Saturday July 22 2006
Well, maybe they weren’t so excited when I backed the trailer up and we caught all of them, but when I hauled the 5 of the Forest Service horses up the narrow winding Sonora Pass road (nerve-racking) to the parking lot by Leavitt Meadows Pack Station, they knew where they were and where they were headed.
I rode my buddy Paiute, led a lightly loaded Tom and Zak, followed by a naked Brenda the mule; Leeann followed on old Red Top. It was another warm muggy day – thunderstorms building at our back – as we wound our way 10 miles up the West Walker river trail. When we were 20 minutes from Piute cabin and meadows, past the last fork in the trail, the horses’ pace quickened, because they knew how close they were to paradise!
We got to the cabin, unpacked and unsaddled the horses, and turned them all loose together – they didn’t know WHERE to go first! They bolted for the meadow, then did a U-turn and ran back up to the dirt corral, where they all got down and rolled the sweat and grime and mosquitoes off – then they all leaped up and galloped back into the meadow – bucking, snorting, farting, leaping and striking, tails over their backs. They’d stop and drop their mouths to the knee- high grass, then bolt off at a canter again to another spot, then eat, then bolt off again. Then they took off at a dead run down into the far meadow. That just made my summer, watching those happy horses.
The horses had their meadows, we had Paiute cabin. It’s such a wonderful place to stay, not only for its beautiful setting in this wilderness meadow, but for the soul it possesses. Those of us who get to stay here still follow the last ranger’s routines and traditions. He revered the place, and we do too. We cook and keep the cabin clean the way he did; we appreciate the rock art and the feathers and pine cones he decorated the place with. There’s still a treasure trove of reading material in the shelves to pass the evenings: Rock and Ice magazines; journals from old rangers from the 80’s; reference books on birds, grasses, stars, wildflowers, insects, the atmosphere, shrubs, geology; bios of Miles Davis and Georgia O’Keefe; books by JRR Tolkien, Mary Renault (her historical fiction books on Greece are brilliant), Hemingway, Thoreau, Faulkner.
We had rip-roaring thunderstorms both afternoons for entertainment (morning two we took two horses and scouted passable trails and future wildlife survey areas); the horses weren’t budging from their beloved meadows for some puny lightning bolts or pelting rains.
Morning of day three we packed up to leave, and I had a little harder time catching the horses. The first morning I’d had to hike to the far end of the meadows a half mile away to even find them, but they came running at my whistle, and ran on past me up to the corral at the cabin. This last morning, they popped out of the woods at my whistle, and started trotting toward me… and then they all became suspicious, and only Brenda trotted up to me (she loves treats – oats and alfalfa cubes and such). I slipped a halter on her (she almost leaped away at the last minute) and led her on toward the cabin… and the other horses just stopped and ate grass and watched us. They knew what was up, and they didn’t want to leave! Now, if you’ve ever tried to lead a mule where a mule doesn’t want to go, you will know that you can’t do it. I led Brenda back closer to the herd, then turned her back around toward the cabin… and she let me do it, because fortunately she really really loves those treats I’d put in the corral for them, and she knew that routine from the many summers of the last ranger’s custom.
Finally the other horses followed, and they all headed for the corral, and we penned them up – all but Paiute. I just love Paiute – though sometimes, well, most of the time, he’s impossible to catch. I’ve often chased that butthead for 45 minutes in a big pasture before I could catch him. This time I chased him for 5 minutes before throwing a halter at his big butt, whacking him hard, after which he apologetically stopped for me. Once you do catch him, he dunks his head into the halter. I even gave him some undeserved treats as I saddled him.
The horses were quite bummed as we saddled and loaded them; their footsteps were reluctant as I led the string out of Paiute Meadows. Paiute was spooking at everything on the way out: lying logs, sticks, rocks, chipmunks, Horse-Eating little birds, shadows. But I still just love this horse – overlooking his spooking (which amounts to no more than jumps; he doesn’t wheel or try to run off), he’s a super horse to ride or pack with – as are all of our horses. Tom and Zak traipsed steadily and faithfully behind Paiute, and Brenda at the end of the string danced along naked, grabbing grass and mule’s ears all the way out. Red Top, carrying Leeann, brought up the rear (eating dust). It’s going to be awful hard for me, missing these horses, if I don’t have a job here next year.
Back home, I gave them what they deserved: hugs (Paiute didn’t run from me), thanks for
their great dispositions and faithful service, a bucket of oats (I had to sprint for the feeder so they wouldn’t run me over), and a promise that I’d try to get them back to Paiute meadows this summer.