Fall arrived at 4pm on a Thursday this year. I was in class when it happened, but thanks to my dedication to wunderground, I knew to expect it. As did, from the looks of things, every farmer in the region. The Farm Stands overnight sprouted pumpkins and every type of winter squash, sacks of potatoes, and mums. The grocery stores were primed too, and hustled out their stocks of indian corn and corn shooks. They do this because in New England, everyone is Martha Stewart. If you have a porch, it is obligatory to decorate it. You have your choice of items with which to do this – anything from sheaves of grain, piles of gourds, to sprays of leaves, to scare crows and goblins, to cornucopias, to harvest-themed lanterns. And, of course, the mums.
By this time next month, the entire region will look like an ad from Country Living. Endless white clapboard houses (with fully decorated porches), trees arching over the roadway wearing colors too bright and brilliant to describe, quaint sweaters, quaint jackets, quaint dogs being walked along the road. Piles of fading leaves sweeping along the streets.
The sky is a special color at this time of the year, it’s a bottomless bright blue that I never see at any other time, and that might well be designed to perfectly set off the leaves (and the gourds, grains, and mums). When you’re out on a walk, kicking your feet through these leaves, staring up into the sky framed with red, gold, orange, and yellow, and catch a whiff of smoke from someone’s wood-burning stove or fireplace, well, that’s when you really know great it is to be alive here.
The horses catch it too – when I showed up at the barn this morning, Huey The Wonder Horse was still wearing his new jacket. He showed it off for me, and he certainly did look grand in it! Then he told me that he hadn’t been fed yet (he had) and then he wanted to play a bunch of games instead of standing quietly while I get him ready like he usually does. The first game was Let Me Give Your Horsey Kisses! That was all well and fine, right up to the point where it became Horsey Love Bites. I made a small scream and he leapt back and showed me the whites of his eyes, saying “What was THAT for?!? I just wanted to NIBBLE you! And you SCREAMED!” shock and awe, yes.
The next game was Look At My Big Horse Smile! It’s GREEN! It was green because he had managed to pulverize a bunch of hay and grain and cram it in up against his teeth under his upper lip. He does this sometimes. I’m not sure why. But I do know it’s like giving peanut butter to a dog, only vastly more entertaining. The dog mashes the peanut butter up against the roof of his mouth, and then spends the next hour smacking his tongue to try to get it off. The horse mashes the vegetation up against his teeth, but with prehensile lips, he’s got many, many more alternatives for getting it off than does the dog, and every one of them is totally hilarious to watch. If I hadn’t needed to get out and have a lesson, I’d have been happy to just hang out for an hour as a spectator. As it was, I stuck my finger in his mouth to get that stuff off. This process was complicated by the fact that he said “HEY! I was saving that for LATER! You’re not going to WASTE that are you?!?!” and any time I managed to dislodge a little bit of it, he’d stick his tongue waaaaaaay out to clean up, and then try to chew. Yes, all this happening while my finger is in his mouth.
My trainer told me that – with fall coming at 4pm and all – the horses that live outside in the paddocks had been racing about all morning, kicking up their heels, and generally having a right big hoedown. She felt, and I completely agreed, that it might be a good idea to give Huey the chance to burn any extra juice…before I was on his back. So this morning, I learned about lunging. And a good thing, too, because in the middle of having a beautiful trot round, old Huey put his head down and bucked out a couple of times like a rodeo bronc.
I did not know he had this in him.
And I’m glad, too. That boy’s got some real juice, but he knows better than to pull it out at the wrong time. I think I get to lunge him under supervision next time. It’s right up there on the list with the sheath cleaning. As he was whipping around on the lunge line, he started to make a strange deep squeaking noise. I’d noticed this noise before when I was riding him at a good fast trot, but I always thought it was my breeches making a weird horky noise on the saddle…yet here he was, without me, still making the nose.
“What is that noise?” I said.
She said “It’s his cheek.”
“It is?” I said. Funny, his mouth wasn’t really open, and I couldn’t see any tack rubbing on it strangely, and when I’d heard it before, I’d thought it was coming from behind me on his back.
She filled me in about how it gets air in it, and needs to be cleaned.
??? I’d just been right up against his face giving him a good solid scratch and playing with his lips, and his cheek didn’t look dirty to me then.
“He needs his cheek cleaned?” I said.
It was a bit windy, and just then he gave a nice big buck as some leaves rattled across the arena.
“His cheek? No, I said his SHEATH” she said.
My mind spun loose of its bearings for a moment, considering the issue of his SHEATH taking on air in it and making an odd noise. And needing to be cleaned.
“Ah,” I said. “Uh. I’d been meaning to ask about that. I think I’d be a lot better off if I did that after watching someone else do it.” There’s only so far that YouTube will take a person, and that’s probably just as well. I haven’t spent much time google-ing this because, really, I do NOT want to know what kind of creepy sites will come up in that kind of search.
So, at some point, I’m going to get the crash course in Maintaining The Male Horse. If, heaven help us all, it’s dirty enough to act like a whoopee cushion, this had better be sooner rather than later. How…fun. How…informative. Yeah, yeah, that’s the ticket. It’s a Learning Opportunity. Yeah. That’s the ticket, I’ll just keep focused on learning. It can’t be any worse than pension accounting, or calculating earnings per share. Yeah. Yeah.
For right now, I’m going to assertively turn my mind back to Martha Stewart. Here’s a recipe for using all of those incredible apples that you can find at the market right now!
deep-dish pie crust (top and bottom crusts) – buy it or make your own
8 medium-sized crunchy and tart apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1/3-inch-thick slices
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, room temperature
Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 375°F. Combine apples, dried cranberries, flour, brown sugar, lemon juice, nutmeg and cloves in large bowl. Toss to blend. Heap into your bottom pie crust. Press top crust and bottom crust together at edge to seal. Fold edge under; crimp edge decoratively. Cut four 2-inch-long slits in top crust to allow steam to escape. Bake pie 45 minutes. Cover crust edges with foil to prevent over-browning. Continue to bake pie until crust is golden, apples are tender and juices bubble thickly through slits, about 55 minutes longer. Cool pie on rack. Cut into wedges. Eat warm, cold, with ice cream, or right out of the pan, and think about what an awesome season Autumn is.