Thursday, September 24, 2015

Chapter 22 - Ranch


Gerry and Ash missed breakfast that morning. Dale was washing dishes with Paul afterwards when Gerry came in, slightly red eyed, and Paul gave him a smile that tactfully didn’t notice. 

“Hi love. There’s breakfast for you two in the warming oven if you want it.”

“Thanks.” Gerry got one plate out, leaving the other for Ash, and set two places at the table. “Ash is emailing to book a hotel room for the night on our way home, we’ve had to change to a connecting flight. I don’t understand about airlines over-booking, one would think that either the seat is sold or it isn’t, it’s hardly rocket science.”

He caught Dale’s eye as he leaned on the counter and forked scrambled egg into his mouth, giving him a slightly shamefaced look

“I’m not quite sure Emily Post would have approved of my reaction.”

“It’s done with now.” Ash came into the kitchen and Gerry took the second plate out to hand it to him. 

There was a brief exchange of glances that Dale saw pass between them, from Ash’s nod at the table to Gerry’s mute plea to Ash’s slightly raised eyebrows. And Gerry’s wince as he brought his plate and sat down beside Ash somewhat delicately.

“Gerry’s got some lines to write,” Ash said to Paul. “He’ll be in the study today if you wouldn’t mind keeping an eye on him? He doesn’t need to be anywhere else until I get back.”

Gerry grimaced but didn’t say anything.

He was laying on his stomach on the study rug and writing when Dale tapped at the door a while later, and glanced up with a bit of a wry smile.

“Come in.”

“Paul sent this.” Dale put the mug of tea down in reach, unsure what diplomatically to say, and Gerry rolled onto his side and took the mug gratefully, putting down his pen to bury himself in it.

“You British are so polite, Darcy and Bear just demand the details. Ash doesn’t do refusing to communicate, it’s a bit of an old habit of mine and it gets stamped on pretty firmly. You’d think I’d have learned not to do it by now, but I am Cleopatra.”

Dale looked at him askance, and Gerry spread his arm as dramatically as he could while laying on the rug.

“The Queen of denial?”

Dale smiled, and Gerry smiled back. “And we are kind of under zero tolerance at the moment anyway since someone, I mention no names, did something really stupid with a plane to Texas in lieu of a conversation. I can’t imagine why.”

Whatever he was writing, so far it covered several pages in Gerry’s free, looping hand and it looked less like a line than a paragraph duplicating the very first one, written in different handwriting, smaller and neater at the top of the first page, the first couple of lines of which began:

There are no feelings so bad we can’t talk about them, and nothing I can say that won’t be listened to

Dale couldn’t make out the rest of it, but was slightly surprised at the tone of it, having expected something... less personal. Other than having seen Riley write lines on occasion and not enjoy it, it wasn’t something that he knew much about. It was too easy for him to detach from something physically repetitive and his own people knew it; it wasn’t something Flynn or the others ever asked him to do. Essays that involved active reflection on the things he found hardest, yes, Flynn had no hesitation at all in making him work his guts out for hours to produce a paragraph of his own that reflected real thought. His journal was full of them, but none of them made for painful re reading. Which brought back something that had been nagging at the back of his mind for a few days now.
Leaving Gerry resignedly writing in the study, Dale spoke briefly to Paul to ask permission and pulled his boots on, heading outside. Jasper was by the corral, grooming Gucci who was tethered to the rail and leaning into Jasper’s brush strokes, her gleaming hide starting to show the comfortable swell of her growing foal. It was a warm, sunny morning and Dale found himself rolling back his sleeves as he walked across the damp red earth to Jasper; Paul was continuing to hand him anyone’s sweater but his own to put on in the mornings. Actually Dale knew exactly why he did it; the comfort of it was physical and surprisingly powerful and it was with him all day, enveloped in these sizes that were too large for him so they reminded him every time he moved, and which carried, faintly within the familiar smell of clean laundry, the scent specific to Flynn or to Jasper or to Paul. No one else had commented that he was walking around in a sweater that came well down past his hips and sleeves that hung over his hands. It was one of Paul’s he was wearing today, a thick knit in the dark blues Paul often wore, and Gucci turned her head to snuffle at him, clearly interested that she was picking up Paul’s scent on him. Jasper glanced up and smiled, continuing to work over Gucci’s smooth haunches. Dale ran an automatic hand over Gucci’s soft nose, rubbing as he thought of how to phrase this. 

“.....Luath has my journal.”

It wasn’t a complaint. Jasper nodded, apparently having no difficulty understanding.

“You haven’t wanted to ask him for it.”

 “I tried to destroy it.”

Jasper moved round to work on Gucci’s other haunch, briskly running the brush in a steady swoosh, swoosh, and Gucci shifted her weight to her other back hoof to lean deeper against the bristles, huffing luxuriously and switching her tail side to side.
“For a reason, not in temper. Look at me.”

It was a request, gently said, but it was a phrase that had taken on a whole lot of new meaning in the past few weeks. Jasper paused, leaning with his arms on Gucci’s back and waiting. It still took a moment of mental wrestling to make himself do it, to look him in the eye, fully, deliberately, to make himself that vulnerable. Jasper spoke quietly and directly to him, holding his gaze in the way he had that made you feel like he was speaking right inside your head.

“You were trying to find a way to tell us honestly how you felt. You spent that whole day talking to us and it was the hardest stuff you were letting out, it took immense courage. I’m very proud of you for doing it, I do not blame you for one moment of it.”

Flynn had said the same thing a few days ago. To hear it from Jasper, said so firmly and so intently, carried the same deep impact, particularly from Jasper who had been there and seen it. Riley would have accepted the comfort. Flushed and conflicted, Dale leaned on the rail, not wanting to reject what Jasper said but searching for the words to explain himself.  Jasper walked around Gucci and came to lean on the fence beside him.

“But you still don’t feel ok because even if there were reasons, it was an act of violence. You understand that. So do I.”

He did. He’d led Dale through another disaster some months ago, explaining how to make it right.

“Reparation.” Dale said to him. “You say it takes reparation.”

“Yes. The saplings you brought back from the woods. They’re on the porch by the vegetable patch.” Jasper put a hand on Dale’s neck, his palm was warm and it was a comforting touch. “Plant them out, water them in. Add something that wouldn’t be here without you.”

He’d prepared for this days ago. Startled and touched that Jasper had known, Dale found himself demanding stupidly, “Where?”

Jasper gave him a calm shrug, going back to Gucci, who had twisted her head around to look at them reproachfully with large, soft eyes. “Wherever you think, this is your home.”
“....If they grow out here in the open they’ll be huge.” Dale protested.
“Yes. Tell Paul where you are and let him know I’ve got an eye on you.”

“In case I turn into a pumpkin.” Dale said half under his breath, going to look at the saplings.

There were good atmospheric reasons why trees did not grow in the valley here. They would probably die in the first bad weather, the first storms out of the shelter of the woodlands.
Be honest, you’re more worried that it’s going to make the landscape look different.
If the trees lived, it would stay looking different for anything up to the next century. It was far more of a personal mark than Dale felt comfortable placing. The urge was strong to go back to Jasper and argue that this was no sensible way to treat either a tree or a beautiful place.

So think for a minute what he wants you do and why.

He isn’t going to ask you to do anything destructive, he values the continuity here as much as you do, Jas doesn’t believe in any kind of casual damage to anything. This is about reparation. You don’t have to stuff these in the first place you can think of, or the place where you hope they’ll be least in sight, that isn’t his point at all. It was violence against here and everything you believe in here. If you were going to plan to do something that did some good to repair that violence - if you were going to put those trees to a useful purpose that served here, what would you do?

He paused on the porch to survey the very familiar and loved yard and the land around him, the answer coming almost instantly.

I’d put them in a cluster up to the lee side of the shires’ paddock. They’d love the shade and the windbreak, we worry about them in the hottest weather and the coldest. The trees would have the support of the fence while they’re growing, the three close together would give each other enough shelter that they might get through the winter, and that far out from the house they’d fade into the woods from a distance, we’d hardly know they were there. But the shires would.

If Paul was surprised at a brusque comment about going to plant trees, he hid it well.

            The planting of trees had not been a subject of study at either school or his career with ANZ. It took some minutes of searching through one of the botany books in Philip’s study, stepping over Gerry as he did so, to find what one did about saplings. Having read and digested it, Dale then located a shovel, took the saplings with him, and spent a while locating the right spot, watched closely by the three big, placid shire horses. Putting the trees far enough out of reach of curious teeth and hooves while they grew, Dale dug some of the same fertiliser into the earth that he and Paul had been using to improve the soil in the vegetable bed,  planted them deep and watered them well, which meant sometime of hauling buckets from the tap in the yard. There was real peace in it. A satisfaction to placing them here, properly, with the best chances he could give them to grow, and it eased something within him as he did it.

On his third trip out, a heavy bucket brimming in either hand, he saw her some way off, sitting in the pasture near to the newly planted trees. She was about seventeen, the same girl he’d seen walk past them in the woods a few days ago. Sitting with her legs curled under her, her hands busy with one wild flower that she linked to another in a chain, picking them from the grass around her,  her long dark hair fallen forward over one shoulder. She didn’t seem to want anything, she was relaxed and intent on what she was doing. Her bare feet were clean and as delicate as her hands, she was dressed only in a light, white peasant blouse and the flared jeans with the embroidered flower on one knee. She glanced up at Dale and her open pleasure in the sunlight, the green pasture, the breeze through the trees and the flowers in her lap washed over him in a rush of warmth mixed with her smile as she met his eyes, it was nothing more than a casual and happy hello like a neighbour passing by in the street. She was gone an instant later, leaving no trace on the grass. 

Mason was sitting with his back against the stable wall as Dale collected the tools and walked back down the line of paddocks towards the barn. He had his notepad open on his knee and was still writing. Hard. His head was bent in concentration and he paused at intervals to frown at the page. He also sat in the dust of the yard without the faintest compunction; something before the hike he wouldn’t have done half so naturally. Dale walked quietly the other way around the yard buildings to avoid disturbing him, and he was putting away the cleaned off shovel when he saw an elderly car bumping slowly over the grass track towards the yard. It wasn’t one of their neighbours; Dale knew most of their cars on sight the way he knew Clara’s and Emmett’s. Unlike their neighbours who wouldn’t have hesitated to drive right into the yard, this car stopped at a polite distance to the side of the track and two men got out, both tall, wide shouldered, one with dark hair and the other with long white hair in a braid almost to his waist that Dale recognised immediately.

Jasper had seen them too, he left Gucci and walked slowly out to meet them, glancing back to Dale with a clear invitation to join him. Dale caught him up and side by side they reached the two men, dressed in jeans and jackets with the strong bones that made their Shoshone ancestry clear in their faces, who had paused just outside the gate to wait for them. Jasper offered a hand to the elder man, his voice warm.

“Mr Williams.”

“Yes. Caleb.” The man took Jasper’s hand gently, holding rather than shaking it as Dale had seen him do at their last meeting. “You came to Fort Washakie to talk with us about the sacred site on your land. My son and I are historians, we came to ask you if we might visit the hill for ourselves.”

“Of course, you’re very welcome. Give me a moment and we’ll show you where it is.” Jasper turned back to the yard to where Paul had come out onto the porch having seen the car, and Caleb offered his hand to Dale, his very bright blue eyes twinkling as he smiled.

“Dale Aden.”

He was as captivating as he had been at their first meeting. There was a warmth in his smile that was both a surprise and a pleasure; Dale felt the friendliness within it lift him as the man took his hand, a strong hand but no grasp, no squeeze, more the gentler touch of a friend or a family member. Joseph, shorter and thicker set than his father, smiled too, offering his hand in turn. Jasper came back to them with a set of keys.

“We can drive one of the jeeps most of the way if you’d like, it’s about a mile steep walk.”

“We would enjoy the walk.” Caleb said with a rather dry look at the car. “I have sat long enough this morning.”

From Joseph’s smile it was a familiar complaint. Caleb’s age was difficult to guess as they walked up through the now calf deep, gently rolling green grass up the long hill; Dale thought probably eighty at a minimum and very likely more from the tan of his deeply lined, weather beaten skin. His long back was slightly stooped and he took his son’s arm at times over the rougher ground, but he moved with a strong pace and with energy, looking around them at the river in the distance and the shape of the hills stretching up ahead of them. They walked without talking too, in the same comfortable quiet that Jasper knew. It gave a hush to the woods as they reached them, where even the birdsong seemed muted, where the light filtered down through the new green budded trees and in the distance as they walked through the narrow path in the woods that wound uphill, they could hear the river. The clearing was still a quiet and peaceful place. Caleb paused at the edge of it and Jasper put out a discreet hand to take Dale’s, drawing him aside. He crouched down some way back from the clearing itself and Dale sat down on a fallen log by him, politely not watching as he realised that Caleb was praying. They let the two Shoshone men enter the clearing alone, a sacred site in a way Dale knew he had no real idea of the significance of.

The atmosphere here was wholly different than it had been on the night when Roger had .... Dale paused on the thought, still not fully sure what had happened on this hill. Like many of the stranger things, it had imprinted itself differently on his memory. The emotions were intense, and they were good, all of them were good. He vividly remembered the sense of awe, the sense of peace, the intensity of tenderness in David’s face when he took Roger’s hand. He remembered Roger’s face, the distracted calmness like an anaesthetic against the fear and confusion that battered Dale through the smoke and the noise, stuck in a moment of time without understanding where he was or what was happening so that he could be without fear. He remembered their conversation, such as it was. But the rest – like many things he thought he had seen through other people’s eyes – like the foals in the snow – the images themselves were gone, there was only the knowledge that they had been there.

Because it wasn’t my memory they were recorded on.

At some point he had become used to the idea. He wasn’t sure when, except that when it happened – like this morning, the girl on the grass –it was nothing strange. And in some ways it had never felt strange, not when it was happening.

They sat there in the woods for over forty minutes, and it was like sitting in a cathedral, the sense of hush was physical. Peaceful. When Joseph and Caleb rejoined them, Caleb looked pensive and not like a man who had seen what he came to see. They walked together down the narrow path towards the hay meadows that covered the long hill that led home, and Dale, walking at the end of the line behind Caleb, found himself hunting for any polite way to say it, concerned for him.

“Did you find what you were looking for, sir?”

“I am not sure.” Caleb paused as they reached the edge of the woods, looking down the long valley. “I’m tired. May I sit for a while?”

He sat down on the grass, crossing his legs as if he were used to it and resting his elbows on his knees. They sat with him, Dale automatically crossing his legs too as he often sat with Jasper outside. He felt as much as saw Caleb survey him, not at all a critical look.

“You have the gift. Will you tell me what you saw in the clearing on the hill?”

It was a sincere shock to hear someone speak so directly of it. Dale glanced at Jasper for help and Jasper gave him a calm nod of encouragement that made Dale want to demand out loud,

At what point did I agree to it being anything so concrete as a ‘gift’?! I don’t remember admitting to that!

Except that it was hardly polite to argue with an older man who radiated a whole lot of qualities that Dale strongly respected, and evasiveness....... was largely about fear. The house lay below them in the valley, the horses tiny in their corral, the red roof of the house warm under the sun and a contrast to the bright green of the rippling grass all around them. Dale took a slow breath with his eyes on it, searching for the simplest way to explain it.

“I was handling a work project that wasn’t going well. I was working up on the hill for some of the day and on the project the rest of the day, and I became stressed, which I’m afraid may have been what disturbed the energies in the clearing. Jasper and I went up there together and experienced what we discussed with you when we visited Fort Washakie.”

“A psychic attack.” Caleb said with comprehension. “Yes.”

Was it really? It was odd to hear it termed as such a known thing. Dale took that on board, marshalling the other facts to summarise.

“...Afterwards I had a number of dreams. Disturbing dreams, always around the members I know of a particular generation of our family. Always about one of them falling. I didn’t understand them, they were distressing, but as tends to happen they escalated. I’m still not sure how, but gradually I got the feeling I needed to go up to the hill and that what was up there was not dangerous. It looked and felt dangerous but I’ve dealt with many difficult and emotionally – violent – conflicts in my working life, and it didn’t feel right. Our herd stallion became agitated and defensive of the land as if another stallion was challenging him, and it seemed to me to be protective. Rather than defensive. Particularly given what we knew of the clearing’s history.”

Caleb nodded slowly, listening. Dale linked his hands in his lap, glancing down at the quartz ring on his fourth finger. It was a habit now, a brief way to stabilise himself, like the feel of the earth under him, the sense of space all around him.

“Jasper and another member of our family came with me up to the hill and this time I – pressed through the attack I suppose? I knew it wasn’t harmful. When I looked at what was really there, it was illusory, I could walk through it. When I did, I saw the clearing wavering between the landscape as it is, and another landscape, sometimes nearer one than the other, but a combination of both, and the white stallion was circling, protecting the man in the middle of it.”

“You knew him.”

Don’t tell him that!

He was aware of the internal instinct, the urge he understood now as a separate voice, the thoughts of the angry child on the landing, because to share this deeply personal information was to give away control, to make himself too exposed. It took a moment of breathing, to feel the system inside him jerk towards a familiar response, and to halt it. To deliberately and intentionally control it and to continue anyway, even though his chest was tight with irrational anxiety.

We are ok. This is ok.
It is not!
I’m the grown up.

The kid’s emotions clearly expressed his opinion. Separating himself from them to a place where he could think clearly, Dale said levelly,

“Yes. He was a member of our family too. He died in New York in the twin towers attack.”

“And you spoke to him?”

“He was confused.” Dale hesitated, still not very sure of the facts himself. “I’ve seen it happen with another-”

“Spirit.” Caleb supplied when he stopped.  “Yes. I believe you.”

Dale took another breath, looking again at Jasper, who was listening quietly, body relaxed, eyes steady.

I’m right here.

The magic words. They helped every time, and it was the first time Dale realised it wasn’t just him that it helped. It reached and it calmed that furious, primal part of him that was watching with its small fists clenched, near to raging. Candidly, some of the internal tension fading away, Dale ticked them off on his fingers, aware his voice had slipped into the familiar, matter of fact tone with which he played back data.

“There are different kinds that I’ve seen. There are what I’d deduce to be some form of cinematographic imprinting on the landscape, events that under certain circumstances replay the recording on the geographical site where they happened. I’ve seen Shoshone children playing by the river. Shoshone horsemen on the hill. Heard wagons on the wagon trail. I’ve stood on the site of the town in the valley, Three Traders, and seen what used to be there and what the town looked like in its working life. Then there are what I think of as visitors. Spirits that are in a place because they want to be, and they’re calm, doing what they want to do in their own time and not bothered about what anyone else is doing. Usually they’re doing things they love to do, sometimes they’ll show me or tell me something they’re thinking about that gives them pleasure, or just acknowledge they’ve seen me. There is one visitor who is rather different,”

“Who interacts more directly than the others.” Caleb sounded unsurprised, which startled Dale into looking straight at him. Caleb gave him a nod. “Go on.”

“....He was the one who drove much of the dreams and the thinking about Mustang Hill.” Resisting the urge to demand to know why Caleb was unsurprised by this and what he knew, Dale pulled himself back to the data with some difficulty. “David. I never met him in his lifetime but I saw him not long after I first came here.”

“He lived here?”

“He built the ranch.” Jasper said quietly. “This is his land, we are his family. I never met him either, but I saw him too years ago. He has a strong presence here.”

The validation helped. Caleb listened carefully to this, nodded again slowly to process it, and looked back to Dale.

“He drove your dreams of the hill.”

“He was pushing me to go there,” Dale said frankly. “I knew he wanted me to work out what to do and he was impatient it was taking me so long. I didn’t realise until afterwards that he needed me to start the process so he could finish it.  He showed me that what was there was not dangerous. Since I first came to the ranch, any time there was real danger, I saw him and he drew my attention.”

Caleb inclined his head, accepting this. “So when you did not see him, you understood. Yes.”

“The third category are people who seem to be stuck in a moment of time on repeat. They’re not distressed, they’re not afraid, although I can feel the energy around them is distressed.” Putting it into the terms he’d thought of before, Dale said it out loud. “It’s as if they’ve been anaesthetised, in an insulated bubble of time. You can talk to them if you join them in that moment, if you focus with them on what is real to them in that moment, but I can’t draw them out of it. Both times when I’ve done it, David has been there and he’s walked up to the person, spoken to them, and he seems to be able to reach them and reassure them enough that they go with him. I don’t know where. Both times I’ve seen him walk with them and they fade away. Once he said to me I was holding on too tight, to let go and let him through.”

Caleb nodded slowly, with a faint smile that was pleased, approving.

“And what do you think this means?”
“I have no real idea.” Dale admitted. “He came to the family member here. Roger. I tried talking to him and he couldn’t have a conversation, he had the same thought going round and round, he was perfectly calm but couldn’t think about anything else. David walked over to him, took his hand, and Roger went with him. David took the fear away.”
“No real idea?”
Oh the man was a born Top. Dale acknowledged it and conceded, steepling his hands to think.
“With the second one I knew enough not to try to draw him out of what he knew. I joined him there, I drew him into conversation – and at that point I more or less hoped David would turn up and take over as I didn’t know what to do next.”

“And he did.”

“Yes.”  Dale sat for a moment, trying to find a way to say it that sounded even faintly rational. “The visitors appear to be where they want to be in time and space, and they see the places they’re in as they want them to be. Most likely as they knew them in their time, even if the landscape has changed since their memory of it. Roger was in confusion, a mixture of what he was frightened by with where he wanted to be. He loved the clearing when he lived on the ranch, it was one of his favourite places. I think his fear, his confusion, his energy triggered the energies in the clearing.”

“As the spirit stallion was said to protect the people who lived on his land.” Caleb said thoughtfully.

“We received identification of his remains that morning.” Jasper said evenly. “We had been waiting years, we’d heard potential remains had been found a few days after Dale first experienced the energy in the clearing. I don’t know whether it had to do with Roger’s remains having been disturbed...”

“Or whether he was found because you raised energies which drew others to the place where he was.” Caleb finished slowly. “Yes, I see.”


Dale looked from one to another of them, shocked. Caleb interested, Joseph listening quietly, calmly. Jasper, quite serious. Caleb looked again to Dale.
“How long has your gift been awake?”
“....It started when I first came here.” Still watching Jasper’s face, Dale answered without thinking. “I saw David sometimes. Spoke with him sometimes. It’s evolved gradually from then. It isn’t something I have a great deal of conscious control over at all, sometimes I can pick up a feeling or some images from an object if I’m relaxed and not thinking about it, but mostly it happens when I least expect it. Once or twice I’ve known a piece of information I have difficulty seeing how rationally I could have reasoned out when I’m talking to a person.”

“Do you have vivid dreams often? Nightmares?”

He does not need to know that!

Jasper knows, it’s no secret, it’s irrational to worry about sharing it.  

“Often and severe ones. Especially lately. There were some incidents from a long time ago that came up, that I needed to work through.”

Caleb nodded again, reassuringly. “Yes. It’s common with a waking gift. Anyone doing any form of cleansing, preparation, has to release what’s blocking them, it’s a normal thing in our beliefs. As you develop your communication with that energy, it looks for blockages in your own heart and mind that hinder you, and it will help you if you choose to work on them and release them. I don’t have it myself, I have the awareness and teaching that all my people do.”

“So what is it?” Dale found himself saying straight out. “What would you term a ‘gift’?”

“There are times and cultures in which to know of these things and to do these things was not only entirely every-day, but every child was raised to do it as they were raised to know how to walk and talk and eat.” Caleb rested his linked hands on the grass in front of him, watching Dale with those very bright, warm eyes. “They were taught to use and to develop the natural faculties we all have, just as any man can be taught to play the piano. Some will learn a little despite great effort, while some will become competent players. Some will have a talent, and learn quickly and become especially proficient. And a very few will have a natural, inborn gift. You may not have had the teaching, but you have those faculties as every animal does, and you have the gift. Enough that you have begun to teach yourself. My father had it too.”

“But I was never aware of anything like this before I came here, and I’m past thirty. If I had this kind of – skill – surely it would have appeared before now?”

“If your hearing was never stimulated as a child – if there was no speech and no voices around you, no music, no training given to your ear- would you have developed it well as a sense?” Caleb said gently. “You would have learned to recognise the warning sounds of danger and the cues of sounds that meant things to you, but would you have learned the nuances and discrimination you have through living in a culture where hearing is a constantly trained and vital sense? Would you recognise the sound of an oboe from a cello or sarcasm from loving teasing? Cultures that have no understanding of a ‘sixth sense’ as it’s termed, don’t train it or seek to understand it or intentionally use it within their daily life, it’s undeveloped, but a mother still wakes because in a moment her baby will begin to cry. A man still cancels a plane ticket because he has a bad feeling about it.”

“You have your boiler or your car serviced off schedule for no reason, except that you have a feeling it needs it.” Dale met his eyes. “Because subconsciously, you’ve registered that the sound is slightly different, something unusual has caught your attention at a level you weren’t aware of.”

“Yes. It’s natural information, it’s what your senses perceive, but everyone perceives energy as they perceive sound, touch, taste, smell and sight. As you do.”  

“I have always been a problem solver.” Dale said slowly. “I’m eidetic. I take in information, process it and find missing parts. That was what I utilised in my work before I came here. Intuition was a part of it. There’s a creativity and imagination that extends mathematics and quite possibly I learned to use my senses in a way I didn’t understand before, but what I’ve experienced since I came here is wholly different.”

“I’ve known this awakening of a gift happen to people who never sensed it before, particularly when they’ve reached a strongly spiritual or emotional point in their lives.” Caleb said simply. “It depends on when you are ready, when you have the knowledge and maturity to fulfil the purpose, and there is always a purpose.”

“But why me?” Dale found himself saying from the heart.

Caleb smiled, giving him an easy shrug. “But why not you?”

There was no answer to that. Caleb’s voice was gentle.

“It’s given to you for a reason at the right time. If you do nothing, if you do not want it and you choose in effect choose not to listen – then wait out the dreams, focus on every day things - it will fade back down. You might have flashes of it all your life but it will be in the background. If you choose to listen and to practice, to work on it like any ability, then it will develop and you will learn to use it with skill, experience and intent. It’s your choice.”

“A purpose like what?”

Caleb shook his head. “That’s your task to discover. No two gifts are exactly the same, and your gift has woken here, based on who you are, what you feel, what you have experienced and what you know. In our beliefs these are not random preparations, you will have sought out the learning and experience you were meant to have before you came here. Someone who may use their gift for counselling people may have lived through a violent marriage or the loss of a child, domestic troubles that will enable them to truly know what someone else with domestic troubles feels who comes to them for help, and meet them without judgement. The question is, are you willing to learn and to find the purpose in your gift? If so, you will find in time what it is that you’ve been preparing yourself for longer than you have realised.”

Jasper had said that to him before. Coming at this time it was poignant, painful. Dale cleared his throat.

“...From what I’ve experienced with these energies, it’s always to do with listening. And about people avoiding fear.”

Roger. The trapper by the hot springs. Gam Saan. Dale paused, trying to find a way to explain it. 

“I’ve spent time facing and dealing with things in myself I’ve been avoiding all my life, I know that fear. It’s as if these things need to be heard, and I understand that because I know it in myself. If it isn’t heard, then it makes itself felt in other ways. To move forward, you have to be able to face it and let it go.”

Trouble shooting. In my working life I was sent to work out and unblock what was stuck, that was what I did.

“Even when what wants to be heard is alarming, there must be someone to hear it. You’ve found the courage to turn around and face the darkest fears you have, to look squarely at the fear that freezes you.” Caleb said gently. “That qualifies you to help others do the same. Which others, where and how, I think are up to you. And I think perhaps too, your friend David.”

Time, friendship, listening, persistence. That was what most helped their clients; it was the philosophy Riley, Paul, Jasper and Flynn lived by, and had taught him.

The men who created this household always took in people in need, they offer friendship and acceptance and help, that’s what they gave to all of us and the bargain we all know – because they gave it to us, because we have it here, we share it with others. We have a responsibility.

I’ve been preparing for this my whole life.

And it came not with alarm or surprise but with a sense of definite, comprehending joy that now he knew, he understood, and it was right. It was so right it was breathtaking, like a dislocated limb snapping back into place, and it gave meaning, real meaning to things that for so long had felt like a wasteland, like time wasted, time lost.

“What I ‘see’ or think of are very often in symbols.” He said aloud, and there was excitement now, that this man knew the very things he’d puzzled over for months, fumbling to understand. “It’s as if shared experience and shared knowledge is where we can meet, where I can understand.”

“A spirit only has your knowledge to work with to talk to you,” Caleb agreed. “It has to use what is in your mind. So it will work in symbols and codes. You are someone who loves to learn and has the gift of memory, so you have a good deal of information it can use. The more you expand that knowledge the more is there for them to work with. You can consciously develop it. Read. Find out. Explore. Talk to people and learn from them. Build the vocabulary in which spirits can explain to you. Look around you for symbols and learn what they mean, especially in the old knowledge, in times when understanding of such symbols were common place. There may also be symbols that only you recognise, things that give meaning solely to you. They can be messages. Indicators. Communications. They might be anything – objects, animals, numbers, colours, things which will give meaning to you in the moment when you see them, if you can learn to recognise and read them. Some will be transitory, only relevant in that particular moment. A few symbols may become ‘yours’, ones that always hold a personal message for you, such as a number that seems to follow you. A colour. An animal whose image you see around you often in pictures, carvings, or which you see in unexpected places.”

“Eagles. I’ve often seen eagles in places I didn’t expect.” Dale said quietly. Caleb nodded, calmly.

“The earth to air messengers. They fly higher than any other creature, they see to the ground with clear vision; that is their symbolism. In our terms, if an eagle blesses you with its presence then it speaks to you of a powerful gift of clarity and vision you have been given. Something to use for good, for others.”

Seeing them was always associated with times of clarity when Dale thought of it – of discovering something deeper, such as Roger on Mustang Hill, or within himself, as they had hiked through the woods by Three Traders. As if the ranch itself was telling him, clearly, look.

“And colours.” he said aloud, thinking further about those days on the hike. “What do colours symbolise? They come up consistently, always the same ones with the same significance?”

Caleb smiled. “What do you see them as?”

“I don’t know what they mean, I just know who they’re associated with.” Dale admitted. “And that’s just – instinctive, I suppose, there’s no logic to it. Each colour is attached to a person. The red is a fire colour, brightly lit, warm, I couldn’t exactly categorise it as scarlet or a named tone. The blue is turquoise blue, sea blue, again light and bright. The third colour moves from a mauve tone to a light but intense pink, sunset pink rather than sharp coloured, and the fourth is a light, soft gold which is delicately coloured.”

“You understand that the qualities of the colour tell you more than just the colour itself.” Caleb said with approval.

“I just have a thing about being accurate.” Dale said somewhat wryly. “The word ‘red’ isn’t at all an accurate reflection of what it is.”

 “The meaning is very much affected by those qualities and the accuracy matters. What a muddy red would tell you is very different from a deep red or a light red or a fire like red.” Caleb linked his hands between his knees, relaxing his shoulders in the sun’s warmth. “You know who each colour symbolises. So what do you think those colours tell you? Extrapolate.”

The teaching tone was encouraging. Dale leaned on his knees in the grass, letting his mind reach again the rather detached, academic scanning feel that he was used to, finding that he was enjoying this.

“The association with the red is of fire, but not in a dangerous sense. More as a camp fire or a log fire, something of comfort and warmth. It’s bright. Compelling, not in any kind of negative way, it’s – exciting. Dynamic.”

“Seeing red around or representing a person is likely to tell you they are active, strong in will and survival oriented, and likely a person around whom there may be some friction. The brightness of the red can tell you too that you see a passionate being, and that will be sexually and emotionally.”

Dale felt himself flushing a little, as much as he nodded with appreciation.

“......that’s very accurate. The blue....” he paused, letting himself take that step further, deducing what he felt from that colour at instinctive level as he had always done.

I recognised Flynn in the red. I knew that was him.

“The blue is a turquoise blue, a sea blue from a warm and sunny climate – warm and sunny being the associations I’ve made with it, aren’t they?”

“Exactly, you know what it tells you. Listen to yourself. Blue often indicates sensitivity, intuitiveness, someone empathic.”

“Yes, certainly.”

Especially with animals and other wary beings. Riley.

Caleb smiled, watching him. “So what about the colour that changes, the flow from violet to pink?”

“The pink is light and bright, not a hard colour. It’s a natural colour, like the sky. The violet I’ve seen before in other contexts and I know can signify a spiritual link – it’s a warm colour, attractive, gentle.”

“Pink can indicate creativity in a person. Someone loving, compassionate. The violet tells you they are intuitive. Like the eagle, yes, it speaks of a link to something deeper. This may be a person with a great understanding of themselves and of others, a person of deep heart who uses their intuition well.”

Paul. It was perfectly accurate. Dale swallowed, reflecting on the fourth colour.

“And the gold – I know gold is generally associated with spiritual meaning. It’s a gentle shade of gold. Subtle, light and giving out light, there’s a delicacy to it – it’s beautiful to watch, but there’s the feel that...”

Dale hesitated, feeling it but unsure how to translate it into words, then let himself think of Jasper and understood it.

“It’s elusive.”

Caleb nodded slowly.

“Gold is associated with someone who knows themselves spiritually, who is consciously guided by their highest good. Someone with inner knowledge who offers you protection. These are the qualities that you know in these people, that tells you who they truly are.  I may see something entirely different, but those are the signs speaking to and informing me. My signs are no use to you, they give you no knowledge. What you see informs you more deeply about what you know.”

“There’s a fifth colour,” Dale said lightly. “I only saw it the once. It was a light turquoise green.”

Caleb ran his palm lightly over the rippling grass beside him. “Green is an indicator of someone who loves. People, animals, the world around them. It’s also an indicator of change, or someone who creates change. The turquoise indicates sensitivity, compassion – the two together might indicate a healer of some kind. Who do you think that might be?”

...I think it’s me.

“How can I know?” Dale asked him. “How is there any way to really know if I’m just imagining an image or a colour because light reflected off a stone and put the idea into my head? Or if I’m seeing an eagle for a reason, or because an eagle just happened to be hunting in that direction and has nothing to do with me at all?”

“You won’t.” Caleb said candidly. “No one does. At the bottom of this is belief and faith, and that is all. Yes, just belief. In yourself, that what you feel and sense and see is valid and has meaning to you. The more that you are prepared to listen and believe yourself, the stronger it will grow and the more skilled with it you will get, but it will never be a precise, quantifiable, scientifically proven thing.”

“I’m a clinical perfectionist and a mathematician.” Dale said after a moment, very dryly. “So someone has a real sense of humour.”

Caleb laughed, and so did Joseph, not at all a critical or unkind laugh, and Caleb’s eyes were twinkling when he spoke.

“The spirit world will not hesitate in the least to push you to work on the very worst of the weaknesses you have. But you are the only one who could know what an eagle might mean to you today, at this moment. The symbols only have significance within your day, your mind and your meaning, but as you grow more experienced, as you practice, you will learn to see and to use the information to find meaning. And sometimes it will have meaning and sometimes it will just be a bird of prey passing by; until you have the whole picture you won’t know, but you will have considered the possibilities. The context is everything, and you know this. You tell me not just the shade of a colour, the subtleties, the position of it, but how it feels to you. The emotions, the sensations. You look at them all to understand where it fits.”

Like gaining pieces of a puzzle. I’ve been learning this. To open up to the emotional information as well as the factual, to see the whole of the data, not just the safe and the sterile parts. To feel it, not just analyse it.

“The other part,” Caleb said gently, “is in how you approach whoever it is the gift is meant to help. It is a form of service. The purpose of a gift is always some form of service that you are called to. That service must by necessity be selfless and it is open hearted. Without judgment, we speak with encouragement and kindness towards others; that’s something my people value. Whoever or whatever you are led by spirit to approach, the gift requires that you learn to meet them in just this way with the same open heart you would have for a child of yours. Unconditional and without judgement, to work from love for that person whoever they are, and that is no easy thing to understand.”

But it was. Dale swallowed, thinking of that bitter eyed little boy by a dusty broken window, the battle where logic had failed, where the only way in had been to face and somehow find compassion for that child, no matter how he felt himself. To find that means of connection. Paul had been teaching it to him for weeks before he understood it enough to reach and deal with that child and the battles between them, and Paul’s work had been based on months of all of them teaching him step by step. Philip had possessed a heart that did this. Philip, who saw Gerry in desperate need through the illusion he had built of the manipulative thief. Flynn, inside the angry fighter.

“Recently it’s been frequent.” He said to Caleb, thinking about it. “I’ve seen people all the time. Visitors. Just friendly contact, there’s no messages other than look at this – something that gives them pleasure or that they’ve come to see. I know sometimes I’ve dreamed through someone showing me something they love the memory of. Butterflies in a pasture. Foals in the snow. I know it’s looking through someone else’s eyes, there’s no work there, no purpose.”

“Well do you only talk business with the people around you?” Caleb asked. “The connection you have with spirits are not for work, these are not professional relationships. Those ‘visitors’ want to communicate their now to you in the way all beings do. They will sense if times are hard and want to comfort you. My father told me when he was young and his gift first developed, he had to learn that while it began as a game to enjoy, and the spirit world saw to it that he explored and he learned within safe play, there was a serious purpose and responsibility to what he could do. You are an older man, you already understand purpose, seriousness and responsibility. I would understand that the lessons the spirit world sees you in need of are different. The spirit world has no wish whatever to scare you or do harm, it’s showing you that it is a safe place, that you can trust in it. It will look after you.”

Trust is really not something I’m great at either.

“You will have talked about this together.” Caleb said, looking at Jasper. “You understand this. May I ask you? Are these questions Dale has brought to you?”

“Some of them.” Jasper acknowledged. It was the first time he’d spoken in a while, he’d been listening closely. Caleb watched his face.

“But you haven’t taught him all of what you know. There is something you are afraid of.  I can feel it, and so can Dale, and it’s the same fear you had of the reservation that I could feel in you too. You told me you are ‘nominally’ of the Tsalagai. You have the blood, it’s in your face.”

“On my mother’s side, yes. I don’t know about my father, I was not reservation born.” Jasper steepled his hands in front of his face and Dale saw Caleb still, his eyes on Jasper’s face and deeply compassionate. Joseph, on his other side, was still, listening. Three faces with the Native American bones, the tan of the skin, the length of their hair – it was a powerful thing to sit with them and see Jasper mirrored in two other men, but the mirroring was deeper than just the physical features. They had his deep quiet. Nothing to do with sound, but a physical quiet that Dale knew intimately in Jasper’s familiar body next to his, in his hands clasped together, in the line of his nose and his jaw, the dark of his eyes beneath the brim of his Stetson. It was a while before Jasper said steadily,
“My grandfather was a grandson of the Cherokee who escaped when his tribe were cleared from Virginia. He lived in secret all his life, we lived hidden and in the open air in the forest, no one ever really knew we were there, and he raised me as he was raised, with his beliefs, with his way of life. When he died, I made my way to a Cherokee reservation where I knew his family and his people had gone. It was naive of me.”

“You expected to find them living as you lived.” Caleb said very gently.

“My grandfather was born and raised alone by an isolated family, and he raised me in a culture a century and a half old without time having moved on. He knew parts of songs with only some of the words, knowledge he’d learned himself from someone trying to remember as best they could, and he and I talked to each other in dialect that was archaic when I met people who lived within the reservation. The elders were very kind, but my claim of a family connection was a very distant one, and my way of life was not theirs.”

“They did not make you welcome?”

“The fault was entirely on my side.” Jasper said quietly. “If I had allowed it I have no doubt they would have done what they could to help. I was as alarmed by the houses and cars and electricity as I was to find how alien I was among them. I left the reservation, and in time I met the man who owned this ranch, who made me welcome here and gave me the freedom to live on his land in the way I knew.”

“So that is why you’re ashamed to come to us, and that is why you will not teach Dale.” Caleb said with comprehension. “You carry that scar. You believe you are not of us, and not of them and you have no right to know.”

“All I know is what I learned from my grandfather.”

“Whom you trusted and you loved. That is in you as much as I can see everything he taught you.” 

Caleb watched Jasper’s face, his own face deeply compassionate and Dale felt the warmth of it, a strength of feeling that he’d never felt from a westernised man talking with a relative stranger. It might have been how a man would speak to a dear friend or his son, gentle, and not in the least invasive or blunt. “If you live wholeheartedly yourself by what he taught you then you do know it. It’s tested, true knowledge and you have that right.”

Jasper hesitated for a moment before he spoke. “Logically there must be flaws in what I learned. It was not the knowledge of a tribe, it was not from elders and teachers, it was simply what he remembered of what his family remembered, with pieces lost and forgotten.”

“If you know it and live by it from a man you loved, then why would it not be good enough for a man who loves you?” Caleb asked him. “Why would you not honour him in this way? You are of this land, you are of the people here. You are a good man. A good son.”

There was a long silence, and Dale watched Jasper’s dark, liquid eyes, his heart going out to him, although there was nothing he could say or do that would help as much as this gentle man beside them could. They sat for a while together, a group on the sun warmed grass facing each other, before Caleb said reflectively to Jasper,

“I would have liked very much to have met your grandfather. It would be wonderful gift to hear what was remembered and preserved by his family that we might have forgotten that once we knew.”
He stretched his back, sitting a little straighter, then smiled at his son, who had been listening quietly.

“Now I understand why I am dreaming of my father and that I must go to the Mustang Hill.”
As Joseph helped his father to his feet and they began the walk slowly down the hay pasture, she passed them again, unhurriedly across the grass towards the woods, her feet bare below her flared jeans with the pink flower embroidered on the knee, the white peasant blouse, her long dark hair tucked behind one ear and blowing out behind her in the breeze, just fractionally slower than grass moved around her, flowing out into a quality of light instead of a clean end of solid object. She met Dale’s eyes as she passed, and her dark liquid eyes lit up when she smiled, a sweet, private smile that knew he was the only one who saw her. It was ridiculous not to have realised long before, but her strong cheekbones, the rich dark colour of her hair said it as much as her eyes. Dale felt her as much as he saw her, as if the energy that took her form radiated out and touched him. Small and light boned, her head barely reached the middle of her son’s chest.


            They ate cake out in the chairs on the porch, with mugs of tea. Gerry, called out onto the porch to take a break from his lines, met Caleb and Joseph without a flicker of surprise and his usual charm as if he was perfectly accustomed to finding exotic strangers amongst them. It was the same in every man of Philip’s that Dale had ever met; any friend of a friend, any visiting stranger.

“Are they going to have any hang ups about the gay thing?” Mason said shortly under his breath to Jasper when he came to take his mug of tea from the tray. Jasper shook his head.

“No. ‘Respect for all’ and ‘there is no one right path for all’ are fundamental values in their culture. No difference presents an issue.”

“Which is just as well as some of us screaming queens are easier to hide than others.” Gerry said airily, wrapping an arm around Mason to give him a hug as he passed. “It’s all right darling. Ease the hackles down, you won’t have to defend us.”

It gained him a quick grin from Mason, who didn’t duck away.

“My son and I are both historians.” Caleb explained to Paul, accepting a slice of cake and settling on the swing beside Joseph. “We knew of the story of the hill and the site there, and some songs of the Chance River. One or two of the families in Fort Washakie lived in the town of Three Traders within living memory before it was abandoned.”

“Would any of them know anything of the train robbery in the town?” Mason said through a mouthful of cake. Caleb looked up at him with interest.

“When was this?”

“1928. We’ve been researching it. The train was robbed leaving the station during a sighting of the Dead Man’s Hill ghost. Which we think may have been a decoy for smuggling.” Paul explained. “Possibly-”

“Well probably a whole job lot of moonshine, but we can’t prove anything at all,” Gerry cut in, “It would have been exactly what David would have been up to his eyebrows in and we think it was made in the town, we don’t know any more details.”

Dale saw Caleb’s mildly amused glance at Gerry for the interruption and Jasper put a hand on Gerry’s knee. There was a moment of quiet during which Dale saw Caleb reflect, carefully and with consideration, sorting through his remarkable memory, then looked at his son.

“I cannot remember anything immediately about a train robbery.”

Joseph shook his head, finishing his mouthful of cake before he spoke.
“I can do some research.”

There was conversation about other things: Three Traders, the railway station. Caleb gently encouraged Jasper to talk of them through comments that were not questions requiring answers, but which merely invited Jasper to share information if he chose to. There was an immense and a gentle courtesy to it, and it was as if Jasper knew the same steps of the verbal dance and how to do it. In every day terms Dale had always known that Jasper chatted far more than Flynn; he joined in social conversation easily in the family contexts where it was expected. Knowing Jasper much better now, Dale suspected he did it because it was the habit of the people he loved and lived with, and he made them comfortable, but unlike most people who mingled trivia and purpose freely in their chatter, Jasper rarely said much at all while he did it. As if in his mind there was a clear demarcation between friendly social noise, and communication.

When he had something to say and was talking to you there were far more silences and it felt and sounded quite different. He was talking now in the way Dale knew as most essentially himself, with a quiet respect that Dale recognised as towards an elder in the terms Jasper knew it, and Dale could recognise that Caleb knew silence as communication in the same way Jasper did. Not as awkwardness or a breakdown in the flow of communication, but as part of the natural and comfortable ebb and flow of interaction. Dale watched Caleb, barely listening to the words but discreetly and intently watching and absorbing Caleb’s face, his tone, the gentleness in his eyes and the attentiveness he paid to Jasper’s answers, the skill with which he invited them forth. Invited, not drew. It was a whole skill within itself, based on something far more significant than mere academic manipulation of someone to elicit information that you wanted. From years of learning and using the craft of managing people in business situations and having absorbed a great deal of knowledge about it, Dale watched with appreciation in the full knowledge that this was a part of it he’d missed out on, and he learned everything he could. It was the same missing link: the emotional component, the willingness to emotionally join this conversation yourself on equal terms that had never been needed in managing a client.

And despite his fascination, in another, tiny compartment of his brain he was still unable to stop himself repeatedly locating, organising and turning over and over every single image he had of her. Jasper’s mother. There was no doubt in his mind as to who she was; he knew her face because he knew her son’s intimately, but beyond the basic facial and bone structure information he still would have known simply by the feel of her when he saw her pass by Jasper. Every time he had seen her she had appeared peaceful, happy: stringing flowers together in the meadow, walking past them in the woods. Every time she had glanced up at him as he passed with a smile, not addressing him or seeking anything of him, just the friendly greeting one neighbour might give to another in passing. Nothing more complicated than... hello. Just the simplest thought that her greeting might be for no better reason than she knew who he was to Jasper, shot a jet of warmth right through him so powerful that it was overwhelming.

Both Caleb and Joseph finished all of what was on the plate they had been given, and returned the plate to Paul’s hands with a quiet, pleasant thanks directly to him. The ritual manners within the gesture were gentle and it contributed to the atmosphere within the group in the same way their careful and attentive listening did. Philip had known this too. These manners, more subtle and more westernised but still old world courtesy that belonged perhaps to an older and kinder time, had been inbuilt into the root culture of the ranch household. Caleb had asked nothing more about Jasper’s grandfather and Dale understood that he wouldn’t. From observation, from what he understood from the conversations he had listened to between Jasper and Caleb, personal questions were not something lightly asked and not before others. No intrusive requests would be made. It was not until the men got up to take their leave that Jasper said quietly and formally to Caleb,

“If you would like to see more of the land here, or to talk further of what my grandfather remembered, you are always welcome to visit again.”

Dale walked with them and with Jasper to their car in the pasture, stepping to open the door for Caleb. The old man leaned on the car door, one long, brown hand braced there.

“I heard the message and so I came.” Caleb said to him cheerfully, and softly enough that Dale knew only he heard it. “Now I could choose to go and to do nothing more. I am not Cherokee, so I might ask ‘why me’. It’s not of my fault. But in the greater picture, I am of a people that perhaps did not do as well by one of our own as we could have done, and there may be things I can do that would ease that.”

Caleb’s eyes on his face were very soft, almost painfully kind to look at, although his smile was as placid as if they were talking of something as every day as the weather.
“When you see that there are things that you may do, why would you walk away? Anyone and anything on your land is part of the family you belong to.”
And this man did not mean within the limits of his house. Or his reservation. Or the centuries old Shoshone plains here, or even the state. Caleb’s hand rested very gently on his as he got into the car, and Dale stepped back to watch with Jasper as it bumped slowly away across the grass towards the track winding into the distance towards the road. 
It was out of sight when Jasper’s arm slid around his waist, pulling him over so they stood pressed hip to hip, body to body, looking together at the now empty grass track ahead of them.

“There are not,” Jasper said after a while, quite conversationally, “Going to be any plans we’re not involved with.”

He had a knack of pulling a thought out of your mind before you’d fully realised you were thinking it. Dale turned to him, pulling himself together to say something coherent, and stopped as he met Jasper’s eyes because they were warm. Not distressed. Not withdrawn. Soft and calm and peaceful.

Jasper’s hands rested lightly but quite firmly on his hips, Dale had to look up to see his face. He was moved -  full – and Dale understood that very well himself, his own mind was rushing and it was difficult to contain the many and multiple thoughts and emotions washing through him – but with nothing that wasn’t powerfully good. It was another blow of knowledge, something that clicked together as a realisation at a very deep level. How the right person to listen in the right way could reach directly into someone’s soul and soothe something vital there, one deeply buried part of them that very slightly changed everything. Flynn telling a simple story to Mason. Jasper’s mother, with a simple smile of hello.

I’ve seen it happen here again and again. For Mason on the porch or a trapper sort of ‘what’ in the woods, it’s exactly the same thing.

Because those tiny, painful parts of you held a power that could drive sheer havoc, they could dominate you entirely, they could distort your whole reality.

Bloody hell am I qualified to know that from experience. This is what I can do.

It was a strange perspective to suddenly see every step in his life, every twist of it, leading purposefully here.


Asleep before the clock reached nine, it was very dark when Dale woke again to Flynn’s hand on his shoulder. He smelled of horses, frosty air and hay, and his hand was cold, he was dressed in a heavy sweater and jeans, and he held another of his own sweaters in his hand, his voice very low not to disturb the rest of the house, and warm in a way that Dale knew instantly.

“Want to see Mia have her foal, kid?”

The yard was softly lit outside with a couple of the oil lanterns on the porch at a little after three am. No light had been taken nearer the big paddock but the moon was bright tonight, the sky was clear and dotted with stars, and the grass was soft grey. Riley, fully dressed in a roll neck sweater into which he had his chin dipped against the crisp air and his hands dug deep into the pockets of his jacket, was sitting on the lowest rail at the far end of the paddock and Jasper was sitting on the grass beside him. There was little breeze, it was very still and quiet. Cricket was grazing, and Pocket was visible near to her with her head stooped low over something on the grass that was standing in a very wobbly and uncertain way, it’s head pressed into her side.

“A filly.” Riley said very softly as Dale leaned on the rail beside him. “About two hours back. We’ve been watching Mia ever since and her waters broke a few minutes ago.” 

He was alive with delight about it; Dale could read it in him in his face, his voice, his body, although he was moving slowly and with great care for the mares across the grass. The big paddock was the one used by the horse herd during the very bad weather in the winter, surrounded on two sides by a large, open shelter. The mares had the choice here of being inside or out, and all three were showing a clear preference for the open grass despite the crispness of the night, the same grass on the rolling plateaus beyond the fence where they roamed with the herd. Mia was nearest to them, laying stretched out on her side a few yards from the other mares, still other than her huffing sounds and occasional movements of her upper hind and rear leg as if she was walking in slow motion. A ghostly white bubble was visible below her tail, hanging perhaps a foot towards the grass.

Flynn leaned beside him on the rail, folding his arms to watch. A moment later two more sets of footsteps came quietly down the yard and Paul and a roughly dressed Mason joined them, sharing the mugs of tea they were carrying.

“How’s she doing?” Paul said under his breath.

“Beautifully.” Riley’s eyes were on the mare, but he took the mug and drank appreciatively.
“She’s acting like a pro, you’d think this was her third, not her first.”

Mason sat astride the lower rail beside Jasper who glanced up to smile at him. Mason looked intent, he was rapidly losing the sleepiness and Dale appreciated his instinctive understanding that it was a time to be quiet, to not disturb the mare at work some yards away. This was the first of their horse herd he’d ever seen born, and even after seeing the coming of so many lambs and several calves this spring, it wasn’t something possible to be hardened to. Mia paused again, laying still, and Dale heard her soft panting, like soft snorts, carrying in the still night air.

The luminous white balloon like bulge slid a little further forward and suddenly within it, a moving head stirred and lifted on the grass. A recognisable head, and Mason swore very, very softly, sounding awed. Slowly, the shape moved forward. Neither the live, stirring head in the sack, nor the mare, appeared in any kind of hurry. Mia rolled up on to her chest, looking thoughtfully into the distance. The calmness of her was remarkable. The shape slid gradually still further out and now over half of it lay on the grass by her hind legs. The head lifted within the sack and then two legs became visible, the hooves sticking out of the edge of the broken, white filmy sack. A dark, wet nose became visible, pushing out from beneath it, steaming slightly. For what seemed like forever, they both lay there, the foal gradually pushing up with more stability until it raised its head and its forelegs emerged from under the sack. It was laying on its chest, the lower half of its body still inside Mia, its little front forelegs draped over Mia’s hind hock. In the shadows, even dark with the wetness of its coat, it was possible to see the foal was light coloured. Mia turned her head, craning right around, and looked at it with intense attention. She continued to look for some time, without moving. Then she returned her gaze to the middle distance, and made several more low huffing sounds. It was hard to know if she was expressing discomfort or commenting on this thing that had appeared on the grass.

“Good girl.” Flynn said softly. His voice had gone to the very deep, soothing tone he used to the horses, a soft rumble. “Good girl, that’s the way.”

Mia turned her head again to look at the foal with fixed fascination as if she couldn’t believe it.

“Does she need help?” Mason said under his breath. “What about its back legs, is it stuck?”

“No, she’s got it in hand,” Riley told him. “The umbilical’s still attached, see it? How thick it is? The baby’s still getting blood pumped in, and needs it. She’ll get up when she knows it’s time. This is why I love foaling them in pastures. They’re so much calmer. They don’t rush, they don’t try to get up too soon because they’re anxious.”

“Just trust them to pick a frosty night.” Flynn said quietly. Riley grinned but shook his head.

“They could be inside if they wanted, they don’t want to. They’re outside girls. Come on Mimi. That’s so great. You’re doing so great baby.”

Mia continued to look with intense attention at her foal. And then she turned away and lay down again, and for some minutes she and the foal lay still there together. Then finally and carefully, Mia gathered herself as if she had reached a decision, pulled her front feet under her and stood up, and the foal’s hind legs dropped. The last of the bag and the cord lightly tore, separating them, and Mia unhurriedly turned and put her nose directly down to her foal’s. She pawed lightly at the grass beside it for a moment or two, then her sniffing continued, examining her foal as if ensuring that all of it was there. And gradually her sniffing became licking at its hind quarters, its back as it raised further up on its chest. Mia mildly went on standing, walking very unhurriedly around it at times while she looked into the distance as if she was waiting for a bus, but at other times lowering her head to lick her foal for long minutes at a time.

“What is it?” Mason said softly. He sounded stunned.

“Hard to say, but from the size I’d think a colt.” Flynn put a hand down to Riley’s shoulder. “Go on halfpint. She knows you best.”

Riley gave his mug to Jasper and got up, walking unhurriedly over. Mia didn’t glance up from her foal and Dale heard Riley’s voice as he crouched, taking the foal in gentle hands.

“Clever girl Mia, what have you got? It’s a boy,” he added. “Well done sweetheart, he’s beautiful. Mason, come here a minute?”

“Will she mind?” Mason said a little apprehensively. Flynn took his mug.

“Not if you move quietly and slowly.”

Mason went with care to Riley who turned a little on the grass to let him reach the foal.

“Feel his hoof, it’s amazing. You only ever feel that when they’re absolutely new born – feel how soft it is? Ridiculously soft, it hardens up fast as soon as they’re born, but that’s how she can have him without him tearing her up.”

Face to face now, Mia was nuzzling and licking her foal and he had his face up to hers to nose back. Calm, close. Watching, mesmerised, Dale felt Flynn’s arm wrap tightly around his waist and Flynn shift so he was standing solidly against Dale’s back, and Flynn’s hand slid under his sweater in the dark, finding bare skin and rubbing discreetly. Slowly. It wasn’t until that point that Dale realised he was shaking.

Pocket, her nose down to her own foal, stood statue-like near Mia. Cricket, grazing and apparently taking no notice of them, had her back to them and Dale, after months of Flynn and Riley’s tuition knew it wasn’t through lack of interest. She was watching out for them, alert and looking out while Mia was distracted and vulnerable. The relationship between the herd mares was remarkably close. Riley got up, taking Mason’s arm, and they quietly came back to the fence.

“They bond straight out like this in the pasture.” Riley said with satisfaction, retrieving his tea. “I’ve seen it over and over. Put them inside, stable them and the mare’s often more cautious, too much going on to relax, but out here with the other girls.... look, she’s already grazing.”

“How long will it be before...” Mason began, and stopped as the colt abruptly began to lurch and fumble towards stretching his long, awkward front legs and bracing his tiny hooves against the grass. It took him some minutes, wobbling, and it was a failed attempt to get much higher than his chest, but a definite one.

“About twenty minutes usually.” Riley said softly. “If they’re not up in an hour we’d worry, but he’s keen.”

It took about five minutes more of several failed attempts before the foal abruptly lurched up and managed to stand, all four legs splayed and braced. His coat was drying and becoming fluffy, pale in the moonlight.

“So what are we going to call this one?” Riley asked Mason, who looked slightly taken aback.

“No idea, what would you call him?”

“We’ve got no shortage of horses to name, this one’s your problem.” Riley dug him gently in the ribs. “Think about it.”

“In bed.” Paul collected empty mugs. “Mason, I’m going back up now, you might as well turn in. There’ll be nothing else to see before morning. There’s scones in the pantry if anyone gets hungry.”

He and Mason went inside, Dale heard the kitchen door shut softly. It was even quieter in the yard when they’d gone. Flynn, tight against Dale’s back, bent his head and Dale swallowed hard at the pressure of Flynn’s stubbled jaw against his, the heat of his breath and the stroking of his hand on his torso that sent waves deep into his stomach that fought back against his trembling. The intense comfort of him. It didn’t do much to stop several hot tears escaping down onto his cheeks where they burned.  On the pasture grass, Mia continued to lick and nose over her foal, working on his quarters as if to help him in his fumbling attempts to get up.

Copyright Rolf and Ranger 2015

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