The sky lightens. Delicate coral pink at the horizon fades to a delicate shell blue, if there is such a shade, and flows up the arc of the sky to become cobalt. The horizon is not a flat line any more, with its southern horizon punctuated by the irregular rounded buttes of the Bear Paw Mountains of north central Montana. Now the horizon is humped with bristly hills, all around. Cows still bawl in the distance, though. I think this sound was born with me, embedded in my bones. And one of my horses munches contentedly within easy sight of my bedroom window. After winter has passed, I will bring my other horse here, too.
My horizon has shifted from my heart-home of the Bear Paws to central Oregon. Not only has the horizon that circles outside of me changed, but the unseen horizon that encircles my self, inside, has shifted too.
In my unfamiliar, smaller book room, my two cats lay curled. Taz and JuneBug made the two day journey from Montana to Oregon in the back seat of my brown diesel pickup, each in his own cat carrier. Taz, black as midnight, yowled every once in a while. Being contained hour after hour did not suit him. JuneBug, grey and striped, reminded me from time to time he was there with an almost inaudible meow and blinked big round eyes my direction. Both rested on their cushions and slept most of the way. On the remaining 1/3 of the seat, Rowdy my blue heeler dog rode. We four spent the night in Dillon, MT. I was surprised and satisfied with how well the cats traveled. As those of you know who live with cats, change does not always come easily to them. But Taz and Junie had moved once before, four years ago. And they were used to being placed in their carriers and spending a week or two at Mom & Dad’s when I was away from home often during the last year. Well, placed may not be the best word. Sometimes stuffing Taz in his carrier resembled clutching a small black tornado which flung out arms with dangerous pricklers on the ends that snagged the edges of the carrier, my gloved hands or any exposed skin.
In the hotel room, Taz explored every nook and cranny and leaped up onto every surface. Junie hid under the bed and only ventured out after Taz had made sure there were no cat dangers in the room. Rowdy paced close at my heels or lay plastered next to the bed when I sat on it. That night, the cats slept in furry commas on either side of me while Rowdy stretched out on his traveling bed below on the floor. Next day, we were up early, cats in carriers, Rowdy in his space and hit the road for 14 hours of non-stop driving to our new home in Oregon.
I had thought I would live my life out in Montana. Especially now in my early 50’s. When I had moved from southwest Montana where I had lived for 20 or more years back to the land where I was raised, I had no intention of leaving. My childhood friend and neighbor, Starla, informed me soon after I had moved back that the next time I moved, it would be to the local rest home. Hunh. In my mind’s eye, I saw her and I as we raced our wheelchairs each day down the shiny-floored halls of the Sweet Nursing Home in Chinook, Montana. It would be like when we were kids and raced our horses, just a little slower and riding steel steeds.
Well, life has its own mind about things sometimes. I did live for four and a half years in the country I grew up in. It was like slipping on a pair of soft and worn favorite old leather gloves. I slipped right back into friendships from years past. They had never ended, although years of distance and busy lives had dissipated them a bit. Now the friendships brightened right up and though we were all twenty years older than we had been, it somehow felt as if nothing had changed. Of course it had. Most of us had grey in our hair and didn’t move quite as easily as we used to. Some of us had lost mothers, fathers, and other family members and friends. Others had married, some not. Some of us had been divorced and remarried. For some, a failed marriage was enough to convince a person to live alone. But the essence of who we had been changed little. We were from salt of the earth agricultural families, a solid bedrock of character.
How did my horizon shift to this one that bristled with scattered juniper trees? It sounds cliche. A man and horses. Yes, I moved for love and at first when someone asked why I was moving or had moved to Oregon, I mentally kicked the ground and looked down. There was guilt. I had left my parents. Aged now, they still lived on the family ranch where they had been for close to 50 years. I felt I had abandoned them. Six or seven years ago when my second marriage ended, I vowed to always be true to myself and not allow the expectations of others to color how I lived my life. I had to remind myself of this from time to time. It is easy to slip back into old patterns. Now when someone asks why I moved to Oregon, I swell with happiness and pride, look them in the eye and inform them, “My life partner, my boyfriend.”
So. My heart belonged to a cowboy in Oregon who rode beautiful, flowing Lusitanos. A horseman who taught people and horses how to find their balance apart and together. He offered them what was real in life. The horses could find it with his help. Not many people could. A horseman who never wavered in his care of my heart.
Clay and my Lusitano, Evaristo. Yes, Clay is allowed to ride Evaristo!
Now, the sun is chasing the colors that hailed its arrival away outside my book room window. The dusky green of the juniper trees is shaggy against the gravelly hills. Different country here. Drier and less grass. It’s harder to see distances, too. The scattered juniper trees reduce sight lines to quick glimpses. At first, I felt claustrophobic in the juniper country. I was used to the northern plains of Montana where I could see for miles in every direction. It brought expansiveness and freedom. At the same time it reminded me how insignificant I was in the universe. Even this was freeing, though. I was free to be who I was. But even with this expansive freedom, I found later, I had to be careful.
The tight landscape of the junipers kept me on edge for some time. I could not see what was coming. I felt constrained and blind. It was hard to breathe at times. Over the summer before I moved to Oregon, I spent much time there. Soon, I began to walk in the juniper land. At first I had to be vigilant to not get lost because everything looked the same. I would make myself little piles of rocks at forks in the trail I followed so I would know which one to take when I came back. I had to be aware. If I blinked at the wrong time, I would walk right past a trail I was supposed to take. Since everything appeared to look the same, it would be some time before I noticed that I had missed my turn. This was ridiculous! I had always had a good sense of direction, but this country was kicking my butt.
I began to soften towards the land, to allow its own way inside. This began to change our relationship and I could find my way easier. It taught me to see differently. These pictures shown by this land had a time span of a second or two. I had to look quick and remember. I found it engraved the image deeper and sharper into my mind than an unobstructed view I could look at and look at. This began to transform the way the land felt inside of me. I found that it stripped inessentials away. I had to be alert to see the views, alive and watchful. I looked once and saw.
There, the iridescent flash of a magpie gliding between two trees. Here next to my foot a dusty brown lizard scuttled for the hollow under a rock, then froze there. Its sides puffed up and down and a tiny sentence of lizard-prints led the way to its hiding place. Between the fern-like tops of the juniper trees, the cone shapes of Oregon’s Cascade Range of mountains gleamed to the west. This last view allowed by the junipers felt pre-historic and it seemed for several steps I walked an earth from long, long ago. Over there, under that sage brush, diminutive white flowers shone like little beacons nestled in their short, bush-like foliage. I stretched out flat on the fine, gritty dirt and sniffed the little beacons. A sweet scent the same size as they drifted upwards. And next to the skeleton of a juniper, brilliant fuchsia-colored flowers were an interior decorator’s dream of a pop of color amidst the surrounding earth tones.
Even though the horizon as I had known it remained out of sight for the most part in this land of rolling hills and junipers, I began to find my way and no longer felt disturbed by the transitory views. The views I did get allowed a narrow, far vision. It condensed my view of the horizon. View after view were each connected, but distinct in their own moment. They moved, always. This new horizon no longer formed an endless circle inside of my self, where my life trod ceaselessly round and round in a circuit of a life that somehow had lost its clarity and zest. Now my inner horizon formed a spiral. A spiral is a circle disconnected. A circle that goes somewhere. A circle with separate moments that happen and happen and I am each one separately and together all at once. Each turn of the spiral was stacked upon the other, like a slinky held and stretched from above by an invisible hand. I stood at its base. My feet rested on prehistoric volcanic soil. Its dust coated my shoes and blue jeans up to almost my knees. A spiral path awakens curiosity.
I began to hike upwards because that is where it led. Even though I still went around and around, my feet were drawn forth to see what hovered just out of sight around the next corner and ever upwards. The spiral horizon revealed exhilarating snippets of a new life. Right in front of me was Clay. My cowboy. The image here condensed, strong and deep. A metaphor for our life together. Around the next bend, pranced Evaristo, my beautiful intelligent Lusitano horse who did not suffer the presence of a person who was not aware. A deep desire to learn all I could to meet Evaristo’s being where he asked welled within. I could do this. All I had to do was stay aware. A few more steps upwards and around, and there were Mom and Dad. Even though I lived far away, I would do my absolute best to include them in my new life and stay in theirs. This would involve travel and time away, I knew. I trod a few steps farther, but still held in this turn. Yes, oh, yes. My sister, Christy, and my friends, those known and yet unknown. The heart-tether between myself and the people who wove together into the tapestry of my family, of blood and not-of-my-blood, would endure.
Yet another turn. Writing. I would dive in. No hesitation. Another turn. Time with the land and nature. I would learn this new land of mine and invite it to learn me. I thought of the ways of how to relate to the land and how to plunge its fathomless depths, even though I walked ever upwards along my spiral. Yet, the imprinted memory of the Bear Paws on my soul would always travel with me. Another turn. My breath stayed even and slow. There was the leaning tower of the stack of books I wanted to read. It grew every day, even as I chipped away at its base each dark dawn. Another turn. Yoga. I had began a year earlier. Almost each day I bent, twisted and stretched my body into the poses a tall, slender impossibly bend-y dark haired girl on my yoga app moved through. I began to wonder if she was really real. I sweated and strained into poses that somewhat resembled her beautiful, flowing ones. Each day became a little easier, and I found I craved the movements and peace it brought to my mind and muscles. And my body slowly answered the call of the bending and stretching, the holding of poses. It responded with a flexibility of its own and an unexpected strengthening of muscles I had thought already quite strong. Who would have thought?
Somehow I knew the spiral horizon would continue to unfurl inside and I would tread ever upwards. No more moving in a flat circle. No more flat horizon circling around me. No more flat circle of a stale life inside of me. Here in this land of condensed glimpses my new life would give its full attention to each aspect as it was revealed in each bend of the spiral. And here it is; this full attention required on the spiral path is a freedom in itself. Because of its intensity of focus, I find I am more free than with the freedom of the endless circle horizon. There is no space for things that erode this freedom to creep in. Things like doubt and fear. It’s hard to guard your borders when they are far-flung.
In this moment, the sun sets on the other side of the circle of bristly hills. Its lemon yellow fire floats on a canvas of peach and grey. JuneBug snuffles in sleep in a chair nearby and Rowdy lies right behind me so he will know if I rise to leave the room. In the room next door, Taz is curled tight in his plush cat bed on the extra dresser. The horses are settled for the evening and Clay will be home soon from the barn where he trains horses and gives lesson after lesson to those who seek greater understanding with their horses. We will catch up on one another’s day over wine and supper. Another turn on my spiral today, and it has not failed me.
Seek freedom and become captive of your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty.