Cowgirl Sass & Savvy: The West of my imagination

Julie Carter is a New Mexico writer and author whose column appears weekly on Rio Grande Digital.

Julie Carter

“Whatever it was Lucy longed for, whatever was whispered by the wind and written in the mystery of the waste of sage and stone, she wanted it to happen there at Bostil’s Ford. The desert and her life seem as one, yet in what did they resemble each other – in what of this scene could she read the nature of her future.”

This particular Zane Grey classic novel was a bestseller in 1917 and has been in demand ever since. The timeless story of Wildfire, a magnificent temperamental stallion with fierce speed, is a story set in a West that framed the imaginations of youth and adults alike.

Everyone wanted to claim this untamable horse and was willing to do the unthinkable to capture him. This gave the plot all the elements of evil, villains and heroes that made the story powerful, exciting and one of Grey’s masterpieces.

As I raced through the mountain meadows of my childhood home aboard the “Wildfire” of my life, I could be Lucy in the middle of some imagined adventure. I could be lost in the mountains, surrounded by nature’s splendor with only my horse for a hero.

These journeys into a world created by my mind were part reality, part day dreams. They were nurtured by the summers that seemed to go on forever, filled with hours upon hours of reading.

Books – that medium that took me away from the remoteness and isolation of my life as it budded into teen hood and sought answers to life beyond the present. And yet my preference in genre was that which fed into the life I already lived.

I spent every hour with Flicka through all three volumes of Mary O’Hara’s books. It was me “in” the book every time I picked it up to devour more of the story.

Walter Farley’s bestselling “Black Stallion” series with the magnificent horse and his young owner, Alec Ramsay, ramped up my imagination and took me to places in the world I could only see through the words on the pages.

And in reality, every horse I rode had the potential for that adoring, loyal relationship. When I read the words, I felt the emotions, heard the sounds, and recognized the smells of a sweating horse after a long run or felt the soft blow of his breath as he snorted a greeting.

I don’t have any idea what it was like for a kid living in the suburbs of a city or a fourth-floor apartment to read the same books that I read. Perhaps his imagination allowed him the same escape to the West without living in it, but I know mine had a Technicolor that only reality could enhance. I lived where others read about.

Today, when I read those kinds of stories, they return me to those same settings where now my imagination meets memory.

The sun as it sets behind a red sandy bluff, the smell of a juniper wood campfire, the sounds of a gurgling stream, the rustle of leaves in a stand of Aspens – written in one world by the author, providing instant mental transportation for me back to my world.

There, I can still hear the sounds of my horse picking his way down a rocky trail, the sounds of iron shoes clacking against the stones and the creak of the leather in the saddle as it strains against the back muscles of the animal beneath it.

Zane, Walter and Mary and I have a whole lot more in common than I realized those many years ago, and it all began with the West of my imagination.

Julie can be reached for comment at jcarternm@gmail.comVisit her website at

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