When I arrived home from North Africa in the summer of 1990, I weighed a little over 153 pounds—twenty-five pounds lighter than what I had weighed as a skinny defensive back on my high school football team. My mother took one look at me and asked, “Lord God, what have they done to you?”
“Nothing that a little home cooking won’t fix,” I joked, trying to sound upbeat. In truth, I felt cynical, depleted, world-weary, and sad. I was like one of those now-mythical Vietnam vets who had the misfortune of being transported from battlefield to airport-filled-with-protesters to backyard barbeque, all within the space of forty-eight hours. Though I was glad to be home, it was going to take a while before I regained a sense of balance and equilibrium in the world. The feeling was, maybe I never would.
In search of a cure, I jumped on my motorcycle and rode out to the fifteen hundred acre cattle ranch my father had traded for while I was off experiencing other latitudes. Topping the last hill before the ranch, I slowed the bike carefully on the sand road and paused to look down into the valley below. A tree-lined creek snaked through the middle of the property, splitting the ranch in half. On the north side of the creek, a herd of white cows grazed alongside their newborn calves. On the south side, a half mile from where I stopped to look down, a pair of horses grazed in the middle of a smaller, rockier pasture.
At first the horses stood stock still, watching me. But as I neared the gate, they came running across the pasture, front hooves reaching out before them, long tails flowing behind like kite tails. Seeing them, I felt my heart rise up in my chest. And by the time the horses fetched up before the gate in a swirling cloud of dust, I was already there to greet them, my hand already reaching into my coat pocket for the apple halves I had stowed away there.