Saturday, June 4, 2011


The horse I'm riding is fleabitten gray in technical terms, but white with dark freckles to the layman's eye. She glows in the ten o'clock crescent moonlit night. Moonshine. A name I might have given her after a young girl, seeing the mare, exclaimed, "She's beautiful! You should call her Moonshine!" Of course what she meant was something far too girlish and immature for my tastes—the white horse shines like the moon, I get it. Given a palomino, she'd have called it Sundance or something equally obvious and cliché. But I was thinking liquor. Why not? I already had a Brandy, and knew a Whiskey….but the mare already had a name, a tough, unrefined, unsentimental name more in line with my ideals, so Bones she remains.

Bones. Gritty, tough-as-nails, sinewy Bones. The one whose tendons and ligaments always seem to fail her. Perhaps the anatomical name was a poor choice after all. I've wrestled with her lameness issues for two years and counting now, and it looks like the battle to have a competitive horse is finally reaching its end. I can enjoy her for light riding only. The realization stings, but tonight I have other things on my mind.

It was too hot to ride during the day—and I was too busy—but now that the sun has long since sunk I hop on bareback for muggy summer night's ride. We start off slow at an ambling walk, but I can feel Bones tensing beneath me. Her glowing white hide (about the only thing I can make out in the darkness) ripples with the muscles beneath it. She spooks at a clump of weeds, the fence, a shadow. We make our way back to the woods in the marshy wet ground and listen to the sounds. There's a barred owl off in the distance. Many insects closer, grating and grinding and humming. And speaking of insects, all around us dart hundreds of fireflies, those harbingers of summer (and reminders of childhood).

Oh, how we all used to chase and hunt those things. Lightning bugs, I called them then, but surely fireflies is the far more romantic name. We'd catch 'em, put 'em in jars, feed 'em to toads and observe the glowing through the thin pulsating throat skin. The neighbor kids would smash the bugs on their driveways to observe the slowly-fading smear of luminescence. I hated them for these acts of waste and cruelty.

These memories come back now as I watch the surreal display of tiny blinking lights. They look like a glittery surface where the locations of pinpointed shine change whenever you move your head in the slightest. I've just got to relive that childhood experience. I spur my horse in pursuit.

Mounted firefly hunting! What a novel concept. We chase after the lights, Bones chomping the bit and jolting beneath me. I soon discern that there are at least two different types of the insects. One flashes quickly, then disappears in the darkness for a long while before appearing again elsewhere, teleported. The other kind blinks far more rapidly ("frequent flashers," I quickly name them) and is thus much more visible. I pursue the latter kind, eagle-eyed, keeping my horse in check.

I soon find that these frequent flashers have the annoying habit of flying lower and lower, then alighting on the ground and staying there. No way to catch them on horseback that way. The third time's the charm, though, and with a lucky grab I snag one between two fingers just as it attempts to navigate around Bones' neck. I've got to be careful and gentle now, though, as I recall from those childhood lessons. Just a tiny squeeze too hard and you'll puncture them, allowing their Elmer's glue insides to spill out amidst a sour odor. This one seems uninjured, though, while its flashing speeds up to a fever pitch. It's a yellow-green strobe light now, almost blinding at such a close proximity. I open my hand and the firefly crawls a ways up my arm before spreading its wings and once again taking off in flight.

My "task" now satisfactorily completed—and my bred-to-be-cowpony now an official firefly wrangler—we do a little trotting and loping on the black grass, then there's nothing left but to return to the barn to be cooled off, fed a treat, and put to bed.

For both of us, really.

[unedited photo from sky soon after the nearby (and horribly devastating) Joplin tornado]