Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Memory of Bruneau Dunes

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We call it a dust bowl because of the obvious - its a basin - and because of the odd behavior of the wind. For a part of the year the wind will blow Northwest, and for part of the year it will blow Southeast, which is why the dunes do not sail the desert like they might in the Sahara. The wind has a persona here. You can watch it crawl around the roots of a dune, causing the dust to billow in places like rapidly budding mushrooms. It will stealthily stalk you until it either loses patience or curiosity at which point it will roar. Its breath stings your skin like hell-fire and removes the use of your eyes. The wind is especially hard on horses.

Any weather is horse weather except for windy weather. Wind debilitates the horse's two favored senses: smell and hearing. Why they prefer to rely on smell and hearing over eyesight is a wonder to me. In recent years its been discovered that horses can see at least some color. They can see almost 360 degrees (horizontally) with the exception of two slim blind spots, they have amazing depth perception, and although they can't be compared to a hawk their eyes still have better distance vision than we do. I like to think that a horse has all the physical graces of a feline and all the moral consistency of a dog.

Side note: I just read that the horse has 20/30 vision, a cat has 20/75, and a rat 20/300! Imagine that!

Now that the lack of enthusiasm for wind has been expressed, I don't have to explain why my horse gets frisky when a trip to the dunes is made. She throws her head in true Arabian fashion and flashes the desert with her fiery flaxen mane - as if to challenge the wind to a race. Air gushes from her nostrils, forced from the barrel of her chest. We call it the War Blast. All horses exhibit the War Blast when adrenaline surges through their veins whether from fear or excitement. It is my favorite expression of the horse.

In this case, Jazzmin meant to challenge the landscape. She anticipated the fun we were about to have. I think that a part of her knew that the origins of her ancestry came from a desert wasteland not unlike Bruneau Dunes. I also think she knew her ancestors carried kings to many victories. She treated me like her royalty, her prize to carry forth into an imaginary battlefield, and knowing that gave me all the confidence a teenager might lack.

Riding an excited horse is only fun if you know that the horse has promised to uphold you, and if there's a lack of hard and pointy objects to risk landing on. Bruneau Dunes is not only absent of hard/pointy objects but buried first by six inches of dust and then a bed of sand. A horse's feet sink past their fetlocks before finding any vestige of support. The drawback to playing in a sandbox like this is the strain put on your horse's ligaments. Be wary as a rider. Check their joints often for heat.

The fun is worth the risks when you're flying over a sea of gold, and your horse's haunches are working double-time because of the sinking nature of the sand which grabs at her heels like greedy hands. The sun will glint off the spines of the dunes ahead of you. A loud and glorious rushing sound will fill your ears. The sound is a combination of your heart beat, and her breathing, and the race against the wind - which of course you'll triumph over. And when you've finally shamed the wind into submission and you sit abroad the back of a flat-crested dune, you may find the same sense of peace I found. It is greater than contentment and better than lack of want.

It was my eighteenth birthday. I distinctly remember that my horse stood at liberty. Her nose nearly rested upon my right shoulder - a demonstration of camaraderie. A sweet zephyr came to play with our hair, lifting it and twirling it softly like a sister might, and the moment not only lasts beyond my recognition but it revisits me in dreams. My eyes assessed the landscape in a new way, as if I were seeing the land for the first time, and that's when a white owl crossed my vision, in the mid-afternoon! Can you believe it? I love white owls. I don't know why.

It was the most memorable birthday I've ever had. My friends were disappointed in the lack of "festivities" on my Birthday, but when asked by my parents what I wanted I think I chose wisely. I had an entire State Park to myself that day - which was odd. My parents watched me ride off, I was gone for almost six hours. It was a good day, and a good memory.
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