Come ride with me and my mare, Fae, on this Magical Mountain Adventure!
Originally ridden/written July 2009. No camera that night; Rode Laddie – now 5 – up the same trail recently. Photos: July, 2013.
Ride on! : ~ )
Far from the city lights, high up in my California mountains, Paradise calls.
I am one of the very lucky ones – I, and the pilot who flies a lone plane overhead – hear the engine, see the strobe.
I wave and tip my mental hat, passing along a greeting to my fellow Adventurer of the Night.
Into the twilight, early July, my first high-mountain ride of the season, I ride my Mare past the portal of McGill Trail, up, up, into the wilderness.
Even though risks lie in steep drop-offs just inches beside me, here, I am always welcome. Always safe.
Up, up, we stride, into the comfort of the falling curtain of night.
A burnt orange halo sets off the Western horizon, graced by a silhouetted treeline across a vast ravine.
This ragged wilderness stands as it always has, some fifty miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, jutting to nearly 9,000’, separate from the farther inland ranges.
This, Mount Pinos (the television depiction of “Walton’s Mountain”) – my mountain-brother, my protector – defines the landscape here and holds at bay the far-off city lights.
(Were it not for these mountains, and others across California, the city would sprawl even more . . . )
I moved here, years ago, from the coast, from Malibu, because of this forested mountain-brother – to be near him, sheltered by him. To ride and ski and hike his peaks and curves as long as my life allows.
Although tonight is my first solo ride here on Fae, all our horses know this route, especially at nighttime. I’ve ridden this section for so many years, under so many circumstances, like a familiar road home.
Here, the steep turn where Prize tried to flip over with me. Fae takes it well tonight, pivoting, and climbing the hairpin crimp.
And here, the switchback where Sage got disoriented and turned around that night. He followed us, loose and free, all the way up from Mill Canyon. But here we had to ride back to find him.
I can still see him: dazed, walking alone, his gray coat shimmering white in the starlight – as if illuminated by a fairy’s torch.
And I realize that my entire herd lives-on here. Both the horses we ride and love now, and the ones beyond the rainbow . . .
As if each ride leaves an ethereal record of our passing.
Fanta and Starboy and Mentor are here. Lacey and Fauna and Angel. And Fae, little filly Fae, still follows mother Fanta, jumping the (now decomposing) fallen log in the meadow . . .
Their spirits linger, like those of the deer and birds and wildflowers that call this spot home.
So I ride alone on Fae tonight—a maiden ride of sorts after her recent foals, Aria and Laddie, one year after the other. Fae, fresh back home, ready to polish and mature.
And I remember Fae as a newborn filly in the simple days before 9/11. We had one week of bliss before the towers came down. How I appreciate that time now.
In those early days, I can still feel them, I lay with baby Fae and held her, stretched out in Fanta’s shadow, breathing peacefully, oblivious to the changing world.
I stroked her neck and whispered of the mountain adventures we’d surely have. How she’d carry me, and we’d soar, and all the wonderful rides we’d share.
And here we are, all these years later, on the dark side of the mountain, fulfilling that dream!
Fae surges strong beneath me. Fanta, she definitely pulled Fanta, my life-long Appaloosa mare – endless energy and springy gait. But Dallas the Shire (who is also her sire) is present here, as well. Big-stepping, big-framed, big-heart.
Fae’s hooves clop the earth with draft-horse thud, yet her gait springs forward, willing. No need to prod her tonight, she flies into the darkness, ever up-ward, finding her way.
Rounding the bend, we come into the moonlight now, illuminating the valley below.
Across the expanse, above the inky ridgeline, a distant grid-work of tiny lights twinkle through the saddle of adjacent Tecuya Ridge: Bakersfield. “Civilization.”
Directly below, the soft glow of several dozen Cuddy Valley lights – our home included – nestle, as if hanging from a hammock between the peaks.
Surreal, almost Supernatural, the lights flare and dance – taunting in the distance, reassuring in the foreground – wagging an incriminating finger at those voyagers beyond their reach. As if their magnetism should have been sufficient to hold us, keep us in the safely lit confines of home.
But we, broken free from their gravity, stare out in amazement, as if viewing our own galaxy from a spaceship, from afar.
Past the lookout I stop, dismount – it must be ten o’clock – and I realize how rich I am.
Who else would be, could, be up here, in the darkness, in the wilderness, riding her Mare without a care, and sitting here by the trail, feeling completely safe and at home?
It’s a still night, not a breeze. So warm and beautiful. And I sit and lavish praises on lovely Fae, the outline of her large head darker than the shadows from the surrounding trees.
And I marvel at my life. At the freedom. At the peace and beauty of these mountains – my mountains. Awaiting me, here, in the beginning of summer, ready for my repeated return.
I look up into the sky, filled with stars, and I notice the airplane, from Bakersfield-way. I see the landing light. And I imagine the man or woman in the cockpit.
How many times did I fly over these inky mountains, years ago, in my yuppie-business-pilot-youth? Not knowing that a woman below me, and her second-generation Mare, could be wishing me farewell?
I watch, and listen until it’s no longer overhead. Until I’m no longer in the red-glowing cockpit of my long-ago plane, but rather, sitting by the trail again, holding the reins to my Mare. In the shadows, in the darkness. On the side of a 9,000’ Southern California peak . . .
I mount up, we turn back, and head towards home.
Magical moonbeams drape across the darkened landscape, illuminating spots and patches random, like an Appaloosa.
And I ride my surefooted Shire-Appaloosa Mare, homeward.
Richer, still, because of the Adventure.
Copyright 2009, 2013