Pink Thunderstorms

Musings

I have a real problem with believing I don’t deserve things. Not things like Prada, to be clear, but things like farm animals or a writing career. Despite this flawed way of thinking, God repeatedly shows me that I do deserve some serious grandeur at the very least. Like this pink thunderstorm for instance. You read that right. I was privy to my first ever pink thunderstorm. It was quite possibly the most exquisite sight my eyes had thus far beheld in my 30 years here on earth. And it was happening right out my window at 5:30 a.m.

I awoke to a barn-rattling thunderclap that jarred me out of an uncomfortable dream about ticks embedded in my legs that I was trying to claw out. I was happy for the intrusion and happier yet that it was because of thunder. I was lying there, having checked my phone and deduced that I still had an hour and a half left of blissful slumber before I had to be up for work. Maybe the wind had picked up or another thunderclap had cracked, or the sudden gusts of rain slapping against my window had alerted me, because I tossed my quilt aside and went to the window to investigate.

When I pulled the curtain aside, I saw what seemed to be a deleted scene from The Wizard of Oz. I had to resist checking my legs for ticks to be sure I wasn’t still dreaming. A pink haze enveloped the whole outdoors, like the inside of a snow globe lined with cotton candy.

The pink sky was clearly from the sunrise, though there was no sun in sight. Then I noticed the wind whipping up dirt and powerful rain in miniature tornado swirls across the horse corral to do a dizzying drunken dance right into my window pane. Which is when I realized rather large gusts of rain were suddenly blowing in. I slid the window shut while still looking on. Two of the horses who had shelter were partaking of it while looking slightly askance. While all the other horses suffering through the elements seemed nonplussed. I stared for a moment, completely mesmerized by the pink and the swirling. And then the thunder clapped again, like God was in a horserace and was whipping his steed to move faster, move faster.

I wanted to watch the whole thing play out, but I felt the pull of my bed and my coveted one point five more hours of sleep. I laid back down but left the curtain open to watch, while I happily dozed back asleep to the thunder and the wind gusts.

I would later play the image of the pink thunderstorm and the swirling wind tornadoes over and over again in my mind.

So alright. Maybe I don’t have a farming/writing empire yet, with a handy bearded husband who likes to rope things—me included. Ya know, rope me and then tie me to the bedpost. I am kidding! Sorta. Though, my ex used to joke that he would in fact tie me to the bedpost. But not in the fun way. He said he’d do it in order to deter me from this penchant I have about saving the rainforest and chaining myself to trees in order to stop factories being built. He said he would do a simulation and tie me to the bed, turn up the heat and play the movie, The Jungle Book. This scenario was definitely when I fell in love with the kid, but no matter. That ship has sailed and I digress.

But, c’mon, man. Pink thunderstorms?! That has to be right up there with odds like getting struck  by lightning. Okay, maybe they’re not that rare, but still, I feel like God was up to something and up to something good in order to shake me up.

Shake me up to that nonsense about being undeserving.

If that was His M.O. then I think I got it. If God thinks I deserve pink thunderstorms, then just you imagine what else I probably have got coming to me. I actually can’t even fathom, because I never even considered pink thunderstorms.

All I am saying is, if you’re anything like me, then you will have your moments of debilitating self-doubt from time to time, but keep your eyes and ears alert, because God has always got something wild and wonderful up His sleeve.

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.

Covered in Romance

Musings

Green acres is the place to be
Farm living is the life for me
Land spreading out,
so far and wide
Keep Manhattan,
just give me that countryside.

You know what’s funny about this song lyric? I used to sing the other verse, Gabor’s line that went like this:

New York
is where I’d rather stay
I get allergic smelling hay
I just adore a penthouse view
Darling, I love you,
but give me Park Avenue.

Back when all I wanted in life was New York and Park Avenue. Don’t get me wrong I am still crazy about New York City. I love Zabar’s coffee and fondly recall every Sunday riding the subway all the way up from Brooklyn to the Upper West Side to get me a bag. Then the whole subway ride home the smell of Zabar’s roast would fill the subway car and my nostrils.

I loved walking up and down the city streets looking for used book shops and bakeries, or the perfect slice of pizza. I once went kayaking on the Hudson’s choppy waters with my sis and we paddled to and fro in our small buoyed off area, giddy and light as the waves. Walks through Central Park midday and runs across the Brooklyn Bridge at night, will always make me happy that I at least tried on city life like a promising pair of jeans.

But see, I had it wrong. I don’t prefer a penthouse view, or Park Avenue, though both those things are perfectly lovely and I can appreciate them from a vacation-y standpoint. I do want land spreading out far and wide. And farm life, oh gosh, yes please. I will happily shovel manure or attempt to mend a fence, or lay pipeline. Which is what I got to try out this weekend. Well the pipeline part at least.

I worried before I actually began this new farming/ranching endeavor that maybe I was romanticizing it. I have been told I do this. I once spoke with a Navy recruiter on a whim and boldly told my mom some hours later that I was joining the Navy. She looked properly aghast as I had never once expressed even an iota of an interest in the Navy.

“Don’t be impetuous, Cassandra,” my mom said. I actually didn’t know what that word meant until that moment, when my mom expounded upon her point. “Why do you want to join the Navy?”

“I’ve always loved the sea and I would love a life at sea!” I exclaimed, getting my shackles up for what felt like non-support, when my mom truly is the most supportive mom out there. Especially in regards to my mostly rash decisions.

“The Navy is not romantic like you are imaging life at sea to be.”

And the moment she said those words I began to consider the version of the Navy I played out in my mind, versus what the Navy would actually entail. I saw myself in some sort of fetching romper and sea cap looking out of a telescope on a ship with sails. When in reality I would be on some behemoth steel vessel, probably in the bowels, and more than likely doing grunt work in a grey janitorial looking uniform that enunciated my plump midsection.

My mom simply asked me to consider my decision on the Navy for a month and see how I felt at the end of that time. A few days later, I had already admitted to myself that my mom knew me pretty stinking well. I was romanticizing the Navy quite heavily. And in all actuality, I would probably despise it. Especially all that authority and getting bossed around.

So, yeah, that was an instance—among many if truth be told—where I romanced the pants right off of something altogether not that romantic. Now people, have been hinting that maybe I am doing it with this ranching business; even the ranchers themselves have pointed out to me—when my face lights up with glee talking about how badly I want to learn ranch work—that it’s not all that romantic. And I politely nod, while thinking, yeah, sure okay. Says the person in a cowboy hat, covered in workin’ grit, working the land and cattle all day long. Sure, no romance my arse. You’re covered in romance!

Except I don’t say that.

Because, a small, teensie part of me feared maybe they were right. What did I know about ranching? Sure I understood it was buckets full of work and grime and sweat and uncertainty and feces and death, and maybe all I was seeing were the Western hats and cowboy drawls and horses and painting all this poetry when I had no right? What did I know?

Well, nothing really, until I gave it a whirl which I did this weekend. I went out to a friend’s ranch to help them with laying some irrigation pipeline. She had texted to ask if this was something I would be interested in helping with or shadowing. I said yes with all the enthusiasm that I had once reserved for attending  a Fashion Week event at the Plaza. Although I was so nervous about that experience that I needed to take half an emergency Xanax to muster up the will to hobnob with models.

I had ample nervousness about failing at ranching, or worse being wrong about it—that maybe there was no romance—and I would yet again be altogether wrong about myself and then what? But I had no emergency Xanax this time and if I had, I wouldn’t have taken it.

I threw on jeans, my cowboy boots and a somewhat worse for wear Wyoming tee and drove out to the ranch. My friend met me, introduced me to her husband and children while giving me a cursory explanation of the day’s workload. For the first half of the day I mostly just followed around dumbly, as I had no idea about laying pipeline or where to insert myself to be of help, when everyone seemed to have a handle on things. Though, once in awhile my new friends would ask me to hand them wrap-around tape or a pen, or a power-saw and I happily obliged.

Soon enough though I was climbing down into ditches to help maneuver pipeline. Then I got to help lift the gigantic pipes, handing them to the men at work in the ditches. I began to get just a smidge dirty and when hours later the sun began setting in the Western sky, I felt it. I felt the romance. It was there alright. Though I had done nothing fundamentally difficult yet, and while I was mostly an accessory to the irrigation process, I felt it. The fresh air on my arms, the hard dirt sloughing against my boots, the heaviness of the pipeline. And all that besides, I felt the importance of this work.

The importance of it to farm land, to grow a crop, to feed animals and therefore feed people. And I adored it. I adored all of it. I liked being in farm trucks that had a thin layer of dirt covering the dashboard; the smell of hard work permeated in the seats. This is how I remember my grandpa’s truck smelling when I was a child. He owned a drywall business that my uncles now run and their trucks too, have this smell.

I realized this wasn’t something new to me; this was something already intrinsically in me, that I had adored since childhood. Riding down dirt roads in trucks, having my uncles take me out to the woods beside my grandparents house to teach me how to shoot bow and arrows and guns. They were not only outdoorsmen, but working men and I idolized them not only for their work ethic, and love of God’s vast landscape, but because they could build something out of nothing with their bare hands.

This all came flooding back to me sitting in a dirt covered Ram that impressed me with its power in hauling massive farm equipment up a steep hill while I sat in the passenger seat, admittedly beside myself in the romance. Yes, I was not mistaken, the romance was there. It was in the work truck, in laying pipeline, in the Wyoming hills and in ranchers who believed in their work and purpose, even if it was grueling work with no guarantees.

I was deeply relieved to find that I had been right. There was romance here and I wanted to uncover more of it.

I came back the next day, eager to do more, to learn more about laying pipeline, to feel somehow instrumental in this process. And my friend’s father in law who was sitting high atop a John Deere excavator for digging the ditches, hollered down, “you came back for more?”

“I did!” I beamed, “I loved it. This is definitely the life for me.”

He beamed back and said, “I like her.” And then began to sing, “Farm living is the life for me…”

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.