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From Keepers of the Tradition

Here's a story told to portrait artist Leslie Roberts Gregg and me by restorative forester Jason Rutledge:

“Before you go, I have a story to tell you.”

He began by telling us about his service in the military during the Vietnam War. He wanted to avoid combat, so he joined the Navy and following his aptitude testing, was assigned to work at an office in London, England. Once on his day off, he drove his Triumph motorcycle northeast of the city towards Ipswich. Lost, he stopped to regain his bearings. A boy of twelve or so was leading a large, chestnut-red horse down a lane. “I was raised by my grandfather. He was a sharecropper and a horse trader. Mules. Oxen. Chickens. Whatever he could trade on, he’d trade on. Whatever he could make money on. He enjoyed it, and it was part of his culture.

“The English countryside was mesmerizing to me. Every field had been in cultivation for centuries. There were endless rock walls that had clearly taken enormous labor to build. There was a ‘landscape patina,’ shiny from the presence of human use for thousands of years. I was mesmerized by this child, leading this great horse that was pulling a cart filled with bundles of twigs. The horse stopped before a gate. The boy opened the gate, and he spoke to the horse. The horse walked through and then stopped at the boy’s command. I spoke to the boy and asked him if I could better see the horse. It was beautiful! I had never seen a solid red horse without any markings. When I asked about it, he said, ‘it is a Suffolk Punch’. Punch is an English colloquialism meaning ‘round’. So the horse was thought to be round all over.

“At that moment, I was experiencing olfactory-stimulated homesickness. I smelled the horse and it made me homesick. I also smelled wood, the bundles of twigs. When I asked him what he was doing with them, he said, ‘My mum cooks with them.’ It was fuel wood. I was from a state filled with forests from horizon to horizon and I was in a country where people were using twigs as a fuel source. We both went on our way.

“Decades later, I was back home in America and that experience faded from my memory. After the Vietnam War, I dropped out. I had given up on education and being accepted by society. I had a relationship with cannabis that created some legal problems. Ten years after that experience in England, I was given a coffee-table book by my mother, an album of horses. I thumbed through the book, and I saw a photo of a horse pulling a cart. The horse was a solid-red mare, just like that horse I had seen in England. The memory flooded back into my mind and swept over my body. The caption had the name of the owner, who lived in Ipswich, England. I wrote to him and told him about my experience. Weeks later, I got a reply. He said that his hired man’s son had told about meeting an American sailor on a motorcycle a decade earlier. ‘That is indeed the same horse you saw in 1969.’

“Now the story gets even better.”

Jason explained that in the meantime, he had acquired three imported English draft horses. The Englishman wrote that he was a member of an international draft horse owners group. He had recognized Jason’s name. Jason continued, “He wrote and said that one of the horses that I owned at that time was a daughter of the horse I had seen years earlier as I was lost, riding my motorcycle around England!

“I tell this story to youngsters. I want them to believe that there is a creator. If there is a creator that puts these mysterious things together in a seemingly unconnected reality, that experience is proof of the oneness.”

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