Coming up on forty years now…hard to believe. Back in 1974 I rode my horse, Gizmo, across the North American continent. I know, sounds like a goofy sort of thing to do, but what’s done is done and I can’t take it back. And besides, it gave Gizmo something to put on his resume. As horses go he was young (just 4 years old… an adolescent), very handsome, and full of himself. He and I had lived together pretty much all his life, after he was weaned at six months old.
At 3 years old I broke him to ride, although I wouldn’t exactly call it breaking. Persuading him is probably more like it. He soon learned that if he allowed me to sit on him while he walked about, he could have adventures that took him far beyond the confines of the barn area. As horses go he was a curious sort. Not peculiar curious. Inquisitive curious was more like it. His ears were always up, pointing this way and that, listening to the stories that the world whispered to him all the time. His eyes followed his ears and naturally, as horses do, his head followed his eyes. So, we’d saunter down the trail with him winding his head back and forth, taking in his surroundings. Did I mention that the ride pretty much ruined him as a show horse prospect?
He was what horse people call ‘green’ when we set out from the Pacific Ocean at Ventura a couple of months after his 4th birthday. He didn’t know a lot, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t smart. He was coyote smart, with the memory of an elephant. I am forever grateful that he was easy going and such a good sport. Otherwise I’d have probably been left in a heap and he’d have lived out his days running with a pack of wild horses in the high deserts of northern Arizona somewhere. Whenever we spotted a herd I could feel the pull on his heartstrings.
Times were different in 1974. There weren’t mobile phones and the internet back then, not like they are today. There was pretty much no digital anything then. Nixon resigned that year. The Vietnam War wouldn’t end until the following year, although US troops had just pulled up stakes and headed home. Patty Hearst had her picture taken holding an M1 carbine. Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman. Some of the people born that year: Kate Moss, Robbie Williams, James Blunt, Penelope Cruz, Cee Lo Green, Alanis Morissette, Hilary Swank, Amy Adams, Jimmy Fallon, Joaquin Phoenix, Ryan Adams, and Leonardo DiCaprio. Pretty impressive list.
And some of those who left us that year: Samuel Goldwyn, Adolph Gottlieb, Chet Huntley, Bud Abbott, Agnes Moorehead, Duke Ellington, Charles Lindbergh, Cass Elliot, Walter Brennan, Oskar Schindler, Ed Sullivan, Walter Lippmann, and Jack Benny. Not to disparage those born that year, but I’m thinking that all up, the world took a bit of a loss in 1974.
But I’ve digressed while attempting to draw a backstory. Suffice it to say that 1974 compares with today as 1934 would have to the year Gizmo and I took our little sojourn. Different times, different universes. While on that trip, Gizmo and I were pretty much cut off from anyone back home. Pretty much cut off from everyone, most of the time. Any letters had to be mailed to me via general delivery, at whatever small town I thought we might pass through in the weeks ahead. If I wrote a letter, I could never expect an answer. I wouldn’t even know if the person received it. No phone calls, no email or texts, and no posting selfies on Facebook. Those paths to self indulgence simply didn’t exist.Gizmo was my company, and I was his, for whatever that was worth. I spent the idle hours twirling my single action Colt and practicing gun tricks, and listening to my companion’s incisors tearing off blades of grass. Gizmo spent his off hours grazing, dozing, listening to the world around him.
And we would see a world unlike anything shown on the nightly news. We saw real people, real wild animals (and domesticated ones), and real countryside. None of it was filtered. We saw mountains and valleys and rivers and deserts. We traveled through empty lands and straight through crowded cities. We slept on the prairie under the stars, and in big fancy mansions, and in abandoned mines, and in graveyards. There were times when I longed for company (and I know Gizmo did, too), and times when we couldn’t leave civilization fast enough. Wild horse herds tried to steal my young horse away. Sometimes a complete stranger would bring me a plate of hot food, or some hay and grain for Gizmo. I came to know that most animal slaughter is not performed with a gun, but with an automobile, and not on purpose but through indifference.
Trying to experience America (or anyplace else) by watching TV news programs is like being in water carried through a clear pipe. You can see your surroundings at a distance, and they can see you, but neither actually experiences the other. There’s no real contact, and it all flows by too fast. The internet is a step in the right direction because it talks back to you, and you can talk back to it. But walking, step by step, foot by foot, mile by mile, is the way to go.
We finally made it across America, to Virginia’s Atlantic seacoast. Seven months… 213 days, a little over 30 weeks. A long time to be taking a walk. I won’t take credit for it. Blame, maybe, but not credit. That has to go to the tough little sorrel Quarter Horse I was privileged to know for almost 23 years.