Croutons and Sweetheart: As They Define Freedom (I asked them!)

    Freedom is eating Mrs. Cubbin's croutons like cereal, substituting ranch dressing for the milk.  And, freedom is so much more.  Freedom can be loosely defined as the ability to do anything you please.  We know that interpretation to be faulty and yet the exact definition is elusive.  I was thinking about this subject this afternoon, sorting through a variety of scenarios in my own life where I truly savor freedom : homeschooling my children, spending/saving our money where we see fit, choosing to have a career or not, worshipping God and having more than just a moment of silence at noon on 9/ll, being free to have as many children as God sees fit to bless us with, etc.  However, a very simple event took place this evening that truly defines freedom for me (and not a crouton in sight). 
       Nick came home from work and sat at the kitchen table with me while he drank a glass of tea (ok, it might have been a beer) while we told him about our school day and heard about his day helping wean a pasture.  When the kids had finished showing him their salt maps of Ancient Egypt and I had heard about what Nick had for dinner and how the cows are too fat to fit in snake at the pens, Nick suggested that I walk down to feed horses with him.  We spent a romantic half hour hauling the garbage barrel to the dump while the horses ate and then we went down to catch out his mounts for tomorrow's work. 
        We had to throw rocks at the sluggards to get them all to move down to the catch pen, but once they were shut up, they ran and kicked and acted silly.  I really enjoy catching horses.  I like the initial dodging to get the right one singled out.  I like that definite moment that the older, more gentle horses stop their silliness and turn to face me, head down, a bit shamefaced, but ready to be caught and, subsequently, loved on!  I like the hesitance in the young horses as they finally face me, stamping and blowing and knowing that they have to face me and stand still to be caught, knowing that it is going to be ok but not sure all the same.  I like the warmth coming off of the horse's hide and the closeness that we share as I lean into him to slip the lead rope over his neck.  I like his offering of his nose as I slip the halter on his head.  There is no other smell like a horse.  There is no feel like the velvet of his nose, as clichéd as that is. 
        This evening I got to catch one of my favorite horses, Sweetheart.  Though he is only three, there was no silly dance, no chase, no need for him to be sheepish.  He loves people and wanted to be caught.  He put his head toward me, asking for the halter.  The catch pen was dusty and busy as Nick caught, loved on, and turned loose all of his broncs in turn.  But, Sweetheart, a bronc by no means, stood patiently, tied to the fence, waiting until the confusion of the nightly ritual was over.  After the extra horses were turned out to the pasture for the night and the gate firmly close and tied against any Houdini-wannabes, Nick began to loosen the halters and free the two horses he had on leads. 
        I leaned against Sweetheart as I untied his halter.  He rubbed his cheek on my shoulder, both of us loathe to break the contact.  When the halter was off, he still stayed at my side.  We visited.  We talked about how the air smells like fall, how the rain clouds in the west seemed to be advancing our way.  We talked about what a good horse he is and how good it felt for me to rub around his ears.  We talked about how nasty cedar flies are.  We discussed freedom... about how he is and he isn't free for even after the ropes and saddles and spurs are taken away, he is bound to man, bound by affection and dependence on our touch and our voice.  There in the shelter of his head and mane and wide, wide shoulders, I thought of my freedom.  Many people the world over live in the country around livestock and are content with their homes and their families.  But, as an American, I am free to choose this life as well as free to pursue so many options.  I am rich in freedom and I know I would choose it all again. 
The bonds that rein in my freedom are bonds of love, bonds of duty, bonds of responsibility to the society and government of these times.  Most of my bonds are velvet simply because they are bonds that I choose, just as Sweetheart chooses to be one of those horses who will come to his owner with head down, nose searching pockets for a treat, ears willing (begging) to be scratched, and heart big enough to carry the day.
        As my friend turned away, drawn by the sound of hay bales being tossed into the rack and the smell of alfalfa on the air (I am only so appealing), I walked back to the house, my hand tucked snugly in that of my husband, my children's voices ringing in the air above the clatter of the trusty little red wagon they were pulling back up to the shop to park in readiness of the next bale of hay they would haul down to the rack tomorrow evening. 
        And, I looked forward to my croutons. 

Read about a Greasy cowboy ,

cowboy kids,

when a cowboy is away.,

Poems by Oscar Auker,

Best Exercise in the World

a kid's horse

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