I hiked a new route today. Decided to find the mythical Horse Camp at Montaña de Oro. Yellow poppies are beginning to bloom here, early signs of spring, or maybe just rain-appreciative plants. Also saw small pink morning glory-type flowers, low in the sand, like a succulent.
Map in my pocket, I follow Cisko’s horse tracks south through the chaparral. The air was ocean clean and fresh. Occasionally coyote tracks ran parallel to my path, then ran off into the brush. Mourning doves coo’d and a neighbor dog barked to note my passage.
Being on foot and coming from the dunes, I did not recognize the road to Horse Camp, so ended up hiking along the paved road for too long. Sunday morning surfers, mountain bikers, and hikers zipped by in their colorful, fast SUVs. No one else was walking.
Down through lines of equidistant eucalyptus trees, the forest of a get-rich-quick-schemer that didn’t profit him financially, but is now a haven for birds and squirrels and other wildlife. My nose is happy with the scent.
Up ahead I see a truck, and could it be? A horse trailer. Seven horses of various shades of brown and grey greet me. I hear a raucous laugh from behind them. There’s a tent with several humans sitting around a picnic table, breakfasting. I stop at a kiosk to read about ticks and lyme disease, then continue along the narrow path that skirts their camp.
“Good morning,” I whisper to the horses as I pass.
None of the other camp sites have campers, but a large covey of quail run through one of the corrals. Curious, I poke around. Wheelbarrows, muck rakes, pens fenced with metal pipe, water troughs. I’m smiling.
Yesterday, on the way back from my morning ocean ramble, Susan and Cisko were waiting for me at a fork in the trail near the ranch. When I stepped off the path to let them by, Susan said, “No, I was waiting to talk to you.” Cisko looked at me, then continued grazing, his mouth foaming green around his bit.
A few weeks ago, I’d emailed the folks at Return to Freedom, a wild horse sanctuary in SLO County. I’d asked Susan if she’d like to go with me sometime to check it out, and she wondered whether I’d heard from them.
“Nope,” I said.
“That’s weird,” she said.
“Maybe they don’t need volunteers in winter,” I hazarded.
We talked about Red Wings, another horse sanctuary up the highway 80 miles or so.
“Some of them are up for adoption,” I said.
“Are they ridable?” asked Susan.
“I don’t know; supposed to be. I have to check it out.”
Susan knows I want a horse. And once again, she offered to go with me to check out likely candidates.
“Thanks!” I said.
We made our goodbyes, then she and Cisko wheeled around to take the southern route, the one I chose this morning. I’d been walking in his big hoofprints.
I’m smiling because my horse dreams aren’t dead. I don’t know why the mind thinks up all kinds of reasons why I shouldn’t have what I want, but I am tired of listening to it. For 20 years I lived inland, despite my ocean longings. It took the threat of death for me to listen to my heart, my body.
Now I want the ocean, AND a horse, AND land, AND a home of my own. I am tempted to scale back my desires — are they unreasonable? Is happiness unreasonable?
Sure feels good, though, happiness.
Please god, may my next fifty years be happier than the last. And may yours be, too.