“speaking in defense”
The word Apologia came to my mind this morning – probably because it sounds like “apology” – which is what I feel I owe to the ponies right now. So I looked it up (on wikipedia, because OEDictionary has been supplanted by laptop – which weighs less!) and the word today has largely religious connotations, which topic we’ll get into in a later post. Originally the word comes from the Classical Greek legal system; it was the defendent’s speech rebutting the charges – and hardly an apology! The inside of my brain is a highly “judgenmental” place and I find myself frequently having conversations with imaginary critics – defending myself, my actions and choices – practicing for when these critics come at me in person. The amazing thing to me is how Infrequently they do!
“You live and learn or you don’t live long” remarked Robert Heinlein’s character, Lazarus Long (who lived longer than Methuselah!) This Journey has been a test, not only of what I know, but of whether I can learn quickly enough to keep the Rodeo on the Road. I spend a lot of time analyzing (obsessing?) over what’s going right, what’s going wrong and Why. I go back to the moment I pulled the ponies out of the trailer in Cutter at the Casino and Rodeo Grounds, knowing that none of us was in the best of shape. I’d had a busy 36 hours with little sleep and much catching up to do, the ponies had just been vaccinated and Jesse had a few bald spots that seemed related to hot weather and rapid shedding gone awry. I’d been up late trying to get everything done and up early for the pre-rush hour trailer ride from South Phoenix to Globe and I was anticipating being able to camp at the rodeo grounds and grab another day of rest before heading across Apache Country. I had extra food along for me and 30 pounds of feed for the ponies and in all honesty hadn’t packed as precisely as I know is necessary because I thought I’d have an extra day to sort all that. Wrong.
The Apache man driving the John Deere who greeted me as I unloaded the ponies was helpful and friendly, showing me where to put the ponies and mentioning that there was some hay left over from the rodeo that I was welcome to feed them. Then his boss called on his cell ‘phone (watching from where!?) and suddenly I wasn’t allowed to camp because of “security issues” – but I could rent the pens for $10 per horse and get a room in the casino hotel for myself. M (from the tractor) muttered something about “a man can’t even make his own decisions” and then took a look at my maps to help me figure out where I Could camp with the ponies for the night. 14 miles to San Carlos where I could camp along the Gila River past the old softball field – plenty of graze. I loaded up on auto-pilot.
We were scarcely out the gate of the Casino property when Finehorn scooted up next to Jesse with a peculiar look on her face. I thought she was just saying “hi” – and then the pack started to roll. We stopped and I struggled to get the gear and saddle and ropes disentangled and separated from patient Finehorn – then did my best to rebalance the packs (on the 8’ of sloping grass shoulder beside the highway) retighten the cinch and repack the pony. Not a grand beginning. We made it to the river camp and I untacked both horses and tethered them to graze. There was plenty of grass, but it was spread out along the river bank – the ponies ate everything they could reach in less than half an hour, requiring frequent relocation of the tethers. This was a one night camp.
In the morning as I was packing a man arrived with his dog. He’d never been off the Rez and was obviously out of his comfort zone dealing with me, but his sister had seen me riding by and told him to come talk to me. He looked at my maps, listened to where I wanted to go, thought about the water situation (there was none on the main road for two days ride) and gave me directions to get to the gasline road that led to the Gila River and points West. I thanked him and followed his directions to Peridot (they pronounce the t) where a group of men working on the ballfield filled up my water bottles, gave me two extra gatorade bottles full of water, confirmed the directions and warned me not to drink from the Gila as it was full of chemical runoff from farms and ranches upriver. Onward.
I took the gasline road, despite being warned by a white man in a gasline truck (he looked like he never got out of it!) that my maps were wrong and the road stopped just over the next ridge (he was wrong). When I got to the place where the gasline road crossed the RR tracks there was a group of men working on the railroad. They were just finishing up for the day and they warned me about rattlesnakes (they’d killed 18 already this season) as they hooked their pick-up trucks onto RR wheel trollies so that they could drive their trucks home on the tracks. Cool. One man stayed behind to chat; it turns out that he and Jesse share a last name, and he warned me that I couldn’t get across the Gila on the gasline road, that the roads beyond were overgrown with thickets, but I would be able to take the RR tracks for a little ways and then I’d see the road again off to my left. Blessings on LJ for this information!
I rode along, chatting on the cell ‘phone when I was on the ridges, confident that I knew where I was on my map, keeping an ear out for rattlesnakes and reassuring the ponies that the range cows weren’t going to eat them. The road went down, the thickets thickened and suddenly, there was the Gila River – 70’ straight down! I could look across the river and see the yellow gas line marker on the far bank which similarly resembled a cliff. Dusk. Close to 20 miles from where we’d started that morning. There was No Way down to the river – not even for me to go down and bring up water for the ponies. They looked at me. They looked at each other. We all knew the score. Luckily there had been a seep back a mile or so – barely more than a mud puddle but at least it was potable for ponies – we went back and I made camp as night fell.
The next morning it was obvious to me that Finehorn was in trouble. Her withers were swollen and tender and I did my best to pad and pack her to keep the weight off of them, but there was no possibility of staying where we were. She stood like a trooper while I loaded her up, audibly grinding her teeth but not moving a hoof despite not being tied. Jesse’s bald spots were growing, though he stepped out like he felt great and I had to remind him repeatedly to slow down for Finehorn. The only way out of the mess was a 5 mile ride along the RR tracks – often ON the tracks themselves. I had convinced myself that the tracks weren’t in good enough condition to be in use – though the silver (rather than rust) of the rails told me otherwise. The footing was awful – lava and thorns – and it was Hot. I had no water.
We eventually found a road and were able to get off the tracks and late in the day found a camp spot along the Gila river, not too far off of the highway and not too far from Bylas. I unpacked and tethered the ponies, left my gear in a pile and hitched a ride into town for water. We stayed there 4 days so that Finehorn could recover – until it felt to me that too many people knew that we were there and I started feeling uncomfortable about leaving everything unattended while I went to town for water. We rode a day, took a day and a half off with an Apache Pentacostal preacher and his wife, rode another half day to arrive at the ranch where we’ve been staying for almost 4 weeks now – dealing with the consequences of my bad packing decisions and the unforgiving terrain across which we’ve been traveling.
And now it’s time to go bring the ponies in from pasture and tend to their wounds and reassure them that we won’t be here forever. Even as they reassure me that they still love me and they know that I do learn from my mistakes and thus we’ll carry on.