—Liberty Hyde Bailey—Recollections of Old Fred
Selection #3
From The Harvest

Dateline: 5 February 2014

I cannot forego the memories of certain horses I knew, friends and companions of my younger days. They knew my voice, I knew their ways. We knew the roads and fields together. I rolled and stood upon their backs and somersaulted from them; they never told anybody. One fair horse, a gentle but a lively bay, Fred by right of name, was my special comrade until old age overtook him. Uncounted miles the bareback horse and the barefooted boy went alone in the wild new places. In those far-off days, before the woods and back lands were fenced, we hunted the cattle together day by day throughout the grazing seasons. Rangy and limber cattle they were, not carrying the cargo of milk of these later tamer times, and they went miles away when turned loose in the early morning. But Fred and I knew the tip-tap of their bells, and whether they were grazing, or walking, or laying down chewing the cud.

Often the night overtook us. I remember once being hopelessly lost at nightfall in a great virgin forest. I had missed all the trails and marks I knew. The darkness was intense. Startling sounds came out of the depths. Night odors enveloped us. Cool gusts rushed out of mysterious places. I peered for strange shapes, and fears began to take form, although fear was not supposed to haunt boys brought up against the big woods. Once I heard a deep voice almost human and very close by. Then I dropped the reins on Fred’s shoulders, threw myself on his neck with my arms about it, and asked him to take me home. There I clung as he went between great tree shafts, pushed through brush, jumped over logs, and plowed through bogs. As he was silent, so was I. After a long time he stopped, dead still. I straightened up, and saw ourselves dimly in a highway. I asked him to go; he knew the way; near midnight we were at the barn.

Once we were caught beyond a raging forest fire, such as sweeps through miles of slashing and bark-peeling in dry times, with intense heat and fearful flying embers and belching sheets of flame. I had been in such fires before, but this time we seemed to be completely cut off from home, and we knew not where we would come out if we took to the back country. Several exits we tried in vain. Finally I chose an old timber road then roaring with fire, dropped the reins, threw my arms about Fred’s neck, shut my eyes, and said, “Run for your life.” Like the wind, I thought, we went through the fire that pressed us on all sides; then Fred stopped, and we were safe once more.

An old bell of a leader-cow hangs over my table as I write. I have just rocked it with my pen. It emits tones that have been silent through the years. Once more the great woods stand  mysterious and dark, the log-roads run into them and are lost, I hear footfalls I do not know, and soon Fred and I will sight the cows browsing in a clearing and he will circle them, and then we shall go home together.

In his later days poor Fred was foundered and became stiff in his fore quarters. He would often stumble and fall, but he always waited for me to get up. His easy gallop was great sport in the summer days, and he seemed to know that I enjoyed it. Once he stumbled and fell heavily. I went over his head in a great crash and must have been stunned, for I remember Fred trying to rouse me with his nose.

Old Fred, companion of a boy, is dead long years and years ago. He has no grave. No rites were said. For aught I know the elements that comprised his supple frame and gentle nature may have entered into other horses that boys have loved in later years. Perhaps they too have gone away together in twilight and at noon and have come to the Gates of Wonder.

—Liberty Hyde Bailey
   The Harvest of The Year To The Tiller of The Soil (1927)


Kyle Sonnier said...

That is some beautiful writing. Thanks for sharing this, Herrick. The way the author described his friendship with Fred, the smells of the forest, the fire, the darkness enveloping them and then ringing the bell as he's writing it was a thing of beauty!

I always look forward to your posts.

Bonnets and Boots said...

Don't give up on your dream. We were your age when we got Millie, a now twenty year old Belgian mare. We have found it a much better idea to start with a single rather than a team. You can use your horse for a lot and then if you want to be able to do more you can move up to a team. We have plowed our garden area with her and had her pull things around the farm. She is also great to drive. You will have missed something that feels incredibly right if you don't pursue it. Jack and Nancy

Gail said...

A wonderful story well told.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon your blog a month ago and I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your articles. Today's article by Liberty Hyde Bailey was a real good break from a very "modern" day.

Anonymous said...

I think I want to cry.


Anonymous said...

Lovely story!!! Warmed my heart...