From Far Off Mountains

My wife and I are planning to visit a friend in Durango tomorrow. Our major preparation has been to get family members to look after our two dogs while we’re gone.

A Canadian friend is leaving today to look after some horses further up Vancouver Island, so that the ranchers can get time off from their unremitting responsibilities.

Speaking of horses, I worked on a few farms and ranches in Alberta in my early thirties when I was looking for another way to conduct my life than the one in whose psychological enclosure I felt so trapped.

During that summer, I worked on a horse ranch where there were quarter horses which the owner entered into Calgary horse shows. I personally discovered that these horses could give their quarry no quarter, turn on a quarter, and divide a field into halves, quarters, eights, until the focus of their attention had nowhere to go but out an open gate.

It still seems amazing that I was given this job, as I had almost no experience riding any kind of horse. Yet one day I was told that some bulls had found their way into a pasture where they shouldn’t be, and would I be so good as to get on the back of one of these prize quarter horses and chase them back to where they belonged.

What I remember most vividly is sitting astride a galloping horse as it pursued an 800 pound bull a few feet in front, while a barb wire fence flashed past a few feel to my right. Clinging on for dear life, it did not escape me that the horse under me had about as much concern for the rider on its back as I did for the hat on my head.

My memory of this event has persisted over many years, but it’s not a particularly vivid memory. It’s more like a short home movie that has been filed away with other adventures, such as “delivering supplies to communities up ocean inlets north of Vancouver”, “working as a deckhand on a barge at an open pit copper mine”, and several other occasions when I stepped outside the confines of a way of life into which I had accidently wandered.

It’s not as if that quarter horse, the fence, the bulls–and me, now noticing my fingers grip a Bic ballpoint pen as I recall sitting astride a galloping horse–are not meaningful reflections of what it feels like to ride the thundering hoof beats of time. It’s just that a vision persists that there might be another way to experience this lifetime than in all those over-familiar ways that are almost indistinguishable from watching a movie I’ve already seen and into whose actions, drama, and characters I get drawn in as if they were my own thoughts and emotions.

The truth is that many of my experiences don’t feel so different from films and books, created by others, whose stories are coherent enough to exert a temporary claim to reality.

The claim that the stories I tell myself are somehow more real, because no one other than myself creates them, rings hollow in light of the recognition that all these narratives just show up in my mind before I can even wonder where they come from, what they mean, and what will show up next.

Could we catch the projector and the narrator in the act of weaving his fabrications and wonder whether it could all be a kind of dream from which we might one day awaken? And if we did awaken, might a window open into a world where the colors are more radiant, the breezes carry the scents of our youth together with the calmer perspectives of old age, and our next breath is known to have come from the snow-laden pine boughs of far off mountains?

2 comments to “From Far Off Mountains”
  1. Takes me back in time. Haven’t been on a horse since I was 21. Been to a lot of places in Canada, including Alberta to visit wife’s aunt and uncle near Vancouver, BC. Been to Vancouver island several times. Lived in Seattle area 2 years and Vancouver, WA 2 years. All seems so long ago.

  2. And you’re only 22? No wait, that’s me. In my mind, at least. Ah, the carpet of time, unfurling as if it’s brand new, but what are those worn out patches doing there? I just bought it yesterday, well maybe it may have been last week, come to think of it..

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