The wind is snapping over the snow outside, but its toasty by the big stone fireplace, and even walking to the barn in the wind is delightful on a day without anything scheduled but a huge meal with loved ones.
The horses seem to know that the pace is going to be slower today. When the barn doors slid open there was the usual welcoming nickers, but the horses that neigh or paw on hunting days were as quiet as their stablemates. I am always surprised by the seeming intuition of the horses as to what the day holds, but I am probably oblivious to a dozen little clues that they are attuned to.
Hunting was cancelled yesterday due to all the snow. I would think that my hunt horses would now be anticipating that today would be the day. But somehow they know its not. Perhaps its simply the hush of the snow. Although a Thanksgiving hunt is traditional, I confess that I appreciate Old Chatham’s pre-Thanksgiving hunt ritual as it gives me all of today to enjoy being in the kitchen without exhaustion or a rush.
The horses also can tell time. Days that I open the doors before dawn, they know something is up and the stamping begins. Horses also seem particularly attuned to finery. On show days and opening days, when they are braided the night before, I believe they spend the night awake and wondering about the next day, much as a young athlete anticipates a big game.
All that aside, today they seem to know that sugar laced apple peels will be coming their way today, offered by little hands that are thankful for the chance to spend the day with these great animals. They seem to know that the air will be scented with the smoke from the chimney, and there will be new people to watch as they munch at their hay piles.
I imagine that the horses are thankful for this day too; and I know that there is nowhere on earth I would rather be than on Broad Reach Farm on a Thanksgiving Day.
The Tuesday before Thanksgiving I travelled to Baltimore to pick up my daughter and her friend for the long weekend. That day the major networks also predicted the massive winter storm that would hit us the following day. The combination of a massive storm and the national holiday turned I-95 into a parking lot, occasionally rousing into a 5 mph slow trudge northward.
During the 9 hours it took me to make the 300 mile trip, I had plenty of time to contemplate how rarely I experience traffic in Columbia County. When my husband and I first moved to Ghent, I would occasionally go to shop in the “big city” of Albany. Friends in Columbia County would exclaim, “You’re not going during RUSH HOUR, are you?!” I always had to laugh. We had lived in Washington D.C. and Westchester County prior to Ghent, and were veterans of rush hours composed of crawling traffic for indeterminate numbers of miles. “Rush hour” in Albany, even today, means that there is dense traffic, and if you are not lucky, you may encounter a back up. There is no real rush hour in Albany.
Compared to Columbia County, however, I can see how someone may despise dense traffic and term it “rush hour”. Here in our county we are so spoiled. On Saturday afternoons, I sometimes have to drive down the main street of Chatham or Hudson twice to find a parking spot – that is my new “rush hour.” I love the fact that we residents talk about “the light”. That’s right, the one light. Each of our towns has one light, if any. So when you talk about “the light” in Chatham, you know you are talking about the intersection of Route 203 and Route 66, where on any day of the week, except for perhaps Fair Week, you will rarely have more than three cars lined up waiting for the light to change. In Ghent, we don’t have a light. We have to refer to the Dairy Queen for a frame of reference. Even in the big city of Hudson, which does have several lights, the traffic is so light and the lights so well coordinated that you can drive the entire length of Warren Street without ever stopping for a red light.
My experience on that drive back from Baltimore was sufficient to make me appreciate Columbia County anew for at least another year. I sent my daughter back to school with a car; I didn’t need to experience that traffic again.
Fall is really upon us now. It’s not just the leaves that are falling, but the sense that life itself is slowing down. Phone calls become fewer. The owners of my retirees in the barn visit less often. That isn’t meant as a disparagement; I visit the barn less often myself. My young horses’ still need working, but somehow, when I walk down the aisle, I get the feeling that all of us, equine and human , would rather be curled up with a good book, or a good pile of hay, in front of the fire. Fall in Columbia County is spectacular. It’s one of the most beautiful, places on earth, as my son told me, who moved to L.A. and yearns for time in the Hudson Valley.
Someone recently asked me, “Who lives in Columbia County?” and I responded immediately, “people who want to live here,” That wasn’t the glib answer that it might seem. The people that move to Columbia County tend to come to regard it as “home” whether it is their first house or their fourth. The second home owners that live here tend to spend all seasons here whenever they can. They celebrate the summer when theatre reigns supreme at the venues from Tanglewood and Jacob’s Pillow to the Old Ghent Playhouse and the MacHaydn. They relish the fall when the orchards produce apples and pumpkins that can’t be found elsewhere. They savor the winter when wood smoke taints the air and if you don’t like to downhill, you can always cross country out your back door. Spring brings a rare mix of smells that harkens the burgeoning of life, a season that moves forward to summer and back to winter in one weekend. People that have “second homes” here frequently make it their primary residence by hook or by crook. On a day like today, it’s easy to understand why.