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七転び八起き

~Japanese Proverb (Fall down seven times, stand up eight)

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

~Confucius

Sometimes we find ourselves drifting through the beauty of life and suddenly are tossed from our secure world into the freezing depths of disaster and despair.

How do we react?

Sometimes we stride through life beaming of our small victories and are suddenly thrown from the saddle and into the dirt.

How do we pick ourselves back up?

It isn’t the fall that drowns us.

It isn’t the fall that keeps us down.

It’s how we react to these failures that make us who we are and determine whether we will succumb to our fears and failures or keep pulling ourselves back up out of the water and dust ourselves off.

Well, first I got a hot shower and some breakfast.

Then I saddled up Spider and went for a ride.

Little did I know that my determination to stand up eight times would be tested so relentlessly.

So who is this proctor of my life lessons?

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Meet Spider.

Spider is a horse with attitude.

A bad attitude.

He’s a bully.

He kicks at other horses if they get to close to him.  He shoves you away when you try to rope him or even brush him.  While all of the other horses stand patient for their dinner, he digs at the ground and tosses his head.  When the food finally comes, he kicks over the bucket, then stares at you waiting for you to pick it back up again just so he can knock it over once more.

He’s an ass.

My first impression of him didn’t improve after a day of riding in the back of the line to make sure he didn’t kick the others horses in the head while we rode.  Everyone chatted and laughed at conversations I couldn’t hear.  Spider trotted when he wished, walked when he wished, stopped when he wished.

As a rider, I had a lot to learn and work with.

Normally the challenge would have been exciting but I don’t like bullies.

At the end of the day while everyone swooned over the growing bond between rider and horse, Spider and I glared at each other.

The riding style of the ranch was different than what I had learned and what I was used to.  I also hadn’t ridden in a while and was rusty.

But this boy was testing not only my riding skills, but my patience and my temper.

After a conversation with the owner, she convinced me to persevere.  To keep working and convince him that I was the rider and I was in charge.

I thought about it, realizing just how strong of a negative attitude I had towards Spider and decided to clear all impressions and emotions towards him and try to start clean for the next morning.

After a cool morning walk and delicious breakfast, I walked out to meet Spider, rope in hand.

He stared at me warily.  I tried to block all negative emotions he may sense from me as I approached.

Despite the disrespectful head tossing and shoving I got him saddled up and had a bright outlook for the day.

We would get through this.

My skills were tested when, bringing up the rear, I was asked to close a series of gates behind everyone.  It involved a lot of tight turns and controlled movement between horse and rider.  I focused on giving him commands through learned movements he recognized and understood from his trainers.

In the end, we did great.

I was so proud of both myself and him that I knew the day would be nothing but fantastic.  We would get through this and in the end it would be a great accomplishment.  Finally, Spider and I had an understanding.

Or so I thought.

While catching up with the others I decided to further test my skills by giving him the command to trot and practice control of speed.

Meanwhile, Spider decided he was going to test the will power of his rider.

He stopped.

He didn’t want to go.

Taking a deep breath, I attempted all of the techniques I had learned until he started forward again.

Then he stopped.

I gave him the command through leg pressure to walk and he listened.

Then he stopped.

As I successfully convinced him to start forward again I watched his ears stand forward as his eyes darted all around us.  He let out a loud, echoing whinny.  I could feel his body tremble beneath me with each cry that echoed back to us through the pines.

He was scared.

Sudden pity tore through me.  Sure, he was a bully and an ass, but in the end he was just a scared herd animal wanting to catch up with his mates.

When he heard Fly whinny back, he picked up his walk and I guided him down the path to the others.

Jim led my dad and I through woods of pine and aspen.  We rode in silence, enjoying the pure, untainted spirit of nature.  There was no distant hum of passing airplanes, no hush of steady highway traffic.  Birds whistled and sang to each other while machine gun squirrels burst out in semi-automatic enthusiasm to the passing visitors.

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Photograph by: Joseph Witmer

Jim raised a hand to catch our attention, then signaled toward a few cattle wandering among the brush.  He motioned my dad down the hill and myself following to the left of himself and Fly, his horse.  We pushed the cattle toward their home ranch and for a moment, I imagined I was a cowboy of the old West.  I maneuvered Spider through weeds and brush and picked up signals from both him and the cattle to encourage them to go where we needed them.  I thought back to old John Wayne movies my dad and I had watched growing up (in fact, it was a John Wayne movie that put the idea of a cattle drive in my head in the first place) and daydreamed roaming through the stunted brush of desert with ropes and saddle bags rigged to my horse as I drove the cattle in the day and slept under the stars at night.  I wondered what it would be like to live that kind of a life, pushing cattle through the British Canadian mountains each season.  I looked at Jim riding comfortably atop Fly.  He was probably one of the few true cowboys left in this world that seemed to relentlessly rush toward modernization and progression.

Eventually we broke off from the cattle, leaving them to continue their way home, and followed a path cut through a field of low growing pines and back into the fiery woods of aspen.  The path shifted in grade making us lean forward in our saddles as our horses climbed the mountain.  Through the dark green ahead I began to see glimpses of deep blue sky.

The summit.

Jim dismounted and we followed, tying our horses high on a strong tree and walking out to the edge of the cliffs to look over the world below.

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I caught my breath at the beauty stretched out on a canvas before me.

Far below us were rolling waves of deep forest pine with vibrant splashes of yellow aspen sweeping between pockets of crystal lakes reflecting the sky above.

Nestled within the blanket of Autumn was the red roof of the cabin resting peacefully by “Tripod Lake” where I had taken my unexpected icy dip only hours before.

From where we stood, the wind brushing my hair off my shoulders, the sun sparkling our eyes, the ranch seemed to be in another world.

Had we really started all the way down there?

My eyes followed the flow of the forest until they blended into an ocean lapping the Northernmost tip of the Canadian Rockies.

We were staring at the Gateway to the Rockies.

I tried to imagine what this same scene would look like under the pure white of fresh snow or under the silver glow of the moon.  I imagined the bronze light coloring the Canadian mountains in slanted rays of morning light or the deep pink and red of sunset against the coming of velvet night.

I thought back to my first night walking outside and listening to the calls of coyote.  In the wild land of the untouched Canadian Rockies, it was too dangerous to take flight animals out among the nocturnal creatures that played once the sun went down.  I was content to witness such amazing wonders that nature gave us and imagine what more she could paint with her pallet of wind, sun, storms, and moon.

With a sigh, we turned away from the amazing vantage point Jim had showed us and returned to our horses.  The ride back down was peaceful.  Jim tracked a coyote’s tracks and kept an eye out for moose.

Keep an eye out for Part II of “The Year of the Spider”!