May 14, 2022
As the sun set and the air cooled, Grace and Skye ventured out to note the moon's position on the horizon. Spotting Skye, a pair of ravens came, ever hopeful for a handout. Tomorrow night, the moon would rise already involved in a total eclipse. Grace reckoned it would be like nothing they had ever seen, and she did not want to miss it.
The ravens continued to circle.
"I wish I could feed the birds" Skye lamented.
"I know. Maybe when these coyotes move off you can again."
"Do you think they'll move off?"
"Well...no. They'll always be close. But I think their den is really close this year."
The western sky still glowed with the sun's departure.
Grace went back out after the horses were put up to look at the moon. As she stepped out the door she saw something, close, moving in the near-darkness. It was the male coyote, disappearing at a quick trot into the night. The night time was theirs. The night, the forest, all of it. Once the sun went down it was a different world outside. And moreso lately than Grace recalled it being in the past.
May 15. Grace watched the pre-dawn clouds. She did not care for what she saw. There would be no rain from this. These were some real clouds mixed with what the boss called the "boney fingers", which she did not believe were natural clouds at all. Moments later, the dogs began barking. Graced turned and looked toward the north. Coyotes were drinking from Skye's little bird bath.
They blended so perfectly into the surroundings. But it was not thirst alone that drew them. They were hovering nearby, even after the sun rose. They were holding territory. Skye saw them also. She knew even the water for the birds would have to go.
"I'm sorry" Grace said. "Are you going to leave it empty or take it away?"
"I'm trying to think like a coyote. And so I think ... I think I will lead them away. I will put the water bowl somewhere else. I will fill it one more time. And then let it go dry."
Skye chose a spot where coyotes would be visible to anyone on the road. She walked the old bowl there, theoretically leaving a scent trail, theoretically saying "your offerings will be served here now." She did her best to think like a coyote. The dish only held one gallon of water, but hopefully that water would last long enough for the coyotes to become accustomed to going somewhere else to find it. Water dish relocated and refilled, Skye had an idea.
Skye brought in a big, clear plastic tub.
"We have a lot of these you know. What's the chance we could fill them with water and leave them around the forest for the wild critters?"
"We don't have any way to transport water. And that tub will hold a lot of water."
Meanwhile, out on Chilao Flat, horses gathered. In the sky, the clouds with their boney fingers would bring no rain.
The pale mare had taken the lead as Petrichor's small band headed for the watering holes atop Mustang Rock. The bay mare let her go.
The horses scrambled up the rocks to the pools. But the pools were dry. The pale mare snorted in alarm. Petrichor responded. It was Highlander. He had come with his single dun mare to look for water, just as Petrichor's band had.
Highlander squealed and snorted and postured. The mares saw their chance. The bay mare and the dun were known to each other. Perhaps they were related. They broke rank, each leaving the invisible boundary that separated one band from the other, coming together to greet each other.
Petrichor pawed and shook his head...but avoided actually engaging Highlander. There was no water, and so there was nothing to fight over. No reason to risk getting injured.
The clattering of the stallion's hooves broke up the mare's reunion. The bay mare began to move off, and her herd followed, Petrichor bringing up the rear.
Dusk, May 15. The sun's last glow colored the mountains.
"I don't know exactly where the moon is going to rise" Grace said, "but it will be somewhere in this general direction."
The eclipse was already under way so the full moon rose partly in shadow. The shadow came over the moon quickly. The totality phase lasted a long time. There was a hush that came with it. A primordial sort of silence that harkened to a time of omens and goddesses...and it was as dark as a night with no moon.
But when the shadow departed, the brilliant reflection of the moon quickly lit the night again.
Although the eclipse was over before midnight, something about it kept the girls up and chattering until the wee hours of morning, so it was not until noon that Grace took La Barilla for his inaugural spin with a saddle on May 16.
And he did do a little bit of spinning. The air was hot, and as they walked, the long way, to get to the arena, a dry, restless wind came in gusts. It was somehow unsettling. Skye lead the way, slow and calm, on Deer Medicine.
They reached the indoor arena without incident.
"Are you going to turn him loose?" Skye asked.
"No. For one thing, this is a really nice saddle. For another, the cinch isn't very snug. It's just snug enough to hold the saddle on under normal circumstances. If I turned him loose in something, it would be your bareback pad to start."
Grace hadn't really planned on making it all the way to the arena. But La Barilla was doing so well. You could see that he was thinking, concentrating, trying to work with the awkwardness of a thing on his back. He wasn't angry, or frustrated, or frightened. He was trying to work it out.
That horse is going to be fantastic under saddle, Skye thought.
May 20. Returning to Chilao in a wonderfully cool mist, the first thing the girls came upon was an irate coyote in the campgrounds. It was howling mad, vocalizing at a man with two large dogs and a lady in a truck who also had two large dogs. How dare campers bring dogs along with them into her territory, she seemed to be saying.
Chilao Fire Station came into view. Ah. Home again. Home always felt good. They found a note on the table, and flowers.
"I love popcorn flowers" Skye said. "I'll find something to put them in. What does the note say?"
A new pony.
Heart of steel
Stout and square.
She may need
You treat her
And so they looked, although they were not entirely sure for what. They looked south toward the campgrounds. They went up into the rocks to the northwest, and based on the greeting they got from coyote earlier, they went without the dogs.
Atop the yucca they saw Band-tailed pigeon, or as their neighbor Darren called them, mountain chickens.
They went into some of the still-blackened parts of the controlled burn. Surely anything there would leave a track, a trace. But they saw nothing.
They headed back toward home, as the fog and clouds moved silently across the landscape.
"We'll go out again tomorrow" Grace said.
"It's not an actual horse...the boss would never leave an old horse out there. Unless it was a sculpture. But a sculpture...a sculpture wouldn't take us places. I mean not literally."
"Right, right! Oh this is so exciting I can't stand it."
As night fell, the wild things took over the land. Even more than they were already doing while it was still light out.
May 21. It was high spring. Skye was mounted up and ready to go before Grace. Grace saddled up Jesse. It wasn't too long before Grace and Jesse caught up to Skye.
They searched along the outer perimeter of the property, and then beyond it. Redbird Ranch was just shy of 37 acres proper, and they'd covered a lot of it on foot yesterday.
They rode out onto Forest Service land. They were pretty sure they were looking for a vehicle. They split up, criss-crossing the burn area above the ranch.
They headed up into the rocks where they often saw Petrichor and his small band of mares and foals. But they saw nothing today. Not even coyotes.
They made their way back to the fire break, and headed home, empty handed.
There was only one part of the property they hadn't searched yet. The firebreak on the eastern flank of the property. Cheatgrass had made a sudden appearance, going to seed, drying out and becoming just so much light fuel in a matter of weeks. The soil was loose in some places and hard in others and there were holes big enough to trip a horse throughout.
Grace stared toward the setting sun. Where. Where was this "new pony" hiding?
Skye broke the poem down line by line.
"In the vastness of the land you will find her, it says. It says 'the land' not 'this land' so I think that could mean anywhere, not just right here on the ranch."
"I'm pretty sure we're looking for a car" Skye added.
"I hope not" Grace said. "We need a truck."
Skye set the note down. She had an audience, and they didn't much care about the piece of paper. It was dinner time.
May 22. The girls followed Skye's hunch about "the vastness of the land." They left the Redbird Ranch property and headed out onto USFS land. The first clues they found were potentially not encouraging. A scattering of vehicle parts, sun-faded and worn by time. And then the Jeep.
There were no campers, no drone pilots, no weekend warriors, no lost hikers around. They stared in silence. Finally Grace spoke.
"This must be it."
There was nothing but the sound of the breeze and the cooling air as the shadows grew long. They waited for a bit. Skye broke the silence.
Despite which, Skye seemed rather fond of it already. She slipped down off of Mista Spot, and circled the Jeep. It had four round tires. Seats. Steering wheel. It was dusty...but it was more or less a whole vehicle.
She fumbled around with the glove box and when it finally opened, she found a single key. It fit the ignition.
"Should I start it?"
"Sure" Grace responded.
It started. It didn't sound very powerful...but it started, and it kept running.
And it drove. A little weak, a little slowly, but it drove.
"Are there some things missing here?" Skye called back to Grace.
"Yes. There's a lot missing. The windshield. And the roof. I think most vehicles have some kind of roof. I think it might also be missing seat belts."
Skye had never driven anything before, but this was pretty simple. And slow. Still! She was driving!
And then she came to an abrupt halt.
"Shouldn't a jeep be able to go through a hole?"
"Well" Grace said, "I don't think this one has enough power to fight its way out of a paper bag."
The breeze swayed the flowers. All was silent except for the sound of the little Jeep. And then it too fell silent.
"Well, doggone it...it's cute! It's so little. Now what are we going to do?"
Grace stared silently for a few moments before answering.
"I have an idea."
Grace decided to try horse power...old fashioned single horse power...to bring home the Jeep.
Skye had never ridden two up before. She wasn't sure where to sit, and wound up more or less on the cantel.
"Do you think this is gonna work?"
"We'll know pretty soon" Grace answered.
It was working. The little Jeep started again, and it ran as best as it could. Skye learned how not to jab the brakes on the down hill portions, and Loch'sha learned when to lean into the rope, and little by little, they made their way back to the ranch.
That little Jeep may not have been worth much...but using Loch'sha to bring it home was priceless.
La Barilla moved more freely with the bareback pad. And no wonder. It didn't squeak, it had no flapping stirrups, it was light and soft.
Grace talked aloud. Skye wasn't sure if the words were meant for herself or the horse, but she wanted to listen. "This little bit of pressure from my hand, it doesn't bother you at all. Some day such a light touch will give you direction."
After a successful second saddle session with the golden stallion, the girls decided to bring some other horses to the arena.
Slowly but surely Grace was getting to like the indoor arena. The walk could be a bit challenging with the wind blowing, but it was worth it. Simba appeared to agree.
Valiant was one of the first horses Grace rode when she arrived and she had a special fondness for him.
"Moose!" Skye had a particular fondness for the big, gentle stallion...probably a Morgan/Paint mix.
Grace hadn't spent a lot of time with Indrafez. He was a very fine Arabian horse, with kind eyes.
Windy Boy was still one of her most beloved mounts.
(halter by Jennifer Buxton)
Horses put away and the sun moving swiftly toward the western horizon, Skye turned her attention to the upcoming weekend, and the powwow. Redbird's 20th Children of Many Colors Powwow was coming up. Michelle Sepiol's dresses would finally see the light of day again.
"I'm bringing the cloth ones for sure" Skye said.
"You might get a chance to wear both of them" Grace replied.
"I'm so...I'm a little intimidated by this one" Skye said, gently holding the white buckskin dress.
"Don't worry, the time will come for that one. Besides, the boss is bringing the shepherd pups along. I bet we'll get to babysit them."
Skye could just imagine what those two rambunctious rascals might do to a buckskin dress...a giant leather chew toy...she carefully put it back in her chest, and packed the cloth dresses, and the wonderful moccasins they came with.