I took Sikem through last year’s clear cut the other day, out through Maple Creek Meadow and up the east side of Maple Creek—a gorgeous trail that I’d never been on despite coming here five years in a row. It’s a surreal experience to ride through a finished clear cut. It looks, to my un-bomb-educated eyes, as though a bomb went off, leveling the forest and incinerating everything remaining. I assume the loggers burn so that they can control the fires, instead of letting incredibly good tinder lie around baking in the sun, waiting for a rogue spark from an ATV or a cigarette to catch and send uncut forests up too, but it makes for a distinctly end-of-days atmosphere.
Horses, like virtually all animals, don’t like fire all that much, and this weird, barren place smelled a lot like fire. Sikem was not at all convinced that we should actually walk through; particularly (although I could be projecting) since all the burnt stumps looked like bears. Evidence that he’s maturing, though, and that I, perhaps, am a sufficiently competent rider, was that even traveling through a burning mountainside crawling with bears, he trusted me to keep him safe (mind you, had there actually been burning and bears, I certainly couldn’t have been trusted to keep him safe, and our trip would’ve been much different).
He almost lost it nearer the end of our ride, when we were beginning a canter up a long-familiar trail and encountered two deer, or rather, startled two deer into leaping away, leaving us with a brief glimpse of their phenomenal fluffy white tails, which are about the size of baby seals. He was one stick snap away from bolting, his ears pricked three inches taller than normal, his neck bathed in sweat, and ignoring me completely when I tried to explain that the deer were even more afraid, and even more harmless, than him. Eventually, convinced that they were not going to jump back out of the woods at him as quickly as they’d jumped in, we were able to continue along.
Back at home, he proved his maturity once and for all by allowing me, with no argument whatsoever, to maneuver him into place so that I could reach down and extract the formerly scary, rustly newspaper from the newspaper box. Or the stresses of the evening had simply worn his defenses completely down.