June is not a large horse.
Really, she may be only a few inches over a large pony. In honesty I don’t claim to understand horse dimensions, but it’s fair to say that a very tall man could probably touch the ground with tip toes. A body traveling from her back to the ground would elicit more of a schlump than ka-whump, although, thankfully, she has yet to provide this jarring sort of drop off service.
But she’s flashy and ornery, sweet in moments and ready to knock the head right off your dog in the next. She’s got the feet of a mountain goat and as much attitude as a badger kicked out of its hidey hole in broad daylight.
That said, she’s never hard to catch and she’ll go almost anywhere you ask.
Preacher Creek. Rattlesnake Creek. Norwegian Creek. Camp Creek.
I trace the lines on the topo, holding the computer high enough so the small, popsicle-stained fingers pecking and tearing at my pant leg cannot reach it.
North Willow Creek. South Willow Creek.
The baby screams and his older sister wails about the remote, or her toys or something. It’s always hard to say given the ups and downs a seven-year-old experiences in any given day.
I look out the window at the snow line and wonder if the pass between the two forks is still snowed in – whether the road was even open to get a trailer in there. Outside the creek is nearly out of it’s banks.
Never mind the fishing, I think. And then, there’s a flash of recognition. Been awhile since I thought about the fishing.
In 2012, I gave birth to my daughter, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed little pistol named after her great-grandmother, who, I’m told, was a pistol in her own right. Two years later I left an awful marriage and three years later, she and I and her stepfather welcomed her brother into the world. Also blonde, blue-eyed, but an old soul from the start.
It was within that timespan that my relationship with the outside world — with the people in it — changed from welcome with open arms to “shelter in place.” It feels shameful to admit, but I’m not sure when I stopped exploring or stopped fishing or when my knowledge about my own backyard vanished. When I could only name one mountain in the nine I could see from my kitchen window.
There are predictable storylines when you become a parent: joy, love, exhaustion. You say things, do things, become things your younger self swore you would not. Out-of-shape. Cranky. A lover of sweat pants.
If you’re lucky, these remain predictable and you navigate with a smile and, God willing, a bit of grace.
But it doesn’t always work that way. In those moments you go from treading water to barely keeping your head above it, drowning in responsibility and detail. Your bucket of knowledge is no longer filled with the bloom dates of your favorite wildflowers, trails, species of fish. Instead it becomes filled with detail you never knew you’d need: the phone number of your divorce attorney, the password for your 401(k) account, the nagging reminder to clip the toenail of your daughters third toe on her left foot every other week or it will rub her second toe and keep her awake at night, at which point she will wake you and ask you to clip it at 3 a.m., refusing to go back to her bed until you are beaten into submission and shuffle to the bathroom to fetch the clippers, which are likely not where you put them last.
And then there is the fear. The anxiety. The dark thoughts that take your breath away in the middle of the night.
The good intentions of still exploring, still fishing, still doing all those things that you thought once defined you are just that: Good intentions. Hardly the place you intended to land. Not bad. Just life.
So it comes time to re-write your ticket and re-learn your backyard.
In 2013, June was born on this ranch where we now live and although I was not there at the time, her size almost immediately singled her out as a horse for someone other than the single man living here. Kid size. As though she could predict a future her human could not.
A few years later, “kid horse” is a term of art not fact. And so she and I find ourselves partnered for the near term, antsy and dancing at the base of the mountains neither of us know.
If I scroll to the left and follow the blue line far enough, it disappears into the Tobacco Roots. Headwaters. Birthplaces and beginnings. In between “Mom! Look at me!” and “How does broccoli grow?” and “Is trouts even a word?” I look to the north and find miles and miles of blue lines, trail and wide spots in the topo, perfect spots for a little horse to graze for a bit before heading back down the mountain — a mountain, or nine, we will learn together this summer.
Somewhere in the back of my closet is a fly rod, one that will fit nicely on the back of a saddle.
Shauna Stephenson is TU’s national communications director. She lives and works outside of Ennis, Mont.