The shade betrays the mind-numbing heat. I pick up the muck rake and clean the sunny side of the turnout first. The shaded side is my reward.
The Amazon rain forest burns; will the smoke drift up our way? Second hand smoke, lungs burn here as they burn there.
Words burn, not to escape, but burn away. Oppressive summer renders me into disjointed bits, words and thoughts strewn this way and that. Cohesiveness needs water.
Still no rain. The monsoon season hasn’t done much more than snuffle and puff up a few times, a little spatter perking up the citrus days and days ago. Now we wait. The heat rises, doughy clouds’ yeast, thunderheads’ encouragement. Everything below stills.
The day burns away the morning shadows and the horses sweat. Salt dapples their backs in streaky patterns. I rinse them off with a hose, checking that the water has cooled to a reasonably comfortable temperature. The flies and gnats are few, sizzled on the breeze.
Last week a night snake coiled itself near the front door of our house. The cat stretched out nonchalantly beside it. I recoiled in fear, since the creature reassembled a baby rattlesnake, but on second inspection I saw it was a more benign visitor. I had read that night snakes were getting into homes on a Facebook page, introducing these little noodles to my consciousness. My husband and I urged it out with a broom and sent its slender 19 inches out into the day. It hugged the foundation of our house as it moved, then it was gone. Only then did I realize that it might have been looking for water and I wished I had given it a drink.
Seek the middle path.
Between lashes and bare lids
Vision is clearest.
There he is, beyond my mare’s mud crusted back. He’s not here anymore. One eye bad, suspensory ligaments going, each day couched in pain for the old guy. He wasn’t mine, but he lived with my mare. She tried to teach him what a stud needs to do when a mare is in season, and he gave it the old college try, but ultimately, the stress on his legs was too much and he resorted to telling her to bugger off. It was better that way for cohabitation, but worse for him because it drew the end nigh.
I wasn’t there for his passing. The vet gave him a quick and easy exit. He had spent the day grazing on a yard of juicy spring grasses and had consumed an entire box of Rice Crispy Treats the day before. His last days had to have been some of his best. He was well loved.
Making the decision to euthanize always presses painfully on my normally exuberant psyche. Only a few short weeks ago I helped ease my 15 year old dog to the doggone beyond. I kept hoping he would gently exhale and float away peacefully, but he refused to let go that easily and delegated that decision to me. The hour before the veterinarian was due to arrive at our home was the hardest. My heart clenched, my eyes smarted, tear-blasted, until my breath finally accepted the inevitable. I regained my composure for him, for I knew that would be best. His last exhale was gentle, with his black and white head cradled in my lap. His ice-blue eyes became fixed, pupils dilated. My son gentle closed the lids. Even in death, the eyes kept opening, tempting me to believe he might still be in there.
While I helped the vet carry the body out to her car, I half-expected Romeo to jump back to life, to stay with me, to give corporal permanence to the indelible dog-shaped mark he’d emblazoned on my memory, but no. His body only flopped, completely devoid of what he once was.
It was the right thing to do. This is what we say. This is what we know. It doesn’t make it any easier.
To all good dogs and all good horses, and all are good, may a peaceful exit be yours.
What a bad dirty horse you are! I just gave you a bath! Couldn’t you have waited until you were dry? Is that too much to ask? What’s the matter with you?
What a good girl. What a good roll! Can you get the other side, too? Did you get all your itches? Great job, good horse!
Don’t praise her. She’ll get the wrong idea. She’ll get a big head. She’ll get conceited. No one will like her if she’s conceited. She’ll thinks she’s the boss. You need to mold her to your specifications.
A horse gotta do what a horse gotta do! How beautiful to watch her be herself. How exciting that she can roll without the stiffness and discomfort she was experiencing. How satisfying it must feel to give the belly a good scratch! Here, have some fresh hay. There’s absolutely no mold tainting the stems.
Yesterday I heard someone on the radio talking about the curse of social media and how it has led us all to seek positive feedback. How many clicks? How many likes? How many comments? Are we more frenetic in seeking approval because of social media, or have we been starved and, like parched survivors of a seemingly infinite desert crawl, bellied up to the refreshing cool stream of hearts, thumbs ups and smiley faces?
The person on the radio was a performer of some kind, and she talked about the abyss that rises up to greet you after the applause. Is this the fault of the applause, or the fact that, deprived of praise, we falter when we hear it? We doubt we deserve it. Get it away from me! If allowed to wash over us, will our imperfections be revealed? If we smile, wide and open-mouthed, to take it into our being will our heads explode?
So we let it go, and recommence the flagellation. Whip marks get results. Shut down and status quo, we cause no ripples. We do as we are told. Predictable sameness calms our existential longing. Until someone clicks “like”.
I want to be an old lady who rides a donkey.
Gray above and below,
We progress as one.
Taking time to think it out,
regarding what surrounds us,
insisting on our opinions.
Lips soft, ears long,
We are consulted for our wisdom.
The grass was waist high. A silvery wire fence stood between the two horses and my sister and me. Gazing up from my four year old vantage point, I felt a rush of excitement. My little sister began whimpering as the black horse lifted his head from the grass and ambled towards us. “It’s okay,” I said. “Pick some grass to feed him. That’s all he wants.” I picked a blade of grass and pushed it through the wire and the black horse tickled it with his muzzle before delicately and generously consuming the single blade. “That’s enough!” Our mother rushed in and dragged us away, glaring at me for frightening my toddler sister.
I couldn’t let go of the dream. When we moved to Wyoming I once again dragged my sister along to visit a fat little black pony picketed out in the grass to graze. I knew Blackie belonged to one of my fourth grade classmates. “I think it’s okay if I just get on her.” I said. My sister said I shouldn’t do that. Maybe I didn’t that day, but Blackie’s owner would bring her by to gallop up and down the hill in front of our house and she would sometimes let me take a turn.
“Mom! She won’t leave!” It was my first time babysitting for the neighbors’ two preschool aged daughters and it was time for them to go to bed. My sister had come over with me to play with the younger girls. I was 12. “You’ll just have to ask her to come home again. This is your job now.” My mom washed her hands of responsibility and my sister refused to leave. When the neighbors returned my sister was sitting at the dining room table with their daughters, and they were all eating vanilla ice cream with cocoa powder sprinkled on top. I apologized and turned hot, embarrassed and tongue-tied. The next day my mother told me she had talked with the neighbor and apologized for my failings and due to her timely intervention I was being offered a second chance.
Babysitting every Wednesday for the neighbors provided a weekly revenue stream of $1.50 which I dutifully saved in the back of a dresser drawer towards my horse fund. After that initial chocolate dusted disaster, my job fell into an easy routine. My neighbor let me ride her buckskin mare, Chipmunk, from time to time. She said if I were her daughter she’d buy me a horse. I wished she were my mother.
For my 15th birthday my parents gave me a card that said since I could drive to haul feed, I would be allowed to get a goat or other animal of my choosing. I leapt up, “I can get a horse. I can get a horse!” And I did.
Sepia faded soft, her head turned in my direction. Tail in mid-swish, one ear towards me. Old truck rusting away behind her. Now I look again. Was the truck abandoned, or had I driven it there? Is that the old International?
You can’t tell she’s pregnant, can you? She’s three years old, my first horse. When the colt came the following April it was a surprise. I had told my non-horsey parents I thought she was pregnant, but what does a 15 old girl know?
She came from a ranch that owned the Morgan stallion that was her daddy. Her mom was Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred, they said. She was sorrel and had a few darker spots on her sides. The rancher had called them her “velvet spots” and Velvet she became.
She stumbled and fell one day while I was riding her at a gallop through the place where the barrels were set up. The neighbor’s daughter saw me walking home through the Wyoming summer grasses as she drove by on I-25. Sandra picked me up and drove me home. I gripped my right shoulder and gritted my teeth.
Velvet was already home, and Bonus was there to greet her. The neighbors unsaddled her and put her back in with her colt while my parents drove me to the hospital. They had just gotten home from a shopping trip in Casper and it would be a 40 mile return trip to take me. “Now we have to go all the way back to Casper!” exclaimed mom. I got in the backseat and removed my hard contacts lenses since I feared I may pass out.