Dark is dark unless you are trying to get a green broke unconfident buckskin mare to cross from a golden field barely distinguishable in the zero moon sky to a patch of inky black burn stubble. May Day said Uh uh, there is no way I am going to step into that abyss. OUCH!
I over and undered her with my romal, the long end of my Spanish braided reins .The knot and popper whistled and cracked.
She jumped, flinched, threatened to rear. My fear of impending capture was far greater than my fear of what the mare would do and I increased my effort until at long last, she finally extended her head and neck forward and took a hesitant step.
I glanced over my shoulder at the woods at the edge of the meadow. There was a road through there. We had come down several paths impassable to a motorized vehicle but if anyone could get a four wheel drive through that, my guardian Corky could.
I was running away from home. During one of our increasingly frequent screaming matches, I said something unforgivable and it escalated into them chasing me through the house. “Gonna teach you a lesson, this time.”
Now, before you go all off in horror, they were not as a rule physically abusive people. I grew up in my own form of nightmare and it absolutely paled at it’s very worst moments to what some kids go through every single day.
The details of the fight are not important, barely remembered. Teen age drama complicated by being raised by people my grandparents’ generation with plenty of quirks of their own.
I fled the house at top speed no surrender in me. I grabbed the looped reins off the fence where I had left my mare, leapt onto her bare back and took off into the woods. She bucked when she loped and I trotted her as fast as I dared. I couldn’t ride her buck in a saddle. Bareback I had no chance at all.
I cast my ears back listening for the pursuit I knew would be hot on our heels. I spun the mare off the dirt road onto a brushy trail urging her to dodge and weave the narrow deer path.
From there we spurred into a Manzanita thicket. My guardians were hella hunters and I knew unless I kept my trail well hidden they would track us with no trouble at all. I gained a few bloody scratches for my trouble but had no idea til the next day.
The county road lay before us, a black top ribbon that could have a speeding Scout International on top of us before we knew it. I listened intently, my heart pounding in my throat. No sound. Hmm. Looking again both ways, we crossed, quietly at a walk. I did not need clacking hoof beats to give our location away.
Winding through the tightly forested path, I had to cross an open area visible to the road to avoid a fence line. I hoped the new owners of this land were not in residence, camping in the cabins they had built amongst the trees. They had seemed friendly enough to Lisa and I continuing to ride across property we had always thought of as ours but I didn’t want slowed by conversation or have people pointing, they went thattaway. Nope, no one home, good.
I skirted around my friend, Lisa’s place. Again, no time for parents to wonder why I was headed the wrong way when we all knew to be home by 5:30 for dinner and it was long past that.
Cutting north down a long grassy hill, I am closer to the road than I want to be. We cross the little stream at the bottom and I remember being half proud that May Day didn’t give me any trouble over it.
The part of Northern California that I grew up in, just outside a town called Laytonville, population 1001, was made up of rolling grassy hills that turned into towering mountains. They eventually about 10 miles over as the crow flies dive into a line of wild Pacific coastline. I was riding toward town with no clear plan whatsoever of what I was going to do, once I reached it. Ocean? Maybe.
More stretches of Madrone trees, oaks and piney woods. We rode mostly at a trot, putting distance between us and the chase I couldn’t hear coming. Sweat soaked into my jeans from her back and sides. Nothing I wasn’t used to.
Finally a large meadow stretched in front of us, last one before the trail went into another set of woods and I could come out behind the ballpark and rodeo grounds. I had ridden this route fairly often even though I was strictly forbidden to ride anywhere near town. There might be BOYS there you know and a 15 year old girl could never be simply wanting to practice a barrel pattern . . .
I scowled, thinking about how ridiculous my people were. Their thoughts, as I look back, were probably closer to the truth than I would have admitted then. Still, a person can wonder how things might have gone with parents who allowed a normal social life . . . Past is passed, though and not much use digging into except to learn from it and forgive . . . both self and others.
Suddenly May Day locked up underneath me and shrunk back, snorting in terror. Wha?? I grabbed around her neck to stay aboard shaken rudely out of my sulky reverie.
The ground in front of us disappeared into the invisible void at the beginning of this story. A wildfire had burned half the meadow and in the now complete dark of the night, there was not a single visible detail to assure either of us we would not fall straight through to Hell if we proceeded another inch.
I stared hard. No, there was a tree line on the other side. I had not somehow ridden us into a different dimension with different rules of time, space and earthly substance. We needed to go. Any minute now, people, vehicles, even someone on a horse could come charging from the wooded trail behind us . . .
It took an entire can of whoop ass. That was the only tool I had for a horse that refused back then. May Day unhappily decided what I was putting her through was worse than certain death in the abyss. She took a trembling step forward with all her senses telling her it was a horrible idea.
I could smell that it wasn’t likely still hot. The idea of her setting foot on an ember and what would happen next, I quickly banished in the interest of having no choices. I wasn’t going back.
We pick our way through the burn. I am watching sharp as I can for any sign of coals or a change of odor from old burn to newer. She brushed a twig that somehow survived. We both jumped. I was the kind of rider who melted my body into my horse in those days and I went with her easily but almost peed myself in the stress and fear of my deed.
On the other side, we are following a freshly dug up river bank. More newbies from the city buying land and immediately wanting to turn it into something else. Where we usually proceeded was blocked with an ugly pile of dirt, torn up Manzanita, scrub brush and some perfectly good trees that had looked far better gracing the riverside.
I turn May Day and encourage her forward. She goes willingly enough. My lesson in go or else had sunk deep. It had worked out for her last time.
Suddenly I am aware that it is a different pitch black before us. Nothing but empty air would have greeted our next couple of steps. I haul back on the mechanical hackamore with all I had, startling the mare into a pained reverse. I patted and stroked her neck. I praised her for bravely going where I pointed and I cursed my stupidity that could have caused serious injury to my horse. She was the innocent bystander in this whole thing and the last thing I needed to do was break her leg for it.
Keeping my wits more about me I picked a way across a branch of the river which was a small rocky stream with steep muddy banks. May Day was a total trooper, sure footed, able and again I was so proud of my horse. I didn’t like May Day very much. She had bucked me off more times than I could count, was pale and unattractive to my eyes. I had wanted a palomino and I get this washed out buckskin looking thing?
Tired now, I am developing a plan. I will ride to my best friend, Claralee’s house. It was possible her parents who were close friends with Everett and Corky could talk them out of killing me or grounding me for the rest of my life. That grounding would have to do with horses. I wasn’t allowed any other kind of freedom but it would have done me in to not be able to ride. It was the only place I found any true peace of mind.
May Day was tired too now, and completely relaxed. We rode the silent back streets of our little town. I could see headlights for miles and there weren’t any. A house with a barking dog, and we angled down a couple blocks to avoid attention. The outskirts of town were occasional houses built on little meadows. There was the Lutheran Church I’d attended until I was 12 and then switched to the Baptist because cooler kids went to that one.
Claralee lived quite a ways north and west of the town proper and we made our way. There was a moon now, and if I hadn’t been in so very much trouble, I would have been having the time of my life. Dread of consequences lived in front of my eyes. I’d bitten off quite a bit with this escapade. What to do . . . what to do . . .
As I approached Claralee’s house, I cannily went up the dirt road that ran behind it, thinking if my guardians were there, I would kick May Day into high gear bucking be damned (I didn’t think she would now and as a matter of fact, she never did again). We would still make our escape. Fences on either side troubled me but surely there would be a place to dive off into before we were trapped . . .
An older boy, Jimmy who was like a brother to me had apparently been enlisted in the search and wisely was waiting for me at Claralee’s house.
“Terri? Is that you? Come on now, get down and come in the house. Everybody is worried about you and they just want to talk.”
It took awhile before he could persuade me to come in. I bargained for two weeks of being grounded and no other consequences.
I wonder now, if things hadn’t been so public how it would have gone? No matter. It was what it was. I was a pretty terribly spoiled manipulative teenager being raised by people who had no skills and thought that keeping me locked down as tight as possible was the only way any of us would get through it.
The real negative is I was left with a firm impression that consequences are mine to avoid if I can give the impression of bargaining from a place of strength.
The true positive was the bond I formed with my horse. My horsemanship was harsh, impatient and rude. I didn’t know any other way but she still gave me everything she had.
And we humans think we are the better specie.
Thankfully childhood with all of it’s ups and downs, had horses in it and has been very far from the best years of my life. A long life, well lived behind me and I can hope the best is yet to come.