Rodeo Queens and Me


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Group Chat


I awoke this morn to my phone buzzing beside my bed. It was a group chat in which my best friend, Em, who was pregnant had sent two photos of an incredibly sweet newborn baby. Being that I had still been sleeping, as it was 6:40 a.m., I was taken aback and simply wrote, whaaaat? With a lot of a’s like that.

Em wasn’t due until the 18th and hadn’t even started maternity leave yet, so I knew this obviously had to be her baby, but still I was dumbfounded at the suddenness of the baby’s arrival.

Being that it was a group chat between Em, and my other best friend Ash and my sister Savvy (who wouldn’t be up for hours yet) the texts started pinging back and forth about the new baby arriving early and how beautiful she was (she really is exceptionally perfect) and that was all fine and lovely.

Though I was suddenly having trouble swallowing my wells of emotion over the fact that my best friend from childhood—my longest running friendship in fact—had brought life into this world. A little girl so radiant in her perfection that all I wanted to do was share in Em’s joy. I wanted to be there. I wanted to hold the little angel and already tell her embarrassing stories about her mom thinking she would end up a nun and how wrong those histrionics were.

Until the labor talk started. Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about having a queasy stomach or not understanding that hideous pains accompany labor, no, no, that wasn’t the issue. The issue is the group chat.

See the thing is I have been on the receiving end of many a group chat with my pregnant friends and while I fully appreciate their including me and their time-saving techniques of messaging a bunch of close friends at once, there’s just this teensie tiny thing. It’s that one friend or other will inevitably start talking preggo things, like contractions, or cravings, or the sex or the lack of sex, and then they’ll go off topic agreeing with the cravings or the contractions or the shocking pain of labor and I am left doing that slackjawed thing, because uhhh… I know about none of this and therefore cannot contribute in any way.

And that is okay, obviously. I choose to be a restless nomad who wants to learn to rope cattle—or cowboys—in the West right now, but it still kind of stings. Because, it doesn’t mean I don’t want that one day. I want to talk preggo cravings and pregnancy pain. And yeah, I get it, my time will come, but in the moment, the here and now when in the throes of group chat with my married friends who have kids or are having kids and are talking about the twinkle in their husbands eye after they look upon their newborn daughter, well, it plain ol’ makes me want to sob.

My heart hurt. And it hurt for a variety of reasons. It hurt because Em’s new baby girl was so freaking beautiful I wanted to sob. It hurt because Em and I used to ride the school bus together and talk boys and dream of the one, and now she had the one, and she had a baby. But it also hurt, because I felt left out of the mommy elite group who knows about babies and birthing and contractions and doting hubbies.

And though I would never ever say so, or want to take away from any of their happiness or joys, I did want out of the mommy group chat.

And so I went back to bed, thinking about what it would be like when I had a baby, and the best my brain could come up with was having one of those surprise ‘I didn’t even know I was pregnant’ stories where you think you’re constipated and your baby drops in the toilet. But it comforted me nonetheless because it meant in my imagination I had a baby and that happily made me doze.

Until I woke up and realized, if I had a baby right now, I couldn’t go back to sleep until 9 a.m. if I felt like it. And I certainly couldn’t dawdle about the house all day, leisurely drinking coffee out of my french press and reading and writing. Or go on a really long run midday, in which a cowboy waved at me and my stomach did that giddy drop. He could’ve been 55 for all I know, but I didn’t care. When a cowboy waves at you, it’s stomach-drop worthy alright? I don’t know a woman that would disagree and I wouldn’t trust her if she did. Like women who say they “like” sports. Ohhh-k. Sure you do.

Well, to be fair, I think the women in Green Bay Packer-land like sports. And my cousin Heather seems to, which I can’t rightly wrap my brain around, but I digress.

And then I went to book club and yes, it was a lot of elderly people but they had wildly fascinating stories about war and Vietnam and ranchin’. And then I went to the local saloon and a woman agreed to teach me roping, as I had uhh… mentioned how much I needed to learn roping. As in I am now going to learn to rope stuff! Hopefully a cowboy. I kid, I kid. Not really. But anyway.

And then I met a cowboy who tipped his hat to me upon meeting me and though he was married and it wasn’t about that, it was about the Old West, and gentlemen, and cowboys and ranchers, and learning to rope, and making my way, even if my way was suddenly all about becoming a rancher.

And my way would one day include babies. And a smiling twinkle-eyed husband who gripped my hand while I let out horrendous screams during labor. Or at least that’s what I’ve gleaned from my married friends who talk about labor in group chats with me.

And it mattered. My life right now that’s fixated on chaps and saddles and the cowboy hat tilt and wave and roping cattle means a great deal to me, just as having babies one day will mean a great deal too. It matters. All of it matters.

As does my friends happiness. I am beyond deliriously happy for my married friends who are having beautiful little bundles of joy. And I am happy to share in their joy. Honestly, it’s just that stinking group chat. I can’t help but feel sorely left out of the Mommy Club and while I wouldn’t trade learning to rope right now for diapers, it still makes me yearn.

So, please, ladies, tell me all about your contractions, and your husband falling all over himself about his new little girl, and your hormonal donut-induced rages, but maybe just one on one. At least for now. When I too, am a part of the mommy club then please let’s all group chat til the cows come home—and I hope they do, because I’ll be a rancher—about the horrendousness of birth, followed by the sheer delight of a new baby girl.

A Christmas Tree Cutting


My sisters and I live in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. Some rumors were flying around since I got here that you could cut down your own Christmas tree. Now to those in the know, or perhaps in the West, or maybe even anywhere but Fowlerville, Michigan—where I grew up—this wouldn’t seem an unusual concept.

But in my mind, the only people who cut down their own Christmas trees were the Griswold family or people with hundreds of acres of land—like oil barons, but oil barons who dressed like normal people but weren’t, because they own an oil conglomerate.

So when it came time for my own potential pine, I considered all the people who were out and about in the Bighorns hacking down trees. I asked about this. Could people really just go into the forest and chop down a tree? That seemed to have illegal written all over it. Well, I was right. You can’t just go into the forest and chop down a tree, all willy-nilly. But you can, however, go to the Forestry Department first, like a law-abiding lil lass and pay for a permit to cut down a Christmas tree.

I had never heard of such wonder and delight. But I prepared myself thinking to acquire a permit to cut down your own tree would cost at least $40. So when the nice gent at the Forestry—bedecked in his appropriately forest green uniform—told me that the permit was in fact $8, I almost did hip swivels accompanied by boisterous fist pumps. But I didn’t. Because that’s uncouth. Although I bet the Forestry man might not have minded. But the prospect of cutting down my own Christmas tree in the mountains for a mere $8 was pretty jazzy—and wildly inexpensive—as far as firsts go.

On the day that would be the Christmas tree cutting, I bundled up in my newly purchased for life atop a mountain: $3 ski suit that zipped all the way to my chin. I donned my faux fur bear hat, grabbed my rusty old ax, some rope and hot cocoa for myself and the girls.

We located a field a couple of miles away from the lodge. After parking the car we began our trudge into the forest to find the perfect tree. We mulled some over here and there but none that struck us as the perfect Christmas tree. So we kept on. Scraggly brown brush were scattered throughout the field that I thought looked like they might belong somewhere swampy but the ground we were walking on was packed and firm so I thought nothing more about it as we wove into the forest.

We had just contemplated whether to wind our way back along the forest line toward the car or go a little deeper in when we spotted a tree with a halo of light glowing down upon it. Once all our eyes clapped onto the tree we agreed she looked like a beaut as we made our way toward her to further investigate. We got excited inspecting: the tree looked to be the appropriate height for our small abode, had sturdy branches and was altogether charming.

It was our tree alright. Kia said a little prayer of thanks that the tree was giving its life for our Christmas fancies and I took the first hack with my rusty but very efficient ax. After we all took turns chopping for the sheer lumberjacky-ness of it, we had the tree down and Kirstie roped it with what she called her “Boy Scout” techniques. I am certain these knots were not Boy Scout approved, but she got the job done and looped the rope over her shoulders to start pulling the tree out of the forest.

Kia took a turn as the tree was heavier than it looked. I mosied ahead, taking a different way back and not much paying attention to our footprint tracks from the way there. I found myself in that same brown brush again. I was holding my cocoa and the ax when suddenly I felt myself sinking fast beneath the snow. It felt like quicksand as I glanced down to see my left leg sinking in mucky brown goo up to my thigh. My right leg was safely pressed against some brush and not yet sunk.

I lurched my body backwards to avoid sinking further into the mud bog and yelled at the girls to get back, thinking the situation was worse than it was. Like that maybe I was about to be enveloped in mysterious brown goop that would swallow me whole as I flailed and told the girls to save themselves. I am highly dramatic like that. As I pulled my left leg out of the muddy glop, a smell rather pungent and along the lines of cow shit hit my nostrils.

I shimmied back, getting myself unlodged from the mess, assessing my now mud-soaked leg as the girls stared on and laughed from behind me.

“I think it’s a poop pit!” I yelled, scrunching up my nose in disgust, remembering that this exact field had housed numerous cattle all summer long. “I just fell in a poop pit!”

As I quickly backtracked my steps to avoid any more surprise underbellies of filth and muck I couldn’t help but note the hilarity of the situation. Only I would manage to walk atop some dingy cow pie pasture while on a happy Christmas tree hunt.

Kia was looking a little like an overworked mule dragging the Christmas tree across the field so I took over while she and Kirst went ahead. I was naturally quite nervous about more surprise mud bog/poop pits so I yelled to the girls to avoid the brown brush and make sure the ground was secure before I came through with the Christmas tree.

Kirst crossed an area that was teeming with the brown brush and I paused, asking her if any of the ground was squishy. She said no and that she’d made it across fine. I still hesitated, “but you’re like 100 pounds lighter than me!” I yelled, looking at the brush nervously and my already soaked left leg.

I delicately made my way across the field, now heaving with sweat from pulling our perfect little tree. I made it across just fine. And upon reaching the car, peeled off my snowsuit and threw it in the trunk and then all three of us girls climbed and maneuvered to get the tree tied to the roof.

We got home to haul it in, set it up and inspect our handiwork… only to realize that much like the Griswolds who had a similarly enlightening experience with a tree in the woods only to get home and find it was 7,000 times too large… ours was perhaps 7,000 times too small. Or at least not nearly as full and lush and brilliant as it had seemed in the forest surrounded by her other piney friends.

It didn’t matter though. We were all fiercely in love with our tree, our handiwork and the charm that only a freshly cut Christmas tree could possess. Our lil gal was perfect. We donned ugly Christmas sweaters and got her bedecked in Christmas flair. And then staring at our tree glowing in silvers and blues and old fashioned Christmas lights… I realized that even with falling in a poop pit, my first adventure of cutting down a Christmas tree in the wilds of Wyoming was entirely satisfactory.

Merry Christmas y’all!