Tony Vagneur: Dreams in the saddle
There’s an old Hank Williams tune, “Pictures from Life’s Other Side,” which is a poignant look into some of the tragedies that plague man, such as “Just a picture from life’s other side/Someone has fell by the way/A life has gone out with the tide/That might have been happy someday.”
If you stretch your imagination a bit, you might think it’s possible to get a glimpse into the real other side, over the divide others have crossed once they’ve passed on. Many religious doubters and philosophers have struggled with the thought: On that other side, are we still dead, or do we live?
In a 2016 interview for Aspen Sojourner magazine, writer Allison Pattillo asked me who my favorite personal horse might be. I demurred, saying something to the effect that those not chosen might get even with me when we meet up on the other side.
More recently, and to the best of my recollection, we were in a great cattle working area, a lush, grass-covered basin between a creek on the far side and a fence and a gate for home on the other. In a roundup reminiscent of thousands of scenes replayed every fall across the West, four or five of us sorted cattle between various owners, sending some this way, others that way. It takes a good eye to spot a pair (mother and calf) and a good horse to quietly separate them out and push them toward the bunch they belong with. It’s done in a calm, deliberate way — none of this Wild West bulls— you usually see on television or in the movies.
Toward evening, we called it a day and someone said a big truck was coming to pick up the horses, so don’t worry about them — just find yourself a vehicle to jump into for the long ride out. We’ll meet back here in the morning.
Situated in a small car, I ask the woman driving to stop and let me out for a minute, and as I stretched my legs, the truck carrying our horses comes roaring down the road, going way too fast for the upcoming stop sign.
The trucker slams on his brakes and the horses, instead of crashing to the front of the truck as they should have, somehow manage to mostly hold their footing and the truck, which doesn’t make the stop, at least slows down enough to eke out a turn to the left.
Pissed, I tell the driver of the car I’m in, “Never mind, I’ll just walk,” the mile or so to the campground where we’re staying. The truck with the horses, obviously having made a wrong turn, pulls out in a wide spot to think things over and maybe go back the other way. As I walk by, the driver gives me a sheepish, apologetic nod, as if to say he knows he screwed up.
Down at the campground, someone finds me to say the trucker has unloaded our horses there for the night and I need to find and take care of my horse. Once he’s found and unsaddled, I look around for a place to keep him — someone said there were horse paddocks available — and I find a good one, right close to my camp.
Then, staring into space as I wait for the paddock to clear, the horse insistently nudges my arm and I realize the steed I’m holding is my long-ago horse, Willie, a powerful beast I loved so much. We had to put him down in 1999.
He’s being stoically patient, as he always was, waiting for me to get my act together — I find the latch on the gate, one of those farmer-rigged, complicated wire affairs and lead Willie in. As I pull the halter off, he stops at the water trough and watches me intently with his wonderfully deep brown eyes. And there he is, a beautiful blood-red bay, so well-muscled, a wide chest with a flowing black mane and tail.
A silent connection is made between us, the type of bond two longtime friends might have when they see each other after a long absence. A smile crosses my face and a tear forms in the corner of my eye and then, I woke up.
If you’re a nihilist, such as Vladimir Nabokov mentions in several essays, fearing that existence is but “a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness,” this story won’t mean much to you. Say what you want, but sitting on the side of my bed at four in the morning and marveling at the dream I’d just had, a restlessness stirred my soul, and it became clear that Willie had visited me from the other side.
What a gift.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at email@example.com.
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