This started as a simple post on the Home page. (Original post here) But it seems to be rather popular. Making creative choices as I go… this story is another one that is unfolding for me as it does for you.
I will add new chapters to the bottom of the page as I write them. This way the story will continue to read top to bottom.
Just scroll down to where you left off!
Part 1- His story
Today began much like any other. The sun rose from the east over the mountain, shades of yellow and red. The red meant that weather might be moving in so today he would lead his family to a sheltered place as he guided them to food and water.
He is a stallion of what man calls the Calico Complex. The Calico Complex is an area where the Bureau of Land Management combined Herd Management Areas to create a complex. The complex consists of over half a million acres. But what the stallion did not know was that this agency, tasked with the welfare of wild horses and burros for the American public, had decided that only 600 horses could remain free.
From over the ridge he began to hear an ominous sound. It increased in volume as his heartbeat increased in rhythm to match the sound. His job was to keep his family safe. The sound grew louder and louder until it’s source appeared racing through the sky. The strange object, a metallic predator, was headed directly at his family!
He cried out, “Run!”
The band thundered over the frozen rocky terrain. Up mountainsides and through the valleys that once provided protection to the band. Yet nothing they did could stop the relentless pursuit of this predator.
They ran and ran. They ran and ran until he could feel the sweat pour down his muscled neck. They ran and ran until his lungs began to burn from the cold air. They ran and ran until he knew his children were struggling to keep up.
But the family needed to continue above all else. So he called to them “Run!”
Racing through the gully he had led his family through in an attempt to gain shelter from the threat from above, he stumbled. But he could not stop. He saw the valley open up and he increased his pace.
As he fled across the frozen valley floor another horse appeared before his band, an unfamiliar horse. But this horse was running too. Perhaps this newcomer knew the way to safety so he followed the sorrel down the corridor.
Then the threat increased! Coming in from behind were screaming two-legs waving long poles! His heart thumped as he again increased his pace.
He had to pull up fast to stop from crashing into a metal gate! His family collided with each other in fear. Circling hard to address the new threat from the rear he found himself facing another set of metal bars. He could not get to his mares and foals! He could hear their cries and he answered, but he could not protect them!
In an instant he was crowded into a small area with other stallions. His colt from two springs ago appeared at his side as the screaming two-legs waved their sticks and forced them all up into a metal box.
The metal box was crowded. The floor was cold under his feet. A loud bang and the light from the back of the box was gone. A hard jolt and they were moving! He was not running anymore but he was moving! The others swayed and struggled to remain standing as the box bumped up and down and continued to move forward. He knew if he fell he would not be able to regain his feet on the cold slick surface, so he fought to remain upright. The air rushing in began to freeze the sweat that moments ago poured down his neck as he raced over the rocky ground with his family… his family!
He let out a loud cry!
The box jolted once more and came to a stop. The opening at the back flew open and screaming two-legs started poking and waving their sticks through the box. The stallions rushed toward the only way out.
Down a narrow chute they went into another area enclosed by metal bars. More loud two-legs pushed some into another enclosed space. And then the two-legs stopped yelling.
The predator from above was gone. The two-legs were no longer chasing them or screaming. His family was no longer there. He had failed them.
He could feel the soreness begin in his body. His lungs hurt. His legs and feet throbbed.
He wandered the edges of the enclosure. There was no way out. He did not understand.
More two legs arrived. These two-legs were not screaming. One of them came very close. He had seen her before.
He asked her, “Why?”
Part II coming soon.
Part 1, Her story.
The small roadside diner began to fill up with patrons on a cold Saturday morning for breakfast. A few families, some hunters getting a warm meal and Bureau of Land Management, (BLM), employees starting to assemble before making the trek out to the gather site. The operation had begun at sunrise, but this group would escort the members of the public out that would be granted permission to observe that day.
She arrived early. Her old truck was faithful but not fast. The combination of the isolated location and the potential the area had for rapid weather change could delay her arrival. She could not be late so she rose at 3 a.m. to make the journey.
The hot coffee the waitress refilled for the third time was much appreciated.
Others began to arrive. The members of the press, public and advocates began to recognize each other and condense in the diner. The friendly conversation was reassuring considering the uniformed and armed personnel that had also begun to be witnessed. This “presence” that arrived to protect the BLM and contractors from a perceived threat: the former school-teacher/author, the ecologist, the grandmother, et al. She thought what threat could possibly come from this group? That they may break down into uncontrollable sobbing?
The table filled with cups of tea, biscuits and honey began to be cleared by the waitress. She grabbed her last piece of bacon from her plate and walked over to pay her check.
The small group followed the BLM personnel out into the parking lot for “briefing.” The district manager gave the small group a run down on procedure, the “rules” of observation, and gave a speech about how the BLM was doing their job and how transparent the activity is and then read the list of the few that would be allowed out to the site to witness about 2 hours of a work day that goes from sunup to sundown.
She did some quick math in her head. Workweeks can consist of seven days a week. so 7 x 12= 84 hours of possible operation. The public was allowed to view on 3 days a week, 3 x 2=6 hours of observation. Hmmmm….. sounds like typical BLM math.
The trap site was another couple of hours over dirt roads and the BLM would only allow 4-wheel drive vehicles. That let the ol’ faithful truck out.
A camera crew was there from Germany and they offered her a ride. The going was slow in the convoy that had armed guards at the front and rear. The scenery was breathtaking. The conversation was intelligent. She had an opportunity to discuss with the crew exactly what they would see. She told them exactly what the BLM would say in answers to their questions and explained to them how those responses would not answer the questions. The crew understood and was more familiar with the issue than she expected. At least the rest of the world was beginning to comprehend the issue even if our own mass media was clueless.
After another briefing at the holding area that felt more like a stall tactic, they were again on their way. The convoy had to pull over to allow the passage of two large stock trailers, the big silver ones you see on the highway. Inside the trucks were heavily lathered horses fresh from the gather.
As the small group arrived at the trap site they were given a taste of who was in complete control of operations. BLM staff quickly ushered the vehicles into position that provided no opportunity to witness the horses coming in. It appeared that their arrival was a bit premature.
The newscaster from Germany moved his truck forward to allow his cameraman to catch the horses on film. The BLM district manager immediately poked his head into the window to scold them. They were informed that the contractor had strict control over gather activities. We were not even allowed to speak at that point.
“How could the voices in the vehicle rise over the decibel levels thrown by the chopper?” she asked. There was no response.
Once that group of horses was brought in and began to be dispatched off to the holding area the small group of observers was led up the viewing area that was acceptable to the contractor. It was a considerable distance up the hillside. Without a zoom lens operations would have been next to impossible to observe in any detail.
For the next hour and a half they were allowed to bear witness.
Band after band appeared over the horizon. Driven across the frozen terrain by helicopters. You could hear their cries above the rhythmic thunder of the whirling blades.
At one point a solitary horse appeared behind the observers. He called to the horses newly trapped, they called back, and he moved on.
The German crew began to tape their piece. They interviewed advocates and BLM personnel. They did commentary in a language she did not understand yet by the tone of his voice and his expression she could tell he “got it.” So she just focused on the horses.
What she witnessed next she will never forget. A young foal was falling behind his family after racing across that valley floor. She could see him falter. Then into her viewer a helicopter appeared! That chopper pushed that foal forward coming to within mere feet of him! She was familiar with helicopters and half expected that poor baby to collapse from a heart attack! “I might…” she thought.
Band after band lost their freedom that day. Families that struggled to stay together were immediately separated and trucked off. Over and over…
She felt ill. She tried not to show her emotions for fear it would further limit her ability to gain a better vantage. She failed. The tears came.
Later back at the holding area she met “him” face-to-face.
She was walking with a sweet young woman that worked for the BLM but knew nothing of horses. The young woman had many questions for her. The young woman moved mesh panels so she could get closer to the horses. There he was.
A magnificent stallion from the gather that day moved toward her. He sized her up and looked directly in her eyes. It was like he knew her from the days she had seen him on the range.
She could sense his strength, his wisdom, all that he was. Yet she could sense his confusion. She could sense his fatigue. It felt as if he asked her “why?”
She had no answers for him. The truth was that there was no good reason for him to be there. There truth was that his life was caught up in a power struggle and man’s greed, nothing more.
And then she felt him ask for help.
Everything inside of her wished she could throw open those gates and reunite him with his family. That family that was now segregated in those pens; foals calling to their moms, mares that could not comfort their foals, stallions that could no longer protect them.
She was told it was time to leave.
But that question continued to burn in her soul. “How do I help him?”
General’s Saga Part 2
She had no answers for him. She could not tell him why he was there.
Yet he knew she had heard him.
She turned to leave. He sighed. She had her freedom.
He joined the other stallions that were milling around the pen. The younger ones were attempting to gain position in the ranks and needed to be reminded that this was not the time or place. The older ones were lost in their fatigue. Many, like him, listened to the confused calls from their family members through the metal bars.
Soon the screaming two legs returned. They began to poke and prod them with those long sticks and wave them until each group moved through the only way out. Back onto the narrow ramp and into another metal box.
This one was larger than the one he had been in before. When the loud bang came it blocked out most of the light from the setting sun. All he could see of his home range were the glimpses afforded through the small holes cut into the sides of the box.
With a roar the box came to life and began to move. Bouncing up and down they began to run again without moving their legs.
It was hard to keep down his fear as he watched his range vanish behind him. But years and years of ancestral memory told him that fear inhibits correct action at the correct time, so he fought the strong waves rising inside of him.
The old black that carried many battle scars took the trip the hardest. His body had not had time to recover from the arduous pursuit from the metallic predator in the sky. General could hear the black vocalize his pain.
A young cremello that had not yet learned to control his fear began to panic. He pushed and began to bite the other stallions in his search for a way out. The older stallions near him, battling their own fear and pain, quickly got him back in line before he caused any damage.
The box ran on and on.
He could see through the holes in the box other metallic runners. They all raced like a herd in flight but General could not see any purpose.
Further and further from their homes the running box took them. What was the purpose? What did these predators want them for? General had no memory to call on to shed any insight into what was happening. All he could remember were the tales of those that came and ran them down in running boxes and hooked rubber tires to their bodies until they collapsed from exhaustion. Those horses were never seen again.
The box finally stopped running. Again the screaming two legs appeared and began their ritual with the sticks. Again the stallions ran down the only way out. There they were met by more screaming to legs that pursued them down the alley that was surrounded by metal bars into a pen that was larger than the one they were in before.
The stallions ran the perimeter looking for a way out. Any way out… but there was none.
They could smell death. Death had come to claim some that the running box has brought to this place. They could all smell it.
There was food and water here. But the food was strange to them. The grass was not connected to earth. It was wintertime but this grass was green and smelled sweet like spring. But they all knew the wisdom of eating when food was available to be strong to face the next battle, so they ate.
They began the wait to see what came next.
His stomach hurt.
Next chapter soon!
She returned to the crew waiting at the truck with his face burned in her soul.
“I wont forget you,” she promised.
Next the crew went off to interview the private landowner. Operations had been set up on private land instead of on the actual half million-acre complex. The BLM claimed that this was the only safe access to the horses. Having operations on private land also created a situation where public access to observe what was happening could be further restricted.
The landowner was an interesting character. He was very proud of the dog sitting in his truck that he had “rescued.”
He spoke of diminishing water tables; “About 10% of water sources surveyed by the BLM over a decade ago are still operational.” He blamed the horses but then added, “They (BLM) never do anything to repair any damage. All they do is take horses.”
No Kidding, she thought.
She talked to him about the concept of maintaining healthy eco-systems. “Range Management” was what the BLM was supposed to do. All they do is perpetuate a gather-machine. He agreed.
She thought it amazing how many ranchers she spoke to agreed on this point. They may disagree on the original cause of the problem yet the criticism of current protocol that just perpetuates an issue was an area of real agreement. The horses were just an easy scapegoat.
Next the camera crew wanted footage of cattle on the land to add to their piece. She smiled. These guys really got it.
The trip back to the diner took about half as much time as it took to get to the gather site. The convoy had appeared to move agonizingly slow on the trip in. Everyone suspected it was to cut down on observation time.
At the diner the weary observers began to meet. They began to share information from the day. But the sun was already setting and it was a long ride back to the mountaintop where she was living. So she said her good-byes and began her long drive back, to the sound of her old truck that invoked the rhythmic beat of chopper blades.
The house was cold. Wood was the source of heat but she was too tired to start a fire. She fed and walked the dogs that gathered around her vying for attention. She was glad of their company.
She had many calls to return and e-mails to answer. So many people care so deeply about our horses and burros and the real crisis of their existence on our land. She reviewed her tape and sent out photos and the best recount of events that her tired mind could summon.
She climbed between the cold covers. The sound of the chopper blades and the faces of those that lost their freedom appeared before her as she closed her eyes. She prayed to God to let her sleep without dreams.
Again the tears came. She told herself it was because she was cold.
Her stomach hurt.
He could smell death. They all could. It was here in this place in an unfamiliar way.
The run from the metal predator from above, the strange running boxes, separation from family, and the strange grass that was not connected to earth was hard on them all. But it was hardest on the young and old. It always was. It was the way of things. And death would come.
But here Death came in an unfamiliar way. On the range it would move in and release one from life and then move on. Here Death descended like a cloud that did not rise, a cloud that would not move on the wind. A cloud you could not find shelter from as you wandered within the confines of metal bars.
Sounds of mourning filled the air. Older mares, with their stoic acceptance of age, said good-bye to the foals they carried that would not see spring. Weariness brought death to many of the elderly naturally or with the aid of the two legs.
The pain of the young ones was heard from further away. Legs and feet that could not recover from the hunt of the predator above would continue to increase… until some were no longer audible. He would never know what had happened to them.
Panic took some of the healthy as their fear and confusion of what these two legs wanted caused injury and then death.
Another odor began to fill the air. The strange grass not connected to earth made their stomachs hurt. The part that returns to earth left their bodies like spring mud. Each of them contributed to this ever-growing stench. But they all continued to eat, because to stop would bring certain death.
Order among the stallions was beginning to take shape. Rank must be established as the way of things. There were a few skirmishes, brief reminders of the need to establish the way.
General’s son from two springs prior had found his place with his father. General did his best to continue his training. For what purpose he knew not.
This place was so strange. It was like the predator from above had swallowed them into a metal running belly that took them to this place of enclosed bowels. It was the way of things that what was consumed returned to earth, but what form would this predator expel them in?
But it was the way of things.
He knew that they would return.
Just before sunrise she opened her eyes as she always did in this place. She could feel the hair move against her face to the sound of the wind outside. Her room was still dark so she reached over to flip her phone for some light. The light revealed her breath visible in the air. She pulled the covers over her head and thought about going back to sleep. But the dog in the room had heard her wake and became excited, as the possibility of breakfast became an instant reality for him.
She shivered as she slid her feet into the rubber boots she kept at her bedside. She stumbled to the cold hearth.
Opening the door to let the dogs out she could see the blowing snow that had begun to accumulate in drifts. “I’ll need to fill the wood bins,” she noted.
After the fire began to consume the kindling she added a larger log and went to start the coffee.
The weather would most likely cancel gather operations that day. The weather would also slow down her operations as well. The footage she had captured was in a format that she could not share without professional equipment.
She grabbed the first cup of coffee for the day and went to review that footage. She began to catalog the still images. Among the pieces of history that her camera recorded were what seemed like endless images, like the flow of a river or a bleeding wound, of horses cascading down that mountain and into the trap.
The most painful to watch was the piece that recorded a young colt that was lagging behind pushed by the helicopter of the contractor. Standing out at the gather site helicopters were heard long before they were seen. Then horses would appear over the horizon at such a distance that without a zoom lens they were no more than moving dots. The chase must have been terrifying for that youngster. A race from an unknown predator as his family began to move at a pace he could not match. Miles and miles he ran. How many he ran before his band hit the horizon line she would never know. There had already been reports from the gather that noted a foal had a heart attack. There was a claim the foal had a “defect” that caused his death.
“The defect was that he was born on public land,” she thought, “or he’d be alive.”
If the weather did not clear it would be days before she could share what she had seen, Yet still she hoped it would snow forever if it would keep the choppers on the ground.
As she continued to catalogue her images she saw him again. He appeared like a battle-wise General. Years of wisdom and the ability to survive whatever crossed his path. Yet his wisdom was no match for man’s greed.
She began to write. Perhaps if she shared her experience she would help raise awareness of what was happening to these amazing beings in their remote lands they inhabited. The homes they were being systematically removed from. A systematic removal that was created a wave of destabilization these beings may never recover from in any fashion that would ensure long-term survival. A systematic removal that created a situation where more of these horses existed in warehousing than in their natural state with no hope of leaving alive.
Her phone rang. It was the liaison from the BLM that was coordinating the appointments for public observation of gathers and the holding facility. Her appointment to view the holding facility needed to be rescheduled as her appointment to view the gather site had been, twice, because of weather.
She would receive several more calls changing the days and times to see the horses because of the weather.
The weather had turned the area into a place of frozen beauty. The sun would scatter jewels of light upon the ice in the morning. Some days it appeared as if diamonds were scattered everywhere. She learned to plow the driveway on an ATV. She had never ridden an ATV, nor plowed a driveway.
The horses that lived free in the area continued to inspire her. Some days they would just stand together in that frozen land. The peace she felt when they were there was something she had trouble putting into words.
She kept writing. She drew his picture.
She received a phone call that she had an appointment to go out to the holding area. She received a phone call that she may have work out of the state and needed to leave. In order to keep following the horses she might have to leave the horses. “Our world is so strange,” she thought.
The morning of her appointment she woke and plowed the driveway. After coffee she checked her email. An alert had gone out the night before saying that a foal had been euthanized because his hooves began to fall off and that the facility was not allowing observers in.
For a moment she thought to call and see if she would be allowed in. Instead she got in the truck and turned the ignition. No reason to give them an excuse not to let her in.
Besides, she had to see him before she left. She had to promise him she would return.
Days passed without much connection to the natural order. The sun would rise in the east and set in the west and the weather moved in and out, but that was the only thing that represented true order. The family was gone.
The enclosure of metal bars contained only stallions. Stallions like him that no longer had their mares and foals to guide each day.
The grass not connected to earth was brought each day by the moving boxes. It was set outside the metal bars so they had to stick their heads through to eat the strange grass. Water was contained within more metal boxes. No more walking through the familiar trails…. almost no movement at all.
The idleness was beginning to make him cranky. The attempts to maintain some natural order were strange and unnatural. General guarded his companion Commander as if he were a mare. His son True stayed nearby and was waiting for General to lead him from this place. But there was no way out.
There were days when the now familiar two-legs were joined by other two-legs. They would arrive in more moving metal boxes. It was during one of these occasions when he saw her again.
She jumped out of the box and came right to him. She spoke to him and then to the other two legs. She stood there for a long time.
Her voice was soft with him, yet different with the other two legs.
He tried to explain his boredom. He told her about Commander and young True. He told her about the sounds of death that would linger. He told her he needed to go back home.
She answered him with sounds he did not recognize. He could feel that she was uncomfortable, too.
She turned and spoke to the other two-legs, jumped back into the moving metal box… and was gone.