When I begin working on a new story I always do something I call “walking the land.” I take a few weeks, or sometimes a few months and wander through museums, bookstores, old houses, cemeteries and the stories begin. Since I’m doing books right now set on modern day ranches, I visit several, go to rodeos and sale barns, etc.
Last month I went to the Dove Creek Ranch and Equine Rescue. I was tagging along with a friend doing an interview but within minutes of driving down into the small canyon, stories were popping in my mind. The lady who owned and ran the place had a true love for horses and spent a great deal of time helping horses that had been abused and abandoned.
She told me the first thing she does when she gets an animal who has been left alone in a small corral or barn for sometimes months is she lets them roam the land with the herd. She says they’ve forgotten how to be a horse.
I was around horses growing up and I’ve spent my time riding and brushing them down, but I’ve never seen them until I saw horses through her eyes. She said, “After my husband died and I was raising kids and trying to run the ranch, I would sometimes go out at night and just walk among the herd.”
Then, she made my day. She asked me if I wanted to go with her. We slipped through the fence and walked onto ranchland that used the walls of the canyon as its boundaries. We moved slow, not directing the herd, not invading, just joining. We moved closer. Just letting the horses slowly surround us.
I think it was one of the most peaceful, alive feelings I’ve ever had. She probably thought I was an idiot because I couldn’t stop smiling.
As a writer of over 40 books I sometimes feel I don’t live, I just do research. Like a person who doesn’t see Paris because he’s too busy taking selfies, I’m too consumed with stories dancing in my head to sometimes stop and enjoy the grand, wonderful things in life.
Like walking with a herd of horses on a cloudy day when the wind still whispers winter and the grass crunches beneath your boots.
I may never make it back to Dove Creek Ranch, but you can bet I’ll go there many more times in my mind.
Ms. Thomas is giving two signed copies of Lone Heart Pass to two lucky US readers. Make a comment below to be entered in this drawing.
A fifth generation Texan who taught family living, Jodi Thomas chooses to set the majority of her novels in her home state, where her grandmother was born in a covered wagon. A former teacher, Thomas traces the beginning of her storytelling career to the days when her twin sisters were young and impressionable. Her latest book is Lone Heart Pass.