April 1, 2022. The girls saw a lone coyote on their way home. It moved through the brush at dusk, melting into the surroundings, blending into brush and rocky ground, but never giving much quarter. It moved off slowly, like it meant to anyway, like the girls and their barking dogs did not matter. Skye had to watch which way the dogs were looking to see it some of the time...when it held still, it became part of the landscape. She pointed the camera and just kept shooting.
"We caught him shape shifting" Skye said, reviewing her images. "His fur looks purple and green." Grace looked carefully at the image. He really did look purple and green. Was it a he though? Grace thought she recalled the local male coyote being a bit more robust.
At the house, The dogs were restless, on high alert. Skye searched for movement on the landscape. But soon the cause for their concern become audible. Coyote was not entirely alone. The call of two coyotes could be heard just at sunset. And then the calling stopped abruptly, leaving just the songs of bird against the silence.
April 4. It was time to chose the horses for Breyerfest.*
They would not be going to Kentucky Horse Park, but they would be participating in the online show, which was likely going to be bigger, and the competition just as tough.
The mares and geldings they'd turned out were all strong candidates. It was a beautiful day, and you could not help but to feel alive in the presence of the horses.
It was cool inside the indoor arena, not nearly as nice as being out in the sunshine, but Grace had a surprise for Skye. The sponsor banners were all up. Including Skye's logo for Models In The Mountains, affectionately known as MIM.**
"Wow, you liked it enough to put it on the wall!"
Grace had taken a version of Skye's Models in the Mountains logo and made it into a poster for the arena. In fact, it appeared several times on the arena wall.
April 8. Suddenly it was spring. Popcorn flower covered vast tracts of the landscape. It was wonderful to walk among native plants in the wake of the controlled burn. Acres of them. Flowering glorious despite a very dry winter and not much hope for a wet spring.
Before Skye could spend much time in the flowers, Grace was on the hunt for wild horses again. The girls went on foot, and soon, they pressed themselves down to the earth, exposed on the fire-opened pasture land, hoping not to startle the horses.
They could hear them coming. They didn't have to wait long. It was Storm and Rain Man.*** The bachelor stallions looked for all the world like they were at war. But they were always together. Together and alone, without mares. And without mares, there was no reason for war. Just endless bickering and posturing and the occasional bite. Storm seemed to be emerging as the more aggressive of the two.
The swirling and squealing lasted but a few moments before both horses dropped to the ground and enjoyed some fresh grazing. And in a few more moments, they were off, as abruptly as they had arrived.
Skye and Grace saw something moving in front of them as they headed for home. Coyote.
Coyote trotted away, and then, presumably curious, took a seat on a rock outcropping, and watched, calmly, as the girls made their way home. Skye had more time to take pictures. She was pretty sure this was in fact the male that the boss named Lives Among Them. He would be three or four years old, and if the average life span of a coyote in the wild really was four years, that would make him an elder.
There was a sense of peace about the evening. For a moment, all was right in the world.
April 10. A marine layer tumbled quietly up the mountain, bringing moist, cool air. Grace and Skye were still working on the outdoor arena when the cool clouds ushered in the night.
It had taken most of the day, but the outdoor arena was ready, except for fencing. Keeping a nice soft layer of sand was a constant struggle in such a windy place.
"I think it looks fantastic" Skye said. "Do you think we'll be able to get some horses photographed tomorrow morning?"
Grace thought for a while before answering.
The marine layer was welcome, though it had an odd smell...oceanic, yes, but also sort of musty. It was a scent Grace couldn't quite describe. Together they watched the sun set, overlooking the Station Fire burn footprint in Chilao, below Mooney Road.
"I don't have to ask" Skye said. "I can clearly see the things that are not clouds. But the marine layer coming in underneath it is real."
Even before dark the owls were calling. Skye tried to get pictures, but as soon as she did, they flew away.
April 11. The morning weather was nothing short of perfect.
The girls worked quickly, while the sky was clear and the wind was calm. Glamour shots, Grace liked to call them. They turned one horse after another out in the big outdoor arena, and did their best to get award-winning photos of them. It was approaching 9 AM by the time all of the horses had been turned out individually.
"Can we do Spot?" Skye asked.
"Of course we can."
Skye borught her beloved old appaloosa gelding out into the pen. He stood, attentive, ready to do whatever Skye asked of him. "There's your champion" Skye beamed.
Horses returned to their stalls, Grace and Skye were admiring a fast growing yucca flower.
It seemed like spring was reaching a fever pitch in the last week, and this yucca, located in the controlled burn area, was especially eager to flower.
Three short, loud blasts of sound came from a raven, flying fast from east to west. Raven calls are never random. The girls watched the bird, and then turned their attention to their surroundings on the ground. When their eyes rested upon the earth Grace and Skye saw the coyote.
"I think that's the female" Grace said.
She sauntered up the road, looking tired, and rather round. The girls tried to see if they could detect whether or not she'd had her pups already. They couldn't see any evidence that she was lactating, and her belly looked round but not distended with pregnancy. If she was going to pup, and hadn't already, it should happen any day now.
And a few moments later, flanking the ranch along its eastern boundary, the male, Lives Among Them.
The coyotes weren't the only ones stirring. The hills were alive with the sound of music...bird music. And Skye's generous feeding had drawn the entire local population of band tailed pigeons, ravens, a red-headed bird that was not a sparrow but she wasn't sure what it was; the occasional robin, black birds, and a most unusual visitor, a Stellar Jay. Stellar Jays were a common sight down the road a piece, in the thick of the tree line, but not here on the high desert transition of Redbird Ranch. And rodents. Bird food was not the exclusive joy of the birds. Ground squirrels and chipmunks relished in the feast. They in turn would make good food for hawks, bobcats, and the rather close neighbors, the coyotes.
"I suspect the coyotes are denning in or near the old forest service buildings" Grace said. "Once the pups are on the ground they'll be more protective of their territory. We should probably avoid the area in general with the dogs."
Two coyotes didn't seem like much, Skye thought, but soon enough there'd be more than two.
Outside, as predicted, the weather changed. The marine layer returned, cool and thick, cloud shadows laying on the landscape, and then the cool hush of moist air blanketing the ground.
April 16. It was another lovely, windstill morning. Perfect for photographing horses. Relempago en la Pampa was the name of this one of the buckskin pinto Mangalarga Marchador.
"This is the first horse I rode when I got here" Grace told Skye. "He was very good to me. I had to ride him bareback, and I had no idea how to sit his gaits, but I got to stay on with the ranch, so I guess we did okay."
Then the latest draft mare, a Brabant Grace thought. She was so lovely, and so good natured.
Black Velvet, A Tennessee Walking Horse, still moving strong. One of the oldest horses Grace knew of.
And then Ansata D'hib. Probably the tallest Arab Grace had ever encountered...but then, she wasn't really well versed in Arabians. D'hib had been through a bit of an ordeal, getting lost on his way to the ranch and then, when he finally arrived, bearing the scars of whatever misfortune befell him in transit. She wasn't sure why she liked him so much...but she did.
Next, Precious, Skye's beloved 1996 Thomas Bainbridge mare, gifted to Redbird Ranch by Laurel Dedes.
There had been no coyote sitings all morning, and the girls were thus emboldened to go for a walk-about, beyond the arena, into the boulder-strewn landscape that surrounded them, now open and accessible since the controlled burn.
Skye thought one of the rocks looked something like a male grouse, or a prairie chicken. And the girls had company. Nine dogs and Mojo.
The air was cool but the sun was warm, and real clouds danced across the sky.
From their vantage point atop the rocks, perhaps they could see horses. The dogs all knew what stay meant. Mojo might have known what stay meant, but clearly, commands are for dogs.
Alas, there were no wild horses to see.
They headed home across a vast and mostly flat rock escarpment, with a couple of crevices. Too wide for the pups to navigate, and risky for the elders. So they were lifted across.
New growth sprouted and gleamed green in the controlled burn area.
The ground was alive with lizards, and the dogs were very happy to chase them about. Miner's lettuce grew among the grass. Birds were everywhere.
April 23. Evening shadows grew long. Grace and Skye had worked on preparations for Models in the Mountains all day. Grace didn't have the energy to saddle a horse. They took Shades of Autumn for a short walk, to overlook the campgrounds and watch the sun set.
"Did you hear that?" Skye said.
Grace strained to hear whatever sound had caught Skye's attention, assuming it must be an animal noise. She scanned the bluff, looked under the trees, watched for movement. Nothing.
"What do you hear?" Grace finally asked.
"I don't know all the words" Skye said.
"Can you sing the melody?"
"I...I don't know."
Skye did her best.
"She was like oh my God, this is my song, I been waitin' to hear it all day long..."
Grace could faintly hear it.
"I didn't know you liked Country" Grace whispered.
"Neither did I!"
April 25. The indoor arena was done. For now at least. The girls celebrated with a turn-out of mares, geldings and a foal.
Chili Pepto, a roan quarter horse gelding with live show wins. Summer Lover, a palomino Morab with Arabian on both sides. The new Fjord show pony. Boots, a roan quarter horse mare with beautiful moves and a great personality. JM's Fabulous Flash, a seal bay morgan gelding, took a liking to the new pony girl. Pretender and Impressive Goal, the sport horse mare and foal. The Grail, a palomino sabino anglo-barb mare distantly related to Skye's Deer Medicine. What a beautiful bunch of horses.
It was the last chance the girls would have to use the indoor arena as a turn-out ring. In just a few days, Models in the Mountains 2022, the Tiburcio Vasquez Challenge Chilao would be upon them; a live halter show hosted by Redbird Ranch.
* Unfortunately, the Breyerfest online shows would not include a regular open division in 2022. But there was always The Collective, a horse show series on PonyBytes.com spearheaded by Redbird Ranch. They could show in any division that they were not also judging.
** MIM - Models In The Mountains is a North American Nationals, Gold Coast and Western Conference live halter qualifier show held at Chilao School. The next show will take place April 28-30, 2023.
*** Storm and Rain Man are Nemesis and Wahoo, traditional scale resins sculpted by Kitty Cantrell and painted by Corina Roberts