Looking out the plate glass window in front of me, I see in the distance sloping lavender hills dotted with pine trees. The sun is coming out after a brief rain and the sunlight plays with the colors and turns purple to maroon and brown to tan. Closer to me on the right is a ridge of brick red rocks that rise behind me to a grand grassy plateau overlooking the towering Grand Tetons in the distance and the outline of our little ranch nestled in the valley below. We’ve been at Red Rocks Ranch outside of Jackson Hole, WY, for two days now. My primary activity here is horseback riding on my assigned horse, Cody. Bouncing around in the saddle surrounded by all of this natural untouched beauty I found myself drawing similarities between this western remote world and the remoteness of Eleuthera.
There is no cell phone service here. There is a ranch phone and some sort of internet service that one buys by the megabyte, naturally limiting usage. There is no TV or radio. It reminds me of my early years staying on Eleuthera when one had to stand in line at the Batelco in Governor’s Harbour to make a phone call. When there are none of the standard attention grabbers to which we are all accustomed, one has to make his or her own fun. This is one reason why families migrate here year after year. Families play together during the day and then relax together at night, laughing and reliving the day over the dinner table and then the campfire. I am here with Fred’s kids and their spouses, celebrating Fred’s 70th birthday.
I can see the stables to my right. When I started writing this I watched as a new group of visitors practiced their riding skills in the ring and then headed out to the rolling hills for their first ride, single file, horses clopping through the mud. That was me just two days ago. I was introduced to Cody, a good sized brown horse with a white blaze between the eyes and a beautiful strawberry blonde mane and tail. Women spend a lot of time at hairdressers the world over to get hair that color. His gentle brown eyes belie a spunk that isn’t beyond snapping at a horse that follows too closely or testing me every chance he gets to see if I’ll let him snack on the greenery along the trail.
It is wonderful to meander down the trails that dot the ranch’s 640 acres and its surrounding national forest and wilderness areas. Everything is safety first, the mantra of our liability-conscious times. Your cowboy hat must be secured with a chin strap. Your boots must have a heel and cannot be lace-up. You are not allowed to approach the horses from the front when they are tied to the rail as you may get your hand caught between the rail and the horse. You must not stray from the group or even ride side by side. A wrangler, a ranch employee, must accompany you at all times, even in the ring. But I imagine myself free and alone and romanticize the horse and I as best friends galloping across the countryside. Fred tells of his times at camp in Wyoming, over fifty years ago, when he and his friends played Capture the Flag on horses, continually falling off and crawling back on, bouncing off the others and the earth. There were no rules and everyone learned from their bumps and bruises and mistakes. Such is how our world has changed.
Within such necessary logistical confines the ranch still is an oasis in our modern world. The horses and the wildlife and the bell that rings in the morning at 7:30 are all an adult throwback to camp. We learn to commune with nature and value the beauty that surrounds us. Walking outside in the morning as a light frost dots the ground, it is a wonder to look up and see the towering hills around us. A herd of horses escaped from some nearby ranch yesterday. We saw them on our morning ride romping around in a pasture, and then saw them on our afternoon ride again. They lined a grassy ridge above us, peering down at us like gleeful kids. Their owner will track them down and wrangle them to their home pastures soon, but for right now they have natural food and water available and they frolic as though on vacation. We are those same escaped horses.
Eleuthera offers crystal clear turquoise waters instead of painted hills and snow capped mountains. Darting yellow snapper and playful grouper, viewed through the round glass of a face mask, substitute for horses and antelope and the occasional prized moose sighting. Eleuthera offers friendly Bahamians and a scattering of restaurants and bars, small settlements dot the lone thoroughfare and the basic necessities can usually be found in nearly every larger town. The ranch is a 45 minute drive to the nearest convenience store and there is one restaurant and one bar. Still, the similarities are here. Both destinations are isolated havens from our frantic everyday lives. Both offer time to think and ponder and talk and visit and learn and laugh. As I grow older I value these retreats more. I value the time to reacquaint myself to me.