Magpies and Long Lost Loves

He wasn’t handsome, but then a girl’s first love usually lacks perfection. His young body was tall and gangly next to my short stockiness. We were a perfect match. How he earned the nickname Pard I do not know, but in some indefinable way, it fit him. Over many hours of trails, quiet except for the talk of magpies in hawthorns, we traveled.

As horses go, he was not the pick of the herd. He was too small for the weight of hunters and not tough enough for hard use by the guides. He belonged to Scott and Shelda Farr, the outfitter my parents worked for at the time, so he was never really mine. For a few years, I chose to forget that. He became a little girl’s best friend, and later, an adult’s fond memory. He became my unofficial horse. His mischief-filled eyes separated him from the rest of the herd. I loved the deep fathoms of those sparkling hazelnut orbs. Houdini was one of his many nicknames. He could escape any pen. The guides who had to chase him down called him many other names that my innocent ears should never have heard.

Over rocky trails and steep gorges, we traveled to hunting camp accompanied by the singing of magpies. The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area consumes nearly 2.5 million acres of Idaho. I did not know that at eight years old, not that I would have cared. I looped reins around my saddle horn with supreme confidence in my best friend’s navigational skills, kicked booted feet loose from the stirrups, and dug lunch from well-worn saddlebags. My casual treatment of trails that made hunters pale with fear drove mom crazy. Pard never stumbled, spooked, or misbehaved. When the magpies stopped singing, I shattered the silence with my out of key tunes. Pard would keep rhythm by flipping the bit in his mouth, making a clinking sound that amused me and annoyed others. I rode him for two years before we parted.

He filled out, matured, and became tough enough for the guides, though rarely big enough for the hunters. My unofficial horse found himself in the guide string. A day’s work became harder and grain pans became well earned rewards after a long day on the mountains trails. Like other girls my age, my fickle heart moved on. This time the horse was officially mine, a black Morgan named Jesse among other things with his own personality and set of stories for us to make together in the following years. Pard didn’t seem to mind, he never held a grudge like people, or turned his nose away from me.

Although I no longer rode him, I still visited him in the corrals when my horse wasn’t looking. I left the backcountry at the age of twelve and went from being home-schooled to a private school. I missed the simplicity of mountain trails and the honesty of four legged friends. Years passed and things kept changing as I went off to college. My parents bought their own hunting outfit where I spent last summer enjoying the simplicity of hard work, blood, and sweat. My herd of three horses mingled with my parents 35 head.

I saw Scott near the end of my stay at the B-C ranch. We hadn’t seen each other in years, not since I couldn’t pronounce my r’s and said hosses instead of horses. The horses and mules in the trailer were being retired, sold to people who would use their old bodies in easier country. The noses of the old stock poked curiously from the slots in the silver stock trailer behind Scott’s truck. One in particular caught my attention. A blaze faced sorrel with brown spots marring the white streak. I scratched his nose through the trailer, smiling at the gray freckles that showed his age, it was Pard. We talked with Scott for a few minutes before he continued on his way. I said goodbye again to a friend and a love, as he disappeared into a cloud of dust.

I thought I saw him a while ago while driving across Montana’s Horse Prairie to Salmon, Idaho. Out in a pasture bordering the winding road stood a sorrel with winter hair resembling a wooly mammoth. The tall gangly body was the same and the magpies perched on his back brought back memories. Then his head turned and my memory-filled eyes cleared. No brown spots marred the blaze. Maybe he was some girl’s long lost love but he wasn’t mine. I drove on towards family and friends, but the memories of Pard remained.

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