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Cloudcroft, New Mexico

The dogs lie panting, tongues lolling sideways. It seems they are constantly panting these days. The air is still. The only other sounds an occasional breeze, the incessant flies, and the chirp of a house finch sitting on her eggs. Her head twitches back and forth, watching me as I lounge in an old broken camp chair watching her back.

It’s hot in west Texas, where the UV index averages the highest in the country, and it seems the earth reflects heat as if it were metal itself and not dirt or rock. I glance to the east and watch the dust stir, spinning into a thin climb toward heaven then taking off across the desert like a horse on the run.

I need a reprieve.

In Cloudcroft, New Mexico we ride Little Apache Trail to the tempo of metal shoes and creaking leather, past an old tree turned to dust - nothing but moss cloaking its ashes. A teepee of branches stands in the distance, some off grid shelter for a long-ago lone camper. Birds call across the treetops announcing our arrival. Tall pines surround us on every side and the air is full of their scent making summertime feel like Christmas but the whitetails have replaced the snow and they scatter at our approach, bounding up the hillside. One furtive look back to be sure we don’t follow.

We continue downhill, deeper into the forest where the silver Aspens mingle with Ponderosas and there we step off into an old tangled fence line, dodge our way back out, then cut through the trees returning to camp where I tie the horse, unsaddle and sit watching the sun take its last breath of the day.

In the night, the horse whinnies alerting me to a change in our surroundings and with the swath of my spotlight I see it – a small black bear moving through the tree line. Scratching at tree bark, looking for sapwood. Silently casing our campsite in the dark.

He knows what he wants, no ifs ands or buts. He knows only truth. The bear does not need to prove his power or control, it is inherent.

We all see it and we all know it – it lives within us too.

When I take my horse alone I am always a stranger. I sit and write, blending words and thoughts together like an old can of paint begging just one more stir to be new again.

I dreamed of the bear last night. Of dodging confrontation, escape, and then attacking – me, not the bear. Strength, courage, weakness and darkness all rolled into one.

And I woke up smiling.

For horse trails in Lincoln National Forest:


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