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The Apple Tree Game

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niki-marie-hansenSome days when I close my eyes and the summer breeze is just right, I find myself on top of my big potbelly I called “Power,” my childhood quarter horse. Sixteen hands of fat, brown laziness…except when it came to going back to the barn. Those summers were drenched in dog slobber, horse dirt, a little blood, sweat and goose poop squished between bare toes from a wrong step. Whatever. Who cared? I grew up on a Wisconsin farm and mud puddles and cow patties were the norm. The barn cats were abundant as were the rabid opossums hiding behind the snow shovels in the winter that we fondly shot. I remember bats’ flying out of the attic and cold fresh springs bubbling forth drenching the field grass in a waving stream of green after the snow melt.

There were big tall maple trees covering the acreage; one with a rope swing (I think it’s still there). There was the icky bean tree that always clogged the septic tank, the peonies with climbing ants, the ever-green fluffy pine stark against the winter white and the fragrant lilacs that wafted gently in from my open bedroom window from the voluminous bush below. There were the old Indian pipes and arrowheads found in the fields, the deep, sticky mud we got stuck in trying to follow the rainbow exactly and the quarter –mile long gravel driveway that was often the nemesis of my always bare feet. Then there were the apple trees…

My horse, by all meaning of the word, was fat. He was rotund. In fact he was so large that I found my 10 year old self able to almost do the splits on him. Not being allowed to ride in a saddle until I was big and strong enough to put it on myself, I became quite adept at hanging on at varying stages of on-ness. I jumped from Power a few times, but he never managed to be successful in toppling me from my perch atop his rotundness, try as he may. Power did try. He was no dummy and knew that if he could un-mount me, he could run away and go eat.

The apple trees were a favorite game of his…although I will admit I didn’t enjoy it much. There’s only so much staying power a little girl has on the reins of a 1200lbs horse. He seemed to realize that the branches of the apple trees were just high enough to clear his back, but not me. Power liked to take off at a dead run with my little, gangly self hanging on for dear life. He’d make a bee-line for the apple trees and attempt to scrape me off of his back like a pesky horsefly. These scrape-you-off-on-the-apple-tree games of his were not fun at the time and usually resulted in my quickly learning to hang from his side with a death-grip on his mane. Scrapes and scratches were battle scars I earned…winning ones. He never did scrape me off. Every time I think about it, I laugh out loud and tear up just a little.

Even though Power has been long gone to the big hayfield in the sky, there are a few things that have never changed from then until now. One, I will always love that big old nag for as long as I live. Two, Power gave me the passion for my life’s work. Three, just like he couldn’t scrape me off, life will not scrape me off either. I still carry that stubborn determination with me, learn quickly and hang on with a death-grip and I now use it to help big ding dong horses like Power that little girls love so much…minus the apple trees.

September 30, 2014 |

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