Friday, April 17, 2009

The Ditch by Janet Huntington

I woke up this morning to a typical Colorado spring day. The snow is pouring straight down, schools are closed and the morning news is gleefully airing images of wrecked cars peppering the sides on Monument Hill.

Ahhhh. Springtime in the Rockies.

When I was a girl in high school my horse, Mort, was kept at a self care boarding stable (OK, it was a couple of lean-tos and some sagging barb-wire around 20 acres) down the street from our house.

Because I was young, eager and didn't have a drivers licence, I walked the few blocks to care for my horse twice a day. There were two routes to take. I could walk down our street, Midsummer Lane, hang a right and take Serendipity (no kidding) to the end of our neighborhood, cut through a few fields and get to my barn about a half mile later. Or I could cut through the Moline's side yard, cross their backyard, crawl over their fence, run through the ditch and end up in my pasture, about half the distance.

The Molines were fine with the arrangement since their daughter, Melinda, shared the stable with me.
The biggest obstacle between me and my horse was the ditch.

Village 7 was built on the prairie on the outskirts of Colorado Springs. When the realtor's had set the tractors in motion to tear deep into the heart of the prairie and began building the multiple "village" neighborhood they encountered Nature's own irrigation system. Our part of the neighborhood, Greenway Village, was built on a flood plain.

Which pretty much guaranteed every severe rain or hail storm covered our brand new landscaping with 2 to 4 inches of water.

So the realtor's built the ditch.

The ditch was a man-made waterway constructed on the outer perimeter of Village 7. It was about ten feet deep, about the same across and then ten feet up. The sides were angled, but steep.

If I got a good enough run at it on the way down I could usually expect my momentum to carry me up the other side. If I had a record of my scabbed hands, elbows, knees and chin you would understand why I say usually.

As time went by I became pretty adept. I even got to where I could run through the ditch carrying my 45 lb. saddle and bridle. You see I kept my tack at home. I have to admit, that ditch helped me to become quite the bareback rider.

On a morning like the one I woke up to today, I would stall as long as I could before I left to feed. Sometimes my Dad would give me a ride to school on wet, snowy days. If he did, he would often take me to the barn to feed on the way.

I would wait to see if he settled into the morning paper as he ate his single soft boiled egg. My Dad would carefully remove the top of the egg nestled in the shot glass we used as an egg cup. If he then shook open the sports page I knew I was doomed.

I would pull on my coat and hurry up the road, fully aware that now my dawdling had put me behind and I might miss my chance at a ride to school. I didn't have time to take the long way around.

The ditch had a wicked habit of icing over on mornings like these.

I would stand on the rim, the ice covered sides dropped below me like the Grand Canyon, and I would breathe deep, steeling myself.

I could hear Mort's impatient whicker.

I could feel the clock ticking.

Melinda Moline would pop over her fence and blast through the ditch, laughing, as she slid and leaped and ran up the other side, light as a white tail doe.

I really hated her sometimes.

I would throw myself over the side with a yell and chase after her. Suddenly my arms would begin to pin-wheel, my big wonky boots would head in two different directions and SPLAT! I would be on my back in the dirty, heavy snow.

I would look up at the grey, merciless sky and feel the big fat flakes melting on my hot, flushed face. I would sigh a little as I felt the trickle of gray snow water working up my back and soaking my school uniform shirt. Great.

Then with a roar I would jump up and launch myself at the side of the ditch.

I would make it halfway up, scrabble at the opposite edge, just inches from my fingers, slip, slam and slide to the bottom. Again, I would throw myself at the side. Where I would whack my knees and elbows and slide to the bottom.

Melinda Moline would come skidding down the wall, jump over my prone form, her happy "See ya this afternoon!" ringing in my ears as she whipped up the other side and back to her warm, toasty house.

Finally, I would stand one last time, take off my gloves and my coat and throw them up to the field above me.

I would face the opposite wall, run halfway up the side, turn midway before the ice could catch me, and race back towards the other side, hoping my momentum would propel me to the top. I would lunge desperately at the rim, just make it and scramble to the top.

As I stood, my last clean shirt torn and covered with nasty, gray, ditch muck, I would scoop up my coat and gloves and drag across the pasture to feed my bucking and hollering Mort.

Of course I still had to make it back.

I love spring in Colorado.


Heidi the Hick said...


I thought wrestling my tiny 12 year old self into man-size coveralls and slogging through a snow bank to get to the barn was a hassle! Puts it all in perspective.

I still kinda hate spring.

mugwump said...

Heidi - It's not like I would be caught dead doing that now...

horsegenes said...

I live in sunny CA but we did have our share of wet weather. I used to go feed in the morning and then run for the bus(had to run because I always spent way to much time saying good morning to my best friend). When I would get to the bus I would have wet alfalfa in my hair, on my coat, pants etc. The kids on the bus would never tell me, so the other kids at school would get the opportunity to make fun of me for having hay everywhere. Come to think of it not much has changed. I just go to work with hay everywhere now.

mugs.. I thought you were going to tell us what a beautiful day it was in CO, had no idea you would still be getting snow. Just to rub it in a little... it is blue skies and sunshine - supposed to be in the high 70's to lower 80's here in sunny CA this weekend. I love this time of year.

Redsmom said...

A lovely story. As always, I[m right there with you. My brother was like Melinda Moline - naturally athletic (grrr). Your story reminded me of my girlhood mornings running across a couple acres of knee high grass and cow piles in rubber boots carrying feed buckets. No wonder I kept the weight off in those days!

Redsmom said...

P.S I just scrolled down and saw the pic of your yellow horse. She's a beauty!!!!

Joy said...

The first blizzard I experienced in my life was in Pueblo. I'll tell you right now the snow/winter in Colordao beats Michigan (aka satan's unmentionables) hands down. I do feel for you though. I was little little when I lived there. I could feel your pain w/ that ditch. What horses will make us do, huh?

Laura Crum said...

You are too funny. Like Kel, I live in sunny California (on the coast, by Monetery Bay), so I haven't got the snow/ice background. But mud, we got mud. I remember feeding the horses one rainy spring on my uncle's ranch, where the poorly designed corrals required that one go inside them to feed the herd. In pouring rain and wild wind and knee deep muck, surrounded by jostling young horses eager for dinner, I slipped, and fell flat on my back, losing both rubber irrigator's boots in the mud. I'm sure you can picture it(!)

mugwump said...

Oh yes, Laura I can. We have both shared that hopeless few seconds when you're laying flat out, blinking the wet out of your eyes and thinking about what it will take to finish the day with a little dignity....