From Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul II

Finding My Way Home

To know after absence the familiar street and road and village and house is to know again the satisfaction of home.

Hal Borland

I sit on horseback at the top of a hill formed out of rock and sagebrush, looking over the valley that was my home for the first eighteen years of my life. It was by this valley I learned directions, big mountains—East, little mountains—West. Behind me the foothills of the Oquirrh Mountains begin (the little mountains). The bigger range, the Rockies, rise across the valley from me, their tips still covered in snow in this early June.

As I stand contemplating the panoramic view, my horse impatiently steps in place underneath me, slightly jostling me up and down. With each jostle the saddle moans and the smell of dust fills my nostrils. My horse is a Morgan and they have little patience for standing still. His coat is the color of dark chocolate. The white on his face bleeds around his eye in a large star that goes down his face into a strip. On his body he has only one small streak of white in his mane. I envy his wavy mane and tail; my own brown hair falls straight.

I pat his neck, “Easy, little man.”

He came to us with the name Coone, but I call him this only around others or when I’m angry with him.

I’ve explored most of these hills, all on him. We’ve been shot at by careless target shooters, found fresh cougar tracks, watched the flames of a forest fire dance in the dark, been lost and nearly tumbled down the shear cliff of a steep ravine numerous times. And yet since I turned twelve, I couldn’t be kept from these hills.

When we first moved here my dad wouldn’t allow me to ride outside the yard alone. He was afraid of my getting hurt and not being able to get help, and rightly so. Slowly though I talked him into allowing me to go up our dirt lane to the mailboxes, then I begged to go as far as the canal, which is the barrier between the hills and our town. By the time I was thirteen I had no boundaries. I rode everywhere. Coone was the only horse I trusted enough to go alone. It was my time to be alone.

Standing on these foothills looking over my home gives me the opportunity to look over my life. Problems just look smaller here. Coone and I make a good pair—he likes to hike and I don’t. But both of us love to see what’s beyond the next rise.

He’s how I survived my teens. On the days I simply needed to escape my problems, I would drop the reins and push Coone to run and run he did. I would have to remember sunglasses to keep the gnats from slapping my face and sticking to my contacts. Those runs were my salvation.

During my senior year in high school, I spent a lot of time up here looking over my life. It was time to leave home. My oldest brother was married December of that year and my other brother was about to be engaged. It had always been the three of us. But at home I was still someone’s little girl, or someone’s little sister; I couldn’t become anything else. I was seventeen. I knew it was time to leave, to grow up and become whoever it was I was going to become. Those that love you the most never allow you to change.

One summer day that year, I felt claustrophobic in my life. I was working in a dark hardware store, where the ten-foot shelves blocked out the sun from the one window. I was going to school until noon and working until eight, desperate to save enough for college. It was 9:30 that night before I was done with chores and free to do what I wanted. The light was barely grasping the hills when I caught my horse and fumbled with the saddle as I raced the sun. My dad caught me.

“You’re not going riding, it’s too late.”

“I have to go, Dad. I won’t be very late.”

He and my stepmom were leaving for the night and begged me to be careful and come home before absolute darkness set in.

I rushed into the hills, and at the first flat trail I found, I dropped the reins and pushed the horse into a run. Faster and faster we went, with my hands stretched in the air and the cold wind blowing my hair back. The darkness hid the trail ahead of us and I trusted my horse to find the path. I tasted the cold dust on my tongue, the same flavor as the night. It was well past 11:00 when I pulled the saddle off and called it a night. It was dark enough to see the sparks kicked up from Coone’s horseshoes.

It was around April when I found out my chance to leave had come. I had picked up the mail on my way home from the hills. I sat on my horse in the driveway staring at the envelope with the return address of Utah State University staring back. Trembling, I opened it. “We are pleased to inform you, that you have received a full tuition scholarship to Utah State University.”

As much as I loved those hills and that horse, I knew I would have to leave them. A two-hour drive may not seem like a faraway college, but in my family we considered my brother living on the other side of the freeway long distance.

My freshman year was difficult. My roommates ostracized me for being different from them. Now, daily, I felt claustrophobic in my life. I would run on foot until I reached a rise so I could see the sun setting over the Cache Valley foothills and smell the farms below me. One night I walked until midnight, missing the horse that had carried me.

After a few years, it was time to go even further. I went to west Texas for a year and a half. I grew to love the people that inhabited that treeless plain, but I never fully felt at ease.

At the end of eighteen months, I sat on a plane bringing me back to my valley. We began our final descent above my snow-covered hills. I pressed my face against the doublepaned window and traced with my finger the many trails I had ridden. I was almost home. In a matter of seconds we crossed over trails that had taken me years to explore. We were low enough that I could make out the landmarks that pointed toward home.

I had only one ride in those hills before I returned to college to complete my senior year. Finally enough time and distance had passed that I could be comfortable with who I am.

My life has circled back to these hills. Coone steps underneath me, though he’s not as antsy as he used to be. He’s getting old, when I drop the reins the fastest we go is a canter. I feel his age with each stiff step he takes. I’m as picky with horses as I am with people. I just don’t bond with very many. While Coone had a wild streak and tendency to scare easily, I never felt fear on him. I knew he would never hurt me and never leave me. He’s why I could ride so long and so far by myself. It will be difficult to find something else to ride after he’s, . . . but I choose not to think that far ahead.

The houses of the valley now surround my hills like waves against the cliff. I feel their presence like I feel Coone’s age. I stare at them, slightly amused. They’re in for a surprise when the fire season starts. Twice I’ve watched flames run down the hills toward our home. Both times it was only stopped by the canal. Now those homes have jumped the canal.

The only job I could find after I graduated from college was farther away from Coone than I had hoped. I live in the city, a step away from everything but peace. Now when I ride I’m consumed with thoughts of ways to come home instead of how to leave it. I think I finally went far enough to find a way back, back to my horse and back to my hills.

Melissa Dymock

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