An old draft horse ambles into the fall

As the last light fades, a draft horse slowly makes his way to a familiar haunt for the night.

Charlie Riedel/AP
Grazing in a foggy field, Lone Jack, Mo.

Though it is still uncomfortably hot, the sun at least sets earlier these days. Last evening I watched dusk fall from an easy chair set on the wooden hayracks of an open-sided workshop-barn. The airy building stands just south of the farmhouse, where I'd left my dinner dishes and the meal's lingering heat.

Hoping for a breeze, I scanned the darkening blue arc above me – not a sign of a freshening wind or shower. A few swifts twittered and darted across the sky's smooth, still fabric. Then all went quiet but for the cows tearing at the grass.

They had finished up at the water tank and were grazing just below my perch. I hopped out to greet Indy, a steer weighing in at roughly 2,500 pounds, and scratched him behind his ears. The big animal stood placidly awhile, his curved horns embracing the air around me, eyes gently regarding mine, before ambling off.

One by one he and the cows sauntered out of sight down the hill toward the dried-up stream. They'd probably cross the muddy bed and hunker down in the grove of ironwood below the cabin. It has become their favorite bivouac this summer, a deeply shaded respite from the intense Midwestern heat, and a peninsula between curves of the stream where a few potholes of water linger.

As the last light faded, I could just make out Buck, our young, blond Belgian workhorse, and his mate Ben, a jet-black Percheron well into his 30s, still ripping at the grass. Buck finally started down the hill after the cows, then stopped, turned, and pointedly waited, staring back up the slope directly at Ben.

The big horse's back was turned. His eyesight and hearing have begun to fail; he had no idea the cows had left the front pasture or that his equine pal was ready to follow. I watched Buck's head and the lazy swish of his tail disappear below the break in slope as he finally lost patience and left.

I could barely see Ben now – but I sensed his deeply familiar form against the blue-black night. He was still grazing as if his mates were just behind him, now utterly alone under the crisp half-moon and stars.

I waited there in the dark, mentally ticking off the minutes. Then it came, as anticipated – Ben's high, indignant "where are you?" whinny. And I knew the old horse was making his way through the night to the ironwood.

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