In western Colorado, we are in a deep winter freeze – socked in beneath an oppressive blanket of low, grey clouds. The equines have grown rough, protective coats embellished with snow diamonds and icicle trimming. The trough requires vigilant smashing with a sledge hammer and the searing wind cuts to the bone. Any hope of reprieve from this gloom is dashed by the smiling, toothy weather newscasters who theatrically wave their manicured hands across the colorful weather map, glibly depicting the continuous onslaught of “cold fronts.”
Post holiday blues and shocking world news matches the dismal weather. But, our equanimous equines, living intimately with the rhythms of natural cycles, are steady. These guys radiate heavy body heat, stand silently together and meditate, monk-like, in the eternal now. I stand next to them, my eyelashes frozen with tears and try to absorb their massive peace.
Bum rubs are coveted amongst the herd. Taking turns, they back up and lift their tails to me, clearly expressing the desire to be massaged in that special equine sweet spot that only a trusted human hand can reach. Taking off my frozen gloves I slip my naked hands between the tender inner buttocks of a muscular rump. The warmth is radiant and alive, and my immobile fingers revitalize in the furnace of these powerful creatures. I am smack in the “dangerous kick zone”.
I know this because I was kicked when Chief, the mule, arrived to live with us, and we didn’t yet know each other. I brashly approached our new friend, demanding he pick up his foot. He refused. I insisted, but no give from the big mule, who was uncomfortable in his new surroundings. I stubbornly persisted and he side kicked me, quick as a wildcat. The rugged jean cloth of my pant leg split open as if a switchblade had slashed it, but my skin beneath was barely grazed to a rosy pink. The maneuver was perfectly executed with an exacting precision. He could have broken my leg much like snapping a matchstick but chose to give me fair warning. Badass Chief could be a world class brain surgeon of consummate skill, but for the fact that he doesn’t have opposable thumbs.
Now, after a year of acclimation in his new home, my full body weight is supported against his rough tail and strong hamstrings (that I know kick very precisely), as we lean into each other and I deliver the highly-valued inner bum massage. Traveler sidles up, out maneuvers Chief, and my hand warming station changes from mule to mustang. Geronimo enters into the fray to deliver a nip on Traveler’s enormous bottom and then deftly removes my hat with his muscular nose. I laugh, the mustangs snort in playful retort, and Chief’s nostrils elongate in mulish irritation at the silly frivolity.
We all bunch up together; me as central vertical hub nestled in spokes of radiating horizontal equine spines. Serene as statutes they wait for nothing; not dusk, dawn or the advent of Spring. They simply stand and I find unspeakable solace, my cheek resting on a rounded rump, nose buried in a frosty hide of earthy-mushroomy-leathery scent. We are a motley group circled beneath the casket grey skies of winter, breathing in the grace of Earth as she suspends and spins herself in vast space.