By Julie Claire Ma
One stormy winter day, two days before Christmas, Dana and I were lounging at her dad’s. Having already stripped the contents of the fridge, listened to music, and found some TV on the satellite dish before it became too fuzzy to watch, we were bored enough to see past our adolescent self-absorption to realize Dana’s dad didn’t have a Christmas tree.
In fact, the entire house was devoid of Christmas cheer and felt especially gloomy once we noticed it.
Dana‘s parents had gotten divorced that year. Their big house on the ski hill was sold. Her mom moved to a little house near a pond, while her dad bought an acreage, with a few fenced fields and a little barn. Next to the property was crown land, hundreds of acres of forest accessible to anyone. It was equestrian paradise and perfect for Sparkle, Dana’s beloved chestnut pony. Dana was my only friend who had her own pony, and she generously shared Sparkle with me, letting me groom and ride her as much as I wanted. Eventually, she started to feel like my own.
There was no indoor riding arena, so the long months of winter were purely for fun. Snowmobile tracks tamped the snow down enough that she didn’t sink up to her hocks, but rather stayed on the surface of the hard-packed snow, which had wonderful grip. We rode her bareback, wearing our slippery snow pants so we could stay warm, sitting closely one in front of the other. As we got used to doubling on Sparkle, we could canter and even gallop.
A lovely mare, Sparkle tolerated her tween mistresses with good humor – unless you slipped too far back onto her hindquarters, in which case she bucked, sending one or both of us sailing through the air into the nearest snowbank. The snow was soft, the falls were inconsequential.
We learned how to fashion a rudimentary harness out of a lunge line and connect it to a toboggan behind Sparkle. After a few nervous jumps and false starts, Sparkle became “broke to drive.” One of us would ride her, and the other would cling to the toboggan pulled behind Sparkle’s hooves. It was thrilling to be on the sled while she galloped, hooves kicking up great clods of snow, too fast to see anything.
Dana’s dad was a miner in the Sullivan Mine in Kimberley, British Columbia. His shift work caused him to keep an irregular schedule – we seldom saw him. But once we had noticed the lack of the Christmas tree in his home, we decided to do something about it. Dana located a saw, we hitched Sparkle to her sled, and rode deep into the forest.
A winter storm had blown in, and the woods were lovely, dark and deep—straight out of a Robert Frost poem. It was so quiet, the only sound was the gentle accumulation of one huge snowflake landing on top of another.
It was pure magic: the snow, the pony, and the two friends, who had lived pretty charmed lives up to this point and still believed they could do anything they wanted to do.
We found a nice-looking young spruce and attempted to saw it off at the base. The wood was frozen and impossibly difficult to saw. Dana, a year older than me, was much stronger. She hacked away at the tree until it fell over, and we bundled it onto the sled. Sparkle snorted, the air from her nostrils causing a cascade of snowflakes to fly, and took us home at a gallop, while we laughed with the pleasure of it all.
We unhitched Sparkle and gave her a special treat of hot oats. We hauled the tree into the house and decorated it, digging through multiple boxes until we found one labeled Christmas.
Dana’s dad emerged from the mines late that night, the colour of the sky not so different from the darkness he had faced all day deep inside the mine. He boarded the shuttle bus home and walked down his long, snowy driveway. He could hear Sparkle munching hay in the paddock next to the house. Once inside, the fragrance of the forest caught him by surprise. Then he saw it, the beautiful Christmas tree, softly glowing in one corner of the living room, bringing cheer to the long dark night.
It was a Merry Christmas.
Julie Claire Ma is an international show jumping journalist and published writer of fiction, poetry and memoir. Read more of her work at julie-claire.com