Long in the Tooth


I am reposting this for my friend Jack Mathews because  I think he will like this story.  It is one of my favorites.

I stood on the narrow rock ledge with a bow and arrow in my hand over looking the forested valley below. Clouds of steam rose from the warm forest floor filling the cool air and hazing the view below. The leaves had already left the tree branches and the forest looked somewhat naked and deserted.

My absolute focus was on the thundering noise that approached from the distance. Almost indescribable it sounded like rocks tumbling down a steep hill. As the noise grew louder and louder my pulse elevated as did my blood pressure. Before me cutting through the damp fog below I saw a white horse, and then a dark brown horse with a white line down the middle of his nose, and then a painted horse, black and brown and mahogany, all running wildly through the forest. And behind them ran another four or five horses only thirty seconds to the rear; all running as fast as they could through the hardwoods below. The horse’s hooves scattered debris and rocks as they ran between the trees. The scene was surreal, in fact, frightening to this chance observer.

The lead horse, almost entirely white save some black legging-like markings above each ankle on all four feet, snorted as he ran across the uneven terrain. Horizontal columns of white vapor shot from his nostrils. The pounding of all their hooves on the ground and the breaking of branches as they forged through the daylight forest was something to behold. Ahead of the horses was another cliff similar to the one on which I stood. A narrow trail ran parallel to the rock cliff . The trail followed the slope and would lead to a broader area of deciduous forest below.

The lead horse did not follow the narrow trail. It jumped, without hesitation off of the cliff. The others followed suit. My eyes wide open, I could not believe what I was witnessing. The horses spread huge wings that let them fly off into the seemingly never ending open sky. The cliffs were nothing more than a take off point for these descendants of Pegasus. From their graceful flight it was apparent that this was nothing new to their daily routine. I could not help but wonder if Poseidon, Medusa, Chysaor and other Greek Gods also witnessed this great wonder.

I drew back the string on my bow and released an arrow into the sky. The arrow trailed across the sky leaving yellow and blue flames in its wake. It continued to go straight into the darkness at the top of the sky where the arrow turned into a brilliant meteor that passed through the outer edge of the earth’s atmosphere heading deep into outer space.

I was confused; certainly dazed by this series of events. How could this be possible? I struggled to make sense out of what I just witnessed. I searched the recesses of my brain for an answer. It made no sense, it could not be! My head was swimming in thick, dark waters; I was drowning in a pond of confusion.

Very slowly I began to recognize things. First there was the dark room. Then there was the realization that I was lying in a prone position. I sat straight up and tried to adjust my eyes to the dark. I realized that my confusion was real and I had just experienced the most faithful rendering of a dream I had ever encountered. Although still foggy and not able to rectify all of my visions I felt a little less alarmed and just a little more in control. I tried to remember all of the details of the dream but already brain shadows cloaked the recent drama into an almost unrecognizable form. Life is seldom crystal clear.

Dreams are a common part of my existence. This dream, in particular, seemed all too real. I felt the presence of my body in the dream. When the horses flew into the sky I felt as if I had just witnessed the impossible. When my arrow flew into the sky I was fully aware of every detail I was experiencing.

The dream was in technicolor, had perfect sound, and was definitely seen in three dimensions. It was if I were having a vision.

While I pondered all of this, and I must admit that I was at this point in time I was still dazed, I had a memory of an article I had read the day before. At first I couldn’t remember the details in my foggy brain but with just a little concentration and the passing of a small amount of time it all came back to me.

The article was about horses, grassy plains, and time; eons and eons of time. Those who know me understand that I have long been fascinated with time. For as long as I can remember I have known deep down in my gut that time is not linear. It cannot be fully explained or related to the other three spatial dimensions. Those who profess string theory propose that there may be as many as eleven dimensions. This is known as M-theory. The seven dimensions that we have not been able to directly experience are likely flat, or in other words two dimensional, possibly occurring outside of the know time/space continuum. We have no obvious way of experiencing these dimensions yet they may hold the secret to our inadequate perceptions of time and space. From my simplistic point of view I often think about unwrinkling the universe so that we can experience all that is around us. Perhaps this would help me to resolve my issues with the concept of time and space.

In any sense, time has effects on all things living and nonliving. It can play a part in turning molten gasses into a living planet. It can be an element in the creation of mountains from flat plains and desert. It can help to create life from the nonliving. Time seems to be a common element in all change. Sometimes change happens in a nanosecond, sometimes change happens over ages and ages.

And so it was for the horse. Thirteen million years ago, or so, the area now known as the New World played host to about fifteen species of horses. There were two very general types; those with short teeth and those with long teeth. This was a time, not unlike today, when carbon in the atmosphere was building up and the climates were changing quickly. Forests receded and grass lands greatly expanded. The earth was undergoing major changes and many species were not responding favorably.

And so began an unintentional race, a competition if you will, with no real finish line. As grasses expanded over the deforested areas early horses kept pace. The great new source of food and habitat was the perfect setting. Grasses, possible as a response to over grazing, began to develop more silica in their leaves. Silica is a very tough substance and wears teeth like water erodes soil. The ancient horse species with longer teeth had the advantage. Over time grass had more and more silica. Horse teeth in the evolutionary successful species developed more complex ridges to accompany the long teeth. The race for survival was quietly changing the direction of two major species.

Eventually, about 6 million years ago, there was a sudden decline in animal species. Major losses occurred amongst animal groups across the board. A cooler and much less humid climate favored a new class of grass species. These plants had up to three times the silica in the leaves. Only the horses with the largest and toughest teeth survived; natural competition at it’s best.

Long before the horse became extinct to the land mass now known as North America at the end of the last ice age this magnificent animal migrated over the land bridge to Asia. Adaptation to changing circumstance allowed the horse to push its way through the barriers of time and environment.

As luck would have it, Europeans reintroduced the horse to North America where it took to the wide open spaces like an egret takes to a marsh. Today the wild horse grazes on tough grasses and romps about the wilds in search of new forage.

With climate change, once again, on the horizon, it makes one wonder if the horse has enough diversity to handle the next challenge, and if grasses will respond in kind. Eons of time will only tell.

As my memory of the previous day fades I become sleepy once again. My eyelids are heavy and my thoughts become obscured with darkness. My body needs more rest and replenishment for the day ahead.

I drift back into a dreamy state. The horses appear once again. They feed on open range where the grasses are sparse and the conditions challenging. The horses, this time, have no wings. There is no chance for a Pegasus-like escape. In the distance I see dark, ominous cloud billowing up into the sky. A serious storm is on its way. The horses graze calmly, apparently unaware that a tempest is on the horizon.

Written for www.wildramblings.com in September of 2009.

  • Teresaevangeline

    Major goosebumps at your second vision, so telling about what is on the horizon unless life altering changes take place in people’s thinking and actions. People who are open to life, as you are, often have visions, it is my experience. Sometimes, people don’t recognize them for what they are.  I also thought that perhaps your horses came to a place of acceptance, having already sounded the alarm. Animals seem to be such Present creatures. This is very intriguing….

  • http://montucky.wordpress.com/ Montucky

    Very well written, Bill and also very thought-provoking. The wild card this time is the accumulated progress (?!) of mankind.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thank you Teresa.  I often have vivid dreams that seem to have meaning.  Occasionally they are about actual events, but most of the time they are full of messages, real or perceived, that impact the way I look at the world.  And of course, the natural world has many lessons to teach us.  We just need to read the landscape of this planet to find them.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thank you.  Yes, we have created quite a wild card haven’t we?  There is still enough fundamental goodness on this planet to make things right.  At least I hope so!  And lessons to be learned by which we can live out lives.  We need to tread very lightly while the planet heals.

  • http://alsphotographyblog.blogspot.com/ Al

    We are in the middle of one of Earth’s great die-offs right now and it’s caused by us – sometimes I’m very pessimistic about our future as I read about overfishing, deforestation, and so on. I also have very vivid, lifelike dreams, but they aren’t fantastic like these (at least not the ones I remember). Very interesting post.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Thanks Al, we do live in a tumultuous time and it is up to all of us to do the right thing(s).  Most humans a re somehow oblivious to all that is going on around them until it impacts them directly. 

    My dreams are always vivid, sometimes fantastical, and usually interesting.  That’s just the way I am constructed.

  • http://nature-drunk.com Nature-Drunk

    Wonderful! Dreaming been a huge part of my life since I was a child. I look forward to sleeping each night just so I can see what will present itself in my dreams. 

    And, time, a mystery to me.  I was just thinking about this when I was on the back of a horse last week. She was not concerned with time. She was focused on the task at hand. Her focus seeped into my spirit and soon, I was no longer thinking about anything but the present. One of the many reasons I love hanging out in the barn, the chicken coop, or snuggling with my dog, Max. Complete mental stillness. 

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    And that mental stillness may be the truth!  If the present, past, and perhaps future all happen through different dimensions simultaneously then perhaps our animal friends know something we have not been aware of.  The notion of “saving time” becomes more of a crazy idea the more I think about it. 

    Dreams have been intuitively part of my life since I was a child.  They guide me, they comfort me, they help me bring things to resolution.  What a marvelous gift we all have.

  • http://anniespickns.wordpress.com/ Annie

    The last lines say it all. Hopefully, the horses will lift up their heads and see the tempest is not only on the horizon, it is heading straight for them.

  • http://everyday-adventurer.blogspot.com/ Ratty

    I think the horses will escape once again if their isn’t too much outside interference. They probably won’t grow wings this time, but it will be something completely new. 

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Hopefully you are correct.  Only time will tell.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    Horses are magnificent creatures and have spawned countless legends.  That they left this continent and found their way back is miracle enough for me. 

  • http://craftygreenpoet.blogspot.com Crafty Green Poet

    string theory has the potential to explain so much that is mysterious about space, time and inexplicable phenomena. Horses must perceive time very differently to us, I hope they can adapt to all the chamges going on

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    String theory gives us a better understanding of quantum theory and ties a lot of dangling participles into an equation that makes more sense.  We are no where near having the final answers with regards to time and space but rather on the doorstep to a whole new way of thinking.

    Most animals, including horses, likely are more intuitive than we humans are.  They just are, and they conduct their lives based largely on instinct rather than by intellect alone.  A better way to live I suspect, and certainly one that is more universe friendly.

  • http://www.landingoncloudywater.blogspot.com Emily

    What a dream! Beautifully, hauntingly expressed here. I’ve never seen horses run in the wild like you described, but I hope to someday. I hope, as you say, there is always room for them to roam. 

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    The first time I saw wild horses running in the wild I was in Wyoming in the early 1970′s.  They ran with such power, grace, and determination the experience has always stayed with me.  There are wild horses at Assateague State Park, on the ocean, in Maryland and Delaware, a place I hope to get to someday.

    It is wonderful that some of our domestic animals have returned to the wild. True freedom!

  • http://artswebshow.com Kseverny

    Excellent story, i hear about lucid dreaming where with the application of music on a certain frequency can actually put you in control of your dreams.
    It is an interesting idea

  • http://liveandlearngrammy.blogspot.com Barb

    You kept me reading, Bill – a wonderful story of a dream state intermixed with reality. Once again, I think many species will either adapt or be extinguished. I’m reading an interesting “brain” book just now that you might find interesting: “The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement” by David Brooks. (I’m only starting it but finding it interesting.) I’m traveling through the Pacific Northwest and the landscape often reminds me of the time eons past of which you wrote. Have a good holiday weekend!

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    I let my dreams control me, an entirely different concept.

  • http://www.wildramblings.com Wild_Bill

    I think the question might be who or what is responsible for the necessity to adapt.  Additionally, what nature has within its existing systems that can help humans to learn to live within the limitations of the resources of this planet. 

Nature Blog Network