September 2, 2022
The light was beginning to change, from the harsh, flat dryness of summer to the magical gold of autumn. The heat had been intense, and tomorrow was supposed to be hotter. Occasional thunder could be heard in the distance. Somewhere it could be raining...but not here in Chilao.
The prospect of rain looked more promising on Saturday. The heat took your breath away. And then the wind would come. That wind that tells you a change is coming.
"Today could be the day" Grace said. A restlessness possessed the girls. The air was charged with positive ions, and they were charged too, charged with anticipation and chaotic energy.
There would be a little time before it was likely that anything would happen with the weather. There was still a lot of blue sky. And the day was still young. The girls decided to use the indoor arena, just in case. And they decided to use a walkover pole with La Barilla. Skye maneuvered the pole through the deep, soft arena sand. It was heavy!
La Barilla took none too kindly to the pole. Considering his level headed demeanor thus far, it was a bit of a surprise. One thing was clear. He had no intention of engaging it, walking over it, or even going around it.
"Apparently giant blue and white serpents are a thing" Grace said as La Barilla protested approaching the pole.
Skye started giggling.
"What's so funny?"
"I thought of a new name for him. Spaghetti Western."
"Please tell me you're kidding."
Patiently, reminding herself to stay loose, Grace urged La Barilla toward the pole again and again. Not fighting him. Not struggling with him. Re-centering herself, mentally and in the saddle, after each refusal. Eventually she could feel him give in. A step at a time. Slowly.
"I think we've got it now" Grace commented as La Barilla gathered himself together. It was a bit dramatic, but indeed, over the pole they went.
Not so bad really. Maybe he could do it twice.
"He looks a bit as if he's going to stomp it to death" Skye noted.
This pole thing took some getting used to. He did indeed go over it a second time. He more or less side-passed over it. But all in all, much less drama on the second try.
"What a fine, brave stallion you are" Skye praised.
"Yes you are" Grace affirmed.
After a bit more riding, they took La Barilla back to his stall. Grace paused to take in her favorite smell...petrichor. For a few delicious moments, it rained.
A strike team had assembled at the fire station, with trucks and crews from all over the southwestern region. There were so many crews that trucks were parked along the road. They did not all fit at the fire station.
Higher up the mountain, there was action, and the teams left in groups of four and five vehicles. But in Chilao, the sprinkling of rain and some cloud to cloud lightning was all the storm cell offered. The girls waited, hoped, and decided to bring out some more horses.
Just in case there was thunder and lightning, they decided against very excitable horses. Instead they brought down a few of the new arrivals, and Skye's rather wildly mismatched herd, minus Ladyhawk, who seemed particularly restless and agitated today.
Donkey seemed to be holding up well. Dinky with his escort, Baron. The new golden mare from Denmark had an easy-going temperament with the other horses.
A sunshine bubble pervaded Chilao. The storm threat was over. At least here, for now, there would be no real rain. Another lovely sunset unfolded, the heat diffused, the air was bearable again.
And a half moon, cloudless and bright, illuminated the mountain.
The girls had been up since a little after 5 AM, when coyotes heckled something from north of the fire station all the way down to the creek crossing. The barking of the dogs alerted them, but they decided not to go out and see what it was the coyotes were tangling with. And they could only hear two coyote voices clearly. Grace wondered silently if the patriarch coyote had succumbed to his wounds.
But when they did go out, before sunrise, they were not disappointed. Storm and Rain Man were sparring over water rights.
Storm, a big bay stallion going grey, was the more aggressive. Although there was enough water, they fought over it...like they often did.
"Let's get closer" Skye whispered.
Storm lunged at Rain Man. As he did, he lost his footing, scrambling awkwardly. He slipped, falling into the water flat on his side with a terrible sound. Here was Rain Man's chance to trample his opponent. But he seemed startled by Storm's fall, and did not press on with an attack.
The sun crested the mountain. And then, just as quickly as they came into view, the horses caught wind of Grace and Skye...and they were off.
Dawn's light came and went in between the clouds.
"I hope Storm is okay. That was quite a fall." Skye looked and looked for the stallions, but she couldn't see them. They vanished into the thickness of the landscape.
Grace edged her way carefully up to the pool that Storm had fallen in.
She wasn't sure if they were lichens or moss. She marveled at how one bit of rain cues the plant nations. As soon as the clouds departed, it was warm. Fortunately, the sky was full of big, beautiful clouds, so the morning temperature stayed pleasant as they made their way home.
In the indoor arena, Grace turned out three mares.
Wega, a lovely light grey Lipizzan mare, was recovering from an injury to her left front leg, and that recovery appeared to be going well.
Skye was struck by how similar in color the two golden mares were.
Grace was presently enamored with the grey mare. She was graceful, composed and elegant.
"Do you want to take these two out for a trail ride?" Skye asked, referring to the golden mares.
Grace thought about it. The day was in fact lovely. But the presence of all those clouds made her suspect there was a chance of stormy water still to be had. And then, just as they were bringing the horses back to their stalls, it began to rain. A light rain at first. It remained light long enough for them to finish their chores. And then, down it came.
Sheets of wind-driven rain poured down.
"Maybe we'll go out for a trail ride tomorrow" Grace remarked, watching the rain washing through the sky like an endless curtain.
Monday morning was indeed a glorious one for riding. Grace opted for La Barilla and Skye for Ladyhawk, whom she had not ridden in some time.
Lured by the greening plant life, Grace chose a narrow path through the boulder strewn landscape. Ladyhawk followed La Barilla effortlessly.
The girls were relaxed. The coyotes had moved to another part of the campground. The USFS firefighters had modified the dumpsters to make them inaccessible to bears. And perhaps most importantly, hunting season had begun. Twisted as it was, hunting season pushed the predators back.
The plant life clinging to the rocks was beautiful and mysterious. Grace didn't know enough to give them a name other than "probably lichen" which she understood to be a community of plants cooperating with each other, like moss and algae. She saw what looked like yellow flowers, and sought to get a closer look. But no, not flowers...it was another life form...perhaps an algae, perhaps a moss, collectively lichen...
Skye's voice broke Grace's focus on the flora.
"Did you hear that a bear is walking around in some neighborhood down below with an arrow hanging out of it?"
"I did not" Grace replied. She pondered the idea for a bit. "I don't think I would hunt a bear with an arrow. I seem to recall it doesn't always go well. Poor bear."
Sunday's thunderstorm had left some scars on the land. The ground had managed to soak up some little bit of the water, but most of it ran straight away. Presently, clouds moved across the eastern sky, cooling the September sun and making the morning quite pleasant.
The dogs were still wary, and the wet ground likely held the scent of everything that had recently passed through even better than the dry soil might.
Sometimes the washouts made better travel, and sometimes not.
Baron picked a slightly precarious path for the return home. Skye decided to take the lead through this particularly rough terrain. Grace followed as Skye rode the high-headed grey mare over loose rocks and soft soil.
"Skye, does that mare ever look where she's going?"
"Not really. But she doesn't trip very often either, so..."
La Barilla may have been afraid of blue and white ground poles, but actual rough ground did not seem to phase him. What he was trying to adjust to was the weight on his back. It was still new, still something to get used to, balancing a human while navigating terrain.
"How many coyotes do you think you've heard lately?" Skye asked.
Just saying the word coyote put the dogs on high alert.
"Two for sure. And I think we should name the momma Whiskey. She has that gravelly bar-room voice. I am pretty sure I am hearing her."
"Do you think the old male coyote made it? The one the boss calls Lives Among Them?"
"Maybe" Grace said. "Maybe his throat hurts and he can't make a lot of noise right now. Or maybe the pup isn't very loud yet so that's why we think we are only hearing two coyotes. He could be fine, and just laying low. He was never a very vocal coyote. Always just appeared out of nowhere. He might be okay."
Funny. That big old male coyote had kind of grown on them both.
The tack room was still cool. Grace steadied a saddle while Skye swung a leg over it as it rested on the saddle stand.
"Gosh Skye, you are vertically challenged."
Grace surveyed the space between where Skye's legs ended and where the stirrups began. It was vast.
"How does the saddle feel otherwise?"
"It's kind of wide."
Skye looked at the seat on some of the other saddles.
"What about this one? Isn't this the saddle we got last year, brand new? The squeaky one?"
"Yes", Grace responded, "Laurel Dedes sent this one."
Skye pulled herself into the seat as far as she could before releasing her foot.
"Oh there goes the stirrup again..."
"It does feel nice to sit on though."
Grace studied the stirrup to foot ratio. There was not going to be an easy fix for this problem.
"You know" Skye said, "I started making a traditional saddle...well, I thought about it anyway, I didn't really get started...but if we can't find a saddle that fits me, maybe I'll just make my own. You ever see anyone ride performance in a native saddle?"
Grace fell silent. No, she hadn't seen it...but probably ladies had done all kinds of riding in their traditional saddles. And Grace had no problem whatsoever in supporting Skye's idea. Skye could ride without a saddle better than most people could with one. If she wanted to make her own saddle, and it wasn't a western saddle...Grace could definitely support that.
The girls had taken shelter inside during the hottest part of the day. As the afternoon wore on, they decided to venture back outside. Grace took a quick glance at the computer, paused, smiled.
"What?" Skye asked.
"We placed a couple of horses in The Collective."
"I'll read the full results a little later. For now let's do your glamour shot."
"You know what would be really cool?" Skye posed the question, and then answered herself. "Another Jeep adventure."
The dogs didn't know exactly what that meant but Skye's tone was promising. So they gathered. Adventure...perhaps they knew what the word adventure meant.
Skye wanted to make another attempt at selling her work. If she kept it any longer she was going to grow attached to her pieces and not want to part with them. She needed pictures of her work, and a picture of herself...a studio shot, an art bio.
"I think we've got it" Grace said after taking numerous pictures. "And now, I'd like to show you something."
"Where's the black mare?"
"In the indoor arena, stretching her legs...sort of."
The girls walked to the arena. The mare made her way toward them at a relaxed walk.
"I don't know if she'll let me do this again" Grace said.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm trying to roll her upper lip up so you can see inside of it."
The old black mare wasn't in the mood to have her lip pulled on. She put her head way up in the air and started moving forward, slowly, right into Grace. She had a funny way about her. She was gentle, but also her own boss.
"What's on her lip?"
"She's tattooed. It's so faded I can't make any sense out of it, but on the inside of her upper lip there is a tattoo. And that means she is either a registered standardbred or a thoroughbred and probably was a race horse."
"I could totally picture her as a race horse" Skye said.
"What are we going to do with her Grace? Should we try to find her a home?"
Grace watched the old mare move. She was not as stiff as when they found her, and she held her weight fine; there was nothing skinny about her.
"She looks pretty much at home here. Let's not worry about it too much." They left the mare in the arena a little longer. The sandy arena soil was deep, but surely easier on her legs than the terrain they had found her in.
Skye's request for a Jeep adventure could be fulfilled if they kept the adventure short and close to home.
The brief but wonderful series of thunderstorms had left dry gullies and washouts everywhere. Even a short drive could be adventurous today.
Highlander and his single mare appeared in front of them. And then they quickly turned away again.
Normally pretty assertive about territorial rights, perhaps the Jeep spooked him. He called for an immediate retreat. The mare moved off quickly, and Highlander followed.
"You know" Grace said. "A lot of times when we see Highlander, Petrichor and his band are not far away."
And so they looked, hopeful, everywhere they could. But they did not see Petrichor.
"You know" Skye said, almost as if she was talking to herself, "I like this little Jeep. There's not much to it, but it's a lot of fun."
Grace smiled. "Yes it is."
The girls were up before dawn. Grace showed Skye some images of manufactured saddle trees.
"Where did you find these?" Skye asked.
"Michelle Sepiol gave me the link. This is a man's saddle and so is the one underneath it." The men's saddles tended to have low profiles.
"This women's tree is like the saddle we saw at the Autry" Skye noted.
"Do you think I should make my own tree? Or use something like this?"
Grace thought about it for a moment.
"I think you could do both. What would it hurt?"
First light greeted the girls. The morning was pleasant. Grace decided to try her luck at ponying La Barilla.
For the most part, things went smoothly. She rode Skye's beloved Deer Medicine, wanting to be on a horse that she could trust just in case something went sideways. Skye rode Ladyhawk, because she looked as if she wanted to be out on this glorious morning.
All in all, there was only a little bit of sideways, and it never involved an attempt to break free.
La Barilla's reward was a turn out in the big outdoor arena. The girls gave him his space, and watched as he reared, spun, pranced and cavorted around the arena.
"Well that wasn't so bad" Grace said. "Another new thing for him and I think he did pretty well."
The day went by fast. The western sky was cloudless but to the east, a bank of clouds clung to the horizon as the sun set. Grace suspected the colors of the evening would not disappoint, and so the girls found a suitable rock outcropping from which to watch the sky and the land and the clouds turn colors. As they made their way home, they watched a hare in near darkness, foraging near the ranch house, its large eyes and incredibly long ears keen to every sound, every movement as the day slipped quickly now into night.
Skye is hoping to buy one or two of those saddle trees she and Grace looked at, so she's listed her own artwork for sale. You can find it here:
Dusk in Chilao
The Way of The Deer
Running in Heaven