The year was 1995, and I was four years and 14,000 miles into a horseback journey throughout the US, in a little town called Birch Tree, Missouri, when Grace came calling me. I had maybe another year left to my adventure and goal, which was to make the longest horseback ride in history (21,000 miles). Having never been what anyone would label “normal”, I found it a delicious irony to break the record, since I had never ridden a horse before embarking on my journey.
For several days I had been getting increasingly uneasy. I had never had a spiritual experience, and as an atheist, what I could not see and feel had little interest to me. The uneasiness had a nature to it, in the form of a recurring thought mantra that was haunting every hoof beat, and every hour of my day. It repeated “I need to go home, and I need to go home now!” Having adopted the lifestyle of a vagabond, the idea of going back to my parent’s home in New Hampshire, and the rat race I had escaped from, was the furthest desire from continuing on in my life of adventure.
Finally I awoke in the town of Birch Tree, and the thought was becoming a physical discomfort. I could feel my sanity coming to a boil. I was visited by a horseshoer that morning, and when he asked if there was anything he could do to help me, I responded impulsively that I needed to sell my horse. Louise was a Shire draft mare that I had been inseparable from for four years, and was the closest sentient being I had ever known, so the announcement of needing to sell her was heartbreaking. But I knew I had no choice, even if I didn’t know the source of this knowing.
The farrier led the way in his pickup truck to his home, where he agreed to pay me $500 for my beautiful mare. She was worth thousands of dollars on the market, let alone my emotional attachment to her, but I knew this was to be our fate that June day. I unloaded Louise’s pack into the man’s lawn while he talked with his wife in private. He returned with the check and handed it to me. He said he was going to transport her to his pasture, and when I turned to put the check in my bags, he loaded my horse into the trailer. “Wait, I have to say good-bye to her!” As I walked the hundred feet to the trailer, he drove away.
Confused, and not knowing what was happening, I could feel the atmosphere had changed around me. Sensing something was wrong, Louise began to whinny in a nearly human scream, turning to face me, kicking at the trailer. I began to cry being so helpless, but was immediately brought back to the situation at hand when the wife screamed at me “Get your fucking gear out of my yard, or I will call the police!” I walked imploringly towards her to beg her to tell me what was happening, when she went into the house, slammed and locked the door.
I rummaged through my gear with no idea of what to do, when after a few minutes had passed by a police cruiser pulled up to the driveway. I explained to the officer what had transpired, and since I had taken the money for Louise, they were in their legal rights to kick me off the property. The officer drove me and my gear back to the park I had spent the night in, and dropped me off.
“Before you go, could you please tell me where his pasture is so I can say good-bye to her?” “Son, he doesn’t own a pasture. Look, I know you are upset, but you might as well know…you sold your horse for meat. He is a meat dealer for the dog food circuit.”
I don’t know how many hours I sat there in shock, but I finally mustered enough strength to use the pay phone to call a woman several towns back that said if I ever needed anything to call her. She arrived a few hours later, and brought me and my gear back to her home. After making some phone calls, I sold her my saddle to pay the difference on the plane ticket. A day later I was back in New Hampshire, in a state of absolute deflation.
My father and I were strangers, even though we had lived in the same home for 25 years. He never talked about his formative years, but having been raised in orphanages (given to the state by his mentally ill mother) I can only imagine at the horrors he lived through internally and externally. The only time he allowed himself to be free was when he was drinking. He was a weekend alcoholic, who worked 25 years as a blue collar painter for a missile contractor. One face in a mile long building of 10,000 employees.
The only bright spot in his life was when his crazy son decided to take a horseback journey. He had little comment about the trip leading up to, and departing, but a magical thing happened in his mundane life. Co-workers started walking up to him and asking if the man on the horse they had seen on the news the night before, with the same last name as him, was related? After a few months, and numerous questions, my father got a small section of the bulletin board at the shop, where he posted copies of the newspaper articles I sent to him and my mom. He started wearing baseball caps and tee shirts that I sent him from locations around the country where I stopped.
Every day he was greeted by lots of people at work, and asked about my welfare, and whereabouts. He began to live vicariously through my travels, and found a sort of fame in the clippings and video tape sent from news outlets around the country. Over the four years I sent 600+ newspaper articles, copies of television appearances, and audio tapes of radio interviews. He received over 300 baseball caps and tee shirts, which he wore proudly each day. He fielded questions from an intrigued work force.
When I was back in the same house with him, the old silence came back. He was on summer vacation, so we spent some quality time together, and slowly he became comfortable with the idea that I was home, and that his vicarious attention was over. We spent a great week together. Thursday evening something happened which changed my life. My father walked up behind me, sober, and kissed me on the cheek. “I love you, and want you to know I am very proud of you, and am glad you are here…home safe with us.” It was the second time in two weeks I was shocked into silence. My father had never told me he loved me before.
Those were the last words my father ever spoke to me. The next morning he and my mother went to Maine for a week to visit family, and I got a call that night that he had had a severe heart attack, and was not expected to live. I rushed to Maine to help my mother cope with the situation, spent 12 days with my father’s unconscious body, and held his hands as he died. I was the only person there in the nursing home with him that early morning, as it was too painful for everyone to watch him slip away.
Those events led to my calling. When the dust settled, spirit began to communicate with me about my life’s next adventure. To this day, it humbles me to know that I was given that gift of being with my dad for the last three weeks of his life, and to have finally heard the words spoken from his lips that released 30 years of personal pain.
Sometimes even fools and crazy people are blessed by Grace. A few months later a friend phoned to tell me they had done some research. There was an old sorghum farmer one day who went to a meat auction in eastern Missouri. He loved draft horses, and loved to look at them wherever and whenever he got the chance. He spotted a magnificent Shire draft mare enter the auction ring that day, and something impulsed this man to pay money he didn’t really have to buy this horse. He brought her home, and let her loose in his pastures. He just wanted to wake up each day and see a big draft out there while he drank his coffee. She died a few years ago having lived eight more years, fat and happy in this man’s field.
Revisiting this essay 15 years later, I feel it necessary to let it be known that the spirit contact and guidance lasted for only a few years. It was the level of awareness that I had been at when I was initially called. At some point, if one is to advance to the highest states of Self awareness, external guidance has to be replaced by inner guidance and knowing.