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

 

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.