The man swung the trailer’s metal ramp onto the muddy ground. As he nodded good morning to me, I saw the word “Excavating” on the driver’s door of his bright red truck. He unchained the yellow Komatsu backhoe, and backed it down the ramp.
Behind me I heard horses in the barn calling for their morning grain. I finished dumping the five-gallon water bucket and, before going back inside, looked across the pasture to my left. A hundred yards away, on the other side of the pond, lay a large brown heap; I couldn’t see his form clearly, but I knew it was him.
“I just wanted to let you know,” another volunteer told me earlier that morning, “Dozer died last night. Grass got stuck in his throat and swelled it up. The vet said it was a chronic condition, his throat swelling up. He was surprised it hadn’t happened before. Your daughters haven’t seen him in the field yet, have they?”
“I won’t tell them,” I promised her. My children had seen death before, but I saw no reason to make them cry. And now, as the Komatsu trundled toward the pasture’s gate, I heard them laughing and playing in the barn. I felt a few drops coming down from the quiet gray sky. “Girls,” I told them when I went back inside, “just play in the barn today. It’s starting to rain.”
The next time I went outside to dump a water bucket I saw the large teeth of the Komatsu’s bucket arc toward the sky, then drive deep into the earth. I tried to remember what Dozer had looked like: brown and powerful, he towered over me in his stall. But now the mound of earth the Komatsu had dug up stood higher than that lifeless horse. I left the backhoe to its work, and went back inside to clean stalls.
When I last saw the yellow Komatsu it was moving slowly toward the gate, its job done. I looked across the pasture past the backhoe but saw only one large mound of brown dirt. The big brown horse was gone.
I said goodbye to Dozer, and slipped the hood of my jacket on against the rain. There were many other horses to care for that morning, all of them still standing.
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