January 3, 2022
Grace and Skye slogged on foot to the creek, in the burn footprint, where a rapidly melting layer of snow was still thick in some places, alternately icy, then hard enough to walk on top of.
They came to see who had made fresh and un-shod hoof prints in the snow. They did not have to wait long to lay eyes upon an absolutely stunning mare. She was energetically flanked by the stallion Grace suspected was sporting some draft horse DNA, Highlander. His mare was not remarkably cooperative, and Highlander's squeals attracted the attention of another draft-influence stallion...Petrichor.
There were some more squeals and some posturing and pawing, but all from a considerable distance.
Petrichor and the bay mare moved off. The dun mare seemed as if she wanted to follow them. The bay mare seemed reluctant to leave. Petrichor insisted. Highlander and the dun mare headed down the draw. The mare seemed far more interested in the other horses than her suitor. Perhaps the bay mare was known to her. Whatever was the case, she was keeping Highlander on his toes.
There was succulent new grass growing in the burn footprint. For a short while, the bay mare grazed. But it wasn't long before she started walking. Following Highlander and the dun mare. Petrichor followed his mare, uneasily.
Grace and Skye tried to follow, but the path the horses chose was more suited for hooves than boots. It was a sculptural jumble of rocks, mud, water tunnels, sand, ice and deadfall, uniquely beautiful and ever-changing...and dang hard to navigate. It was not long before the horses out-paced the girls and vanished into the soggy, blackened landscape.
January 8, 2022
They were in open country, and there wasn't any place to hide, so Grace and Skye just tried to be still. This time they were on the trail of Petrichor's band, and they were in for more surprises. Another new mare, with a jet-black foal. The stallions had more or less worked out territories. Petrichor stayed close to the ranch, and right now, it was good country to be a wild horse. The new mare and foal had probably wandered into his domain.
The mare put herself between Petrichor and her foal. Her instinct to be with a herd was strong, but her parenting instinct was equally strong. Stallions do not always accept foals sired by other stallions. The black foal was not a newborn...he was strong and agile.
The horses danced around for a while, the pale mare nervous about her foal. Eventually the bay mare started to move off, the foal started to follow, and pretty soon there was a loose sense of order.
While Petrichor and the bay mare were accustomed to Grace and Skye, the new herd members were not so relaxed. The girls followed on foot at a distance. watching the horses use the seasonal stream bed like a trail, wondering how common it was for a palomino mare to have a black foal.
Then, without warning, the bay mare changed her course and her calm tempo. In a few bounding strides she was out of the creek bed and galloping away, the rest of her herd close behind, disappearing into the boulder strewn landscape.
The rest of the day went by quickly. As evening approached, Skye stared at the most frightening thing an artist regularly encounters...a blank surface. In this case, watercolor paper. She was hoping to recreate the sunset she'd seen the night before but couldn't quite photograph. Or maybe the moon, with stars in the sky beyond.
Meanwhile, across the studio, a small herd of model horses waited patiently. Two of them would be chosen for this year's NaMoPaiMo.
It was Skye's first time using watercolors on watercolor paper. This was going to be harder than it first appeared.
January 9, 2022
Skye painted until the wee hours of morning. The second work was as delicate as the first one was heavy.
Outside a cold wind blew as the sun's rays crept slowly across the tree tops. Seemed like it had been blowing for days. And it appeared that Skye would be sleeping for a while.
Every ranch manager, no matter how good they are, will occasionally make indefensible decisions. Like going out for a trail ride alone on a windy morning...on a spirited stallion, using that squeaky, stiff new saddle that didn't have a back cinch and that didn't want to give on the left stirrup...without a coat, or gloves...
...all of which Grace forgot about fairly quickly when she came upon Highlander and the dun mare. Highlander and the mare moved away at first, Highlander flanking the mare. And then, Highlander spun around to face Grace and Gunner.
An excellent time, Grace decided, to spin around also.
Skye was having far less adventure in the studio. Three out of three pieces did not come out as she envisioned them. Especially the last piece. It got away from her quite entirely, and she was completely perplexed. What on earth to do now.
Skye went looking for Grace, and found her in the new tack room, having just finished putting a waterproof sealant inside of the terra cotta pots that they had finished painting just as the Bobcat fire erupted in September, 2020.
There were 27 sets of hand painted pots. And one finished set. Over the coming months, Grace planned to finish all of them.
"We have plenty of time" Grace explained, "but I thought I'd start preparing now for the upcoming shows...Models in the Mountains, and eventually The Collective..."
"I forgot how pretty these are!" Skye said. And she forgot all about her own painting troubles for a while.
"Do you want to help me get them photographed?"
The girls had narrowed it down to four potential horses for NaMoPaiMo. Grace gave the arab mare a good study. Skye was thinking this was her number one NaMoPaiMo choice. She wanted to try chestnut, or bay. And she wasn't completely sure, but she thought she might want to try paint as opposed to earth pigments.
Grace was leaning toward the mustang stallion resin she had received as a prize for winning the MEPSA Mini Challenge. It was a highly accurate and detailed sculpt. They both loved the resin drafter, and the resin draft foal, but both of those models still needed a lot of work. They were kind of stuck. Grace resolved the afternoon's dilemma.
"Let's prep them all" she suggested. "We still have a little under three weeks to register. Maybe by the time we're done prepping we'l be able to make up our minds."
Skye had pretty much decided on the arab mare. Just not what color, or if and how much white. Grace was still on the fence.
January 16, 2022
Grace and Skye listened for the sound of hooves, or breath, or the crackle of brush.
The plucky sabino mare that had briefly belonged to Petrichor took the lead. Crazy brought up the rear. The horses traversed a rock ledge that lead to a small meadow, moving single file down the rock face.
And there was a new mare in the middle.
The sounds Grace and Skye waited for came in the form of squeals as Crazy pawed at the soft earth. Grace noted that the sabino mare was looking rather plump. Something seemed to be upsetting Crazy. The small herd milled about while Crazy pawed and postured. Then, they moved away, departing as suddenly as they had appeared.
The new mare looked much too calm to be in Crazy's family.
When the girls rode down to where the horses were, they saw droppings...probably those of another stallion, hence his squealing and displeasure. The new mare raised a lot of new questions. Could she be related to the sabino mare? These family groups that were forming now had thus far seemed random...Highlander's mare and Petrichor's mare seemed to know each other. Petrichor's second mare, the palomino with the black foal, assimilated smoothly. Maybe it wasn't random at all. Maybe these family bands were reassembling after some sort of disturbance.
After the horses moved off, the girls passed and pondered. The day was lovely. Like winter was done and spring had sprung.
The girls had other plans for today. But a 30% chance of showers turned into actual rain. That almost never happens. Indoor projects would have to keep them busy. For days, as it turned out. Because once the rain was over, the wind came, and the wind did not stop until January 22. And when it finally did, it was night already.
Skye fussed with a terra cotta deer.
"Weren't there three of those?"
"There are" Skye replied. "I...just can't remember where I put the other two."
"You are way too young to be forgetting where you put large, heavy objects."
Grace was bored. Really bored. All of the NaMoPaiMo candidates were in what Grace sure hoped was their last coat of primer. Maybe they would need another coat of primer but please, please, no more prepping. It had been far too windy to be outside, and cold. She stared unenthusiastically at wood siding selections on the internet.
"Okay" Skye announced, "I'm going to try something with this doe. But she's tippy. How can I fix that?"
"Make a base for that leg with two part epoxy. Make it like grass or something."
"Should I paint her first? No, I should make the base first, right?"
"I think I would make the base first. Otherwise almost certainly you'll do an amazing job painting her, and she'll fall over and break."
At least it would keep Skye busy for part of the evening.
December 11, 2021
Petrichor and the bay mare picked their way through the burn. The ground was cool except for a few places where dense layers of dead wood still smoldered in the cold morning air. A light breeze moved the smoke through the trees at dawn. The landscape was reborn...known to the horses, and yet unfamiliar.
It was a controlled burn of piles with some minimal landscape modification. Grace surveyed around the ranch as soon as the sun was up. A good portion of the burn piles had been addressed , particularly near homes and structures and in the most heavily used recreation areas.
The cold air kept the smoke close to the ground overnight, dissipating with dawn's warmth.
The burn opened up the seasonal stream behind the ranch. Grace rode along the burn edge, noting rock formations she had never seen before. This area was open for the first time in memory. It was endlessly rugged, and lovely.
Grace marveled at the precision of the burn.
She also noted that the birds seemed unbothered, even in areas where there was still some smoke.
Grace was already gone when Skye woke up. That was all right. Skye had been wanting to put her ribbon dress back on and practice the steps she saw the other ladies doing. They were graceful and measured. They were reserved and yet somehow they flowed. And always the women stood up tall in their dresses.
Grace watched Skye for a few moments, realizing how little she knew about what the dance was supposed to look like, but It appeared that Skye had watched very carefully. She did recall something about northern and southern styles of dance, but not the nuances that separated them.
"Tomorrow morning let's go for a ride through the burn area" Grace said after watching for some time. Hobo perked up his ears.
"Okay" Skye said. "Let's do it."
They were up before the dawn on December 12, investigating the controlled burn. USFS firefighters had burned carefully around the ranch, the nearby buildings and the creek bed. Grace made sure Skye got to see the way the smoke played with the sunlight in the trees.
They headed for some trees along the creek bed. Grace had been learning what she could from the firefighters when they did their burns.
"The first time I saw the base of a tree with fire at the bottom of it, I freaked out a little" Grace said. "But it turns out a small amount of fire at a tree's base can help harden the tree and make it more resilient."
"So these trees are going to be fine?"
"Maybe" Grace replied. "They were already stressed pretty bad. Remember we thought the big one was going to die before autumn? And then it got a little rain and seemed to rally. If they die it won't be from the burn. It will be because they were already compromised."
Grace pointed out the yucca.
"These will green right back up. Like literally, in a few days we are supposed to get rain and I bet if we go out and look at these after the rain we will see new green."
"This is a rare moment in time" Grace explained. "This burn will never again look exactly as it does this morning. The wind will change it, and we have rain coming, and new growth will push through the soil. Take a good look around, because this will be completely different after the rain." And as she looked around, Grace saw a path through the boulder-strewn landscape.
Beyond the controlled burn and the firebreak, tall stands of manzanita interspersed with coulter pines and yucca glowed dusty green, and the rising sun shone warm through the cold morning air.
A cacophony of sound followed the girls wherever they went. The scrub jays recognized Skye, and they were keen not to let her forget how much they looked forward to being fed.
It was still fairly early in the morning when they returned home, and still fairly chilly inside.
"That was incredible" Skye said. I want to keep going back and seeing how the landscape changes."
December 18, 2021
Skye was awake as the moon was setting, just before dawn. it wasn't too much colder outside than it was inside, except for a gusting wind that made taking a proper picture of the moon pretty much impossible. It was fun to try though.
When the sun got high enough, Grace and Skye took a walkabout to see what they could see. And of course, as soon as they committed to taking a walk instead of riding, the wind stopped and the day warmed. Mojo the cat was with them for their excursion. And Mojo decided to do a rather un-cat-like thing...walking on water. Skye just had to give it a try.
"Hold on to Baron" Grace said from the soft silt of the creek bed, trying hard not to sink boot-deep into the loose soil.
The ice was very slippery, and very clear, and it was melting fast, and the cracking of its surface was alarmingly loud.
The stream bank was slippery too, but thank goodness nobody was looking when Grace lost her battle with it.
Later in the day, as the last light fell upon the meadow below the ranch, Skye noted a stump, and then another...new stumps, she was pretty sure. If memory served her correctly, last she had looked, they were still-standing trees. The landscape seemed to be in a state of constant change, and it seemed accelerated now.
When evening came, silent and windless, Skye tried once again to photograph the moon rise. Her results were much improved. The moon and the trees and the night seemed...particularly magical.
December 19, 2021
Before the day got too busy, the girls took a ride through another portion of the controlled burn. Grace opted to ride one of Skye's favorite mares, Deer Medicine. It was nice, being able to ride through a more open country, and the recent rain had glued the ashes to the soil.
Skye had quite the reputation among the local wildlife, and they followed along expectantly, hoping for bird seed handouts. Even a California Thrasher joined the fray!
The ride was quiet, and pleasant, and uneventful. The day that followed would be full of activity and visitors and work and distractions.
Skye was already asleep that evening when Grace noticed that Baron wasn't in the room, or just outside, or anywhere that she could find him. And that was very strange.
Grace found him...out on the fire break, well past dark. He was calm, and warm despite the night's oncoming cold. Baron was a mixture of happy to see Grace, and nervous...as if he was quite aware being out by himself was not okay. There were a million questions in Grace's mind...how long had he been out wandering alone and when had she seen him last and how could that happen to her heart dog. When she brought him back inside he seemed ever so slightly aloof, or perhaps still a bit nervous...just not quite himself.
Well. Everyone was accounted for now, and Grace was definitely awake. All eyes were upon her, except for Skye, who slept soundly. This would be as good a time as any to get some things in order for Christmas...such as it was. She really didn't have anything that was actually a gift for Skye. But she had planned a little surprise of sorts, if she could pull it off. Not that she felt very confident at the moment.
December 20, 2021
Weather was coming. Grace had wanted to wait at least one more day, to be a little closer to Christmas, but rain was on the way. It was now or never.
She brought Skye out to the big arena just before daybreak...but she'd worked most of the early morning to get Skye's little herd there ahead of time. Everyone was ready. As they walked, she told Skye about losing Baron. At first Skye was distracted. She knew something was happening...the dogs weren't in the house, Grace, normally quiet, was talking up a storm...then her story started to sink in. How scary it would be to lose a dog. Your favorite dog in the world. Skye tried hard to listen.
The tree in the arena was...well, a fake tree, non-edible, which the horses were quick to decipher. But the box was moving. Grace stretched the Baron story as far as she could before losing Skye's attention completely. The box was moving a lot now.
White Dog got brave and looked inside. The box really started moving. There was a sudden burst of commotion, horses and dogs scattering...And re-grouping. The contents of the box revealed itself just as the girls approached, just as the sun crested the ridge. The pups...the pups Grace had seen in November at PetCo, hitherto still not adopted...tumbled out of the box. Bringing the total number of dogs to ten...or twelve, if you counted the shepherd pups that went to live with the ranch owner. Seemed like they might fit right in. And the tree was pretty cool too. Skye watched the animals interacting with the new pups. And the tree. She was fascinated by the artificial tree. She'd never seen anything quite like it.
"Did you make this Grace?"
"Well it's awesome, even if you didn't make it yourself."
December 4, 2021
Grace and Skye went to Redbird's blanket drive and mini powwow. They got there early enough to see it slowly unfold. It seemed a bit like a family reunion. Then the sound of bells on the dancers and the activity level began to intensify. There were a number of drums.* When they were ready, a singer came from one of the drums** and spoke about what would happen next. Special songs would be sung for certain reasons and then the dancers would come out.
The songs began. The dancers came out. They danced in different ways but the drum orchestrated their steps. The drums...they were the center of it. The sound had a reach beyond one's ears. The sound got inside of you somehow. It seemed there were different styles of dance for different songs, and everyone knew them. Women danced some dances and men danced others.
There were a lot of children dancing, and they were showered with encouragement. Grace often noted that some of the adults - particularly the men wearing what she presumed were eagle feathers - would stand when others were dancing...even the young children.
Skye went out for the last round of intertribal songs. Just to see what it felt like.
And finally, they got to hang out with the (virtual) Kat Warren, UCR Powwow Princess...they just didn't have any scissors handy to free her from her background.
The gathering was only a few hours...four or so...but the girls really tied to lean all that they could and take it all in. And as a result, they were exhausted.
"I'm just going to get under the covers for a few minutes, to warm up" Skye said.
It was late by the time the girls got home. Their room was cold and even though they'd spent most of the day just taking in the sights and sounds, they were tired.
*Blue Star, Bear Springs and Hale and Company joined us as well as the calderon family as vendors, and Carla Tourville and Chuck Cadotte of Soaring Eagle Enterprises, as vendors. It was Redbird's 26th mini powwow and blanket drive and one of the first local, family powwows to happen since Covid.
**Ben Hale of the Hale and Company drum served as our MC. everything about the blanket drive is done by volunteers. As we did not have a formal grand entry (head man, head woman, flags, etc) the way the drums chose to orchestrate the gathering was to sing the honoring songs while the dancers stood and then, when those honoring songs had been observed, all the dancers came in together.
The blanket drive was our most successful ever. It took weeks to ship all of the donations we received.
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."
Dateline October 23, 2021. The whole of the day was glorious, but it wasn't until late afternoon that the girls were able to go out for a ride, and as they did a cool mist soon moved up the mountain, swallowing the sunlight. They were hoping to catch a glimpse of Petrichor. They were guided by the sound of snorts and squeals and hooves on rock.
As mysteriously as the bay mare appeared, Petrichor had a second mare, and she was full of herself. The bay mare remained unflappable. The new mare, wildly sabino, appeared to have one blue eye. But it was difficult to tell. She didn't ever hold still for very long.
The bay mare retreated, if you could call it that, up into the rock escarpment. Grace and Skye stayed below. Petrichor watched Grace and Skye...flicked his ears and for a moment seemed conflicted. But then he turned his attention back to his mares, trotting away.
The appearance of the horses...first the new stallions, and now mares...it was all so mysterious. The Angeles National Forest was huge, but it was more or less landlocked. There was no direct or easy way that horses were finding their way to Chilao. And the new mare...her features were neither similar to Petrichor, or the bay mare. But on some level, the facts didn't matter much to Grace at the moment. She was just thrilled to see Petrichor, with a band of two mares, healthy and thriving.
The sun sank into a moist veil and the air quickly cooled as the girls headed home. Grace seemed to be at peace.
The following morning, Skye convinced Grace to go checking on a rather different equine...Donkey. Skye was concerned about Donkey. Her appetite was excellent, her functions were normal, but she was just so quiet. Grace looked her over. Ran her hand all down her spine, looking for some indication of pain and finding none. Her belly was certainly round...no doubt her appetite was good.
"She could have arthritis" Grace said. "You could try walking her every day, maybe just a little bit, just to help keep her joints moving." It seemed like sound enough advice to Skye.
The overnight forecast called for a 90% chance of rain. So as it grew late in the day, Skye made sure her senior equines were warm and settled. They loved her voice, and seemed content together. There was just enough room at the end of the barn that they could all lay down if they chose to.
Light rain and blustery wind came in mid-morning. Skye wandered up to the storage room...and found quite the surprise. A sign reading "Studio Skye" and a staggering assemblage of art supplies. But she only had a few moments to marvel at all the supplies and the chalk board sign. The Double Trouble Duo was on the move.....and headed for a painful lesson. The shepherd pups came barreling toward two big cats. Skye tried to intervene but Hobo more or less pushed her back in his own effort to avoid a feline confrontation. White Dog stepped in, a bit of a surprise, putting his own body between the cats and the mischievous pups...and the pups turned their attention elsewhere.
The pups abandoned their play abruptly when they saw Grace and Baron. Skye was equally joyful.
"Does this mean I get to make this space my studio?"
Skye asked a valid question. Some items had been removed from the storage room, but many remained. It was a little confusing.
"Yes it does. By and by we can get the rest of the stuff out."
Grace was pretty certain Skye would flourish here.
There was a lot of space making and re-imagining going on. Grace never said a word about renovating the old tack room. Skye, preoccupied with having her own studio space and being worried about Donkey and chasing wild horses around with Grace...never for a moment suspected anything. The space was big, and light, and smelled like fresh wood. And 22 pumpkins.
"We have all these pumpkins because why?"
"So they don't go to waste. Most animals will eat them. And the seeds are really good too."
Twenty two. That's a lot of pumpkins, Skye pondered.
The walls and the floor of the tack room were unfinished. Grace decided she could put a sealer on them herself. Maybe she could get started on that tomorrow. The weather was warm and summer-like at the moment, but sooner or later the weather would turn cold and it would be good to have the tack room done before it did. The tack room seemed extra big in the morning. Skye had help with the sweeping in the form of the shepherd pups.
Grace had linseed oil, but no proper rollers to apply it with, so she improvised. It would take most of the day, starting with the walls and working their way out of the building with the floor, to get a nice protective coat of linseed oil on the wood. But the result was lovely.
Grace proposed they reward themselves with "a different kind of ride." It had been a while since they'd taken out the big boys, Ananda and Snoqualmie Wilde. Afternoon shadows and cooling air chased them across a quiet landscape.
Back home, Skye decide to test the viability of the withering pumpkins, while Grace finalized a class list for the first online show of The Collective. It was condensed, to be sure, but it needed to be manageable. A starting point. She took Cory Hartung's advice and doubled the number of halter classes. She grouped performance classes in ways that might cause some unrest. And she took her own road entirely with a selection of scene classes. And then she stared at the screen for a very long time, hoping she got it good enough.
The temperature dipped below fifty degrees just before dawn. Grace borrowed one of Skye's saddle bags and took a ride at daybreak. She took several smaller pumpkins with her. Pumpkins are staggeringly heavy and a bit awkward to ride with. But if you drop them hard enough, they split themselves. And perhaps, Petrichor and his band would find them, some extra nutrition to supplement their wild diet.
Skye woke up with a similar idea. She chunked up pumpkin and piled it on top of a wheelbarrow full of pellets. Everyone appeared willing to try something new.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the high desert not too far away, Petrichor's honeymoon phase was coming to an end. With mares came responsibilities and conflicts. He would have to guard them from other stallions, and heaven knows there were plenty of bachelor stallions around. One in particular was making his presence felt. Crazy became a more or less continuous nuisance, and the confrontations became increasingly serious. He was not going to give up, ad he was tough, wirey and tireless.
Day two of the Pony Party started out a little rough.
Grace found herself heading for the ground rather suddenly, saddle and all, as she practiced pole bending with Jesse in the cool morning air. She landed hard on her left arm. The cinch had let loose.
Jesse hadn't had a rider mishap yet, and wasn't quite sure what to do, so he kept running.
Grace got up. Everything moved. Fingers and toes all wiggled. She never hit her head, taking most of the fall with her left arm. The keeper on the cinch had failed...something you didn't much worry about with old school cinch rigs.
She got back on Jesse for all the various reasons you get back on if you can after a fall, but mostly for the horse's sake. Jesse hadn't been under saddle all that long. In truth, she preferred not to ride him bareback...his movements were quick and sometimes not easy to sit...but just for a little while, she did it.
Skye came riding up about that time. She saw the saddle on the ground. She saw Grace was wearing a little bit of the arena.
"You want to do me a favor?" Grace asked. "Can you ride back to the ranch and get me the new black cinch from Rachel Mitchell?"
"Sure thing" Skye replied. Most any reason to ride Charmer was a good reason.
Skye returned with the cinch, and it looked great with the saddle. But by then Grace had begun to feel some discomfort in her left shoulder. Nothing serious. Nothing broken. But nothing particularly good about it either. The Pony Party drew to a close in the early afternoon. Then came the work of bringing all the horses home.
Gunner was starting to focus. He had a good head on his shoulders. Windy Boy had never even been ridden over the weekend, but at least he got to stretch his legs.
The girls decided to take their time bringing back the last few horses. It was a lovely morning for a walk. And Grace wasn't sure she could sling another saddle if she tried.
A week passed. Grace's shoulder was stiff and painful, but she could still sit a horse. And it was time to deal with Petrichor. He'd bee on a week long course of antibiotics, and his limp was gone. It was a wonder he had't escaped, now that he was able.
Grace made up her mind, and saddled the mare named Pretender. As they rode, she was struck by the harshness of the landscape. Beautiful, and unforgiving.
They brought Petrichor back to where they found him. At first he stood close to the other horses, but gradually the gap between them began to widen. And then away he bolted.
At first, she was hidden in shadow. But when the mare moved her hind leg with the white stocking, Grace and Skye saw her. The first mare they had ever seen out here, and looking eager not to be alone.
"That was like a fairy tale!" Skye bubbled. "That was the perfect happy ending!"
But Grace was not rejoicing. She kept looking back. Her shoulder was healing...but now there was an emptiness in her chest.
Baron hovered close to Grace. It was cold and drizzling but still, not like her to be under the covers, burning daylight.
The wild stallion Petrichor was still in his enclosure when the girls went to check on him early in the morning. He was eating, drinking...and limping. But if there was ever going to be a chance to get him seen by a vet, it would be this weekend, because the local ranchers and artists were having a gathering - a "Pony party" they called it, and there would be horse people in Chilao. So as Grace gave him his morning feed of pellets, she also gave him Dermosedan; a sedative that he would hopefully eat, and react appropriately to.
The first thing the girls had to do was bring some horses down to the common area where everyone was congregating. There were pipe corrals set up, and the big arena had been opened for everyone. There was no real agenda, and the girls really didn't know what to expect...so they brought along lots of horses and dogs and saddles and gear.
Grace ponied some of the horses down. Even if she did not have a chance to ride all of them, the experience would be good for them. She brought the new Akhal Teke stallion. She brought her favorite Paint, Windy Boy. she ponied them with her faithful, tireless little mustang, Jesse.
Skye got to ride Charmer, whom she dubbed "the super charger." Charmer was probably the most horse she'd ever ridden. He was well schooled and responsive, fast, powerful, and ready to run. He was smooth and easy to sit and very exciting to ride.
When all the performance horses had made their way down, Grace took Spot, and Deer Medicine with her foal, and a large contingency of dogs down to the gathering place. And one cat. Mojo, self appointed leader of the band.
It was a very interesting gathering. The ranch owners were, for the most part, content to socialize, share and work on art projects, and let their ranch hands loose. There weren't any structured riding events.
William Hadsell, member of one of the founding families of the Conejo Valley, came to visit briefly on his new Ducati. It was a glorious day to play Angeles Crest Highway with a different mode of horse power.
Roberto Ramirez brought along a veterinarian and vet tech, as Grace had heard he might. She made short work of engaging them.
She also said nothing about the fact that they were going to doctor a wild stallion.
Using Skye's rope bridle technique, Grace approached Petrichor. Her movements were a mixture of slow and easy...because this thing of slipping a makeshift halter on him had to go right the first time...and because her body language needed to instill confidence in the humans she had brought along with her.
"We gave him Dermosedan" Grace said, "enough for a thousand pound horse and he's probably lighter. And I'm pretty sure he's got something wedged in his hoof. I can't think of anything else that would keep him lame without visible symptoms."
The rope halter slipped easily over his neck and head. He was unstable on his feet. Grace tried leaning in to Petrichor to keep him steady while a vet tech approached him from the other side. Petrichor was none too happy about the stranger, but sufficiently impaired by the dermosedan and his injury so as to pose little threat.
There did appear to be something lodged in his hoof. Petrichor did his best to avoid the tech. After several attempts the tech was able to grasp what appeared to be jagged piece of metal and pull on it.
Petrichor jerked his leg free and tried to rear. The tech made another attempt but Petrichor wasn't having it.
"Can you get a proper halter with a stud chain on him? I've almost got the thing out, I don't want him to drive it back in."
Grace thought for a moment about how she was going to answer that question.
"Let me try" Grace said. The thing - whatever it was - was already mostly out of his hoof. She could pull it out by hand...if she could just get her hands on it.
It took several tries. Finally she made a swift and decisive move, clutching the exposed portion of metal shard with her bare hand and pulling. It came free, with a very minimal amount of drainage and no telltale odor of infection.
Skye missed the whole Petrichor adventure. There was a lot to see at and around the Pony Party.
Not far from where the owners gathered at Chilao School, there was an "Open Barn." Recently renovated by Tara Reich, Skye was just in love with that barn. And there was more. An indoor riding arena.
Tara had more talents to share. Archery! Skye had never seen an arrow fly in real life, and she was intrigued. Tara released one after another into a palm round target. And it turned out one of her ranch hands was a pretty capable mounted archer. But Skye was a bit intimidated by him. He was...loud and a little unpredictable. He was dressed in a cape...she couldn't quite place the genre of his trappings...and it was always hard to tell if he was being playful or serious. Or seriously not quite right. One minute laughing, the next screaming...Tara's horses paid him no mind whatsoever, taking his emotional outbursts in stride, literally.
Skye took the opportunity to get back on Charmer and see how he did with poles. He was enthusiastic and quick. By night, Grace rode the indoor area. Just to do it. As much as she preferred the great outdoors to anything, being able to ride at night in a controlled environment was pretty nice. They met Dahlia, one of Tara's newest ranch hands, an accomplished English rider. While the horses were unflapped by the screaming man in the cape, Dahlia appeared to be less at ease with him.
Altogether, day one went very well. Grace and Skye were both excited about Sunday.
(images include William Hadsell, Clarissa ad James Quinn, Tara Reich, and the art of James Quinn and Julia Turner in progress. Thank you Roberto Ramirez for your veterinarian support staff).
October 2021. Hard to believe so much could happen in a single month. Skye was on a roll with her artwork, exploring whatever mediums she could find. Her second piece was a large acrylic on canvas. She had fanciful ideas for it, but decided to leave the piece rather simple and expansive. Grace had begun painting a life-sized sculpture by Kitty Cantrell, the Bremen Town Singers...an ambitious leap for her third ever art project.
The world outside though...it was really alive, and full of surprises. Hunters, coming to Chilao for deer, were leaving empty-handed, but telling tales of encountering herds of wild horses. Grace and Skye set out to find them.
It wasn't difficult. Under skies still smokey fro distant fires they left on foot before dawn. There was squealing and stomping and the clatter of hooves on granite to guide them in te right direction.
There was such noise and commotion that other forest dwellers were distracted!
Highlander had been around for several years. Alone and rarely seen, he was a draft influence mustang without brands of any kind. Grace had a picture of him made into a poster. The feisty little bay roan was the closest thing to a "real" Spanish style mustang among them. He was a recent arrival, also without a herd. And then Petrichor showed up, also displaying draft influence, and an endless curiosity about ranch life and young ladies.
Now, here were two more stallions...big, well put together horses, nicer than any wild horses Grace had ever seen, in person or in pictures, in California.
Highander and Crazy, the bay roan, seemed to form a loose alliance against the two newcomers. Petrichor, aligned with no one, sought to keep the higher ground on the steep rock escarpments.
It was not war, but it was an endless struggle, sure to exhaust the horses in a season where water was hard to come by and forage was equally bleak.
It was not war because there were no mares. And that was another part of the mystery.
Grace and Skye made their way home amidst a little ocean of birds and rodents, eagerly consuming the seed Skye had left, like a trail of breadcrumbs, on their way out.
A bit of time passed. The days were beautiful, and in between chores Grace and Skye rode because they could...because it was too beautiful not to. Skye was concerned about her old donkey. The jenny was very quiet, although her appetite was just fine, and Grace was concerned about getting some new pasture fence erected. You couldn't really call it pasture fence, as the high desert was hardly a pasture...but they needed something.
Grace found some natural timbers that would do nicely along the fire break, and Skye went along one fine, warm morning to help her go through them. The dogs - Baron, Hobo and White Dog, came along. It wasn't long before the dogs were alert to something. In a few moments that something became clear.
It was Petrichor, by himself. And he was limping, favoring his front right leg.
"He can barely walk."
Grace nodded. She was silent for several minutes. Then she focused her attention on Skye.
"Go back to the ranch, and get...get Precious, and get the longest piece of light rope you can find."
There was no shade on the firebreak, and the sun was warm particularly for the dogs. Skye's quick return was welcome.
Hurt leg or no, Petrichor was interested in Precious.
Precious turned just enough to always face the stallion, but never lost her composure. She wore one of Skye's rope leads. The long lead was trailing on the ground. Grace, meanwhile, held a long, lighter rope, tying a loop in one ending moving slowly with the other end.
Slowly she moved behind the stallion. The wind helped carry the rope over Petrichor's rump. And then in the next moment the wind pulled the rope clean out of Grace's hand. Grace managed to slowly reach down and pick up both ends of the rope.
She picked up the lead for Precious. Skye slipped up quietly and took it from her. And so the very, very slow walk home began.
Grace let the rope around his neck fall to the ground once they had maneuvered him into a turn-out arena. It was nowhere close to a stallion pen. It would only keep him for as long as he chose to be there. But there wasn't anything else. Skye filled a tub with fresh water. Petrichor was clearly interested. He would need to figure out how to reach down and drink it with his gimpy leg. Sedate though she might be, Skye's donkey came to get a better look at the new arrival.
There was little more they could do at the moment but let the stallion settle. They went inside, covered in dust from head to toe. Grace examined the life-size burro sculpture and tried to focus on it. Why she had decided to do an incredibly complex life-size piece with four animals was a bit of a mystery. Maybe she could pull it off. Maybe Skye could help. The girls tried not to think too much about Petrichor.
Petrichor was still there when the girls went at dusk to feed and check on him. Alpine glow lit the surrounding mountains as the golden hour unfolded. He had no visible injuries. No obvious swelling. Nothing they could see in his hoof. And it might be hard to get a vet to agree to an examination. They would leave him be, and see what the morning brought.
Late September in the forest was...hard to put into words, but there's plenty of pictures to tell the story. It was a time of every-day adventures.
Skye had spent some time in the meadow below the ranch, and at sunset, that meadow glowed with magical light. So one evening, Grace and Skye rode to the meadow, where Skye has placed a canvas and a pencil, and as the sun set golden on the landscape, Skye sketched what she saw.
Bringing the canvas home was a bit awkward, but they were guided as dusk fell by the rising of the moon. It was glorious! And so they made a point of seeing the moon's rise over the ridge the following evening.
Skye worked on her sketch momst of the night. she had a canvas meant for paint, but all she owned was watercolor pencils. It was difficult to get the materials to cooperate, and she lost much of her original drawing, but in the end, she was pleased. It was her first flat work. And it wasn't terrible. Grace was actually rather impressed.
The full moon always rises just after dark, as if its glory must be noticed without the distraction of the sunset. And the full moon in September did not disappoint.
Not too far away, Petrichor, the wild stallion that seemed to have a fondness for Grace, watched the same moonrise.
September is also a time of fires. In 2020, it was the Angeles National Forest that was burning in the Bobcat fire, a fire that was never more than two miles away from the ranch as the raven flies. In September 2021, the northern forests were burning; the redwood forests and beyond. The smoke spilled in to the Angeles and clung in the canyons for days, making red sunrises and hazy afternoons.
Finally one morning, the wind had shifted the smoke away, and Grace and Skye hurried into action. They brought horse after beautiful horse out to a temporary arena that Grave had set up at the entrance to Meadow Campground. The day was perfect! One horse after another got their glamour photos taken. The morning went smoothly. As the girls were packing up the camera equipment, the dogs became alert to something. Petrichor!
All the horses had been brought back to the ranch, so Grace decided she would approach him. He wanted something...and if it had been horses, he would have come when there were horses present. And so Grace approached him, just a bit slower than she might have approached any other horse that she she was just becoming acquainted with.
He let her come close. He moved toward her. He stopped. Grace told the big stallion if he wanted to be a ranch horse, somehow they would figure it out. Then she turned, and walked away from him. He started to follow.
Skye and the dogs watched, frozen in place. One, two, three, four steps, fix, six seven, eight steps...and then Petrichor changed his mind and whirled around, slipping away like the summer itself.
September. Hot, dry September.
Skye had made up her mind. She wanted a regalia. But not just for herself. She wanted a horse regalia. That is to say she wanted to embrace her indigenous heritage and her passion - horses - and she was willing to do the work, both of learning how to make that regalia and the physical work of doing it. There were some inherent problems, however...namely, her lack of relatives. To be part of a culture, you need first of all to know who your relatives are and be taught the traditions of that culture. You need your people.
Skye decided to persevere, creatively. She would ask for help, and meanwhile, she would help herself.
On September 5, Skye went out looking for wood. It was everywhere, there was no shortage, especially along the fire break. She was looking, specifically, for two plank-like pieces and four gently curved round pieces (or two pieces with a perfect curved fork). She had a saddle tree to fashion. Old school. She was going to try to make her own saddle for a native regalia. Because she may not have a lot of details about her heritage, but if she made the saddle herself, no one could say too much about that. And no wonder the Nez Perce loved their appaloosas so much. Her gelding blended more or less perfectly into the surroundings. (Grace bought Skye a bareback pad from Anne Field's recent sale. Skye balked at the idea at first...she had been riding bareback her whole life...but it sure was comfy).
It was hot, and nothing she found would do. The wood was old, brittle, the right shape but not suitable, or the wrong shape entirely. This was not going to be easy.
On September 11, Skye returned to the fire break just after dawn to look for proper pieces of saddle making wood. Someone well versed in wood working could no doubt see this place as a pile of opportunity. Skye saw a fantastic supply of winter firewood. But nothing she believed she could fashion into a saddle tree.
Grace wanted to help Skye, but there was only so much she could do. She could offer moral support. And she could shop. She and Skye had seen some pictures of lovely cloth dresses, most of them in colors and patterns more suited for a mature woman. Grace imagined something slightly different for Skye. And it just so happened that she passed by a fabric store fairly regularly. So while Skye was out hunting for the perfect piece of wood, Grace pushed the lovely bolts of pink and blue fabric between her mattress and sheets. There was so much fabric. And had there been a bolt in sky blue she would have gotten that too, but there wasn't anything just quite right.
Spot and Precious spun around to face north. They heard something. Could it be Petrichor again? Skye took hold of her horses. At first it looked like it might be coyote pups. A little small fo September...coyote pups should be nearly grown by now. As they came closer, she was able to discern that they were definitely not coyote pups. A pair of German Shepherd pups tumbled toward Skye across the rocky landscape. Their ears were not yet upright and they lacked the coordination to navigate the landscape.
They were not alone. Wary of Skye and the horses, a white dog kept his distance from atop a rock outcropping. A dalmation cross of some kind, perhaps a terrier mix, small in stature, opinionated and none too friendly.
The pups seemed unafraid and continued to make their way toward Skye. Then the white dog began to bark. Short, abrupt warning barks.
White Dog had moved as far up the rock face as he could, watching with great concern. Hearing the warning barks, the pups retreated as fast as their awkward young legs could carry them. Back into the shadows and cool crevices of the rocks. When Skye glanced up to see White Dog, he was gone.
Skye told Grace about the German Shepherd puppies and White Dog. How the dogs did not appear to have collars or an owner. How adorable the puppies were. And how she intended to find them, or at the very least, bring them some food and water.
"Let me come with you" Grace said. "There's a horse I've been meaning to take out. Give me a few minutes to get him tacked up."
Between Grace tacking up and Skye making water vessels out of dried gourds, it was the middle of the afternoon before they were ready to head out. And Grace had made some interesting choices regarding her ride.
"Remind me why I thought this was a good idea" Grace called out as her fiery mount danced.
"Happily" Skye responded. "You said a Spanish horse comes from roughly the same latitude and mediterranean biome that we have in California, genetically predisposed to be adapted to our climate, and so this horse would be a good choice for a warm day."
Grace put a brand new saddle and the only bridle she could find that would fit on the champagne colored Andalusian. The saddle squeaked with every slightest move.
"I am going to call this one The Lion King, or maybe Simba" Grace said. "His mane reminds me of a lion."
The cantle of the saddle was stiff with newness - over time it would be fine, but for now it was tight on his withers. And squeaking.
But when they made their way toward the rocks where Skye had lost seen the puppies, Simba's high action found purpose on the rocky ground. Unfortunately, in the mid-day sun, there was little shade around the base of the rocks, and the terrain was proving more challenging with every step.
Grace and Simba carefully picked their way around the rock outcropping, looking for anywhere that the dogs might be taking shelter in the heat of the day.
Gradually both Grace and Simba came to ignore the constant squeak of the saddle and relax into their relationship, and into the moment.
Skye busied herself with the nuts and bolts of the rescue plan. Dog food was easy enough to disburse, but the metal water bucket had gotten quite hot in the sun, and Skye could only hold it in the place where it had been tied to the saddle to prevent from burning her hands.
Done! Skye put the water bowl in the exact spot that she had last seen the puppies...because she could not think of anything better to do. The water gourds had made it without cracking...but they were so heavy. She moved one several feet, set it down, rested. The gourds held just enough water to fill the bucket to the very brim. Skye sat down for a moment. Water is heavy.
Despite their quick response, they saw no sign of the dogs. They would go looking again. Perhaps lay a kibble trail toward the ranch. Perhaps go out early in the morning with Baron and Hobo.
Grace could only hope they would be more successful in the morning. Her bed was extra firm with the fabric for Skye hidden underneath the covers, but she decided tonight was not the night for surprises. It could wait.
They set out again on September 12. The sun was just about over the ridge. The air was deliciously cool. So cool Skye was sort of wishing she'd brought a jacket. But soon enough it would be warm, and with any luck, they would find the dogs.
Sunrise burst forth in all its glory. Grace stood back with the horses. Baron and Hobo immediately sensed a presence. Skye settled herself among the rocks, near the water bucket, but just out of sight. The dogs headed up into the rocks. There was silence...and then Skye began to notice all the birds. The kibble and water had not gone un-noticed.
Baron found the pups. Perhaps because he was a familiar color, or perhaps because they'd had enough of the great outdoors, they were more than happy to approach Baron. Hobo found White Dog. And White Dog wasn't having it.
Grace waited. All but for the sound of birds, it was silent. And then they emerged from the rocks. The pups were unafraid now, coming out into the open, following Baron and the horses. Grace began heading back toward the ranch.
"What about White Dog?" Skye asked, trying not to trip over the pups.
"If he's still around chances are he'll be able to figure out which way the pups went. Maybe he'll follow. He's got water for now. We can come back and try again, but let's get these pups home."
The following mornign it was time to get back to work. Dawn's light began to spread across a cool landscape. The day would be warm, but right now, the air was invigorating. One of the new horses Grace yet to ride was the Arabian stallion. More properly, a half-arab, or Pintabian. The bridle Rachel Mitchell of Trails End Studio gifted Grace fit the stallion perfectly. But there was no saddle small enough for him, so Grace borrowed Skye's bareback pad. Skye came down to the big pen on Deer Medicine to watch.
"He's really responsive" Grace said. "I turned him out to let him blow off some steam and see if he'd stay on the ground better, but he just has a lot of action."
As they came to know each other, horse and rider began to develop a mutual rhythm. "I bet I could teach him the Spanish walk. He's a natural."
Grace wasn't entirely sure she was doing it properly, but it was working for the colorful stallion, who still did not have a stable name.
"What about Rembrandt?" Skye asked. "Or is that the wrong palette for his color?"
It did sort of fit him...
Skye saw movement along the edge of the arena. White Dog. "Hey! Look who came to visit!" Skye started riding toward him, then decided to ignore him. Just in case too much attention might send him off again. He remained aloof, and when the girls headed back to the barn, he vanished.
Back at home, the shepherd pups were enjoying their new domain with reckless abandon. There were no shortage of toys, but their favorite plaything was the roll of paper towels they had liberated. Skye sat on the floor and was more or less immediately puppy-mauled. It was delightful. The older dogs watched the rambunctious pups form the safety of Grace's bed.
From her vantage point on the floor, Skye noticed something odd.
"How come your bed is so high?" Skye said. "Don't your feet usually touch the floor?"
"I'm hiding things under my mattress" Grace said as if she might be joking.
Might as well go ahead and pull out the fabric she'd bought for Skye to make some dresses from. Dresses to be part of her native regalia.
She got the blue bolt past Skye without her noticing. But the pink caught her eye.
"It's for you. I'm not sure what you were intending to make for your first regalia, but you can do a cloth dress in such a way that it's appropriate without appropriating anyone's personal...medicine." Grace was prepared for Skye to be less than thrilled about hot pink polkadots. Skye, whom she had never seen anywhere close to pink or a dress. That was not the case. In a few moments, Skye had more or less wrapped herself in the generous bolt of vibrant pink.
About half an hour of excited chatter followed. Neither one of them could sew cloth. What ribbon colors would they need. Who would make the dresses. How to make them so Skye could actually ride in them. And moccasins...
Hi, my name is Corina, the official story teller for Grace and Skye. Grace owes her beauty, style and charm to Anne Field, Field of Dolls Studio. Skye does too, for that matter, as Anne fostered her for a while, giving Skye a complete makeover in the process. The horses, dogs, cats, saddles, bridles, furniture and so forth are the work of many artists. I'll do my best to acknowledge them as we go from day to day.
This is the ongoing, unfolding story of grace little, manager of redbird ranch, and her little sister, Skye