She watched a scorpion scamper from underneath the corner of the porch to a patch of sage smattered with orange and red paintbrush. It was her favorite wildflower. It always had been. She’d seen it blooming in June in her hometown mountains in western Montana; the vibrant, deep red always caught her attention riding along the trails. But here, in the sagebrush steppe of Nevada, the color appeared more orange in tone, and the way it looked against the greener, spring tones of sage, subtly yet strongly standing out, made her love it all that much more.
She rested her folded hands on the railing of the rickety porch, squinting into the late afternoon sun, her green eyes creased at the corners showing crow’s lines. She grabbed the end of her black, platted hair, and fondled with the handmade silver concho securing it in place. Her fingers were adorned with old silversmith rings and donned her favorite shades of jade and turquoise and her veins traced and bulged under her copper bracelets at her wrists. Her style was eclectic; from her weathered, old high top, custom buckaroo boots, pant legs tucked, to her braided horsehair belt and old pearl snap thinly worn shirt with the sleeves rolled. She was naturally beautiful and never fussed with maintaining her appearance. Her mid sized frame showed the hard work she’d put in outdoors fixing fence, working cows, and riding young colts.
She’d made a trip to Wadsworth to bring her Gran some horsehair for hitching. Gran. She was something. Jade looked back over her shoulder at the old Paiute woman with so much love and admiration. Gran was what everyone called her. She’d loved and raised and mothered more strays than anyone, and she’d taken a liking to Jade when she first expressed interest in wanting to learn beading and braiding. Gran had learned how to hitch hair and braid from her husband, an old vaquero from from California, selling her pieces to make ends meet.
Gran’s gnarled hands gently worked the gray horse hair. “This is a good color, Jade girl. You got a good one. A good bbooggoo.”
Jade smiled at Gran’s Native tongue. Bbooggoo was simply horse in Northern Paiute. She’d seen the steely gray colored stud not far from her shack early this morning when she’d been out gathering in the yearling colts, and heard the yips and howls of a pack of coyotes trying to move in on him. He had a busted shoulder; no doubt the recipient of a life ending blow dealt by another stud scrapping over mares. He’d hobbled up the hill and was struggling to get away. She knew the kind thing to do was put him down.
She pulled up her lever action .30-30, lined up drawing an x from each ear to eye and pulled the trigger. Her heart sunk along with the gray’s body to the ground. She fought back the bile in her gut looking to make an exit. She hated to do it, but hated even more the suffering. The coyotes scattered at the shot, and Jade made her way to the carcass. It was obvious he’d been struggling for a while, ribs showing, his appearance shrunken, and his hide covered in ticks.
She reached down and touched the neck, closed her eyes, and muttered a blessing over the horse. It was something Gran taught her, to always give thanks to the horse for his existence. Only then could you harvest any of the mane or tail hair. The mane was preferred for hitching and braiding because it was more soft and supple, and it also made the best mecates. It was only fitting that a wild horse that lived here, also met his fate here in the rocky sagebrush patch. She took in the toughness of his muscle, the shape of his hooves with the prominent frog, the square jaw, wide set eyes, small ears and short back. She stroked him one last time before she took what she needed of the hair, closed the eyes on the dead stud with her palms, tipped her hat and walked home.
It was a way of life here, and not one easily understood, but she embraced it fully. Jade turned around and found a chair next to Gran on the porch. Gran reached over, patted her hand, and smiled. She was missing teeth, her skin weathered, but her deep brown eyes always sparkled and spoke of her youth.
“Stay for supper, girl?”
“Sure thing, Gran,” Jade said, reaching over and clasping the old woman’s hand.