“This story is about living in this modern world, vastly different from the natural world we evolved to live in. It’s about the joy and peace and motivation we get from rediscovering that original world still alive in the remaining wild places.” Richard Jefferies, 1885.
The only books by Ernest Hemingway on the shelf were too political. Milan Kundera was completely missing from the literature section, Gone Girl, 50 Shades of Grey, The British version of Gone Girl. Has anything meaningful been written in my lifetime? My trip to the bookstore was like flipping through 500 channels of nothingness on TV. I don’t own a TV for a reason. Where is John Irving? I found him only to be disappointed that I’ve already read every single novel Barnes and Noble see’s fit to stock. I wandered up and down the aisle. One shelf after another and I’m about to give up. Science Fiction isn’t even worth stopping in. I’ve already read Stranger in a Strange Land. Nothing can top that. Romance? Absolutely not. I don’t read Nicholas Sparks. Mysteries are predictable. I want to ask the clerk if there is a section for ‘real’ books in which Hemingway has his own shelf. I want to ask how any bookstore can call itself such without a single copy of ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’. I’m standing awkwardly lost in Barnes and Noble. Then I realize that the store is connected to a mall. I don’t do malls but the poor selections suddenly make sense. For some reason I decide to park in the Nature section. I read all the books on wolves and horses when I was 6 so standing there in my nursing scrubs seems completely juvenile and strange. Tucked away in the Nature section is ‘The Story of My Heart’. The hardback bound in gold and burgundy was so small it could be easily overlooked between Jane Goodall’s gorilla’s and global warming.
“My heart was dusty, parched for want of the rain of deep feeling; my mind arid and dry, for there is a dust, which settles on the heart as well as that which falls on a ledge. It is injurious to the mind as well as to the body to be always in one place and always surrounded by the same circumstances. A species of thick clothing slowly grows about the mind, the pores are choked, little habits become a part of existence, and by degrees the mind is inclosed in a husk. When this began to form, I felt eager to escape from it, to throw off the heavy clothing, to drink deeply once more at the fresh foundations of life. An inspiration- a long deep breath of the pure air of thought- could alone give health to the heart” R.J. 1885
Maslow’s peak experiences, Jung’s collective unconscious, what it means to be human in the twentieth century, the intrinsic need for wildness. Standing there in the Bozeman mall I found a friend from 1885 England and something worth reading.
“My work was most uncongenial and useless, but even then sometimes a gleam of sunlight on the wall, the buzz of a bee at the window, would bring the thought to me. Only to make me miserable, for it was a waste of golden time while the rich sunlight streamed on hill and plain. There was a wrenching of the mind, a straining of the mental sinews; I was forced to do this, my mind was yonder. Weariness, exhaustion, nerve-illness often ensued. The insults which are showered on poverty, long struggle of labour, the heavy pressure of circumstances, the unhappiness, only stayed the expression of the feeling. It was always there. Often in the streets of London, the red sunset flamed over the houses, the old thought, the old prayer, came…. That I may have the soul-life, the soul-nature, let divine beauty bring to me divine soul…. Time went on; good fortune and success never for an instant deceived me that they were in themselves to be sought; only my soul-thought was worthy. Further years bringing much suffering, grinding the very life out; new troubles, renewed insults, loss of what hard labour had earned, the bitter question: Is it not better to leap into the sea?”
I wonder if RJ read much Whitman. I wonder how I’ve never heard of this nature mystic from England who had the clarity to realize that the farther we move away from nature in life, the more unsettled we become.
My father recently asked me what I want in life. Where do I want to be in 10 years? I want a cabin tucked away in snowy evergreens where I can listen to the wolves and coyotes sing their praises. I want to earn my living in the real world and then escape from it as quickly as possible. I want to listen to my horses tell me the story of the wild as we explore uncharted territory. I want a few big, strong, brave dogs to deter the bears on summer nights. I want to listen to my woodstove crackle after a long day of playing nurse. I want to see the northern lights when the sky is infinitely dark, clear and cold. I want to be the tender and dedicated shepherd of my herd. I want my stock to always be warm and fed and sheltered from the wind and snow. I want to gallop my horse up and down the mountains until we are stronger and wiser.
Riding horses in Monntana country is a blessing. The land ebbs and flows with a sharpness that requires constant attention from both horse and rider. If my horse decides to take the wrong course we will both perish. He knows it, and I know it. We talk each other in and out of different routes. He tells me when the biggest buck in existence is about to come rushing gracefully out of a draw. He knows the buck is there far before I can ever see him. His muscles stiffen. He walks with awareness and purpose when the wildlife is near. If you are willing to listen, he will tell you the story of all life. During these rides the horse and I enter a state of co-being. Together we are leaping up the side of a steep and rocky trail. His body thrusting with a power and force so great that I can only grab mane. I try to stay out of the way so we don’t lose our balance and tumble broken to the bottom. The land here offers all the training any horse could need to be something great. The challenges are endless.
At the racetrack you could find this state of co-being when your horse is galloping at full speed. It is difficult to understand the speed without having felt it. You set the horse properly so the wind doesn’t send you backwards into a pile of broken bones. You perch quietly between his ears and stay steady in the face of an unimaginable force. Hoof beats, wind and the sound of your horse’s nostrils will take you to a height of adrenaline experienced by few. It is a speed that sets you free from the common body. There were days the horses went to battle and returned victorious. In a few minutes you were significantly richer than when the day started. You could pay off your debts and relish in the glory of winning. Then there were the days that your glorious partner was lying dead in the dirt. $2.00 betting tickets still blowing over his spiritless body. Those days you knew that the glory of winning and large sums of money couldn’t possibly be worth it. I think of King Red. No horse has ever been as beautiful or as intelligent.
King red was purchased in 2007 at the Keenland sale in Kentucky for $95,000.00. He managed to run 45 races and earn $98,579.00. I was there for 18 of his 45 races. Standing there praying that he would finish. Sick with worry that his legs would finally give. I cared not if he won or lost. I just wanted to lead him back to the barn. His last race he was beaten by 25 lengths. His lungs had given. I found him hiding in his stall the next morning with his eyes swollen shut. He had been pummeled in the face with dirt clods from the winners hooves. His muzzle was caked with dried blood from his lungs. A great and once glorious horse stood before me completely beaten. He knew he couldn’t survive another battle. He told me he knew he wouldn’t finish another race. He was heartbroken and so was I. How had I been a part of taking the last win from a champion? My King was defeated. I didn’t know it, but the empire I had been building was crumbling underneath him. King Red was wise. He told me that I wasn’t made of the things required to ride champions to their demise.
With fists flying and eyes gleaming with hatred for the sport of kings I found King Red refuge. I am forever thankful that I had someone I could call and beg for help. I pleaded on the phone for her to send a trailer. I couldn’t watch this horse perish like so many of his brothers. I wanted his life to end far away from crowds still screaming and winning tickets in sweaty palms. I didn’t know if the horse would live or die even with the best of care. He had given all in his last race. He had given all of his body and soul because we asked him to. We asked him to put food on our table, to help us continue to be horsemen in the modern world and he agreed.
Here in the mountains I am squaring away with what it means to be a horsemen in times of computer generated life. This country I am exploring is as harsh as it is beautiful, but that is nature. She can give life and she can take it away. I can accept a battle I lose with nature but to give the lives of my horses in the name of glory, money and fame is something I am not built for. The highs and lows of racing are as extreme as one can get. I am here in the mountains searching for the answers to unanswerable questions. The best I can hope for is peace and solace and the ability to fully experience the personal journey of my short life as a human.
Gallop on friends. Sometimes the answers don’t have words.