One time, in my riding days in Downeast Maine, I went trotting up and down the neighborhood of Back Bay Road in search of the people who owned our right-of-way and shore strip. I needed to find them because it was time to sell the house I had inherited. Among the many bequests of Unfinished Business left me by my parents was the discovery – at the moment I needed to sell the house — that they had never acquired full title to the land on which their house sat.
So, with my friend Shirley Kennedy, blue ribbon rodeo rider and all round local authority, we went out on horseback to find the suddenly-needed part-owners of our half acre. If Shirley hadn’t located them for me, I think I and the agent (a fellow from “away”) would be looking still.
The owners of the shore strip turned out to be an elderly couple from Massachusetts.
“This is Abigail Rosenthal,” said Shirley, as we trotted up to their wood-frame house. “Do you own her shore strip?”
“Yes” was the immediate reply from the gentleman of the house.
We got to chatting and he confided that, in his younger days, he’d done a stint as a cowboy in Montana. So had I, as it happens. All this bonding was good for our purpose, but his next request would take some doing. Could he just mount up on one of our horses?
Mine was the tamer one, so I dismounted. To get him aloft was like hauling a sack of concrete, but Shirley and I finally accomplished it. He sat there for a few minutes, thinking of the blue Montana skies, and then we took him down.
The cowboy’s last ride.
Has it finally come my turn? On Sunday, I was riding Cody, a Western horse – but “sensitive” like no horse I’d been on before. No doubt they’re worth more when they’re sensitive. Nowadays I ride for therapeutic purposes, but – for a girl who’s always loved horses – it’s been a good excuse to get back in the saddle again.
Anyway, I was urging Cody to trot, he had other ideas, I urged him some more and he broke into a tearing run. Although my teacher designated it a canter, it felt like a let’s-see-how-much-time-it-will-take-to-lose-you gallop.
I’d been thrown once before now but, that earlier time, the correct word would have been “dumped.” That horse simply got tired of my company, stepped neatly to one side, I stayed in the place where I was and gravity’s soft tug did the rest. It didn’t hurt me and wasn’t meant to. The horse got rid of an annoyance, that’s all.
This time was different. I hit the ground hard from a headlong run. My teacher said I fell “very gracefully,” landing on the right hip and rolling to the left. With Advil and ice packs, I should be good as new in a few days.
No harm done, right? No harm, but it may be the cowboy’s last ride all the same. As a rider, I’ve been called “a natural.” Horses are beautiful. You don’t need legs. They’ve got four of ‘em. They’re intelligent, graceful, noble and they embody freedom. For reasons mysterious, they have accompanied us, creatures of the human species, through the millennia. If I hadn’t been a philosopher, I would’ve been with horses, one way or another.
Long ago in Montana, “punchin’ cows,” I determined that the real frontier for me was the life of the mind. But the realization came with a wistful, backward glance at the other life.
Now we stand on a further launching moment of our lives, Jerry and I. His book, God: an Autobiography, as Told to a Philosopher, Jerry L. Martin, is to appear in February. We are up to our ears in proofreading, cover design decisions and all the incessant tasks that are part of publication. It’s an important book.
The work on my book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, has reached the last chapter and I think I see how to bring it to the right ending. All hands on deck, all eyes on task. Perhaps the moment is sufficiently full not to allow for the other lives I might have lived. But, oh,
I think God
a cowboy at heart.