Horses Can’t Talk, But They Can Whisper
BY DAVID S. LEWIS
Living amongst the artifices of this world, we are often deceived into thinking that what’s manufactured is what’s real—gadgets, big screen TVs and computers, a pace of life that dominates the mind, even in Montana, as one tries to keep up with bills, a mortgage, taxes, and insurance premiums.
Henry Real Bird though (Crow poet, cowboy, and warm-hearted fellow) told us something that’s important to keep in mind if any of us are to make it through this life with his or her soul intact—breathing vibrancy into body and mind, as opposed to being overtaken by stress and the mundane trials of living.
“We have to live in the industrial world the way it is,” he said, “and yet we still have to retain our Indian-ness…for our souls…I'm able to use modern things like pickup trucks, and yet around our sacred fires I'm still able to take care of my soul, and protect it, and live in the modern world…it isn't hard to do…to be able to keep the connection with Mother Earth.”
Henry has his Indian-ness and rituals of fire, but surely we who are not Indians have the same essential nature and capacities that require maintenance and attention if we are to be more than human automatons operating in a zone of non reality, being merely a series of mental and emotional reactions throughout each day, the place where you find no inspiration or sense of wonder regar-ding what life has to offer.
Montana happens to be a great place for finding that connection (as does the natural world whenever we find ourselves immersed in it). I happened to be invited to a barbecue recently at a small ranch in the foothills outside Livingston that did the trick, a night of socializing outdoors with songs, guitar, and a few old friends. As dusk gave way to a darkening sky riddled with brilliance, that alone provided all that was necessary (it’s a shame in town that the garish luminosity of so many electric lights eclipses our view of the heavens), as the celestial canopy on clear Montana nights takes one in contemplation toward the infinite, the soul’s native place. All you need to do is lay back, look up, and wonder, leaving everything else behind—the soul does the rest.
Something closer to home that night weighed in though, three horses just above us on a hillside silhouetted in twilight against the westward but still glowing fallen sky. They hovered there, jostling and then suddenly still, watching us, as if needing to have been invited to the party, or whatever, for who knows what a horse thinks or feels, though it is certain they think and feel in their own way?
The scene was strangely transportive, something out of The Horse Whisperer, except real life, and the kind of episode you want to capture with a camera or on video, yet that misses the point, because technology cannot capture dimensions of the soul. It was a you had to be there moment, a mingling of forces, as the attention of these intelligent animals cast upon our gathering seemed to be animated and channeled by the backdrop of the constellations behind them, as if they were living archetypes (though that’s too conceptual), in a way that made it seem and feel as if heaven, earth, and the creatures in-between were joined in a grand theatrical production, for those horses above us were clearly enlivened and participating in that night’s revelry and song, as was the light cast by stars from distances unfathomably beyond them, and so it was living poetry.
That’s when I realized we had been misinterpreting things (or Nicholas Sparks and Robert Redford had)—it’s not that there are people who are horse whisperers, sensing connections with horses and being able to thereby work harmoniously with them; it’s that horses are people whisperers, conscious vehicles of that which lies just beyond the routine of daily life, in ether, as is all of nature and the world about us if we have ears to hear the whispers. It takes setting oneself apart from mental habits, the mundane trance, and feeling life on its own terms.
My erroneous belief had been that I needed to get home, wake up early, and work again—the routine. That was the scenario I accepted as reality, but as it turned out the work at hand was right in front of me, all around me, to be quietly sensing something that can barely be put into words yet that spoke volumes inwardly, imparting a sense of interactive reality, harmonized facets of one reality—a confluence of imagination, circumstance, and meaning in small things. Including fun.
I recall a friend’s father when I was in my early 20s, who had had a heart attack and was recovering on the Pritikin Program for Diet and Exercise—basically walking a lot and eating little meat with lots of grains and vegetables. Walking is good for the soul, not that it is necessarily transportive, but it offers opportunities, especially if in a nice setting, and is of course good for the body, which when toned avails more genuine life experiences than when not. My buddy’s dad, a recently retired exec with a large corporation (a Ford division), at that time reflected on his life and career, asking—What was it all for?
He was referring to all he had been through, and his mortality that with age and heart trouble had become prominent in his thinking. My buddy took a deep mental note (as did I), as all must, as they approach that question and any answer individually. Yet it seems it ought to be for something, other than becoming merely a creature of habit, the habits that pass for genuine experience and cumulatively deprive us of lives well lived.
Time will be spent on routine, it has its place (all the better if work and routine can be endowed with a sense of the extra ordinary, as a matter of attitude), but no one has a good time doing the same thing, thinking the same thoughts, over and over for years. We need, as Henry Real Bird said, to take care of our souls. That may require breaking the mold, even for one evening, or at moments during the course of an ordinary day—getting outside the four walls that enclose us, real or imagined. In league with the stars, it’s what the horses were whispering.