September 2, 2023
Skye found the note on the table. The boss was so sneaky like that!
"Are you ready for an adventure? Find the Pavement Queen."
It didn't take the girls long to find the bright red truck. But a light drizzle had become an in-earnest rain by the time they did. And in the pavement queen they found a kayak. Skye bubbled with excitement.
"Oh my gosh, come on! Let's go to the creek!"
"Skye" Grace said, attempting to be the voice of reason. "It's raining."
"But it's a warm rain!" And indeed it was. But the wind. The wind was warm too. Tropical. Wonderful. But after a few minutes of getting soaking wet, the wind somehow made Grace feel chilled. Skye was apparently oblivious to the chill factor.
"Oh please, please please. Come on Grace. We'll be fine."
"Okay" Grace said. "But not now. I wanted to do something else with the truck right now."
Grace pulled a hoodie over her wet shirt, and the girls got in the truck.
"Where are we going?"
"To the campgrounds" Grace said. They ambled down the rod in the light rain. She stopped the truck rather suddenly.
Skye strained to see. And then she flicked her ears and became visible. In the tall grass and shrubs along the bank of the creek, she stood, concealed. And then, across the creek and up into cover of the mountain she went.
The girls drove the length of the campground road, but found all of the gates closed. Grace looked a bit annoyed.
"I know where there's fresh manzanita slash" Grace said, "but we can't get to it."
They turned around and went the other way. Plants had begun to grow in the cracked asphalt of the picnic area. Grace and Skye got out for a moment, to feel the silence. There is a certain hush about a forest trimmed in clouds. You can hear each rain drop fall, together making a chorus of life giving voices.
But this was not the place to find manzanita. It preferred the south facing aspect of the mountain. So back they went towards the ranch.
Towards the conifer and chaparral interface. To the firebreak. And there they found what they were looking for. Manzanita. Glorious, wonderful manzanita.
The wet ground glowed with reds, yellows and grey, the duff of the manzanita clinging to the textured grey mass of spent yucca.
There were several potentially ideal branches. Skye watched as Grace carefully maneuvered her piece around the tailgate, trying not to scratch the truck, trying to use the weight of the wood to her advantage, to find the tipping point where she would be able to push the branch onto the truck without having to lift it.
Success. Getting Skye's piece in would be slightly more complicated with this one already in the way, but they were motivated, and they got it done.
The boss had been busy in the arena, turning out the most recent arrivals to the ranch, minus stallions. Seven horses altogether.
"These are keepers" she said out loud. "For now anyway. All really nice horses."
Grace and Skye smiled and nodded. The boss would have more to say. They waited.
"You know, it's kind of like a mid-life crisis, except I'm really late. Maybe it's a maturity crisis. But I've spent a lot of time contemplating what's important in this life. I mean, on some level, we are so insignificant. Less enduring than a grain of sand, a tiny speck in the universe, a nano second in geologic time. But, here we are. Now, in this time. So what to do. Say 'nothing matters because I am a nothing in the face of time' or live with purpose. So that is the first choice."
Grace and Skye remained silent. This was a deeper than average dive into the meaning of things.
The boss continued.
"And in this moment in time, horses are becoming something of an endangered species. Luxury animals for the rich. No longer needed for labor. In some ways that's good because the abuse they have suffered as beasts of burden over the centuries...let's not dwell there. But what does the future of the horse look like? In fifty years will young girls still dream of nothing other than owning a horse? Riding like the wind? Being one with the spirt of equus? Or will immersive simulation be the only thing they know?"
Skye stopped breathing for a moment. Immersive simulation...what if the boss was right. No real visceral reference to the smell, the feel, the warm breath of a horse.
"Anyway" the boss went on, "I'm coming to a point of peace in all of this. A mission if you will. I'd like to shift the focus of our efforts a little bit, and give more attention, selectively, to promoting genetic diversity in rare breeds."
"Told you" Grace whispered. "Not a horse rescue."
Skye's face must have belied her fear.
"Skye, don't worry" the boss reassured her. "The horses you have are staying. We are going to put some more horses up for sale, but not any of yours."
"Oh good" Skye responded. All the rest of the talk slipped away from her consciousness as she watched the horses in the arena. She got to keep her horses. That was really all that mattered at the moment.
The horses in the arena were very nice. She was familiar with the palomino mare and foal. She'd been spending time with the filly, getting her used to the touch and sound of humans.
"Well, let's get these ladies and gents back up to the stable" the boss said. "There's one more horse I want to show you."
And he was quite the horse.
"Historical references reveal that the foundation stock of the Lippizan breed included much more color. And genetic diversity. And while the color is very gratuitous, it's the strength of the diversity that is the critical element here. The preservation of everything good while refreshing a narrowing gene pool."
The boss could have said anything really. There wasn't a lot of need to justify why this horse caught her eye. But the justifications were good. Appropriate for the theme of the afternoon's discussion. Anyone could see bringing this one home was obviously the right choice.
Back at home, Grace was still a bit chilled..
"Are you feeling okay?" Skye asked. "Baron always tried to be your favorite lap dog when you don't feel good. Don't get sick on me Grace. I want to take that kayak out tomorrow!"
Everybody wanted to be her favorite lap dog, it seemed.
"We'll see what the weather holds for tomorrow" Grace said. "There will be water for a few days. Don't worry. We'll get the kayak out."
The day dawned glorious, sufficiently warm, the wind still. Time to give the kayak a go.
The creek spilled gently across the road.
"If we could park right here it would be perfect" Skye said.
"It would, but we can't park on the road. You know what the boss always says".
"A fire truck could get around us no problem" Skye countered.
"The boss says 'When it comes my turn to be rescued, I want my first responders to be cheerful and motivated.' So, we shouldn't park in the road. We want to keep them cheerful."
"Okay fine. I guess that's why the kayak has wheels."
The girls eventually found their way down to the water with the kayak.
"This life vest is a 2XL!" Skye struggled to tighten the straps as much as she could, but it still fit like a cardboard box. "We'll take it along. It's big enough for both of us to fit in."
Skye pushed the kayak into the water, leaving the tail end on land, and slipped quickly and gracefully inside.
"Have you kayaked before?" Grace asked.
"Yes! But not in anything like this. I've been in sit on top kayaks. Ocean kayaks. It's the same principle though. To get in, you get the kayak on the edge of the water or in the water completely, and you get your butt down and your center of gravity low as smooth and quick as you can."
Grace's entry was not quite as smooth...the paddles were large and awkward, her boots notoriously slippery, and her desire to keep them dry pretty strong. It took a little squirming and paddle-shoving and rocking back and forth before the kayak broke free of the land and Grace got her center of gravity where it belonged. And then a few awkward moments figuring out the paddles.
And a few more moments to figure out how to work as a team to keep the kayak level in the water. And then the magic happened.
Skye fell silent. She let Grace experience it. The different view. The freedom of gliding across the top of a liquid surface. The closeness to Nature. Looking down through the clear water. The sky. The vastness of the sky from the water's surface. The sound of water lapping on the hull, rippling over the paddle. All of it.
Skye reached down into the water, splashing it on her face. It was cool but not cold, perfectly clear.
Grace broke the silence.
"How wet are we supposed to be getting?"
"Oh...I don't really know. In an ocean kayak you can get pretty wet, but there's holes in it, so the water is always moving in and out.
"Well I'm pretty wet" Grace said.
"Me too" Skye responded.
"And if I'm not mistaken we're starting to ride a little low in the water."
Grace let one paddle rest in the water. Slowly the kayak turned around.
The girls were more or less drenched.
"Okay so we got a little wet, but wasn't that awesome? Just indescribably fantastic?" Skye bubbled exuberance.
"Yes" Grace said. "But I'm not a little wet. I'm soaked. I have more water inside my boots than on the outside."
"But look! Here comes the sun! You'll be dry in no time. Those boots will be...well, if you leave them on they'll be custom-formed to your feet!"
Grace did eventually dry out. So did Skye. And as the afternoon shadows grew long the boss was also excited. Two new tied rope halters from Eagle Nest Ranch had arrived. Grace put one on Loch'sha, and Skye decided to try her luck on a fully trained but as of yet uproven horse...Dunsmoke.
Grace watched Skye's effortless riding. Dunsmoke responded flawlessly to only weight shifts and neck rein pressure.
"You know" the bosses' words broke Grace's attention for a moment. "...many moons ago I went to a doctor for some sort of female issue. And she examined me and said I had a very straight pelvis. She said 'It will be hard for you to ride horses, or have children, because your pelvis is so straight.' I was just shocked. I didn't know your skeletal structure could have that kind of an impact on what you do. I mean, if I were looking at an animal yes, I could tell you things about what it may or may not be capable of, but I never knew the tilt of your pelvis could determine how you sat on a horse."
Grace was silent for a long time.
"I have never heard that before" she finally responded. "But it makes perfect sense."
The sun's last light fell upon the place the locals called Indian Rocks. Grace wanted to go there. Perhaps in the morning if they could slip away. And the evening left them with just enough clouds for a fleeting and glorious sunset.
The day dawned lovely, but the wind blew strong. Grace and Skye waited and watched. There would be minutes of stillness...but then the wind would come again, gusting, forceful, singing its wild song with the pine trees. The arena would have to do for now. Grace took Ono through his paces, and decided to work on his ground tie. Perhaps the ground poles would help him get the idea.
So far, so good.
Skye called from across the arena.
"Whoops! Sorry about that!"
Ono watched the errant calf, rocked forward a bit on his legs, and then back, but did not lift a hoof.
"Good stand" Grace said. "Good boy."
Skye and Cookie were sorting out calves when Grace noticed the shift.
"Skye. Can you hear that?"
"The wind. It stopped."
It was a glorious morning. Not quite 11 am. The heat of summer was apparent once the wind stopped mobilizing the air. And it was likely much too late to catch a glimpse of wild horses, although the girls did think at one point that they heard something... and too hot to ride to Indian Rocks. But even if it was only for a few moments, being outside and on a horse was good.
Grace wanted Skye to get used to Cookie. The horse Skye called Twitch, the grey and white pinto that Grace suspected was a reiner, hadn't sold yet. The boss would drop the price a few more times but if she didn't sell, she might make a great horse for Skye.
Cookie was so bold and level headed. She picked her way along the rock escarpments with ease and confidence. Grace remembered riding her bareback, working cattle, when she first came to the ranch, using only a neck rein, and that mostly for her own balance. Cookie was a great horse. And Skye seemed to get along with her just fine.
The big Thoroughbred mare trotted up and down the length of the arena. She was inquisitive and unruffled, moving smooth and loose. Grace and Skye watched as she took in the sights and smells without breaking her stride.
They watched as her attention was captured by something along the rail. Visitors! The girls had been so busy watching the new mare, they hadn't noticed the entrance of the other young girls.
Skye smiled and extended her hand.
"Thank you." The dark eyed girl reached out to receive Skye's welcome. "We were here for your Christmas party last year" she said, "but we didn't stay very long. My name is Anahit, and this is my sister Lousin." Lousin smiled and shook hands, and then returned her gaze to the sabino mare. Lousin was captivated by the horse. Something Skye completely understood.
"I'm Skye, and this is my sister Grace. This mare just arrived and we're letting her unwind and get familiar with her new surroundings."
"What's her name?" Lousin asked without looking away from the horse.
Skye looked at Grace.
"I'm not sure what her registered name is" Grace said, "but I believe her stable name is Luna."
Anahit and Lousin looked at each other and smiled.
The three girls watched as Grace tried to gather up the new mare, but she wasn't ready. She trotted by, again and again, looking rather pleased with herself, rather pleased with her new surroundings. And so the four girls chatted amongst themselves while the mare named Luna made a few more laps of the arena with her big, ground-eating trot.