My One Month-iversary

Yesterday was my one month anniversary of settling in Hyattville. I feel champagne is in order. Although, there are a lot of times I feel champagne is in order. Easter. Weekend brunch. Evening writing. Getting paisley shirts in the mail from a cowgirl friend. Any number of occasions warrant champagne in my mind, because champagne is so darn fizzy and delightful; very full of pep. This event definitely qualifies.

This week has been full of all sorts of forays into the ranching world too, which feels toast-worthy. On Monday I went to a friends ranch and got to see sheep getting sheared. I was even handed a prod shortly after arriving to help move the sheep along in the process. Though I didn’t really want to use the prod (it wasn’t an electrical prod mind you), I preferred the approach of simply cooing to the sheep, ‘c’mon,’ or ‘move along’ and surprisingly that about did it. Or if I simply dragged the prod along the gated chute they were walking through, that moved them forward, along with my shadow moving past which seemed to make them skittish enough to move along without incident.

Except for the obstinate ones. About one sheep, every 15 or so was not having it. And assumed—by his irrational behavior it seemed—that he was being led to a death chamber. He would go ballistic in the chute, trying to turn himself around in the narrow space and run back the way he came, therefore riling up the sheep behind him so they backed up in fear. Or a few particularly brazen sheep would charge the chute at the corner, leaping upwards and nearly scrambling over the gate before a fellow sheep prodder would catch the large sheep and wrangle him back in line. For being decently large creatures they sure can jump if they want to. So those were the sheep I ended up having to prod along. And I must say I admired this small and stubborn bunch a great deal. What gumption!

Then a few days later I got up before the dawn to go over to a friend’s ranch who had dairy cows and her own creamery. I must admit, there was something very Laura Ingalls-esque in my mind about learning to milk a cow. I naturally assumed I would have to sit on an upturned wooden bucket with a piece of straw in my mouth, and perhaps even be wearing red plaid and a tipped back cowboy hat in order to do this. I was wrong on all counts.

First of all, I bundled up in a sweatshirt, a fur-lined vest and brought gloves and coat as well, because when I left the house that morning, it was not yet 30 degrees. Also I had thrown on a baseball hat, not a cowboy hat, because at that hour I was too lazy to even think of cowboy fashion.

Upon watching the whole cow milking event take place—as my friend told me I could surely milk the cows myself in time, once I learned the ropes—I realized times had changed and no upturned bucket or straw in mouth was required. My friend was methodical about getting the udders cleaned and saying sweet things to her cow Daisy, before affixing Daisy’s udders with a contraption that hooked to a tall metal pail via tubes that would pump the milk for her.

Well, I’ll be. Who the heck knew?

And it seemed to not take very much time at all and just like that it was over. Once the milk was poured into jugs and put away, it was cleaning time. Cleaning the barn and sweeping it out, cleaning and sanitizing all the pails and equipment, mopping the floors and putting everything away, including Daisy. Although she was the first to be set free after her contribution was given.

After that I followed my friend up to her house where she was starting to make butter. Again, my brain latched onto the only image of making butter I knew. A woman dressed in Amish garb, wearing a bonnet and dutifully sitting with a large wooden chamber between her legs while she furiously churned away for hours on end.

That is one hundred percent not how butter was being made in this house. She started out with a large gallon of cream and attached another mechanical device to the top that started doing the churning for her, making the cream rise to the top of the jar. She told me eventually the white cream would turn yellow.

I was stupefied. I wouldn’t call any of this stuff easy. It was all time consuming; I mean milking cows at dawn required serious work, even if that work was accompanied by new technology. And then to make homemade butter to boot. I was sincerely impressed with this woman. She also made homemade cheeses and Greek Yogurt. Friday would be my cheese making lesson and I was beside myself over that notion.

I want to be that kind of pioneering woman as it is beyond impressive. Before I left she gave me a jar of fresh feta in oil and I about swooned. I wanted to throw my arms around her in deep gratitude. Honestly that is how I feel about anyone giving me cheese as a gift, much less fresh homemade feta (which is one of my favorite cheeses). I went home and had to stop myself from just tipping the jar into my mouth like a total heifer, pun intended.

I instead rationed the cheese, putting little dollops on crackers and trying to tamp down nirvana which was running through my veins at the taste of this cheese. And I took a note from Wisconsin and accompanied this rich treat with a bottle of beer.

Good job, Daisy. Or Bess. Or whichever cow had contributed to the making of that wonder. And good job Anheuser Busch. I have never liked your beer more. Although my beer was expired, so that’s really giving most of the credit to the cheese for taking the edge off of the beer.

At any rate, this week and this month here has been nothing but fruitful. I am beyond grateful to all the ranchers who continually let me shadow or participate in their work and experience a part of their livelihood. And then do wonderfully kind things for me above that, like giving me their homemade feta, inviting me to their homes for dinners and celebrations, including me in Lenten Luncheon carpools, having me over for midday bonfires and wine, and talking to me about my dreams and believing they are as possible as turning milk into butter. You are all what makes it easy for me to see that Hyattville is a place where graciousness and goodness are as large as your cattle herds. If not abundantly larger.

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Rodeo Queens and Me

I think perhaps the West was in me long before I was ever in the West. I saw this picture once where my mom was holding me—I was a toddler—and I was leaning over a fence feeding a horse an apple. I used to listen to Shania Twain a whole bunch even though her hit song ‘Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under’ was strictly forbidden in our household. Why, you ask? Well all that sexual innuendo of course. Though I didn’t get it at the time, I simply thought Shania’s man was a little negligent with his boots. Big whoop. I also wasn’t allowed to listen to Billy Ray Cyrus’s, ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ because he threatened that if you did tell his achy breaky heart he might blow up and kill a man.

My parents weren’t total squares; I think they really just wanted to do right by us kids and not have sex talk or blow up talk earlier than was necessary in life. One could reference our trashy next door neighbors as wayward examples of what happened to children with too much knowledge on the country music circuit; they once told me that God didn’t put the new baby in my mom’s belly but that my parents ‘really liked each other, if you know what I mean,’ with a suggestive wink. Sure. My parents really did like each other and that’s why God gave them a baby, obviously.

At any rate. It’s not just that I liked country music and horses and fields of grain or would bemoan when a Wal-Mart was put in where a field used to be. It’s that everything about the West already fascinated me. I read every story I could find about Sacagawea. In fact in sixth grade I read such a large book about her, that in a book reading contest, I earned enough points on that read alone to go out to lunch at Big Boy with my principal. Thanks Sacagawea.

Oh but I wished to be her so bad that some mornings I woke up in my pristinely pale Finnish skin and was aghast that I hadn’t dreamed myself a Native American leading explorers to greatness. And don’t even get me started on the explorers. Or the other Native Americans. Their drums and dances. Their traditions. The way they honored Mother Nature and carried babies on their backs while picking corn.

I couldn’t spoon that information into my mouth fast enough.

So when I actually encountered the West for the first time, it was as if I were returning to a place I already knew belonged to me. A place I had read about and entertained notions of grandeur for decades. Before coming back to Wyoming for a third time, I was lingering in Colorado and I found myself drawn to the ProRodeo Hall of Fame and Museum of the American Cowboy. As I lazily ambled through the displays, reading about cowboys and cowgirls, I couldn’t help but feel intense admiration for the all the women who had inhabited the sport and the West.

I was struck by women who could stand on their horses backs while they galloped, women who influenced rodeo, or helped their husbands succeed. A part of me leaned into this like I had always leaned into the West.

Now don’t get me wrong. I in no way want to be a rodeo queen, that’s way too much bedazzlement for my tastes. Nor do I have aspirations of standing on a horse while he gallops. I would surely break my neck. But I do think these women, both the rodeo queens, cowgirls and pioneers of past and present are a source of deep admiration for life and possibility in the West.

I want to be like them, but still be me. I don’t care all that much about the fringe or the fanfare. Well, except, for my fringey Buffalo Bill Cody coat which I do bust out on occasion, because I can.  And yes, I do enjoy some fanfare in my life. No, it’s not that though. I don’t care about being the next best thing in rodeo or the West. That is not a goal of mine. My goal however, is to be the best version of myself here.

I want to be the best me in the West. If that means I can ride horses and lasso cows and listen to Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been under while donning a cowboy hat and boots, well then that’s mighty fine. And if that also means I am a complete contradiction to the girl I once thought I was, who hoped to be sophisticated and wear heels and have a brownstone and never listen to country music, well then, that’s okay too.

I am simply finding myself. And I seem to be as woven in these hills as intricately as the horses, cattle and buffalo are. Like I said, maybe the West was in me long before I even knew. And I simply had to find my way back to myself.

“For West is where we all plan to go some day. It is where you go when the land gives out and the old-field pines encroach. It is where you go when you get the letter saying: Flee, all is discovered. It is where you go when you look down at the blade in your hand and the blood on it. It is where you go when you are told that you are a bubble on the tide of empire. It is where you go when you hear that thar’s gold in them-thar hills. It is where you go to grow up with the country. It is where you go to spend your old age. Or it is just where you go.”
Robert Penn Warren

 

A Cupcake Savage

I am sitting here watching I Love Lucy, drinking champagne and cleaning chocolate off of my chin. After reading my little manifesto my mom insisted that I didn’t need to own my own house, or even a brick and mortar to have my own bakery. She told me to march my caboose to the grocery store and buy ingredients for something to bake. I told her I didn’t have money for that. She argued with me that I did, because I had told her I made $52 delivering pizza.

I’d confided in my mom that I’d had some hefty tippers the other day. Before I left to deliver to one guy, my boss had said, “now listen, if Davis doesn’t tip you at least $10, you let me know.”

I nodded, but immediately began to fret. So this Davis was a good tipper? What if I was the one pizza delivery gal he didn’t tip well, because I did something stupid like coughed near his pizza or something?

Then my other boss said, “And know that he will hit on you.”

Now I was exceptionally nervous. What if Davis didn’t hit on me? What if he thought I was a troll and therefore tipped me $3? I scooped up my pizza bag and receipt with address and went to deliver to Davis, desperate for him to tip me $10 and hit on me. When I arrived and held up my bag and announced the total, Davis—a young bearded gentleman—smiled and ambled over. I immediately began to fumble with sliding the pizza out of the bag. I struggled and couldn’t get it out, until he jokingly said, “Come on now, you can do it.”

I could feel my face starting to flame and said, “Give a girl a break.”

I can’t be certain this is what he said next as my pure horror over not being able to sufficiently pull a pizza order out of a bag was making me dizzy. “I can’t do that, because that’d mean I was dumping you.”

I looked up as I pulled the pizza out and slid it to him, waiting for the cash. His total was $25.46. He handed me $40 and told me to keep the change. I still hadn’t registered anything: the large tip, the smiling, his easygoing banter. As I had been worried the whole time about appearing idiotic while I was indeed appearing idiotic.

At any rate, I got back, to my boss asking if I had gotten the $10 tip as promised. I nodded, re glowing red again. “You got more than $10 didn’t you,” he said, already knowing the answer. I smiled, believing myself to be a non-troll after all. The night progressed somewhat along those lines and I was pleased.

So yes. I did have $52 in tips but I had earmarked that for fancy groceries like quinoa and avocados.

But as I got to thinking about it, I supposed my mom was right. Maybe I should just take a chance and bake and attempt to sell my baked goods? What was the harm in trying? I fancied myself decently competent at it and it was in the vicinity of my goals. I could have a pop-up bake shop. The more I thought about it, the more it thrilled me while at the same time terrified me if it meant I couldn’t have my quinoa and avocados.

As I was driving to the grocery store (45 minutes away) I decided I was in. I was going to do it. I decided this week would be cupcakes. I would make my mama’s famous chocolate buttercream fudge cake and turn it into cupcakes, which I’d done numerous times before. At the grocery store, I piled the ingredients in my cart, doing a mental tally of the expense. With each item of cupcake important in, I had to mentally scratch off a fancy food item. The quinoa was out. So was squash. And asparagus. And tuna—not fancy but still—until I had everything I needed for cupcakes and little I needed in the way of actual groceries.

I went and grabbed bread and did opt for the fancy nine grain though it was $4 more than the sugary white crap. I went to the produce section and was eyeing up the avocados. Sadly I walked away.

I went home and began baking feeling appropriately charmed and hopeful. My mom called while I was baking and we began to talk about the houses in town that I would be interested in owning one day. I told her about one that used to be a hotel and what I could glean was inside from squinting outside the gate: some really nice antiques, a wrought-iron bed post and some old furniture with real potential to be refurbished.

My mom squealed in delight and told me I should see about buying some of it. “Mom, I had to cut a $.99 avocado off my grocery list, what about my financial state right now leads you to believe I could go all antiques roadshow on the abandoned hotel in town?”

She laughed heartily and said, “but still…” My mom is as much the dreamer as I am. “I didn’t realize you wouldn’t have been able to buy avocados if you bought baking supplies… I didn’t want that…” she confessed apologetically.

“It’s alright. I work this weekend, so I can buy avocados then.”

At this point the buzzer went off for the cupcakes and chocolatey goodness was wafting into my nostrils. I opened the oven door and saw utter catastrophe.

“Oh no, mom!” I exclaimed, setting the phone down on the counter, “I overfilled the cupcake wrappers and they overflowed. They look awful!”

She insisted it was alright and that they could be my practice batch. Until I realized I forgot two key ingredients for the buttercream frosting and had to switch over to just fudge frosting. Then I overfilled the next batch too, though I tried heartily not to. As I looked at the oozing chocolate cupcake mess, I began to wonder if indeed I had made the wrong decision in not buying quinoa and avocados and instead thinking I could have a baking empire. I told my mom as much as I wedged the exploded cupcakes out of the pan.

“Mom, this is the universe laughing at me for spending my grocery money on cupcakes and thinking I could be a baker. They look terrible! Though, honest to God they are delicious… but they look like shit…”

My mom immediately nixed that train of thought, and said it wasn’t the universe, it was me overfilling the cupcake wrappers and that this was merely the test batch. I decided to agree with her as I wolfed down three mangled cupcakes and got frosting all over my face like a cupcake savage.

Well, I suppose any artistic foray, whether it be writing or baking is bound to have some blunders. At least I still have half the batter left to make new—hopefully more promising —attempts. Would anyone like a mangled cupcake though in the meantime?

My Manifesto

I want champagne and fancy breakfasts. You know the kind I mean, the kind that Eloise at the Plaza would eat. Steaming sausage and biscuits, chocolate croissants, and fresh fruit bowls, all of which I prepared myself, lovingly and languorously. And I know Eloise can’t have champagne. But I can.

I want to be able to don an apron and experimentally bake all day just because it brings me joy. Then I want to share that bakery with all sorts of people who love having sugary goodness in their mouths.

I want to adopt a dog and know that I can take care of it. I want to be able to take care of myself without anyone else’s help. And then one day I want someone to help take care of me, not because I am incompetent but because that person loves me and knows things like: when I am sick I am a colossal baby brat and want extra attention.

I want to be able to fill up my gas tank and drive to far off places and not worry about bouncing my checking account. I want to stop and visit with old men in barbershops and men who are fishing in streams and waitresses in diners. I want all of their wisdom. I want to bathe in it like I want to bathe in a clawfoot tub. I also want a clawfoot tub.

I want to own my own home with my name on the mortgage, no one else’s because I did it all by my independent self. I want to own goats and chickens and horses and perhaps a cow or two. I want to know in turn how to take care of those animals. I want those animals to roam about my yard and lean into me when I visit with them, like they would lean into the sunshine. Because I will love them so much.

I want to perhaps turn my home into a B&B, or at the very least a cozy and open space where friends, family and even polite acquaintances are always welcome. I want that place to be in Wyoming. I also want that place to have a big porch, or at the very least big trees where swings and tree forts can be happily built.

I want land where I can roam. Where my animals can roam. Where I can ride horses. Where I can have fences to mend. Where one day, God willing, my children can roam and pretend to be the Boxcar children, Laura Ingalls Wilder, or the Swiss Family Robinsons like I did as a child. My children will know who all of these people are. They will also know about Lewis and Clark and the importance of explorers. They will know about Annie Oakley and fierce-minded, strong willed ambitious women, they will know about God and that highest and purest of unconditional love, and a whole bunch more.

I want to have a writer’s room or a writer’s barn or a writer’s workshop or even a writer’s nook where I can write novels and have my babies snug tight to me in little papooses while they sleep. And when they are not sleeping and creating a racket, they can go play with the goats or their siblings or their dad.

I want to learn how to garden like my mom does. Meaning, pretty much like Martha Stewart does, because my mom’s gardens are exquisite. I also want to maybe one day like gardening. And if it turns out I don’t, I want my mom to live right next door and I will pay her to make my gardens look as nice as hers.

I want to do nice things for my community like help organize events, or throw old-fashioned soirees, because I love an old-fashioned soiree, or be someone that my neighbors know they could rely on, because I love to help people. I also happen to think this is the best reflection of Christ’s love and if anyone I meet ever thinks more lovingly of God because of me, I will consider my time here a massive success.

And if I can somehow do all of this, I think I will have made it. And if I can do only some of this, but I have tried really hard, I’ll still think I’ve made it. I only say all this, because I do want it all deeply and therefore I never tire of saying it. Of dreaming it. And perhaps, with saying it enough, dreaming it enough, I can inch my way into manifesting this reality. It’s possible of course. We are living in a world where Donald Trump may become president—though I shudder to think—so the possibilities truly are there.

So here’s to champagne this weekend. I can’t afford all the things I want: champagne, and impromptu road trips, and ingredients to bake a lemon blueberry cake, and a horse, but I have opted to purchase for myself a cheap bottle of champagne to accompany my I Love Lucy marathon and cucumber face mask I forgot I owned. And then perhaps I’ll go star gazing in my backyard and feel unnaturally lucky anyway.

 

 

The Arrogance of Belonging

I admit I have been struggling to write for the last week or so. I felt like I had this ah-ha moment of beautiful writing clarity while writing about my forays into ranching and then I became sort of stumped. I felt like I had ejaculated all my good creativity into that post, and wondered if I had any more left? And then I began to sort of belittle my existence and think I didn’t have anything good to say anyway.

My days—though could be constituted as lazy—have been filled with all sorts of experiences, both giddy and slightly gruesome. First off I got hired to be a pizza delivery driver, as this ranching business is more of a learning experience and I am doing it all because I want to learn. However, I still have student loans and car insurance and a cell bill which won’t happily go away because I want to play with horses and cows all day.

At first I was relieved to have a somewhat mindless job, so as not to take away from my writing or ranching. That was until my first day when I had to watch training videos on my new role. Included in training was a detailed video on handwashing in which I mentally rolled my eyes, but then proceeded to fail the handwashing quiz twice, while it boldly proclaimed that I was ‘contaminating the pizza!’ In my defense, being a slight tree-hugger, I shut off the water in the wrong order, according to the quiz.

As the shifts piled up, my morale went down and I begun to feel sort of lousy about the whole thing: being critiqued on my overly chatty phone answering skills by a sixteen year old boy, making less than minimum wage, wearing the pizza tee and ball cap and looking like a husky boy. All this combined with my dwindling bank account and living off of my hosts leftover food supply of canned corn and beans was making me feel like a real life pauper.

But then you see, I snapped out of it. I can only play the ‘oh poor me’ game for about a half day, maybe a day and a half max, before I grow incredibly weary of myself. Because it is always about perspective.

Happily enough I had these things going for me:

A house stocked with a large canned food supply that I could eat until I had more fundage.
Incredibly kind neighbors that invited me over for dinner a couple of times a week. Just because.
A job that allowed me to make money on the side and spend mornings and days having coffee with ranchers and listening dreamily while they said things like, ‘I reckon,’ and ‘that’s life in the far west for ya.’
A girl friend that planned a whole day of adventure for me, combined with off-roading, canyon-carved rivers, a beachy bonfire complete with roasted hot dogs, brews and ice cream, dancing and cartwheels, coyotes howling in the night and a sheer giddy appreciation for Friday’s that didn’t involve delivering pizza.
This fella that I kiss sometimes. Don’t read into it. But after a night spent playing a rousing game of gin rummy, followed by a heated debate on Yankees vs. Confederates, mixed with two vodka cranberries, I burst into tears about my fears of ending up a spinster. He got me tissue and smiled at me when I asked if I looked like Swamp Thing and said no. “Liar,” I said, “I know I look like Swamp Thing… you like that look huh, you weirdo.”
“You know it,” he answered tucking me into his shoulder. And then he kissed my forehead, my cheeks and my lips a whole bunch of times until I was all but simmered down and sort of convinced spinsterhood was far, far away from me.
Having the nicest sisters in the world who don’t think I am a lowlife when I call them to confide that I am struggling and amidst my strife say things to me like, “I will always look up to you,” and don’t judge me, but only uplift and support me. Or who call me excitedly this morning to say, “I am putting money in your bank account today that is strictly earmarked for yummy groceries, a bottle of wine and a treat.” I then called my mom to tell her this and my mom says, “you’re welcome.” I know, Mom, ya did good on giving me my baby sisters. I can’t wait to make it as a really posh writer one day and call my sisters with news that I will be depositing funds into their bank accounts for yummy groceries, wine and treats.
Living in a place where bald eagles swoop, and mountains envelop, and coyotes howl, and cows move freely about the road, and ranchers say to me, “I’ve been praying for you,” when I mention trying to finish writing my book, and a community that includes me like I am one of their own, though I’ve only just begun here, and getting to deliver pizza because if I were truthful with myself, it’s kind of fun and working amongst teen boys with Bieber hair who talk about ‘Twitter being so out, while Instagram is so in,’ makes adult problems seem kind of trivial and far off, because teen boys are lighthearted and amusing.

Which all brings me to this term “the arrogance of belonging,” by David Whyte, which I read about in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic and loved it. She also said “you are allowed to be here, and that—merely by being here—you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own.”

Even if everyday I am not ranching and romancing the West with prose and possibility, I am here and I do belong. And the experience of being a pizza delivery driver, while still getting to go out and see baby calves, or have a chill shimmy down my spine upon hearing coyotes howl at dusk, or kiss boys merely because I feel inclined to, is a part of my experience.

And the thing is I chose this experience. I chose not to apply for big girl jobs, or newspaper jobs, or jobs with 401K’s and health insurance in order to have my own experience in the West and write my own way. Even if it humbled me greatly to fail a handwashing quiz and wear a pizza ball cap, I realized a humbling experience or two never hurt anybody. In fact I hope I am better for it.

“The arrogance of belonging pulls you out of the darkest depths of self-hatred—not by saying “I am the greatest!” but merely by saying “I am here!”
-Elizabeth Gilbert

Covered in Romance

Green acres is the place to be
Farm living is the life for me
Land spreading out,
so far and wide
Keep Manhattan,
just give me that countryside.

You know what’s funny about this song lyric? I used to sing the other verse, Gabor’s line that went like this:

New York
is where I’d rather stay
I get allergic smelling hay
I just adore a penthouse view
Darling, I love you,
but give me Park Avenue.

Back when all I wanted in life was New York and Park Avenue. Don’t get me wrong I am still crazy about New York City. I love Zabar’s coffee and fondly recall every Sunday riding the subway all the way up from Brooklyn to the Upper West Side to get me a bag. Then the whole subway ride home the smell of Zabar’s roast would fill the subway car and my nostrils.

I loved walking up and down the city streets looking for used book shops and bakeries, or the perfect slice of pizza. I once went kayaking on the Hudson’s choppy waters with my sis and we paddled to and fro in our small buoyed off area, giddy and light as the waves. Walks through Central Park midday and runs across the Brooklyn Bridge at night, will always make me happy that I at least tried on city life like a promising pair of jeans.

But see, I had it wrong. I don’t prefer a penthouse view, or Park Avenue, though both those things are perfectly lovely and I can appreciate them from a vacation-y standpoint. I do want land spreading out far and wide. And farm life, oh gosh, yes please. I will happily shovel manure or attempt to mend a fence, or lay pipeline. Which is what I got to try out this weekend. Well the pipeline part at least.

I worried before I actually began this new farming/ranching endeavor that maybe I was romanticizing it. I have been told I do this. I once spoke with a Navy recruiter on a whim and boldly told my mom some hours later that I was joining the Navy. She looked properly aghast as I had never once expressed even an iota of an interest in the Navy.

“Don’t be impetuous, Cassandra,” my mom said. I actually didn’t know what that word meant until that moment, when my mom expounded upon her point. “Why do you want to join the Navy?”

“I’ve always loved the sea and I would love a life at sea!” I exclaimed, getting my shackles up for what felt like non-support, when my mom truly is the most supportive mom out there. Especially in regards to my mostly rash decisions.

“The Navy is not romantic like you are imaging life at sea to be.”

And the moment she said those words I began to consider the version of the Navy I played out in my mind, versus what the Navy would actually entail. I saw myself in some sort of fetching romper and sea cap looking out of a telescope on a ship with sails. When in reality I would be on some behemoth steel vessel, probably in the bowels, and more than likely doing grunt work in a grey janitorial looking uniform that enunciated my plump midsection.

My mom simply asked me to consider my decision on the Navy for a month and see how I felt at the end of that time. A few days later, I had already admitted to myself that my mom knew me pretty stinking well. I was romanticizing the Navy quite heavily. And in all actuality, I would probably despise it. Especially all that authority and getting bossed around.

So, yeah, that was an instance—among many if truth be told—where I romanced the pants right off of something altogether not that romantic. Now people, have been hinting that maybe I am doing it with this ranching business; even the ranchers themselves have pointed out to me—when my face lights up with glee talking about how badly I want to learn ranch work—that it’s not all that romantic. And I politely nod, while thinking, yeah, sure okay. Says the person in a cowboy hat, covered in workin’ grit, working the land and cattle all day long. Sure, no romance my arse. You’re covered in romance!

Except I don’t say that.

Because, a small, teensie part of me feared maybe they were right. What did I know about ranching? Sure I understood it was buckets full of work and grime and sweat and uncertainty and feces and death, and maybe all I was seeing were the Western hats and cowboy drawls and horses and painting all this poetry when I had no right? What did I know?

Well, nothing really, until I gave it a whirl which I did this weekend. I went out to a friend’s ranch to help them with laying some irrigation pipeline. She had texted to ask if this was something I would be interested in helping with or shadowing. I said yes with all the enthusiasm that I had once reserved for attending  a Fashion Week event at the Plaza. Although I was so nervous about that experience that I needed to take half an emergency Xanax to muster up the will to hobnob with models.

I had ample nervousness about failing at ranching, or worse being wrong about it—that maybe there was no romance—and I would yet again be altogether wrong about myself and then what? But I had no emergency Xanax this time and if I had, I wouldn’t have taken it.

I threw on jeans, my cowboy boots and a somewhat worse for wear Wyoming tee and drove out to the ranch. My friend met me, introduced me to her husband and children while giving me a cursory explanation of the day’s workload. For the first half of the day I mostly just followed around dumbly, as I had no idea about laying pipeline or where to insert myself to be of help, when everyone seemed to have a handle on things. Though, once in awhile my new friends would ask me to hand them wrap-around tape or a pen, or a power-saw and I happily obliged.

Soon enough though I was climbing down into ditches to help maneuver pipeline. Then I got to help lift the gigantic pipes, handing them to the men at work in the ditches. I began to get just a smidge dirty and when hours later the sun began setting in the Western sky, I felt it. I felt the romance. It was there alright. Though I had done nothing fundamentally difficult yet, and while I was mostly an accessory to the irrigation process, I felt it. The fresh air on my arms, the hard dirt sloughing against my boots, the heaviness of the pipeline. And all that besides, I felt the importance of this work.

The importance of it to farm land, to grow a crop, to feed animals and therefore feed people. And I adored it. I adored all of it. I liked being in farm trucks that had a thin layer of dirt covering the dashboard; the smell of hard work permeated in the seats. This is how I remember my grandpa’s truck smelling when I was a child. He owned a drywall business that my uncles now run and their trucks too, have this smell.

I realized this wasn’t something new to me; this was something already intrinsically in me, that I had adored since childhood. Riding down dirt roads in trucks, having my uncles take me out to the woods beside my grandparents house to teach me how to shoot bow and arrows and guns. They were not only outdoorsmen, but working men and I idolized them not only for their work ethic, and love of God’s vast landscape, but because they could build something out of nothing with their bare hands.

This all came flooding back to me sitting in a dirt covered Ram that impressed me with its power in hauling massive farm equipment up a steep hill while I sat in the passenger seat, admittedly beside myself in the romance. Yes, I was not mistaken, the romance was there. It was in the work truck, in laying pipeline, in the Wyoming hills and in ranchers who believed in their work and purpose, even if it was grueling work with no guarantees.

I was deeply relieved to find that I had been right. There was romance here and I wanted to uncover more of it.

I came back the next day, eager to do more, to learn more about laying pipeline, to feel somehow instrumental in this process. And my friend’s father in law who was sitting high atop a John Deere excavator for digging the ditches, hollered down, “you came back for more?”

“I did!” I beamed, “I loved it. This is definitely the life for me.”

He beamed back and said, “I like her.” And then began to sing, “Farm living is the life for me…”

How to Be Alone

I listened to this song by Jason Isbell this morn per a friend’s suggestion and here is how it starts:

I been working here, Monday it’ll be a year
And I can’t recall a day when I didn’t want to disappear
But I keep on showing up, hell-bent on growing up
If it takes a lifetime

I’m learning how to be alone. I fall asleep with the TV on
And I fight the urge to live inside my telephone
I keep my spirits high, find happiness by and by
If it takes a lifetime

When I heard that line about learning how to be alone I stopped what I was doing, which was heating water on the stove for coffee in my french press. Which funny little thing about that. I have a morning ritual of talking to my best friend every morning around 7:30 a.m. She is basically my alarm clock and the only person I would deign to talk to at that unholy hour, especially before I’ve even had my coffee.

I grumbled to her the other day that I am negligent about cleaning my french press after my morning coffee and then I am mad at myself the next morning when I have to clean it out before I can make coffee, to which she responded deadpan, “wow, first world problems. I don’t even know what a french press is.”

Anyhow. Back to that line. Learning how to be alone. I loved that line and admittedly thought about it all day. Though if truth be told I had already been giving considerable thought to my learning how to be alone before I even heard the song.

Admittedly I have never really enjoyed or relished the prospect of truly being on my own. And not in the way of singlehood. But being without my sisters or my friends. Now initially the thought sounded novel to me, before I had experienced it. But once I had experienced ‘on my own’ for the first time when I moved to New York City, I warmed to it with all the excitement of having a cavity filled.

I blame growing up in a big family. Because of this, I have always been surrounded by people, chaos and noise. And this has always comforted me. As a child if I fell asleep to silence it meant I was the last one up and I hated that. I would strive to go to bed before everyone else, that way I could still hear the TV downstairs and kids chattering. A silent house put me on edge and frightened me.

Now there have been plenty of experiences I have done on my own and loved. I set off for college seven hours away from my family and after the initial shock, adjusted accordingly. After college I moved to Green Bay and while my only friend there was at work, I took myself on museum dates, movie dates, I even once did a wine tasting by myself. I like myself and I like spending time with me. It’s just the whole truly being on my own thing, as in falling asleep alone and coming home to my computer, book collection, and stuffed giraffe somewhat heebs me out.

But that is where I am at these days and I will admit, I initially reacted in much the same way as I did in New York. Funnily enough I wanted to be back in Wyoming bad. Oh something fierce, so I shouldn’t have resorted to pissing and moaning about it, but that is exactly what I did after the new and novel wore off a few days in.

The intensity of being alone, coming home to an empty house, having no one ask me about my days adventures, and then the nights, oh gosh, nighttime was the worst. Mostly because I am a giant toddler who thinks every noise is something about to snatch me or kill me or both. Also, I am woman enough to admit I am sort of afraid of the dark. On my own in the dark, okay! The first couple nights I slept with one of those fake plastic tea light candles in my bed as a makeshift nightlight.

And then one night I looked in the mirror across from my bed after I’d shut off the lights and remembered that childhood tale about Bloody Mary. I became intensely overwrought that I would accidentally think Bloody Mary the obligatory three times and what if it wasn’t just a legend and I was stuck in a house by myself with a bloody apparition in a town where all my nearest neighbors were deer and the elderly. Although, let’s be real, this is Wyoming, people here have guns. I would totally be okay. But if it’s an apparition… Anyway.

Besides night frets and an overly quiet house that caused me extreme discomfort, I forcibly settled in with that discomfort, set on this being the one time I would not run away from any of my fears. And they are plenty. Reference my earlier blog on highly irrational fears.

I would face doing my work. I would face a quiet house. I would face being hundreds of miles from my comfort zone of friends and family. I would even face the dark without Nyquil or whiskey, though I considered both viable options if I wasn’t big girl enough to handle all my fears. Though turns out I am.

Last night was my epiphany moment in bed. You know that scene in Home Alone where Kevin is irrationally afraid of the furnace in the basement? Well one day he goes down there, still sort of afraid and then has his ah-ha moment and tells the furnace to shut up and he’s over it. Yeah if Kevin—an eight year old—can do it, I probably could too.

I was lying in bed exhausted, watching The Office on my laptop when I heard a noise. I suspiciously paused The Office listening intently to see if I was about to be murdered and I was about to press play again to drown out my worries in Steve Carell’s nonsense, when I got fed up with my own nonsense.

I shut the computer, enveloping myself in complete blackness, because I was tired. I told myself the noises were normal house noises and if I were about to be murdered then so be it. Go to bed, you idiot, I thought. And I did. I just went to bed.

That was kind of huge for me.

Not only that, but I have adjusted. While I do want to come home and tell someone stories, there is a certain empowerment in coming home, tending to my own needs, cutting potatoes, cleaning the kitchen, jotting down notes in my journal and curling up to watch I Love Lucy that makes me feel, well… kind of like an adult.

And the loneliness thing? It’s easy to see it that way at first, like the loneliness would swallow me whole, but it’s hard to feel lonely in a town of 75 people. It seems the opposite would be true but it’s not. In a town this small, people care. People learned my name right away and use it when they see me. Everyone waves. All. The. Time. Which is my favorite thing.

In fact I have been running daily and if someone passes me from behind they make sure to hold up their hand and wave anyway so I still get a wave even if I didn’t see them head-on. I get waves from tractors and hellos from people in town who I haven’t even met yet, but they will take time to stop and ask me how I am doing or comment on my running or that they heard I was a writer.

The friends I have made include me and ask me to do things with them or text me to ask about my day. Or perfect strangers offer to teach me how to rope because I mentioned wanting to learn. And that in itself is incredible because the woman who offered to teach me to rope is a rancher and this is a busy season for the ranchers. The fact that she would haul a hay bail, cow dummy head and rope over to my house and give me a roping tutorial when I am sure she has better things to do is mind-boggling.

And it has made me fall in love with this town and feel the furthest from being alone when in fact, I am alone. If this being alone, I don’t think I could’ve found a better place to give it a whirl.

I’m learning how to be alone. I fall asleep with the TV on
And I fight the urge to live inside my telephone
I keep my spirits high, find happiness by and by
If it takes a lifetime