Mini, a tomboyish teenager of fifteen, worked diligently, grooming her grey, Welsh pony cross mare Princess, who was tethered by halter and lead to the side of the detached garage at the bottom of a gravel driveway. Side by side, her younger sister Kate, age eight, brushed her own black Shetland pony, Prince.
Mini lifted each hoof carefully, inspecting them one by one and dug out the stones and dirt with a hoof pick. At the top of the driveway, "The Big House" or so Mini called it, rose at the end of a deserted rural road, a mansion compared to the farmhouses of the surrounding district.
It was precisely constructed of local sandstone and wood, which Mini's father Ken Kellar, a successful businessman and owner of Kellar Steeplejack's and Spray Painting Ltd., had commissioned local tradesmen in the area to build in 1960. It was isolated and surrounded by cow pastures and inland lakes, the closest being, Mud Lake, visible from the home.
"There you go Princess! We're ready now."
Mini maneuvered a snaffle bit into the grey mare's mouth and buckled the bridle into place.
Aren't you going to saddle her up", Kate asked, nodding at the English saddle and pad propped up on the fence beside them.
"Naw, not this time. Bareback is quicker and more fun. Are you coming?"
Kate laughed, slapping her dusty, fat pony on the back. A cloud of dust arose and filled the air.
"Well, see you later on then. I'm off to Slide Lake for a run."
"Mini balanced on top and pulled up the reins.
"Let's go girl!"
With a dig of her heels into the mare's lean sides she spun her around and they took off in a canter down the winding country lane path over uneven terrain, up hills and down. She brushed away stray branches and guided the mare to the open trail of the little used old wagon road.
Around the bend, the wilderness gave way to pasture land that had been cleared for cattle grazing by generations past and Mini seized the opportunity to gallop flat out. She dug in her heels and Princess responded to a slap of the reins as they pounded through the pasture and back onto the overgrown wagon road, shaded by tall trees, maple, spruce and birch.
"Heeee on Princess!" Mini dug her heels into the mare's sides and she took the clue, increasing her stride as she approached a worn, sagging, grey board gate, gathering strength to lift them into the air. They sailed over the gate with inches to spare and landed on the other side, continuing the gallop until they disappeared from view.
Deep in the dark, wild woods now, the only sounds in the wilderness were Princess's hooves as they stumbled over buried rocks and bushes down what had become merely a trail. Rising up before them in the forest a building appeared.
Her father's empty, weather-beaten cabin stood in lonely repose looking out over the silent, isolated lake. Mini slid down from the mare's back and hung the reins on a young sapling before unlocking the padlocked front door with a key that she pulled out of her pocket.
She entered through the front sun porch into a small living room and gazed about the room at a stone hewed fireplace, facing an overstuffed, cranberry colored bed sofa. It was a small and dark but comfortable place, with a matching upholstered chair positioned below a small window, shutters still fastened, a wooden box overflowing with firewood and newspaper, a small transister radio on the stone mantle above the fireplace, tubes of Coppertone suntan lotion left over from summer's past, a lantern, a propane light fixture hung from the ceiling.
The cabin smelled of lacquered wood, fresh dirt and the lingering odour of propane. Mini inhaled savoring the scent and proceeded further into the kitchen. Against the farthest wall was a wood stove with kettle resting on top, a wooden table with built in benches on the side wall under another covered window, a sink, cabinets and a small propane driven refrigerator completed the picture.
Mini opened the refrigerator door curiously and peeked in. It was empty, the gas turned off. She opened a cupboard door and examined a box of Kraft dinner. There were mouse nibbles on the cardboard side. She picked up a can of Campbell's tomato soup, a can of coffee, sugar stored in a metal container and a can of matches. She gazed about the darkened kitchen and suddenly felt alone.
Exiting the cabin and locking it, her gaze fell upon the perimeter for other hikers or fishermen. Not finding any, she proceeded to undress on the wooden dock and dove naked into the cool, clear water. Coming back up for a moment in time, she tred water, listening to the sound of the breeze whispering through the trees, bullfrogs croaking and caught sight of a water snake, it's dark head and beady eyes rising above the water creating a ripple through the water coming towards her. Raising her left arm, she brought her hand down with a smack on the water's surface and the snake dove out of sight.
Mini laughed. It was an all too familiar scenario. She often had to chase water snakes off sun drench rocks in order to claim the best spot in the warm rays herself after a cool swim, but then, she was invading their territory, wasn't she? Her eyes fel on an island, a deserted tangled mass of rocks, spruce trees, thorny brush and pine needled moss within swimming distance of the cabin. It was unnamed but had always been a special resting place she would seek before swimming back to shore again.
There was something peculiar about this island, completely deserted on this very private lake. In summers before, when her father would invite friends to visit the cabin on Slide Lake, Mini remembered the adults enjoying their rum and coke days and late evening talks on the screened in sun porch looking out over the water at the island discussing how one or the other would someday build their very own little cottage retreat there, a vision that sadly never materialized. It lived in Mini's imagination however, where a little fairy tale villa already stood, surrounded by flowers and floating lily pads near the rocky shore.
She swam towards it, even stroke after stroke, taking time to rest while floating on her back. Maneuvering carefully through the silty mud and lily pads, she slimbed onto a rock, first carefully inspecting the bottoms of her feet for leeches. Now she climbed onto a rock and sat gazing back at the cabin and her mare, tied to the sapling on the beach. Lost in thought, she became one with the woods and pulled her imaginary villa into a vision around her. Now she was looking out the fairy tale window and smelling pink and yellow roses. Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could construct such a building out of thought alone? She pondered this for a while and shivered slightly in her nakenness as a cool breeze drifted towards her.
Maybe this island was inhabited by the ghosts of the native people who once inhabited these parts. She sometimes felt that she was being watched by invisible eyes here in the middle of the wilderness all alone but it never bothered her. She thought about this for a while, then with a sigh, slipped back into the crystal clear water, parted the lily pads and swam back through open water to shore.
Mini dressed slowly and giving a final, reluctant gaze around her, she climbed back onto her mare, slapped her lightly with the reins and trotted back up the trail homeward.
"Mini, where have you been" her mother shouted as she entered the kitchen coat room from the garage and hung up her jacket. "Oh, just out riding Princess. I went back to Slide Lake today."
"All by yourself? Where was Kate?"
"Not ready. I was fine alone. Don't worry about me mother. You've got enough to concern yourself about with the six of us."
Mini's mother was a transplanted girl from Hamilton, Ontario who had sacrificed herself for the life of a country wife and mother. Mini understood completely the sacrifice that her mother had made in exchange for the security that this marriage had promised her. She knew that while her mother yearned for restaurants, night lights, movie theaters and shops of the big city, she had settled for the barns, pastures, lakes and forests of Perth Road, Ontario just to please her father who had been born and raised there.
Sometimes she even sensed that her mother felt that she was wasting away in the backwoods and regarded it as some sort of "nowhere land", an invisible prison. She was also aware of a restlessness within her mother and an ever present desire to flee her circumstances, if ever the opportunity might present itself.
Her mother wouldn't understand the love that Mini felt for the woods and fields and her adventures in them.
"Oh, I don't know, probably searching for frogs. He's going fishing tomorrow."
Mini's father, only in his forties, had already sold his business and retired to his home and lands. He spent his days making homemade wine and sausages and wandering about his property tacking up NO TRESPASSING signs, working in his tool shop, overseeing the family and talking about the next cabin that he would build. He was a dreamer of dreams that were always on the verge of materializing but never did. Escape from the city he had, back to his roots, the neighborhood where he had rambled as a child, but at what cost, Mini often wondered.
He acted as 'though he was a man of leisure and yet he was not. He would have to sell some of his land soon, just to stay afloat and support this early retirement dream or return to a nine to five paying job. Mini knew this but also treasured the moments they spent together in the woods where he would point out the butternut trees, morele and puffball mushrooms and take her on day hiking trips through the back country to the Huckleberry Hills to pick blueberries. He would show her the best places to catch frogs and which trees yielded the best firewood. She absorbed these lessons well and tucked them away in the back of her mind for future reference.
"The mail is in!"
Mini's big brother Bob, an older teenager wannabe Elvis, with black hair, slicked back in Brylcreem "a little dab will do ya". He arrived brandishing a package of letters and tossed one towards Mini who grabbed it.
Mini excitedly scanned the envelope, ripped it open and began to read.
"It's my poem!" My poem has been published! Finally, at last I'm a writer." Mini laughed in delight, waving the letter in the air and dancing all around.
"Did you make a lot of money," Bob asked?
"No, it's just been published, that's all."
"So what good is that?"
It's good enough for me" Minnie retorted.
"Well dear, I'm proud of you." Mini's mother threw a warning glance at Bob.
"You should spend some times writing too Bob, especially since you're entering university in the fall. It's wonderful to have a writer in the family."
"Waste of time," Bob argued.
"Or so you think." Mini shot back.
"Well, I'm going rock hunting up in the hills. Wanna come? Maybe I"ll find gold." Bob's eyes gleamed with a hint of eagerness.
Mini laughed, "Fool's gold you mean, bring some home. We could use it. I think I'll write a poem instead. I'll have better luck with that."
"See Mini?" Bob pointed out, grabbing his jacket and pulling on his boots. "You're not the only dreamer in this family."
Mini retired to a corner of the library with a notebook and pen and began to write the title of her new composition - "Who Am I". That done, she proceeded to scribble the poem which flowed easily.
"Who am I
Don't ask me who I am
Ask those who have lived before
Ask the leaves and the trees that watched me come and go
Ask the fields where I ran barefoot in summer as a laughing child
Ask the rock whose crevice contais my diary, hidden still
Ask the tree that bares my initials
Ask them and they might tell you that I've existed since time began
Just as they have."
Mini's mother drew near curiously.
"What are you writing about Mini?"
"Oh, I've written a poem called, "Who Am I."
Eileen laughed, "Well we all know who you are Mini! You're Mini, one of a kind I may add."
"But am I really, mother?" Mini replied slowly, "this poem seems to disagree with you. It says that I have existed since time began and that I wasn't always Mini."
"Well, where did you get that idea from? You must be talking about reincarnation then."
"Oh, I don't know" Mini replied thoughtfully, "sometimes I don't plan the words that come out of me. They might come spontaneously, if you know what I mean, and these poems tell me things that I hadn't thought of before."
"Then if you weren't always Mini, who were you?" asked Eileen, a hint of laughter in her eyes.
"I'm not sure exactly," Mini answered, but maybe I will know someday. One thing I do know, whoever I was and whatever I did, I am repeating them again as ingrained habits. Once a poet, always a poet, if you know what I mean."
"Then you must have been horse crazy before too!" Mini's sister Kate chimed in. "She rides like a wild woman through those woods Mom!"
"And so do you," Eileen laughed, smiling at her younger daughter. "It's an interesting thought Mini, that history repeats itself. Now, wash up for dinner, all of you. Poets and horsewomen need to eat."
About the author
Maureen Kellar-Kirby, author of "Go Back Jack" Total Recall Press (2018) and "The Leprechaun Who Was Not a Mouse" (2021). https://www.maureenkellar.com.
Music - https://soundcloud.com/maureen-kellar-kirby