Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Good Country for Old Horses

An old white horse ambled across a fallow field today at the foot of Mt. Robledo with the late autumn sun approaching its optimal angle of ambience. It was an image that cried out to be captured and would have been, when I kept a camera in the pick-up truck, always loaded with a fresh roll (back then) of KodaChrome 25.

Even after I dragged myself into the digital age I kept an SLR in the truck, just in case.  Can’t remember exactly when I quit doing that.  In any event, the images I capture these days are for my mind’s eye, not albums or data bases. Brandi and I take leisurely drives to favorite old places and loll there, just thinking about good old times, letting the mental images scroll by at their own pace, in their own time.

We were heading toward the back entrance to Broad Canyon when we spotted Old White.  He did not move fast but he moved with purpose; he knew where he was going, and why. In the adjoining field, in a grove of trees, the last operations of the pecan harvest were going on.  It’s all mechanized now, and very efficient, but maybe some of the elders in the harvest crew remembered when Old White hauled a harvest wagon down the rows of trees, collecting the nuts as they fell.  Perhaps they remembered to leave an apple or other treat near the fence line when they passed by, and White was going to collect his reward as of old.

Brandi watched White with casual interest; he was the only moving thing in our serene desert landscape at that moment.  I followed the old horse with a keener eye; here was a fellow geezer, still alert and alive and taking his pleasure from the land where he had lived and worked his lifetime.  Go for it, Old White, whatever,  and wherever,  “it” might be.  Go for it.

We weren’t far from the last vestiges of an old wagon road down which my son, David, and I had ridden mountain bikes toward  the old Butterfield Trail, looking for the ruins of one of the forts on its route.  We knew it was out there somewhere, but we both lost tires to the cacti and had to turn back.  A sheriff’s car was waiting beside the truck when we walked the bikes back to the main road.  “You guys OK?” the deputy asked as we approached.  “OK,” we said, “except for punctured tires.”  We added by way of explanation, “we were looking for the old fort on the Butterfield Trail.”  “Did you find it?” he asked.  “Nope.”  “Better luck next time,” he said, and drove off.

There was a next time and we did have better luck.  Poked around the ruins for half a day or so, taking pictures and wondering how it must have been, riding that stage through Indian country, less than a day’s journey from the site of the Cook Mountain massacre.

I’ve reached that age of awareness that each visit to a favorite place might be my last.  I tend to linger longer, savoring what’s there.  Today I had an urge to hike down that old wagon rut, find the remains of that old fort, relive the joy of discovery that David and I experienced — how long ago?  Can’t remember exactly.

But the metal replacement hip was hurting, and the failing hip on the other side as well.  The sun settles quickly behind the western mountains these shortening days.  Suddenly it’s no country for old men.

Brandi and I drove slowly past the field where we’d seen Old White.  He wasn’t there.  I know that somewhere between the road and Broad Canyon there’s a cattle tank and an old corral and some other amenities for ranch horses.  There’s still plenty of browse between here and there.

What more could an old horse want?

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