We hadn't seen any horses all morning. The thermos of coffee was almost empty and I was starting to get disappointed. I mean, where was Pony Boy? We usually always see him.
Like the horses we've named, we also have names for the meadows they inhabit. Most of the time it's a sure bet that a small band of mustangs will be grazing and playing in 'Main Meadow'. But, not today. We've had good luck at 'Lookout Meadow', so we drive along the dusty road to the east end of the mountain in hopes of seeing Ghost and Coal and the gang. We pull the car over and walk in to where the opening is and look around. Those charcoal and black colored bachelors aren't there either. It's dry and a little sun scorched in places, this south facing meadow. They've probably moved on to lusher grasses, through the forest, to a more riparian area, where wild flowers still bloom.
It's high noon. We are sitting cross legged in 'Big Meadow' snacking on carrots and granola bars, scanning the conifer perimeter for white socks and black legs. We talk quietly, and wonder where the horses are. I close my eyes and I say a one-liner prayer, "please let me see a wild horse today."
And as I opened my eyes, a bright, melodious whinny rang through the meadow! I kid you not.
C and I looked at each other, our mouths dropped in unison, and then we saw him coming. A big, dappled grey stallion with a flying black mane and tail, came running out of the forest, looking all around, looking kind of frantic, actually. He stopped and stared at us from a distance. He whinnyed again and trotted around, coming closer and closer, then at a halt, he would stop and stretch his thick neck, back and forth. Back and forth. Desperately looking for something. Like one of his mares, perhaps. I don't really know. At a quick trot, he heads for us, whinnying all the while. At this point, C and I are already standing at attention. With the camera on the tripod C focuses in on this king of the mountain, and me, well, I just cannot breathe, but I have an enormous grin. A nervous grin.
King stands before us, nostrils flared, breathing hard, and he stares at us. His heart is beating hard, our hearts are pounding. We can't talk. We can't breathe! His head moves in little jerks, his eyes are soft and studying us, and he seems to be calming down. After a few minutes of this trance like experience, he takes a few steps around us, then comes back again, and stands there watching us some more.
And then, he turned around and walked away. Slowly, nonchalantly, swinging his long, tangled tail, as it almost touched the ground. We watched him leave us. We watched until we couldn't see the color grey any longer. He entered the dense forest, where we first had seen him come out of, and he went back to his family.
The only thing I remember saying to C was, "we will never experience that again." I had this feeling that we would never see King again. His actions were so elusive, so mysterious, it was obvious he was very protective of his mares and sons and daughters, and of his territory, that the chances of us seeing him again would be slight. He is one majestic stallion. His presence was spellbinding. He is King, afterall!
I wouldn't have minded in the least if I did not seen another mustang for the rest of the day. I couldn't possibly ask for anything more.
But, King turned out to be just a prelude to what was in store for us, a little while later.
Since June, I've been spending most of my time on this mountain, with these wild runners. Every time it's different. And it's always alluring. The boys, all shiny and black, the charcoal faces with star blazes, all those scars, those badges of courage or defeat. Mud caked coats in rusty reds and dusty tobianos, all with bright eyes peeking through matted strands of forelock. I love the bachelors. Honestly, I do. But, every time I'm up there I always wonder where the girls are? There just has to be some mares and mama's in the mix. And long legged little ones.
We were walking along the west side of 'Main Meadow' and stopped to glass the scenic view of the vast Red Desert below us. Then, out of nowhere, a line of horses ran like the wind along the ridge of the sage meadow. Eight mustangs of different colors galloped in single file, under a classic turquoise Wyoming sky, demonstrating their freedom and sharing themselves with us. For three minutes we watched as they ran past and then one by one they vanished.
While there was still some daylight hours left, we drove out on an overgrown jeep trail. We had never taken this path before. The Subaru cleared the ruts and we rocked on slowly for about a quarter of a mile and then stopped. Quietly and causally we got out of the rig. Well, what do you know. There they are. My mares. My babies! Golden beauties with flaxen manes and a little one I immediately named Mocha. Oh, my heart was singing with joy!
Like it is with all the horses we meet, letting them accept our presence, showing them we are not a threat, takes patience and time and an unhurried attitude. And hope that they will stick around awhile. And they did. The attractive black guardian of the little family was cautious and hesitant at first, but when he heard us talking in low voices and showing our respect by not staring too much, he let down his guard, but never completely. The five of them stood together in a huddle, swishing their tails and mainly just standing still, in a field of moist blue sage, tall grasses and Indian Paintbrush up to their knees.
We took a million pictures. The camera shutter was the only sound on 'Mare Meadow', except on occasion, a whip of a breeze. It was a warm breeze and with it, I could smell the horses from where I was sitting. The foals laid down at their mama's feet and slept. For an hour C and I watched them sleep, and we too, lounged in the sage.
The sun was going down and nap time was over. The kids were up and nursing. This new family we had gotten to know was a pure gift from nature and the perfect ending to our day. The young flaxen and mocha tails shot straight up in the air as they galloped together with their mothers. The lucky black stallion turned to look at us one more time before he kicked his heels and ran away.
We slept soundly in the teepee tent that night and I dreamed of horses. Early in the morning we made coffee and drove up the hill to watch the sun rise. We got about a mile up the gravel road and who do you think was standing right there in front of us? A big dappled grey stallion with jet black mane and tail. King! He was shooing his pretty white mare and their tawny babe in to the woods. They stood for a second looking at us, long enough for me to take pictures through the car windshield, and then King forced them in to the trees. And that was that. It happened so quickly, it was terribly exciting, and I kept repeating to myself, out loud, I can't believe I just saw King. I cannot believe I just saw King!
But I did. And it was better than a sunrise.