On Becoming Harriet Bighorn
The day Bernie found a gaping hole in the foundation of our cistern was the day Magneto bucked his saddle clear off, and I discovered he also had a hole in his foundation. While Bernie went after the repairs to the cistern’s foundation with shovels, rebar, and cement, I am slowly going after Magneto’s foundation with time in the round pen and a subscription to Warwick Schiller’s horse training.
Bernie is always ready to leave for a long trip with very little preparation. I am not quite so adjustable. Bernie eagerly meets the challenges that present themselves on a trip. I’m much happier to do whatever homework I can ahead of time and hope the challenges will be a little less hostile when I’m out there. Sometimes though, I’ve just had to grit my teeth and follow along behind him because going is almost always the better move than staying, even when you are not fully prepared. You will never be fully prepared.
Bernie has reflexes like a cat and the calmness of a good zen master. He’s an experienced single-hand circumnavigator and an excellent horseman with literally thousands of miles of unexpected events having occurred while he was in the saddle, not to mention his career as a steeplechase jockey. The man is brave. He has huge courage and self-confidence. I, on the other hand, am more chicken shit. I’ve Googled “how to grow courage?” more than once and never gotten a satisfying answer. The best I’ve come up with is to gain knowledge and skills, find calm and yes, carry on.
Bernie and I are thinking of spending a while (maybe a year) roaming the West with our horses and mules, sleeping out under the stars or in our tent while we explore the western public lands. We have no concrete plan other than to head out West with our animals after we get done working on Bernie’s current book (click here to know when it will come out). We want to become western characters, steal back the romance of those who used to roam the West with their horses and bedrolls. We want to write about the beauty of the West. We want to go to BLM lands and National Parks and write of these places that belong to all Americans. We plan to take on fake western-sounding names and enjoy the feeling of slipping into two timeless characters, one hand on our reins, the other on a pack animal’s lead. Together Jake Punch and Harriet Bighorn will roam the West.
I realized this December 31st, on the eve of the new year, when I was thinking about resolutions, that my list this year was long. That’s because I am not only out to improve myself this year but to transform myself into the frontier character of Harriet Bighorn whose people hail from the area around Wolf City, Montana. Courageous Harriet Bighorn whose horses behave and grizzly bears fear. A woman for whom the West could never be wild enough. Now that’s one massive pair of cowboy boots to try and fill.
My list for 2022 on becoming Harriet Bighorn.
Learn about guns.
Learn what I’d need to carry to take down a grizzly bear if needed.
Learn to shoot a gun and to use it safely.
Learn to shoot a gun powerful enough to take down a grizzly without it knocking me over.
Learn about grizzly bears and their ecology so I can stay away from them and avoid as much as possible an encounter with one.
Learn about bear spray and how well or not it works in grizzly bear confrontations, as I'd rather not ever shoot one.
Learn how to solve Magneto’s ticklishness and broncing issues with the help of Warwick Schiller’s, Ray Hunt’s, Tom Dorrance’s, and Buck Brannamen’s horse training methods.
Learn to help Pie with her opinionatedness with Warwick Schiller’s, Ray Hunt’s, Tom Dorrance’s, and Buck Brannaman’s horse training methods.
Teach Pie and Magneto to picket.
Teach Pie and Magneto to pack (and remain calm even when the pack saddle flips under their bellies or they see a bull elk or a mountain lion).
Learn to improve my nervous system response by following Jane Pike’s Confident Rider program.
Take on a bit of mindfulness meditation.
Learn about the western public lands and their issues.
Learn to use a lasso because it would be fun to know how to rope something and I imagine that Harriet Bighorn knows how to throw one well.
Learn to breathe deeply and hopefully find I have more courage.
Let the learning begin! Happy 2022 to all. May we all arrive somewhere in the general direction of our goals.
January 16 2022 Snow Day.
There aren't too many days on the White Mountain Pony Farm that you'd have more of a kingdom for a pair of skis than a horse or mule. Today is one of those rare days. Happy Sunday.
In the right lane. Doing the speed limit. There is heavy traffic all around. It's full-on dark, and there are shiny lights. Suddenly, an SUV is crashing into the driver's side door, going about 70 mph. Bernie is behind the wheel. He doesn't swerve us into the guardrail, but we are over the rumble strip. The SUV makes contact bumps us. Then it proceeds to careen on past the front of our car. The SUV slides down the guardrail, scrapping along for about 35 feet before coming to a stop.
Cars, trucks and semis hurl on by. We are nowhere near our own home. It is hard for Bernie and me to comprehend quickly enough what has just happened to us. We've been hit. We might be sitting in a totaled car. We were on our way to a hotel to spend the night before driving on the next day to visit friends in NH for Christmas. We are somewhere in PA, and it's around 8 pm. So much traffic is racing by us in the dark. Now what?!
Bernie and I snap out of shock in about the same moment. I say. "I think that guy must be drunk." Bernie says, "Call the police." I dial 911. Bernie takes a photo of the guy's license plate. Slowly then more quickly, the SUV comes off the guardrail and accelerates back into the fast-moving traffic. Bernie is enraged, high on adrenaline, focused. He pulls promptly in behind the SUV. He flashes our lights, sounds the horn. I've got the police on the phone. I get too rattled when the police ask where we are because I wouldn't know the answer without reading the mile marker, and I am more concerned with whether we should be chasing this erratic drunk or not. Just as I see a mile marker, Bernie takes the phone from me and starts talking with the police dispatcher. The SUV takes the next exit, and we follow off behind, Bernie driving and talking with the police.
The SUV comes to a halt at the stop sign at the end of the exit ramp. A roundish fellow, mid-60s, pops out the driver's side door. He is trotting towards Bernie's door. He doesn't look mad or drunk by the way he is trotting over. "You guys OK? I didn't hit you, did I?" What! "Oh yes, you did!" we both say in unison. Bernie explains to the guy that he's got the police on the phone and that they already have his tag number. He tells the guy we need to go somewhere to exchange insurance information. The guy says, "OK," and hops back in his car.
We wind our way to a Holiday Inn Express parking lot. When Bernie goes to open his door and step out, I am surprised the door will open. I've imagined it totally caved in. I've also been surprised that the front tire has not felt warped or flat. I get out too and prepare myself to look at the damage to our car. Again, I think of how far we are from home and our Christmas plan destination. Neither of us has ever been to this part of PA. Now we are here in the dark with our damaged car.
The police tell Bernie they are sending an officer over and hang up. The SUV's driver's name is John. He's a friendly guy. He tells us he was sneezing, and the next thing he knew, he was riding the guardrail. He thought we had pulled over behind him to make sure he was OK.
Bernie and I are so rattled. We are in disbelief. That this has happened when we were minding our own business and driving along carefully. That we are both fine seems a miracle. That it could have been so much worse. We realize that just a little more swerve and our lives could have been over or greatly changed for the worse forever. We look at the side of John's SUV. It is wearing a nice full-length impression of the guardrail. We look at the driver's side of our car. There is no visible damage. We look again and again in disbelief. The mirror is folded in toward the window. It is folded in but not damaged, folded in by an SUV going 70 mph. We can only guess that the contact was made by the SUV's tire hitting ours. This is what steroidal good luck looks like.
We are elated. We can proceed with our plans, with our lives. We feel so lucky. We are two that have been fed a reminder of just how quickly the ride can come to a halt. Precious and tenuous that's, how life is.
John says he was sneezing. I want to believe that he was but, it's as likely he was distracted by his cell phone. On our two-week vacation of traveling from our farm to Tryon and Oriental, NC and then to NH, Bernie and I saw so many cars swerving all over the road. We saw a flipped-over car in the bushes on a dry back road near Tyron. The police had just arrived, and the driver was crawling out the window. We saw several more fender benders. We saw a car hit a big deer that had passed in front of our car. Exploded the deer's back end and tore the bumper off the car. We saw a semi flipped on its side. We tooted at several trucks and cars wandering into our lane. We even called in a tag number of a guy entering the highway, texting on his cell phone and swerving all over the rumble strip. We watched the glow of cell phones on the laps of many drivers as we passed.
It's surely a nation addicted to their phones. Highway announcements are pleading for drivers to turn off their phones while driving. Nobody believes that the problem or the addiction is theirs. That's the nature of addiction.
Life is what all of us are gamboling with when we choose to use our phones when driving. It may or may not be your own life that you gambol; perhaps it might be mine or a deer's or that of a nice man riding across the country with his mules. Look up. Keep your eyes on the road. Show you care about the preciousness of all our lives. Don't use your phone behind the wheel. PLEASE!