Even in the aspens, it was hot. An occasional breeze would pick up and make the leaves—green, going to bright gold—rattle, but it wasn’t enough to drive off the stifling heat. When the wind fell still, I could hear the buzz of the big, fat, late-summer flies. That, and Bourbon’s occasional grumbling both seemed to agree: too hot by far.
Still, better here than down on the plains, I thought. I stared out into the aspens, through their shaking branches to the clear blue patches of sky beyond. Bourbon’s hooves clacked and clomped through the dry dirt of the trail, and I swayed in my saddle, content.
The smell of leather mixed with the crisp late-summer air. It’d been a Hell of a year altogether, I thought, with all the big storms we’d had. With all the rain, everything up here was still green for the most part; here and there was a pocket of late-season wildflowers, bright red, white, or light, delicate purple. Bourbon dipped his head to chomp at a few, and I pulled gently at his reins.
We moved on through the trees. The rest of the group was well behind us, though I could hear them back down the trail, their talk reaching me in fits and quiet bursts. I was happy up here with Bourbon, to be honest, away from the conversation. Just picking my way silently through the trees.
As we got further, the trees thinned and the air cooled a bit. Ahead, the trail opened up into a clearing. We trotted on until the aspens broke, a smooth white archway framing the meadow beyond.
There, I stopped, pulling on Bourbon’s reins.
The sweet smell of hot grass rose like a wall. I stared. What I’d thought was sunlight was, in fact, a field full to the brim with fierce gold flowers, from one end to the other, split down the middle by the trail. I wanted to gasp. I wanted to call back to the others to let them know what I’d found. Instead, all I did was sit and stare, transfixed. It was gorgeous. Simply gorgeous.
I reached out and rubbed Bourbon’s neck, feeling the horse’s smooth, dark coat, hot from the sun. He whickered in response, taking a step or two into the field. I didn’t try to stop him.
Part of me didn’t want anyone else to see this. Just me and Bourbon, alone in the big, bright field of flowers. All of the rest of me knew that it didn’t matter—they’d be here in a few minutes, and I’d be glad to see them, glad to show them what I’d found. But for now, the two of us sat in silence and contentment, staring out at the untouched meadow.
Besides, I thought, there were bound to be fields like this, hidden all over the mountainside. It’d been a good year. And I still had time to find them all, if I hurried. It’d been a good year, and it wasn’t over yet.