QUARRELSOME CREEK Chapter 1 — Dutch

barbed wire

Are You Gonna Cowboy Up, or Lie There and Bleed?

By Elizabeth Speth

When Bug Shooley flew from his horse into a fence post and broke his neck, he died instantly.

The old, weathered ranch cook pierced July’s devil breath as he soared.  His unscheduled dismount landed him squarely in death’s dusty clutch, at the base of a disintegrating wooden monument.

A filthy pile of worn cowboy clothes relinquished his spirit without a fight, sending it to wherever Bug was expected, based on his crusty lifetime of thoughts and deeds.  Like the shadows that sometime skim rocks and bunched sage of an evening, startling jackrabbits and wild horses, he was there.  And then he was not.

Shooley’s boss was a cattle rancher called Dutch Avery.  Not quite 50, Dutch had spent a lifetime chasing cows across flat landscapes, into the kind of horizons that snap shut against regular folks.

Dutch watched a rattlesnake writhe out from under Bug’s bucking horse.  It wound itself into a scandalized bunch of whispering brown grass and disappeared.  Dutch looked at the tangle of arms and legs on the ground, and did not doubt that Bug was dead.

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His father had hired Bug to cook beans and ride fences the year Dutch was born.  Growing up, Dutch witnessed first hand most of the healed injuries that barely held Bug together.  Broken pelvis, shattered hip, two finger amputations.  A long history of bone disagreements in the ribs and extremities.

Slowly, numbly, it came to Dutch that this was the final offense to Bug’s beaten-up old body.  The one that undid everything.

A large group was riding up now behind him.  A few were cowboys on his payroll, but most were corporate clients on a ‘team-building’ day ride.  This was a new thing, ferrying city folks around the ranch on horseback rides, and Dutch had hoped to earn some money from it.  He was pretty sure Bug’s airplane imitation had put an end to that.  Bug often admitted to ‘bad timing’ in the kitchen — it was  his attempt to explain away decades of undercooked meat and scorched pancakes.  He had been every bit as inopportune about death, poor bastard.

Out of habit, Dutch’s swing down from his creaky saddle leather was deliberate.  The fact of it, he thought — the sudden, violent demise of his old friend — was not nearly as shocking as seeing Bug bucked off,

Because, say what you wanted about his leaden pies, that gnarled old cook was a born good-luck charm when it came to breaking colts, and it was a rare horse that convinced Bug to get off before he was ready.  How could this man’s lifeless hands, so skilled with a rope and a rein, be so permanently stilled?  Just last night those eight knotted fingers had assembled a surprisingly passable dinner of green chili peppers stuffed with  sausage, corn, pine nuts and cheese.  The cowboys had devoured most of it with astonished  expressions on their faces.  Dutch had been looking forward to finishing the rest for supper tonight.  Bug’s leftovers had survived him.

And what about tonight?  Dinner was due on the table for a passel of paying strangers in a few hours.  Dutch was ashamed  of this thought as soon as it came to him.

He bowed his head and exhaled.  Heavily.  Though stocky and tough, he was tired.  His  was a deep exhaustion of the bone, and every day of his age showed in the fine, kind lines of his face.   For he was, to his dismay, far from a heartless man.  Unexpectedly soft, despite careless handling from infancy, he harbored a lifelong conviction that he was unequal to the harsh truths of his life.

It showed in his pale-blue eyes, his wheat-colored hair faded by sun.  Broad of shoulder and short of leg, his arms and hands were weathered and powerful.  Years of watching weather, hay crops and cattle had not changed the dreamy expression allotted to him at birth.  He was, in fact, preternaturally kind.  He went out of his way to avoid arguments, whether with bears, coyotes, ranch hands or women.  He had fallen in love exactly once in the nearly five decades of his life, with devastating consequences for all involved.

A rancher’s life, vulnerable and uncradled as it is in nature’s wide open hands, was a temperamental trial for him.  Death alarmed him, although he understood the efficiency of it.  He accepted the logic of predators, even when their impatience was cruel.  Just that morning, he’d stumbled on and shot a sick cow, lowing piteously on the ground, flesh already partially eaten by greedy coyotes and flies before the original owner was done with it.  He had thought that would be the worst part of his day.

He wasn’t naive.  He knew mortality’s grip sometimes fumbled, closing when it shouldn’t.  Too often, in sunbaked pastures or flood ravaged creeks, he found evidence of its carelessness with the living, especially new life.

Some years he’d lost a full third of his calves to illness and accidents.  His pastures had absorbed hundreds of tiny skeletons over the decades, like thirsty, gritty sponges.  One of his earliest memories was watching a waterlogged calf sink in brown sludge while gray skies emptied on its frantic head during a hellish storm. Dutch’s father had tried grimly to save it, but the animal succumbed quickly to confusion, fatigue or trampling by the rest of the herd.  He couldn’t remember which.

There were larger deaths too — like the partial demise of his ranch, every day, as it was pulled in pieces under a bloody wash of red ink.  He couldn’t bear to look at the numbers anymore, but he figured only about a quarter of it actually belonged to him by now, and the bank’s possession of the rest distracted him from the business of producing beef, which was a job to which he’d never felt suited.   He thought it a forsaken existence, haunted by his own fiscal failure.  The sight of barbed wire, where it joins together periodically like two hands wrapped tightly, holding on for dear life, was a sorrowful reminder that he was utterly alone in his responsibilities.  He had no other hand to grasp.

It was debt that forced the exposure of the private, naked curves of his ranch.  Debt had him out today, pulling a string of strangers like a loose thread through the fabric of trees and grasses that covered her, and he felt a vital cloak was about to come apart and fall away.  It was an exchange of something precious for money, for survival, and he was uneasy about it.  And now Bug was dead.

Unrelenting heat pressed him to the ground under a sky that was pale as a blue-dyed Easter egg.  A woman kicked her horse hard and rode up beside him.  She was the highest-ranking executive in her corporate retreat group.  Her posture made it clear she intended to get to the bottom of why a scraggly knot of cowboys scratched their heads and stared at the ground when they were on her dime.

“Ma’am, you may not want to–” Dutch began, but it was too late.  She saw Bug and commenced a low moan as her horse pricked a puzzled ear in her direction.

The rest of her group, eight in all, rode up behind, registered the situation, and manifested various sounds of distress and disbelief.

Dutch tried to shelter the sight of his lifelong friend from a frantic cluster of strangers. He apologized under his breath to his old friend, attempting to sort out Bug’s limbs and lay them straight.

Death did not prompt Dutch’s apology.  It was the lack of privacy, the indignity of these folks misunderstanding the context of the end of Bug’s life.

Because, like all cowboys, some small part of Bug’s mind had started tracking his expiration way back in boyhood, right about the time he slung a skinny leg over that first bucking colt.  Had Bug’s death been indicative of his life in any way, he would have died chasing cows, or introducing a horse to saddle and boot.  Or quietly in his humble bed back at the ranch, hat and pocket knife neatly on the table beside him, smelling faintly of the slug of bourbon he always belted before retiring.  His ‘tiddlywink’, he called it, or, alternatively, his ‘evening constitutional’.

The rest of the day would always be a blur to Dutch.  There were refunds for the paying guests, and dinner in town on him — all of it money he couldn’t afford.   His guests had most of them made a point of saying how traumatized they were.  One or two also complained about the wi-fi availability (there was none).  Damned if they wouldn’t have a good story to embellish into old age, Dutch thought to himself but didn’t say.

The body was examined and released by the local coroner, who fretted about the fact that Dutch had driven it into town in the back of his tomato-colored Ford pickup.

Twenty-four hours later Dutch stood in the town cemetery, over a small grave scraped out of heat-hardened earth.  His motley crew of cowboys surrounded him, along with a girl from the Flying U Bar who’d known Bug as a reasonably happy man when drunk.  Bug had no family present. Whether because they were scattered to the wind or would not own him was unclear.  But Dutch made sure the man’s boots went into his casket, and his spurs, and an old pistol found stashed under a mattress.

“Bug was a an all-right sort, may he rest in peace,”  said Dutch to all assembled.  “I’ve known him all my life.  He’d have stood behind any us right up to hell’s back door.”

He cleared his throat and examined his hat brim, spun it a few times while getting his thoughts together.  “I would like to give thanks, however, that we are freed from the tyranny of his biscuits.  Those sons of guns were always rock-hard.  But they stayed in your gut for a good, solid day or two, and Bug always said that was a virtue in a biscuit.  He was a tough man, cut from an old cloth.  Like my father.  Men like these are not diminished by the challenges of our lives here.  God bless.”

The death certificate was handed to Dutch at some point, for lack of next of kin, but Dutch never glanced at it.  He knew the cause of death: Sitting shallow in the saddle.  It could happen to anyone, and that was a God-damned true fact.

Afterward, the men of Quarrelsome creek returned to their duties, heavy with the knowledge that they too were dying.  All their decades of riding for brands, wrestling blood and chewing dust, were fading away.  Their hardened sensibilities nodded an acknowledgement to God for dispatching a cowboy, and they headed back to the floundering ranch.

Dutch followed more slowly, for he still had one errand in town.  That was to press an envelope into the hand of the local newspaperman

“There’s a twenty in there for the ad,” he said.  “I don’t know how much you charge.”

The other man shrugged, apparently not knowing either.

“I’m not sure how to word it,” Dutch confessed.  “Fix it up how you need to.  I need a bronc buster and a cook, preferably in the form of one person, if they even make them like that any more.  Bug’s obituary is in there.  It’s short.  Most of what we knew about him ought not be printed.  Take your time billing me if that’s not enough money.  You know where to find me.”

Then Dutch placed his hat, a sweat-stained, gray felt Stetson, inherited from his father, firmly upon his large head, and he followed the footprints and then the tire tracks of his men back to the ranch, and went back to work.

Jack Rabbit

Panting, Petting and Passionate (Wet) Kisses: Saying ‘Yes!’ to Love in the Workplace

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By Elizabeth Speth

If you are human you have thought, from time to time, that there are things you must do before you die.

The urge to grab life by the — er… shoulders during our brief experience of it is universal, We seem to agree certain milestones are proof that we were worthwhile.  That our existence was adventurously lived, thoroughly enjoyed, deeply understood.

We hope these milestones will teach us something about the world. Perhaps they will teach us only that gravity is inescapable, and bones easily broken.  Or why it is a bad idea to lose our passports, or eat fermented fish from a street vendor in a Third World village.

We embrace the idea of them because we are brave, we humans, when we realize we are on a mortal deadline.

I recently have experienced one of these must-dos, one of these milestones, and like a new religious convert, like a freshly-minted cigarette-quitter, like a reformed alcohol-guzzler, I must insist that you do as I have done.  Because it’s a life-changer.

I’m talking about romance — about passionate love — in the workplace. Office canoodling.  Fraternizing.

Contrary to all the warnings, the threats of termination, and heartbreak, and humiliation, I’m urging you to dip your pen in company ink.  Dock your ship in the company port.

I’m telling you to bring your dog to work.

Now, I happen to work for a very liberal and accommodating company in this and many other respects.  We actually have two office dogs, counting mine.  Plus an employee vegetable garden and fruit orchard.  We cook a lot together at work, have soup days and pizza days and hummus days.  Not all workplaces are as understanding.

But you’ve got to get around it.  That’s all there is to it.  It won’t be easy, I know, but it’s not easy to live for a year in a Tibetan monastery either, and you still have it on your bucket list.  Don’t you? You think the Appalachian Trail is going to take nine months and hike itself, with only a backpack’s worth of hardtack and lip balm?  No.  But you are still reading the guidebooks, aren’t you?

I don’t care how you do it.  Get that dog to work.  Tomorrow.  You’ll thank me.  That’s what I did with my boy George, a six-month old secret recipe of terrier breeding, with little beady eyes and facial hair that would make a hipster proud.  This is George. At work.

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Why do you want to take your dog to work?  Why did I screw the top on his little commuter coffee mug (mostly because he doesn’t have thumbs), tuck him into the front seat beside me with his little briefcase full of chew toys and worming pills, and argue with him throughout the entire drive about who would pick the radio station?  Because it’s dangerous, my friends.  Wildly exciting and dangerous.

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This is George, saying goodbye to the family before leaving for work.

You haven’t lived until you look under your desk and see a tiny, snaggle-toothed, hairy devil’s spawn chewing furiously through a jungle of electrical cords.  Heart-plummeting doesn’t begin to describe the feeling as you count — one, two, three completely severed cords, and you hurriedly hide them behind the garbage can, hoping and praying you never find out what they once powered. Talk about an adrenaline rush.

Exhilaration is the only way to describe realizing your puppy is lifting his leg to pee on your boss’ desk chair.  During your performance evaluation.

That was the same day George also did something unspeakable to the executive printer, which is why he now has an appointment for a life-altering procedure at his veterinarian’s office next week.

I’m telling you it’s sheer adventure watching George passionately lick electrical outlets all over the building.  He is an ardent outlet licker.  He knows about grabbing life by the shoulders.

I think that about covers the danger aspect of this adventure I advocate.  Now let’s address the drama.  There should be drama in every milestone, every experience-of-a-lifetime.

George, I confess, is a polarizing force in the office.  He evokes strong emotions and responses. He is a bit of a thief, for one thing.  And he’s quick.  Many a co-worker has secretly, after looking around to make sure the coast is clear, slipped off her shoes to let her toes wriggle in temporary, private liberty.  In a split second — less than that —  the shoes are under my desk, George chewing them ecstatically to bits, making those odd, loud, grunting noises he makes when he is happy.

Shoe-less, trapped in her cubicle in shame, George’s barefoot victim must sit helplessly and listen as her shoe is murdered nearby. When I finally realize what is going on, I scoop up the battered, barely recognizable remains, I bury them hastily in shallow graves outside, and I say nothing.  At the end of the day, our poor naked-footed, fellow cubicle-dweller limps out to her car, traumatized and defeated, a grim, puppy-resenting look on her tired face.

Yes there have been problems.  Difficulties.  There has been urination.  But that is the definition of drama, is it not?

I have had to make adjustments.  The idea of a free-range George, traipsing from desk to desk, department to department, spreading love and joy, was not a sound one.  I re-calibrated, and I put up a child protective gate at the entrance of my cubicle, behind which George now sits, staring piteously out at passersby through his tiny button eyes.  Reprimanded for whining — and for overly dramatic sighing — he has resorted to throwing pieces of chew toys out of his cell, configuring them to spell out things like:  “Help me!” and “She’s mean!” and “She drinks!”

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George in captivity, not very happy with the carrot I packed him for lunch. Not that he helps me get ready in the morning or anything.

On to the warm, uplifting conclusion to my epiphany, my friends.

You must take your dog to work for the danger, the excitement, the drama, but you must also take your dog to work so you have someone there who understands you.  Someone who is part of your tribe.  For instance, George and are the most bedraggled, the least-groomed workers in our company.  This is what we usually look like, left to our own devices.

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But we look like this together.

We understand each other.  We are always hungry.  If we are ever not hungry, we still must be chewing something.  We are itchy and restless after short periods without stimulation.  We get overly excited about things.  We need a lot of short naps.

I bring George to work so I can stare at his warm little button eyes, under their busy, expressive eyebrows, when someone is yelling at me on the phone.

I need someone who can remind me about all the fun adventures we had together on the weekend, and that we will have more again after Friday.

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George and me, adventuring together on the weekends.

I need someone to sit at my desk with me, to help me decipher spreadsheets and write e-mails.

Big George

I need someone to shred an entire box of Kleenex over every square inch of our office when I step out to fill his water bowl.

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Sometimes he shreds Kleenex and shoes at the same time. He’s clever that way.

I need someone to eat the majority of my favorite orange highlighter and then keep me up all night while he vomits up piles the color of traffic safety cones.

My fellow employees need him — well, those who can forgive him about the shoes.

They need him to bark during unwanted conference calls, They need to cuddle with him after an angry client dressing-down.  He will look at them worshipfully when they are feeling less than proud professionally.  Especially if they sneak him a piece of chicken salad.  He is always available for a walk.  A slurpy kiss.  A game of tug-tug with a favorite tie or expensive pant leg.

We all need George.  You need a George.  At your work.  So you can take something as efficient, as unavoidable, as inevitable and business-like as a job, and you can inject a bit of thrilling, mortal humanity into it.  By way of sheer, joyful, unmitigated canine-ness.  Do you see the beauty of that?

Worst case scenario, you get fired.  You turn off your computer, with its frayed and severed cords.  You draw a diagram to show everyone where their shoes are buried, so they can have closure. You pack up your dog and you go home.  Then you are free to go to Tibet.

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The Ghost in the Gate

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By Elizabeth Speth

This is a true story.  A ghost story.

It’s a story about a woman aged enough to have an old-fashioned name like Harriet.  Harriet was also old enough to have experienced losses in her life, some significant, some her fault and some not.

She lived alone — sometimes sad — far, far away from the city.  Her old house was a family place, built a century before on a grassy plain under a wide blue sky.

She had several cranky old horses, and a naughty barking dog.  Horses and dog destroyed the garden Harriet planted every year, greedily tearing up carrots and lettuces, trampling and digging, until she wanted to give up on the garden.

She was old enough to know about giving up on things.

But she loved warm, sweet tomatoes in September.  So she did not let the garden die.

Instead she built a fence.  It was crooked, loopy and drunken-looking, but it blocked the garden from those who would do it harm.

She found that she needed a gate.  So she bought an old one from a neighbor.  Rusted, bent and blistered, with a tiny metal plaque affixed to it that said in faded words:  “Black Hills Fence Co.  South Dakota” under a faint buffalo silhouette.

A gate is a point of entry, or it can be an impediment to the same.  So the woman brought home that old gate, bouncing around in the bed of her truck, watching it through the mirror as she bumped over rutted dirt roads.

With some difficulty, she mounted the gate to a wobbly post, smashing her thumb in the process.  No one knew about her smashed thumb, how it throbbed for days.  There was no one to share that information, to cluck over the blackened nail, or roll eyes when she complained about it too much.

The gate hung crookedly — it had been hard to hang by herself — but inexplicably it swung freely.  This pleased and surprised her.

The naughty dog, a small, fat, white terrier, dug a hole under the gate and passed smoothly through it like a chute, in and out of the garden at will.

But the gate kept the horses at bay, and the carrots, lettuces, cucumbers and mostly the tomatoes grew.

There was, Harriet saw immediately,  something strange about the vegetables.  Every morning, she came out to find the soil beneath them cool and damp, though she never watered.  The leaves stretched and grew and budded, and not an insect molested them.

Sometimes, she would spend the afternoon out in the garden, because she felt at peace there.  She would pick a few stray weeds — there weren’t many — and listen to birds.  Though there wasn’t the faintest hint of a breeze, and nothing else moved in the stillness, the gate would rattle itself at her periodically.

Not in a hostile way, Harriet thought.  It was more like a dog shaking itself.  She didn’t understand it, but it soothed her somehow.

One morning Harriet came out to the gate, and she found all the horses’ manure piled neatly in her wheelbarrow, the old pitchfork leaning up against the fence.  She looked around her at the clean pasture, as if trying to see who had told a joke.  The cranky old horses pricked their ears at her, a new friendliness in their eyes.

On another day, harassed by the heat, Harriet approached the gate with her arms full of tree branch trimmings.  She was tired and sad, and thinking of things she regretted, and her loneliness made a kind of hollow sound in her brain.  She didn’t like trimming trees, and the branches scratched now at her eyes and arms.  But she meant to stack them in the back of the garden so the horse wouldn’t get at them, eat them, and grow sick.

She drew a long, tired breath, preparing to drop the branches and open the gate.  But the gate rattled then, and the chain lock fell away.  And then it swung open for her, soundlessly.  Harriett was taken aback.

She was also deeply grateful.

Harriet began to notice other things about the gate.  On days the wind did blow, it coaxed a deep, moaning sound out of the posts, like lowing cattle.  Occasionally it sounded like a piano, warm, honey notes of a saloon ballad that plunked happily into the dust at her feet.

Her naughty barking dog stopped barking, though he was still fat and usually dirty.  Harriet watched him pass back and forth through the hole he’d dug under the gate, and the bottom rail scratched his bristly old back as the dog’s eyes half-closed in bliss.

On winter mornings, wind and rain brought the smell of coffee and bacon through the gate.

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Of a warm summer morning, the faint smell of baking biscuits lingered there.

In the evening, there was woodsmoke and whiskey, spiraling up into the sighing trees.

During thunderstorms or other catastrophic events, the horses gathered around the gate as if for comfort, and wild vetch twined purple flowers around its rusted corners as lavender bunched beneath it.

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And Harriet understood that her gate was haunted.  She also knew that all signs pointed to the fact that her ghost was a cowboy.  Not the young, firm-jawed, lean-hipped rodeo variety of cowboy, but rather an older version, with busted-up, poorly-healed bones, sun spots, and eyes the pale blue of soft, faded denim, hidden in wrinkles he’d earned staring past wide horizons.

He was the kind of old cowboy who opened gates for a lonely, tired woman, who kept gardens watered and manure picked up.  He convinced the dog to behave, and comforted horses with gnarled old hands.

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She knew that, though her cowboy was a kind ghost, he was not an angel.  She was old enough to know no good cowboy was ever an angel.

And so Harriet came to understand that people who have lived long enough to be sad, without hope of circumstances ever really changing — without a miraculous happy ending — can get through somehow.  They can learn to watch for moments of warmth and consideration.  She understood that not all good things can be seen.

She learned that she was not alone.

As I said, this is a true story.  A ghost story.

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The Story of No Rain (Or: Blame the Drought on Cake and Newly)

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By Elizabeth Speth

Once upon a time there were two beautiful horses, Cake and Newly.  They lived in a gentle place, where the sun mostly shone.  Winds seldom blew here.  Harsh cold and snow were strangers.

Warm rain fell in winter.  It filled the rivers, then turned itself into delicious, sweet, tall grass in the spring.  The grass was so tall it tickled the horses’ bellies.  Wildflowers drank the rain too.

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They exploded in happy purple blooms, surrounding the horses and making them look even prettier.

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It was a good life.  Until one year the rain forgot to fall.  And the not falling was so easy, it forgot again the next year.

And the next.

From time to time, the clouds would fill with gray water, and hang low over the horses’ heads.  It seemed the clouds would empty onto the cracked, hard earth.

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And the horses would be glad, because they were thirsty, and wanted to eat delicious grass in the spring, and not breathe hot dust in the lengthening summers.

But then the gravid clouds would pass over, and no rain would fall.

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And the rivers did not fill.  They shrank to tiny ribbons in the landscape, barely flowing, and the horses were thirsty.  They were worried.

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And the wildflowers were not lush.  Not at all.  Every once in a while, a tiny dot of color would muster itself and push up through dry dirt and rocks.

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But that wasn’t the same thing at all.  Cake and Newly did not think they looked prettier standing amongst these tiny wildflowers.

And the grass did not grow.  It barely cleared the dying soil before wilting between the horses’ nipping teeth.  Eventually, there was only dust.

The horses were not happy, and so they went to speak to The Woman.

The Woman was the one who brought the hay, and the grain, the carrots and the apples.  She seemed to be in charge of the good things, the horses reasoned, although they did not know or care why.

They did not know or care what she did other than the bringing of the good things.  But, they told each other, she might know about the rain.

“We want the rain back,” they said to her.  “We are not sure what we’ve done to stop it, but we want it back.  We want the flowers that make us look prettier, and the delicious grass, and we are tired of the heat and dust.  We want to bathe our lovely feet again in the river, and drink the cool water.”

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The Woman thought, and she said:  “I will go and ask my mother, Nature, and I will see what she says.”

And The Woman did, and came back and gave the horses a carrot, and she kissed them and said:

“Mother Nature says we must go back to a simpler time.  When there were fewer people, and we made more of our own things, and grew our own food and did not care for cities.  We must go back to a simple time when horses worked harder.”

“What?” said Cake.

“The hell you say,” said Newly.

“My mother, Nature, says we must go back to a time when horses worked harder,” The Woman repeated.  “You must pull the plough and the wagon.   The earth will be back in balance, and there will be rain, and rivers, and flowers and grass.

“But you must stop lounging all day, and go to work.”

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Cake and Newly put their heads together.  They whispered while The Woman waited.  They looked at The Woman, and they whispered some more,  Then they walked over to her, heads high and eyes rolling.

“Tell your mother, Nature,” Cake said, “that we are enjoying the drought very much.”

Newly added, nodding his big head:  “Yes.  Tell her thank you, and to keep up the good work.”

And so the drought continued.

The End

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Passing Through the Shadow of the Valley of Mean People

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By Elizabeth Speth

I love Sundays.  In my mostly beautiful life, they are a high point.

On Sundays I saddle up my horse Cake, and we ride through beautiful places like this:

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And this:

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There is a little scotch in my flask.  I take pictures.  I enjoy the rhythm of Cake’s breathing and Mother Nature’s too.

On a recent Sunday, I hurriedly loaded my horse in the trailer at home, drove for a bit, unloaded him at a trailhead overlooking the American River Canyon and the famous Western States trail network.  I unloaded my saddle and began brushing Cake as he munched grass.  And then I saw blood on his flank.

I looked everywhere to find the source, and finally did.  The underside of his tail, hidden to the casual eye, was a bloody pulp.  It could have starred in its own horror movie. Further frantic examination revealed large swollen spots on his belly, possibly lymph nodes.  Maybe abscesses.  I couldn’t tell, and it was Sunday.  A day my veterinary clinic reserves for emergencies.  I needed help determining whether this was one, so I called the clinic on the spot and got the vet on the phone.

While I was describing Cake’s symptoms,  a man parked his car next to me.  A lean, sinewy, older fellow, dressed for running.  He looked at me and my horse, and asked what was going on, even though I was clearly conversing on the phone.  I held up one finger, and continued to explain my situation to the vet.

Running Man peppered me with a few more questions, which got tangled in my worried mind with the vet’s simultaneous queries.

Running Man:  “Is your horse sick?  Is he lame?  What’s the problem?  It’s a great day for riding.  Are you going to go?  Whatever it is, it can’t be that bad, can it?  Oh, blood on the tail?  That’s not a big deal, can’t your wrap it?  Why don’t you just wrap it?”

I held up my finger again as my vet, a sweet and patient woman on her day off, asked me to snap some photos of the tail and belly, and then text them to her, so she could decide whether he should be seen emergently.  I hung up, trying to figure out how to hold a now-dancing Cake, lift his tail, and snap pictures in enough light so they could be seen.  Also, Running Man was beginning to frustrate me.

He asked again what was wrong, I told him briefly, and added that I was in the process of dealing with it with the vet.

He offered his opinion that we coddle our horses too much, it didn’t sound that bad to him, maybe I should just try this, or that, or maybe this other thing, which in his experience always worked …”

I was flustered.  I said:  “Sir, thank you, but I’m actually a bit distracted right now.  The vet is waiting for pictures so she can help me determine what to do.”

“What to do is obvious,” he replied, even though he hadn’t actually seen the problem for himself.  “You just blah, blah, blah.…”

“Sir,” I said.  I really need to focus on this.  “I’m getting veterinary help.  Thank you very much.  Enjoy your run.  It’s a beautiful day.”

“Oh,” he said.  “I’m going to run a bit in the canyon, maybe eight miles or so, although I’ve got this sore hamstring, but I think I can make it to that spot at the….blah, blah, blah…”  That went on for a bit.

Meanwhile I”d dropped my phone twice, smeared it with blood, and finally managed to get the tail up to snap the picture by holding Cake’s lead rope in my teeth so his rear end was facing the good light.

“That doesn’t look too bad,” said Running Man.  “Probably been rubbing it.”

(Because horses always rub themselves bloody for fun! Everyone knows this!)

He continued:  “What you want to do is…”

I took a deep, deep breath.

“Listen.  I’m in the process of figuring out to do with a veterinarian.  Who is waiting for pictures.  I’m flustered, and worried about my horse.  I’m just having a little trouble giving you my full attention right now.  I want to devote it to this.”

He drew himself up.   “I finished Tevis (hundred mile equine endurance race), you know.  It’s not like I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

What I wanted to say:  “Good for you.  I had no idea they handed out veterinary degrees upon completion.”

What I said:  “Good for you.  I’m going to call my vet now.  Please excuse me.”

Running Man’s face hardened.  His eyes narrowed meanly, right before he slowly and deliberately swept them over my flushed, sweaty,  addled, disheveled self.  I knew what he was going to say before he even said it.  I both saw and felt it coming.

“Maybe,” said Running Man, “now that your horse is laid up, you can take up running.  You look like you could use some exercise.”

My mouth dropped.  The phone rang — my vet had received the pictures.  Running Man said a few more things I did not hear because I turned my back on him.

My vet said:  “That actually looks pretty awful, Elizabeth.  Let’s get him in.”

I don’t remember when Running Man actually disappeared (hopefully forever).  I loaded my horse and headed to the clinic.

I won’t leave you in suspense about poor Cake.  He had an extreme allergic reaction to something he was grazing on in the pasture.  Many daily scrubbings and ointments and medications later, he is on the mend.

My wounds, however, have been slower to heal, and I am stuck in the shadow of the Valley of the Mean People.

Because I don’t meet many of them, to tell you the truth.  Very few people in my life exert themselves to annoy, irritate, aggravate, provoke, inconvenience, or wound me.  The opposite is in fact the case.  Even at work.

If your life is full of annoyers/irritators/aggravators/wounders, I am so very sorry.  What a horrible, toxic thing.  I wish you strength and  courage.  You can stop reading this now, because you are likely thinking I’ve been a naive idiot, living in a fool’s paradise on a fatty diet of illusions.

I started gnawing on this as soon as I knew Cake would live.  Driving home from the vet clinic, a few dollars lighter, there were voices in my head.

My grandmother’s — I could hear her clearly — repeating one of her favorite phrases: “Well.  He doesn’t have the sense God gave a goose, does he.”  This was never a question for her.  It was a statement.  No question mark.

I thought about my grandfather, a big man with a booming voice who would have cold-cocked the goose senseless had he behaved thusly toward my grandmother.

As I turned into my driveway, my memory replayed one of my dear friend Stefan’s oft-repeated and much-beloved character summations:  “What an ass-hat!”

It made me miss my grandmother, my grandfather, and Stefan, but it marginally comforted me.  Stefan is the only one of the three I can still talk to about these things, grandmother and grandfather being long gone, and so I did.  He is an incredibly articulate fellow, with a surgical precision when it comes to defining social boundaries and reasonable human interaction.  I am a proud graduate of the Stefan Murphy Finishing School of Professional and Personal Excellence, and my diploma is treasured.

I know Stefan would have leveled the man with one polite phrase had he been in my scuffed-up riding boots (but his would be polished to a fine sheen, and manufactured for him personally by Ralph Lauren).  Stefan would never have let the dialogue degenerate to the level of personal insults.  He’d have sent Running Man packing definitively after his second ill-timed question.  I know this about Stefan, but I can’t think fast enough on my feet to replicate what he does.

stefan

Stefan is the opposite of mean. If he is your friend, he will write impassioned letters on your behalf to people who wronged you in childhood. He jots down limericks on difficult days to cheer you up. He will devastate your enemy with a graceful insult.

So I decided to ask him instead how he copes with the aftermath of a mean person.  Does he dismiss it?  Let it go?  Namaste his way through it and move on to bigger and better things?  Or does he dwell on it, let the experience form an ulcer of angst in his soul?  Because I was working on one of those.

“Oh I’m a dweller,” he assured me after I told him my sad tale, and we agreed Running Man wore an ass for a hat.  “An Olympic caliber dweller.  I could medal in the Dweller Decathlon.”

All right.  I felt better.   But I still had the spiritual hazardous spill to clean up.  The ulcer to heal.

As the song says, there’s so much in this world to make us bleed.  And, I’m sorry, I have to believe most of us in this world don’t really want that.

Sometimes, when I am stumped in the Compassion Generation Department, it helps to look at the world from the other guy’s perspective.  Cover a mile in his proverbial running shoes, as it were.  I thought of Running Man, and figured it was safe to conclude he is oblivious to social cues.  He is self-involved, attention-demanding, and has a bit of a temper.  He lashes out when he doesn’t get his way.

Overlooking the personal insult, he invaded my life at a time when I was terribly worried about my horse.  He hijacked the situation and demanded an ego stroking.  People rarely only do this now and then, to my way of thinking.  It’s got to be a lifestyle, right?

So, when he interacts with people, they must respond to that fairly uniformly.  When he executes his signature Running Man moves, people are likely often outraged and offended.  So what does Running Man see then?

He sees narrowed eyes.  Hard faces.  Jaws set against him.  He sees a hard, angry world, and it is possible he has no idea that he started all of that.

Of course, I don’t know his struggles.  Maybe they are enormous. Maybe I would weep if I knew his hardships.  There’s so much in this world to make us bleed.

These are the closest things I have to answers.  Unlike my grandmother, some of my observations end in question marks.   At least for a while.

I’m not excusing the ass-hat.  He is going to have to get himself figured out, squared away.  Or not.  I’m just trying to get past him.

But first I want to say something to him.

Running Man:  On the off-chance you read this, and it provokes/irritates/aggravates/wounds you, I want to paraphrase one of my favorite authors by way of explanation.  If you want people to write/think fondly of you, you should have behaved better.

Let’s end on a good note, shall we?  This is Cake.  Feeling better.

mean 2        mean 1

mean 3     mean 4

What Fresh Hole Is This?

hole By Elizabeth Speth 

Every time Angus, the Jack Russell Terrorist, digs a new hole, I think to myself:  “What fresh hell is visited upon us now?”

Lest you think I am melodramatic, let me explain.  Have the stomach to hear me out, and then ye can judge.

Angus digs several holes — about 36 — a day.  In the nine or so years he’s been with us, that makes… let’s see…. multiply by… carry the four… factor in two leap years… seventy billion holes.

It’s not his fault.  He’s a Jack Russell.  They are known for their frantic energy, their non-stop drive to go, chase, chew, jump, yip, run, bark, dig.  I don’t hold these things against him, although my husband swears he is football-shaped for a reason.

My objection to the holes is based solely on three factors.  Location, location, and location.

I’m talking about the holes in the flower beds.  And the dirt sprayed over the walkways.  I’m talking about the holes in the garden, and the subsequent mass slaughter of innocent herbs and tender radishes.  Holes among the rose bushes.  Holes around the propane tank.  Holes in my neighbor’s yard.  Holes in my neighbor’s garden.

Holes in my indoor plant pots.

There are the holes in the riding arena, where my horses will someday snap a leg if I don’t constantly re-fill them, only to turn around and see that little white tail going mad in a new flurry of flying soil.

We have a lot of pasture, and many are the nights I have heard the horrific clack of my teeth as I suddenly step in one, arms full of hay, because Angus has strategically dug right in my walking path between the gate and the feeders.  Between the gate and the barn.  Between the faucet and the water troughs.  Our pastures are so hole-y they ought to be consecrated.  Filling those holes is about as vain an exercise as picking up horse manure every day, but it still must be done.  One does these things.  One keeps up appearances.

You might be tempted to suggest a dog trainer, or a canine psychotherapist, or a strong sedative.  What we need here, gentle reader, is an exorcist.  I am withholding Angus’ allowance until we can afford one, but in the meantime there are the holes, multitudes of them, each one bringing us several inches closer to hell.

This morning, I caught my wheelbarrow on a new one.  It was hidden under the gate, right where I always pass through, often pushing or pulling a loaded cart, to deliver the horse poop to the compost pile.

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The wheel of the cart plopped right in, my forward momentum was abruptly arrested, and over the cart went, road apples tumbling everywhere, a warm and fragrant bed upon which I landed after several long seconds of undignified struggling against the inevitable fall.

Angus had the grace to look guilty, although he did not offer to help me re-gather my manure.

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“Damn you, Angus,” I said, because no one was around to hear it.

I finished my chores, circumnavigating the hole, and then I went to fetch my shovel to fill it.  Angus ran circles around me as I worked, joyful and energetic, assuming I was having as glorious a time as he so obviously was.  This is why it’s hard to stay mad at Angus.  He is a gleeful dog.

Shovel poised, I approached the gate.  Angus scurried underneath it, as he’s been doing for years, because he’s too impatient to wait for it to open.  I watched him crawl through using the hole like an open tunnel.

I rested the shovel on the ground.  “Come here, Angus,” I said, and he slipped back under, through that perfectly-placed, perfectly-sized hole like a breeze.  He came and sat at my feet.

I took a good, long look at him.  In my mind’s eye, he is still a puppy.  That is because my actual eyes, which will be fifty soon, blur the edges of the everything now.  They still see Angus as a youngster because of his energy and attitude, I guess.  But I did the math right there, and realized he is a middle-aged gent, maybe even a little older than that.

Also, he has gotten stocky, put on a few, as the saying goes.  I hadn’t really seen that before.  I asked him to lie down, then roll over, which he did happily, but was that a little stiffness he struggled against there, getting back up?

“Angus, go back the garden,” I said, and he obliged, flowing like a creamy white rivulet, right back through the hole and under the gate.  I put the shovel away, marveling at the fact that it was entirely possible Angus is taking stock of himself, and coming to some of the same realizations that I must face.

I’m approaching middle age too, and damned if things aren’t starting to widen and stiffen.  Most of my clothing has elastic now.  I need reading glasses.  I use a mounting block to get on a horse, but I don’t intend to stop riding.  Angus needs a hole under the gate, because he does not intend to start waiting for it to open.  We are both trying to maintain a certain standard of living here.

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I have to admire the fact that he assessed a need to adjust his environment to his changing needs, and took care of it.  It made me feel better about myself.  And also a little sad for both of us.

So that one hole can stay.  All future holes will be evaluated in light of this Angus epiphany, but I think it is a safe bet that most will be re-filled.

The horses remained unimpressed when I shared my new insights about our tiny, rough-coated, high-pitched and frenzied friend.  They still find him irritating.  They assure me it will be ever thus.

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Warning — Or: The Trials and Tribulations of a Vegan With a Long-Range Plan

    old woman 2   

By Elizabeth Speth

(With deep and profound apologies to Jenny Joseph)

pig

When I am an old woman I shall wear cheese
Sprinkled on my shirt where it doesn’t go, and on my widening hips
And I shall spend my pension on prosciutto and mortadella
And raw oysters, and say we’ve no money for kale.
I shall sit down right at the bar when I’m tired
And gobble up steamed clams and mussels and drink dry martinis.
And run my mouth in public railings
Against sobriety and restraint in one’s youth.
I shall go out and barbecue lobster in the rain
And steal the herbs in other people’s gardens
And learn to confit.

old woman 3

I will wear terrible, elastic clothing and grow more jolly
And eat three pounds of charcuterie at a go
Or only butter and brie for a week
And hoard tuna and sardines and jars of caviar and things in boxes.

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But now we must be vegans that keep
Sustainable farming practices, and avoid taco trucks in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have quinoa for dinner and read the health studies.

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But maybe I ought to practice a little now?

old woman 9

So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear cheese?

old woman 4

In Which Angus Gets What’s Coming to Him

By Elizabeth Speth

Every morning Angus and I meet at the front door for a standing date to do chores together.

Now, the thing about Jack Russell Terrorists — what endears them to their humans despite all the crazy behavior, shrill barking, general mayhem and destruction — is that they are joyful dogs. Those frantic, furiously busy little bodies house enormous reservoirs of happiness over the simplest of things.  A wide open place to run.  A puddle of water.  A morsel of food to bury.  A daily appointment to scoop manure and terrorize the horses together.  He’s all in.  Every ecstatic, wriggling square inch of him.

So, as I was saying, we meet at the door, and we wish each other good morning with a dignified handshake.

angus 2

I gather my boots, stuff my pockets full of whatever cream, medicine, ointment or pills I’m administering to the horses that day.  I put on my hat.

Sometimes, to shake things up, I pretend to forget my hat, because it is fun to see Angus boy-oy-oing into the air to knock it off the rack with his nose.  Then he looks at me pointedly as if to say:  “Okay, Forgetful.  Pick it up, put it on, let’s get going.”

Angus likes his routine.  All of it.  You can’t skip even one part of the ritual.

Lately, though, our smooth, calm scooping of the morning poop, wheeling of the barrow, filling of the troughs, throwing of the hay etc. has been marred by the presence of a bully.

I’m talking about the neighbor’s enormous, fluffy, blindingly-white cat.  Hereafter I’m going to refer to the cat as (S)he, because there is no way I’m getting close enough to narrow it down any more than that.  This cat is terrifying.

S(he) first strolled out to the middle of the pasture a few weeks ago.  S(he) stood out like an ice floe in a field of dirt, and basically look-dared Angus to come over and mix it up.

And Angus wanted to.  Angus saw S(he), and his jaw dropped.  He snapped to attention as the cat began to grow, arching to twice its size, all that glorious white fur now standing on end, a scattering snow flurry.

“Angus, heel!” I commanded, because I did not want a gory felineocide on my hands.  That cat was positively suicidal, sitting there like that, a creamy challenge to the poor, whining, blood-lusting little warrior that is Angus.

Since then, chores have become very stressful, because every day that damned cat is out there, big and fat and blinding and insolent in the middle of our field.  I should be working, occasionally looking up to see Angus trotting around happily, exploring and stirring up trouble.

Instead, I am constantly anxious, shouting:  “Angus!  No!  Heel to me, Angus!  Stop it!  Angus! Get back here!”

And he is constantly sneaking off, only to be called back, darting away, only to be sharply reprimanded.  He is a yipping, yelping, squirming misery of longing to get at S(he) and show that interloper what is what.

I’ve tried leaving him inside.  His sharp, high-pitched protest was shattering eardrums in the next county.  Authorities were summoned.  The cat situation was explained.  No sympathy was elicited. Noise ordinance violations were handed out.

I’ve tried varying the times we venture forth, to no avail.  S(he) watches for us, and comes sauntering out of the blackberry bushes, all menace and attitude, at the first rattle of the gate.

I tried scaring the cat off with a wave of my arms and rake, and the cat winked at me.

And then this morning it all got away from me.

I lost focus for a moment, I guess, my mind on manure.  Maybe the tines of my pitchfork got snared in a weed.  Maybe I was dozing.  Maybe I subconsciously wanted it all to end.  Whatever the reason, I looked up and Angus was halfway across the pasture, streaking at the fast-swelling S(he), who spat loud and long, screamed hellishly, and then charged right toward the missile that was Angus.

I was frozen in shock and horror.  Angus’ name died a futile death on my tardy lips.

They collided like two white-hot stars.

The cat went over the top of Angus, slashing at him with an impressive arsenal of claws, which sent the poor dog tumbling once, twice, three times.  He crashed into a post.

He wasn’t down for long, though.  Nosiree.  In less than a second Angus’ feet scrambled and found purchase in the witnessing dust.  And he got the hell out of there, tongue and ears flying behind, just trying to keep up.  He streaked past me with a large-eyed, humiliated stare, and then he flung himself under the fence and thoroughly out of the pasture, unmistakably ceding it to the cat.

Who strolled back into the blackberry bushes and, point made, has not been seen since.

Once the cat was gone, Angus, still on the other side of the fence, began running up and down the line of it, barking ferociously at the section of greenery that had swallowed the cat.

Loosely translated, because I’m leaving out the profanity, what Angus was saying was:

Why, you dirty cat!  If it weren’t for this fence between us, and the fact that you’re not even here anymore, why, I’d tear you limb from limb.”  

He did this until the greenery moved, rustled by a passing breeze.  That’s when he ran inside.

Later, he showed me where he thought he might have hurt his paw in the battle.

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He’s been sticking close to the house today, keeping an eye out for that damn S(he).

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I think he will be haunted for some time to come.  When his eyes look out into the horizon, unseeing, he will go back to this terrifying morning.  When a kitten meows softly he will start, and then retreat inward.

There are no support groups for Angus. (I checked.  He asked me to.)  No words of comfort.  It’s his burden to carry.  His and his alone.  Poor fellow.

Angus 1

Confessions of a Tevis Volunteer (Or: Why I Keep Coming Back)

By Elizabeth Speth

tevis 1

Volunteers meet a weary rider at the gate into Francisco’s.

The annual Western States Trail Ride, popularly called the Tevis Cup, is a grueling 24-hour horseback ride over 100 miles of exceptionally beautiful and punishing terrain.  Sanctioned by the American Endurance Ride Conference, it is a horse-centric event, designed around the safety and well-being of the animal.

It’s an amateur race against the clock, no cash prizes, only a coveted buckle.  Started in 1955, it is considered the  founding event in endurance racing, and is still known as the most difficult.  Over the years, it has evolved into something that requires nearly a thousand people to make sure up to 200 riders and their horses make the journey safely.

The psychology of the riders — why would they do such a thing? — is the subject of another blog.  They are a breed apart.  The training of their magnificent steeds for such a trial is also another discussion entirely.

All I’m qualified to address is the volunteerism aspect of this.  For a large handful of years — I’m fuzzy on the exact number out of sheer fatigue — my husband and I have braved miles of rocky, narrow roads to report for duty in the early afternoon at the rugged Francisco’s outpost, at Mile 86.  We remain there until the pre-dawn hours of the morning, sometimes pulling out as the sky begins to lighten.  This is where we put the exhausted horses and riders back together, hydrate, refresh and encourage them, and send them on to the last part of their journey.  This is where we marvel at the freshness of the front-runners, who breeze in and out and look as though they are in the middle of a leisurely ten-mile trail ride. All of them have come from the high peaks near Lake Tahoe, and will end their journey in Auburn, CA, if they make it that far.

A lot has happened in the years I’ve volunteered, and I’ve loved every minute of it.  The following is a list of things I’ve been privileged to do, and so I feel qualified to say I will happily do them again — and again — year after year, until fate and a good horse and the aligned stars finally put me at the starting line.

Here, in no particular order, is my list of proven qualifications and skills:

I will be happy to see you at one a.m. in a remote place, with the moon rising over a tree-fringed canyon, as the air is turning cold.  You have been riding nearly twenty hours, give or take.  In temperatures that exceeded 110 degrees.  You’ve had a long day.  We’ve left the light on for you, because you still have a ways to go.

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I will sponge your horse with cool water as his heart rate slows.  I’ll stake out a little spot for him to eat a nourishing bran mash and clean hay, as peacefully as possible.

I’ll pay attention when you explain her little quirks and preferences, how to best get her to eat and drink and relax.

I will check your gelding’s pulse with my stethoscope, count his respirations, tell you when you are clear to see the vet and get on down the road.

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I will fill your water bottles with cold water, gatorade, lemonade — whichever you like — and I’ll make sure they are safely tucked into your saddlebags.

I will make you sandwiches.

I’ll go find carrots for your horse, a rump rug so he doesn’t cramp, and watermelon because I remember you from last year, and I know your mare loves it.

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I will stay with you while you throw up, wretchedly, exhaustedly, on the ground in front of your chair under the gas lamp.  Riding in the dark for hours gave you motion sickness, and your dehydration didn’t help.  You are too tired to be embarrassed, and I’m glad, because you shouldn’t have to worry about that.

I will hold your horse and look discreetly the other way while you pee on a bush not a foot away from me.

I will share my antacids with you, my Tylenol and my sunscreen.  I’ll rub your bad knee, if you ask me to, or your shoulders or your horse’s muscled rump.

I will run five miles down a trail in my boots, in deep darkness, because your horse stumbled and you both went over a cliff.  My fellow volunteers and I will be overjoyed to find you alive, clinging to a steep hillside, seriously injured but with humor and graciousness intact.  Your horse will have made his way back to camp by then, in better shape than you.  I will sit with you for a few hours while the moon pries the black sky open, and we wait for rescue folks to arrive.

I will follow the rescue crews out as they carry you back over those five miles in a stokes basket, and I will resist the urge to kiss you on the forehead because, for all you have been through, you are still in for the ambulance ride from hell over miles of rough road to get out of this canyon and to help.

I will call your wife as the sun rises, and your helicopter lifts off for the nearest trauma center.  I  will assure her that I’ve seen you with my own eyes, that you were awake and alive.  I will listen to her stoicism and bravery on your behalf, but I will hear her finally break down when I mention that your horse took the best care of you that he could in the accident.  She will say that she loves that darn horse.  What is understood but not said is how much she loves you — enough to let you do this crazy thing.

I will make you brownies.

I will give your horse electrolytes, and trot him/her out for the vet for you because you are tired/throwing up/too lame to do it.  Your horse will, miraculously, be sound at 86 miles because you have spent the day attending to him, monitoring him, reaping the benefits of months or years of careful preparation.

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Both riding and crewing Tevis can be a family affair. My daughter helping out a junior rider.

I will check on you several times while you wait three hours to get your horse trailered out after you are pulled for a lameness because some damn rock in the road had your name on it.  I will marvel that you are sleeping on the ground almost between your horses’ feet, and I will admire both you and the horse for that relationship, and your journey together.

I will envy you as you pile your tired body in the saddle for the last fourteen miles, so delirious you have to ask me which way the trail lies.  I will watch you until darkness swallows you up.  I will think you are very brave.  I will think your horse is a miraculous thing of beauty.

My thoughts will follow you to the finish line.  You started out with a 50-50 chance of making it, and you’ve come so far.  I am willing you to get there.

this year

My husband Neil and me. Tevis 2014.

Me, I will  be thinking longingly of bed, and also about clearing my schedule for next year.

And likely you are thinking the same thing.

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In Memoriam — Tragedy Strikes on a Friday Morning

By Elizabeth Speth

lizard

RIP, little lizard floating in the water trough, your pretty blue belly turned up to the sky.

I’d seen you around the neighborhood, under-supervised.  I feared you might become a statistic.

We’ll never know if it was suicide, an accident, or murder.

Did one of the horses push you in?  You can tell me.

Maybe you had a heart defect.

Is there a history of sudden death by heart attack in your family?

I am deeply sorry that when I tipped the trough and you flowed out, Angus the Jack Russell Terrorist snapped you up and started chewing you.

I was sorely grieved when he spit you out and began hacking disrespectfully.

angus

He is in deep disgrace. Also, he is unrepentant.

I’m sorry I gagged as I dropped your several little pieces into that small hole in the ground, and covered you with hot, impersonal dirt.

I should have held it together better.

It was with acute regret that I saw Angus immediately begin to dig you up again.

I hoe you understand why I just had to walk away at that point.  It was too much tragedy to bear.

A couple more days of these 110-degree temperatures, and the winds will be scattering your ashes.

RIP, little lizard, floating in the water trough.

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