As often happens in life, good things start with a beer. That is, after all, how Shannon and I found ourselves on the back of Nelly, the very first horse either of us had ever ridden.
In retrospect, we didn’t really stand a chance. The Main Street Brewery in Cortez, Colorado, was walking distance from our campground. We find so few things in this country we can walk to that we always take notice of those we can. Boozy establishments that we don’t have to drive home from are especially rare and prized finds. So there never was a question of whether we’d pull up a bar stool at the brewery a few blocks from our door. It was really just a question of when.
Our timing couldn’t have been better.
I don’t recall how the discussion started, who initiated or about what, but long before we had even finished our first pint Shannon and I were drawn into a lively conversation with a couple of locals seated next to us. Gwen and Eddie, we learned, were fellow travelers. That always makes for easy conversation. A shared interest in the wider world is a wonderful common bond among strangers. Instead of pointless chit-chat about the weather or potentially contentious comments about politics, talk of where we’ve each been and where we’d like to go next is endlessly entertaining.
And then there are animals. Like us, Gwen and Eddie share our love for critters of all kinds. Unlike us, they have plenty of space to give them a proper home.
With the bottom of our second pint fast approaching, Gwen asked if we wanted to go back to their place to meet their furry friends. It wasn’t the most original bar pick-up line we’d ever heard, but we’re easy. We finished our beers, piled into Gwen’s truck and soon were heading down a dirt road to God knows where.
Outside of town signs of development diminished rapidly. An occasional roadside mailbox was just about the only indication we could see that anyone actually lived out there. We turned into a gravel driveway and beyond a ranch-style house we had a clear view of open country stretching all the way to the San Juan Mountains.
We stepped out of the car and into a burst of activity. Nelly and Mack trotted over to a small fence that looked neither strong enough nor tall enough to contain the large horses. Four dogs (three residents and a neighbor having a sleepover) ran manically about trying to both greet their owners and evaluate the newcomers.
Inside, Ernie ignored everyone the way cats often will. But Bert surprised us by rolling over to have his belly scratched like one of the dogs. After a while, though, Bert reclaimed his feline sensibilities and retreated to the protection of a small alcove above the refrigerator; occasionally gracing us with perturbed looks from on high.
“So, Shannon, do you want to take the horses out for a ride?” Gwen suddenly asked.
“We’ve never ridden before. We don’t know how.” We protested.
“Nonsense. Let’s go.”
With that, and a few simple instructions, Shannon was perched upon an animal as gentle as it was powerful. Nelly made the whole thing easy. She seemed to know what we wanted to do even though we’d never spoken her language before. Nelly was obviously fluent in noob, for which we are grateful.
Riding Mack, Gwen took us, one at a time, on a tour of her property. At first down gravel roads but then through sage brush that released its sweet perfume as the horses pushed past. Ensconced in the scent of sage and enveloped in a ring of distant mountains, we felt like true cattle ranchers out to reclaim our herd.
Back in the house Eddie made a comment that caught us a little off guard. “You guys are brave” he said. By that he meant our willingness to trust strangers we had met only a few hours ago. In a way, he was right. We were alone in unfamiliar territory, on someone else’s land and were definitely vulnerable. But it never occurred to us that we were in any way brave.
We’ve made such a habit of opening ourselves to new opportunities that it has become second nature. In the process we’ve discovered that most of the world is populated with wonderfully generous people, like Gwen and Eddie. What a loss it would have been for us if we were too fearful to get to know them, and Nelly too.