This Ranching Business

Musings

I have been living in Hyattville, Wyoming—population 75—for just under a week. On the first morning after I arrived, shaking the dust off of my nerves from my harrowing GPS debacle, I happily sipped fine coffee in an even finer log cabin.

The woman who the log cabin belonged to was a friend of a friend who I had been communicating with about ranching before moving to Hyattville. She insisted I stay with her when I first arrived, putting me up in her guest room, feeding me dinner that she’d set aside, and generally being as hospitable as people in Wyoming are known to be.

The next morning, her father was preparing to go to the ‘old timers’ coffee at the local community center, while my gracious hostess caught up on some work. She mentioned to her father, however that he should invite me along.

“Is that allowed,” I asked somewhat bemused.

“Oh yes, you can come,” her father said.

I was not going to decline an invitation for coffee—old timers or not—especially in my new town heavily populated by ranchers. There was work to be done, and step one was getting to know people.

We arrived at the community center where I saw two men already seated sipping coffee. They did the ol’ cowboy head nod at me—looking very rancher-esque in Carhartts and boasting weather-crinkled skin. The skin of the working man—and smiled while my new friend did introductions. They continued visiting, until a natural lull in the conversation occurred and they turned their attention to me, peppering me with questions. Being un-shy and someone who loves meeting new people, I happily answered their questions.

Another man ambled in, poured himself a cup of coffee, sat down and began to tell a story of a trapped cow. I listened raptly. The same way I was listening earlier when the men talked about cribbing horses, using the term, ‘cribbing old fool.’ I was delighted and wanted to take notes but didn’t want to seem overeager.

Then the new fella, a bit younger than the two old-timers and sporting a worn cowboy hat, asked my name, and offered to top off my coffee cup.

We delved into another conversation about how I really wanted to learn ranching.

“You should’ve been with me this morning then, trying to get that cow out,” the younger cowboy chuckled. I wish I had been there this morning, I thought to myself.

Then I piped in with my story.

“Ya know, a friend of mine gave me some ranching advice,” I said, “he told me all I had to do was remember to close the gate and make sure my truck was full of gas and I’d be alright.”

They laughed and said that was pretty good advice, but I kept on and told them the story of my getting to Hyattville, following the rogue Google advice and how I didn’t gas up when I had the opportunity, causing my extreme anxiety while being lost in the Wyoming wilderness, finishing with, “and so I failed my very first piece of solid ranching advice which was, ‘always gas up the truck!'” to which they all burst out in greater laughter and one of the old timers chimed in with, “but there’s a third piece of ranching advice you need to know…”

I looked at him expectantly.

“Never listen to your GPS.”

More rounds of laughter burst forth and the younger cowboy got up to go and commented, “Well I’m glad I stopped in today, this was exciting.”

I was glad I came too. I learned about cribbing. Sort of. And hobnobbed with real ranchers. And best part of all, made them chuckle with my idiocy. Honestly, I’ll take it.

The rest of the week passed in my learning my way about town. That took about 1.5 minutes. I went to Wednesday’s pizza night at the old saloon, where I met still more ranchers. My gracious hostess took me to see the Medicine Lodge archeological sight and upwards into the high foothills where I glimpsed every mountain range in Wyoming as far as the eye could see. Literally I could see the mountains as far as Yellowstone.

I went on runs to explore the hills and creeks nearby, and counted the cars that would pass. The most I saw was on a Friday night for a grand total of 3. I settled into my new and temporary home, which is a friend’s place he has on hand for Wyoming visits, while he resides in Texas. He also owns a ranch here.

I slept the first three nights with one eye open, reacquainting myself to the intense and deep quiet of Wyoming. The kind of quiet that comes with being able to keenly hear an animal sniff about the house, a deer prance past, or the bed creak beneath my weight. Every sound had me thinking: ghost! or scenes from the movie The Strangers which I am still kicking myself for watching.

I met up with an old cowboy pal of mine in Cody on Saturday and he told me this fantastic story about putting out a fire once on Halloween at an old hotel. He said that he and another firefighter saw a man in horns coming out of the smoke, looking remarkably like the devil.

“If that’s who I think it is, we’re never putting this fire out,” my friend said to the other firefighter.

Turns out it was the bartender in a devil’s costume.

I then went and checked out the dude ranch I will be working at this summer tucked neatly between Cody and Yellowstone, nestled between bluffs and canyons. I was in heaven and already picturing drinking my morning cup o’ Joe on the big homestead porch overlooking the mountainous terrain.

I drove back to my sleepy little ranching town and happily dozed by nine, my vigilant ghost-watch forgotten.

I awoke on Sunday excited about church. It was a short walk, as the church happened to be on my street.

Being heavily neurotic, I arrived ten minutes early to a completely empty church other than the pastor. Slightly stricken, I asked, “did I miss it?!”

She smiled and said, “no. It’s a small town and they’re like New Yorkers. They’ll all arrive at about two minutes til.”

I was relieved. The pastor asked if I was new in town and I told her yes, that I was here to dabble in ranching.

“Are you a writer?” she asked, taking me by surprise. Although instantly I felt flattered.

“I am,” I said.

“It takes one to know one,” she smiled, eyes twinkling. Color me more flattered, I thought sitting down. She then came back to ask if I wanted to read scripture in the service. I did and took my part very seriously, finding which scriptures I needed to read and marking them in the Bible beforehand.

I recognized one of the old timer cowboys from coffee and his wife, and waved. And several other townspeople came and introduced themselves.

The service was sweet and traditional and the hymns reminded me of my childhood and I sang them slightly teary-eyed as I am that way.

Afterwards, I met a woman who owns a sheep farm and I expressed my interest in seeing her farm, and another woman offered me fresh eggs, while still another woman asked if I wanted to carpool to a Lenten luncheon later in the month. Small town Wyoming. You gotta adore it.

And so here I sit. Upon a new week. I went to old timers coffee again this morn and was delighted when a rancher referred to a truck as an ‘outfit.’ I had brought my notebook this time, on the ready; though I was too self-conscious to take notes. But I listened and was gleeful when they would turn and ask me something, calling me young lady.

At any rate, no one has needed me yet, or maybe they aren’t taking me seriously with how eager I am about terms like ‘outfit’ and ‘cribbing,’ but they’ll come around. They’ll have me on board. And then we’ll see what this ranching business is all about.

Eyes on the Mountains (Part 2)

Musings

The first time I visited Wyoming was… Honestly I am at a loss for words. Really good love stories do that to you. Encountering Wyoming was one of those real top-notch tales of romance, like the movies. I may not have always had that kind of storybook romance with my men, but damn if I didn’t have it upon meeting Wyo.

But I fear I am getting a wee bit ahead of myself. I left off in my last post still living in Virginia. And before Virginia, New York City. I felt shaken up and beaten down from my time in NYC. It jarred me having to come to the realization that maybe big city life didn’t do it for me. I craved solace in the mountains. That seemed the logical antithesis to my post city blues.

Ray Lamontagne has this song called, New York City’s Killing Me. And while I have always been a big fan of him, prior to living in NYC I thought Mr. Lamontagne had it all wrong. Until I left NYC did I really appreciate that maybe Ray and I had something in common.

I get so tired of all this concrete
I get so tired of all this noise
Gotta get back up in the country
Have a couple drinks with the good ol’ boys

I just got to get me somewhere
Somewhere that I can feel free
Get me out of New York City, son
New York City’s killin’ me

At any rate, the mountains of Virginia were a proper salve to some of my problems. But that aforementioned deep discontent inside of me wasn’t about Virginia lacking something, it was more so about a wrongness in my relationship there.

Let’s just fast forward to when I left the relationship, the apartment with the mountain views, the man who once cared and who no longer did, Virginia, and my beloved mountains. I had to get away again. I took a brief respite in Michigan feeling displaced and wondering what the plan could possibly be now that New York and Virginia were both busts.

I had no ideas other than my gypsy soul telling me the natural solution was to wander until a new place to love came along. That’s when I started to hear the West calling me; it was a faint murmur, but I could hear it. I hadn’t ever given much thought or consideration to the West before. But when some of my friends and sister planned a road trip out West, it seemed as good a time as any to see what the fuss was all about.

We first landed in Denver, staying with our friend there. She took us out on the town. We ate dinner at a snazzy restaurant that used to be a morgue and didn’t have cheeseburgers on the menu. It drizzled rain, and we went thrifting. I thought Denver seemed neat enough, and the mountains were grand to be sure, but I didn’t feel it yet… Then we saw Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National.

I was inching nearer to properly boggled, especially when I saw the night sky in Rocky Mountain National, and yet…

The next day we were headed to the Tetons and I remember being drowsy as we left Colorado. My friend was driving, so I dozed in the warmth of the sun rays in the front seat. When I lazily woke, to still more sunshine, I could feel something was different. In my core, something was thrumming. I looked around me out the windows. The landscape was open and vast, hilly and dry looking.

There wasn’t anything of note, yet I felt different.

“Where are we,” I asked.

“Wyoming,” my friend beamed, as she pulled off an exit to get gas.

All the openness for miles was already seducing me in such a way that were Wyoming a man, I would’ve open-mouthed kissed him.

I got out of the car and ambled into the gas station. And this is when I knew, what I already knew from waking up in Wyoming and having my body lean into this place like a long lost sailor leaning over the rails upon seeing shore.

The man behind the counter wore a cowboy hat and had a handlebar moustache. He nodded his head at me, and said, “howdy, ma’am.”

I wanted to squeal. I wanted to ask if he was a real cowboy. I wanted to persuade him to marry me immediately.

And with the simpleness of a cowboy and waking up in a wide open space that felt like it had been untouched since the settlers first started moseying West, I was in love. Sometimes love at first sight doesn’t work out, sometimes, it’s initial vanity and there’s no real substance there.

This was not one of those cases.

The further I delved into Wyoming, the further I fell. By the time, I had seen more cowboys, men in chaps, beards aplenty, horses by the dozen, ranches, hills, canyons, elk, bison, and oh the mountains, sweet God-built pieces of jagged splendor, I was done for.

On my way out of Wyoming several days later, I was driving, winding my way up through the Bighorns. My heart was hammering in my chest with each mile spent ascending up into the clouds.

I knew I would soon be back in the Midwest and I was trying to brand every image of Wyoming in my mind and on my heart. I joked with my sister to leave me on the side of the road and keep going, even though we were in my car. I saw a sheep-herder riding his horse with his trusty dog trotting along behind him and I wanted to weep, it was all so perfect and all so meant for me.

At the time, this song called Red Canoe was playing on my sister’s iPod, and I remember playing it over and over again, so that whenever I heard the song in the future, I would see Wyoming, the Bighorns, the sheep herder, the cowboys and invite it all back to me.

That song and that sentiment created a fervor in me to come back. Leaving was heartbreak, but I knew it was only temporary. I, of course, did come back, nearly a year later, to the exact lodge I had passed in the Bighorns on my trek back to Michigan. And the fact that I left Wyoming a second time, is slightly unfathomable to me still.

I had found myself staring at the cowboys in line at Starbucks and Walmart, with their bandanas wrapped around their necks, cowboy hats and cowboy boots donned, trying once more to brand these people and this place into my memory bank. As, I certainly never saw a man with a cowboy hat and a bandana around his neck at Starbucks in New York City.

And what happened that cowboys and ranchers and cattle and sheep-herders and fly fishermen and rodeo stars suddenly had imprinted themselves on my being? I can recall loving nature from a young age. And horses. And the outdoors and even outdoorsmen. But this seemed excessive coming from a girl who used to dream about brownstones on cobbled streets in NYC boroughs.

But with leaving Wyoming a second time, it seemed that this life was all I wanted, perhaps all I had ever wanted, and leaving it was all wrong.

Hence why I only lasted about two weeks back in the Midwest.

And what’s remarkable to me, is how I haven’t actually changed at all. If I had really been paying attention I would’ve seen the signs all along. I picked the college I attended based on its proximity to forests, rivers, and lakes. I spent my time as a child reading about high adventure and then trying to recreate it in my backyard. I bartered for riding lessons as a sixth grader with my neighbors who had horses. Every birthday and Christmas I either tried asking for a horse and when I wisened up that Santa wouldn’t bring one to store in my shed, I started asking for riding lessons instead. I even almost bought my own horse once in college and thought better of it, because uhhh… I had nowhere to put it.

So I guess it shouldn’t amuse and delight me so much now when I find myself picking up Western Horseman magazines or stalking— that’s a harsh word, let’s say perusing—every cowboy, farmer, and rancher I can find on Instagram, lapping up their horse posts, fresh egg posts, cattle-roping and wilderness packing posts.

I, of course have been singularly applying to work as a ranch-hand though I have no ranch experience. I understand that, but I fervently tell the ranchers that I want to learn to mend fences and tend cattle and maybe lasso—please don’t laugh I want to lasso so bad—and that I’ll prove to them how much of a Western gal I really am at heart.

I used to want to sashay into a top magazine office in Manhattan in a sharp suit, riding up the elevator to my posh job that required heels—or if not required, then strongly implied. Now I find myself aching to get up at dawn and feed animals and work on things with my hands, and get filthy, and ride a horse somewhere far, far off, and wear myself thin. Seriously I really wouldn’t mind wearing myself thin, I have a slight penchant for chocolate croissants. You’d be doing me a favor, guys.

And who knew?

Well. Me, I suppose. I guess I knew all along this is where I belong. So hey, uh ranchers, if you’re reading this, c’mon, give me a go. I won’t let you down. I mean if you’re not convinced by this love letter then I am not sure what will convince you. Hmm… maybe my ax wielding skills. They are on point. Ish. But in the hearty ranchess sort of way. Not in The Shining madness sort of way. Aaaaand, I think that’s my cue to wrap up.