My One Month-iversary

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.

He’s the Berries (Part 1)

Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.
Rick, –Casablanca

It is no secret that I am a romance-a-holic. I kid that I have been this way since I left the womb… maybe ask my mother to back this point up as she’s the only one who can give you the real facts on my womb exit. Or ya know, maybe don’t. Just take my word for it.

Anyhow, when I packed up for the West, which has a romance all her own, I had some notions of the kind of romantic grandeur I was looking for. Naturally I expected to be romanced pure and proper by the mountains—and lord help me, those beauties nearly romance my pants right off daily. Nearly, I said. Don’t worry, I am wearing pants.

I also liked to make grandiose declarations before I left the Midwest about how I was off to find my cowboy. I even packed my cream lace flapper dress I had worn for a Roaring 20’s party the Halloween before, telling my dad, the justification for taking such a dress to live on a mountaintop in Wyoming was in case I did in fact meet my cowboy and he was so taken with me that he just whisked me away. At least I would be prepared with a lace dress should such a man fall for me in such a way.

Here is the thing about cowboys. They have this essence about them that embodies all the things I like: ruggedness, the outdoors, they always have a horse… but besides all that, if my experience with the Farmers Only matchmaking commercials was any indication, I suspected cowboys, like farmers, might be real good old fashioned men just hankering for a girl who wants to live on a farm (or ranch) cook homemade bread and have babies on her hip—while she writes and whisks things—and her cowboy rustles up chickens, mends fences and generally goes about being handsome and handy.

At least that’s how it always plays out in my mind. I blame Pioneer Woman and Chip and JoJo on HGTV’s Fixer Upper for giving me ideas on the kind of cowboy I wanted to find. Also JoJo’s cowboy—or version of it—is a goofy and kind cowboy who knows how to build all kinds of things, ride horses and also thinks JoJo is the berries. That’s what my mom says when something is really wonderful. Well isn’t that the berries.

So with cowboys and mountains on the brain, I headed West with all sorts of hankerings in my heart, knowing I would find mountains. And simply telling all my customers if they spotted a good cowboy who happened to be looking for a good gal, well then to point him in my direction.

I once had a table of two sweet old men, who asked me why I had come to Wyoming. I always thought this was a rather obvious question but I’ve never minded answering it one bit. I always answered in the same fashion: that I came for the scenery—the mountains and the cowboys. What more could a girl want? When they asked if I’d found my cowboy, I placed a hand on my hip, and said, “well no, but I saw one out there riding’—waving my hands in the direction of the adjacent field—‘the other day and I about dropped what I was doing and went and hopped on his horse with him.”

They seemed rather bemused and later when I went to refill their coffees one of the men waved me away saying he couldn’t have any more coffee. “I’d be liable to get jittery and run over that cowboy who’s looking to marry you.”

“Oh no don’t do that!” I exclaimed.

They wished me well on finding him and went about their day. I never really believed my life to be so propitious that I’d actually find a cowboy in the West, but I am ever the hopeful one.

And then… in he walked one evening to have some spaghetti and meatballs, cherry pie and glass of milk. My cowboy that is. Of all the lodges, in all the mountains, in all the world, he walked into mine.

Nothing was different about this day of work on the mountain. I had my hair in a side braid. I was dressed in my usual Catwoman waitressing attire of all black. The only difference was I wasn’t on my normal morning shift. I was covering Kirstie’s evening shift because she had the day off. In fact here is the intriguing part. The night prior Kirst had come home and I was playing a game of Scrabble with a friend. I was intent on beating him so was half listening to Kirst telling me about her day and this dreamy pilot she had met. Kirst waxes a lot of poetic about dreamy men so I wasn’t all that phased. She carried on about this particular pilot’s smile. She went on and on.

I nodded and said, “that’s nice, Kirst,” not giving one thought to the pilot or his smile.

Until the next day. The pilot came in for dinner. Of course I didn’t know he was the infamous smiley pilot yet. I didn’t have any tables at the moment and so I sat him in a booth and took his order.

I talked to him here and there. And then other patrons started to trickle in. After checking on how he was doing with his pie, he mentioned that he had my sister as a waitress the night prior. I smiled and said, “oh yeah?”

“Yeah, she mentioned that I would have you today. She said my sister’s real pretty.”

I beamed, thinking how nice it was for Kirst to say that to a handsome stranger and I was starting to become a little taken aback with his smile. I cannot recall if it was that moment that I started to make the connection and asked him if he was a pilot or he offered that information up, but suddenly my mind latched onto the information at hand. This was the smiling pilot that had Kirst all twitterpated the night before. My initial reactions were:

Oh my, she was right!
And
Oh no, he probably likes Kirst already. And Kirst likes him.

Doomsday.

I tried not to think about that as I got a little busier with other tables. Still the pilot lingered and I would catch his smile as I passed and my stomach tightened. I brought out plates of dinner to a table, set them down and scurried away wanting more sneak peaks of the pilot. When I went back to check on my table, they told me I’d brought them the wrong food.

I realized I wasn’t paying a lick of attention to what I was doing. I was completely consumed by that smile of his.

There were a lot of hunters atop the mountain—including the pilot who wasn’t actually from Wyoming but Pennsylvania—looking for elk and big bucks and several were now in for dinner. One of them, sitting alone near the pilot had struck up a conversation with him and the pilot had joined him to visit. I went over to check how they were doing. The hunter, named, Bill asked me, “now when are you two getting hitched?” motioning to the pilot and I.

I will admit the question had delighted me. I thought, what a weird question to ask a waitress and some guy she was waiting on, but nonetheless, if anyone was going to assume I was getting hitched, I was deeply flattered that Bill thought I could land a dashing pilot with a smile to weaken the knees of girls for mountain miles.

Before I could think of a cheeky quip, the pilot answered, “Oh, I can’t hold her down, she keeps traveling all over the world,” and then he winked at me. At which point I wanted to faint onto his lap in my own heap of twitterpated glee. But instead I turned to Bill, with a hand on my hip and said, “Don’t let him fool you, he hasn’t asked.”

Bill’s response was to inform me that I should just forge the pilot’s name to a marriage certificate. I was indignant and told Bill as much.

“That’s not how I want to land any man! I want him to be wildly taken with me. I am not forging anything!”

Bill laughed and the pilot smiled. My heart lurched. I scampered away before I really did do something rash like propose to him.

The hunter and the pilot lingered all the way until closing time and as I sort of pretended to be busy at the front counter but mostly wanted to eyeball the dashing pilot, Bill came up to the counter and asked me when my next day off was. It was Monday and I told Bill that I had Wednesday off. He motioned his hand behind him to where the pilot sort of lingered in line waiting to pay and was smiling at me still. “I think this one wants to take you to dinner in town? Would you like to go to dinner with him?”

“Yeah, I’ll go to dinner with him,” I said, not believing for a moment that the pilot wanted to take me out, but hoping by some miracle it wasn’t just a meddling hunter trying to fix up a waitress; but that maybe… possibly…. that gorgeous man did want to take me out.

“Alright then, it’s all set,” Bill said. “Do I get a commission for fixing you guys up?”

“Only if we get hitched,” I laughed.

I went home in a vague fog of delight and instantly started gushing to my other sister Kia, the way Kirst had done to me the night prior. I even quoted that Casablanca quote to her. I felt something important was stirring in the universe and I didn’t yet know what, but I knew I fancied it, something like surprise warm chocolate chip cookies upon getting home from school after a particularly grueling bus ride home. Ask my best friend Emily for details on this.