I don’t recall the last time I was here. Young enough not to care, anyway. But it’s 1990 and I’ve been in Texas for two years, and now I’m back in the New Forest and I realize I’m truly seeing this place for the first time. As I step out of the car it’s not quite noon and the forest floor is feathered with mist, but the skies are beginning to clear and the landscape before me reveals layers of ochre mingled with green upon green upon green. I want to explore, but the day’s schedule is set and we need to eat before heading on to our next destination.
It’s a Tuesday morning and the Oak Inn is relatively empty. My aunt and my two cousins and myself find a table and our orders are taken immediately by the bartender: two pints of Bishop’s Tipple and two ploughman’s lunches, plus an order of mussels and chips for the kids. We talk lightly about weighty things, like time and distance and country, all the while keeping an eye on the world outside the window, dense with chlorophyll and light. I notice a couple of horses casually approaching the front of the pub from the woods opposite. They are elegant and stoic in their bearing, and yet I can’t help but laugh to see them. I blame the Bishop’s Tipple.
We finish up and head back outside – the forest is alive and bright and clear with a new day’s purpose. My aunt stands with me and gives me a few moments to breathe it all in. The kids are having a good look at the horses, and I join them for a moment. I stand about 6 feet from the nearest one, who seems to regard me with as much quiet reverence as I do him. He moves a little closer but I stand my ground. His unblinking eyes are black and fathomless, and I swear I see a little bit of the soul of God within them. We stand together that way for a moment longer, until at last he raises his head and quietly snuffles and snorts and licks at the air between us – an ancient message in a forgotten tongue. “He’s whispering to you,” the oldest of my two cousins says with astonishment. “What’s he saying?”
“It’s a secret,” I reply with a smile, “and I can never tell.”
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