Dateline November 6, 2021. Grace moved quietly across the room, boots falling soft as possible on the wood floor. She heaved a very large box onto the table, then, with louder footsteps, walked to Skye's bed where she lay, still sleeping.
"Rise and shine. There's a special delivery here for you."
Skye blinked, turned her head toward the table, saw the box.
"Holy moly. That's a big box. What's in it?"
"I don't know. But it's for you."
Grace knew. There was a letter.The letter described each wonderful item.
Skye started to try on a very cute pair of boots. Then she paused. There was more in the box.
She pulled out the moccasins. They were beautiful. Brand new. Amazing, soft hide. They were going to fit perfect.
"These are so wonderful! How did you know how much I wanted these?"
"I didn't have anything to do with it" Grace said.
"Seriously!!! Thank you!!"
"Seriously" Grace replied, in her serious voice. "I had nothing to do with it. Really. I was looking for someone to make dresses out of the pink and blue fabric. I met this incredible artist on Facebook. She raises heirloom livestock and does amazing artwork, including clothing."
"Who is the artist?"
"Michelle Sepiol" Grace answered.
"What is this?"
"I don't know" Grace said in her serious voice. "When I was asking about the dresses, Michelle asked for our address. I thought wow, she's very detail oriented. I'm going to get a quote for the dresses that includes exact shipping. And then we chit-chatted a little bit and the tack room was getting finished and I kind of forgot about the dresses for a little bit."
"So you really don't know what this is?"
"Nope. I opened the box and I could see the boots and the moccasins. I read the letter Michelle sent. I know the rest of the items in the box are for you. I closed the box back up."
Nice, new, full length blue jeans. "How did Michelle know I needed new pants?"
"Well you know" Grace said, "winter is coming..."
In the letter, Michelle mentioned what was in the box.
Even though Grace had read the letter, seeing the white buckskin dress left her speechless.
"She made me THIS?"
"This is...this is sooo...wait what is that? There can't be more. There can't still be more."
But there was more.
There were two cloth dresses, one with long ribbons. A pair of boots, a pair of moccasins, a white buckskin dress, made proper. Blue jeans. Skye was completely overwhelmed, and could barely breathe.
The tack room was ready to be populated with things.
Grace marked what she felt would be a comfortable height for hanging bridles and halters. Skye raised her own arms but where she would have wanted to hang bridles and halters was considerably lower than Grace's mark.
Ginger cat ventured out for the first time to to tack room. The other cats were already there. She wasn't too much smaller than the big boys, but still...it was a little intimidating at first.
Arranging the tack room seemed very exciting. For about an hour. It was warm but windy - a perfect day for painting inside - and Skye took advantage of the lovely weather and the newly available space to finish her first-ever life-size piece - a blue tick hound by Kitty Cantrell. She was very pleased with how he came out and wished she could magically make him come to life.
Grace worked a while longer on the tack room. But maybe Skye had the right idea. She was very close to finishing Kitty's donkey. Just the details left to complete.
While Grace contemplated, Skye slipped up to her studio. There she tried on one of her ribbon dresses from Michelle Sepiol. It fit absolutely perfectly.
White Dog seemed a little uneasy.
"Awe, you've never seen me in a dress! It's okay! You'll get used to it!"
It was almost sunset now. Skye had an idea. She went back to the tack room. There was still room in one corner to make a space for Donkey. She was concerned about the elder long ear. She seemed listless and somehow just not quite right. So Skye moved all the things that weren't essential to the other side of the tack room. And she brought in straw. And then, in the same space as the life-sized donkey sculpture, she brought her Donkey, leading her to the corner with the straw bedding.
There. Nice and thick. Just as the red glow of sunset warmed the last moments of the day. She would have brought Precious along too, but there was an awful lot of stuff in the tack room already.
"You lay down and sleep well, okay Donkey?"
November 14. Grace swung by the tack room on her way out to the horses. She was surprised to find Donkey inside. And even more surprised as she got closer.
Donkey took a quick spin as Baron approached. Definitely the fastest Grace had ever seen Donkey move. Baron took note. And Grace took her first good look at the newest addition to the equine collection at Redbird Ranch.
Skye was not far behind. Donkey turned to greet her.
"I didn't see this coming" Grace confessed.
The baby was thin, slab-sided and a little gangly. Probably born in the wee hours of morning, way out of foaling season, probably a jenny.
Skye was mostly silent.
"She's so freaking cute" Skye finally said. "And so tiny! I'm gonna call her Dinky."
After the morning's surprise arrival of Dinky, Grace got back to the business of working horses.
First, the flashy Andalusian. The winter sale was coming up. And love this classically trained mulberry beauty though she did, she wasn't riding him much. He wasn't standing at stud...he had no show ring record. He was not a kill pen rescue. He had cost a good price.
He was gorgeous though. And really sweet. Maybe he would be put up for sale. Grace couldn't decide.
Next, La Barilla, the deep golden palomino with lush silver-white mane and tail and almost-sabino stockings. This boy was the first horse she met when she came to Redbird Ranch. But no one had made much progress with him. He was not unkind, but he was very full of himself. He was going to be gelded, but the decision had been put off.
It was thought that he was a a relatively pure genetic descendant of the Barilla Mustangs of Central California, who were almost certainly of old world Lusitano bloodlines. Grace could work him pretty well back and forth in the arena. He lead with a halter. He stood for grooming. You could pick up his feet. He needed a lot more effort. One more winter, Grace thought. We'll keep him one more winter.
No need to sell the deep bay Andalusian, Impressionante. He had a good halter showing history. He threw lovely foals. He should be standing at stud for the public.
Bzou, the lovely grey Andalusian stallion out of Alborozzo, would stay forever. He was by far the most awarded stallion on the ranch. Perhaps, however, she should be more assertive with his breeding program. He was a very fine horse, possessed of a beautiful mind.
Skye usually loved to watch the stallions being exercised. Grace had a couple hunches why she wasn't watching this afternoon. It was going to be Dinky, or dresses.
The white buckskin dress from Michelle Sepiol was hard to describe in words. Very special. A little work to get into it. But it was going to be much, much harder to take off. Because Skye was spellbound, breathless, and intimidated all at once. Somehow this gift was just something she didn't feel worthy of. And she couldn't believe how it felt to wear, how she looked inside of it...and she had no interest in taking it off.
It wasn't until late in the day that Grace got back to work on the Kitty Cantrell piece. It was almost finished. But it had been a big day. Grace decided to wait to put the very last finishing touches on.
Meanwhile, Skye did laundry...a well-overdue task.
Skye came to the tack room in the lighter of the two ribbon dresses by Michelle Sepiol, wearing it for the first time. it fit her perfectly. But moreover, she looked so natural in it. She found Grace packing up a lovely, older english saddle.
"Did you sell the saddle?" Skye examined the english saddle closely, perhaps for the first time. It was made from wonderful leather, and it was broken in.
"No" Grace replied, I'm going to give it to someone. We've been gifted so many beautiful things, including saddles. I'm going to take it to the post office today."
Before Grace left for the post office, there were new arrivals to greet. Like the cutest palomino pony mare. A sensational Andalusian stallion. No show record, no breeding record, but that could change over time. And a Brabant mare that was truly giant. The wind was blowing and she was a bit skittish of the ribbons on the make-shift fence, so Grace encouraged her to loosen up by trotting along next to her. It seemed to work. Soon the mare was moving freely.
And finally, Dinky. Mama Donkey was much more accepting of Baron now, and Dinky seemed to be enjoying the great outdoors.
Skye would have welcomed the new arrivals too, but her clothes were still drying...her excuse to wear her ribbon dress all day...and she was concerned about getting it dirty. Probably a valid concern. Grace would fix the clothing problem when she got back.
The sky was interesting and the air was cool as Grace traveled to the post office. She thought it closed at 3:30, but it actually closed at 3 PM. She pushed and shoved but she just could not get the saddle package through the drop box. A nice attendant still in the back, hearing her continued banging about, came out to take the package from her. And so the saddle began its journey.
She passed by Petco and decided to stop in. A pet adoption had just finished. The volunteers were packing up the temporary crates. Only two pups remained unadopted.
"We did really well today" explained one of the volunteers, "but it was a day for little dogs. These were the only two big dog pups we had and no one was interested in them."
Grace noted the name of the rescue. She was up to her neck in dogs. But those were two fine pups...maybe the ranch owner would take them, like she did the shepherd pups...
Grace came home with more surprises for Skye. Much needed clothing.
Skye slipped quickly out of her ribbon dress. The evening air was cool and her first ever in life pair of fuzzy flannel pajama pants and a soft long sleeved tee were very welcome gifts. Then Grace unveiled another surprise. A decorator model, a coveted piece of model horse collectibility.
"We are babysitting this model horse" Grace explained. "It's a gift to the owner from Julia Turner, but she asked if we'd like to have it on display here for a while. She said she's got too many German Shepherds and it's getting covered in hair at her house." And so it was.
Skye sank into bed, indescribably warm and cozy.
November 21, 2021
The wind tossed about dry branches and pine needles as the girls made a morning trek, through the tree line and out onto the rough high desert terrain.
Hunters had mentioned siting absolutely no deer, but two wild horses in the dry canyon draw between the chaparral and the tree line. There wasn't really a line...but there was a place where the trees gradually gave way to open chaparral. Grace and Skye knew it well. And they had a hunch the wild horses were also known to them.
There were just two. Petrichor and the bay mare.
"I will have to remember to tell Ariel Williamson about this...she was asking about Petrichor" Grace whispered.
Scrub jays followed the girls with interest. Skye was known to them. She often fed the wild birds. And the birds were noisy. Soon, they had given Grace and Skye away with their excited chatter. Petrichor and the bay mare took note.
Grace and Skye sat on the jagged rocks, breathless, as Petrichor approached.
The bay mare stayed just out of reach. The sabino mare was nowhere to be found. Petrichor moved, slow and hesitant, toward Grace. Closer and closer he came. Then, he released a long breath, shook his neck in a loose, relaxed fashion, and with confidence, took the last few steps that separated them. He put his face right against her own, exchanging breaths. Grace touched his muzzle, his cheek, gently wiped a bit of dirt away from below his eye. After a minute or two, Petrichor moved off, back up into the chaparral with the bay mare.
The girls walked back in a blissful sort of silence. The ranch owner had filled the humble little bird bath. Coyotes had not marked their territory here in several days, and there was a shift in the behavior of the wild birds. They were very interested in the water, where before they had been more keen on the bird seed. Perhaps hunters had disturbed the routine of the coyotes...almost certainly some other local source of water, be it a leaking pipe or a seep in the rocks...had dried up.
Back at home Grace and Skye studied The Julia Turner grail pony in daylight. And the rooster. The one Grace just could not seem to get finished. Today. Maybe today she would finally get it done.
November 25, 2021
Completed at last...although Grace wants to noodle a few things, still...The Bremen Singers sculpted by Kitty Cantrell.
Donkey, cat and rooster by Grace, dog by Skye. And a gratitude list, in celebration of Thanksgiving. It read like this:
We have YOU to be Thankful For!
Deb and Randy Buckler
Southern California Edison
And all of our friends!
November 28, 2021
Thanksgiving 2021 was a lot like 2020. The wind was not as bad, the damage not as severe, but there were fences down and animals loose.
Now herding calves and even cattle wasn't that hard. But herding a big bull seemed a little more potentially precarious.
He would sort of follow, but only for a few paces. You could sort of drive him...but only until he decided he didn't want to be driven. Then there wasn't a lot they could do to get him going the right direction again.
But Grace and Skye and their sturdy mounts, and Baron, Hobo and even White Dog tried.
Suddenly all the dogs stopped and stared. Then Grace and Skye saw it. Even the birds saw it. Something was coming...the cat known as Mojo.
Mojo greeted the bull, ribbed his head against the bull's lowered head, purred and made soft cat squeaks. And then Mojo headed back to the ranch. The Criollo bull followed.
"So now we know" Skye said. "In order to herd a bull, you need a cat."
The sun was low on the horizon when the last two horses of autumn arrived.
The pinto was handsome. Well put together. Moved nice. That was all Grace knew about him. Breeding, training...she'd have to find some paperwork.
The Fjord was lively and almost certainly had a high level of training. She looked and moved like a show horse. The day's last light made her coat gleam in warm colors.
Grace thought she might turn the Fjord pony right around and put it in the winter sale. But the more wha watched, the more she became enamored with her. Maybe she could stay for a little while.
Skye brought out Donkey and Dinky as the sun set. Grace could tell Skye was concerned about something.
"I'm not sure I should keep them" Skye said. "What if they need special care that I can't give them?"
"Well," Grace said thoughtfully, "I don't think you should put them up for sale necessarily. Maybe you could put them up for adoption. You might find better quality people that way."
Back at the tack room there was a little surprise. Ceramic deer. They were stylized and cool and...black. A little note came with them. "Thought you might enjoy doing something creative with these" it said. Skye really liked them.
As night fell and the day drew to a close, Grace showed Skye a poster for a blanket drive and mini powwow.
"Do you want to go?" Grace asked.
Skye studied the poster. A blanket drive and mini powwow. With the Redbird logo on it. She was washed in waves of excitement, and nervousness.
"I do...but I've never been to a powwow...I don't even really know what a powwow is. But yes. Yes. Let's go."