By SUZANNE MILLER
Up, up, up!
My horse’s heart is pumping, hot breath streaming from his nostrils as we canter up the ridge though the lush spring flowers and delicate green needles emerging on the larch trees. Dodging trees and jumping over the fallen timber in our path, we at last reach the top and come to an abrupt halt.
There, before us, is a panoramic view of the snow-capped mountains – the Missions to the north, the Bitterroots to the south. My heart sings, my lungs take in the clean fresh air, my body feels at one with my horse. And then I wake up.
I wake up to a new reality – a reality that challenges my very being. What started last summer as a nuisance case of digestive troubles has grown into a full-blown medical crisis.
Two six-hour surgeries back-to-back, several days in the ICU, and two weeklong stays at St. Pat’s have left me drained in every way – physically, emotionally and mentally. And while my prognosis is very good, I still face a third and final surgery before I can begin the long road to true healing.
As my surgeon so delicately puts it, “We have to get you well, so we can whack you again!”
Never would I have believed that I could fall so far, so fast. My strength is a central part of my identity. Being physically confined, truly weak, always tired, and needing the help of others is simply not part of my self-image. Patience is truly my weakest suit – I want my old body back and I want it now!
A cloud of fear gathers over my head and threatens to pull me down.
After all, I just celebrated my 64th birthday. Within the short span of two weeks, I feel I have been transformed from a young 63 to a very old 64. Is this the beginning of the long decline that will define my later years? Depression lingers in the background.
Yet, my dreams continue to lift me away.
From my window, I have watched my horses cavort through the swirling snowstorms of winter. I have delighted in their antics to be first in line when the feed truck begins its round of tossing hay throughout the field. I see them turn their sides to the south to catch the full heat of the early spring sun.
They live in the now. They do not ask what the future holds or fret about the past. They always move forward. I envy them.
They beckon me and challenge me to focus on moving forward. They ignite in me the spark of determination that takes hold of my spirit and convinces me that I will soon be back among them. They inspire me to find the patience to allow my body to heal, to summon the will to do the hard work of physical therapy, and to hold steadfast to the vision of being whole once again.
What would I do without them? Where is the source of this passion?
I do not know. I only know that I am grateful to be held in its grips. The beautiful images of me with my horses that form in my head during both my waking and sleeping hours are my lifeline back to health.
I may not canter up that ridge to enjoy the spring flowers this year, but you can bet that I will be there to relish in the vivid fall colors.
I will get there.
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SuzAnne Miller is the owner of Dunrovin Ranch, a small horseback riding guest ranch nestled amongst the Bitterroot River and the Sapphire Mountains, south of Missoula. She shares her home with her husband of 42 years, 2 sons, 20 equines, 2 or 3 dogs, the resident wildlife, and anyone looking for high adventure.