Friday, March 5, 2010

Beneath the Grass

Here in the Southwest, horses have attained almost mythical status. Since they were not indigenous to the western hemisphere, their acquisition had a profound effect upon Native Americans. Once horses were introduced to North America, tribes were no longer limited in their reach and could range far and wide. Not only did this new mobility increase interaction among diverse populations, it quite often changed the character of social relations among them.

Kira and Pistol Pete outside of Twin Rocks.

The Navajo in particular have a great reverence for these animals. It is believed that Johonaa’ei’, the bearer of the sun disk, rides each day from his home in the east across the skies to his hogan in the west on the most beautiful of horses. He is said to have five, one of turquoise, one of white shell, one of pearl shell, one of red shell and one of coal. When the weather is clear, Johonaa’ei’ rides his turquoise, white shell or pearl horse. When the skies are dark and stormy, however, he is atop his coal or red shell horse.

During many years spent at Twin Rocks Trading Post, I have heard countless stories about the horses of the Sun, and have often seen these stately animals designed into Navajo rugs, baskets and turquoise jewelry. As a young man growing up in Bluff, I have vague memories of infrequent rides on the back of some old nag and can still remember when many Navajo families came to town in buckboard wagons equipped with pneumatic tires. In one particularly vivid recollection, I can see two Navajo ladies driving their team past the old Twin Rocks Bar. Adorned with squash blossom necklaces, turquoise bracelets and coin buttons, they literally shimmered in the noonday sun.

Horses, however, were not on my list of things to own until Jana and I were married. As part of the dowry, I acquired a fractional interest in Harry, an Arabian gelding which I have most studiously avoided. Jana is, however, a horse lover, so next came Pistol Pete, Kramer and finally Today. It has often been the case that Jana, Kira and Grange would be resting comfortably in their saddles while I hiked or rode my bicycle behind them, conscientiously avoiding the intermittent clumps of manure that fell to earth.

It is fair to say that horses are one thing I have never developed a fondness for. When it comes to transportation or recreation, just give me a good bike, which does not need to be fed and will go for miles on just one bottle of water.

Life, however, is never tidy. So it was last week when I came to work thinking the sun was shining, the birds were singing and all was right with the world. It was not long after I propped open the doors of the trading post that Jana came hauling Pistol Pete by a lead rope. We had acquired Pistol many years ago from Craig and Kathy, who had gotten him from Priscilla, who had procured him from nobody really knows where. As far as we could tell, Pistol was something in excess of 30 years old, which is about 80 in horse years.

Poor old Pete had been down during the cold night with a serious case of colic. His coat was smeared with dirt, mud clumped on his mane and his eyes were impacted with yellow goop. Although he and I had never been close, I could not help feeling a great deal of compassion for the old beast. As I rubbed his muzzle and did the best I could to comfort him, I realized he was at the end of the trail and would soon journey to the great pasture in the sky, where the days are always warm and the fields universally green.

Although I had often considered his passing without emotion, as I walked Pistol around the trading post parking lot, I was deeply moved by his suffering. It could have been that in trying to keep him alive, I began to feel my own mortality and the mortality of those around me, or it might have been empathy for the loss I knew Jana’s would soon realize. In any case, I was genuinely sad to see Pistol in such poor condition and was relieved when Doc. Watkins pronounced his pain at an end.

I believe it was Mark Twain who said that every man dies, but not every man lives. As Pistol’s years of nibbling the grass waned and his days spent beneath it neared, I began to question whether I had actually lived, and whether it was time to make some real changes. It has been almost a week since Pistol went underground, and I am still wondering. Change, even in the face of loss, is difficult.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

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