Richy Rich

I bought a seven speed bicycle the other day. It is a rust bucket of a Schwinn. The seat is torn and gaping open and it will only shift into two gears: six and seven, the two most challenging gears. Of course I didn’t know about the gears when I bought it. The bicycle also had two mostly flat tires, and yet I was willing to take my chances for the five dollar price tag and the pure wind-in-my-hair joy I knew it would bring me.

The thing is, I have been on a bit of a budget. Not that I don’t always thrill over a deal, or typically have wads of cash to throw around on fancy high-dollar peddlers, but a five dollar bicycle in a tourist town, in July, well, I consider that good fortune.

I have had a lot of other good fortune lately and it has mostly coincided with my mad attempts to horde the few dollars I have to my name. Exciting as it has been to start a new job as a reporter, find my own place and start the heady task of furnishing said place, it is no inexpensive feat. Also I haven’t gotten a paycheck yet.

Upon moving into my very cozy cabin-esque apartment a little over a week ago, I took stock of what I needed, which to make the list short was: everything. To be fair, the apartment was furnished with a queen-sized bed, vintage dresser, kitchen table complete with two cushioned yet stained chairs, an orange and brown scratchy/deeply hideous loveseat, one torn and tattered green rocking chair, and a ripped footstool. I am not exactly sure why so much of the furniture is torn and stained but I chalk it up to the last tenant being a bachelor and not a serial killer.

I slowly began the hunt for my long list of household items. I spent my lunch breaks from the paper poring over every shelf in every thrift store in town, checking things off my list: silverware caddy, utensils, baskets for storage, a single plate and single bowl. I was as vigilant for deals as a hunter is for the snap of a tree branch. I got my glassware half off one day. I found forks and knives five cents apiece, along with the baskets. I accidentally bought a space heater instead of a fan, so that was a loss, but lucky for me, Cody gets so cold and windy at night that I feel like I might be swept off to Oz. And I might one day need it, probably before July is through.

I bought a cooking pot for $2 at a consignment store and a vintage turquoise hamper for $6 although, that was a bit of a splurge, but I put back the fly fishing vest for $5 that I yearned for deeply even though it made me look like a husky pre-pubescent boy. I found an electric tea kettle with a sticker that said $4 but rang up $3. I passed on things like full dishware sets or drinking cups, and chose to stick with my one plate for now and drink out of my Nalgene bottle when I was thirsty.

Also I had a vast coffee mug collection to start with, so I’ve survived. A friend slept over one night and I heard her rustling around to get a drink in the middle of the night. When she crawled back into bed with me, I apologized for my lack of dishware and she said it was alright, that she’d found a mug that said Milk. It actually says Beast.

What was left over after I paid rent, bought absolute essentials like toilet paper, dish soap and a small starter set of grocery items like bread, blueberries, yogurt and almonds—things that could not be purchased thrifting—was a meager amount. This was of course after I bought a celebratory pizza and a six pack of Blue Moon as my one indulgence to life on my own. I proceeded to eat pizza for two meals a day, four days in a row. I rationed that pizza pie like you wouldn’t believe. I even rationed the beer. There is still one bottle left.

I felt a little grim about making a grocery budget out of five dollars, but that was what I could finagle for the week. I knew the bread and blueberries could only go so far, but I also knew my mama raised me very well when it came to being thrifty. I decided I wanted some sort of sliced turkey or chicken breast because I knew I could eat that for two meals a day like I had the pizza.

I went to the grocery store where I saw sliced chicken breast was on sale for $3.98 a pound and I was beside myself, thinking I had an extra dollar to work with and I could get a whole pound of chicken when I realistically expected only half a pound. There was some debate about the sale, however and a manager was called, then another manager. I grew a little frustrated as I had my heart set on the sale price and was not backing down, though I tried to come across as friendly, I insisted the sale sticker had no date and said clear as a bell the $3.98 price.

Finally the manager handed over my sliced chicken and apologized for my long wait and all of the confusion, saying the item indeed was on sale. I started to walk over to produce to find what I could get for $1 when I noticed the sticker on my chicken said $.48 not $3.98. I stared at it thinking there was some mistake and but then I thought perhaps God was giving me a break. I was downright jubilant and found some guacamole on sale and sweet potato chips and went home and ate that for days until the chicken ran out. When the chicken was gone, I spread guacamole on toast and sprinkled parmesan and red pepper packets on top that I had left over from the pizza and washed it down with a brew.

I panicked one day when I thought I had run out of shampoo but then I remembered my bath bag where I had stowed away half empty travel size bottles of shampoos that people left in their cabins, back when I was doing housekeeping in June. I put all of the travel size bottles in my shower and calculated that I had at least two weeks before I actually needed to buy a new bottle of shampoo.

I hung out with new friends who gave me an old blender and a stash of Mason jars they had in their garage. I signed up for text alerts to get free movie codes for Redbox rentals.

I had next to no money for groceries this week until I get paid and I had called my mom one day to excitedly ask her, “did you know you can buy a single carrot?”

My mom asked why I would buy just one carrot.

“Because it was seventeen cents!” I exclaimed. “I could get two side meals out of that carrot!”

And that’s when I found my bike. That money was strictly earmarked for groceries but I had to. Hence the single carrot. The tires were low and needed to be filled and there wasn’t a single gas station that I could find that had a free air pump, though I did find one that you could pay by the minute. Or so I thought.

I had exactly one quarter left to my name that I honestly didn’t want to give up, but I really wanted to ride my new bike, so I put it in the air machine. Nothing happened. I stared at the machine, not exactly feeling dismay but wondering vaguely if I could get my quarter back, when a man nearby hopped out of his beat-up truck and asked if I needed quarters. I swatted my hand, “no. I just thought you could pay for one minute. I didn’t know you had to commit to the four minutes for a dollar. I really don’t need four minutes.”

“I have a whole bunch of quarters here,” he insisted grabbing a bunch off his dashboard and placing some in the machine while I still argued that he didn’t need to do that. Suddenly air was whooshing out of the hose and he smiled. This was the epitome of people in Wyoming, just wanting to help.

I thanked him profusely and he was gone. I filled up the tires on my bike and checked to see if my car tires needed air once I was on someone else’s quarter. I then brought my new/old Schwinn home and took her for a wind-in-my-hair, joy-filled ride. A grin was perma-plastered on my face. Even when I went uphill. Even when I realized the shifter was broke. Even when the handlebars stained my hands black.

And you know what the funny part is? Used shampoo bottles and used spatulas and coffee mugs that say Beast and rickety bikes and guacamole sandwiches and single carrots, and free movie rentals, and tattered furniture and faux wood paneling in a studio apartment that looks like the scene where the Grinch steals everything and even the mice are aghast at the nail holes and crumbs aside… well all of this doesn’t make me feel poor at all. It makes me feel quite rich.

I think I’ve finally made it.

**My good friend Ryan and sweet sister Kia helped in the way of my grocery budget funds. Without them I wouldn’t have eaten guac sammies and carrots and blueberries and almonds and pizza and Blue Moon’s, but instead would’ve had to eat s’mores fixin’s and Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I would be remiss if I didn’t say I am also rich in family and friends.

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Solo Camping

I think I might be a grown-up. I know how this sounds. Of course by all standards, I am a grown-up. I live apart from my parents and pay my bills and brush my teeth and get dressed in the morning unassisted. I don’t know that these are qualifiers for grown-up-hood actually because five year olds too know how to get dressed and brush their teeth, but they can’t buy whiskey and move cross country whenever they feel like it, so I stand by my declaration.

Anyway, this occurred to me last night as I was walking to the bathroom at the campground I was staying at. By myself. I kept giggling like I was a kid who had in fact snuck out of my parents house to do something illicit. I did do this once as a youngster, with my best friend Katee Peach—that really was my childhood best friend’s name, isn’t that perfect?—this is what Bad Mary Janes we were. We snuck out around midnight, drove to Meijer—a nicer version of Wal-Mart, but not as classy as Target, for those not in the know—bought bulk candy and sat in the furniture section feeling smug, rocking on faux leather office chairs until our eyes got heavy and we inevitably just drove home.

I told myself when I moved to yet another new place by myself, that I was going to attempt to do things alone, things that I would have previously never considered doing alone. One of those things was go camping. In my mind going camping alone, seemed rather lame. Who would I chat with and snuggle and eat s’mores with? Turns out the s’mores thing was hardly a problem. I made it my mission to eat enough s’mores to account for two people being there. I know, I had to take one for the team on that one.

I had decided to ease into camping by myself, I wouldn’t venture into the Wyoming wilds alone, alone. First I would start with a campground and I opted for Buffalo Bill State Park on the reservoir. Not too shabby canyon and water views, accompanied by the secure feeling of collective campers, and a distinct lack of grizzlies seemed wise.

I brought my childhood stuffed giraffe that I still cart around the country when I am in between snuggle partners as she makes a good fill in. Lula didn’t disappoint. She didn’t fight me when I put her worn orange cotton ears tightly underneath my neck. She also didn’t object to my constant position switching in the night to get comfortable on my stack of about 9 folded blankets.

I can’t say I deserved a high-five for setting up my tent because it is new technology and basically idiot-proof. I am pretty sure I could have Mary Poppins’d that shit, and sang a song to my tent and it would’ve risen. Also God love a Coleman, because the beaut held up to insane and persistent Wyoming winds all. night. long. I kept checking the corners which I had weighed down with rocks, because my campsite was pure rubble and I could not get the stakes in.

But the tent and Lula held through the onslaught.

I had made a fire, no prob, because duh I was a Girl Scout. Although, okay I love to throw that out there, but I think I actually was a Brownie and never graduated past Brownie. But I did sew something once, so, I am pretty sure I still get the honor.

I drank peach beers and smiled dreamily at my blazing fire, the sun dipping down behind Cody canyons and felt like I was figuring it out. At least I hoped I was. I wanted to start in on my laundry list of worries because that is my usual pastime, but I refused. I told myself I would simply enjoy the pure pleasure of being alive and able to camp on my own in the West. Turns out this wasn’t a hard feat.

I kept laughing and it wasn’t from the peach beers, though to be fair, two did make me tingle a bit. I sincerely felt in awe of doing an activity that seems like it should be a two person activity, and making it fit one. My bed, happily high from the obscene amounts of stacked and folded blankets only took up a small space in my five-person tent. But I liked my miniature living room, with dimly lit lantern, Wall Drug cowboy satchel filled with books, my styrofoam cooler brought purely to protect the chocolate and brews, and then there was me and Lula.

I always say that I have the worst night’s sleep on record when I go camping, and I surely did. I was up every half hour it seemed with howling winds that shook every seam in my tent relentlessly. I wondered if the wind would pick us all up: me, the tent and Lula and cart us off to Oz. I dreamt about packing up the tent multiple times, but each time I woke up and heard the wind and rain, I snuggled deeper into my blankets and prayed. I didn’t pray for protection against a wayward tree crushing me, but for God to not let my new Coleman get destroyed after only one use.

I had fallen asleep wearing pants, a long sleeve shirt, doubled with a thick sweater and wool socks. I awoke sweaty and to the sounds of squawking birds. The tent was now still and my body ached as I wearily peeled off socks and multiple layers of my clothes. I whipped off the mounds of blankets and unzipped the tent flap to a cool breeze and bright morning sun. I gulped in the fresh air and wondered about coffee. I also wondered if I could shoot the squawking birds without incident.

Camping is slightly like heartache following love. You wonder why you bother, yet secretly are up for all the thrills all over again.

I debated whether I had the energy to pack up without caffeine first, but I swallowed some stale water from my Nalgene bottle and ate three squares of a Hershey’s bar and determined that would have to suffice.

As I tried to stuff the tent back in the bag that never seems big enough to hold what came out so easily, I thought, hey, I did it. I camped alone.

The Camp Hosts from Georgia who were making their morning rounds around the campground called out, “leaving already?”

“Yeah I was just here for one night. Now I am going hiking.”

“Be safe,” the man said.

I nodded, feeling sweaty from the effort of shoving the tent into its too small bag.

And just like that I was off in search of the largest coffee I could find and a hike that would quench my never-ending thirst for more adventure. Alone or otherwise.

Pink Thunderstorms

I have a real problem with believing I don’t deserve things. Not things like Prada, to be clear, but things like farm animals or a writing career. Despite this flawed way of thinking, God repeatedly shows me that I do deserve some serious grandeur at the very least. Like this pink thunderstorm for instance. You read that right. I was privy to my first ever pink thunderstorm. It was quite possibly the most exquisite sight my eyes had thus far beheld in my 30 years here on earth. And it was happening right out my window at 5:30 a.m.

I awoke to a barn-rattling thunderclap that jarred me out of an uncomfortable dream about ticks embedded in my legs that I was trying to claw out. I was happy for the intrusion and happier yet that it was because of thunder. I was lying there, having checked my phone and deduced that I still had an hour and a half left of blissful slumber before I had to be up for work. Maybe the wind had picked up or another thunderclap had cracked, or the sudden gusts of rain slapping against my window had alerted me, because I tossed my quilt aside and went to the window to investigate.

When I pulled the curtain aside, I saw what seemed to be a deleted scene from The Wizard of Oz. I had to resist checking my legs for ticks to be sure I wasn’t still dreaming. A pink haze enveloped the whole outdoors, like the inside of a snow globe lined with cotton candy.

The pink sky was clearly from the sunrise, though there was no sun in sight. Then I noticed the wind whipping up dirt and powerful rain in miniature tornado swirls across the horse corral to do a dizzying drunken dance right into my window pane. Which is when I realized rather large gusts of rain were suddenly blowing in. I slid the window shut while still looking on. Two of the horses who had shelter were partaking of it while looking slightly askance. While all the other horses suffering through the elements seemed nonplussed. I stared for a moment, completely mesmerized by the pink and the swirling. And then the thunder clapped again, like God was in a horserace and was whipping his steed to move faster, move faster.

I wanted to watch the whole thing play out, but I felt the pull of my bed and my coveted one point five more hours of sleep. I laid back down but left the curtain open to watch, while I happily dozed back asleep to the thunder and the wind gusts.

I would later play the image of the pink thunderstorm and the swirling wind tornadoes over and over again in my mind.

So alright. Maybe I don’t have a farming/writing empire yet, with a handy bearded husband who likes to rope things—me included. Ya know, rope me and then tie me to the bedpost. I am kidding! Sorta. Though, my ex used to joke that he would in fact tie me to the bedpost. But not in the fun way. He said he’d do it in order to deter me from this penchant I have about saving the rainforest and chaining myself to trees in order to stop factories being built. He said he would do a simulation and tie me to the bed, turn up the heat and play the movie, The Jungle Book. This scenario was definitely when I fell in love with the kid, but no matter. That ship has sailed and I digress.

But, c’mon, man. Pink thunderstorms?! That has to be right up there with odds like getting struck  by lightning. Okay, maybe they’re not that rare, but still, I feel like God was up to something and up to something good in order to shake me up.

Shake me up to that nonsense about being undeserving.

If that was His M.O. then I think I got it. If God thinks I deserve pink thunderstorms, then just you imagine what else I probably have got coming to me. I actually can’t even fathom, because I never even considered pink thunderstorms.

All I am saying is, if you’re anything like me, then you will have your moments of debilitating self-doubt from time to time, but keep your eyes and ears alert, because God has always got something wild and wonderful up His sleeve.

The Wildness in Me

I attended the Cody Rodeo last night. I even purchased a season pass, so color me committed. I ate overly salted popcorn, drank apricot beer and gabbed with my girlfriend from the ranch. She’s the wrangler there and would whistle with bursts of enthusiasm for the riders while watching raptly.

The sky’s brightness and the summer heat diminished and I begun to get chilled in my sleeveless white sundress. I watched the cowboys get flung from bulls and cowgirls turning a sharp corner on horses full of sinewy grace in barrel racing. I sometimes leaned back and hardly noted the action, instead just noted how I felt, which was charmed and at home, and other times I sat in wonder over the difficulty of roping a moving calf.

I myself started practicing roping a few months back, and it is no easy feat. I can only rope a calf if it is plastic and held fast in a hay bale, three feet in front of me and unmoving—which obviously helps if the calf is plastic. The idea that these riders can be swiftly moving atop a horse, swinging their rope, and catch a high-tailing calf is astounding and worth a whistle. If I could in fact whistle, which I cannot.

I had just wrapped up my first week at the new ranch, full of cooking up cheesecakes, biscuits, baked chicken, and cleaning cabins, learning to saddle and getting swept up in windstorms.

I felt as though I had hardly taken much of a breath as the night before last I stumbled up the barn steps and fell into a deep sleep at 6:30, not awaking again until 6:30 the next morning.

I was trying to keep track of all the newness, which had caused me to feel so breathless. Baking in a big old Western abode befitting a feature in Western Horseman. Riding horses up the side of a canyon while my nostrils inhaled an intoxicating amount of sage; I swayed with the horse and the sweet intensity of the smell and my surroundings. I heaved saddles on and hefted them off and felt that I belonged to the West and saddles and painting posts and sagebrush and that I always had.

And then when I had time to catch my breath my best friend told me she would go into labor soon. She is having twins and we texted back and forth in excitement. But then it started creeping up to me again. That feeling that I have tried to shake for months, but won’t go away. That my egg count is dwindling and motherhood is very far away from me.

I suddenly felt guilty about gallivanting up mountainsides on horseback and cruising around in a golf cart with a cow dog by my side with the wind making my hair look like Marv from Home Alone—because it is short again and the curls are as wild as my spirit. I felt like I had done something selfish somewhere along the line choosing to be so footloose and fancy-free. Had I chosen the wrong path, though it had felt like the right one?

Would choosing this kind of wildness prevent me from ever having something I had always wanted which was children.

I fear this kind of thing may not disturb men too greatly, or maybe even young women, because I don’t ever recall considering my egg count until my thirtieth birthday started nearing. And now I am somewhat obsessed with terms like egg counts and geriatric pregnancies—which for the record was the term for women who got pregnant after 35—adoption and egg freezing.

After many a meltdown as my thirtieth inched closer, and I masochistically read mommy articles and cried, I made a vow to myself to knock it the fuck off, and enjoy my present moments of ranching, making cheese, learning to fly fish and saddle horses, without thoughts of my egg supply or a geriatric pregnancy.

But all this rushed to the forefront of my mind again, while my bestie spoke excitedly of the impending birth of her daughters. I tried to keep a stiff upper lip, not portraying jealousy over her joy, while she consoled me that my time would come. I even marched on and went to the rodeo anyway, despite a sudden and distinct empty feeling in my uterus.

I watched the cowboys and tried not to picture little cowboy kids in my mind. I did anyway. I stared at the ropers and came back to my egg count. I looked at the running baby calves and tried to surmise if it were possible that I could live without children.

Which is when I turned and confessed all this to my very new friend who was very kind and understanding as I ranted about my barters with God: I will give up any lofty career aspirations and settle down as a respectable banker if it means I get to have babies. I mean it, God. I will stop being wild. Errr, I will try really hard to stop being wild, but I can’t make promises once the babies come, because I want them to ride horses, camp under the open Wyoming sky and go on whale watching adventures on the coast.

For some reason just admitting to my barters about being a banker in exchange for babies, while she laughed and said she understood, caused all the egg count and swaddled babies that I might never hold, and ideas that I could possibly be undeserving of a baby to disappear into the Western sky.

I stuck my hand back into the too-salted popcorn box, popping handfuls into my mouth and washing it down with my can of damn fine beer. The sky was a deep blue, yet the mountainous outlines were black against the blue, like a very fetching bruise.

I let out my breath again and decided I’d be okay. This was nice. The young wrangler girl was nice. And the rodeo sure was nice.

As we walked past all the corrals of animals upon leaving, I dreamily took in all their beauty. The wildness of the horses and bulls and even the baby calves struck me and I told my friend, “I want them all!” To which she laughed again and nodded, like why not?

Maybe, just maybe there will be a way for me to have the wildness, the West and little cowboys of my own. If I have learned how to saddle, make fresh cheese from scratch after milking a cow, not take my instructor’s eye out when learning to cast a fly line and rope a plastic calf, then I suppose anything is possible. At least, that’s what the West would have a girl like me believe.

Becoming a Rancher

I oftentimes wonder how my life unfolds so swimmingly. I tend to think of my life as an overflowing, haphazard basket of whimsy and want, so when it unfolds how I want it to, I am always taken slightly by surprise. I like to think I somehow manifested the wonderful happenings of my life, but that’s giving me far too much credit. Especially considering that half the time I am vexed with worry and doubt that the life I yearn for won’t pan out, or worse yet that I don’t deserve it.

So when I thought about making a go of this whole ranching business back in January/post-breakup, I really didn’t have overwhelming confidence in any of it. I simply hoped for the best and went forward. I wish I could say I had mountains of faith and that was the ticket, but I couldn’t muster much of that then either. I was simply trying my hand at that whole one foot in front of the other/keep breathing/don’t freak out business while throwing myself in the way of ranching possibility.

Where I found myself the other night was lying awake in bed in complete and utter awe of it actually happening. Ranching that is. I was playing the events of the day over and over in my mind in wonder and gratitude, thinking how could it be? I thought, sure, I had wanted it real bad. So bad in fact I was scared of how much I wanted it.

And it happened. It simply happened.

In spite of my fear that it wouldn’t, it happened anyway. I sighed in delirious contentment and thought if there was a lesson in all of this, it was that I probably needed to believe more in the beautiful possibilities and yearnings of my heart, because they clearly were not steering me wrong.

So about that day, the one that kind of sealed the deal on my feeling like a rancher. Let me wax poetic for a spell.

I have been shadowing in the arenas of cheese-making, cow milking and brandings with the kindest and most patient ranchers this side of the Mississippi—at least in my humble opinion—but also the ones most likely to help me accomplish my ranching goals. Not many tasks have made me feel as accomplished as making homemade mozzarella by myself, which I did this week. Or milking a cow, which promptly shimmied up the list as well.

I had actually been yearning to milk a cow since first arriving in Hyattville. I’d even watched my friend do it dozens of times over the past few months. But when she finally gave me the go ahead to milk Daisy while she left to go run an errand, I panicked slightly, wondering how she had so much confidence in me with her rather large and slightly intimidating animal.

Okay, I had thought, hopefully, I can do this. I got the milk pumping machine on Daisy with no incident with my friend’s supervision before she left, giving me instructions on when to pull the pumps off. I nodded brightly, trying not to show my nerves. I could do this, I repeated to myself. I could milk Daisy and not over-milk her or under-milk her. Was that even possible, I wondered. If it was, I knew I would be the one to accidentally do it.

I kept tabs on Daisy and patted her side lovingly, like I had seen my friend do, and said nice things to her, so that when I had to walk around her backside she wouldn’t kick me for being an imbecile. Not that I really thought I would get kicked, but nonetheless, I hoped Daisy sensed my timid awe of her size and milking abilities.

According to my friend, all the udders would be soft once she was done milking, and all but one was, so I kept trying to urge that one along while continually checking on it and growing slightly worried about whether I was doing something wrong. I kept walking around her and checking the udder in question and the milking machine, when I saw the barn door open and a very nice fella from town poked his head in and smiled at me, asking if I was alone today.

“Yes!” I exclaimed, deeply relieved to have a second opinion on whether I was over-milking poor Daisy. “Could you perhaps have a look and tell me if she is done milking, because I am not exactly sure…” I ventured.

He stepped in, walked around and had a look. “I’d say she’s done.”

“You’re sure? Even that one back there?” I pointed to the udder in question that I was concerned about. He checked and nodded.

Phew, I thought with deep relief. I unhooked the machine and walked around to unlock the barn door. I unhooked the latch that held her neck in place for her to enjoy hay and oats while being milked. I then moved the posts that lined up next to her body, and told her, “alright you can go now sweetheart,” with gratitude that she had tolerated my slight ineptitude with such sweet cow aplomb. She backed up to get out the door and then stared at the still closed door with me now on the other side of her.

Well crap. I had unlocked the door, but didn’t open it for her to get out.

“Okay, one second,” I said apologetically, shimmying under the posts to get back to the door while she politely backed up excusing my error. I am certain Daisy is the loveliest and most gracious cow, because I bet if she could have, she would have rolled her eyes at me.

I let her out.

I had done it. I had milked a cow and no one got hurt. Not me, nor Daisy. Sweating slightly, I wiped my brow, finally feeling confident to make my morning cup of coffee.

Now as if milking a cow all by myself—well with a smidgen of oversight from a very kind sir—wasn’t enough to make my ranching dreams seem like a reality, I was informed that on that very same day I would get to go on horseback to help move cows for a branding.

Moving cows by horseback was something I had been itching to do ever since I had first laid eyes on this occurrence in the West many months prior. Later that afternoon I came back to the ranch to help gather up the horses, saddle them and get ready for the branding. I use the term help very loosely as my friend’s husband, who is even more lovely and gracious than Ms. Daisy, did all the gathering of the horses and showed me how to saddle, while still doing the bulk of the work himself.

I mounted my horse Oscar, loosely holding onto the reins, and mentally trying to conjure up all the things I remembered about horses and maneuvering from my years of sporadic riding lessons. I also mentally tried to communicate with Oscar, to please cooperate with me and not make me look bad in front of all the cowboys—this includes the cowgirls, I just deeply enjoy the term cowboys—that were now mounted and ready on their horses. Most of them had on chaps and cowboy hats and some were holding ropes. I felt a heady anticipation.

As soon as we began to move, however, Oscar picked up speed seemingly wanting to go into a trot, while I pulled back on the reins as no one else was going that fast. He clearly had not heard my mental message. He did his speed up and go business for a bit while I tried to pull him back. His response was to shake his head, no, and try it again. Until we got to a river crossing where he seemed altogether hesitant to go across. I urged him forward, until finally with us near the end of the grouping, he crossed and then began to pick up speed once more.

I tried my best to steer him and rein him in, but he really wasn’t having it. By this point we had gotten to where the cows were and were guiding them back toward the corral. Oscar wanted to run forward still and I didn’t want to be the one person mucking up the whole cow moving effort.

By this point my friend motioned me over to her, to grab one of my reins, holding it along with her own reins until we got back. I should have felt slight mortification over being an incompetent horsewoman in front of all these awe-inspiring ranchers and ropers, but I didn’t care, because with Oscar now being handled and seemingly calm, I could bask in my first experience of moving cows. And take in the scenery.

I happily swayed in my saddle while watching the baby calves trot alongside their mamas. The afternoon radiated warmth from the strong spring sunshine, while the rich green grass was a perfect contrast to the blue grey mountains along the horizon. I watched the others on their horses and wanted to fold up the field like a fresh sheet, with all its accompanying animals, cowboys and feelings of western grandeur and timelessness and put it in the linen closet of my mind.

Later I lazily leaned against a fence watching the men rope the calves, feeling much less flustered this time, than my first time at a branding. This was now my third branding, so I felt I could probably even contribute.

My ranching friend who was roping asked why I didn’t bring my rope. And I laughed, pointing out that everyone present would have to possess a lot more patience for the day and expect no calves to be roped if I was left with that daunting task.

Later I sat on a flatbed trailer while watching the men rope and drag the calves ready for branding, while a young tough girl I fiercely admired for her wrangling abilities, gave the little ones their shots.

When it was all over, food was lined up on truck beds in vast quantities, while a bottle of Crown Royal was passed around. I was offered a swig, though I did nothing of note to warrant my earning a drink, but I tipped the bottle back and drank anyway. It singed down my throat but felt nice, and I quipped, “that’ll put hair on your chest!”

“I hope not!” the cowboy who had given it to me said aghast, “If I thought that, I wouldn’t have given it to you!”

I laughed and waited until everyone who had worked much harder than I had got their heaping plates of pastas and BBQ’d meat and strawberry rhubarb pie and beer.

I helped myself to all of the above, except beer and was just helping myself to more German chocolate cake, when my friend asked if I wanted a beer. I said yes and he brought me a Coors. I gulped it down in between bites of cake and thought, Coors and chocolate actually are a mighty fine combo. Perhaps the new best combo of my life.

And that’s when it really hit me.

The moment was freaking perfect.

The beer and cake, the temperature dropping in the air, a couple cows come to watch the feasting and us, the ranchers milling about visiting after a hard day’s work of roping, castrating, branding and being in the saddle. And I deeply admired all of them and felt that it was an immense privilege and honor to know people like this, but furthermore to even be included in this sacred part of the West.

It was such an exceptionally rare moment of peace for me that I asked myself if the moment or even the whole day could’ve been made better by any of the things I normally fret about. If I had a husband or babies or health insurance would my beer and cake have tasted sweeter? Would my saddle have felt smoother? Would the air have been warmer? Would the cowboys’ smiles and generosity of spirit been brighter?

No. There was no doing anything to that day to top it in my mind or to take away from that simple state of wondrous being and belonging. If I could make these Hyattville ranchers fields forever fertile and their cattle extra plump and their beer and whisky even finer, I would, to show them how grateful I am for what they’ve given me.

Unfortunately I don’t wield that kind of power, so my honest hope is that I become half as incredible a rancher as any of them, and maybe one day really can rope a calf from atop my horse. And perhaps remember that the next time life’s problems seem a little out of hand, that it’s nothing a Coors and cake probably couldn’t solve.

The Recipe for More Than Enough

I often wonder what my life would be like if I stopped worrying? For starters I would have so much time on my hands that I could probably cure cancer or become a millionaire. Although, I am actually nowhere near science-brained enough to tackle cancer, other than with hippy plants and prayer. So that’s out. And I don’t care great deals about money to make being a millionaire an aim.

I just want to have somewhat fancy breads, cheeses and chocolate in my life, good company, and be able to get Sallie Mae off my back indefinitely. And uh… I mean if God threw an outdoorsy gent in there who happened to have a beard, I certainly wouldn’t complain…

But speaking of fancy breads and good company and the niceness of life and bearded gentleman… I actually have all of that already. Well, technically I don’t have a bearded gentleman per se. But I have a real solid bearded pal who envelops me in great big bear hugs and kisses my forehead from time to time. So it counts.

All of this is to say, I am not secretive about my freakouts. I pretty much always tell people when I am freakin’ out. The ranchers know when I am losing it, because I come over to their cozy hilltop log house and have coffee with them and probably wear them down with my words. And my girlfriends know because I have a brew and do it all over again. And then my sisters pick up the phone while I am driving and I love their sweet voices and I focus on the road, watching intently for deer and cry and then pray I don’t hit a deer for the third time. So yeah… I am not one of those bottle it up girls.

While being back in Wyoming and learning to be a rancher and experiencing some of the most incredible experiences to date involving roping and jam sessions and baby cows and cowboys have left me nothing short of awe-struck, I have had my moments of adjusting. Adjusting to life by myself. Adjusting to the prospect of turning thirty and wondering if I’ve mucked up somewhere along the line because I don’t have a baby or a ring on my left hand or enough money in my savings or checking for Bank of America not to punish me for having so little money.

All that is worry mixed in where a whole lot of splendor could be steeping. And all the worry had been doing was taking away from the simple splendor and God’s grace. I was noting the splendor sure, because I am drawn to that always, but I couldn’t stop the worry though. I said I was stopping and I tried to mean it, but I became overcome with worry again and again and again, until I called my mom one day in an absolute fit of overwrought histrionics and said I was worrying myself ragged and needed an escape.

I had talked to a lovely friend in Sheridan—on the other side of the mountain—who invited me to stay with her and I speculated to my mom about the costs of the miniature road trip. She insisted I go and told me not to worry over any of it. To treat myself to coffees at Andi’s and a sandwich at The Cowboy Cafe and a salad on the porch of The Sheridan Inn. I did all three and I let my breath out. Breath that had been terribly trapped in fits of anxiety deep in my core.

I stayed with my friend in her home that reminded me of my childhood best friends home. It was herbal-y and full of sunshine and twinkle lights and love. Oh my goodness but love was soaked in every molecule and fiber of that place! When my friend set down a cutting board of fancy cheeses, bread and veggies in front of me. When she poured me sun tea she’d had on the porch all day and her husband and I agreed it was good, but if we had a splash of bourbon… bourbon was added to the sun tea and I sighed merciful content. When she told me the story of how she happened to meet her husband on a plane when she had started to question if she’d ever find love again, I thought, okay not only is there love in this place, there is hope.

And I decided right then and there to give up my worry. Or do my very darndest to at least backseat the little brat who had been taking over the wheel of my life as of late. It was so sweet to sip on bourbon sun tea and breathe. And think of meeting someone in a fanciful way that didn’t involve my worried fitful brain and worst-case-scenarios. And later sit on one of the widest and most open porches in the west with a waldorf salad and A Moveable Feast and take pleasure in merely being. Just being alive here. Wasn’t that enough?

Of course it’s enough. Why do I get so gluttonous for more? Green-apple splashed salads on airy porches was enough. Bourbon sun tea with a darling of a girl and her love was enough. Sleeping soundly with the window open and a slight chill was enough. Going to visit my bearded friend because I knew he’d cuddle me—and play Scrabble with me. I was Twain, he was Faulkner, because we make Scrabble aliases. And make me laugh and generally help me to forget all about my incessant worry—for no other reason than because darn it all I needed to be cuddled (and maybe I missed him a wee bit). But that too was enough.

And the more I got to thinking about my life here, it dawned on me that the simple splendors plus the right amount of hope, minus substantial worry would be the recipe for more than enough. Then it’s funny how these things happen but I began to notice even more enoughs. I had so many enoughs overflowing my pockets, I was starting to feel jubilant. Like running through the rain yesterday and pausing thinking, my God do people realize how amazing it is to run in the rain and feel wet grass on their ankles? That got me through my entire day yesterday: wet grass on my ankles, while running to a barn in the rain. More. Than. Enough.

And when I would wake up and frantically search the bed for my worry, like uh-oh, you’ve had your fun, now girl get back to the business of bluesy terror over your life, I would calmly and rationally tell my brain: All those worries you worry over, welp, turns out majority of them cannot be solved in this instant before coffee, so uh… Worry, maybe you had best just skedaddle for today. And probably tomorrow while you’re at it. Because I am doing my best here. 

So here I sit. It is snowing and I am going to make sweet potato biscuits and cookies. I am tucked in at the rancher’s beautiful window-lit home for the day. And later, when the ranchers return, we are having kiwi margaritas. Yeah let that sink in, a kiwi… margarita. I don’t know, man, but bourbon sun tea and kiwi margaritas in the same week… I gotta say, that’s a whole lotta splendor goin’ on. And if you’re reading between the lines right, there’s not a whole lotta room for worry in between bourbon sun tea and a kiwi margarita. At least from what I understand about life.

 

We’re Glad You Are Here

I often feel lucky. Extraordinarily lucky to be precise. Even when life sets me back with unexpected pitfalls, I can usually see the comedy in the situation, at the very least. For instance. My plumbing went out recently in the house I am staying at. Besides, having one day where I overflowed the toilet by attempting to do the dishes and having to cart loads of murky toilet water out to the weeds with a milk jug, I also lived like I was camping for a few weeks, with no ability to use the bathroom or sinks.

If a pioneering lifestyle was one I had pined for then I had gotten what I desired, I surmised. Splashing myself with ripe sewage water while sweating profusely was comical yes. Having to go to the bathroom late at night and running behind a pine tree, also worth a chuckle. A friend stopped by one day and I confessed that perhaps I had slipped into a sewage funk from the fumes. She insisted I stay with her for a few days in her cozy log cabin. And that brings me back to that whole luck thing.

But it’s not luck really, though, like I said, I oftentimes feel very lucky. It is simply that God spoils me, even in the midst of sewage funks. Or regular funks, which I had admittedly been in for the last couple days. I don’t know why but I couldn’t shake this insane fear—could’ve been prompted by some bad men and even worse dates—that I was going to end up a barren spinster, living alone in the woods with weird hair and a slew of dogs, watching Dr. Quinn and polishing my rifle collection. Though, honestly, that sounds slightly bad-ass in the admittedly crazy lady way. At least where the rifle collection and dogs are concerned.

Being at my friends house for a few days had helped. It also helped immensely when we went out for pizza on Wednesday night—Hyattville’s hub of social interaction—and I got to visit with some of my favorite people in town. This one older couple I adore had joined us for dinner. The husband of the pair always says the loveliest things to me. When I first met him, he said his name and when I gave him mine, he said, “I am happy to know you.”

This time after visiting throughout dinner and telling him stories, while he and his wife in turn shared stories of their own, he told me, “We’re glad you are here.” That one sentence warmed me more than the two nearly full glasses of cabernet I had paired with my pizza.

Then later when my friend and I got back to her place we had a fit of giggles over our two glasses of wine. She confessed in a bright burst of enthusiasm, “I could either do a hike right now or go to bed!” I felt the same, though, about fifteen minutes into conversation we realized bed, it was. At least I did, as I made my way upstairs and promptly crashed in a fizzy wine, pizza and gratitude haze, replaying that line in my head, “we’re glad you are here.”

Despite the glory of log cabin sleepovers with a girlfriend that makes me laugh and town folk who make me feel oh so welcome, I still couldn’t shake the funk. And admitted it to my girlfriends when out at a brewery the next night. They had all been telling hilarious stories about their husbands and kids and I sat there in a mute panic, thinking, what if I never get to be a part of this club: the Hubby Horror Stories and My Kids Are Driving Me Nuts Club? I felt stricken and downed my beers and tried to stifle my worry. When I finally fessed up to my weird mood and weirder fears involving Dr. Quinn and dogs named after my ex-loves, one of my friends said I needed to just unleash and let loose a stream of f-bombs. I laughed while loving that advice. I did unleash, venting about such fears, though I refrained from the f-bombs.

I tried to cool my jets and stop stewing on it but still the fear taunted me well into the next day. It didn’t help that my job had been going dismally slow, allowing my brain to fester and my boss to not so helpfully distract me with the status of his lodged earwax. I wish I could tell you I was kidding, here, but discussing my boss’s earwax was an actual conversation I had at work this week. Well mostly, a one-sided conversation, because I didn’t much know how to respond to such scintillating talk.

I went to a friend’s house after work that day and while she was finishing up some farm chores, I visited with one of her horses, who curiously came by to check me out. I rubbed the side of his face with my hand, and felt an odd and immediate comfort from the large animal. I looked at my reflection in his eye and said, “It’s been a rough couple of days,” thinking he might understand. He may have horse problems, or he may not. Either way, it felt good to get it off my chest to a completely impartial party.

The strong and sincere comfort I had gotten not only from my kind friends but from the horse gave me an idea and on my drive home I pulled off at a barn where I usually stopped on my runs out into the country. Here resided two unbelievably friendly horses. My favorite horses in Hyattville in fact.

When I got out of the car and began walking toward the fence, I saw one of the horses munching away, but when she spotted me, she immediately abandoned her food and trotted toward the fence to see me. I felt so grateful. She stuck her head over the fence, close to my face, bending down to let me pet her. And she didn’t stray. She let me pet her over and over again, while I whispered things to her. Then she inched her face closer to mine so that her lips seemed to brush mine. I would run my hands all the way up to her ears and along the side of her neck and back down. She would give me what felt like a kiss in exchange. So I finally pursed my lips with a slight giggle, and she leaned in and did it again.

And just like that, my fears began to melt away. I knew she understood. Maybe not the fears of being alone, or maybe indeed, as she seemed all too happy to keep me company and forgo her dinner for a bit. But either way, she knew I needed her and though she may not need me—she has a caretaker after all—she seemed glad I was there.

I drove home, feeling somewhere in the vicinity of sublime, again thinking of that sentence, “we’re glad you are here.” For now, knowing that some very fine people and horses were glad I was around, well, it simply would have to do. I would have to shelve my worries that terrorists would get me before a good man did. That’s not a real theory right?