Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ride Heck out of Her

Colic. Its a small word that strikes big fear into the hearts of all equine owners. Its a broad term that means "stomach pain," and it is the leading natural killer of horses. The danger of colic goes to the stomach of the matter--Equines have a small stomach and nearly 85 feet of intestine. Designed for non-stop feeding as the horse moves about grazing, movement in the system is continuous and uni-directional (they can't throw up). Horses are big, one way, inefficient poop factories. When the factory gets plugged, it can be agonizing to the horse, and deadly. The upside of the system can bulge and burst, or the horse in pain can roll and get its guts twisted or kinked--all of which are a final death sentence without immediate surgery.

At 5:00 am Saturday morning, I opened the trailer at the Lee Pass trail head in Zion Nat'l Park to unload the mules and mustangs for a fall-colors trip into Bear Trap Canyon. Oddly, Mona Molly was laying on the floor in a different compartment than where I loaded her (Houdini couldn't have done it better.) She stood up and came out, but I noticed immediately that something was wrong. She had been fine at 3:45 am when I loaded her. Now she showed signs of obvious pain and wanted to lay down over and over again on the hard red pavement where we parked. I repeatedly got her back up, and tried to keep her moving, afraid for her life. After each few steps she would hunch up and collapse. At one point, she laid lifeless, limp and unresponsive, leading me to think I had just witnessed her expiration. Suddenly she was back on her feet. Mules can take a lot of pain, so it must be bad.

What a pickle! Its 5 a.m. and I'm a long way from anywhere. Loading Mona Molly back up for a trip back to town could be dangerous and I have no pain meds to settle her down. She's lucky she didn't hurt herself or the other animals while she thrashed about on the way to the trail head. A real long shot, but worth a try, I dialed my vet on the cell. He answered, (Sorry for the early wake up, Jace.) While we talked, Kimball Harmon and his wife JoAnna took turns walking her in the dark. After discussing my predicament and Molly's signs, he sighed, "Well, saddle her up and Ride Heck out of Her. If she keeps trying to buckle and fall down on the trail, then call me back."

Meteors streaked across the moonless morning sky, some disappearing behind Kolob's blackened fingers which cut a toothy smile in the starry canvas overhead. With some work, my son Tyler and I got everybody saddled up, and we descended into the mouth of the canyon. Molly moved with effort but didn't try to lay down--her gut gurgling loudly while the first traces of light sharpened Kolob's looming silhouette above our left shoulder. Gradually, black turned to fiery red as the sun cast its early light on the towering sandstone, and a cascade of fall colors emerged from night's firm grasp. Mona Molly lumbered along with increasing ease. Fall's morning chill smelled earthy and fresh, offering the promise of a brilliant day. By the time we had entered the narrowed bowels of Bear Trap Canyon, refrigerated beauty overwhelmed the senses and Molly was back to her old self.

The return trail was warm and we shed our layers against the full strength of a perpendicular sun. Fall's afternoon warmth smelled musky and rejuvinating, the promise of a brilliant day fulfilled. Molly's pace was the typical glad-to-be-headed-back sprint that I remember--she always knows when her compass points back to the trailer.

She carried me 20 magnificent miles that day. Ride Heck out of Her? indeed...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

There's a new Airport in my Backyard

St George is replacing its smaller, geographically landlocked airport with a new, bigger airport that promises to improve air service to our community, and therefore attract new and better businesses. This week, every local dignitary, as well as some national dignitaries like Orrin Hatch, Bob Bennett, and Jim Matheson drove past my house to meet at the new site and did what politicians do. Gold shovels in hand, they pontificated and broke ground. Mayor McArthur put on a grand show, singing the local version of "Dixie" and fed the whole crowd BBQ to the tunes of an old fashioned brass band.

It is a bittersweet moment for us. We know this airport is needed, and of course I love all things that fly. Living next to an airport will be fun. The hard part is, they are gobbling up our playground. For several years, we could brag that nothing stood between us and the Grand Canyon--we could leave my house and ride trails all the way there. Now our path is blocked and getting on the highway is the only way around this new obstacle. In two years, we might not even be able to ride our mules around some of this spectacular country as it gets developed. Well...we were lucky while we were lucky.

It is a grand sight to look over the construction at dusk and see a string of lights blinking in earnest, a linear spectacle completely out of place and disconnected from any other visible signs of civilization. Kailee and I (...maybe the rest of the kids too, if they wake up in time) will watch the airport come to life, alongside the Owl, the Coyote, and the Rattlesnake, innocent spectators to a grand change. We will keep hopping the ledges and climbing the Chute until someone says we can't, enjoying the lucky until its gone.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Cowbell and Half a Moon

To Curb-and-Gutter bound souls, the moon is a curiosity of the night-time sky that affects mood and tide, but whose glow is swallowed up in a sea of city lights. Not so in those special places, where moon-shine still bathes the night's landscape with soft white light. The colors of day fade away, and the world becomes black and white like an old western movie, awash in shades of gray punctuated by the sharp black lines of moon-shadow.

This weekend was a three generation pack trip into Hop Valley. My brother and I took a couple of our boys and my aging father, who just returned from a 2 year absence as a missionary in Alaska, back into our favorite part of Zion National Park. It was many things: Dad hasn't been atop a horse for several decades. Besides a little practice over the past two weeks to get ready for this, two days on my big dunn Molly about wore him out. My five-year-old Preston enjoyed his first real solo trip. He didn't want to come home and would have preferred to stay until we starved him out. Brother Mike and I were breaking Sulpher herd mustangs, him on Allie, and me finishing a 30 day job for some friends on their 2 year old gelding, Rusty.

Before bed, I noticed Senator, the 6 month old mule we brought to tag along was gone. I recently weened him, and had left his momma home. All day he had been with his coral mates and I didn't sense much need to worry. SHOOT! Not again! When these babies want a drink of Milk, they don't care what stands in their way! Sure he was headed home, I saddled my Molly, and headed off into the dark, alone, to find him. Molly's cowbell still fastened to her neck, we climbed out of the canyon's sandy bottoms and up the rocky trail to the top of the Mesa. The moon was about half lit, boldy marking the trail. Cold, clear air filled my lungs and the clank of cowbell sounded in perfect rythm to Molly's stride. The brilliant red cliffs had lost their color, standing gray against the night sky. Senator was up top just where I thought he would be, on his way home to momma. All alone, he was glad to see me, but wasn't in the mood to follow me back. I haltered him and began the long descent back to camp, glad of heart that I didn't lose my little mule in this Lion infested wilderness, glad of ear for the sound of Cowbell, and glad of eye for the light of half a moon to get me down the trail.