She looked down at the tepee ring and realized that many years ago, little moccasined feet had run in and out of their home here. She wondered if they had been happy, if they had died in a bitterly cold winter, if they had been plucked off of this beautiful ridge and pressed into starched collars after smallpox pocked their faces.
Across a pleasant valley, white buttes thrust up from thistled ground like great sea beasts breaching ocean waters: white, riveting, brilliant, ridiculously out of place, yet perfectly fitting.
Thistled as it was, the valley was quite green. Spiny cacti promised to ram their quills through her shoes, if she would just step on them. The bittersweet smell of sagebrush was pervasive—so pervasive, in fact, she could hardly breathe anything else. But the midday sun was slowly drawing out the other aromas as well as the colors native to this land.
It felt new, yet it was not unfamiliar to her. She remembered it all when the wind had embraced her after she first arrived. It was sensation from childhood—a complete sensation, as one with many parts: the heated wind, the sage, the sun, the thistle.
She remembered the ranches, and she remembered the fear. Those mean boys put her up on the great roan, assuring her that he was gentle. She remembered the twinkle in their eyes. It wasn’t a nice twinkle; it was a mean one.
The books of the damp library basement—Misty, Big Red, and Black—had carefully crafted a world where she and the horse could breathe and run as one. But to actually experience that—well, that was just terrifying. And now she was on the wide back of one of those creatures!
As much as she had protested, her desire to actually ride a great horse shoved panic to the back of the line, and she was placed in the saddle and the reins were promptly slapped into her hands. The contact of the leather and the sensation of the power racing through those lines from the potent creature beneath her had caused her entire body to contract. Small white knuckles yanked back on the streams of leather and sent a shock of pain into the fleshy mouth of the horse.
She remembered the look of sheer panic on the faces of the boys—quite different from the mischief just moments before. When she saw this, she was suddenly aware that adults all around her were yelling for her to let go of the reins. In front of her, and not below her now, the horse’s huge neck stood like a monolithic pillar. It was then that she understood that the beast was on its hind legs.
She didn’t remember releasing the reins, or Pegasus landing on terra firma, but she did remembered being whisked away from the horse and he being led quickly to the corral.
Misty, Black and Big Red all had fallen from their glorious pedestals and become nothing more than objects of terror. Too big, too much, too powerful.
That’s why a wave of fear seemed to crash over her when the first horse crested the valley edge not far from the tepee rings. It was as if he emerged from the vast palace of Poseidon itself. He stood on the ridge for a few moments observing the group of humans before him. She was transfixed.
It was like Black, Misty and Big Red! The wind tousled his mane as he turned his head lazily toward the valley. The sun seemed to catch every fiber of hair and tumble it in gold dust. It seemed fictional, yet there he was: a creature from the very hand of God.
In a quick and casual show of teeth and gums, he whinnied across the valley. Then it seemed as if he turned to them to explain that he had some friends coming over.
As he walked toward them, his master began to describe him as having the sweetest of natures, often following them around like a puppy.
The other horses came to shore, each astonishing in their respective beauty. In an odd move, one that frightened her, the horse of gold dust walked between her and the small equine and human crowd. She felt uneasy and a little terrified. Then he stopped. He just stood there very close to her. His great head turned slowly toward her, and one beautiful, kind eye took her all in. He wasn’t nervous. He just stood there.
She was hesitant to touch him, but she could not resist. The golden creature of the Creator had just invited her forward. She took one long, smooth, slow stroke down the arch of his great neck. He neither recoiled nor moved. She did it again and felt herself relax. Again. The great muscles used for war or for show were calm beneath her hand. She tentatively put her other hand as neighbor to the first and drew her fingers and palms down the river of muscle. As she got close to the withers, she felt very calm and mostly unafraid, so she leaned into him this time, and again. Each time, she let the panic and fear diminish, dissipate, fade. She did not realize how absorbed she had become in that process until she heard the other people start moving toward the barn. She decided she had better follow suit.
Stepping forward, she glanced down at his other side only to see a great and jagged scar across his chest. It took her aback—one side Adonis, the other Chiron.[i]
When she expressed alarm at the great gash, his owner explained that he had run into barbed wire, had become entangled, had the flesh flayed to the bone, had severed his sweat gland, had been forecast for doom. Contrary to her husband’s advice, the master had nursed him back to health. He was her kindest horse and most beloved. The group discussed this near tragedy as his master led them all back to the barn.
But she had looked at him wholly while the master and the rest were talking. She knew that he had endured great suffering. She wondered if he knew that about her as well. Perhaps that’s why he had stopped beside her. She would never really know.
As she walked slowly toward the barn, she sensed he was very near her. His nuzzle gently touched her hand once or twice. Then they reached the gate. She passed through the gate; he stayed in the thistle.
She discovered then that that was what this whole journey—the wind, the thistle, the horse—had been: a healing.
[i] From Greek mythology. Adonis: A strikingly beautiful youth loved by Aphrodite. Chiron: The uniquely kind and strong centaur who sacrificed his life allowing humanity to obtain the use of fire; became known for his knowledge and skill with medicine.