Condo neighbors make my spirits gallop

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Next-door to my condo complex is a horse farm that sweeps down from wooded hillocks to wetlands that overflow into low-lying pasture. It's a juxtaposition that affords me no end of delight as I take a midmorning break from my dining-room-table desktop.

Part of the delight comes from simple communion with the horses, but perhaps a larger part comes from the sheer irony of having such precious open space next to a dozen apartment buildings and their blacktopped parking lots.

Indeed, during half of the year, the fields are just empty, undefined space visible through bare trees. But then comes that brief window when the horses are again at pasture and the trees haven't yet filled out and hidden them from view. The weather is still fitful, varying between days with heat that hangs over the fields and presages summer, and cool, breezy days with showers - such as today.

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As I go out the back door, I can see the air whirling into little eddies that toss falling blossoms and tickle the mares' flaring nostrils with the scent of me.

From serious grazing, which I have just watched from the window, the horses spring into life at my appearing. They become a circus for my pleasure, their pasture a playground. They thrust their hind legs upward and backward in equine jet├ęs that finish with a toss of wind-blown manes and self-satisfied whinnies. Then they stand and watch me. It's my turn, they seem to be telling me.

We're separated only by a thin stand of maples with barbed wire down the middle. On their side is a small clearing, and above that a hillock. All the mares but one are lined up atop the hillock, looking down at me expectantly. A roan and her dun-colored foal, however, have come down a narrow path into the clearing, as close to the fence as a recently fallen tree trunk will permit.

Perhaps she finds my scent on the tree trunk as well as in the air, because a few days ago I'd climbed through a gap where the wires are stretched apart. I'd tried in vain to budge the fallen tree trunk, so the horses could reach the fence. Mother Roan, slender, refined - she's been my favorite - gazes patiently at me as her foal nibbles tufts of early grass. Only a few yards separate us.

She knows I should come to her, but she can't know the human condition that keeps me back. Deep, mud-filled holes lie along the fence, and I'm wearing thin, flat shoes.

I can't convey my predicament, so I break our steady gaze and hurry back in to put on boots. I also grab the bag of apples wizening in the fridge.

This time I go up the steep path behind the service shed to the top of the hill, using a hiking pole to keep my footing on last fall's slippery leaves. The fence there is low enough for me to step over, and suddenly a rush of horses vies to enter a narrow opening between two trees. I confess, I feel the need get back on my side of the wire to avoid being trampled. I'm amazed how the horses respect that wire, when they could so easily flatten it.

The roan is first with her foal. She nuzzles my hand, then pulls back her lips to take the apple. The apples are a bit too big, so each mare follows the same procedure, rolling the apple around in her mouth to get just the right purchase and then biting it cleanly in half. The foals rush in among the mares' legs to snap up the halves that fall to the ground.

The apples run out before all have shared, so we part reluctantly. I turn away, but they wait. So I wave farewell as I descend the path, and they gradually accept the fact and amble away, their heads still turned in my direction, their large brown eyes fixed upon me.

It is deeply satisfying to get away from my desk and go out among the horses at any time, but this visit has defined the change of seasons for me. And since this was my first hand-fed treat of the year for the horses, perhaps that's how they will demarcate their seasons. Apples and a friendly pat may be more telling than sunshine, showers, or falling blossoms.

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