Wednesday, July 13, 2011

in the new forest

beaulieu means "the beautiful place" and so it is.

in the south of england, in hampshire, you sit in your rental car and drive past deep woods, shady glades and the open fields of the new forest national park, once upon a time william the conquerer's hunting grounds—making it, in fact, a very old forest indeed—on your way to the villages of beaulieu and buckler's hard. you are surprised by the number of "wild" ponies that you pass—ponies set free by their owners to roam, breed and graze as they wish for most of the year—around every corner, sometimes literally on the corner. you slow down and remain on the lookout for these amazing creatures.

after one particularly sharp turn as you cruise under a thick, tunnel-like canopy of green branches and experience close encounters with stems, twigs and leaves grabbing at you on the passenger side of the car, you emerge in the sunlight again and admire the pastureland on both sides of the road. you see a foal nibbling in a patch of ferns on the right, and his mother with her face in a hedgerow on the left. you pull over and start taking pictures, slowly inching your way over to the mare. you pull an apple out of your pocket, bite off a piece and place it on the palm of your hand, an offer of friendship. she accepts the offer. her curious son ambles over to see what's going on, holding up traffic in the process. just another day in the new forest.

and then, right there, a foot away from the pavement and three feet away from where you are standing, the foal impatiently nuzzles under his mother, thirstily searching along her belly for comfort and a drink of sweet milk. you are oh-so-thrilled to be in the right place at the right time to view this event taking place on the side of the road, the pristine, natural order of life unfolding before you as it has since the dawn of time before the development of organized farming, and the restrictions of barns, barnyards and fences.

you aim your camera one last time and then walk away and leave the pair alone. even if you don't see another pony in the forest for the rest of the trip, you will still be happy with what those two have given you. (luckily, you do see many more ponies as you explore the forest, but never a scene like the one you just witnessed.)

you pass beaulieu. ahead is buckler's hard.

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