It was the seventh sunrise of the Moon of the Dark Red Calves (Lakota Sioux Calendar). He had awoken at his customary four-thirty AM from a restless and troubled sleep. After making coffee and getting a fire started, he had settled into his chair and read scenes III – VI of Christopher Marlowe’s Edward the Second. The forensic issues of the death of Edward II aroused his curiosity. Two hours passed and “rosy fingered dawn” caressed the snow covered expanse of Tejana Mesa and the sugarloaf summit of Mesa Tinaja.
|Rosy Fingered Dawn|
Calling Caesar, he stepped out into the cold, clear air of a beautiful winter day crowned with an azure sky. Weather reports were calling for snow over the next two days beginning sometime after midnight, but the frozen ground assured there would be no benefit from the moisture. Since Christmas, the surrounding mesas and mountains had been covered with a solid blanket of white. There was some clearing on the flats and in the meadows but it was a respite that would soon be broken.
His four saddle horses were standing quietly in their corral and watching him as he picked up his apple picker and sledge hammer to start the first chore of winter days – breaking ice in the drinkers. Looking south towards the alley that separated the arena from the southern corrals and shelters, he could not see any of the three old, geriatric horses in their corral. His heart gave a small erratic thud as the shadow that had dogged him through the night quietly rustled its dark wings.
Stormy leading them home
|Stormy, Handy, Stormy's nephew Stryker and his niece, Cimarron in the background|
|Stormy: January 2011|
The preceding day, Far Rider had made arrangements with his neighbor to bring a backhoe and dig a grave alongside Shiloh as the weather was soon going to turn and trying to dig a grave suitable for a horse in a snowstorm would make a difficult job maybe impossible. His neighbor had promised to drive his machine over sometime around one o’clock or so. It was strange how the premonition of the bitter duty that lay before him had strengthened over the past week or so. Walking the crippled horse across the corral and into the pasture he had known it would be Stormy’s last walk.
Far Rider brought fresh, rich alfalfa hay and laid it at Stormy’s feet. Handy and Stormy both began munching the hay in the relaxed companionship of old friends. Far Rider turned away, checked his watch and, saw that two hours were all that were left of a full and vibrant life.
He laid his rifle on a towel along with some baling twine and went up to his horse who greeted him with nuzzles and a desperate plea for relief that was reflected in the great brown eyes. Eyes, always so bright, now looked with sadness and a pleading to “help me now.” Placing his arms one last time around the winter-shaggy neck, Far Rider called upon the God of Abraham to take this, His wondrous creation to where he would find green pastures besides clear water. With the warm breath of his horse on his cheek, he also asked that if it was in His plan, that He would make it possible that they would once again someday be together in a place without such pain and terrible sadness.
Far Rider blew in Stormy’s nose and rubbed his upper gums with his fingertips – something that always gave the horse pleasure and commended his companion into the Hand’s of God.
The lessons hard learned as a Special Operations soldier in places where pain and death were so often dealt with and the similar lessons learned on the ugly streets of south Los Angeles while wearing LAPD blue took over. Grief was put aside, and the mechanics of efficiency and doing what had to be done guided his hands. Filling a syringe with five milliliters of Acepromazine, he quickly found the large vein running down the groove of the neck under the jaw and inserted the twenty gauge needle. Drawing back the syringe, it quickly flooded with bright blood and he pushed the plunger home. Within a few minutes, Stormy was completely relaxed with his head down nibbling at the snow. Far Rider administered another five milliliters of Ace and Storm turned towards him and after Far Rider had caressed his face one final time, the great horse lay down on the side of the arroyo. His breathing was deep and regular and he drifted to a place away from pain as the sky dimmed in the once lustrous eyes. Pulling two pre-loaded syringes of Dermosedan from his coat pocket, Far Rider pushed the chemicals into the blood stream of the now sleeping horse. He loaded the entire five millileter bottle of the same drug and pushed it home hoping it would be sufficient to stop the beating of Stormy’s great heart.
Sitting on the wet, snowy ground in sunshine that was surprisingly warm, Far Rider stroked his horse’s face and watched for his breathing to stop. Stormy began to snore quietly and Far Rider realized the drugs were not going to be enough to stop the mighty heart that continued to push life through the crippled body.
Wrapping the towel around his beloved horse’s head, he tied it in place with the hay baling twine. He placed a small mark on the towel over the center of the horse’s forehead and teetering somewhere between grief and rage, he picked up his rifle.
Within the hour, his neighbor made the grave alongside of Shiloh and put Stormy to rest there beside her. The frozen and muddy ground made for a difficult job and Far Rider thanked God for a neighbor such as Norm.
|Stormy: October 2010|
I am hardly a “good” Christian, and asking God for personal favors seems hypocritical and dishonorable. But, I was all out of options and so was Stormy. Even in Viet Nam when facing what I thought were my final moments, I steadfastly refused to pray and ask for God’s assistance because I knew that if I survived, being of an imperfect nature and a son of Adam, that I would return to ignoring God until I needed Him again. Just didn’t seem right to be asking for help when I was not doing my share of following His commandments.
Later that morning, I decided to call my former veterinarian that had recently returned to this country from a move back east and was reestablishing his practice. Two years previously, the veterinarian I had called when Stormy’s sister Shiloh was dying in such agony had given me the sum total of help by saying “Good luck with your horse.” I am not a forgiving man and that is a debt as yet unresolved so I was not about to call that particular practitioner again.
I really did not think there was any hope for such a desperate orthopedic condition, but out of the blue, as I rose from my knees the thought came to me to call Dr. Jack D. Though he is 115 miles away, that is considered nearby in a county that is larger than some eastern states. He had always helped me out years earlier when he was still in this part of the country. He would take the time to talk me through things on the phone and I like his way of handling horses. We spoke about Stormy and he suggested I start him on injections of Dexamthazone. Within 3 days, Stormy was limping around the pasture albeit on a badly deformed leg but with a returned appetite. He would lie in the sun and manage to get back on his feet and his eyes were bright. It was the first time in my life that I felt God had answered a direct request for help. There was no flash of light or thunderclap, no burning bush. The answer arrived in the advice of an educated and trained veterinarian whom also has a profound faith in God as Creator of the magnificent creatures with whom we share this world.
God gave Stormy and I four more months together. Just knowing Stormy was in the corral or pasture made my life better and I thanked God every day for his mercy to Stormy and to me.
Stormy is in a better place now where he can run as he did when we first began our time together. Though a deep and utter sadness grips my heart this night, my life for 24 years was better and will always be better for having shared it with such a magnificent creature and faithful companion.
Upon hearing of the loss of Stormy, a dear friend that raises Rocky Mountain Horses nearby sent me the following beautiful words of comfort penned by poet Irving Townsend and from which the title of this essay is borrowed:
We who choose to surround ourselves with lives
even more temporary than our own
live within a fragile circle, easily
and often breached.
Unable to accept its awful gaps,
we would live no other way.
We cherish memory as the only certain immortality,
never fully understanding the necessary plan.
"The Once Again Prince"
See to your weapons and stand to your horses,