Yesterday I received an email from my friend Dave Hedges. Dave is a screenwriter, a damn good one, slugging it out in the movie trenches, and we were once constables together, doing our best to keep the lid on public order. Dave took the occasion of his email to inform me that the temperature in Delyankirskiy, Russia, was 66 degrees below zero, making it the coldest place on the planet, and exactly 100 degrees colder than the Santa Ynez Valley, where he was about to hammer out his road work over a trail we once ran together. He thought, on retrospect, he’d likely leave his windbreaker in the car.
Turns out, Delyankirskiy, is in the heart of Happy People Country, which means Siberia. If you have not had the opportunity to watch this film, a Werner Herzog epic of absolutely stunning power, I am formally advising you that it is, in fact, an EMERGENCY. I’ll even go so far as to say that your life is incomplete, or in a sadly reduced state, if you don’t get some Happy People in it. I don’t call for Code 3 runs very often, but this film is deserving of a full lights and sirens response.
And so, remembering the Happy People of the taiga, I started thinking about those runs Dave and I used to make together, grunting into the canyons of the coastal mountains, where the terrific heat in the trees pressed down with tropical insistence, where giant oaks reached over the cattle fences and made patches of cool, bug-swirling air over the cracking asphalt. We made those runs and bantered on what makes a story good, about bad lieutenants, how to win a gunfight, and on the rumors of an old Chumash Chief uncovered, sitting upright, in the banks of the Santa Ynez River.
Sometimes we took our dogs, watching them run out ahead to investigate cows, or letting them cool off in the shallow pools where the road dipped across the streambed. And I thought about Beowulf, Dave’s dog, and a run Dave once made alone–and wrote brilliantly about later–howling Beowulf’s name in tribute into those gnarled and silent oaks that have watched everything transpire for ages.
On those runs, we were a version of those happy people, carving runs out of a mostly forgotten corner of Old California, making a small protest against the encroaching world of noisy and complicated things.
And today I am another version.
This afternoon I broke ice in the water troughs for the second time today, then haltered our attitudinal mare and lunged her in the mud for an hour. She didn’t like it, at all, until finally she liked it a lot. She might have been showing off, even, teasing me with the perfection of her stride at a trot. Then I led her out into the woods and let her eat grass. I talked to her a lot, and I know she listened. In a few days I will throw my old Billy Cook saddle on her and give her a ride, just to see what she’s really about.
And my old running partner, Buddy the Wonder Dog, who made those runs with Dave and Beowulf in the golden heat of old California, was there with me for every move, covered with mud from the edge of the corrals where he eagerly watched the mare as she ran, still thinking he is relevant to the movement of animals much larger than himself, though he is slowly going blind and his hips are shot.
I wasn’t wearing moccasins this afternoon, but I wanted to be. The sky was mere perfection, the forest around us felt emptied of other life, and when the mare came up from grazing she rubbed her sweat all over my jacket. The smell of a warm horse sparks an endless number of daydreams in my brain, and because there was a quiet wind in the tops of the tall ponderosas, a whisper of something ancient and appealing, maybe I can be forgiven for thinking that I was, for an instant, carried somewhere else in time and space.
I wasn’t transported anywhere–I know that–but standing with that mare in the grass, in a warm winter sunshine, with my old dog laying down beside us, I had a far better revelation. I realized suddenly, almost shockingly, what I was actually experiencing. I was simply, and thoroughly, happy.