March 3, 2023
Cabin fever had definitely set in. Something like seven feet of snow had fallen. They could not get the horses out. Even if they could, there was nowhere to go with them. It might be another day...or who knows how long...before they could get from the barn to the arena. At least repotting the plants would give them something to do.
"I guess I should have let them dry out before we did this" Grace mused.
"I saw a program about the Camargue horses of France" Skye responded. "They were naturally gentling a stallion, catching it and releasing it."
"Who is they?"
"This man...how would we describe him in modern vernacular. A maturity-enhanced equine enthusiast and resident of the Camargue."
"A old horseman, okay..."
"Anyway. They were gentling this wonderful wild stallion. They didn't show how they were catching him, but they would catch him, and he was okay with it, and then they'd slowly work with him...halter, bridle, saddle...they'd groom and feed him...then they'd let him loose again."
They examined the first extricated calla lily rhizome. It was just about ready to start growing. Nothing wrong with it.
"Do you think we should keep going?" Skye asked.
"Yeah. What else are we gonna do? Besides, if transplanting doesn't go well, we'll have a little time to try again. So. They were gentling a wild stallion?"
"Yes! A wild stallion!" Skye paused. "Oh boy. Hope we can do this without hurting the lily."
"I think we can. This one should have some kind of root ball. Hopefully it's real strong and everything will hold together. I wish you would have seen how they caught the stallion."
"That wasn't part of the program" Skye explained. They said "the stallion allows himself to be caught."
"Hmmm. Must be a young bachelor."
As Grace suspected, a well developed root ball held the soil together. Skye continued describing the show she'd watched.
"Well, kind of. The social structure of the Camargue horses is really different. They are on an island, or a big marsh, and they have no natural enemies. So they don't really need a stallion to defend them. It's a matriarchal society and the stallions probably fight with each other when there's mares in season to fight over, but not like here, where the stallions are guarding mares from everything all the time."
The girls went on to discuss how perhaps Grace could try the same with Petrichor...after all, she had brought him in when he was injured...of course that was before he had a herd of his own, or perhaps it was just the bay mare who showed up when they released him...in any case, it wasn't the same, but maybe Grace could find herself riding Petrichor some day.
And so the evening went by, and eventually the replanting job was complete.
"I feel like those spider plants are just sitting on top of the dirt" Skye said.
"They are. But they've got about eight weeks to get some roots on them, and they will."
"Think anyone will care that the succulents don't match?
"I don't think so. I do hope we get to see the calla lilies bloom though."
Everything matched again.
"So next time we see Petrichor...and who even knows where any of the horses are right now but my guess is they went to the lowest elevation they could get to..." Grace's voice trailed off.
"Next time we see him" Skye continued, "push a little farther. Try to touch the parts of his face where a halter goes and stuff like that."
Grace fell silent, wrapped in thought...staring at their potting work and thinking thoughts of taming wild stallions.
Grace noticed the light changing.
"Come on" she said, grabbing her coat. "Let's go see the alpine glow."
They lumbered through the snow. Although it had packed down considerably, it was hard work.
They went as fast as they could, quickly overheating in their respective poncho and coat, leaving them at the base of the ridgeline. By the time they had battled their way to the vista point, the alpine glow had faded. A slight breeze stirred, and after a few moments, they were no longer overheated. It was time to fetch up their warm wear again, and follow their footsteps back to the house.
"I think those are planets" Skye remarked of the two bright objects visible in the western sky, before the appearance of other stars.
The barn cats apparently also had cabin fever, and decided to switch cabins. What inspired them to brave the snow and how exactly they did it, the girls did not know, but here they were, looking quite comfortable on Skye's bed.
"If a plow can make it back here tomorrow" Grace said, "maybe we'll get some horses turned out in the arena. We'll see."
The cats were definitely settling in for the night.
In the wee hours of Sunday morning the plow truck made a pass, making a track just big enough for the long and wide Payment Queen to navigate. Everyone could get to the highway now, at last. But the plow's circular path did not connect the stables to the indoor arena, and it went through some of the deepest of the snow drifts. There was no way to get the horses out.
Monday morning dawned mostly clear. And at some point in the night, the plow had come through again, making another circular path, this time coming near enough to the stables that the girls could shovel a track from the stalls to the plowed path. No more waiting. They were going to get some horses out, even if all they did was go around in big snow plow circles.
Grace went first. Skye was surprised at her choice of mounts. Grace reminded Skye that the only thing La Barilla had ever been afraid of was ground poles. He would probably do just fine in the snow. And he did.
The big roan mare named Winchester Cathedral led the way. The sun was quite warm and soon the air temperature was 42 degrees. The snow would soon be softening.
Skye brought up the rear. It was a lovely morning. So warm was the sun that she considered taking off her poncho. Dani Girl was playful and so happy to be out.
Making solo loops around the plow track, some stallions came next, beginning with Wanderlust.
Followed by Dreamboat.
Anamar danced his way around.
The boss said there were two more horses coming. Grace and Skye waited.
Skye fairly squealed. "Oh can I hug her? She looks like a giant teddy bear!" The big buckskin shire mare was new. New to the ranch, new to snow. Of course this much snow was new to everyone.
The boss's voice rang clear in the quiet mountain morning.
"The next one might be coming a little fast..."
The girls held their breath. The mare never missed a footfall.
The boss was eager to get some pictures of the new horses. They took the big, calm shire mare out into what was usually a scrub land, transformed presently to a field of snow. There was a thick crust just beneath the freshly fallen powder, and it did not buckle under the mare's substantial weight.
"What's her name?" Skye asked the boss.
"I'm sure it's something long and complicated on her pedigree" the boss answered. We'll have to come up with a stable name for her."
It was nearly noon. The wind picked up rather suddenly. Skye was immediately grateful she had suffered with her poncho through the morning.
The appaloosa mare wasn't going to stand quietly for her portrait. La Barilla wanted to join her.
Skye was entranced. What a horse. Drinking the wind and turning it into rippling power.
She ran and ran, fenced in only by the wall of snow that the plow had left in its wake. It would be just enough.
Beautiful clouds danced across the afternoon sky. It had been a good morning, and the snow made everything magical.
Later in the afternoon, the girls headed into town, going slowly on the highway, still mostly just one emergency lane as Cal Trans worked around the clock to push back the snow.
Grace slowed as they passed by Upper Big Tujunga Canyon.
"I bet that's where the wild horses are" she said.
"I bet you're right" Skye said. "Down Alder Canyon and out of the snow line. Or at least, out of the heavy snow."
It felt good to think that way...that the horses were fine, and they'd had the sense and the ability to move to lower ground, and that they would be back again, when the snow thawed and the grass grew lush in Chilao.
Skye stepped outside with the camera, hoping to catch alpine glow on the mountains. Somehow that glow seemed dependent on clouds to reflect light. There were no clouds, but there was Coyote.
Coyote seemed lithe even in the soft snow, moving easily. Was this the old man, Lives Among Them? If it was, he looked as good and as youthful as ever.
Perhaps this was his pup from 2022. He had a notch in his ear. Did Lives Among Them have a notch? Skye could not recall. There was no alpine glow yet. Skye went back inside. Grace was pulling off her coat, as the evening was pretty warm...44 degrees.
"I've been doing some research on the Raramuri Criollo cattle" Skye said. "Do you know exactly where our bull is from? Because I don't think he's an Argentine Criollo. The way he is so gentle and people-friendly, that's the way the Raramuri people raise their cattle. As companions, believe it or not!"
"Who are the Raramuri?" Grace asked.
"It's Mikki's people! It's the Tarahumara name for themselves and it means Fleet Foot."
"I have the number of the people the boss bought him from. He was raised locally, and his owners were very proud of him. They are the ones who told me not to be afraid of him. Somehow that information didn't make it along with him."
"Two cats did!"
"Yeah...I remember that well."
"We should be able to get some horses out tomorrow" Grace said. "It's going to stay warm for the next two days. The snow is melting really fast now."
"I know! Even the coyotes are sinking into it."
The last light of day flooded into their room. Maybe Skye would try the alpine glow again.
Where a week ago was solid snow, a seasonal stream now flowed.
And squirrels ate greedily from the exposed riches of the coulter pines, eating sap and cone pedals alike, well nourished again.
Skye gazed upon the tree she had painted, when there were two of them. The other now lay on the ground, slowly to feed the soil. This tree would likely be felled also. The girls showed up as the firefighters surveyed it, chain saws in hand, having just felled the other tree. On this one there was still a small twinge of green. Less than ten percent, and not lush. But the firefighters left it, at least for that day. They knew there was little hope, but they gave it a chance. Skye thought perhaps she should do another painting of this tree alone. Before it fell or was felled.
The morning sun warmed the melting snow. It had been forty degrees overnight. Open patches of wet ground were plentiful.
Skye was still sound asleep. Grace saddled La Barilla and rode the back side of the ranch. The day was glorious. Occasionally the melting snow disappeared into sink holes along the seasonal stream beds, so the morning would not be entirely without some risk, but Grace decided to turn out some horses anyway.
The horses seemed to enjoy all of it...a mouthful of green grass here and there, spongy soil beneath their hooves, the splash of cold water.
Warm sunlight, cool water, crisp air. SKye had a hunch where Grace had gone. What fun to just watch the horses.
Grace brought up the rear, letting the horses enjoy the morning at whatever pace they chose. La Barilla looked comfortable under saddle, comfortable in the water...Grace was making him into a versatile, purposeful horse.
"Sleeping Beauty! Good Morning!"
"You want to pick the next herd of horses to turn out?"
"Sure! Can we turn out some ponies?"
But as the girls made their way back to the stables, their domestic horses started giving them clues that there was something out there. Out beyond the boundaries of the ranch, in the wild country.
So instead of turning out ponies, Grace changed ponchos to blend in better with the landscape, and the girls made their way across the swiftly melting snow, hoping what they would encounter would indeed be wild horses.
Petrichor and his band appeared first.
Followed more closely than usual by Highlander with his two mares.
The girls stayed where they were, Skye struggling to keep her footing in the soft, saturated soil.
The bay mare turned around. The pale mare was missing. Grace and Skye watched and waited, expecting to see her at any moment.
Highlander and his mares turned back. Petrichor came slowly toward the girls.
"See if you can touch him" Skye whispered. "He already comes to you. You've so got this. He's going to be your next golden stallion."
"We'll see" she whispered back.
Petrichor moved toward the girls ever so slowly. Like dancing in place.
"My beautiful" Grace said, "where is your pale mare? The watcher? You look well and fit. We're so glad to see you."
Petrichor stayed just tantalizingly beyond reach.
Grace thought to stretch out a hand, then decided not to. She would let Petrichor come in. She would let him make the first contact. He did come quite close.
And then he turned away, to join his herd.
They watched and waited. Perhaps the pale mare was just out of sight, beyond the snow bank. Soon the horses vanished.
"You want to get wet from liquid water, or wet from snow?" Skye asked.
"I'm already pretty wet" Grace said. "Liquid water. At least we won't have to climb it."
Skye paused to study a feather in the snow.
And then another, and another. A scrub jay had likely become someone's dinner. Somehow the feathers were less enchanting now, and Skye wondered if it was a sign. Had something bad happened to the pale mare.
When had they seen the mare last? Skye remembered where. Just not when. She hunted through images on the laptop.
"January 30 was the last time we saw her" She told Grace. "And the first time we saw Highlander's new mare, remember?"
"Wow" Grace responded. "January 30...six weeks ago already...they could have been so many places in that six weeks. Where would we even begin to look?"
Skye closed the laptop. Where would they look? She had no idea. The forest was huge, and wild from the moment you stepped outside.
"Hey" Grace said, "do you still want to take out the sled? I can saddle up Jesse..."
"Are you sure? Maybe while we're out sledding we can look for my hat..."
Skye didn't answer.
Skye went to the creek behind the fire station. Sometimes dry for whole years, usually no more than a pleasant gurgle after rain or snow, today it roared and resounded with deep, plunging tones.
She hoped the sound of the water would wash away her thoughts, but it did not. Where was the pale mare? And what would happen to her foal?
Evening brought more clouds. Rain was coming. It might be days before they could even attempt to go looking for the missing wild mare.
Skye surveyed the dusk landscape. The rain had finally stopped. Seven feet of snow washed away.
The lone tree stood over its fallen sibling. Skye wanted to imagine she could see the tracks of a lone mare in the snow. But no. It was St. Patrick's Day...but then Skye wasn't Irish. There was no sign of wild horses. Any wild horses. Just spongy ground and the song of moving water.
From the stillness a gust of wind came. That wind that reminds you how impartial nature is. A grand movement, not about the individual, but about whole epic processes and constant change. Nature wasn't like people imagined it, gentle and forever enduring. It wasn't like that at all. Well, hopefully the forever enduring part, but for sure not gentle.
February 1, 2023
The rules for NaMoPaiMo - National Model Painting Month's International Painting Party - were few this year. Medallions and wall sculpture was acceptable. Grace eyed a piece the boss had offered up. She thought it was an Akhal Teke, by Rayvin Maddock. It was slightly larger than life-sized, and fabulous.
There was also a wonderful American Saddlebred by a European artist whose name the boss could not remember. Grace wasn't sure she could do these sculpts justice. But they would temporarily transform the tack room into an art space, as they had done a couple times before, and give it a try.
Also acceptable for NaMoPaiMo this year was finishing unfinished pieces. Skye had been looking at the orange horse since last year. They had tried out a new earth pigment on him and it was very rich and saturating.
"I bet you could do a gorgeous pinto on that Saddlebred" Skye said.
Grace shot her a look.
"Oh yeah, no more pintos" Skye whispered. "Ha! Just kidding!"
It was an absolutely glorious day in Chilao, as beautiful as any the girls could remember.
But everywhere they turned, there were linemen, contractors for Southern California Edison; in trucks, on the ground with jackhammers, operating augers and the like. The work on the power lines was welcome, but all of it was happening in the immediate vicinity, and it was a bit much.
"What if we rode across the station and then up the hill?"
Grace considered it.
La Barilla had no issues with rough terrain. It was tempting. And sooner or later she'd need to get her mount accustomed to things like big trucks. But her gut said don't do it.
They went to the arena instead, without any real plan.
"You know what we should do for MIM?" Skye asked.*
"I have a feeling you're going to tell me..."
"A performance challenge. Because isn't it a halter show?"
Grace laughed. "What are you envisioning?"
"I don't have a clue. But let's do something. A speed challenge or something."
Grace was liking the idea.
There was an empty spot on the wall. A little glue left behind from a previously attached banner. Curious.
The art supplies arrived. Grace was eager to get started on the wall sculpture. The conversion of the tack room would begin now.
"Yup. Hopefully enough to cover the saddles too."
"We've used mica powders before without this much precaution."
"Not on anything this big."
Skye thought Grace was being a bit overly cautious perhaps, but whatever. It was time to get busy on the NaMo projects, and if Grace wanted to cover the world in plastic first, fine.
The resin sculpt Skye was also working on was seriously heavy. She pushed it with effort close to the saddles, so it too could be underneath the tarp.
The girls surveyed their tarp work.
"Couple pieces of tape and we're good to go" Grace said.
Grace bathed the Akhal Teke bust in a swath of bronze mica powder, using a foam "brush" designed for house painting. It wasn't the perfect tool, but it was wide and carried the fine powder. It was good enough. The results were pleasing. But a problem became immediately evident. The palettes were difficult to navigate. You either had to stand on them and risk knocking over the sculpture, or lean way over to paint.
Skye made short work of the palettes. As she did, Grace realized the ground wasn't going to be a perfect solution either. She would live with it for tonight.
And so they worked on their first wall sculptures, Skye using copper mica powder, Grace using bronze.
"Is it just me" Skye said, "...or do they both look pink?"
Grace rocked back and forth from side to side, trying to catch the light falling on the pieces at a different angle. Finally she conceded.
"You are correct. They look pink. Let's quit for tonight. Maybe they'll look better tomorrow."
It was cold and windy outside, so the girls worked on their NaMoPaiMo InPaPa projects. But Skye wasn't pleased with the resin drafter.
"I used pan pastels for the dark color" she explained, "and I just don't feel like I can control them. They go on so dark. I think I ruined him."
"I really like your dappling" Grace said.
"Yeah but, I mean, thank you but, he went grainy on this side...either too much pastel or too much sealer, I don't know..."
"Go another layer of the dark" Grace said. Then if you still don't like him, you can always make him a roan. I think he's going to be fine once you get a little farther. Do his gray areas and get his back darker...you'll be all right."
They turned their attention to the American Saddlebred wall sculpture. "This guy...this is just the first layer of pan pastel. Too soon to say anything about it."
And then Grace's Akhal Teke. "I'm loving this guy" Skye said. "Do you like him Grace?"
"I do. I think the next layer I do will be a very light yellow. There's some wrinkles on his lip that aren't actually wrinkles, they are tiny little imperfections, and I'm not sure what I'm going to fill them with, but hopefully I can find a filler that will blend in and not mess up the color."
Puddle Jumper, Grace's first and last acrylic pinto, was finally done. At least for now. Chances are i a month she would look at it again and still not be satisfied.
"Did you see that we're hosting a performance challenge at MIM?"**
"I did" Grace said. "I guess the boss liked your idea."
"Apparently so! But I wasn't expecting that she'd make us the hosts! How cool is that? And umm, what does it mean, to be the hosts?"
"It means we'll sort of be running the performance challenge. Or at least keeping it on track. Or maybe even timing the timed events."
"And what about you riding other people's horses for a fee?"
"So, that just means that if someone shows up with a horse they want to compete with, but they don't have anyone with them to ride the horse, I can ride it for them. As long as it's western and not fancy get-up western."
"I think it's going to be a blast" Skye said.
On the south side of Chilao, the wind blew cold. Grace and Skye were worn down from it. It had been blowing for days, just hard enough to make things unpleasant. But on the north side, in the picnic area, all was calm.
So they took the big red truck that Grace liked to refer to as The Pavement Queen, and they went to the north side of Chilao where there were more trees, and sunshine, and far less wind.
"This is so luxurious" Skye said as they crossed the creek, meandering slowly through the picnic area.
"Are you looking for something Grace?"
"Sand" she answered. "Good sand."
The best sand in Chilao was presently under water, and being trampled daily by line workers in big auger trucks.
There was no shortage of sand in the forest. They came upon quite a bit of it.
But it was coarse, rocky...not at all what Grace was hoping to find. They returned to the south side, to the ranch.
When they returned, the wind had finally ceased, and the day was lovely, and beginning to warm. A variety of soil types eroded down onto the ranch property from Yucca Peak. Grace decided to investigate the red stuff. She had thought it to be some kind of clay a few weeks ago, when the ground was saturated to such degree that riding out to inspect it was impossible.
Dry now, they found a quite different scenario. The ground had frozen several times before it dried, and the going was difficult. They went slowly.
"This might not have been the greatest outing for this old girl" Skye lamented.
"Do you think she needs her blanket today, now that the wind stopped?"
"She loves her blanket" Skye said. "But no, I don't think she needs it. Especially not being black."
The line workers were operating helicopters from the fire station, but working elsewhere in the forest.
La Barilla was untroubled by the rough ground, which gave to a kind of gravelly powder under his hooves. Skye and the old black mare were a bit slower, but it looked like Skye might have been enduring more hardship than her horse.
"Do you suppose this is where red ocher comes from?" Skye asked.
"I don't know" Grace said. "It looks like it might be decomposed granite. Or decomposing granite, maybe. Or clay and granite combined."
"What makes the red color...iron?"
"I think so. Maybe. I don't know. But this isn't going to be any good for arena sand either."
"Oh heck no" Skye responded.
Grace watched the helicopters working, skirting around them, around the buildings, making short trips to move poles, then landing again.
"You are more concerned about those helicopters than the horses are" Skye laughed.
Skye needed to keep her head down, watching her footfalls on the rough terrain.
"Why don't you ride that horse" Grace suggested. "She's not struggling near as much as you are, and we'll find an easier way back."
Skye used a rock outcropping to give herself some height. The old black mare was very tall. And fortunately, patient.
They went along, slow and careful. The day had gone glorious. Any day on a horse was glorious, but today was especially so.
February 18, in Skye's studio
Skye had fallen rather silent on her NaMoPaiMo projects after the boss knocked down the resin drafter while it was wet with sealer. The damage couldn't really be fixed except by going even darker on th top line. Grace seemed to think it was a happy accident.
"I think you've the color pretty much spot on. But what I'm not seeing too much on this horse is dappling." Grace had made color prints of two pictures of a horse very much the build and color of the piece Skye was working on. There were no dapples to speak of, just light and dark reds.
"This might be the same horse" Grace said. "I got these off the internet and there wasn't much information to go with them. This guy is in his winter coat so I wouldn't expect to see dappling here. The pangare on the eye and muzzle is really nice. I'm not sure you could get the effect around the eye at this point, but you've got room for it on the muzzle. Good thing you didn't listen to me and make it gray. All in all I think your piece is looking lovely. But let's give this a rest for a bit. The boss said we should come down to the indoor arena."
When they arrived, the arena lights were off. The girls could see there was a horse in the arena. Then something like a spotlight came on, following the dancing horse.
Anamar. In what appeared to be traditional regalia. They stood, quietly, and watched the stallion move under saddle, riderless. Then Grace took the reins, and a stirrup, and swung herself up.
"This is a sweet saddle" Grace said. "Generous seat, sits well down on the horse."
The boos continues to offer them the romantic spotlight, following Grace and Anamar around the arena.
There was just enough daylight left to go outside, so they did.
"Where did his regalia come from? Africa?" Skye asked.
"No" Grace answered. "Denmark. From Shandi Gabriiella Cristel Bech." It took Skye a long time to respond.
The girls decided to come in before dark. Something had been prowling around the night before, and they had no desire to meet up with it.
"Did I tell you I talked to the boss about the performance challenge at MIM?" Grace asked.
"No you didn't."
"I asked what all we would need to do. She laughed and said 'pretty much everything.' But, the cool thing is, we will for sure be responsible for the cattle wrangling."
"Calves, to be more precise. That whole part of the operation will be up to us."
"I'm down! We'll be real cowgirls!"
The tack room was a bit crowded.
Calla lilies weren't made for sub-zero weather coupled with a blizzard warning. So the girls brought them inside. Along with all the current NaMoPaiMo projects. The calla lily project was a bit frustrating. Very few pairs of pots had well matched callas.
And two of the plants were clearly not going to follow the bonsai script. Their leaves were huge. Healthy, lovely...but huge, and their partner pots...nothing.
Skye's Saddlebred wall art was not too much farther along.
"This one is not going to get done any time soon" Skye said. "I'm okay with it. This one will be a slow and patient affair."
And obviously working dark to light had gotten frustrating on her drafter.
"I'm not as scared as I should be" Skye said.
"I don't think you need to be scared" Grace said. "I was wondering if you shouldn't do another pangare coat around the eyes. Just to make sure it's smooth and consistent."
They moved on to look at Grace's Akhal Teke. "Time for the eye" Skye said.
"It should be blue, right?"
"Yes" Grace said. "And I should be able to get all kinds of detail in it, because it's huge."
"Are ya skeered?"
Grace thought about it for a moment.
And then they looked at the pots of calla lilies - twenty of them. This project was not going to plan. "Are you still thinking of giving these as prizes at MIM?"
"Yes" Grace responded. "I don't know how well people are going to like us for it...they are heavy, I'm not crazy about the soil we used, and they need so much water. And sunlight but not heat. They have until the end of this month to sprout. Then I think we should replace the ones that haven't sprouted with succulents."
"You did it! Congratulations!"
Grace had completed her Akhal Teke bust for NaMoPaiMo.
She wanted to add some shading, but she was stumped for a color choice.
Skye had, for the moment, lost interest in her NaMo projects, likely because neither one of them was near completion, and neither one of them were giving her an easy ride.
Cabin fever had definitely set in. Something like seven feet of snow had fallen. They could not get the horses out. Even if they could, there was nowhere to go with them. It might be another day...or who knows how long...before they could get from the barn to the arena. At least repotting the plants would give them something to do. And so they did. Seven feet of snow in Chilao...and more on the way...who ever heard of that?
*MIM - Models in the Mountains live halter show and equine enthusiast's retreat at Chilao School
**Performance Challenge at MIM - this will be a high point, NAN qualifier full class list of performance classes. The horse accumulating the most points across performance classes will take home a large custom rosette.