On many occasions, I've written about how much I love our new home, about how it's a magical, beautiful place where wonderful people do interesting things that make my soul come alive. Today, as we join our friends Jenna, Patty, Mark, and the whole Washington County Draft Animal Association for an autumn ride in the countryside, my heart swells even further.
Today's adventure is called "dessert first," a seven-mile round-trip journey by horse-cart to get ice cream at The Battenkill Creamery, followed by a massive potluck at Patty and Mark's house. We've been told the WCDHA can't decide whether it's an eating club that likes horses, or a horse club that likes eating!
The day starts around 10AM with trucks rolling in, horse trailers in tow. By the time we arrive, people are busy harnessing their animals and chatting. Before the ride gets underway, we meet several members of the club. First, there's Jan, whose love for her pair of halflinger ponies is clear, and who is happy to let me and Tyler ride in her cart.
And then there's Ernie, a re-del-po-esque eccentric sweetheart who holds me in rapt attention as he regales me with stories of travels all over this country by horse-drawn covered wagon. I recognize a kindred spirit immediately as he tells, with sparkling eyes, how one day he'll travel the wilds of Ireland by gypsy wagon!
When everyone is ready, we all climb aboard our carts and take to the road in a parade of horses ranging from squat, beefy ponies, to lithe, towering steeds. Carts range from scrappy, homemade affairs to fancy antique carriages complete with lanterns, and everything in between. Every creature, human and equine alike, seems raring to go, excited to be out for a drive in such glorious weather.
As we trot slowly through the countryside, the air is filled with whiffs of wood smoke, and the deep, earthy musk of horses. We churn along wooded lanes, past faded red barns and white farmhouses and gnarled, wizened old apple trees, lit beautifully under the blue sky and dappled sunlight. We're serenaded to the tune of hooves clopping and wheels crunching over tawny fallen leaves.
I am in love. Not just with this place and these people, but with this form of transportation.
Journeying by horse-cart feels vaguely similar to bicycle travel, in that it forces me to slow down. My senses come alive, and I'm able to experience the world around me in marvelous detail. It exposes me to the weather, to the warm breeze that blows my hair about, and fills me with a sense of adventure. I am vulnerable now, out in the world, open to the whims, joys and generosity of the universe.
Time, too, is different. Seven miles, a mere blip in the numbing cage of a car, is now a journey, a long, meandering saga. Not only does time slow down, but it seems to flow in reverse. Riding in a horse cart, with its subtle, pleasant jostling, is a bit like going back in time. I feel more connected to my past, to a simpler, quieter era.
Throughout the ride, I marvel at the living, breathing creatures happily pulling us along with joy in their prancing steps. Like working dogs who live to run and pull and herd and make themselves useful, these beings seem built to do exactly what they're doing.
I've always thought that having a horse would simply be more work than it's worth, but being around all these people is starting to change my mind. Suddenly, I find myself longing to have a pony and a cart of my own. Not a tall, elegant horse, but a rugged, beefy beast fit for a hobbit. An Icelandic pony, perhaps, for trail rides and cart rides and hauling logs out of the forest. Maybe in a few years…
After an hour or so, the woods of Veryork open out into a breathtaking view of the Salem valley. Following a descent down a long, sweeping hill past herds of dairy cattle, we arrive at the creamery. The horses are tied up for a rest, we all relax in the warm sunlight with treats in hand: great mounds of mint chocolate chip, black raspberry, and cookie dough ice cream.
When everyone has eaten their fill (or whetted their appetite for the forthcoming potluck feast), we climb aboard the carts and make our way back to Patty and Mark's. The return trip is far quicker than the journey there, and in my mind, it's over much too quickly. I feel as though I could take to the road and travel the world from the seat of a horse cart! I cannot wait for the next drive.
Thank you for inviting us, Jenna, Patty, and Mark! Thank you for driving us, Jan! And thank you to the entire Washington County Draft Animal Association for having us!