One of the most sacred places on earth to me is Canyon de Chelly and Canyon del Muerto on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. I have no reasoning for this — it’s not a genetic link, but a spiritual one.
Years ago, and without any understanding of where I was going, a friend introduced me to this place. It healed my soul then — and now. There is something truly amazing about just being in the presence of this place where nature, erosion, the ancient, the past and the present merge into something that feels like it makes time not matter.
Today, Nick and I took a jeep tour through Canyon del Muerto to my favorite area ruin, Mummy Cave. I could stare into the eyes of this ruin endlessly.
On this trip, horses and ravens have guided me. The horses are here in this post, the ravens will follow someday in a future post. The light and the dark — I feel their lesson will be guiding me for some time ahead.
by Kimberly Beer
It begins the first time
her tiny fingers
wrap around the reins,
far beyond her years
and weight twenty times
The leather is worn,
dark and dirty brown,
but still fully alive,
its essence sweetened
with the sweat of
a hundred horses.
The bay gelding
with the deep set eyes
feels the small tug
on the bit in his mouth,
feels the subtle shift
of weight on his back.
He lifts his head,
searches for the feel
of the cotton lead rope
in the hands of the teacher
to give him direction,
but it is not there,
horse and rider have been
released, freed by
the wisdom of
to be on their own.
A gift is exchanged
in that moment,
a scared endowment
between three beings,
teacher, student, horse.
In the years to come,
she may leave the barn,
forget how to cinch
a saddle, omit buckets,
blankets and stall picks
from her life,
but she will never
lose this moment,
and in her darkest
hours — those days
when life whips her
to the breaking point,
she will return here,
to the smell of
horse sweat and sweet feed,
to the feel of the reins
in her hands and,
if she has learned well
her riding lesson,
she will be able to
rise above her challenges,
sit tall in the saddle,
and command her life.
by Kimberly Beer
The Ford flatbed and the rusty trailer it pulled behind it fit the exact description — and sound — of rattletrap. The rig descended the graveled drive on my Grandma Lou’s farm interrupting an otherwise quiet Friday morning in June. As I watched it get closer, I came to a full appreciation of the trailer. It had been almost completely covered in plywood — and that plywood was held on by baling wire and orange bale string. It looked as if an orange-spewing spider had attacked a wooden shipping crate and someone had put it on wheels.
When the commotion came to a full stop at the end of the driveway, a tall, skinny and very dusty old cowboy emerged. He exited the truck slowly, every movement purposeful and every step premeditated. He looked over me and the series of dogs who had come to greet him with a glance of topical consideration. “Is Lou around?” he said. His voice was deep set, just like his eyes.
I started to explain she was working in the lower barns, but before I could get my mouth fully in gear, the trailer started quaking. What was inside shook the whole of the outfit making my heart pick up and my mind started churning wondering what, exactly, he had in there and if plywood and baling wire could truly contain it. “I need to see her,” he said addressing my inaction and ignoring the sounds of desperation behind him.
“She’s in the lower barn,” I said. “Doing chores.” Behind him, the trailer quieted but the tension coming from within could be felt. Even the dogs had stopped scratching and nipping at flies and stood with ears at attention. “I’ll go get her,” I said and turned to walk away.
“Tell her it’s Grover Cleveland,” he said to my back.
I stopped because the name sounded familiar but didn’t quite connect in my 14 year old brain to the place I was in at the moment. No, that named belonged elsewhere. Somewhere musty and filled with books and facts and dates. Wasn’t Grover Cleveland a president? I turned around and looked a wordless question at the old cowboy.
“No relation,” he said.
Grandma Lou was in the barn wiring up some new feeders. My grandmother was always wiring, nailing, sawing, clipping or pruning something. Rarely was she caught without some type of tool in her hands with which she was, was preparing to, or had just finished using.
“A Grover Cleveland is here with something in a trailer,” I said loudly as I came down the hallway of the barn.
“Doesn’t look a damn thing like the president, does he?” she said as she stood up from where she had been hunched over a feeder and stretched out her back.
“Yes,” I said under my breath. I thought, I had that right! “Nope,” I said and then added, “whatever he’s got in that trailer sure can put up a commotion.”
“Well, then we probably better go see what it is.”
“Whatcha got there, Grover,” she said.
“A mare,” he said. “She’s plumb crazy.” He spat a stream of tobacco out onto the ground. It puddled warm and brown in the soft dirt at his feet.
“Crazy is a human condition,” my grandmother said.
Grover dipped his head in thought at this drop of wisdom, his yellow-white hat covering his eyes. My grandmother, whose patience with horses and cowboys is the stuff of legend, just waited for him to respond, or for the point to sink in, whichever came first. She used the time in between to rub the black and white shepherd at her feet behind the ears. I spied a space between two sheets of plywood and approached the trailer since it was presently quiet.
Though there was very little light getting through the multilayered mess, I could make out the shape of a horse. She was average in size and weight and appeared to be a plain chestnut or sorrel with a narrow blaze, and even in the dimness, I could tell she bore some pretty ugly marks from her trip. She was as curled up in the nose of the trailer, as far from the gate as she could possible get. She had her hindquarters tight up underneath her and her back coiled like a spring. Her head was down between her front feet and she was shaking within her skin. She flexed her nostrils and then looked up at me. The look in her eyes was pure terror. She lunged forward toward me and hit the side of the trailer with her whole body. I flew backward partly from the hit, partly from my own volition, and partly because Grover had grabbed me at the shirt collar and pulled.
“I think you better stay back,” he said matter of factly.
“Yes, sir,” I said.
“Let’s get her down to the solid roundpen,” my grandmother said.
“She can get out just about anything,” Grover said. He didn’t move.
“It’s got six foot solid panels, I think she’ll stay in it.”
“I wouldn’t bet on it,” Grover said.
“It’ll be 25 board for the two weeks, that doesn’t …”
“Does that include training,” he said interrupting Grandma Lou.
“No. As I was about to say that will be $100 per week. Extra.”
“Hmph.” Grover retrieved his wallet from his back pocket and produced a 20 and a 5 and handed them to my grandmother. He hesitated a moment and then reached in his front pocket and pulled out a quarter and offered it to her as well. “For the bullet,” he said. “If she ain’t fixed at the end of the two weeks, just go ahead an shoot her. Keep the change.”
As a photographer and a lover of art, I have always loved looking at a good black and white image.
I like how, sometimes, when you remove the color, the true intent of the image just pops out at you with power.
There is something in the simplicity of a black and white image that makes it feel complex — makes it something you can stare at for hours to find all the details.
At the recent Equine Photographers photography retreat in Wyoming, I felt several of the images come through my lens in black and white — even though they were made in color. That doesn’t happen as much any more – I spend more time in the colorful realm it seems.
Years ago, I used to buy black and white film to make a black and white image — I had to choose between black and white or color. With digital technology, you get to have both, so the image can tell you how it wants to be seen. Sometimes, I forget to listen. That’s what makes retreats like this one so powerful — you can take the time to really create, listen, feel the images.
Here are some more of the black and whites from this same photo shoot:
She and the horse move as if
they are part of the wind,
a kiss blown from Spirit herself
onto the open prairie.