We live in the hinterlands, slightly off-the-grid. Most of our neighbors haul their water from a communal filling station down the valley. Bulbous water tubs, strapped onto battered flatbeds, lumber up the country road that serves the residents on our windswept mesa. Our cowboy friend with the rakish grin, told us hauling for his 9 horses was easy. But for his wife, “damn, she uses a helluva lot of water!”

Water Filling Station

Water Filling Station

I regularly halter one of our equines for a stroll up our road less traveled. The traffic is minimal to non-existent, except when a cumbersome water hauling contraption slowly passes, giving wide berth to human and horse. Yesterday, I haltered Chief for our walk. He put his massive head down and in his rhythmic, work mode gait, we started up the road. I was in tandem beside him, absorbing the emanation of his calm discipline. We were in reverie together.

This was abruptly shattered by a tiny, zippy scooter zoom-zooming offensively close. To put this in context, an event like this would be analogous to a hairy tarantula falling from the sky onto your nose, obscuring your vision and jumpstarting a heart attack. It was a rude and horrid shock to Chief.

Eyes rolling back in abject terror, he threw his head and danced on his back legs, striking the air with his front hooves (very undignified mule behavior that is usually reserved for “horse hysteria”). This is the same mule who calmly watches our resident cougar stalk the fence line. Chief stares her down with his look of don’t even think about sly feline crouching-lunging moves. She ignores his intense vibe and slinks along her route, tracking deer. She knows Chief is watching, he knows she knows, and the uneasy status quo stays buttoned-down and tidy. Chief is our Protective Sentinel. We all go blithely about our day, knowing Chief always knows where she is.

A resident cougar is part of our larger biome. But the snazzy, obnoxious scooter was definitely not going to be invited into our communal living arrangement. Speedy, loud and obviously just a toy, Chief snorted, “Where the hell did that ridiculous thing come from?” When I told him it was probably a Vespa from Italy, he was not impressed. We are all snobbish about something, and Chief prefers dented, real working equipment to shiny, red sporty things.

Chief recounting to me his disdain of Vespa scooters

After the scooter incident, an agitated Chief and I walked home. As we crested the hill we saw Geronimo and Traveler, heads over the fence, waiting for us down the valley. They called to Chief in horse nickers and neighs; he responded in deep mule wails. The released tension was palpable and contentment filled the distance between us. The herd was safe and intact, and the warmth of inclusion permeated my being. After all, I am an integral part of their community. Pure acceptance within a group can be a rare experience. But for me and Paul, living with our equine herd out in the hinterlands, a bedrock of communal acceptance is standard fare. Our sleek cougar inclusive. Chief includes her, but on his terms. The Protective Sentinel covertly thinks she may be the stunning crown jewel of our community. Being an educated, free-thinking chap, Chief espouses apex predators as essential to the health and vitality of a balanced biome. As long as they don’t mess with a mule and his community.

Rolling relief for scooter and separation stresses.

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