After trying college in an urban environment, Rebecca Ondov walked away, finding her career --- and her place --- in the mountain wilderness of Montana. First hired as a ranch cook, she quickly agreed to “training 19 wild mules and 1 wild horse.” She is soon out on the trails, setting up camp and cooking for wranglers and hunters, loading and leading pack mules, praying away grizzly bears… I leave other laborious jobs to your imagination. Not being a farm girl, camper, hunter, or horse lover, I sometimes got lost in the wilderness vocabulary. (For others like me, an illustrated glossary is provided.) It’s just very clear that Ondov chose a physically demanding job that she generally seemed to relish, despite its freezing temperatures and perilous terrain. She worked in the wilderness for 15 years, two of them as a ranger and inspector for the Forest Service, traveling alone by horseback from camp to camp.
That’s the setting for Ondov’s book of more than 50 devotionals, each a self-contained story with a strong spiritual/moral point. (There’s nothing subtle about the “take-away” element.) At the end, she includes a very forthright evangelistic presentation.
The book is best read as it’s intended --- as a devotional, one story per day, rather than as a sit-down, read-straight-through narrative. My favorite stories are about the animals she cares for and who sometimes care for her --- horses, colts, mules, donkeys, dogs --- and about learning to work as a member of a team, pulling together for a common purpose. Anyone intending to go on a wilderness hunt or wrangling trip might want to read Ondov’s reflections to see her perspective of what makes for a good ranch guest --- or not.
The book is most engaging toward the end, where Ondov and her ranch team are surrounded by forest fires. All survive, but there is tension in their precariously riding and eventually walking (the horses are too skittish to mount) through blackened forest where the trails are impassable because of sink holes and fallen trees.
Ondov’s publisher, Harvest House, has also released a hardcover, gift edition of HORSE TALES FROM HEAVEN. It includes fewer “chapters,” which are not presented as devotionals (with an opening Scripture verse and closing prayer). Every spread features a full-color realistic painting of horses by Chris Cummings. Sometimes a horse is posed grazing alone; sometimes a pack is running through a forest, snow, or stream. Pages are also decorated with inspirational quotations from a wide variety of sources --- from Plutarch to Dale Evans Rogers. A Mexican Proverb reads: “It is not enough for a man to learn how to ride; he must learn how to fall.” The Ondov text chosen for this edition focuses more on horses and less on wranglers or wilderness life. This larger, trim-size gift edition is better suited for teenagers who take riding lessons and live in outer suburbs far from Montana.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on November 13, 2011