I lean on the rusty pipe rail fence, watching a dance of equine and person. Within the confines of the sandy arena Des methodically moves a small black flag up and down with one arm while holding Lady via a halter and lead line. Lady doesn’t know what to make of the flag and walks, trots, walks, trots, in quick circles around a spinning Des. I gaze, brow furrowed working to pick up the intricacies of their motions and communications. Somewhere behind me, I hear McKenzie talking on a cell phone. Leaning up against the green metal of the manure spreader, she takes advantage of a small spot that has, for some reason, good service. All of us sweat in the hot spring sun.
As Lady slowly begins to accept the flapping movement and transitions to a more consistent pace, McKenzie walks up behind me. “Jared, Jen has a proposition for you.” Her directness grabs my attention; I spin around with raised eyebrows.
“Uh-oh. . . what is it?”
“Ha” McKenzie chuckles, the corners of her mouth moving upward, the skin on her temples wrinkling. “I’d say it is neutral to positive.” Her hand reaches into the back pocket of her Wranglers and pulls out her phone.
“Well, that is good. . . what is it?” I ask again.
“Do you want to use my phone to call her?”
“Ah, you want me to talk with her directly.” When Jen says jump, I often say ‘how high’, such is my respect for my supervisor. She is a woman with vision. “Sure.” I reach out and take the iPhone and walk toward the manure spreader and the better service as McKenzie hollers out her security code.
I find Jen’s number and press the call button. “Hey Mac” I hear on the other side, crackly and crinkly like cellophane.
“Jen, it’s Jared.”
“Hey Mac” and a dial tone.
I dial again. Take two; “hey Mac.”
“Jen, it’s Jared.” I climb up the rickety wooden ramp to the top of the manure spreader, then sit, conscientious of the splintered wood.
“Oh, hey. How has your day been?”
“Oh, pretty lazy…Saturday. Did some work in the woodshop, drank some tea, did some writing; pretty relaxing…” I trail off, remembering it is a Saturday and she is at work. My bottom lip stretches backwards, making the awkward face; “sorry, guess you are at work, eh?”
“That is great to hear Jared. Nope, don’t worry about it. My wife has the kids now, but I get to go home to them soon enough. It will be a good Saturday; it is a good Saturday.”
I lean backward, laying my back onto the weathered plywood, staring up at the deep blue of the cloudless sky.
“I have a proposition for you” Jen continues. “You know, I am on the task force delegated to figure out how to restart operations and we have been spending time working on developing a list of what we need to be able to resume running field courses. You know all this: there are external factors such as permits, hospitals, air travel, all those things we don’t have control over, then there are internal factors that we need to have in line and ready when the external factors are a go. We’ve developed a number of internal field protocol that we need tested. And have put together a team of six folks to go backpacking and test them out. I want you to be the seventh. We want you on that team.”
Rolling sideways I use my free arm to push myself back into a sitting position, then hop off my plywood seat and onto the rocky gravel driveway. I ask about future time at the ranch and how McKenzie feels about it. I ask when the process starts. “Why me?” I ask; “why me, when there are so many other unemployed NOLS instructors?”
“The contract would start at one tomorrow.” Jen reassures me that I won’t be redundant and that I will offer valuable perspective and launches into a transparent honesty with regard to how their was less than clear backstory and setup provided to the long list of people who had been asked and subsequently declined the offer. “And we wanted to respect your space and job, as well as McKenzie’s processes over there. But now we couldn’t be more excited to offer this to you . . .”
“Do you need an answer now?” I am pacing the gravel in front of the manure spreader. Across the driveway, in the corral, Des has saddled Lady and is working through more ground exercises with her.
“Before the end of the day would be great; two hours?” Jen offers. “You can send me a text or give me a call, whatever . . .” she trails off.
“Well, let me think about it; I’ll get back to you after we feed the horses.”
“Ok, thanks for considering this; have a good rest of your afternoon.”
“You too;” I bring the phone down, squint at the screen in the bright daylight, find the red disconnect button, and hang up.
I walk toward McKenzie who, under the shade of the shoeing shed, has just unsaddled Shasta, a rotund, gray mustang. “Well. . .?” she asks, curiosity clear in her upspeak.
“Welp, I can’t tell if I feel honored or think they want me dead.”
And with that, I went camping for three nights.
To read about the ensuing camping trip click Here.
Featured Image: The corrals at Three Peaks Ranch, Boulder, Wyoming.