One Small Moment Contains It All

When I left France last April, I missed a major event at the horse rescue where I volunteer–la transhumance–when Marie, the director, and a group of volunteers led twelve horses and donkeys to a chateau nine kilometers from the refuge, to summer pastures. Yesterday, I participated in the journey home, from the summer pasture back to the refuge.

It was an amazing day: Jojo a small donkey at my side, the exquisite French countryside around here, with its patchwork of cultivated fields, rolling hills, its dollop of farms and chateaux, everything built of stone; the bluest of skies above. And the 20 or so of us walking together, talking, joking, reflecting, whispering to our equine companions—all appreciating the sweetness of the day and of the moment.

I remember as we started out from the chateau pasture, looking ahead to the line of horses and people, then tilting my head to look up at the sky, and thinking how miraculous that moment was for me. As a child I was terrified of horses, so terrified that they appeared stampeding in my nightmares, often crushing me under their weight.

Then, around ten years ago, I began to feel drawn toward horses, my former terror replaced by a strong desire to spend time with them. My life then was full of other interests and activities, so this desire incubated unfulfilled within me for some time. Then, last year, while in Pujols, I saw an announcement for a Fete des Animaux, on August 15, not far from us. Following the hand-lettered signs, we arrived at a place called Au Bonheur des Chevaux, where people were dressed in costumes, horses and donkeys lined up along a corral fence to be petted, and a priest stood on a chair reading the “Blessing of the Animals” from the Bible, a donkey or two braying along with his chants.

The next time we came to Pujols, I visited the refuge and asked Marie what I needed to work there. “A pair of boots,” she answered.

Ever since then, I have been taking the route from Pujols to Praysas to spend several hours a week, cutting apples and carrots, mucking out stalls and brushing horses, along with the group of other volunteers, several of whom work there three full days a week.

The transhumance yesterday capped all of this. But strangely, one moment of the journey moved me the most intensely. And it didn’t involve a particular horse. I had just handed Jojo over to another volunteer who wanted a chance to lead him, and I found myself walking on a narrow road between two groves of poplars, at least 30 feet high, their leaves golden, reaching straight upward. Ahead of me, people and horses ambled along in a loose line, and far above me the sky peeked through the golden leaves. Serenaded by the whistle of the wind and the rustling of the leaves, I thought, this is the moment I will remember.

That moment, of all the moments of that journey from the chateau to the refuge, gripped me. One small moment out of more than half a day full of emotion. I understood that this moment was the gift of small, a moment I could sink into, allowing my pleasure to steep within me for several moments.

This moment of wind and leaves and gold, of glimpses of the bluest of skies, the horses and other volunteers just ahead of me, moving forward together, on the journey home to a place where everyone I’ve met is tender and sweet and loving. Yes, this one small moment will contain it all for me.

Door Decoration, Tournon d’Agenais

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