February 14, 2022
Valentine's Day it might have been, but for the girls, it was the half-way mark in the month of NaMoPaiMo. Skye's horse was proving to be quite challenging, but she was not unhappy. It was coming along.
Grace didn't really want to talk about her horse. And instead of working on her NaMo horse, Grace took Skye down to the new indoor arena at Chilao School. Along with some horses that needed a turn out.
"It's a work in progress" Grace explained, "and constructed almost entirely from recycled materials. Which is awesome, but sometimes difficult. We've had to cobble things together here and there. It's getting closer."
Grace didn't much care for indoor riding. But it did make a great turn out arena and it would be nice in bad weather. They spent the morning bringing down a couple of horses that hadn't been out in a while.
Grace was also not a huge fan of Araloosas, except for the weanling filly they'd brought down for some exercise...Cali Girl.
On February 18, Grace made her declaration. She did it. Her NaMoPaiMo horse, Puddle Jumper, was done. Bi-colored eyes and chestnuts and everything. In fact it was not until she got to the end of it that Grace started getting some feel for the acrylics. Mostly she promised herself that she would never attempt another pinto in acrylics again.
It was dinner time. And Grace was spent. She had worked since sunrise on the new arena. It was near completion now.
"How did we get ten dogs anyway?" Grace asked, sighing.
"Twelve if you count the shepherd pups that the boss took. Don't worry" Skye said, "I'll feed them."
Skye paused on her way to get the food started to gaze at the latest inspiration piece that the boss had loaned the girls, a model named Chalice. What a beauty.
"Oh! I almost forgot!" Skye was suddenly enthusiastic. "I want to make a logo for Models in the Mountains. I have an idea!"
"Oh," Grace replied without moving, "Well I did forget. I brought you something that might help with that. It's under the pillow of the bottom bunk." Skye made short work of finding the forgotten surprise. A set of pigment liners. Grace suspected Nel Graham was using something similar for the details in her wonderful watercolors.
"Oh wow! This looks cool! I have never used a pigment liner" Skye said, "but I'll sure try!"
Skye glanced up to see the sunset as she wrangled the feeding of the dogs. If Grace had thought the clouds were real, she would have been outside, no matter how cold it was, no matter how tired she was. The sunset went on and on, from pink to a sudden flash of orange to grey and purples and turquoise blue. "Someone got carried away with the fairy dust" Grace would likely say. And Skye sort of wished there was no such thing as clouds that weren't really clouds, because she just wanted to love the colors and the beautiful red-purple alpine glow. She just wanted everything to be as wonderful as it looked.
The sun warmed the landscape. Water dwindled in the creek and its tributaries, but there were still pools here and there. Ice lined the surface of the water. The sun's warmth would melt it soon, and thaw the ground as well, but for the moment, the ice was an obstacle. The moon was just setting. The girls picked their way carefully across the soot, sog and ice.
They climbed a rock outcropping, seeking its relative visual shelter. Skye noticed something growing between the rocks. They were almost stepping on it.
"Chalk Live Forever" Grace said softly. "That's its common name. It's a member of the Dudlia family, I think. It'll flower in late spring."
What a boulder-strewn wilderness. The wet ground made tracking the horses easy. This was Petrichor's territory right now, and what a fantastic bit of wild land it was. They found the herd in a draw full of new grass. And they found that Petrichor's herd included a new foal.
With the landscape opened by fire, there was abundant food, and no real way to sneak up on the herd. The new foal, born to the bay mare, appeared to be a peacock appaloosa. The mares milled about with their foals, but there was no panic, no move to higher ground.
The last time Grace had seen Petrichor, it was terribly windy, and they were in a steep, rocky ravine. Today was very different. Today was calm, and they were in an open landscape. Food was plentiful. A healthy foal had been born. There was water. The air was warming.
Grace left their place among the rocks, and walked out into the open grassland. Up the draw. Toward Petrichor. The stallion moved down the draw to meet her. They stood close to each other, exchanging breath. Then Grace reached her hand out to touch the side of his face, caress the the space behind his chin, feel the velvety softness of his muzzle.
Grace had known a lot of horses. She definitely had her favorites. But she'd never known a horse quite like this one before.
The mares grew restless. Grace took a step back. Petrichor turned away, and rejoined his herd.
Moving carefully over the rough terrain, now thawed and muddy, the girls slowly made their way home. There weren't many words they could think of describe that experience, and so they walked mostly in silence. The day was particularly magnificent.
Clouds drifted across a blue sky and new grass pushed up from the burn. Skye had brought her horses out just past the ranch for a day of fresh grass and sunshine. In a small meadow cut by a tributary to Chilao Creek, she watched the clouds go by and delighted in the peaceful grazing and occasionally playful antics of the horses. She day-dreamed of what life might have been like not so long ago, in a buckskin dress instead of blue jeans, a time before cars and airplanes and computers and cell phones and square houses. although in truth she was fond of square houses. And warm beds and soft clothes and fireplaces and refrigerators. But still. What it must have been like. What unbroken paradise.
Most of the horses had eaten their fill and were content to bask in the sunshine. The air was beginning to cool, as it did in the early afternoon in winter, even on a sunny day. Probably a good time to start heading back. Only one horse was still actively grazing, the big bay roan, but as far as Skye could tell, that horse could eat all day long.
And then Ladyhawk threw up her head and snorted. White Dog scrambled up a rock outcropping to get a better view.
It was Highlander and his single mare. Ladyhawk, Deer Medicine and her colt trotted toward the approaching wild band of two. Donkey and Dinky were content to watch. The roan mare turned to get a better view, but didn't let the newcomers disturb her meal.
Skye whistled...like it would help somehow...which it didn't. Ladyhawk was a BLM mustang. Skye would have some explaining to do if she lost Ladyhawk to a wild stallion. Deer Medicine was an anglo-barb...Spanish Barb and Thoroughbred to be exact, and never spent a day in the wild. She was probably Skye's favorite mare in the whole world and had a foal by Cloud Nine at her side. Those were not horses she could lose. What to do?
The wild dun mare rushed past Highlander. In a moment she was across the creek from Ladyhawk and Deer Medicine, squealing, gnashing her teeth, making it clear she was in no mood for company. Ladyhawk paused. Deer Medicine took just a few more steps forward before turning around.
Highlander may have wanted to add more mares to his herd, but the mare he already had seemed to be calling the shots.
Just like that, the show was over. Ladyhawk, Deer Medicine and her colt trotted back to join their domestic herd. Skye nudged her mount, Mista Spot, into motion, rounding up her assortment of equines, taking them home.
The final details took forever, but on February 23, Skye got to say "I did it." Her NaMoPaiMo horse was done. Pan pastel, earth pigments, oils, colored pencil, acrylics, all layers sealed in dullcote. Padronis, she named her. And this mare she hoped to sell some day. Tired but happy, she and Grace made their way from the tack room back home as night consumed the day.
It was a little chilly when the girls got back to their room. Baron was eyeing a spot on the bed at Grace's feet.
Skye thought Little Spot looked kind of cold, so she carried him up the ladder, and under the covers. The rest of the dogs were headed for the bottom bunk. Even White Dog was considering. From under the warmth of their covers, the girls took in their life. The lovely posters and pictures, art and memories. The texture of wood all around. The gorgeous bucking horse resin painted by Meredith Warren.
The bucking horse didn't have a name yet, at least not that they were aware.
"I think we should call him Over The Moon" Skye said.
"I like that" Grace responded.
February 28. Perhaps it was just a wind effect. Skye and Hobo watched the clouds. The wind remained, relentless, but it was warm, and the clouds...Skye was pretty sure the white ones were clouds...were fleeting. Grace was at home, not quite herself today. Maybe the wind blowing for weeks on end was wearing on her nerves. The ravens followed Skye, hopeful for food.
The wind warning would end at 3 PM. It was warm and glorious out. It always seemed to be the most beautiful days when Grace was struck with a touch of melancholy. A bit of a hole in her gut, a loss of spirit that she couldn't quite pin down. It didn't really help that Baron was glued to her side, proof positive something wasn't right. NaMoPaiMo was over, and The Collective's first show was done, and the new arena was complete save for some very minor details. Maybe it was just that...all those conclusions coming at once. But there were new things coming too...things she should be excited about. There were new horses coming. Today even that seemed monotonous. There were more or less always new horses coming. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but somehow the sunshine and blue skies didn't seem to make it any better.
Maybe when the wind quit. Maybe then she'd feel like herself again.