It is an environment where nothing comes between me, the sky, the horizons, and my dreams.
When the wind died down, I found the courage to go outside. There was only one place I wanted to go. Something I really needed to do. I went to see about a horse.
One of the best things about driving in Wyoming is, the highways are empty. You can totally check out the scenery in every direction, while belting out some Sara Jarosz song, and do a little drumroll on the steering wheel while going 70 mph. It's so freeing.
Sailing past straw fields and cattle ranches, I sneer at some cows close to the road, safe behind their barbed wire fences. Oh, I know it's not their fault. It's just that, every time I see a cow, I see a helicopter. And a horse.
Main Pony Road guided me through a windswept and lonely prairie today. The sage wasn't blue, the once bright, ochre yellow of the rabbitbrush was grey. For now, the Indian Paintbrush scarlet petals have been drained. Summer wildflower colors have been snatched by winter. I glassed the pines of Green Mountain, the Ferris Range and to the west, Crooks mountain, that is home to some rare, pure blooded Indian ponies. The prairie clings to the edges of these hills and peaks, but nothing can be a barrier for the harshness it endures from December to May.
Clusters of pronghorn dominate the prairies right now. They aren't quite so nervous; I can tell they know that hunting season has passed. Some lie around, as lazily as lopers can, which is seldom, as they watch me from afar.
I've come prepared for any kind of weather. As the wind picks up, just as I knew it would, I begin to cover myself with gear from head to toe. Wind proof this, wind proof that. Now, I'm ready. I found what I was looking for, out there in the distance about half a mile away. I've had to learn to walk slowly, softly to get to wild horses. I call it "the Joe Hutto walk." He's the deer and turkey whisperer, remember? I pay very close attention to that man's ways.
There are seven horses grazing together and one off to the side. The watcher. The protector. He sees me and raises his head. I always try to appear nonchalant, by looking away or looking down, making sure he sees that I am not that interested in moving in on him or his family. A few minutes later the stallion curiously walks toward me and then he stops. I breathe in deeply. I want to smell him. His winter coat is thick like shag, a cross between chestnut and cinnamon. I want to sink my hands into that velvet, gleaming in the sun. He's got old scars from gashes in his face. He looks young with eyes so gentle. I stare at him. He stares at me. Our eyes see inside each other's. We are locked in a moment. The connection between this enormous, beautiful animal and I is the most unique experience, and if I try to describe it, nothing I say can capture the magic and the sweet mystery it brings to ones' soul.
If you've never seen a wild horse before, I hope that every one of you will have at least a day in your life, that pristine moment to be close to one, to feel what I feel. And as you hang back and then finally turn and walk away, I bet you will open your heart and confess, "I have a crush on Velvet."
Or Beast, or Muzzle, or Ghost or Dragon or Jigsaw or January. And if you're lucky, maybe you will feel something for Pony Boy. Wherever he may be.
Keep in mind, we just may be the last generation to see wild horses in the wild if things continue as they are. If you want to see Wyoming's wild horses, I will be happy to show you in person where they live or I can draw you a map of where to go, where they like to hang out. But, now is the time. We don't have forever.
God knows, they don't either.
"Don't mark up the Library's copy, you fool! Librarians are Unprankable. They'll track you down! They have skills!"
I rescued some unwanted books from the last Friends of the Library book sale. Some I will read, some I will give away, and some I will use for art projects.
I'm always bringing home arm loads of books from the library. I can't help it. Flipping through books that have been returned is my job. I look for pen marks, coffee stains, crumbs of food, tire tracks, dog-chewed binding, bugs, random items left inside, unspeakable bookmarks, little sticky notes that read "you look very nice today" and many, many grocery lists.
If I find you have dog-eared the pages, you will regret it.
And just so you know, this is what's going on today in Wyoming :* Winds... west to southwest winds of 35 to 45 mph with gusts of 60
to 65 mph by the late morning hours.They weren't kidding.
Stand very still. Breathe as softly as you can. See that little flicking movement? No, not over there, straight ahead, behind the bush. Keep looking. You will see it. I promise. There. Didn't I tell you? Cool, right? Isn’t she beautiful?
From the book,The Hidden Life of Deer by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
I spent half the day watching a pretty family of deer as they lay around in the fresh snowy woods. Flocks of geese flew above me in irregular V's while following the icy blue Platte River. A woodpecker perched quietly on the branch of a gnarled cottonwood. Together we contemplated the wonder.
The month of September I shared some of what's in my heart with our small community on the prairie. Chad and I worked hard hanging an exhibit of photos of the wild horses from Green Mountain in Central Wyoming. Eighty people showed up to view the documentary, The American Mustang, that we premiered in the basement of the public library. Everything went perfectly. But, the next day, I was glad it was over. Fighting for what you believe in takes a toll. Along with having pictures of carefree mustangs on display comes difficult conversations and controversy. Especially in Wyoming. I could not stop thinking about the dismal future of the wild beauties I had photographed and hung up for all to see. It kept me up at night, knowing that these might be the very last pictures ever to be made, of the Mustangs of the Sweetwater Rocks.
If there was anything I needed more, it was the train trip that I was about to go on.
We spent the night in the Silver Moonbeam, high up in the Rockies at Red Feather. At 4:00 a.m. when the alarm went off, it was pitch black. I mean, there was NO light anywhere around us. Just spooky old Pine trees looming over the canned ham. We used only our headlamps to dress and rummage through our packs and move about the trailer. I hadn't slept very good, my mind was in a million places. I was both anxious and excited about my trip. I wanted a cup of coffee so bad. Disheveled and dragging myself up the pathway to the top of the hill where our car was parked, I proceeded to have a teeny tiny meltdown, right there in a clump of juniper bushes. Chad wrapped his arms around me and listened patiently as I sobbed in anger about the horses. He's a good place to lean.
We said goodbye at the train station, the whistle blew and I was on my way to California. Nestled in my seat, with my blanket and my books, I stared out the window and tried to think of things that make me happy. I thought about how nice it will be to see my parents again. I thought about all the interesting places and scenery I'd get to see on this rail route. I'd be going through four states; Colorado, Nevada, Utah and California, all in two days. I tried not to, but, I found myself thinking about Beast and Jigsaw and Bliss and Tuffy. I saw the Neopolitan band rolling in mud on a bright summer day and Silver chasing away Dragon from his mares. Trying to hide my tears, I just kept my nose to the window, but then I smiled when I thought of a horse named January. These, I realized, are the things that make me happy.
October filled up with train travel, which to my delight, included learning the ways of the Amish. I traveled from Salt Lake City to Glenwood Springs with three Amish couples from Indiana. They kindly answered all my questions and they were eager to join me in the search for mustangs outside of Reno. I met a freight train engineer, who, get this, knew my dad! In our brief introduction, he almost fell over when I told him I was Guitar Whitey's daughter. My very own father is a celebrity hobo. At one of the stops, while out stretching my legs, I threw a dollar bill in a dingy old hat of a "Deadhead" harmonica player. I ate expensive waffles for breakfast. Mostly, I enjoyed myself.
Back in Colorado, yellow leaves were still hanging on the trees, the temperature was warm and the sky was clear. We enjoyed hanging out with friends and their giant gypsy horses and mini donkeys, and MANY doggies. We got sandwiched in by all of Janet's horses, with their hot, sweet horse breath and head butts and sniffs and nudges. I never smiled and laughed so much. My cheeks hurt when we left the farm.
It had been ages since Chad and I had gone to the Big Horn Mountains to play. For three years we didn't even think about going anywhere else but to Green Mountain to camp with the wild horses. It was time to get re-acquainted with some old places, complete with moose marshes and brookie streams.
Just south of Kaycee, there are ancient looking canyons and cliffs, castle-like rocks. We stopped alongside the road because of some horses we noticed high up on a Mesa. What an assortment of colors and types! They sure looked wild but we knew they were not. About a quarter mile off the highway, we walked to the fence line. We stood there and as soon as those horses saw us, they lifted their heads and arched their necks and one by one, ran down the rocky ridge to greet us. I scratched their Velvet muzzles, ran my hands over their necks of winter hair. They all took turns to hear my whispers. I told each and every one of them how much I loved them. I'm pretty sure they were disappointed I didn't have any grain in my pockets.
Ten Sleep Creek was clear and cold. Hiking along the shore, I examined the work of a beaver. One summer, we had witnessed for hours, a beaver building this very same dam. I see he or she, was still at it.
I got out my Sweetheart fly rod. Many years ago my husband picked it up for me at an old bait & tackle shop in Wisconsin. I brought it along to see if I still knew how to use it. I flung a line out and promptly caught a Pepsi can. Now you know the reason why you will seldom find me fly fishing. I'm just no good at it. Instead, I prefer to pick up colorful rocks in a creek bed or look for beavers.
Before sunset, we headed back down the mountain and drove another back road towards home, stopping once more to ogle another group of pretty horses. Again, someone else's horses.
I had made a promise to myself after returning home from my train trip, I wasn't going to fall in love with any more wild horses. Ever again.
Chad, on the other hand, kept going out every Saturday to spend time with the horses we've come to know. He performs magic behind his camera lens. https://www.flickr.com/photos/124575998@N04/
At night, we'd cozy up and he would give me a slideshow of the images he had taken from that afternoon. Oh, I could barely stand it! They kept getting more achingly beautiful! They looked so peaceful and content, and they belonged out there in the wind on the prairie.
It's been six long weeks since I've driven that road I had grown accustomed to, past the Sweetwater Rocks to the vastness of Green Mountain. I had to go again. Just one more time. So, I did.
From early morning until sundown, I happily spent all the hours of the day watching horses. I drove every dirt road I could find looking for a friend or two. Where's Pony Boy?
I sat in the sage flats with a sleepy family band of blacks and a protective dapple gray stallion while I ate my lunch. At one point I parked the Subaru toward the prairie and had my own tailgate party with some familiar bachelors. With a thermos of hot Peppermint tea, I raised my plastic cup to the sky and toasted to all the wildlife. I shouted Long may you run!
As I was taking the last sip of tea, I looked out at something new appearing in the distance. I grabbed the binoculars and lo and behold, a matching pair of white mustangs were slowly making their way toward the prairie where the group of bachelors were hanging out. I watched and waited.
And then I did it. I went and fell head over heels in love with these new wild horses.