October 10, 2022
Grace stared long and hard at the horse she called Puddle Jumper. It was her first attempt at a pinto in acrylic paint, and she wasn't satisfied with him. She was not convinced she could fix him, but she had made up her mind. She was going to try.
"I'm going to re-do him. In colored pencil."
Skye was having a hard time listening. She was mesmerized by the rainbows. They came from the window decals that were supposed to deter birds from hitting the window. They filled the room with rainbows in the late afternoon. It made an already magical space even more enchanted.
Grace had been wanting to hike down to a portion of Chilao Creek that usually had water when the rest of the creek was dry. The weather was lovely and the autumn light equally beautiful. The girls took a different route than they would have on horseback, and it proved to be slow going, but it was nice to see bits of the forest they had never seen before. Rock formations that looked like easy chairs and a glow to the light that brought everything to life.
Skye was fascinated with the tree rings.
"This was not a very big tree for all of those rings" she remarked. "Somehow I thought a tree with this many rings would have been much bigger."
"Good point." Grace had more questions than answers as she looked at the stump. She started counting the rings. There were many. And they would never get to where she was trying to go if she started counting tree rings.
After climbing over half a dozen tree trunks and navigating the dry creek bed for about a hundred yards, the girls emerged in familiar territory...except it looked so different. It was covered in plants, not water.
Frequent thunder showers had moistened the soil. Theirs were the first tracks on the wide sand bank. Grace could see no sign of water.
"Let's go a little farther."
They did in fact find water. And there were birds flying about. But there were no tracks of any kind leading to the water. Perhaps because there had been a light rain last night. Or perhaps because these tiny pools were no longer viable water sources.
On the return trip, they took a familiar path, past the giant oak and up a steep incline.
"I bet we have a nice sunset tonight" Skye said.
"I think you might be right."
"Do you like him better?" Skye asked. Grace was staring at Puddle Jumper again. She had begun the colored pencil re-creation.
"I think so. I've just done part of his side so far. I mean, no doubt, this is better. Now I've got all these white pencil flakes in the brown areas. And then I slip with the pencils sometimes. It's kind of hard. But I don't want to wrap him up and abandon him at the Goodwill store any more."
Skye was shocked to hear her talk about the piece that way. There were more things right about it than Grace was giving herself credit for.
"No! Just keep swimming. You'll save him. I know you will."
Skye shifted the conversation to another piece of artwork. "I wish I could paint like this" Skye said, admiring the Little Bucker sculpture by Rayvin Maddock, painted by Meredith Warren.
"You can" Grace said. "You paint a couple hundred horses and stay focused and keep learning new techniques, and you'll get real good. You'll be unique; your work won't look just exactly the same as anyone else's, but you'll get good to where you'll look at your own art and have a sense of satisfaction and pride."
As the words rolled so easily off her tongue towards Skye, Grace realized the same advice applied for her own work. Puddle Jumper was only her fourth piece, and the first one to give her real problems. She needed to embrace her own advice, and be gentle and courageous in her work.
A cloud layer cam in the afternoon, on the heels of a brief wind.
Predictably, the boss had asked the girls, when they had a chance, if they could track down some of their beloved wild horses and get good pictures of them. She even had a list. It was mostly mares and foals. But whether it was hunting season, or lack of water, noisy campers, predators or something else, the wild horses had been scarce for weeks now.
Skye watched a pair of ravens, flying about excitedly. But not because of her. They were preoccupied with something else. She just couldn't tell what.
Even if by some miracle they found horses, this was not great weather for anything but artistic photos.
The wind picked up again, ushering in the cool, damp air. Just cool enough to make Grace wish she owned a sweatshirt.
Skye welcomed the change of seasons. Autumn felt very alive to her.
Skye pretended she was still sound asleep as Grace prepared to go down to the indoor arena. Once Grace was well on her way, Skye struggled with the chunk of stone and other nicnacs, setting them aside so she could open her pine chest.
The thing was almost as heavy as that chunk of stone. The boss had shown it to her. It was a horse head, painted on metal with enamel, and it looked an awful lot like Petrichor. The boss suggested that she buy it for Skye to give to Grace, perhaps for Christmas. Skye really couldn't refuse. And she loved the piece.
It was very different from everything else they had, but Skye was pretty sure Grace would love it.
Skye put everything back, and headed to the arena. There were new horses to behold.
The boss was there taking pictures and Grace was handling. As best as Skye could figure, they'd acquired a real circus horse.
"He's not quite a circus horse" the boss said. "He performed for a number of years at a dinner theatre. Something like Medieval Times. He came with all of his finery."
Grace and Skye removed his finery. Skye couldn't resist but to try on the head dress.
"This is so heavy! Why is it so heavy if it's made out of feathers?"
"Now there's a costume" Grace said, laughing.
Underneath all the trappings was a lovely horse, with a smooth way of going and a kind eye.
The next horse was a show stopper. A gloriously colored standardbred trotter. The arena was barely big enough for the kind of speed this horse delivered.
The third pair of new horses were as different as different could be from the previous two. A substantial pony mare. And her incredibly cute foal.
Skye swung herself up onto the mare's back.
"She has high withers and a very short back, but she's not little" Skye noted. "She really feels like a...like a short horse. I can't get over how cute this baby is! I just want to squeeze her!"
Grace brought La Barilla down, but just to turn him loose. She hadn't ridden him in over a week.
And then, two by two, Grace and Skye brought some mares and geldings down to the arena to let them stretch their legs. It was gorgeous outside, but every time Grace thought the wind was over, it came back again. The wind could be so unsettling. For today, the arena would do.
The girls had meant to get out before daybreak. The sun was up, but there will still long, cool shadows to ride through.
Birds were making a tremendous racket. A pair of spotted towhees made their presence known. Quail darted about beneath the chaparral.
They searched for signs of the wild horses...any wild horses...but found none. The thunderstorms of summer and early autumn were not enough to fill the seasonal streams, but they were enough to keep wildflowers blooming.
And heading south across Meadow Campground, they discovered a water source...a broken pipe spilling a small but viable amount of fresh groundwater into a shallow depression. Plenty enough water for bears and coyotes, and probably enough for horses, two or three at a time.
The thunderstorms had caused a sort of "false spring" in the seasonal stream beds. There was, at the moment, plenty of fresh, tender grass. Still, no sign of wild horses. They headed home as the sun warmed the cool morning air.
It was a good day. Wild horses, no wild horses...a day in the saddle was a good day.
Back home, the girls found a surprise laid out o the table.
"What's this?" Grace said. "Looks like the boss was here."
Skye read the note out loud.
"The pumpkin is ceramic but the fudge and peanut butter cups are edible. Happy Halloween!"
"Sounds like a perfect breakfast" Grace said.
"Oh yes, I agree."