March 3, 2023
Cabin fever had definitely set in. Something like seven feet of snow had fallen. They could not get the horses out. Even if they could, there was nowhere to go with them. It might be another day...or who knows how long...before they could get from the barn to the arena. At least repotting the plants would give them something to do.
"I guess I should have let them dry out before we did this" Grace mused.
"I saw a program about the Camargue horses of France" Skye responded. "They were naturally gentling a stallion, catching it and releasing it."
"Who is they?"
"This man...how would we describe him in modern vernacular. A maturity-enhanced equine enthusiast and resident of the Camargue."
"A old horseman, okay..."
"Anyway. They were gentling this wonderful wild stallion. They didn't show how they were catching him, but they would catch him, and he was okay with it, and then they'd slowly work with him...halter, bridle, saddle...they'd groom and feed him...then they'd let him loose again."
They examined the first extricated calla lily rhizome. It was just about ready to start growing. Nothing wrong with it.
"Do you think we should keep going?" Skye asked.
"Yeah. What else are we gonna do? Besides, if transplanting doesn't go well, we'll have a little time to try again. So. They were gentling a wild stallion?"
"Yes! A wild stallion!" Skye paused. "Oh boy. Hope we can do this without hurting the lily."
"I think we can. This one should have some kind of root ball. Hopefully it's real strong and everything will hold together. I wish you would have seen how they caught the stallion."
"That wasn't part of the program" Skye explained. They said "the stallion allows himself to be caught."
"Hmmm. Must be a young bachelor."
As Grace suspected, a well developed root ball held the soil together. Skye continued describing the show she'd watched.
"Well, kind of. The social structure of the Camargue horses is really different. They are on an island, or a big marsh, and they have no natural enemies. So they don't really need a stallion to defend them. It's a matriarchal society and the stallions probably fight with each other when there's mares in season to fight over, but not like here, where the stallions are guarding mares from everything all the time."
The girls went on to discuss how perhaps Grace could try the same with Petrichor...after all, she had brought him in when he was injured...of course that was before he had a herd of his own, or perhaps it was just the bay mare who showed up when they released him...in any case, it wasn't the same, but maybe Grace could find herself riding Petrichor some day.
And so the evening went by, and eventually the replanting job was complete.
"I feel like those spider plants are just sitting on top of the dirt" Skye said.
"They are. But they've got about eight weeks to get some roots on them, and they will."
"Think anyone will care that the succulents don't match?
"I don't think so. I do hope we get to see the calla lilies bloom though."
Everything matched again.
"So next time we see Petrichor...and who even knows where any of the horses are right now but my guess is they went to the lowest elevation they could get to..." Grace's voice trailed off.
"Next time we see him" Skye continued, "push a little farther. Try to touch the parts of his face where a halter goes and stuff like that."
Grace fell silent, wrapped in thought...staring at their potting work and thinking thoughts of taming wild stallions.
Grace noticed the light changing.
"Come on" she said, grabbing her coat. "Let's go see the alpine glow."
They lumbered through the snow. Although it had packed down considerably, it was hard work.
They went as fast as they could, quickly overheating in their respective poncho and coat, leaving them at the base of the ridgeline. By the time they had battled their way to the vista point, the alpine glow had faded. A slight breeze stirred, and after a few moments, they were no longer overheated. It was time to fetch up their warm wear again, and follow their footsteps back to the house.
"I think those are planets" Skye remarked of the two bright objects visible in the western sky, before the appearance of other stars.
The barn cats apparently also had cabin fever, and decided to switch cabins. What inspired them to brave the snow and how exactly they did it, the girls did not know, but here they were, looking quite comfortable on Skye's bed.
"If a plow can make it back here tomorrow" Grace said, "maybe we'll get some horses turned out in the arena. We'll see."
The cats were definitely settling in for the night.
In the wee hours of Sunday morning the plow truck made a pass, making a track just big enough for the long and wide Payment Queen to navigate. Everyone could get to the highway now, at last. But the plow's circular path did not connect the stables to the indoor arena, and it went through some of the deepest of the snow drifts. There was no way to get the horses out.
Monday morning dawned mostly clear. And at some point in the night, the plow had come through again, making another circular path, this time coming near enough to the stables that the girls could shovel a track from the stalls to the plowed path. No more waiting. They were going to get some horses out, even if all they did was go around in big snow plow circles.
Grace went first. Skye was surprised at her choice of mounts. Grace reminded Skye that the only thing La Barilla had ever been afraid of was ground poles. He would probably do just fine in the snow. And he did.
The big roan mare named Winchester Cathedral led the way. The sun was quite warm and soon the air temperature was 42 degrees. The snow would soon be softening.
Skye brought up the rear. It was a lovely morning. So warm was the sun that she considered taking off her poncho. Dani Girl was playful and so happy to be out.
Making solo loops around the plow track, some stallions came next, beginning with Wanderlust.
Followed by Dreamboat.
Anamar danced his way around.
The boss said there were two more horses coming. Grace and Skye waited.
Skye fairly squealed. "Oh can I hug her? She looks like a giant teddy bear!" The big buckskin shire mare was new. New to the ranch, new to snow. Of course this much snow was new to everyone.
The boss's voice rang clear in the quiet mountain morning.
"The next one might be coming a little fast..."
The girls held their breath. The mare never missed a footfall.
The boss was eager to get some pictures of the new horses. They took the big, calm shire mare out into what was usually a scrub land, transformed presently to a field of snow. There was a thick crust just beneath the freshly fallen powder, and it did not buckle under the mare's substantial weight.
"What's her name?" Skye asked the boss.
"I'm sure it's something long and complicated on her pedigree" the boss answered. We'll have to come up with a stable name for her."
It was nearly noon. The wind picked up rather suddenly. Skye was immediately grateful she had suffered with her poncho through the morning.
The appaloosa mare wasn't going to stand quietly for her portrait. La Barilla wanted to join her.
Skye was entranced. What a horse. Drinking the wind and turning it into rippling power.
She ran and ran, fenced in only by the wall of snow that the plow had left in its wake. It would be just enough.
Beautiful clouds danced across the afternoon sky. It had been a good morning, and the snow made everything magical.
Later in the afternoon, the girls headed into town, going slowly on the highway, still mostly just one emergency lane as Cal Trans worked around the clock to push back the snow.
Grace slowed as they passed by Upper Big Tujunga Canyon.
"I bet that's where the wild horses are" she said.
"I bet you're right" Skye said. "Down Alder Canyon and out of the snow line. Or at least, out of the heavy snow."
It felt good to think that way...that the horses were fine, and they'd had the sense and the ability to move to lower ground, and that they would be back again, when the snow thawed and the grass grew lush in Chilao.
Skye stepped outside with the camera, hoping to catch alpine glow on the mountains. Somehow that glow seemed dependent on clouds to reflect light. There were no clouds, but there was Coyote.
Coyote seemed lithe even in the soft snow, moving easily. Was this the old man, Lives Among Them? If it was, he looked as good and as youthful as ever.
Perhaps this was his pup from 2022. He had a notch in his ear. Did Lives Among Them have a notch? Skye could not recall. There was no alpine glow yet. Skye went back inside. Grace was pulling off her coat, as the evening was pretty warm...44 degrees.
"I've been doing some research on the Raramuri Criollo cattle" Skye said. "Do you know exactly where our bull is from? Because I don't think he's an Argentine Criollo. The way he is so gentle and people-friendly, that's the way the Raramuri people raise their cattle. As companions, believe it or not!"
"Who are the Raramuri?" Grace asked.
"It's Mikki's people! It's the Tarahumara name for themselves and it means Fleet Foot."
"I have the number of the people the boss bought him from. He was raised locally, and his owners were very proud of him. They are the ones who told me not to be afraid of him. Somehow that information didn't make it along with him."
"Two cats did!"
"Yeah...I remember that well."
"We should be able to get some horses out tomorrow" Grace said. "It's going to stay warm for the next two days. The snow is melting really fast now."
"I know! Even the coyotes are sinking into it."
The last light of day flooded into their room. Maybe Skye would try the alpine glow again.
Where a week ago was solid snow, a seasonal stream now flowed.
And squirrels ate greedily from the exposed riches of the coulter pines, eating sap and cone pedals alike, well nourished again.
Skye gazed upon the tree she had painted, when there were two of them. The other now lay on the ground, slowly to feed the soil. This tree would likely be felled also. The girls showed up as the firefighters surveyed it, chain saws in hand, having just felled the other tree. On this one there was still a small twinge of green. Less than ten percent, and not lush. But the firefighters left it, at least for that day. They knew there was little hope, but they gave it a chance. Skye thought perhaps she should do another painting of this tree alone. Before it fell or was felled.
The morning sun warmed the melting snow. It had been forty degrees overnight. Open patches of wet ground were plentiful.
Skye was still sound asleep. Grace saddled La Barilla and rode the back side of the ranch. The day was glorious. Occasionally the melting snow disappeared into sink holes along the seasonal stream beds, so the morning would not be entirely without some risk, but Grace decided to turn out some horses anyway.
The horses seemed to enjoy all of it...a mouthful of green grass here and there, spongy soil beneath their hooves, the splash of cold water.
Warm sunlight, cool water, crisp air. SKye had a hunch where Grace had gone. What fun to just watch the horses.
Grace brought up the rear, letting the horses enjoy the morning at whatever pace they chose. La Barilla looked comfortable under saddle, comfortable in the water...Grace was making him into a versatile, purposeful horse.
"Sleeping Beauty! Good Morning!"
"You want to pick the next herd of horses to turn out?"
"Sure! Can we turn out some ponies?"
But as the girls made their way back to the stables, their domestic horses started giving them clues that there was something out there. Out beyond the boundaries of the ranch, in the wild country.
So instead of turning out ponies, Grace changed ponchos to blend in better with the landscape, and the girls made their way across the swiftly melting snow, hoping what they would encounter would indeed be wild horses.
Petrichor and his band appeared first.
Followed more closely than usual by Highlander with his two mares.
The girls stayed where they were, Skye struggling to keep her footing in the soft, saturated soil.
The bay mare turned around. The pale mare was missing. Grace and Skye watched and waited, expecting to see her at any moment.
Highlander and his mares turned back. Petrichor came slowly toward the girls.
"See if you can touch him" Skye whispered. "He already comes to you. You've so got this. He's going to be your next golden stallion."
"We'll see" she whispered back.
Petrichor moved toward the girls ever so slowly. Like dancing in place.
"My beautiful" Grace said, "where is your pale mare? The watcher? You look well and fit. We're so glad to see you."
Petrichor stayed just tantalizingly beyond reach.
Grace thought to stretch out a hand, then decided not to. She would let Petrichor come in. She would let him make the first contact. He did come quite close.
And then he turned away, to join his herd.
They watched and waited. Perhaps the pale mare was just out of sight, beyond the snow bank. Soon the horses vanished.
"You want to get wet from liquid water, or wet from snow?" Skye asked.
"I'm already pretty wet" Grace said. "Liquid water. At least we won't have to climb it."
Skye paused to study a feather in the snow.
And then another, and another. A scrub jay had likely become someone's dinner. Somehow the feathers were less enchanting now, and Skye wondered if it was a sign. Had something bad happened to the pale mare.
When had they seen the mare last? Skye remembered where. Just not when. She hunted through images on the laptop.
"January 30 was the last time we saw her" She told Grace. "And the first time we saw Highlander's new mare, remember?"
"Wow" Grace responded. "January 30...six weeks ago already...they could have been so many places in that six weeks. Where would we even begin to look?"
Skye closed the laptop. Where would they look? She had no idea. The forest was huge, and wild from the moment you stepped outside.
"Hey" Grace said, "do you still want to take out the sled? I can saddle up Jesse..."
"Are you sure? Maybe while we're out sledding we can look for my hat..."
Skye didn't answer.
Skye went to the creek behind the fire station. Sometimes dry for whole years, usually no more than a pleasant gurgle after rain or snow, today it roared and resounded with deep, plunging tones.
She hoped the sound of the water would wash away her thoughts, but it did not. Where was the pale mare? And what would happen to her foal?
Evening brought more clouds. Rain was coming. It might be days before they could even attempt to go looking for the missing wild mare.
Skye surveyed the dusk landscape. The rain had finally stopped. Seven feet of snow washed away.
The lone tree stood over its fallen sibling. Skye wanted to imagine she could see the tracks of a lone mare in the snow. But no. It was St. Patrick's Day...but then Skye wasn't Irish. There was no sign of wild horses. Any wild horses. Just spongy ground and the song of moving water.
From the stillness a gust of wind came. That wind that reminds you how impartial nature is. A grand movement, not about the individual, but about whole epic processes and constant change. Nature wasn't like people imagined it, gentle and forever enduring. It wasn't like that at all. Well, hopefully the forever enduring part, but for sure not gentle.