Leaving Chief’s pasture near Edgerton, Kansas, on a trip that would last 3 months, three weeks, or if we failed, three days. May 16, 2012
For the month preceding my departure on a solo horseback ride through Kansas and Missouri, May 16, 2012–a girlhood dream that I no longer could suppress–I had to take a half tablet of Benadryl each night to help me go to sleep. Would I be safe? Would some nice family’s drunk uncle come over late one night and attack me in my tent, where I camped in their pasture? I knew from past experience (a much longer ride I took with my former husband when I was 23–more on that later) people wherever we rode were heartbreakingly kind. But I had a man with me then. Thirty years later, would I be safe?
Here is the foreword of my forthcoming memoir, tentatively titled “Circling Home–one woman’s horseback ride into the heart of America.” I hope you like it, and I hope you will comment:
The Man Pulling Radishes/Pointed My Way with a Radish
(excerpt from 300 miles into our ride)
“We took right turns north and left turns west to follow our fine blue lines over hills, into bottoms, through dense growth, far away from any highway. We might have been riding closer to Kansas City, but we were riding deeper into the country, farther from Springfield and Branson, still more than 200 miles from a major city. Our gravel road became more powder and less gravel, narrower, and with no ditch, but rusty fences abutting it, slack with unemployment, because there were no cattle to contain on this lowland that floods in spring and fall. Birds zipped through it, and deer sprang or glided in our farthest periphery. My ears buzzed with silence that was faintly disturbed by a thousand insects touching dead leaves, and leaves above lifted by a breeze penetrating in random breaths. If you weren’t from here, you’d never be here.
When I was ten, I had crashed through an Oklahoma wind on my aged mare, Honey, bareback, galloping. Before responsibility—other than mother’s call to dinner, homework, bed—and without a father to comfort or boyfriend or husbands in succession to consider, I lived in my skin at ten, melded by sweat to my horse.
In decades since, with every life passage—two marriages, two births and a stillbirth, a husband’s head injury, loss of business and home—one vision recurred: A country road flowing under me and my horse, alone. This could never happen, I knew. I had lived in the home of a father or husband for all of my 54 years.
This day, I rode alone across the countryside, no one to consider, not even the wise, third husband, who had sent me on my way. My horse, Chief, and I scribed a 500-mile loop through Kansas and Missouri, the summer of 2012.
For me, nothing existed but this road. I belonged here as much as anyone, and in this land, my new kin: grey squirrels and buff deer, coyotes at night, the Wallen family who fed me three days ago; and the next family up the road. Nobody else counted, because my life depended on strangers. My own family never would find me. It would take me nearly two weeks to reach a symphony at Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City; then where would I tie my horse? These Cedar County folks knew the way, and for now, the way was my truth and life. I would take on this tribe’s language and law and religion if need be, one step at a time, pausing to eat and sleep and pee on their land. I passed into and out of worlds in the form of sections where people lived who knew the way and pointed me to it. As 18th-century Japanese poet Issa wrote, The man pulling radishes/pointed my way/with a radish.
For the first time since I was ten, I felt grounded as a bolt of lightning, and just as live.