Texture: Growing up on the eastern Colorado Plains
Stormy Weather was born on a thundering, rainy night. Queen, a little Welsh-quarter horse mix, was upset by the weather, but nature has its way, and we had the filly. Queen had long white mane and tail, and Stormy had this little brush of a twig, a butch hair cut, and knobby knees. Queen was my sister Sallie’s and my pony, that we rode around the farm, up to the lake, to the post office, down to the Platte River, and to visit our friends. Sallie is seven years older than I, and by the time I was ten she didn’t ride anywhere on a horse. She could drive, date, all that good stuff. By the time Stormy was two years old Sallie was ready to trade my white Easter gloves for Stormy’s front end. I figured I was lucky to get the rear end in the first place.
Stormy took the place of Queen as soon as she was broken. I’ll admit she was never well broken, but she was mine, and I loved her soft nose, and the way she blew onto my hands. Her back was broad and cushiony (fat in vet-speak.) There is nothing that is as silky as a pony’s muzzle. Her hooves were hard and smooth, sharp little hatchets to the careless. Some horses are rougher to the touch, bony and lumpy to ride, and they have poky long whiskers on their nose. Queen was long haired and old, very old in horse years. When I looked deep into Queens brown eyes, I could see an oval pupil, deep and dark, surrounded by a fringe of iris—the texture of velvet, a pool of horse-secrets.
We always rode bareback.This gives a lot of emphasis to the feel of soft horse hair, coarse mane, jeans under the sandpapery bridle rein. Wearing jeans, every twilled thread created hot and scratchy texture against my skin. My dad feared us catching a foot in a stirrup, and being dragged to death. Saddles are hard anyway, but how could I become a real cowboy without tooled leather under my jeans? Actually I had some spectacular falls. Queen was notorious for throwing anyone over eight years old. Then she’d stop, her hoof very close to my body, and blow around the clumps of grass she chewed to show she didn’t care. I knew she did. If she had wanted to leave, all she had to do was hold her head to the side and split. She did that a lot, too.
Stormy and I spent many hours together. I hated housework, wanted to be outside, so I brought the milk cow home from the pasture every day. I fed calves from a galvanized milk bucket. Feel that seashell rough metal? It was my job to ride to the Post Office, a mile away, for the mail. No out door job was beneath me. I shelled corn, hard field corn had to be thumbed off the ear for the pigs and chickens. Papery lips around the kernels were rough and dry. I even caught and dealt with the Sunday dinner rooster.
Along the ditch banks, beside the Platte, were wonderful moments for my friends and me. Lazy times I’d lay back on Stormy’s rump and watch the clouds as she ambled. Mostly though I sat, legs dangling as she kicked the dry leaves aside and we rattled along the autumn-laced lane. Splashing cold water on my face I saw the dimples of drops on the creek, and felt the deceptive silkiness of the moss, like a mermaid’s hair, in the seep ditch as she drank. It was soft and curvy, as it floated towards the South Platte River with a gentle farewell wave. Bark of cottonwood rubbed against my jeans, when I’d take a break from the sun and lean against a tree to smoke a candy cigarette. As we wandered by the river old dead trees created decks my friends and I lounged on. They were smooth and silver, with an occasional prickle where a twig had been.
I reached down and touched fence post wood, weathered and grooved, as we rambled, caught the cotton in my hands, felt the rough shells of milkweed pods, the smooth grid of the pheasant’s feather.
...Part two in the next installment
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