Paw-Paw’s Hat

A Contribution from:
The air was unexpectedly cool as small droplets of rain danced around us seeming weightless on the stiffening breeze.
I could still see the rays of the sun in the distance as they cut the edge of the clouds and raced away across the high desert valley I had come to call home.
This was Big Mountain.
From the red and orange rock outcroppings providing the structure of this sacred place, to the sweet smell of blue sage that clung to the moist air, the power of this place was palpable and undeniable.
I scanned the ridges for movement and then gazed down the valley towards the large, man-made retention pond.
There, I could see a pod of 30 to 40 wild horses drinking. Several of them were gracefully posed on the hill watching us, alerted to our presence as the cool air carried our scent down the valley to them, almost of a mile away.
Only a few hours previous, I had been asked if I had ever ridden a horse.
I had paused for a moment, recollecting a time almost 20 years prior when I had been set atop a Shetland pony who immediately began to take off in a hard trot, with me clinging to it’s mane as I slid further off balance with each footfall.
Recalling clearly the fall that subsequently followed, I replied to the old Dine’ rancher, “Yep.”
With that, I had been given mount and took off like the wind, faring much better than I had those years earlier.
It seemed natural now. Maybe it was that I was stronger. Maybe it was the saddle or the horse itself. Maybe it was that I now rode with purpose.
I had come here to help a group of families protect their traditional home from the interests seeking to remove them and exploit the resources that lay below this soil.
I had come to protect the sacred.
“They take the cattle. They take the sheep. They want the horses, too. … this place has always been for the four-leggeds. The animals have always let us be here because we respect them. We love them. So they help us and we help them. …from the beginning.”
J.B. had been here his whole life. He had seen treaties made and broken. He had seen his brothers blood given to the land.
He was a witness to a destruction of holy places. Told to leave. Told he was illegal. Told he was a trespasser in a place where he could still hear his Grandmother’s Grandmother.
But he stayed. As they took the water, stopping springs with bags of concrete. He stayed. When they fined him, or jailed him, or coerced him to leave through bold lies and deception, he would return.
His life had been a battle.
Yet, he still sat on an old, sun-torn velour couch which unevenly leaned against the front of his hogan, gazing out across the expansive valley which once teamed with cattle he had respected as his children.
Now, only the occasional jackrabbit gave motion to his view.
He would never let me see him cry. Or hear it. But when he looked out that way, I could feel the tears he hid.
And I cried silently with him.
We were not friends. He didn’t trust me. I didn’t trust him either. But he was not in a position to refuse help.
So I would squat and share that beautifully tragic view with him.
Quietly.
During these times, he would offer tidbits of the old stories. One morning he said dryly, “You are here for the horses.”.
Just a short time later, here I sit, confidently atop a fiery 7 year old stallion and eye the wild pod with every intention of turning them all into riders.
My hand slid to pull the reigns from the saddle horn as the other found the bare shoulder of the horse, directly in front of the saddle, and I gave him several wholesome Pats.
“Ya wanna have some fun, Buddy?”
His left ear spun to me in confirmation as he took a few steps feeling his bit loosen.
I spurred him hard, and heaved myself forward into the stirrups as he leapt ahead and shot like a bullet, fast enough to trigger that instinctual gut feeling that comes from a perceived need for self preservation.
I fought the feeling back and cracked him on the ass with my coiled lasso pushing him harder into a rhythmic run and matching his ups and downs with my own.
I could hear the wind push by my head, as if on a motorcycle, but this was no bike. This was flesh and blood. A distant brother.
Symbiosis.
I spur him again and the wind noise grows. I push my face into it defiantly and begin to laugh with the exhilaration.
At this, my hat shoots upward, and as I glance over my shoulder I see it spin in the air and fall to the ground. This was my grandfather’s hat. As the horse rapidly added to the distance between myself, the many emotions, and memories attached to that old woollen fedora.
I could hear the horse say “Accept it.” “This is medicine.” I did.
I rode away from it still at full Gallop rapidly wiping at my eyes to clear them of the tears now coming faster, half for the wind, half for the clearly felt presence and approval of my grandfather. …and his grandfather, before.
I am Brandon Eiland Barre’.
I am my father and my mother.
And as that old dusty hat, we will all eventually fly on the wind.
…and stay here in the blood of our grandchildren.
I slow the horse to a trot and then a walk. Again I place my hand on his shoulder, and leaning in to that left ear I say with a broken but culminative voice, “I’m proud that you got to be here, Pap-Pier.”
With that, the mist became a steady rain and I turned my collar up to face the cold.
Alone but inseparably connected to the generations before me and those to come.”
With a “click click” and a light spur we push forward, and I efficiently tuck my heart back in.
“We have horses to protect.”
…this is almost fiction.
Paw Paw's Hat

Paw Paw’s Hat

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