Singing in the Dark
AKA The Time They Called Search & Rescue

Anna, Emily Heisler, Me & Ejo at Thanksgiving Point, summer 2010

When I was about fourteen my cousin, Anna and I decided to go on an evening ride. Our plan was to head up Corner Canyon.

When I was growing up, the entire South Mountain was owned by one family. There were dirt trails where kids rode their horses or bikes, and one shabby coral with sad little ponies that inexperienced riders could “rent” for a ride. Other than that, a lot of scrub oak and wild grass was all that covered the mountain.

But the generation that owned it had finally passed away, and the next generation, eager I suppose to cash in on all that property, had sold it to private developers. The mountain was now being torn up for what would someday be what South Draper is today.

My mom dropped us off at the horses, promising to come back later that evening to pick us up. (My mom was awesome at carting kids around to their various adventures.) We were alone at the horses, not a soul in sight, when we realized one of our saddles was missing its cinch.

I guess we could have ridden bare back, but for some reason or another unremembered by me now, I didn’t think that was a good idea. We searched the tack room up and down, and finally “borrowed” one off another saddle.

Next we couldn’t find one of the bridles. We searched everywhere, even looking for another one to borrow, but couldn’t find one. Finally Athena came, and she had a spare bridle she loaned to us.

Finally we were tacked up and ready to go – but the sun was sinking low in the sky now.

Perfect, I thought – we’ll just head up Eagle’s Ridge to watch the sunset, and then head home.

We made it up to Eagles Ridge just fine, watched the beautiful late summer sun sink below the horizon, turning the sky ablaze with the warm orange of summer afterglow.

We headed back down the mountain for home when we crossed a stretch of earth 300 yards long or so, newly packed, pressed, ready for road top to be poured.

And how could we not race along it?

Imagining ourselves jockeys in the Derby, we ran our horses along the stretch of even plowed earth – a rare joy on the trail. Running, or even cantering a horse was not common practice outside the safety of a corral or arena growing up. What if the horse stumbled – or, more likely, ran away with you?

(Not to say I wasn’t run away with on more than one occasion. But usually I tried to avoid it.)

I still remember the light, dimming each minute, but still warm, as we raced along the road; feeling Sunny lower as she moved from a gallop to a dead run, and feeling her enjoy the freedom of her head as I clung to her neck and let her go.

And then we suddenly realized:

It was getting dark. Fast.

And we still had most of the mountain to get down.

We turned our horses down the trail, determined not to be distracted again, and headed for home.

But it was too late. In a few minutes it was black as pitch, the trees silver and ghostly as the moon climbed up the sky behind us.

I told Anna we had to sing – and sing loud. She gave me a sideways look as she knew, as well as I did, that I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. But singing was imperative to us getting home safely I explained. You see, there were deer all over that mountain, earlier in our ride we had passed a several different groupings, and each time I held Sunny tight on the reins as we passed.

Sunny was young, still green – still bone headed. I knew if we came across some deer in the dark – if we startled them – they in turn would startle Sunny. And then came the whole getting run away with part.

Which I usually tried to avoid . . . especially in the dark.

And so we needed to sing to tell the deer we were coming. I hoped the noise would get them to move out of our way as we approached,. Unfortunately, not musically inclined, the only songs I knew by memory were either camp songs or the Hymns I sung ever week for forever.

And so, ‘The Spirit of God’ it was.

We sang every song we could think of, and then sang them again as we picked our way down the mountain. At some point we lost the trail, and came to a ravine I was not willing to try to pass in the dark. We went back up the mountain to come back down the other side.

Calvin on Sunny, May 2011. She's a sweet old mare now.

Finally we made it down to the lights of lazy draper. And then we heard our names being called . . . over a bull horn.

We called out and a spot light was turned to us. We knew we were toast.

My mom, Wendy, and a police officer – the lone and lame response to a call in to search & rescue, greeted us at the trail head.

After a very stern lecture from Wendy about the danger to the horses, we had the joy of riding through the sleepy town with a cop car, lit up like a Christmas tree, following just behind us. After untacking and putting the horses away, another stern lecture from the police officer of the stupidity of our lives – or maybe just decisions.

It was nearly midnight when we climbed back into my mom’s car for home.

“Want to stop somewhere and get an ice cream cone?” my mom asked.



*After thinking about it as I wrote this story, it occurred to me that I probably wanted both Anna and I with full saddles and bridles because 1) Anna wasn’t a super experienced rider, and probably needed the tack for the trail and 2) I was riding Sunny, who ran away with me or threw me more times than I can count. A saddle always helps for that sort of thing.


I’m going to try and write down memories I have – for my little lovelies who always ask “Tell me a story of when you were a kid . . .”

I’m going to call them “Tales for Tuesdays” – and will try to write one a week . . . unless of course something else happens. In which case I won’t.

2 comments on “Singing in the Dark
AKA The Time They Called Search & Rescue

Carrie Brock

You should tell the one about that one time we went in search of the enchanted lake and got chased down by the massive guard dogs. Basically you should write more that involve me so that I can keep them 🙂

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