Jess of the dairy fields
By Jessica Miller; the illustration is by Becky Blake
Published in July ’13
July is my favourite summer month. My most enduring and happy childhood memories are of the long, dusty days spent with my pony, Ryan, in July 1992: one of the hottest months on record. I would be up at first light making a picnic, (sandwiches for me; apples and carrots for Ryan), before setting out across the fields to catch him.
I remember the squeak my wellies made as I trudged through the dew-drenched grass, and the heart-lifting joy I felt when he appeared through the early morning mist with a whicker of welcome. Life is transitory, but while countless memories of our young and adult lives are consigned to oblivion, the magic of saddling up my pony and riding out into a pale, ghostly landscape has failed to diminish, even with the passing of time. Each morning was as exciting as the last, each day as full of promise. We would ride for miles, along beaches, finding new paths through the forests, swimming in rivers, exploring hillside tracks, and picnicking under the shade of the trees. My world consisted of the sky overhead and the pricked ears in front of me: quite simply the best view in the world. For whole summers I inhabited a land of magic, beauty and innocence.
The solitude and enchantment of those Pony Club days, nurtured my young romantic soul and inspired in me an enduring sense of wonder. I still can’t ride along a sun-dappled lane without being transported back twenty years to being a freckle-faced 15-year-old with a peeling nose, grubby jodhpurs and a heart bursting with love and pride for her pony. When I ride through a stream on a summer’s evening, I experience a fleeting feeling of profound longing for my lost youth. It is a peculiarly intense sensation, akin to grief, that dissipates as quickly as it arrives. I understand that these instances are a realisation of mortality, a reminder that nothing is forever, but it is the knowledge of the tomb that makes us aware of the preciousness of each fleeting instant.
Jasper too spent much of his childhood on horseback; he has a stack of photos showing him in his youth, when defying death soaring over cross-country obstacles en route to Pony Club victory. In keeping with the Miller tradition, Lily was riding before she could walk. Tilly, her pint-sized pony, joined the menagerie when Lily was nine months old and they quickly formed an extraordinary bond.
Every day after school, Lily runs straight to the orchard to find her, and is never happier than when the two of them are spending time together. Tilly is devoted to her young mistress, and has become such a member of the family that she is allowed into the kitchen, where she stands contentedly beside Lily (as she paints at her easel), or joins Lily at the kitchen table for supper, during which Tilly has a penchant for raiding the fruit bowl.
During inclement weather, they can be found in the living room watching National Velvet. Lily sits on the sofa and rests her feet on Tilly, who curls up on the floor. My repeated pleas not to swaddle her in my best scarlet Avoca throw have been in vain. She insists on ‘getting her nice and cosy’, and fashions a quaint looking headdress by knotting two corners under the chin.
A farm rep who visited recently, thought he was seeing things when he glanced in the living room window on his way up the garden path, and encountered a slumbering cherub sprawled across the pony equivalent of Little Red Riding Hood. The tips of Tilly’s pricked ears protruded from her bonnet as she took in the on screen action while Lily snored beside her.
A line has to be drawn somewhere, however, and Tilly is forbidden from going upstairs. We have also had to put a child lock on the fridge to prevent her from opening it, pulling out the sliding drawers, and scoffing all the carrots. Whilst we have grown accustomed to Tilly’s presence in the home, it is always something of a novelty for others. Not long ago we invited friends over for Sunday lunch. The children had a wonderful time, riding Tilly around the garden, paddling in the stream and playing in the Wigwam. By late afternoon they were wilting
with tiredness. A few of them fell asleep on picnic blankets on the lawn.
Lily wandered inside, yawning. A few minutes later I went to look for her, and found her lying face down, back to front on Tilly, fast asleep, whilst Tilly helped herself to a box of vegetable peelings. I gently lifted her off, and carried her upstairs. She barely stirred as I tucked her in to bed. Her blonde ringlets fanned out against the pillow, framing her rosy cheeks.As I watched her smiling in her sleep, I reflected, these will be Lily’s unforgettable childhood memories.