Friday, August 9, 2013

Mort and Me - Rain

Mort stopped cold, flung his head in the air and snorted. I braced against the swell and shivered at the sudden weather change. It was like all of the air was sucked out of the landscape and then thrown back against us with a hollow roar. Mort shifted, pinned his ears and put his butt to it.

Until this moment, the day was cool and still, so heavy with unspilled water, my hair had coiled into thick tangles, wet to the point of dripping down my back, a rare and wonderful thing in Colorado.  Mort and I sucked up huge lungfuls of the delicious air while I watched the black cloud banks rushing across the sky. I could track the speed of the storm by watching the shadows race across the sea of grass. We didn't have a chance in hell of beating it home.


"It's supposed to rain again today," Mom had said that morning.

"Hmmm." I replied and slid into my jeans jacket. Jud snorted and grinned, grabbed his leash off the door knob and trotted around my feet.

"There are flood warnings."

I sat on the stairs to the garage and yanked on my boots. Jud sat next to me, leaned against my shoulder with the leash still dangling from his jaws, and gave me a sideways look. He wanted  to share the joke of the thing, like we would listen to her nattering.

"Maybe you should stay at the pasture."

"When the thunder goes 10 seconds after the lightening strikes, I'll head back." I told her. I knew it would be more like five seconds, but it was never in my best interests to let Mom in on my survival strategies.

"Stay out of the ditch too, the flash flood sirens have been going crazy."

Silent grumble on my part. I ducked my head, hiding my face and my attitude in my hair. Jud smiled up at me, and I snapped the leash to his collar. Now he could keep carrying it and I had satisfied the local leash laws.

I hoisted my saddle onto my hip, opened the garage door and began the 5 block walk to the barn. I hesitated at my cut through the Boline's yard. The cement drainage ditch that moved flood water away from our neighborhood was about 8 feet deep, 10 feet across and lay right behind their back fence. It also worked as the west fence line of our pasture.

If I cross here, I'd be at the barn in another hundred yards. If I went around it added a half mile of saddle toting, weed tripping and mud to my trip. That's a half hour less time in the saddle.

I went through the gate and the yard, and hung my saddle on the fence. Jud put his feet up on the cedar boards and I hoisted him over. We both grunted as he hit the ground on the other side. He could and would jump at least five feet when we were on the trail, but Dad had taught him not to cross our suburban 4 foot fences, so he didn't. Weird dog.

We stood and looked the ditch over. There was already a foot of fast moving water in there. I wondered if the current was strong enough to knock us down. Jud slid down the cement wall and waded in the water. He didn't seem concerned. He ran up the other side and stood waiting at the edge of the ditch, his stupid leash still in his mouth.

 An image of me in the hospital, recovering from being swept to Pueblo in a flash flood, whipped through my head. I could see my parents, brothers and sisters, sitting in anxious vigil around my bed.

  "Meathead," Dad would say.

  "You refuse to be responsible, we are selling that stupid horse," Mom would murmur.

My siblings would stay quiet, grateful it was me and not them.

I pushed the scene away, gabbed my saddle, calculated the drag of the water as best I could and ran down the wall. The strength of the current surprised me, water filled my boots and I wobbled for a split second. Keep moving!  One stride, two, and I jumped to the far wall, my slick soled boots scrambling to find purchase, heaved my saddle to the top rim, and just made it.


Didn't even have to grab the edge. Jud, tail wagging,  spun away and towards the corrals. Mort nickered, he was ready to rock. I sloshed across the standing water in our field.

Within minutes, I was saddled, Jud's leash was unclipped and tied with my jacket to the back of my saddle and we were off. The air was so cool and clean it was like jet fuel. Mort wanted to run, so we did. Once the worst of our crazies had passed we slowed to his traveling trot, still big and ground covering, still too fast for Jud to do anything but stay at our heels. By the time I saw the storm closing in we were past the city limits, past the local ranches and out in the middle of nowhere.

I looked around for shelter, but I couldn't find even the remnants of a deserted barn. A few more deep breaths and we headed for home at the trot. There really wasn't much else to do.

Mort took a straight line for home, his head was up, his ears were pricked and he had no goof left. He didn't like the feel of things.

Goosebumps rose along my arms and back, I draped my reins across my horn and untied my jacket as we rode. The first drops hit us about the same time I saw lightening crackle and hit the ground. One, two, three, four...Boom! The thunder told me the storm was only four or five miles north of us. Dang it. I checked to make sure Jud was close, I didn't need him off after a rabbit when things got hairy.

Jud's tongue hung out to the side, his sides were heaving and he was right off my stirrup. He kept looking up at me, anxious with the weather and getting ragged from the hard pace. Rabbits were the last thing on his mind.

The drops came faster and closer together. They were big icy cold things, splattering my saddle and Mort's hide with water marks ringed with slush. Shit, shit, shit. We were going to get hailed on. The lightening lashed again, one...two...BOOM! It was slamming straight into the ground. I looked down at my sweaty, nervous, lightening magnet and thought about barbecue. This really wasn't good. I was still at least two or three miles from Karen's house, the closest stopover I could come up with.

As we trotted up and over a low rise, the sun blinked out and the rain started really coming down. The storm was right on top of us. The skin on my back crawled, I could feel the lightening marking a target between my shoulder blades. There was a thick stand of scrub oak covering the swale, a solid 10 feet high and 20 yards across.

Enough was enough. I swung down and led Mort straight into the tight, compact scrub oak. It scratched and pulled at us as I shoved out way in, but I kept on gong. Mort put his head at my hip and helped me smash our way in. I stopped at a little clearing in the middle. There was just enough room for me, Jud and Mort's head. The rest of him was tight in the scrub oak and we were all covered by a canopy of branches.

The sky lit up around us as the lightening crashed and the thunder boomed. It was right here.
I yanked my saddle, and propped it up on the horn, as far from Mort as I could and still hold my reins, pulled my blankets and threw the horse hair pad in front of the saddle skirts. Then Jud and I huddled into my makeshift shelter, my Navajo draped over the saddle and covering our heads, just as the hail hit.

Jud sat close, shaking a little, and I wrapped my arms around him. There is nothing as comforting as a golden retriever in a rain storm. The hail pounded off the saddle blanket over my head and bounced on the ground. Mort stood quiet with his head low. The smell of sweat, wet dog, and leather steamed around us as the wind  and hail slammed through the oak. The hail eased off and the rain began in earnest. I watched blood from the scratches earned fighting my way in, thin and run clear in the water running over my arms. Scrub oak bites hard. The sheets of rain were broken up by the oak some, but the lightening lit us up like the florescents at Walmart. The thunder boomed with such force the leaves shook. I buried my face in Jud's neck and tried to wait, without thought or fear, just like my horse.

The thunder and lightening passed by as quickly as it had pounced on us, but rain pounded down for another twenty minutes before it tapered off enough to move on. I rocked a little, watched the leaves bend and move, and waited. When I couldn't hear the rain anymore, I scraped off Mort's wet back the best I could and saddled. My latigo, soaked through, soft and swollen, kept sticking to itself. Mort shook his head and swatted his tail at me for jerking at the cinch so hard. I stroked his neck in apology and we fought our way back to the open.

We were pretty scratched up, but nothing too dramatic. The sun came out, the wind dropped and the sky was deep and blue. The rain was still falling. Crazy place, rain and blue sky at the same time. The light turned the prairie to a pirate's bounty, gold and sparkly. Jud stretched and smiled, the joke was on us, and he wanted to make sure I got the punch line.

Mort blew hard and shook his head, stepping around and making me work to tie my jacket back on the saddle. I swung up and he pulled at my hand. The air was clean and sweet and filled us like rocket fuel. He wanted to run. So that's what we did.



  1. Love this story! So glad it ended well, even if it was pretty scary with the lightning and not much cover available.

  2. LOL...wonder what prompted this memorable ride on Mort?!? ;~) Love all of the vivid descriptions of the event.

  3. My favorite stories in the world are the ones like this that all start with...One time when I was riding....

  4. Beautiful.

    Really beautiful. I could smell the rain.

  5. Great story telling, all the better for the authenticity of it.

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  7. Wow. I was riding in a storm on the beach today, the wind was crazy but nothing like that mugwump! If there had been thunder I would have hit the deck methinks. Luckily, like Mort, my mare was very good about it and just kept plodding into the wind.

  8. Mort, Mort, Mort! Mugs and Jud!

  9. Wow. This so brings back memories of hot summer days and rain/wind storms and the smell of your horse after he got soaked and was now steaming in the sunshine. The smell of summer and adventure.

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  11. Another amazing, wonderful, riveting story. Thanks Mugs :)

  12. I kept waiting for the part where you lost your clothes when the gulley washer came through, like in "All the Pretty Horses". :-)

    Made my heart beat faster visualizing the close lightning strikes.

  13. Fantastic storytelling, as usual! I was right there. I spent a summer in Pueblo when I was about 14. This took me right back and I could see the prairie, smell the rain, watch the rain moving across the grass from miles away... :)