When friends and I meet for morning coffee once or twice a week, we talk about the usual stuff of politics, movies, travel plans. A few days ago it was wrinkles, face cream and the ravages of advanced middle age. That conversation made me think of an incident on a trip our family took years ago.
We rode into the Yellowstone wilderness on horseback with our three sons, then all under the age of ten. The wranglers pitched our tents and prepared our meals. Looking for a family pioneer experience, we'd given no thought to the isolation, lack of medical facilities or danger. We rode forth in blistering heat, rain, then sleet and finally freezing cold. On day five, we reached the pinnacle of the mountain range. From our vantage point, we saw the rivers flow in opposite directions from the Great Divide. Along with the mules and wranglers, our group had stopped our horses in a long row to rest and enjoy the magnificent view.
Hail, the size of golf balls, then pummeled us. I remember thinking we could have been lying on the beach in the French Riviera for the same money. I sagged in my saddle. My back ached and bottom hurt, the hail stung and more than anything, I wanted a cup of hot coffee and my own bed.
I heard the horse and saw the dust clouds even before the woman rode past. She sat tall in the saddle on a magnificent stallion, her back rigid. White hair hung past her shoulders from beneath a wide brimmed, worn leather hat trimmed in feathers and beads. Her long thin face was creviced and tanned. She stared straight ahead, as if we were invisible. And then she was gone. After five more excruciating days, we arrived back at the ranch and flew home. But the vision of that woman remained a powerful memory, although it’s only recently that I’ve come to understand why.
She projected a quiet strength and confidence, comfortable in her own skin and place in the world. Unconcerned, like the rest of us, about weight, wrinkles and face cream, I suspect she was too busy living with stalwart clarity to ponder the meaning of her life.