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Wednesday, 20 November 2013

November, Now and Then

It was cold but sunny in Prince Edward Island. The autumn air that had been warm and summer-like had turned cold overnight.  Rick, my husband, and I had arranged to meet our friends, Hiltrud and Carllo Hengst, at the horse farm where Hiltrud boarded her Icelandic horse.  The horse droppings make good fertilizer for our vegetable patch and we were on a mission to get some.

Not having been around horses for many years, I was amazed to see how curious the horses were about us. They left where they were and came close by to watch the proceedings. Then, after we shoveled the manure into the containers, we decided to walk/ride the trails with Carlo and Hiltrud.  While Hiltrud was moving around to hitch her horse, Stjarni, to the cart, he watched her every move. His black eyes looked as if to hold stories of life in Iceland, stories that would never be told, only imagined by those who gaze into their blackness.

The trails were beautiful on the property owned by the Smiths, (no relation).  The wind was just high enough to blow the last vestiges of leaves off the trees and the sun played peek-a-boo with us as we walked the trails.  The wind was high enough to move the trees but we were sheltered enough not to feel its bitter nip.  I was glad I wore my winter jacket though.

                                                    Hiltrud Hengst and Stjarni

The clop of the horse's hooves took me back in time, back to the days when I went with my uncle, France O'Brien, as he drove the horse home with a load of wood in Maddox Cove, Newfoundland.  I would sit on top of the wood, as he guided the animal home.  Sometimes it was really cold as the wind blew in from the North Atlantic.  France usually talked to the horse and me about the family news, the weather or whatever else interested him that day.  The sound of the runners on the snow filled the gaps in conversation.  Rarely did he lose patience with the horse even if it hesitated on a hill.  He coached it on with his mitted hands on the reins as I held on, knowing that he was expert at this work.   The journey, even on the coldest days, always seemed too brief.

     France O'Brien in front of great grandmother Hearn's house, Petty Harbour

At that time, the 1960s, it was common to have a wood stove, located in the kitchen, which cooked your food and warmed the house. The tedious task of stockpiling wood for the stove took much time and energy by many in a family to ensure that the house was warm and cozy, even on the worst days of winter.  Through the eyes of my childhood, this was not a tedious task though. This time, with France and the horse, was very special to me, warming in more ways than the wood alone could provide. 

There is a song, called Tickle Cove Pond, written by Mark Walker, that captures the importance of the horse to Newfoundlanders.  Interestingly enough, a Canadian folk singer, Omar Blondal, born in Saskatchewan to Islandic parents, visited Newfoundland in the 1950s while on his way to Iceland.  He stayed for a time and discovered traditional Newfoundland songs in the Gerald S. Doyle songbooks.  He recorded some of them and became an early voice of Newfoundland music.  He showed Newfoundlanders the value of what we had and how to express it.  Today traditional music is alive and well in the province thanks to the early work of this Icelandic descendent.

This rendition of Tickle Cove Pond, sung by Jesse Ferguson,  gives the flavour of traditional Newfoundland music, while telling the story of the mare who almost drowned in Tickle Cove Pond.

Here in PEI,  Stjarni knew the way and sped up as we turned onto the final trail out of the woods.  Carlo walked briskly alongside and Hiltrud handled the reins.  It was very comfortable with these friends, talking about the old times and planning new occasions together.  Time has passed, the horse and the location are different, but time spent with good friends still warms the heart.

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