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Steamboat Magazine


01/09/2023 08:00AM ● By Kathi Guler
(Photo: Johne Richardson, “Untamed,” oil on canvas) 

Steamboat Springs, CO - "Ekphrasis” is not a word you hear every day. However, it was on the minds of Steamboat Springs’ writers as they crafted entries for the 2022 Ekphrasis writing contest, held in summer 2022 by Steamboat Magazine, Steamboat Art Museum and Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. Ekphrasis refers to a literary description of, or commentary on, a visual work of art, and writers were asked to do just that: create pieces under 750 words inspired by the artwork exhibited at the 2022 National Exhibition of Oil Painters of America at Steamboat Art Museum. “Celebrity readers” presented the winning pieces at a SAM event this past July. 

"Solitude" - by Kathi Guler

As darkness falls, I listen for the wild horses. The same every night. The late afternoon light has heated the house. I lie here, waiting for it to cool. No stir in the air. The fields have quieted: birds gone to roost, pronghorn resting. Only crickets skritching and the occasional coyote howl.

I am no rancher. Just an old woman who needs the solace and solitude of wide open spaces. A simple house seated on summer’s green and gold rolling rangeland of the Divide’s Great Basin. A sky sometimes a blue that’s bluer than bluebirds, other times a ferocious thunderhead with dark grey skirts full of rain and spikes of lightning. All the creatures who belong here. This makes me happy.

Drifting, my mind latches onto my memories of the horses. Hundreds, roaming free, unfettered. The land needs them as much as they need the land. Inseparable. As it should be.

Over the years one paint mare often wandered to me when she saw me. A few other horses would trail after her, curious but staying back, letting her greet me with a soft whicker, her deep brown eyes wary but kind. Like a mother. Never knew my mother – died when I was a young child. Only a single grey-toned photograph left behind, cracked and faded, a stiff figure in a frumpy dress. 

The memories flow, dreamlike. I see the day when one of those fierce thunderstorms comes, blowing up before I make it home. I try to run but can’t see through the heavy rain. Slide on the grass. Fall in sluicing mud. Trapped in wild brambles. Stunned. Soaked. Try to regain footing, keep sliding. The brambles cover a slight decline towards a stream. I hear it rush, harder, faster. The air so thick with water, I can barely breathe. Crawling up the slope, I break free of the brambles, but rivulets have joined into a wide sheet of liquid mud racing to the crumbling embankment and into the rising creek. 

I drag a leg up, press a knee into the soft ground. My head aches from difficulty to breathe. Drive another knee forward. Water pulses off the brim of my hat and I shiver as weakness and cold seep into my bones. 

Sound, muffled in the downpour, is indistinct. A neigh? Hoofbeats? I shake my head. Delusional. But it comes again, closer, louder. Another neigh. The mare walks towards me, whickering a soft rumble in her throat. 

She dips her head, looks me in the face, whickers again, her eyes calm, patient. My hands tremble. I reach for her. My knees slip. Fall flat in the mud once more. She steps closer, dips again. On hands and knees, I reach, grasp a handful of long, dripping mane. 

Mud races away from under me. I fall once more. Exhausted, afraid to try again. A move too fast and I’ll be swept down into the stream. 

The mare whinnies. The rain is slowing, but the water on the ground still runs too swift, digs deeper. Can’t wait longer. To lie still means death. She dips her head once more and I grab her mane, winding hanks of it around my hand and wrist. She starts backing, and I feel myself dragged, up, up through the mud, over the crest of the slope, through sagebrush, onto gravelly ground. She stops, waits while I cough mud and water out of my mouth and nose, wipe it from my eyes. 

In time, I stumble onto my feet, arms around her neck, eyes shut. Pressure leans on my shoulder. Breath inhales, exhales in my ear. The pressure increases, guiding me farther from the creek. Eyes opening, I find the mare’s soft brown eyes watching, ears pricked forward. 

“Mama,” I whisper, naming her, breathing in her sweet aroma mixed with the storm smells. Her head rests, cheek against mine, muzzle over my shoulder, the rumble in her throat comforting. For the longest time, we stand locked together in the waning storm. 

I wake. Midnight on the clock. I’ve not seen Mama since that day I named her. They – I refuse to mention who they are – took the wild horses away. Don’t know if Mama survived. Many did not, fiercely refusing to be rounded up. Death rather than capture. I sympathize. 

In the empty night, I still hear them, their spirits – running free, untamed. Mama is with them.