Summer of the Horse
January 9, 2018
Review By Shirley A. McDonald
Donna Kane’s Summer of the Horse elates and lures readers towards reenchantment, or what deep ecologist Thomas Berry calls “a reverence for the mystery and magic of the earth and the larger universe.” Kane calls the book a memoir. It is also a travel narrative and an apology, which Francis Hart defines as “a personal history that seeks to demonstrate or realize the integrity of the self.” In life writing, Hart asserts, “such intentions must overlap.” So, too, does Kane’s form. As Kane transposes her visual acuity into words, poetic vision spills into prose, affording readers moments of synaesthesia. We both see and hear. That quality is evident in earlier works like “Hunter Moon,” when we see, step on, hear “brittle leaves, pine cones / cracking.” It is evident, too, in Summer of the Horse as Kane reenchants us. “The Earth is a body too” she tells us; “I am a part of this … I am also apart.” Kane desires to experience the earth in “a liminal state” as she and her partner traverse the Muskwa-Kechika region on horseback. She iterates a special moment as “a threshold between past and present” (50). On the trail weeks later and on foot, Kane ponders time, observing how the Red Deer River “has cut down through the sediments, year after year, carrying the soil away, opening up this canyon, how the perpetual movement of wind and water has sculpted the earth” (167). She pauses — “The place seemed to have stopped, as though it were under a spell” (168) — and then, goes on: “I knew it wasn’t true. The forces of wind and water were still at work. I just couldn’t see it” (168). Savouring her vision, we are reenchanted.
Thomas Berry tells us that our “reenchantment with the earth as a living reality is the condition for our rescue of the earth”. Kane’s story is a kind of rescue of both an injured horse and the poet herself. In the time it takes to heal the horse, Kane makes peace with the choices she’s made. She heals us, too, as we find wonder in her words and her journeys – both literal and metaphorical. Less lyrical but equally uplifting are the depictions of horses. Kane’s acute perception puts her on par with Donna Haraway. Treating her equine companion over many weeks of summer, washing away the “bits of loose flesh” that cling to his wound, Kane shares Zen-like moments. “Sometimes, hosing Comet is the most relaxing part of my day,” she writes; “Comet must feel it too. When we’re about ten minutes in, he will heave a big sigh” (129). Kane’s portrayal of the horse attests to the intrinsic value of our relationships with companion species, as Haraway calls them. Kane writes that Comet’s “wound, as it heals, grows itchy. When I scratch the hide that edges the wound, Comet’s lower lip drops and quivers with pleasure” (175-76). Kane’s recognition of the horse’s sentience also attests to animals’ knowable dispositions, and yet… “Who can know the mind of another being?” she asks. “Who can even know their own? I watch the horses. There is a power and a grace we recognize as beauty, a beauty we want to be part of. And if that means thousands of years of human intervention, of domestication, to capture even a small part of that beauty, we do it. And the horses let us” (199). Summer of the Horse promises to entrance and enliven. It’s a rich draught from a deep well. Sip it slowly.
Summer of the Horse: A Memoir
Madeira Park: Harbour, 2018. 224 pp. $19.95 paper.