by DiVoran Lites
Chapter Twenty One
Ellie and Aldon had fallen into the habit of starting their days together. The sun was not yet up, but it was time to meet in the kitchen for coffee and a chat. Aldon sometimes prayed and sometimes read a bit of the Bible to Ellie, but mostly they admired the sunrise and talked about their lives and their dreams.
“We’re going to catch Chief’s brother, this time around,” Aldon said finishing his coffee. For this particular day, June 21, Ellie’s birthday, he had invited Kenny and her to help capture some wild mustangs. “Chief was once the leader of the band. Bill and I caught him after I came back from the war.” Ellie saw Aldon’s excitement sparkling in his eyes. “Man, do I ever love chasing those beautiful animals and bringing them home to train.”
“But doesn’t it mean that you’re breaking up a family?” she asked.
“In a way it does, but after the colts grow up, they don’t seem to care whether they’re with their mothers, as long as they can be with other horses. And we’ve got to keep the herd culled so that it doesn’t over-populate the range. Any land can only support so many large animals or even small ones for that matter. For example, at one time we had too many rabbits in the valley. That caused the loss of whole species of plants, including some trees because the rabbits eat bark and root sprouts. They caused erosion because the topsoil became exposed, and blew away. The land hasn’t recovered yet. It could be even worse if we got too many wild horses, so I say let’s cull a few and give some people the pleasure of riding them. Or we can send them out to Hollywoodland. Bill says he can make them into movie stars and sell them to the studios for westerns and historical movies.”
After they’d left the kitchen as tidy as they’d found it, they went out to the barn. From there, they heard Kenny’s motorcycle roaring up the drive. They went out to meet him as he pulled up.
“Get a horse,” Aldon joked. Kenny waved happily and went on his way to saddle the horse he boarded at the ranch.
The three of them rode up past the line cabin to the first stand of aspens where Aldon expected to see the mustangs. As the trio paused in a copse of trees, the ranch horses were careful not to step on crackling sticks, or to whinny, or to make any noise at all. They had found a place where they were well-cared for, and their wild blood had been tamed. The first mustang Ellie saw was a palomino standing apart from the rest of the herd guarding her colt. Close by, with heads bent to graze, were forty or so wild mustangs in a variety of colors from sorrel to the browns, blacks, and whites of appaloosas.
“There he is, that black stallion with the main herd.” When Aldon leaned over to speak to Ellie, the leather of his saddle creaked slightly; and the horse raised his head and sniffed. As quick as the wind, he bolted followed by the herd, which made a river of horses flowing through the meadow and down the slope of the mountain. Aldon and Kenny took after them immediately while Ellie, stunned, looked on. As soon as she realized what was happening she nudged Ribbons with her boot heels and they followed not far behind the palomino and her colt who had fallen behind.
Aldon and Kenny, by driving them, guided the wild herd into a narrow box canyon at whose end the family had built a rough-hewn corral.
Before going into the corral, however, the lead stallion made a quick turn and led the herd back past their would-be captors. A wily old horse, Ribbons moved as close to the rock side of the canyon as possible in order to stay out of their way. When he palomino saw the herd coming back toward her she tried to turn too, but by that time the men had their ropes around her neck and their horses were digging in their hooves to stop her progress. Once she realized she was caught, she began to rear and twist. The colt danced to stay out of the way of his dam’s flailing hooves. They were both so beautiful as the sun bounced off their white manes and tails and highlighted the molten gold on their sides that Ellie breath caught in her chest. Back at camp the mother and colt went into a small corral, and Chief sauntered over to inspect them over the rails.
Ellie recalled everything Aldon had told her about horses. He’d said that they needed to be with other animals — almost any creatures from dogs to goats to humans would do. A human was preferable to no company at all. Ellie thought such neediness put the animals at a disadvantage, but the knowledge of it touched a deep place in her soul and she knew she was needy too. She could hardly wait to get to know the beautiful palomino better. Suddenly it became clear — it’s not just the company of a horse I need. It’s Aldon, too, and he’s my friend now. The thought gave her a fine, warm feeling.