This evening I was returning from a writing event, speeding past farms and dairies, not quite out as far as the wildlife refuge (my house), when I spotted in the headlight beams what looked like some eyes beside the road. Then they were gone. Ever vigilant for the crafty black tailed deer who wait until they see my car coming and then merrily dash out to scare the living daylights out of me, I braked. Hard. As the car slid to a stop, I saw the swish of a long, dark tail, and a head lift briefly before going back to grazing. This was no deer. It was a horse.
|Study of Wild Horses--Albert Bierstadt 1830-1902|
Scenes of chasing my neighbor's rambunctious horses in the middle of the night in my youth flashed through my mind. There are no street lights out in the wilds of the Vancouver hills and people travel in excess of 55 MPH. Not me, of course, but others I.turned on my emergency flashers and pulled into the next driveway, leaving my car near the road, and walked back toward the horse, cooing sweet horse nothings. The beast turned his rear toward me and trotted ten feet away. Yup, I thought. This is going to be a problem.
The gravel crunched as I picked my way up the driveway to the house. It was nearly 9 PM, but I could see light through the windows. I rang the bell. Rang it again, stamping to keep out the cold. No one came to the door and I could hear a car screaming down the road. I jogged back down to the pavement and tried to wave to the driver to slow down but I was wearing all black and I know they couldn't see me. I squeezed my eyes closed and hunched my shoulders as it flew past, dreading the thud of 900 lbs of horse meeting the bumper of a vehicle traveling at 60 MPH.
No impact, and the car careened away, unimpeded.
I crossed in the darkness and found another driveway. It was misting, and I hugged my rain jacket against me in the 45 degree air. A fire burned cheerfully in the fireplace and several lights were on in the back rooms. I pounded on the door. Seven times. A doberman's face appeared on the other side of the glass in the door, but the wild barking did not bring anyone to investigate. I knocked again. Nothing, except the dog, teeth bared and frantic barking.
I walked back to the street, crossed and searched for the horse, but didn't see it. Back in the car, I retraced my route, turned around about a quarter of a mile away and returned. The horse was back beside the road, grazing again. I pulled into a new driveway, lights flashing, got out and groped my way up to the door. A light came one. The door opened.
"Sorry to bother you but there is a horse loose beside the street and I know if it were mine, I'd want to be told--"
"Oh my God. A horse? Just one? Where?"
I pointed down the road. We couldn't see it, but her light was shining into a paddock beside her house, where a white horse pranced back and forth, tail high, and whickered nervously. "Oh my God, it's mine. Two of them are out."
She leaped off the porch, yelping out names. "Where are they? Where are they?" she called to me.
I jogged back to the road, and make out the silhouette of one, its head up, ears pricked forward. It started dancing away from me. "Over there, It is over there." I pointed, but it was too dark to see. "Here, here, this way." I called.
Then I saw headlights coming. In each direction. She saw them too. Her voice rose an octave as she hollered for her horses. The loose horse started to canter across the street. The horse in the paddock paraded back and forth along the fence, whinnying and snorting. Out of nowhere a second dark, shape bounded past into the street. The headlights closed in from both directions. The woman bellowed, her arms windmilling in the light beams, "Look out! Look out! Slow down."
Hooves pounded down the street, horses whinnied, engines roared, the woman screamed. Panic lit the night as the two cars screamed past, finally seeing us when they were nearly on top of us, slamming on their brakes, skidding. The horses, at full gallop, sped away until they were out of headlight beams and only their hooves flying over the pavement could be heard.
A man's voice shouted in question. "Horses loose," I called as I jogged back to my car and backed out onto the road, the flashers still going. "They went that way, I shouted, pointing and hoping he could see. I inched down the road and caught a glimpse of horses and the woman running, running, and I knew there was a corner ahead and could see headlights approaching it.
The horses veered off the main road down a dirt one, the woman still chasing. I angled my car across the junction, still with the flashers going, and jumped out, prepared to head them off if they turned around, to prevent them from getting back onto the road. A car sneaked by me, the man holding ropes. Another neighbor jogged down the street. "What is going on?"
"Horses loose," I shouted. I could just make him out as he got closer. "Wait," I said, and fished my warm jacket out of my car. "The horse owner has no jacket on." I held it out. He grabbed it on the way past.
Another car pulled up. The driver rolled down the passenger window. "Horses loose." I called.
She threw the car into park and leaped out. "How many?" she asked as she hurdled past.
"Two," I said. "And they disappeared to the right about twenty yards in front of you."
Then all was quiet. The cold seeped into my light raincoat. Mist coated my hair. For ten minutes I paced in the blinking yellow light of my car's flashers and wondered how long it would be before my battery suffered, stamping my feet, and blowing warm air on my hands, alert for the sounds of hooves. Another ten minutes later a car slowly approached, and stopped at the side of the road, his beams spotlighting me. I advanced and could just barely make out a light bar on the roof.
"Horses loose," I warned.
"Yeah, I know. I got the call. How many?"
"Two, and there are about five people out chasing them. They took off to the right about twenty yards down this road."
"Okay, I'm going to go take a look," he said.
"Can you get around me? I'm trying to block them from getting back onto the main road if they come back this way."
"Yeah, I can get by."
He squeezed past in his car and inched his way down the dirt road.
I was shivering now, hugging my jacket to me and wishing I'd worn a warmer one. About five minutes later a white apparition materialized behind me, giving me a start until I realized it was a woman in a white ski parka. "Where are they?"
I repeated the directions to her, but just as she started down the road, we heard the steady clopping of horses at a sedate walk. Then we saw them come out from behind some bushes, and there were definitely two-legged shapes beside each horse. As they got closer, I saw the owner, her hand gripping the rope around one horse and the other hand gripping my jacket.
"You didn't need the jacket?" I asked.
"No. But thanks. Before someone brought ropes I thought I could use it to rope one of them." She held it out. "I'm Denise."
"I'm Melanie." I took the jacket.
"Thank you so much for stopping. I'm sure they'd be dead by now if you hadn't."
I followed them back a quarter of a mile, with my flashers going until they were safe in the paddock.
"Merry Christmas," I called as I did a three-point-turn in the driveway of the first house I had tried.
"And to you too," echoed out of the dark.
Can I list this as volunteer work on my resume?