The Wildness in Me

Musings

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

A day in the life of...

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

Musings

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

Musings

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?

A Day in the Life of a Rancher: The Branding

A day in the life of...

I got to experience my first calf branding the other day. I was unnaturally elated and felt like this was the height of cowboy culture—other than perhaps moving cows by horseback which I am also dying to do.

I am not sure why I went into it so full of pep, as the very words, calf and branding together don’t exactly speak to a lot of joviality. I knew branding would probably be intense but I still wanted to see this iconic ranching experience.

Upon arriving I noted a smell similar to that of being in a dental chair having a cavity drilled. I could see billowing white smoke coming up from the backs of where the calves fur was being singed. Then I noted small trickles of blood coming from both their ears and lower extremities, having just been castrated and dehorned as well. The testicles were then thrown into a Folgers Coffee container. My eyes kept going from Folgers container of testicles to the calves’ eyes. I watched on trying not to get shook-up when they struggled on the calf table.

Every time I could feel myself being slightly taken aback by the very rawness of ranching and that animals would indeed need to experience some pain in their lives—much like us humans—my rancher friend who was castrating, would smile reassuringly when he caught my eye, in a way that seemed like a shrug, what can ya do?

What can ya do, is right? This was the rancher’s job and all of the things taking place needed to be done. For starters, I myself, like almost everyone in America enjoys cheeseburgers; and I know that a cow doesn’t simply lie down and die in a field of daffodils on a dewy morning, only for a rancher to stumble along and go, hey, this would make a fine meal! I happily and blithely enjoy cheeseburgers with no thoughts of the dirty work involved. All that aside… Castration, I learned, prevented inbreeding, or breeding too early and allowed the bulls to focus on their feeding versus breeding. The dehorning had several purposes too, involving safety for the ranchers and the cattle’s ability to move through chutes unencumbered at meat-processing plants.

The calves were given two shots during this process. This is where I got put on in the lineup. Shot detail. I filled up the shots for each new calf about to have his first real-eye opening experience about life in the Wild West, just like I was having my own. I felt helpful in this way, though, and like I was doing something of import and healing for the calves. Every time I got to fill a new vial and see a calf hop off the table, I felt a little better.

They were corralled into a small pen that doubles as a table which flips up. Then the calf is held down with prongs while all the necessities take place. A lot of bellowing goes on and their eyes get slightly bulgy. But the interesting thing about their bellowing is it doesn’t get that loud. I thought, if that were me on the table getting branded and castrated and dehorned, they’d hear me bellowing clear over in Thailand, that’s how much I wouldn’t be having it.

Now here is the really interesting part. Once the calf is let go, he’d hop off the table and scamper away looking no worse for wear. Truly. And all of this is only a couple minute process. Either calves are great pretenders, or they really are quite resilient even if they’re hurting and they simply go back to the business of being young’uns who curiously run around the yard and play or go looking for their mama. I couldn’t believe it. About 97 of the 100 or so calves that were being branded that day all looked right as rain and like nothing at all had just happened to them.

About one looked as if it had gone through some sort of ordeal, while two others had the grandiose notion to perhaps lay in the sun and take a well-deserved nap. If I was a calf, not only would I be the single calf in the herd looking as if I’d just had an ordeal, I would also be the one napping and I would be running and bellowing to my mama about said ordeal. I probably wouldn’t shut up about it for weeks. The other calves would roll their eyes and think I was a pansy-ass. But it’s true. I now knew that one of my “bad” days was nothing in comparison to a calf’s bad day.

I was also informed that sometimes the calves get diarrhea and spew all over whoever happens to be at that end of the table, either brander or herder. My friend told me that one year her young son—who was also helping that day—was standing decently far away on herding patrol and still got diarrhea splattered all over his face. His face. I can’t even… Although her comical response to this, was that it probably boosted his immune system. Ranchers, gotta love ’em.

But all of the shock of what very real ranching and branding looked like aside, I had a whole new appreciation for my cushy life that had hardly touched on real farming, or any truly harrowing experiences. I had never been branded, thank God, but I also had never had to brand anything either.

My day of branding may have been the first day I wasn’t altogether romanced by ranching. But on the tail-end of this sobering thought was that it was okay. I didn’t always have to be romanced by ranching, because like the ranchers had been saying over and over to me, there were lots of aspects of ranching that didn’t look particularly romantic. They were gritty and filthy and tough and bellowing and covered in diarrhea and/or blood.

And if I thought I was the only one struggling to see the calves struggle I would’ve been wrong. I later talked about it with my rancher friend in charge of the castrating and he agreed, branding was a tough thing to see and an even tougher thing to do, but it was a necessity for the herd. It had to be done in order to prevent their animals—their assets—from getting lost and unrecovered or stolen and it was the best way, where other ways, like merely tagging weren’t nearly as reliable. He confessed he didn’t like it any more than I did, but that it did have to be done. And I admired him deeply for that.

He also pointed out that our culture as a whole was getting a bit too soft over the animal killing thing. He said, “Nowadays, I’m afraid if you put a couple people in a room with a gun and a rabbit until they starved, several people would choose to starve or end up shooting themselves before they killed the rabbit. And we have to get away from that.”

I thought that notion was slightly comical, but probably true. I will admit I recently ran over a rabbit on my way home from work and felt horrible about it. But, I would have no problem killing a rabbit if that was my only means of sustenance. Especially if I was starving. If you have ever seen me when I am starving you’d understand that I’d probably kill you if you got in my way of some juicy meat over the notion that it was cruel. Ask my sister Kia about this, when she dared to eat a bagel in front of me during competition on The Biggest Loser and I wasn’t allowed to touch a carbohydrate. Needless to say, Kia probably now has a complex about bagels because of how poorly I reacted.

And don’t get me wrong now either. I am an animal lover through and through. I think Sea World and zoos are incredibly cruel for animals and I don’t support that shenanigans. I don’t however think ranching, hunting or eating meat as sustenance is in any way cruelty to animals.

As the day wound down, and mama cows got reunited with their calves and everyone seemed content, I noticed my friend’s young son snatch what I thought was a calf testicle and pop it in his mouth. Now it was my turn for my eyes to bug out of my head. I thought I was mistaken and watched intently as he went to do it again, singeing it first on a still-hot branding iron, and even offering me one. I shuddered and said no thank you. He laughed and said, “I betchya I could get you to eat one by the end of the day.”

“It’s highly unlikely,” I said while leaning over a fence leaning into the warm sunshine, but smiling at his gumption anyway. I later learned they were full of nutrients and all the ranchers seemed nonplussed by his eating them, even noted that it’d probably be good if I ate one too.

I couldn’t bring myself to, even when the young lad cooked them over a handmade grill instead of a branding iron. I knew I was inching ever closer to the vicinity of my dreams of being a rancher/farmer, but yet… I still had a long ways to go. At least until I could ever dream of branding a calf or eating one of their testicles… but maybe one day. Stranger things have happened.

But for days after, I thought a lot about the branding in particular and the romance of the West. Was there a romance to be found in branding? The calves being branded was not terribly romantic perhaps… But then about a week later, I found myself sitting in a rancher’s home having been invited by my friends to a jam session. There were about ten musicians in a circle playing banjos, harmonicas, a bass and guitars while singing old Western tunes. I had just eaten the most unbelievable steak that my friends I did the branding with had brought and cooked perfectly. I sipped on cool white wine while watching the makeshift band tap their toes in time to the music and wondered how I could burn this memory to my brain? I didn’t want to forget the music in the large and open log cabin facing the Wyoming mountains with the April sun on my face.

And that’s when my brain answered back, you could brand this to your memory. And I smiled on the word brand. Alright. I will somehow brand it to my memory bank, burning it there with a hot, hot iron, singeing it into my neurons, so I could draw it up one day for the same warmth the sun and the sounds and the wine had given me. And just a few songs later, the band wanted to dedicate a song to our beloved Merle Haggard. They played Merle’s, “Branded Man.” I couldn’t help but think maybe the universe was with me on this one. Maybe the romance could still be found. Even in things branded.

My One Month-iversary

Musings

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.

Rodeo Queens and Me

Musings

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

Musings

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

Musings

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

Musings

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