By Patty Wilber
CALLIE’S STAR by Patty Wilber
CHAPTER SEVEN–GREEN SPRINGS RUN
In a few weeks, Callie had become proficient at saddling and bridling. Her horsemanship improved tremendously, too, but her relationship with Jeff had not made much progress. They spent many hours together doing ranch chores, and a few times they had spent the afternoon with their only neighbors, Luis and Jose Romero.
“I want you two to go down to Green Springs Run,” said Uncle Bob over breakfast, “Check the water troughs and salt licks. It should be a nice ride for the two of you.”
Callie nodded. Uncle Bob and Callie had driven the pickup down there once before in the golden light just before dusk, and he’d showed her a bald eagle’s nest. It sat way up in a dead and gnarled cottonwood snag that stood above a small stream lined with tall green grass. The eagles weren’t there, but the green grass stood out in Callie’s mind like emeralds. New Mexico had an achingly blue sky, with muted greens and tawny brown land like the coat of a cougar, and it smelled dry in a sharp way that got into the back of her nose. The only places that were bright green were the few places where there was water.
“You two be back by lunch, so we can make a run into town,” said Aunt Martha, bringing Callie back to her half-finished Cheerios. “I have to drop off a few things we don’t need any more at the Goodwill.” She checked a list she’d written on the back of an envelope. “I also need to get another flash drive, some food from the Farmer’s Market, and I thought you two could go to the library for a while. So,” she finished. “Don’t be home late!”
“No problem,” said Jeff, glancing at Callie so that she knew he was thinking she would be the slow poke. She wolfed down the rest of her cereal, and got up from the table. “Meet you at the barn, Jeff.”
He nodded slightly, and took another leisurely bite of toast. HE didn’t need to hurry.
The morning breeze still held the night’s coolness, and it felt good running through Callie’s hair with its gentle fingers.
Jeff trotted off ahead, as usual, but now Callie followed easily. Cloud’s trot didn’t seem so rough anymore. Jake ran up and back as he always did. We he came near Callie he barked in greeting and she smiled at him.
Jeff and Callie rode into a thick stand of scrub oak, and Jeff looked back over his shoulder at Callie. “Let’s lope,” he said. Just as he was about to turn around, a wild sow, followed by eight striped piglets, burst from the brush, and Punkin leapt away from them. Jeff’s weight shifted with his horse, but he was still a little off balance when Punkin started to bolt. Jeff’s face and arm were raked by a branch before he could pull the horse to a stop. Cloud jumped too, but just a little, and he halted instantly when Callie said, “Whoa.” She was shaking.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
Jeff nodded and Callie trotted up alongside him as she tried to squash the voice of her mother rising inside her. She made herself concentrate on Jeff.
“Let me see,” she said. Jeff turned his face to reveal two long red streaks running down his cheek. They were barely bleeding. “They’re not too bad,” she said, and her voice was surprisingly steady. “And your helmet saved the top of your head.” The concentration trick was working!
“I hate this helmet,” he said and then looked closely at Callie. “You don’t want to go back?” asked Jeff.
“Of course not,” said Callie. “It was only a bunch of pigs, and you’re all right, right?” She forced herself to sound casual.
“Fine,” said Jeff, rubbing his scratched arm. “You’re not scared?” he asked.
“Of course I’m scared,” retorted Callie, feeling as if Jeff was just waiting for her to do or say something stupid. All sorts of thoughts about accidents and voices and loneliness floated into her head, but she blocked them out angrily.
“So?” she asked glaring, partly at Jeff, partly at herself. Then she turned to him and said, “How do YOU think it feels to be here, in a completely different state, without a family and with wild pigs charging all around?”
She waved her hand to encompass everything around her, and Jake barked and wagged his tail, as if in agreement. She blotted at her eyes with the back of her fist. She wanted to gallop away, but Jeff was blocking the path down to the run. She definitely wasn’t going back.
“I don’t know,” said Jeff, surprisingly responding to her last statement. “I guess I never really thought about it.” Jeff looked at the scratch on his arm. His T-shirt was torn, but the wound wasn’t serious. “Is it that bad being here?” asked Jeff, rubbing his arm some more.
“Sometimes,” said Callie. “Like when I don’t know something, or can’t do something. I feel so… I don’t know…” She let her voice trail off, and finished the sentence only in her mind, “…so alone.”
Callie nudged Cloud’s ribs with her heels. “Move out of the way, Jeff,” she said. “We need to get going.”
Neither of them spoke until they got to the grass-rimmed trickle of Green Springs Run.
“Mom says she’s never seen anyone take up riding as quick as you have,” Jeff offered.
Callie’s knew her eyes were red, and she didn’t want Jeff to see that, but his words did feel good, so she flashed him a tiny smile and then looked away. He nodded back.
Jeff said, “Let’s trot through the water!”
They rode back and forth along the little creek, splashing up just enough water to spray their jeans. It didn’t take long for the sun to bake away the morning coolness and Callie was amazed at how fast the water evaporated off her pant legs. They rode out of the creek when they got to the plastic pipe leading to the first waterer.
Each of the three water troughs they were checking was set one hundred feet off the creek to keep the cows from loitering in the bed. The troughs were fed from big plastic tanks and the tanks were kept full via solar powered pumps that brought water up from the creek. The first trough was full and Jake jumped in and went all the way under. Then he burst out and shook himself.
“He looks a lot smaller with all his hair plastered down, doesn’t he?” Jeff asked.
Jake shook himself again and trotted off toward the second tank. “He does,” said Callie.
Jeff showed her the goldfish he had put in the second trough last summer. “Dad said they would not make it thought the winter, but some did!”
“Cool,” said Callie, not quite sure who had replaced Jeff with this more pleasant version
The red salt licks placed around all the water tanks had been licked into crazy shapes by the broad tongues of the salt-loving cows.
“Do all those needed to be replaced?” asked Callie.
“Yes,” said Jeff in a “DUH” kind of voice, and Callie thought, “Jeff’s back to normal.”
But then he said, “Maybe Dad would let us drive the farm truck down and replace them.”
“Us?” she asked.
He shrugged and said, “Those blocks are heavy. ”
“You can drive?” she asked.
He shrugged again, and said “Sure,” but with only a little bit of the “DUH” voice.
“He’s acting weird,” thought Callie, but it was a lot nicer than the other Jeff.
Instead of taking the trail back, they decided to ride up the road. This would take them right by the eagle’s nest. As they started out of the ravine, the female eagle banked overhead. Her white head shone and she dipped her wings. It looked as though she nodded as she passed over Jeff.
“Wow!” said Callie.
“Right?” said Jeff. Then he pointed down the dirt road and said, “Ready?”
“Yep,” she said.
He whispered to Punkin and the two of them flew up the road in a series of happy leaps.
Callie followed, feeling lighter inside herself, even though she didn’t know why.