I stop on the trail for a brief moment, sit silent on my horse and listen. His head turns to the south. I follow the direction of his alerted ears and see the elk crossing a clearing on the slope. We watch for a minute or two as the bull paces along the shale incline, as his powerful voice travels down in our direction. A challenge or an invitation. We shrug off his confrontation, return our attention to the trail ahead, and continue on our way.
The thunder crackles behind us, in the direction from which we rode, rolling off the mountain in an elongated rumble and roar. I take comfort in the chance that the clouds will not travel as fast as we, my horse and I.
He is anxious to return home and offers to run in an extended trot down the twisting mountain trail. I trust him. I allow him. With loose rein we cover distance in double time, both horse and rider alert and focused ahead, vigilant for rocks, downed timber, mud holes and game on the route ahead, seeking the soonest view of what might be around the next bend.
At the creek he slows, like a child at a traffic light looking both ways before a street crossing, cautiously approaching the water. He steps in, lets out a heavy sigh, lowers his head, and savors a long, slow drink. I look up creek at the cold, fresh stream crashing over the rocks worn smooth by the force of spring run off many months ago, for so many years before us. The voice of the waters silent all else for the brief moment we stand there to rest.
And then we continue, the sound of the horse’s lungs blowing in short, powerful bursts with each vigorous step forward, the pounding on the muddy trail, sure footing despite the spray of mud or deep imprint each time the heavy hoof touches down.
We hear what we choose to, and here there is little sound to perceive but the stark echo of man and beast and nature, wind and water, wild storms and wildlife. If I yell out, will no one here? There is no one to hear my voice, only for me to hear the voice of the mountain.
We see no one on the trail until the trailhead, nearly five miles from where we had stopped and turned towards home. I speak to the people on foot before me. Pointless sounds so out of place. I wonder if they hear.