Once upon a time, I was a little girl who dreamed of having my own horse. In my dreams, she was a painted palomino mare and her name was Cloud. Funny, Cloud was actually an exact replica of my best friend Alex’s mom’s horse, also named Cloud. I guess my imagination was not as boundless as I would like to think at that young age. As it was, I would dream of Cloud often, and usually she was just standing there on a cloud waiting for me to ride her (again with the lackluster imagination.) As I got older, I continued to dream of having a horse, of taking riding lessons, then of going to a high school where I could ride horses. In second grade, my best friend Katie and I would stay in the library during recess to research horses. We decided we were going to purchase an old racehorse for ourselves.
None of this happened. My mom was scared of me riding horses so she did not want to supply the funds for this expensive dream of mine. I was not, as a kindergardener or a second grader or even a ninth grader, able to support the hobby on my own, so I let it go.
But as I got older, I figured out a way to get my horse fix. I couldn’t buy a horse, but I could go for a ride from time to time. When I’d go down to the desert to visit my family, there was a stable nearby, and I’d always go riding with a guide. I got to know the various cowboys who worked as guides at the stable, and instead of dreaming about horses, I started to dream about cowboys.
First, when I was about 24 or 25, there was Dallas. Cute and charming on his painted palomino horse, I’m not sure I could even muster many words in his presence. I was in awe of this new species of man. And curious. He told stories of riding bareback up the mountains under the full moon…drunk. “How hotttt” I thought through my new rose-colored cowboy-fantasy goggles. And, “I wish that didn’t scare the shit out of me” in regards to the drunk bareback riding. Dallas probably doesn’t even remember me, but I remember him….
And then there was Eric, too tall for his horse, slow in speech, thoughtful and deliberate in action. He was only at the stables for a season before he took off to do those other things cowboys do. (I don’t really know what those are.)
And then, a couple of years ago, I met Case. I showed up at the stables, all pig-tailed and ready to get out there on a horse. Jack, the head cowboy, set me up with a young guide who had just started working at the stables. I saddled up on the horse, and sat facing my new cowboy guide. He was slim under his collared shirt and Wranglers and frankly looked a little small for his wide-brimmed and battered cowboy hat. His dark and deep set eyes stood out against his tan young face. He couldn’t be more than 22. My spurred and cowboy-hatted guide reached out his hand. “I’m Case,” he said, grinning widely. “Case?” I repeated. “Case,” he said. “Like a case o’ beer. That’s how you can remember my name.” “Riiight”, I thought. “Case of beer.” He adjusted his hat and off we went.
“So, you go riding much?” Case was practically turned backwards in his saddle looking at me expectantly. I answered, and we chatted a bit about life and small things. Case told me all about his life so far, which had mostly consisted of, well, school. He had, in recent years, graduated high school, while I myself had graduated college, taken some time to work, and was now back in grad school. Our age and life experience discrepancy did not seem to phase Mr. Case o’ Beer. “So, you datin’ anyone out there in San Francisco?”
“Not anyone special.”
“What’s dating like in San Francisco?”
“A pain. There’s too many options, so no one really ever has to make a decision. It’s easy to meet people, hard to have a relationship. I’m bored of dating.”
The conversation continued uneventfully as I changed the subject back to my love of horses, until…
“Well, I think you should come back later tonight after the stables close and I could take you for a ride…”
“That’s a sweet offer. I’d really love to but I don’t think I can.”
And this is where the cowboy persistence kicked in. He waited till I got off the horse, and made sure to let me know that his offer still stood, that he’d like to see me later. “Tempting, but I have dinner plans. I’ll be back tomorrow morning for a ride.”
The next morning I showed up, and there he was again. Case saddled up my horse and led it out of the ring. Off we went, chatting and talking. “You thought any more about coming out tonight? I think you should. It’d make me happy.” He smiled.
“I’ll think about it…” I told him, and think I did. Another night at home with my parents and their friends sounded, quite frankly, like a snooze-worthy evening. And an evening adventure galloping across the desert under the stars with a confident young cowboy sounded ever-so-slightly intriguing.
I showed up that evening, and out came Cowboy, freshly showered and sparkling clean. “Well, hello there.”
We hugged and I inhaled his soapy smell. I smiled as he led me into the area where the horses were. He took me into the tack room and showed me how to saddle up the horse, and soon we were off, galloping under the stars and chatting. After an hour or so, we came back and put away the saddles. We climbed up on a high stack of hay bales and talked about relationships and life as we looked out over the desert nightscape in the silence. He sat close to me, his shoulders touching mine. The air was warm and balmy and felt good against my skin. The sky was a dark blue and full of stars, and the mountains looked calm and asleep under the light of the half moon. The only noise besides our voice was the occasional clanging of a horse against the metal bars. As the time drew near to come home, he walked me to the car. “Come back tomorrow.” Simple instructions, easy to follow. I like that.
Hello horses, and hello cowboy. Little girl dreams turn into big girl dreams.
To be continued….
And a recipe to capture my rapture….
After this night, I just wanted to make something simple, easy, healthy and nostalgic. Apples were always my after-school snack as a little girl, and this is absolutely the most delicious way to prepare them. A side of nuts never hurt a girl, neither.
Eat these and be transported to somewhere old, dreamy, and nostalgic while you fantasize about the romantic big girl adventures in store in your future.
Crab apples with lemon, cinnamon, and toasted hazelnut
4 or 5 crab apples, sliced into wedges
1 tbsp cinnamon, for sprinkling
1/2 cup hazelnuts (can also be served with almonds, walnuts, or pecans)
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread hazelnuts on a baking sheet, and place them in oven for 10-12 minutes or until they are very hot and fragrant. If you’d like to remove the skins (I don’t bother as it’s a lot of work), you may dump them into a dish towel, wrap them up like a present, and rub the surface until the skins loosen.
Cut the crab apples, and arrange in rows on a plate or cutting board. Slice lemon and squeeze lemon juice over the surface of the apples. Sprinkle cinnamon over the tops of the apple slices. Add hazelnuts on the side, or you may crush them and sprinkle on top.
Enjoy and dream.