’s enclosed and sheltered by the hedges, caraganas on one side and catone asters on the other, grown so tall that they nearly meet overhead. Four tall pines stand down the center of the narrow passageway, further blocking out the sun.
In the summertime, when there are leaves on the bushes, it’s like walking down a rich, green tunnel. The rustle of birds in the thick branches and the drone of bees on the blossoms of the caragana is surprisingly loud. The ground is mostly bare, the little grass that manages to grow in the shade is quickly picked off by busy little horses. Despite a semi-annual pruning of branches, there is usually some spots where you can’t walk upright. Right now, a section of big caragana branches are sagged across the path, bent by the weight of the winter snow. For most of the winter, it’s impassable, snow funneling into the passageway, filling it to the brim.
The horses, even those who were born and raised here, are nervous in the passageway. Not so nervous that they’re reluctant to go through it on their way to the water trough, but alert and spooky. Often, the younger horses especially, take they alley at a run, spending little time there. The scariest bit for them seems to be right under the four big pines, where the passageway is the most narrow. It isn’t as though its tight for them to fit through – our horses are Miniature Horses, there is plenty of room.
When I see a horse hesitate, her ears pricked and nostrils flared as she gathers her courage to dash past a spot in the hedge, I can’t help but catch her apprehension. I peer into the dense branches, searching for movement, listening. I don’t know what I think I’ll see, and there, in the dappled shadow and light, my imagination runs away with me and I’m not sure I want to see. Like the horses before me, I dash past – just in case.
There is something magical about the sheltered green path, something that makes the fantastic seem possible. Or maybe something that just allows imaginations, human and equine, to run free.