Our old mares readily fade in the dusk; sometimes I think that I can see through them– distance, the outline of mountains, the bare trees of winter.
Two barren old mares, two old dowager aristocrats. Today they were side by side with heads down, at the height of day.
Then, one folded up her legs and lay down. The other looked at her, looked over at me, pricking up her ears; then she too folded her legs and settled against the warming earth.
Around Thanksgiving, we had one grey mare and one sorrel mare. Our sorrel mare had a very bowed leg, somewhat like mine. She had graced the pastures of the acreage for many years. One morning she began to lie down, and have trouble getting back up.
We let her go then, into the good sleep. My dowager mare April stood over her, lingering there far into the night.
I had worried about one horse being alone, and so had another mare brought over. She came with papers that I researched, burning the midnight oil, in a search that took me to the Nile Valley, to Libya, to England.
For a time she stood off alone at the edge of the field. Over the winter they have come closer to each other, standing in alabaster stillness in the twilight, barely visible slow-moving shapes under the stars.
The oldest of the two, April, now in her 28th spring and stocked up so that she walks stiffly, is the one I fell from, ripping my leg out of the stirrup. It was my fault; I hadn’t checked the cinch.
The youngest, the new arrival Bronte, beckons me with her oblong dark eyes. She is used to being hugged by a woman, brushed, and raced around barrels in a sandy arena. Perhaps I will find a proxy, a college girl to untangle her mane and take her out on the trail.
In two months the delicate grass shoots will pop up one warm afternoon and they will drop their heads and graze all day. The lush grasses in the loamy clay along the creek will grow and bend; young cattails will come back to life in the creek bed and redwing blackbirds will fly into them, swaying there, singing.
In my apartment in town, on a round cherry table given to me long ago, I have a photograph of myself on a grey mare, her dark colt standing against her flank, looking at the camera with his ears up.
During a cloudburst in June she had stretched out in hock-deep fresh straw, pushing hard, nickering, and he had slid into my lap. Within hours he was up and nursing and within a day or so we were all off together, riding up into the cleft in the mountain behind the Joder Ranch.
In the photograph I am caught in time, my hair dark, a pink turtleneck, black jeans, old boots, and a black Western hat shading my eyes. I am smiling. Shortly after the photo was taken I raced into the arena to show off the colt, tearing around at a dead gallop.
One day I rode out with the colt following and a pack of coyotes saw us. They came toward us and we took off for the ranch, the baby running alongside, keeping up.
I go out to see the two grey mares each day. They look at me with their k0hl-rimmed eyes. Tess sits next to me in the truck, and we watch them until they fade back, blending into the dusk, the mountains, the pale sky. The first stars come out; the Big Dipper spills light over the creek.
When I was a little girl I saw a movie about two children stranded on an island. They had a white horse with them, and they climbed on her back and she swam out. Then the movie faded to blackness.
One day I will ride out on a grey, dark-eyed mare to meet my family at the river. They will all be gathered there, their woes abated and their wounds healed; they will be waiting for me, on the backs of the horses that faded into light before my time.