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Eric's Heroes: His vision gave us the Wild Horses Monument

Photo: KOMO News

VANTAGE, Wash. -- If you were to head east on Interstate 90 on a bright, sunny day, and shortly after crossing the mighty Columbia if you were to glance up and to the right at exactly the right instant... you would see it.

And for that first split second as your eye caught the image, you would be transported to a wild and free time that lives in the deep recesses of our collective imagination.

Wild mustangs bucking and stomping and galloping free and loose atop a naked ridge, under the sun, above a river, on top of the world.

There is a steady stream of visitors to the work of art. It is a kind of summer pilgrimage. they park down below and climb a steep path that has been formed by the feet of thousands who have come before, drawn somehow by the 'idea' of the work.

A young man named Connor, and his girlfriend, Jade, held hands as they made their way towards the little mountain on a hot day. When they made it up to the horses they walked around marveling at the view and the construction and the notion that artwork like this even exists at all in the place like this.

Conner told us, "I wasn't even sure there was a path up here, but she knew there was... so we decided to stop and come check them out." Jade nodded in agreement.

A young man named Klaus, visiting from Denmark, made the climb, too. He must have felt like he was driving through an immense set of a John Ford Western.

"We saw these horses and thought, 'Hey, how about a look at them?'"

Klaus said they were beautiful, and added in his Danish accent, "I think it's pretty damned special to see some horses out in nowhere."

Kim is a woman in her 50s with a son going to Gonzaga. She'd wanted to visit the sculpture for many years, and finally had the time.

"I've looked up here and I've seen these majestic horses and thought, 'Oh, I just want to get up there someday...' "

She took pictures of the gorge and the horses.

"Oh, it's stunning," she said. "It's beautiful. I want to know more about the artist."

There is a small herd of them up there under the hot sun, forged from half-inch plates of steel.

The lead stallion, from just the right angle, appears to be leaping into the Columbia far below.

The rest of them follow, hooves pounding on the dirt, nostrils flaring, manes blowing in the wind.

One of the people who shows up to admire the wild horses pulls a large welded steel basket out of his car in the parking lot below the monument.

The basket is heavy, and with great effort and a grunt he hoists it above his head, and for a moment it's almost as though he's making some kind of offering to the animals.

And then, he puts the basket back in his car, pulls his long, flowing gray hair back behind his shoulders, and starts walking up the steep trail.

Like everyone else, Dave Govedare wants to get closer to the magnificent creatures on the ridge.

As it turns out, he's been there before.

After he reaches the top, and pauses to catch his breath, he says, "I pulled into this site here, and I knew that Washington was having its Centennial in 1989... and I looked up there and I thought, 'This is wild horse country.'"

He pulls a can of spray paint out of a bag and starts covering the inevitable graffiti that has found its way onto some of the horses.

And he remembers.

Dave is the creator of the wild horses. They came galloping out of his imagination, and the process of designing and building them took two years out of his life.

He first assembled them out in a field on his ranch in Chewelah, Washington, north of Spokane. He got the distances and the spacing right, and then in 1991 he took them down and began the process of re-constructing them above the Columbia River gorge.

They have been frozen in time there ever since.

After awhile he is finished painting over graffiti. And then he walks among the herd, inspecting each and every iron horse the way a father inspects his children before church. At some of them he pauses and pats them on the rusty steel neck. Some of them he has named. And as he approaches one of them he pauses, and bends to kiss it on the nose.

"Living steel," he says to himself. "Yeah..."

"We built our whole culture on horses. You know, much of why America ever happened was because of how the horse helped transform things."

When we ask him the meaning of the art, he thinks for a moment an offers this:

"The meaning of this piece? The meaning of it was here long before I ever showed up. I happened to see it go by, as an artist, by the cosmic window, and I happened to reach in and grab it off the shelf or out of the fruit basket. I grabbed it."

The imagery of a basket yielding its bounty is a theme for this man. We're reminded of when we first saw him, hoisting that steel basket to the sky...

And then he offers a clue.

"I have a lifetime that's given to me," he says, looking out at the horses "however long I live I have this to be a part of my life. And to complete it would be nice."

He pauses, then says, "I'm 66..."

And there you have it. The Wild Horses Monument, as it turns out, was never finished. Not even after 27 years.

The REAL name of the art is "Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies," and there was supposed to be a massive steel Indian basket behind all the horses on that ridge, tipped on its side, as if dumping the horses out into our world.

That basket was never built.

"The basket represents the positive nature of the universe to me. It's the gift of life." He turns to look at the lead stallion posed behind him, front legs off the ground.

He'd like to see the thing finished before all is said and done.

But the cost is more than he can handle alone. For it to happen, he would need some kind of sponsor, someone with pockets as deep as Dave's imagination.

Until that happens, the wild horses atop the ridge above the Columbia River, just outside of Vantage, will continue doing exactly what Dave Govedare always dreamed they would do.

"Holy cow! Holy dang! Look at them horses running!" Dave verbalizes the reaction he imagines for all those cars passing by on I-90 below.

"That... that to me is all it needs to be. A split second."

It only takes a split second to wake up echoes, to set our dreams loose, running wild and free like the ponies on the ridge, uninhibited, breathing fire, dancing in the moonlight for all time. Just a split second.

(You can contact Dave Govedare at 509-935-6108.)

Editor's Note: "Eric's Heroes" is a weekly series airing every Wednesday on KOMO News in the 6 p.m. newscast. If you have a good story about a good person doing good things for the right reasons, share it with Eric by sending an email to heroes@komonews.com.

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