I had heard when you get older you revert to a lot of your tastes and activities when young, but I disregarded it, until I started buying old Joni Mitchell and Buffalo Springfield albums, and listening to the Beach Boys and James Taylor in the car.
Now I am riveted to a 230-acre ranch in the high coastal mountains of British Columbia, with wild horses and meadows bordered by beautiful woods full of aspens and birch, and even taller, snow-covered mountains in the distance.
A few days ago, one of the spunkiest, fiercest of the foals died, a four-month-old colt named Duke. I had watched video of him kicking his heels up in the meadows, running sprints, and hilariously rushing in to break up convos of his mom with other grownup horses. He was also beautiful—cream and taupe with amazing geometric markings.
But I had also watched a video of him, when he was only weeks old, persisting in crossing a strong current to join his mom on the far bank of the river. The suspense was agonizing. It seemed like a miracle that he made it across. So, it felt especially cruel when, at four months, he got caught in some of the willow shrubs along the bank of the same river and somehow suffocated.
For myself, as well as many of the ranch followers, this brought back memories of our own losses. For me, watching Duke’s mom Duchess look for him along the river bank, made me remember our family dog, searching for my mother, then standing at the dining room window whimpering and waiting for her to return from the grocery store—after she had died of cancer. This is one of the most poignant memories of my mother’s death (she was forty-one; I was twelve). And since then, I cannot bear to see animals suffer.
But this also reminded me of when I was even younger, seven to ten probably, and fascinated with baby horses. I had replicas of them all over my room. I loved them so. This memory led to yet another, when I was twenty-three and working at the Mobil station in Santa Cruz, the summer between my two years of graduate school. The owner of the Mobil station, Angelo Raffaelli, called me The Little Colt, because I was skinny, mostly legs, and instead of talking, I would rush around erratically, bucking my head, dipping my shoulders, make funny snorting noises. My fiancé, whom I met a year later, also remarked on how I would snort instead of talk, and toss my head around, with its long mane of hair. So, not only in my pre-teens was I fascinated with colts, in my early twenties, to Angelo and Marcos, I actually had become one.
This led to yet another memory, back to my teenage years, in the mountains of Idyllwild, elevation eight thousand feet. My friend Laurie and I were offered summer jobs taking tourists out on horseback rides through the granite and pine forests, then taking care of the horses when we returned. I must have been sixteen. My only riding experience had been for a few years with Laurie, who had horses stabled near her home in Granada Hills. I wasn’t comfortable with adult horses; they were big and seemed dangerous to me. The job seemed too strenuous. But it was moot: we couldn’t live there over the summer; our parents would not have allowed it.
Twelve hundred people came online to watch Duke’s send-off. Chief Roger of the Xeni Gwet’in tribe beat his drum, sang, said prayers. He gave a wonderful talk; toward the end he said his uncle and other older people had told him, You can’t pass your time. Somehow this is comforting to know. I also beat my (Celtic) drum, burned sage, and read aloud a poem I had written for Duke.
Fire and ice, shooting star, you are flying free now, Duke. Fly away home.
Do I feel closure? No. Do I feel healing has taken place for me? No, there are too many losses: mother, sister, nephew, first love, other loves. I still cry about these losses; I still cannot bear to see any depictions of animals suffering. But now I can think back on that part of my life when I was called The Little Colt; I can wonder if I identified with these brave, feisty baby horses when I was nine, or at twenty-three when I acquired my nickname, and if I do so now. I can wonder what this ranch I am so riveted to is teaching me. And I can be grateful for these memories, strung together, like the jade beads on my wrist.
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