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Friday, May 8, 2009

Emerald Eyes

As a kid I had the fortune to go on a horseback riding vacation with a friend of mine to Desert Hot Springs for a week during summer break- and under a full-moon. The host/riding instructor we stayed with had a house full of cats she'd saved from coyotes, abandonments or drop-off, or the desert itself... at one time or another. Her cats were all different sizes, shapes and colors, much like her horses. But this isn't a story about cats. We stayed there during the week of a full-moon because we were able to only ride at night. It was way too unbearably hot, and potentially deadly to be outdoors during the heat of the day in this beautiful but harsh desert of southern California.

It's here I first learned about riding bareback. I enjoyed learning to ride without a saddle at a walk, trot, and lope, and without the aid of stirrups. My riding balance, posture, and confidence grew with every ride. I learned to ride pretty well because we rode every day and long into the night. We rode so much that we had to switch to fresh horses, giving the winded ones a break. Over the course of the week, we had a grand time laughing it up, and kids being kids... came up with other ideas we found entertaining, whether it was licking salt blocks, sitting in the water trough, or throwing dried-up cowpies or horse-apples at eachother, the list of mischief was endless. But riding bareback by the light of a full moon was nothing short of amazing ~ quite the adventure for a horse-crazy kid. And being a die-hard animal lover I felt right at home being surrounded by many animals. But besides cats and horses, I met another critter in this desert nebula.

All day long during the intense heat, my friend and I anticipated being outdoors and riding horses after sundown, and finally be out of the sweltering stuffy indoors full of cats. The house was inandated with cats, cats literally everywhere. And cats being cats, all were mostly sleeping. There were cats on the counters, the coffee table, anywhere there was sitting or walking room. We snuggled our favorites, but we would talk & breath horses, draw horses, or play with horse models. If we weren't doing that, we were watching movies with horses in them... and you guessed it, with a cat asleep on top of the television set. But as soon as the sun set it's burning rays, and as quickly followed by the handsome orange moon, we got ready for our outdoor adventures. When the moon showed it's round face over the desert horizon, we eagerly changed into our riding jeans, boots and tank tops and about tripped over cats running out the door to head for the dry dusty paddock, halters in hand, searching for our favorite horses... mine was always black. Good to breath the desert air!

Though the sun went down, the air was very still and it felt very much like a hot convection oven. We weren't going to work the horses until it had a chance to cool down much more. There was a tackroom next to the outdoor arena with all our supplies. When it was darker, we used a flashlight to go into the tiny, dusty and cobweb-decorated tackroom to get brushes & bridles, and bribery treats for the horses. It was the very first night I noticed tiny little emerald lights on the ground outside of, as well as inside the dark corners of the tack room. Quite the oddity I thought, but was stunned and surprised when I saw them move! Transfixed, I asked what they were and got a casual reply of "tarantulas". I jumped out of my skin and up onto my friend. I was "creeped-out" to say the least but at the same time amazed and facinated, I couldn't help but keep stairing at the tiny glowing and motating beads of light. I focused my flashlight more directly on one and got a closer look. Yup, their large chunky fuzzy bodies and bountiful load of equally fuzzy and angular legs confirmed their identities.

After some time I managed to pick my jaw up off the floor. Not liking the idea of them in close proximity to myself, but wanting to "cowgirl up" ..... I managed to peel myself off my unsympathetic and laughing friend. Once on the ground in the darkness I was aware of my feet and afraid to step where I couldn't see. I didn't dare step backward without the flashlight around my feet, because I didn't want to step on one.. they were much too big, and I would surely feel one beneath my boot. But kids being of a resilient nature, I eventually got used to the whole idea of desert tarantulas. I enjoyed shining my light on these critters to watch them scurry away. I got so brave, I wondered around looking for them...brave, but with three stipulations: As long as they kept moving from me, did not hold their ground and stair back, or run at me. Satisfied that I hailed the power, my thoughts raced back to the horses tied to the railing waiting for a couple distractable kids. The wide-open desert... moonlight, horses, a laughing friend, and crazy glowing emerald eyes... it doesn't get better than this, I thought.

The tarantulas and their tiny green eyes in the darkness, became part of the captivation of the wild desert and the magic of that time in my life, all with a kid's big sense and quest for adventure and simple amazement. I grew up with the fortune of being outdoors, and many of my adventures were with horses. Every kid in my opinion should at some point in their lives feel grit between their teeth, grab a fist full of horse-hair as their horse rides full gallop, feel soft breath and a velvety nose of a horse on their cheek, hear a welcoming nicker, have a good old-fashioned 'horse-hair' sandwhich, and be truly in awe, amazed, and inspired by nature and all it's amazing critters.

Where the wild winds blow,

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