We’ve come back to Coon’s Bluff in hopes of seeing the wild horses. The day is crystal blue, without a cloud in the sky. My heart is heavy.
I woke up in the middle of the night, with the lines of a poem running through my head. Without turning on the light, I reached for my phone and wrote them down:
Let us line our memories, side by side, build a raft to hold her; let our tears flow as one, form a river to carry her…
I hadn’t heard from my friend in days and I knew this wasn’t a good sign. I messaged her daughter with no response. Dini has been fighting an aggressive form of cancer for a little over a year now. It’s our habit to communicate everyday, if only through our ongoing games of Words with Friends, but she hasn’t been playing for a while and her last message was short, strange:
I’m ok. Going to sleep. M6
There is little I can do, so far from home.
Coon’s Bluff is a strip of land with the mountain on one side and a drop overlooking the Salt River on the other. Spotting the horses up on the mountain top, I head that way, while Ric is drawn to the water.
The horses are magnificent, and it feels like such a privilege to be here with them. I capture a few images and then push my walker farther along to a point where the mountain becomes sheer rock face. The colours here are spectacular: the reds of the mountain, the green of the mesquite with their dark, almost black trunks, the greys and caramel of the rocks leading down to the deep blue-green of the water. I would love to follow the path around the mountain, but note that it narrows and drops off at one point, so I choose a more sure-footed route, along the bluff, towards Ric.
From every direction I can hear birdsong, and I pause and ready my camera, but the motivation is lacking. Today, I am more interested in communing with nature than photographing it.
There have been silences between Dini and I before, typically when one of us is too ill to cope with screens, but it seldom lasts for more than a couple of days. Through another friend, I heard that she is in hospice and I wonder if this means the end, but Dini has rallied before; she is a fighter.
I move close enough to Ric that we can communicate, and hesitate. The path before me dips considerably and I’m not sure how to proceed. Besides, I sense that he wants to be alone too. Before I can do anything, he signals for me to be quiet and turn around.
The mare and her foal stand right behind me. A gentleness eminates from their presence, and they linger a moment before heading down the steep hill to the water.
“There are more,” Ric warns.
Not wanting to interfere with their passage, I push my rig behind the nearest bush and sit down. A parade of horses files by and then an old grey appears, drops down on the ground and rolls, and rises again, shaking off the excess dust before heading to the water. The stallion is next, neighing and stomping. He is clearly agitated. I take the cue and carefully move over by Ric on the other side of the dip. The horse picks up pace and follows the others.
“Wow,” a woman exclaims stepping out from behind a tree, her hand over her heart. “Wasn’t that something?”
“They are amazing to see, for sure.”
The sound of hoof beats alerts us to a straggler and a beautiful chestnut horse trots past. We watch as the pack, having crossed the river, disappear into the woods on the other side.
“There are two eagles nesting at the top of that peak,” Ric indicates the direction I’d just come from. “The man who told me said they’d been scared off by some people with a dog, but they should come back.”
We look to the sky, and there they are, their white heads gleaming in the sunlight. They sail above us, then over the land, then the water, making several tours before disappearing again.
“I need to sit,” Ric announces wondering if we should move on, but I’m not ready to leave.
“It’s so beautiful,” I respond, and he understands my need and finds a seat on a nearby picnic table.
I sit among the trees and watch as two Gila woodpeckers flutter about noisily. A squirrel darts by, and I notice some ground birds foraging within camera range, but still don’t bother. A flash of bright red, however, draws me out from my cover. A Vermillion flycatcher.
I notice quite a bit of activity on a tree that hangs out over the drop, and I decide to set myself up there, in the shade. Large rocks line the side of the bluff, and two little birds chase each other over the water and back, and a small brown head bobs in under the rock crevices. A Rock squirrel watches from his hiding place between the rocks, and I can’t help but line up the shots, capturing the Black phoebes and the Rock wren, and eventually the red head.
I just want to stay in this moment forever.
“My wife was bedridden for over two years,” I hear Ric telling someone, and think how far I have come – not just in miles – but also in healing. My disease, while debilitating at times, doesn’t carry the same threat as cancer. I have been the lucky one.
The horses are back at the water’s edge, and watching them I feel a deep sense of calm and peace.
Life is mystery. It is beauty and sorrow and unapologetic. It just is.
(Afternote: My dear friend died in the early morning hours, although I would not hear of it until the following day. I will always associate the day she died with wild horses.)