On the other side of the road an opening had been dug and Mr. Stokill rode through. I slithered in his wake, looking up hopelessly at the great smooth wilderness rearing above us.
Mr. Stokill turned in the saddle. “Get haud on t’tail,” he said.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Get a haud of ‘is tail.”
As in a dream I seized the bristly hairs.
“No, both ‘ands,” the farmer said patiently.
“That’s grand, lad. Now ‘ang on.”
He clicked his tongue, the cob plodded resolutely forward and so did I.
And it was so easy! The whole world fell away beneath us as we soared upwards, and leaning back and enjoying it I watched the little valley unfold along its twisting length until I could see away into the main Dale with the great hills billowing round and white into the dark clouds.
At the barn the farmer dismounted. “All right, young man?”
“All right, Mr. Stokill.” As I followed him into the little building I smiled to myself. This old man had once told me that he left school when he was twelve, whereas I had spent most of the twenty-four years of my life in study. Yet when I looked back on the last hour or so I could come to only one conclusion.
I’d had more of books, but he had more of learning.
This quote from James Herriot’s All Things Wise and Wonderful (1976) contains three elements which are true of Herriot stories in general: a humble laughter at himself and his follies, a love for the countryside he worked in, and respect for certain quiet persons who don’t ask to be recognized. Even if you don’t like animal stories, read Herriot’s work for his accurate portrayal of humanity. It isn’t hard to identify with a man looking blankly up the face of a slippery, steep climb, wondering how he can possibly make it up. And it’s not hard to understand his respect and admiration for the old farmer who pulled him up the slope by the tail of his horse.
This thanksgiving, I give thanks for my own rides through difficult passages. And I am thankful for the beauty I could enjoy along the way.