The snow had been falling for some hours There was a distinct sincerity about its arrival, as though it was here to stay. The sheep in the field next to the cottage were covered with snow, even the grass blades had long since been covered, and the snow had started to drift against the fence posts in the keen East wind which swept down from the hill. It was a little after 8 am, and I was feeling tired, as I climbed from my warm bed.
I had gone to bed the night before, with the feeling that there would be snow. Indeed that was the case, but I never expected the day to dawn with the eaves on the barn roof groaning with the weight of snow. Still I had to be across the field and feed the sheep, and then there was the horses and then the chickens. God! why did I put myself through this?
Thrusting my feet into my cold wellies, I stood up and drew the old brown coat around my shoulders. Buttoning up the front I reached for the black Stetson I always wore while out and about. Making sure that the hat stayed on, I ventured out into the driving snow. It stung.
The ice spicules hitting my face, the temperature was still dropping. It should have been Christmas, but that seasonal event had been and gone. The wind was begining to increase in strength, it was tearing at my coat, as though it didnt want me out there, I reached the stables and opened all the doors, ready for the horses to come right in.
Crossing the concrete yard to the field gate was a struggle, I was constantly hit with snow that stung my face and whipped my eyes. By now the the wind had made the snow drift into shapes that seemed out of this world, huge drifts upto the top of the fence posts, It was past my the wellie tops, and falling inside, making my feet wet. I had collected a bag of feed from the stables, and had slung it over my shoulder, its weight making me off balance in the deep snow. I trudged onwards across the field, my coat lapel slapping my face, caught by the wind. I looked up towards the sky, looking for some relief from the battering I was getting. Unfortunately there was no relief, and no sky, nor any horizon. I was in a white out! Everything blending into each other, so that you get disorientated. I knew that in my field there were four telephone poles, if I could find one?
But I couldnt see anything, I stood in thigh deep snow! I was begining to feel the seeping cold, my feet were numb and I was wishing that I`d stayed in the cottage, but the animals come first. I put the sack of feed down, it disappeared into the snow. I tried to look for it but couldnt see, the snow constantly in my eyes. But I was starting to worry. I had never seen weather like this before, I stumbled on. I fell, and was smothered by the cold, dry, white stuff. It felt not cold, but warmer than the wind. I stayed low in the snow gathering my thoughts, I was no longer looking for the animals
I was looking to save my own life. I knew what this meant. I was begining to feel the effects of the severe cold. In a word. hypothermia. I`d heard of this, but it never occurred to me, that I was going to feel its effects. So with fear in my heart, I began to stand up, in doing so I was hit by a gust of wind, and knocked off my feet.
The wind howled around my head and body, I drew my knees to my chest and lay on my side, my back to the wind. I was numb, the cold creeping into my body, I was tired, and wanted to sleep. My mind fought the tiredness, I felt that to lie here was wrong, but so easy to do. I dont know how long I had been out here. My eyes were frozen by the eyelashes, and my lips were dry and hurt like hell, as I fought to open my eyes, I noticed that the snow hadnt covered me at all. It wasnt even over my legs. Each joint in my body hurt, each muscle ached and the cold air hurt my lungs, I tried to stand, and as I did so, I felt the warm heat from some ones breath on my cheek.
I turned to see who it was, there was no one there! Not a soul, but I could have sworn I had felt warm air. I stepped forward, my eyes struggling to see anything. I reached out, instantly I felt the warm, soft hairy pliable muzzle of a horse. It moved closer, and pressed its face to me. I knew straight away who it was! Gracie! Good old Gracie. Then another face, Misty! Then another, Cara and Kizzy! All four. Surrounding me with their bodies, protecting me from the wind. How on earth, had they known I was out here?
I still couldnt see the two foals, I was starting to panic for them, when just there, I saw them both! Huddled between Misty and Cara. Standing so still, they all seemed to be waiting for me? I suddenly realised what it was they wanted. I began to start walking, the weather hadnt stopped, so it was a pure guess, as to which direction I was to go. But my hairy friends had other ideas! Gracie stepped to my left, and shaking her head, she started in that direction. I knew she was clever, but nothing like this. I followed in the snow. I reached out and clung to her long mane, pleased I`d never trimmed it.
Although it was cold, and the wind hadnt given up, I felt warm and surprisingly comforted by these wonderful animals. Each one walking either side of me, it was like being escorted, but not quite.
After a time I began to wonder if I was going in the right direction, but I shouldnt have worried. I stumbled upon the gate, I felt elated, grasping the latch I quickly pulled it open. I turned to the horses, to see them all there, right behind me.
Opening the gate, I let them in, all six walked quite calmly into there stalls, and began to feed. After closing the gate and stumbling through the snow to the stall doors, I looked in on my friends, all eating happily. Not one looked up, not even Gracie, I began to feel that I had dreampt the whole episode in the field. Or had I? I was sure that it had happened, Gracie?, she didnt even look up. The cold was eating at me again, so I turned away and started for the cottage. As I did so, a low snicker came from the stables, quickly turning to look, I`m sure I saw Gracie and the others looking back at me. Then it was gone, the moment lost. I`m sure they knew. I was sure that they had found me, had looked after me, had brought me home.
That I had nearly died, in that cold, I was sure. My friends, did they save me?
As I got to the cottage, my wife opened the door, I was shocked to here her say, " What are you doing then, are you going out or have you changed your mind, you`ve been standing out here for the last ten minutes!!" "What do you mean?" I asked, " I`ve been out for ages." " Dont be stupid! You`ve only been gone ten minutes, look there`s the clock, ten minutes!" She was right. I had been gone only ten minutes! ............... How? My mind must be playing tricks on me, I couldnt fathom it out! It was so real!
Taking off my coat, and my wellies, I sat down on the stool next to the Aga. I was totally perplexed. Liz handed me a mug of steaming coffee, and said," Did you shake your wellies outside? `cos if you didnt, you`d better! They`re full of snow!"
I looked at the wellies, packed with snow they were, so it was true! I hadnt dreampt it. It really was true. Next morning after a good nights sleep, I went outside to see just how much snow there really was. The whole place was covered, making my way to the barn, I looked in to see where I`d put that half bag of feed. It was`nt where I`d put it the day before. The horses were wanting out to stretch there legs, and I was now doubting my own sanity, and even if the whole event had happened the night before. It was still bitter cold, out they went, trotting as best they could in the drifted deep snow. I stood a while and watched them. They rolled in the snow and looked as though they were enjoying themselves. Better put a bale of hay out I thought.
This I did, carrying out beyond the gate, and struggling in the knee deep snow, I reached the first telephone pole, as I looked down to cut the string of the bale, I couldnt believe my eyes! The bag of missing feed! There it was, I stood and looked, shocked at the realisation of what that meant!
Just then, the horses whinnied, I looked up, they were all looking at me. I`m sure Gracie winked at me! Then they looked away.........I put the hay out, and trudged back to the cottage.
Just what had happened? Was it all a wonderful dream, or was I going mad?