More often than you might think, parents will drop their kids off for rides and go off and do their own thing. At first, I was surprised, because there’s no way on earth I would deliver my child to a perfect stranger, put her on an animal that could potentially kill her, and leave for four hours or so. And then I realized, the parents aren’t horse people and they are just trying to make their child happy without the discomfort or pain of climbing on a horse themselves. Once I realized that, I grew to look forward to being a “babysitter” to a horse-loving tween or teen – at least we had something in common and didn’t have to spend the entire ride listening to the parent complain.
I took a young horse-lover on a six-hour ride to Thunder Lake in the Wild Basin area. The beginning of the ride is usually rather congested with hikers, since the two-leggeds and the four-leggeds have to share the same trail the whole way up and back. At least once per trip into the Park, I would hear a hiker complain about the “messes” horses leave on the trail. Got news for the complaining two-leggeds: horse manure is completely biodegradable and natural, unlike the granola bar wrapper you just left alongside the trail.
Usually, the human pack thins out at Ouzel Falls and from then on to Thunder Lake is smooth sailing; the only humans you run into are serious outdoorsmen, who look longingly at the horses as we pass. That day, my young guest and I pretty much had the trail to ourselves without a human in sight. We rode along, enjoying the perfect weather and amazing views, talking quietly about horses and her experiences with them. We hadn’t seen anyone else in well over an hour and had fallen silent, just being. That kind of riding is Zen-like; you feel not only one with the horse, but with the peaceful world around you.
I was completely centered and lost in the views; I knew my young guest was feeling the same way, but I glanced back to check on her anyway as we rounded a boulder that protruded into the path of the ledge-running trail. I smiled at the look of contentment on her face and turned back around. Before our very eyes, a woodland faerie appeared in the shape of a middle aged woman wearing a dark blue rain poncho. We were both stricken by the sight – not a moment before, the woman wasn’t there. She just appeared on the trail. It was so quiet, we would have heard her come up through the trees and I know that she wasn’t on the trail before I turned back to check on my guest, and by the look on her face, my guest hadn’t seen her on the trail either.
We watched her in awe-struck silence as we walked toward each other; serenity surrounded her like a palpable aura. She walked at a peaceful, unhurried pace, looking for all the world like the faerie she had to be; I imagined that the rain poncho hid her wings and that she chose to walk to make us more comfortable. After all, it wasn’t raining – the sun was out in all its glory – there was no need for a rain poncho. She made no noise as we approached each other; her footfalls were silent and the quiet rustle of her poncho blended melodically with the whispers through the trees. I found myself unable to speak, nodding at her bemused expression as we passed her. We rode past her silently, a bit shaken at her unexpected appearance, still unable to speak. The horses never batted an eye at the rain poncho and allowed her to slowly, delicately, run her right hand along their sides as she passed.
We rode on another few feet before we turned in our saddles to watch her progress along the trail. When we looked behind us, she wasn’t there. My logical brain tried to tell me that she had just turned behind the boulder and was out of our line of sight, my sense, though, was that she was gone. It was as if the faerie had appeared, bestowed her blessing upon us to enter her forest, and disappeared, assured that we would bring no harm.
We rode on, unsettled, for another few minutes, each of us lost in our thoughts about our unexpected surprise. And then of course, the flood gates opened and we couldn’t stop talking about what we had seen, albeit in hushed, reverent tones. We both decided that we had, indeed, been blessed with the presence of a woodland faerie – there was no other explanation.
That was the only time I have ever run into her, but I think of her every time I ride through that stretch of trail and hope that I still carry her blessing.