White Men in Canyon Country

There we were, packs strapped, shades engaged and looking fast, muscles, tripping up over rolling rock choss piles, yowling into sandstone recesses, sending our eastern, yankee voices into the bouncy ball pit of southeast Utah canyon WALL. Anasazi Artifacts. That’s what we were after because you can never get a group of good old boys together and not make it about getting after something. Climbing, scurrying up to overhangs, necks craned, feet moving and eyes sharpened just to dip knees and wade down through sandstone surf. Pressing down with the correct pressure on our soles and slide skiing through the scree, getting a few turns in before running faster and long jump leaping with a final double stomp skid before picking up the trail again. The tricky sections were solved quickly and competitively with no risk of falling, no risk of lost control. We were elite men in hunt mode, swift and precise and dialed. The cleaved boulders beckoned on the canyon floor and we climbed, chimney stemming up to vantages, admiring the angles and the sharp edges. Ganging, full of vigor and virility and the kind of rumble chucking camaraderie that only men seem to enjoy. As in everyone tries to be the man in front until we’re all walking quickly in a horizontal line kind of way… Halt. Some noticed before the others. Stop. They’re still talking. Shut up. They see it. Rising into view is one horse at the bottom of a canyon. A chestnut mare, its mane black and wild as all hell. Wild in a way that’s well beyond us and the shift is stunning. Desperation, emaciation, abandonment. The words shock me into deep internal somber stillness and I am stuck. The horse trots by us, blowing us a quick nose clearing kiss and then gallops down and away. We are left to watch the mare’s tail whisk behind the next boulder and we are left to watch the canyon become our playground again. I no longer saw it that way. My thoughts were with the horse and her slow trot. I prayed that she would find niblets of undergrowth to eat. I prayed that she would find water.