There weren’t many places to put a horse up for the night in the city of Nashville, at least, none that we passed as we inched our way across the southern part of town. I would be staying with my friends Bob and Sarah while we were there for a few days, but I hadn’t found anything for Gizmo.
As in other cities, we camped as close as possible to the edge of town the night before, then started very early in the morning in order to make headway before the city awoke. I walked the entire way, leading my horse along the sidewalks, and we tried to remain incognito and as ordinary looking as we could. Our progress was continually interrupted by well-wishers and curiosity seekers, and twice we were stopped by television crews wanting interviews. I gave them each a quick soundbite and left. Gizmo trailed alongside me, his head down, eyes half closed, feet clipping the cracks of the sidewalk in a dragging gait that embodied his exhausted spirit.
He was wearing his fifth set of shoes, and they were paper thin. I knew I would need to replace them soon. We were both beaten down and tired from the long, hot, mosquito-infested journey through the flatlands of Arkansas and Missouri. It was much cooler here, and the biting pests had disappeared. Although we both felt a sense of relief that a great burden had been lifted, we were both trail weary and exhausted. We needed the layover badly. By mid-afternoon, we were both physically drained. I had connected with Bob and Sarah, but still had nowhere to put Gizmo. I wasn’t panicked, though. I knew we could always spend the night in a graveyard then search for something the next day.
Luck was with us, however, and I met three young men who lived in a house with a large section of land next to it. They offered to let me keep Gizmo there during our layover. It was about a half acre of fenced grassland that offered good grazing for a few days. I walked around and explored to make sure there wasn’t any broken glass, dangerous obstacles, or other things that could hurt Gizmo. I repaired a broken section of wire fencing, and I managed to find a small galvanized water tank and dragged it over near the house to a water faucet. I turned Gizmo out and watched as he dropped to his knees and rolled, jumped to his feet, then repeated the process three or four times. I thanked the men, told them I’d be back later to check on my horse, and then threw my gear into Bob’s old Jeep and rode to his place.
A couple hours later I returned to find Gizmo reclining peacefully in the grass near the water tank. He jumped to his feet and whinnied when he saw me, then came over to nuzzle me and allow me to scratch his ears. I had managed to get a hundred-pound sack of Omelene, a feed supplement that would help Gizmo regain his strength during our stay. I fed him some, brushed him down again, and finally left for the night. I wasn’t used to being separated, and I always worried about him when I was away from him at night.
I arrived the next morning to feed him and spend a little time with him. One of the men came out of the house. He was shirtless, shoeless, and drinking a beer.
“Lady next door ain’t real happy about your horse”, he said, “Said she’s gonna call the health department.”
I considered the situation for a moment then replied, “Guess I ought to go over and talk to her.”
“She don’t like us very much,” the young man said. “Keeps callin’ the cops every time we play music or party a little.”
“I’ll go have a word with her”, I said.
I made my way around the front of the property toward her house. Gizmo followed me along the fence line. The fence turned and ran between the two properties, alongside the driveway to her home. I walked up the drive to the side of the house and knocked on the door.
A stern looking, middle-aged woman appeared at the door.
“Yes?” she said, more a statement than a question.
“Hello, ma’am. My name’s John, and that’s my horse, Gizmo, over there in the field next door.”
Her arms were locked across the front of her in unyielding body language that looked like a fortress. “Not supposed to have horses here”, she said. “Ain’t zoned for ’em.”
“Ma’am, he and I have traveled over three thousand miles, and we’ve still got a few hundred more to go. I reckon all he wants is a little rest and to be left alone. It’s only for a few days, and I’m sorry if he’s a bother.”
Her eyes remained fixed on something in the distance and would not meet mine. She stood, unsmiling and uncompromising. “Hmmmph …” she uttered.
“Is he making noise?” I asked. “Did he keep you up last night?”
“No, that’s not the problem.”
I asked what the problem was.
“Ain’t supposed to be here,” she replied.
“Well, I don’t really know where he is supposed to be,” I said. “And well, I’m just tryin’ to take care of him, and …” I paused, then continued. “Would it help if I stayed there with him?”
She made no reply, so I carried on. “I could see to it that he doesn’t make too much noise or have any loud parties.”
My feeble joke wasn’t well received, and her frown only seemed to grow deeper.
Finally, I appealed to any love of animals that she might have. “Y’know,” I said tentatively, “Gizmo likes women a whole lot more than he does men. I’m guessin’ he’d enjoy your company a lot better than those rowdy guys next door.”
She looked over, and her eyes met mine for the first time. It took a bit of encouragement, but I finally coaxed her down the steps and around the fence to where Gizmo was waiting. I persuaded her to walk up to him and asked her to pet him. She was reluctant, but followed me. I could see that she was afraid.
“He won’t hurt you”, I told her, “He loves to have his ears scratched.”
She reached out tentatively to touch his nose. The first touch led to another, then another, and once she started petting him, she got into it and seemed to enjoy it, though she retained her reserved manner. Gizmo was a good sport about it and played along.
“He’s very good company early in the morning,” I said, “and he likes biscuits and gravy, if that makes any difference.” Then I added, “He especially likes biscuits with sorghum on them.”
I think that won her over.
Went with Bob and Sarah to a bluegrass music festival at Vanderbilt University today. Amazing music by the New Grass Revival, Norman Blake, Tut Taylor, Mac Wiseman, the Osborne Brothers, Jim and Jesse, and a bunch of others. There were a million beautiful women there, and I was dumbstruck. I hadn’t realized how far gone from civilization I have taken myself.
Gizmo stayed on her side of the field for the rest of our time in Nashville. I moved the water tank across the field next to her house and used her water. I stopped to check on him several times each day and usually found her there, sitting on her porch, keeping an eye on him. I left the sack of Omelene with her, with instructions on how much to feed him and a warning that too much could be harmful. She was careful to give him exactly what he needed and supplemented it with carrots, apples, and yes, biscuits with sorghum smeared on them.
On the morning that Gizmo and I mounted up to leave Nashville, she looked at me and said sternly, “You take care of that horse now, you hear?”
I could see tears in those stoic eyes of hers.
We’ve left Nashville behind us and are back out on this two lane, dodging the passing cars and trucks. Passed through Hermitage and Mt. Juliet on our way to Lebanon. A big bus pulled off the road ahead of us and Jimmy Martin “the King of Bluegrass”, got out to say hello. Jimmy and the guys in his his band all stood out on the side of the two lane with Gizmo and me, talking about horses, hunting dogs, and bluegrass music. It was a pretty bizarre scene. One of those “what am I doing here?” moments.