"my cowboy days are over." i said to the clerk at the grocery store yesterday when i had to settle for a pack of marlboros instead of benson and hedges. then as i was marching home that sentence kept nagging me until it had led to two more lines. as soon as i got in my apartment i sat down and this account of a ten day horseback trip i took up into the sangre de cristo mountains in northern new mexico took the form of a poem.
my ancient meershaum serving a better purpose.
anyway, somewhere in these boxes i haven't opened in twelve years i will find the full thirty page report i wrote right after i got back to new york while it was all still fresh in my mind. that will be another post. this is just a taste. it may have been my fault that 'don juan' almost died on this trip. but i also saved his life and he never forgot it. later back on the range at my brother's house in taos, when i came out of the house he always raced over to thank me.
i had to go through forbidden indian territory to get where i wanted to go. i wanted to cross the mountains into colorado by way of wheeler peak. (13,161 feet. seven miles to the summit) in the really 'old days' they would have killed me if they found me there. in those days they would have beat the living hell out of me and taken my horse. don juan was a thoroughbred conquistador horse of great height and strength and not too stupid either. i'll tell the whole story another time. i promise.
my cowboy days are over
my cowboy days are over
no mountain skies for me
but still i need the open sky
where stars above so shining bright
we stir the elemental fire by their light.
memories of days of strain
the eastern mountains days of rain
the western peaks of craters deep
oh how we longed at last to sleep.
when day was done a song was sung
and a story filled the gaps
not empty but full.
i remember the horse i rode
"don juan"… he bore a heavy load
200 lbs of me
a hundred for he and me
his oats, my grub and brandy
not alone with a horse like him
he talked to me and i spoke to him
"walk softly" i whispered in his ear
war parties are always near
and off the beaten path we drew
and watched the braves as they went through
twenty of them in single file
on sacred land where their gods live
i trespassed trepidatiously
looking down from thirteen thousand feet
and seven miles away
to the deepest blue in shadow
uncanny ultramarine and cold
a crater lake as deep as the ocean
not a sound until with sudden melodious clatter
the hailstones pelted us with icy matter
exposed were we on a three foot ridge
on the peak was like a fridge.
don juan turned his back to the wind
his four feet glued to the razor ridge
abaft his rear he put to the gale
all perpedicular to the trail
protecting his head from the pounding hail
he tucked it into his heaving chest.
and i did what i thought best
i crept under his saddle and the jutting crest
soon it was over as the wind blew the storm away
and the setting sun augured the end of day
no time for dawdling now
a crescent moon and an untraveled path
chance for the hopi god to vent his wrath
it's not a good day to die, said i,
i mounted and spurred him
and down we raced
until out of breath he slowed his pace
and i for fear of night on the rock
screamed a scream a banshee might
well, his ears flew back
and we galloped down the track
again and again don juan slowed down
again i hollered him on
blood curdling invention
he thought, "my sweet master,
…a demon from hell transformed"
and i was sorry for him
we must get down
to the red river valley
and off of this holy mountain.