An Island of Wild Horses – Karen Mulhallen, 2018

One day someone said something about an island of horses, an island of wild horses. I might have been five or six, but after that I waited and I waited, and eventually the name of the island appeared.

I grew up in a country town in rural Ontario and that meant that the connection between town and country was a permeable membrane. Horses came down the street where we lived pulling wagons of milk. In winter their snorts and exhalations were part of the wintry landscape of the street and of my life. Friends of my parents had cutters, lovely horse drawn sleds which they drove around the fair grounds in winter and in summer there were horse races of one sort or another, primarily the trots.

One day someone said something about an island of horses, an island of wild horses. I might have been five or six, but after that I waited and I waited and eventually Diefenbaker was elected Prime Minister of Canada and eventually the name of the island appeared.

And so the dream grew, an island of wild horses, Sable Island. It all began with the milk wagons from Silverwoods Dairy, and with Mrs Effie Nesbitt’s glamorous sleigh drawn by horses around the Woodstock, Ontario, fairgrounds in winter, but it continued, and the mind grew and with it a dream of wild horses, Sable Island.

Somewhere in the long trajectory of time there was a film, A Dream of Wild Horses. And so the imaginings and the dream grow, and they grow in different ways. I began to plan a horse trek through Mongolia and took riding lessons. I went swimming on horseback, bareback in fact, holding onto the reins, in the Caribbean Sea, off the coast of Belize. More and more my life and my writing took to horseback.

Time to go, time to go to Sable Island.

It’s been more than a decade since I finally came to Sable Island. I wrote and published a book, Sea Horses, a book of poetry and prose which was an attempt to engage with the ineffable beauty of this place, its hauntings, its creatures, its raw and unmediated beauty.

I still wake in the night, or in the hours just at dawn, and I remember what it was like, what it was like to sit on a dune and look out over the sea, what it was like to have horses nuzzle me from each side, and from the rear—no escape. What it was like to feel the wind and to follow a horse track somewhere, over there, somewhere where sand and seal and horse and sea and sky meet.

Karen Mulhallen
Prepared for the Sable Island Institute, June 2018

Sandra Barry’s review of “Sea Horses“, Karen Mulhallen’s book of poetry and prose based on her two-week stay on Sable Island in 2005.

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