my sentinel.

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Yesterday I filled the water trough for the horses, a simple job requiring Herculean efforts, a laborious blessing. My two horses, Colorado and Dakota, have a way of dragging me out of the house in a way that nothing else can. The water is on the other side of this 30-some acre property and so that means I need to drag my tired sad self down the horse trail between my cabin to the water spigot and trough near the barn. This, of course, makes the dogs happy. Especially Louie and Ella who are used to going with me and saying hi to all the neighbor dogs in the process. Henry, he has fun, too…but he stays closer to me than he would have in the past. I’ve somehow been adopted by him in ways that I would have never expected. We’ve become each other’s safe zone. Henry, although small, is bit of a renegade, Carl’s perfect match. But despite his toughness, I also see the vulnerability that’s emerged through this experience. He snuggles in tight. He listens to me better than he ever listened to Carl. We keep an eye on each other. We both understand, all too well, the hugeness of what we’ve both lost.

We get to the gate near the barn and are met by 3 of the neighbor dogs, 2 yellow labs and a big strong mutt. Henry jumps into my arms until he’s decided that he’s big enough to outnumber them all. 6 dogs total. Enough to start a gang. They play for awhile, but then I take them back home and return to filling water for the horses. The trough is full. I am empty.

I walk back down the trail through a forest of pines and am a little bit awed by the flatness of everything. Since being in a relationship with Carl, the trail between the barn and cabin had taken on a new life. It had started to SPARKLE. With possibility. With love. With partnership. I’ve never owned horses before. When I took on their care, I really had no clue what I was doing. All I knew is that I loved them and that I needed them as much as they needed me. I’ve been figuring it out along the way, little by little by little, and still am.

But then came Carl and suddenly there was someone in my life who the horses loved as much as me and who loved them as much as I do. Colorado and Dakota fell in love with Carl instantly. They trusted him completely. The realization that I had found the perfect companion in life was, well…astonishing. There was nothing we loved more than schlepping hay bales together. Carl and I spent many a morning, afternoon or evening brushing, loving, feeding, and working with the horses. He was good at it and, together, we were really a good team. It was Carl that finally made the first step to ride Dakota for the first time and then helped me to do the same. She hadn’t been ridden in over 4 years and she responded beautifully. Colorado let us blanket him. We planned on working up to the saddle later. My big, skittish gelding. It was a beautiful accomplishment and he was so pleased with himself, too.

In all that time of our relationship there was an almost other-wordly glow to these woods. I imagined a long life together. I imagined a love-filled, work-filled, outdoors-filled, animal and family-filled life…together. I imagined us, side by side, making even the hardest of physical labor seem like something fun and enjoyable. That’s the kind of person Carl was…and he brought that out in me, too.

But yesterday and, really, every day since Carl’s been gone, these woods haven’t held the same luster. I’m still glad I’m here. These woods, even in their flatness, are still holding me in exactly the way I need to be held. After filling the trough, I walked back home and simply started to weep for the enormity of all these lost daydreams, for the loss of light, for the loss of having someone so capable by my side. Honestly, there are days that I don’t know how I’ll do this on my own. I am walking a precarious trail of faith.

I walked that trail all the way back to my cabin where the horses stood waiting for me. There was nothing left to do but just give up for a moment. I sat down next to Colorado, my back leaning against the tree nearest him. Colorado is the one that rescued me before Carl even came into my life. Surely, he can do it again? And, yes, he does. Every single day. Dakota, too.

I sat and cried into a lackluster forest with Colorado holding vigilance as I did so. He munched on hay and watched me with peacefully attentive eyes, occasionally looking up to take in the world around us. I felt like I could have sat there forever and the horses would not have left my side.

My guardians. They know. They care. They work their magic on me in a way that only sentient creatures know how to do.

Whenever I was having a bad day, Carl always used to tell me to go outside and hang out with the horses. It worked every time. Always. Their saving grace was and is almost annoyingly dependable. The horses don’t necessarily take my pain away, but for now their presence keeps me alive and breathing and moving, sometimes in seemingly exaggerated ways. I had so many crystal clear visions of a life with horses and Carl. I don’t know how to do it without him, but I pray, I pray, I pray that trail of faith I’ve been walking will, someday, become a little less precarious and a whole lot more beautiful.

In the meantime, I have this beauty. Colorado. Standing right in front of me. Catching my tears, letting me lean into the warmth of his strong body, always watching and waiting for me. Until the light someday returns.

I love you, Carl Bratlien. Be with me.

{originally published Nov 29, 2014}

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