"Oh Shoot" photography by Jan Turner
DUANE LEE NELSON
The Dalles, Oregon
About Duane Lee Nelson
She Don't Mean Much to Me
"No, she don't mean much to me," he said, and scuffed at the dirt by his feet.
"Just a big old, wore-out red-dun mare, life's been hard, and she's really beat.
"One of these days, I'm gonna put her down, she's just out here eatin' my grass."
He takes a dusty handkerchief out of his jeans, crost his forehead he makes a pass.
"Her knees are puffy, and her wind is broke." He puts a fresh chew in his lip.
"She earned all that with a life of toil, she's sure a hard-knockin' old rip."
The old blue eyes see every scar, as he looks the dun mare over.
He'd been there for dang near every one; See, she'd never belonged to another.
"She was never a pet, she was hard to catch, Not always a nice horse to handle.
And she bucked quite a bit when she was young; had to be good to stay in the saddle.
"Every rock on the place was a big ol' spook, from when she was just a foal.
And the dustier places along the trail were just an invitation to roll."
"Hard-headed and stubborn, and nasty to worm, she had a trot that would shatter your spine,
"Wouldn't kick ya nor bite ya but she'd stomp on your foot, and knock yer butt outa line."
"Don't know why I kept her all these years, 'cept it was easier than tryin' to trade.
And its best to know the bad that you've got than find the hell that a new horse has made."
The old man picks up a piece of wire, and twists it in one gnarled old hand,
And looks back at the mare again, at her hip, and the mark of his brand.
And remembers a morning in the early spring; been quite a few years ago.
They were after some heifers, up on the ridge, starting at them from way down below.
And the dun mare, just a young filly then, fighting her way up through the shale,
The footing was bad, heading dam near straight up, it sure would be easy to fail.
Then the ground starts sliding beneath, icy fear settles deep in his gut.
He knows full well that this is the end, they'll never make it, its hopeless, but...
He sticks a spur in the dun mare's side, leans forward and calls her by name.
Asking for just a little bit more, wonderin', hopin', praying she's game.
A moment of silence as she gathers herself, muscles bunching, nostrils strained wide,
Then with a mighty lunge she heads for the top, fighting her way up thru the slide.
They made it out, even got the cows, each of them doing their part.
But he knows full well she's saved his life, with that tremendous show of heart.
And he looks back over a thousand trails, and a thousand calves drug to the fire
And all the storms and snowdrifts rode thru, with the mare never seeming to tire.
And damn, could that sonofagun turn on a cow, he remembers that with pride.
She'd even given him a couple of babies, and taught his grandkids to ride.
And Lord, was she tough, she never quit, she was a professional thru and thru.
And over the years and over the miles, his respect for the dun mare grew.
But that's been many years ago, and now she's just hanging on.
Retired from the saddle, put out to pasture, her usefulness is gone.
But the old man sighs, says "I got some grass, guess she's welcome to another year."
And he rubs his eyes and coughs a little, to hide a falling tear.
"Naw, she don't mean much to me," he says, and kicks at the dirt by his feet.
"Just a big old, wore-out red-dun mare, life's been hard, and we are pretty beat."
© 2005, Duane Lee Nelson
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.
Duane told us: I turned my good mare out with my neighbor's pensioned old gelding to recuperate from a slight injury last summer, and as I watched them trot away I realized for the first time how close I was to having to give her up, too. And, again for the first time, I really realized just how good she had been over the years. And how much better she might have been if someone REALLY GOOD had owned and trained her. Because she was really good IN SPITE of me, not because of me.
About Duane Lee Nelson:
Lori and I live on a wheat and cattle ranch, outside of The Dalles, Oregon. I work in Outside Sales for a local Ag Co-op, Hood River Supply. We take care of a small bunch of cows to pay our rent, and do day work for other local ranchers.
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