The latest from the cholla patch |

The latest from the cholla patch

TARA FLANAGANspecial to the daily
Tara Flanagan, columnist

Although this column is supposed to focus on things that happen in Summit County, we’ve got a departure this week, necessitated by the standby nature of standby plane tickets. I’m stuck in the mountains outside Tucson. I’ve tried clicking the heels of my boots together several times, but Glenda has yet to appear. The Wizard has gone AWOL as well, and Toto has assumed the form of a small brown horse.An old friend and I came down here last week with the idea of riding her sister’s mules through the rocks, around the cholla and over the occasional rattlesnake. I agreed to the venture only because of the mules; they have a sense of self-preservation that usually applies to the humans they carry. Horses, as a lot, are not the same.But several weeks ago I also agreed, if only to myself, to do one thing every day that completely scares me. Through my relatively narrow lens, that means buying meat that’s gone green around the edges, or taking the outside chance that the vacuum at the car wash actually works. The agreement did not take into consideration that an equine virus would be raging through Tucson, and that my intended mount would be feverish and emitting stuff from his nose that looked like month-old mashed bananas.Sensing that I had been disappointed by the turn of events, and perhaps sensing that I was one of those people who needed to be scared every day as a matter of self-improvement, an extremely nice fellow from Iowa offered me his new colt to ride. He’d picked him up at a sale barn recently for next to nothing, the low price indicating that the horse hadn’t had much contact with humans.

“So,” I said. “What exactly does he do?””He’s pretty hot,” the man’s wife chimed in. “I for one do not ride him.””Huh,” I said.”Well,” the nice fellow said, “you do have to hold him back on the way home, and I cannot say for certain that he will not buck.”My friend had Rufus, her bombproof mule, saddled up and pointed to the trail. Denise had that look about her that said we were riding come hell or high water, although she did not exactly volunteer to take the little brown horse.

I felt like the horse was giving me a great gift by allowing me to slide my right foot over his butt and by allowing me to settle my carcass into the saddle. But I also wanted him to kill me right then and there instead of tossing me off and leaving me to rot 10 miles out, in the middle of the cholla and the snakes.This was a risk that carried about a 90 percent chance of something quite significant and unpleasant happening over the course of a week. But there we were, beginning a vacation that had been planned for two years, and at that point I decided the little horse and I just had to trust each other. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t absolutely horrified.And so we traveled up the narrow trails, around the cacti, and down steep mountainsides on nothing but big, loose rocks. We passed a bobcat, I am told, and my little green horse didn’t buck or rear or run off. He never once tripped while hauling my carcass through the gullies, and he spooked only a couple times the entire week. He let me open and close gates without getting off, and if we ever passed a snake, he never let me know.In horse parlance, that’s awfully damned good. I can’t name too many human beings who treat complete strangers as well as the little horse treated me.I’m guessing there’s a cosmic reason why my mule was feverish, snot-nosed and out of commission, the same way the fellow from Iowa decided to take a chance at the sale barn. Synchronicity, I guess they call it, can give you a whole new lens on the world, and scared as I was, I needed that particular view.

I went so far as to inquire if the little brown horse might be for sale. The answer at this point is maybe, though I think the man would be crazy to let him go.Tara Flanagan writes a Wednesday column. She can be contacted at

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