"I'm pretty sure it's this way." I was determined to prove my point.
"And I'm telling you we should have turned by the fallen log!" Mama was equally stubborn and even more wrong. "See, there's even a fence to show you this is the boundary."
"That fence don't mean nothing. See, it's on the ground. The horses can step right over it." I dismounted and stepped on the loose wires to hold them almost flat to the ground.
Mama sighed with the weariness of mothers everywhere that wonder how such an obtuse daughter sprang from her flesh. "It doesn't matter that the fence is down; it matters that the fence is the edge of our land. If we cross it, we'll be trespassing and will get shot. Do you want to get shot, Kerri?"
"Where's your sense of adventure?" I wheedled and whined until I had – more or less – convinced her that the fence was an irrelevant eyesore, not important in the grand scheme of today's ride. What is that saying about hindsight?
We crossed the downed fence and continued on our search for the boundary markers of our recent land purchase of Waltham Mountain, 265 acres of land in Lasscassass, Tennessee. Our conversation was the first one we'd had in more than two days, thanks to an argument on whether or not I should be held accountable for coming home by curfew if my boyfriend wasn't ready to bring me home. She had decided that if he couldn't bring me home on time, I couldn't see him anymore. This offended my sense of teenage independence, because who was she to tell me what to do? After all, at seventeen, I was practically an adult and I should be allowed to make my own decisions, should I not? I punished her by refusing to speak to her, and was further insulted when she seemed to be enjoying my silent treatment.
We hadn't agreed to ride that Saturday morning, but as I trudged up to the abandoned two-room shack we used as a barn, I found her already there, brushing her sorrel mare. I passed by her and Brandy, giving her a nose-in-the-air nod by way of greeting and took a lead off a nail by the door.
"You riding?" She asked.
I sighed. How dare she speak to me in that fake-pleasant voice when we both knew she was trying to ruin my life. I glared at her. She rolled her eyes and turned back to Brandy, beginning to comb out the tangles in her flaxen mane. I could believe she had the nerve to roll her eyes at me, like I was immature.
I stuck my tongue out at her back and went to get my gelding from the pasture. Vandy was my pride and joy, the love my life. He was a seven year old palomino of questionable parentage, but I suspected a trace of Morgan. My mother suggested he was pure mule, but she was just jealous of his equine superiority. He had one white stocking and a perfectly straight blaze – much prettier than Brandy's jagged stripe that ran helter skelter down her face.
By the time I got Vandy brushed and saddled, Mama was just finishing up. She had always been slower than me, but I thought she was dawdling. I tightened my baby's girth one last time – he was a bad one for holding his breath – and led him toward the trail. Mama was still at the tie post, fluffing Brandy's tail just so. As I mounted, my back to her, I heard her untying Brandy and mounting as well. I could tell she was following me because the little hairs on the back of my neck were standing up, a response all teenagers have to their parents. I leaned forward and patted my handsome man on his arched, golden neck, telepathically relaying the message that now was a good time to pass gas if he felt the urge.
When I got the fork in the trail, where to the right was only a small meadow or the left was mostly unexplored territory, I whoa'd Vandy and paused. We hadn't gone more than a few hundred yards into the woods so far due to time constraints, but today it was a Saturday morning, bright and early, and I had no plans all day. The possibilities were endless.
"Which way are you going?" Mama rode up beside me.
"I'm thinking of exploring the trails," I said.
"She speaks!" She clasped a hand to her heart and feigned a heart attack.
With a glare in her direction, I reined Vandy down the narrow trail. "You coming?" I shot back at her. I didn't stop to see if she was, but after a few moments I could hear the crunching of twigs and the satisfying slap of branch to the face. I smiled. It would be a good day.
After crossing the fence, our climb up the hill become much more ardorous. More and more often, we had to dismount and lead the horses through the thick foliage. My mother begged to turn back, but that train had left the station. We did try at one point, even though it made me feel like a failure to even attempt it, but we could not find hide nor hair of our old trail. One tree looked just like another, and no matter how many times we said, "remember this fallen oak" there was always another fallen oak with the same green, nasty fungus growing from the underbelly.
After some hours – I'd say it was around lunch time, my mother swears it was midnight – we stood at a crescent and spied a farm nestled in a valley some distance away. It was picturesque, surrounded by fields filled with black and white cows lazily chewing their cuds. The barn and various outbuildings were scattered about the quaint white farmhouse with a wrap-around porch. I could just imagine Ma Kettle calling me in for some fried chitlins...if I could just get there. The problem, at that point, was the fully functional fence between us and that wonderful haven of peace and security. Oh, to have a pair of wire cutters right then.
"All we have to do is follow the fence and we'll get there."
The plan agreed upon, we set out. Perfect plan, right?
I don't know what happened, but the next thing you know, we found ourselves faced with sheer rock cliffs, and that fence was naught but a dim memory. We dismounted and, like mountain goats, managed to scramble down a few feet at a time, encouraging our long-suffering beasts of burden to jump behind us. My precious Vandy was the picture of equine perfection has he hopped nimbly along. I won't mention what Fat Brandy looked like. Anyway, how we managed to get through that without either horse breaking a leg or jumping on one of us is beyond me, but I was having the time of my life.
"Isn't this fun, Mama?" I squealed. "This is better than going to any stupid party! We should do this every weekend!" When my mother didn't answer I looked over at her and saw her huddled in the fetal position at Brandy's feet. I walked over to her and leaned over her. "Mama?"
"I want my mommy." Her breath hitched.
I patted her awkwardly on the back. "But we're bonding. I thought you wanted to bond?"
She finally raised her head. "Can't we bond at the mall? Or watching tv?"
"You're the one that bought me the horse."
"I didn't think it through," she said, but at least she got up and dusted herself off. "Next time I'll get you a car."
She snorted. "No."
We did make it off the mountain alive, eventually. When we found civilization – I'm not sure if it was the same farm we saw in the valley – the family there gave us water and some food, took care of our weary horses, and gave us all a ride home. By road, it was eight miles. It was just getting dark as we put our horses out to pasture, with extra treats for their hard work that day.
My mother and I were speaking again, and indeed were closer than we had been in ages. Here's the truth – I have no idea why my mother and I weren't talking before that trail ride. I just made one up. The reason why we weren't speaking doesn't matter. I remember that before that ride, we weren't speaking, and after that ride, we were.
The moral of the story? Horses fix what ails you. That day happened more than twenty-five years ago, and my mother and I still reminisce about it. We've had a few more disagreements since then and a few more adventures, and one thing has remained constant –
horses still make everything better.