The Wildness in Me

Musings

I attended the Cody Rodeo last night. I even purchased a season pass, so color me committed. I ate overly salted popcorn, drank apricot beer and gabbed with my girlfriend from the ranch. She’s the wrangler there and would whistle with bursts of enthusiasm for the riders while watching raptly.

The sky’s brightness and the summer heat diminished and I begun to get chilled in my sleeveless white sundress. I watched the cowboys get flung from bulls and cowgirls turning a sharp corner on horses full of sinewy grace in barrel racing. I sometimes leaned back and hardly noted the action, instead just noted how I felt, which was charmed and at home, and other times I sat in wonder over the difficulty of roping a moving calf.

I myself started practicing roping a few months back, and it is no easy feat. I can only rope a calf if it is plastic and held fast in a hay bale, three feet in front of me and unmoving—which obviously helps if the calf is plastic. The idea that these riders can be swiftly moving atop a horse, swinging their rope, and catch a high-tailing calf is astounding and worth a whistle. If I could in fact whistle, which I cannot.

I had just wrapped up my first week at the new ranch, full of cooking up cheesecakes, biscuits, baked chicken, and cleaning cabins, learning to saddle and getting swept up in windstorms.

I felt as though I had hardly taken much of a breath as the night before last I stumbled up the barn steps and fell into a deep sleep at 6:30, not awaking again until 6:30 the next morning.

I was trying to keep track of all the newness, which had caused me to feel so breathless. Baking in a big old Western abode befitting a feature in Western Horseman. Riding horses up the side of a canyon while my nostrils inhaled an intoxicating amount of sage; I swayed with the horse and the sweet intensity of the smell and my surroundings. I heaved saddles on and hefted them off and felt that I belonged to the West and saddles and painting posts and sagebrush and that I always had.

And then when I had time to catch my breath my best friend told me she would go into labor soon. She is having twins and we texted back and forth in excitement. But then it started creeping up to me again. That feeling that I have tried to shake for months, but won’t go away. That my egg count is dwindling and motherhood is very far away from me.

I suddenly felt guilty about gallivanting up mountainsides on horseback and cruising around in a golf cart with a cow dog by my side with the wind making my hair look like Marv from Home Alone—because it is short again and the curls are as wild as my spirit. I felt like I had done something selfish somewhere along the line choosing to be so footloose and fancy-free. Had I chosen the wrong path, though it had felt like the right one?

Would choosing this kind of wildness prevent me from ever having something I had always wanted which was children.

I fear this kind of thing may not disturb men too greatly, or maybe even young women, because I don’t ever recall considering my egg count until my thirtieth birthday started nearing. And now I am somewhat obsessed with terms like egg counts and geriatric pregnancies—which for the record was the term for women who got pregnant after 35—adoption and egg freezing.

After many a meltdown as my thirtieth inched closer, and I masochistically read mommy articles and cried, I made a vow to myself to knock it the fuck off, and enjoy my present moments of ranching, making cheese, learning to fly fish and saddle horses, without thoughts of my egg supply or a geriatric pregnancy.

But all this rushed to the forefront of my mind again, while my bestie spoke excitedly of the impending birth of her daughters. I tried to keep a stiff upper lip, not portraying jealousy over her joy, while she consoled me that my time would come. I even marched on and went to the rodeo anyway, despite a sudden and distinct empty feeling in my uterus.

I watched the cowboys and tried not to picture little cowboy kids in my mind. I did anyway. I stared at the ropers and came back to my egg count. I looked at the running baby calves and tried to surmise if it were possible that I could live without children.

Which is when I turned and confessed all this to my very new friend who was very kind and understanding as I ranted about my barters with God: I will give up any lofty career aspirations and settle down as a respectable banker if it means I get to have babies. I mean it, God. I will stop being wild. Errr, I will try really hard to stop being wild, but I can’t make promises once the babies come, because I want them to ride horses, camp under the open Wyoming sky and go on whale watching adventures on the coast.

For some reason just admitting to my barters about being a banker in exchange for babies, while she laughed and said she understood, caused all the egg count and swaddled babies that I might never hold, and ideas that I could possibly be undeserving of a baby to disappear into the Western sky.

I stuck my hand back into the too-salted popcorn box, popping handfuls into my mouth and washing it down with my can of damn fine beer. The sky was a deep blue, yet the mountainous outlines were black against the blue, like a very fetching bruise.

I let out my breath again and decided I’d be okay. This was nice. The young wrangler girl was nice. And the rodeo sure was nice.

As we walked past all the corrals of animals upon leaving, I dreamily took in all their beauty. The wildness of the horses and bulls and even the baby calves struck me and I told my friend, “I want them all!” To which she laughed again and nodded, like why not?

Maybe, just maybe there will be a way for me to have the wildness, the West and little cowboys of my own. If I have learned how to saddle, make fresh cheese from scratch after milking a cow, not take my instructor’s eye out when learning to cast a fly line and rope a plastic calf, then I suppose anything is possible. At least, that’s what the West would have a girl like me believe.

Becoming a Rancher

A day in the life of...

I oftentimes wonder how my life unfolds so swimmingly. I tend to think of my life as an overflowing, haphazard basket of whimsy and want, so when it unfolds how I want it to, I am always taken slightly by surprise. I like to think I somehow manifested the wonderful happenings of my life, but that’s giving me far too much credit. Especially considering that half the time I am vexed with worry and doubt that the life I yearn for won’t pan out, or worse yet that I don’t deserve it.

So when I thought about making a go of this whole ranching business back in January/post-breakup, I really didn’t have overwhelming confidence in any of it. I simply hoped for the best and went forward. I wish I could say I had mountains of faith and that was the ticket, but I couldn’t muster much of that then either. I was simply trying my hand at that whole one foot in front of the other/keep breathing/don’t freak out business while throwing myself in the way of ranching possibility.

Where I found myself the other night was lying awake in bed in complete and utter awe of it actually happening. Ranching that is. I was playing the events of the day over and over in my mind in wonder and gratitude, thinking how could it be? I thought, sure, I had wanted it real bad. So bad in fact I was scared of how much I wanted it.

And it happened. It simply happened.

In spite of my fear that it wouldn’t, it happened anyway. I sighed in delirious contentment and thought if there was a lesson in all of this, it was that I probably needed to believe more in the beautiful possibilities and yearnings of my heart, because they clearly were not steering me wrong.

So about that day, the one that kind of sealed the deal on my feeling like a rancher. Let me wax poetic for a spell.

I have been shadowing in the arenas of cheese-making, cow milking and brandings with the kindest and most patient ranchers this side of the Mississippi—at least in my humble opinion—but also the ones most likely to help me accomplish my ranching goals. Not many tasks have made me feel as accomplished as making homemade mozzarella by myself, which I did this week. Or milking a cow, which promptly shimmied up the list as well.

I had actually been yearning to milk a cow since first arriving in Hyattville. I’d even watched my friend do it dozens of times over the past few months. But when she finally gave me the go ahead to milk Daisy while she left to go run an errand, I panicked slightly, wondering how she had so much confidence in me with her rather large and slightly intimidating animal.

Okay, I had thought, hopefully, I can do this. I got the milk pumping machine on Daisy with no incident with my friend’s supervision before she left, giving me instructions on when to pull the pumps off. I nodded brightly, trying not to show my nerves. I could do this, I repeated to myself. I could milk Daisy and not over-milk her or under-milk her. Was that even possible, I wondered. If it was, I knew I would be the one to accidentally do it.

I kept tabs on Daisy and patted her side lovingly, like I had seen my friend do, and said nice things to her, so that when I had to walk around her backside she wouldn’t kick me for being an imbecile. Not that I really thought I would get kicked, but nonetheless, I hoped Daisy sensed my timid awe of her size and milking abilities.

According to my friend, all the udders would be soft once she was done milking, and all but one was, so I kept trying to urge that one along while continually checking on it and growing slightly worried about whether I was doing something wrong. I kept walking around her and checking the udder in question and the milking machine, when I saw the barn door open and a very nice fella from town poked his head in and smiled at me, asking if I was alone today.

“Yes!” I exclaimed, deeply relieved to have a second opinion on whether I was over-milking poor Daisy. “Could you perhaps have a look and tell me if she is done milking, because I am not exactly sure…” I ventured.

He stepped in, walked around and had a look. “I’d say she’s done.”

“You’re sure? Even that one back there?” I pointed to the udder in question that I was concerned about. He checked and nodded.

Phew, I thought with deep relief. I unhooked the machine and walked around to unlock the barn door. I unhooked the latch that held her neck in place for her to enjoy hay and oats while being milked. I then moved the posts that lined up next to her body, and told her, “alright you can go now sweetheart,” with gratitude that she had tolerated my slight ineptitude with such sweet cow aplomb. She backed up to get out the door and then stared at the still closed door with me now on the other side of her.

Well crap. I had unlocked the door, but didn’t open it for her to get out.

“Okay, one second,” I said apologetically, shimmying under the posts to get back to the door while she politely backed up excusing my error. I am certain Daisy is the loveliest and most gracious cow, because I bet if she could have, she would have rolled her eyes at me.

I let her out.

I had done it. I had milked a cow and no one got hurt. Not me, nor Daisy. Sweating slightly, I wiped my brow, finally feeling confident to make my morning cup of coffee.

Now as if milking a cow all by myself—well with a smidgen of oversight from a very kind sir—wasn’t enough to make my ranching dreams seem like a reality, I was informed that on that very same day I would get to go on horseback to help move cows for a branding.

Moving cows by horseback was something I had been itching to do ever since I had first laid eyes on this occurrence in the West many months prior. Later that afternoon I came back to the ranch to help gather up the horses, saddle them and get ready for the branding. I use the term help very loosely as my friend’s husband, who is even more lovely and gracious than Ms. Daisy, did all the gathering of the horses and showed me how to saddle, while still doing the bulk of the work himself.

I mounted my horse Oscar, loosely holding onto the reins, and mentally trying to conjure up all the things I remembered about horses and maneuvering from my years of sporadic riding lessons. I also mentally tried to communicate with Oscar, to please cooperate with me and not make me look bad in front of all the cowboys—this includes the cowgirls, I just deeply enjoy the term cowboys—that were now mounted and ready on their horses. Most of them had on chaps and cowboy hats and some were holding ropes. I felt a heady anticipation.

As soon as we began to move, however, Oscar picked up speed seemingly wanting to go into a trot, while I pulled back on the reins as no one else was going that fast. He clearly had not heard my mental message. He did his speed up and go business for a bit while I tried to pull him back. His response was to shake his head, no, and try it again. Until we got to a river crossing where he seemed altogether hesitant to go across. I urged him forward, until finally with us near the end of the grouping, he crossed and then began to pick up speed once more.

I tried my best to steer him and rein him in, but he really wasn’t having it. By this point we had gotten to where the cows were and were guiding them back toward the corral. Oscar wanted to run forward still and I didn’t want to be the one person mucking up the whole cow moving effort.

By this point my friend motioned me over to her, to grab one of my reins, holding it along with her own reins until we got back. I should have felt slight mortification over being an incompetent horsewoman in front of all these awe-inspiring ranchers and ropers, but I didn’t care, because with Oscar now being handled and seemingly calm, I could bask in my first experience of moving cows. And take in the scenery.

I happily swayed in my saddle while watching the baby calves trot alongside their mamas. The afternoon radiated warmth from the strong spring sunshine, while the rich green grass was a perfect contrast to the blue grey mountains along the horizon. I watched the others on their horses and wanted to fold up the field like a fresh sheet, with all its accompanying animals, cowboys and feelings of western grandeur and timelessness and put it in the linen closet of my mind.

Later I lazily leaned against a fence watching the men rope the calves, feeling much less flustered this time, than my first time at a branding. This was now my third branding, so I felt I could probably even contribute.

My ranching friend who was roping asked why I didn’t bring my rope. And I laughed, pointing out that everyone present would have to possess a lot more patience for the day and expect no calves to be roped if I was left with that daunting task.

Later I sat on a flatbed trailer while watching the men rope and drag the calves ready for branding, while a young tough girl I fiercely admired for her wrangling abilities, gave the little ones their shots.

When it was all over, food was lined up on truck beds in vast quantities, while a bottle of Crown Royal was passed around. I was offered a swig, though I did nothing of note to warrant my earning a drink, but I tipped the bottle back and drank anyway. It singed down my throat but felt nice, and I quipped, “that’ll put hair on your chest!”

“I hope not!” the cowboy who had given it to me said aghast, “If I thought that, I wouldn’t have given it to you!”

I laughed and waited until everyone who had worked much harder than I had got their heaping plates of pastas and BBQ’d meat and strawberry rhubarb pie and beer.

I helped myself to all of the above, except beer and was just helping myself to more German chocolate cake, when my friend asked if I wanted a beer. I said yes and he brought me a Coors. I gulped it down in between bites of cake and thought, Coors and chocolate actually are a mighty fine combo. Perhaps the new best combo of my life.

And that’s when it really hit me.

The moment was freaking perfect.

The beer and cake, the temperature dropping in the air, a couple cows come to watch the feasting and us, the ranchers milling about visiting after a hard day’s work of roping, castrating, branding and being in the saddle. And I deeply admired all of them and felt that it was an immense privilege and honor to know people like this, but furthermore to even be included in this sacred part of the West.

It was such an exceptionally rare moment of peace for me that I asked myself if the moment or even the whole day could’ve been made better by any of the things I normally fret about. If I had a husband or babies or health insurance would my beer and cake have tasted sweeter? Would my saddle have felt smoother? Would the air have been warmer? Would the cowboys’ smiles and generosity of spirit been brighter?

No. There was no doing anything to that day to top it in my mind or to take away from that simple state of wondrous being and belonging. If I could make these Hyattville ranchers fields forever fertile and their cattle extra plump and their beer and whisky even finer, I would, to show them how grateful I am for what they’ve given me.

Unfortunately I don’t wield that kind of power, so my honest hope is that I become half as incredible a rancher as any of them, and maybe one day really can rope a calf from atop my horse. And perhaps remember that the next time life’s problems seem a little out of hand, that it’s nothing a Coors and cake probably couldn’t solve.

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.

The Arrogance of Belonging

Musings

I admit I have been struggling to write for the last week or so. I felt like I had this ah-ha moment of beautiful writing clarity while writing about my forays into ranching and then I became sort of stumped. I felt like I had ejaculated all my good creativity into that post, and wondered if I had any more left? And then I began to sort of belittle my existence and think I didn’t have anything good to say anyway.

My days—though could be constituted as lazy—have been filled with all sorts of experiences, both giddy and slightly gruesome. First off I got hired to be a pizza delivery driver, as this ranching business is more of a learning experience and I am doing it all because I want to learn. However, I still have student loans and car insurance and a cell bill which won’t happily go away because I want to play with horses and cows all day.

At first I was relieved to have a somewhat mindless job, so as not to take away from my writing or ranching. That was until my first day when I had to watch training videos on my new role. Included in training was a detailed video on handwashing in which I mentally rolled my eyes, but then proceeded to fail the handwashing quiz twice, while it boldly proclaimed that I was ‘contaminating the pizza!’ In my defense, being a slight tree-hugger, I shut off the water in the wrong order, according to the quiz.

As the shifts piled up, my morale went down and I begun to feel sort of lousy about the whole thing: being critiqued on my overly chatty phone answering skills by a sixteen year old boy, making less than minimum wage, wearing the pizza tee and ball cap and looking like a husky boy. All this combined with my dwindling bank account and living off of my hosts leftover food supply of canned corn and beans was making me feel like a real life pauper.

But then you see, I snapped out of it. I can only play the ‘oh poor me’ game for about a half day, maybe a day and a half max, before I grow incredibly weary of myself. Because it is always about perspective.

Happily enough I had these things going for me:

A house stocked with a large canned food supply that I could eat until I had more fundage.
Incredibly kind neighbors that invited me over for dinner a couple of times a week. Just because.
A job that allowed me to make money on the side and spend mornings and days having coffee with ranchers and listening dreamily while they said things like, ‘I reckon,’ and ‘that’s life in the far west for ya.’
A girl friend that planned a whole day of adventure for me, combined with off-roading, canyon-carved rivers, a beachy bonfire complete with roasted hot dogs, brews and ice cream, dancing and cartwheels, coyotes howling in the night and a sheer giddy appreciation for Friday’s that didn’t involve delivering pizza.
This fella that I kiss sometimes. Don’t read into it. But after a night spent playing a rousing game of gin rummy, followed by a heated debate on Yankees vs. Confederates, mixed with two vodka cranberries, I burst into tears about my fears of ending up a spinster. He got me tissue and smiled at me when I asked if I looked like Swamp Thing and said no. “Liar,” I said, “I know I look like Swamp Thing… you like that look huh, you weirdo.”
“You know it,” he answered tucking me into his shoulder. And then he kissed my forehead, my cheeks and my lips a whole bunch of times until I was all but simmered down and sort of convinced spinsterhood was far, far away from me.
Having the nicest sisters in the world who don’t think I am a lowlife when I call them to confide that I am struggling and amidst my strife say things to me like, “I will always look up to you,” and don’t judge me, but only uplift and support me. Or who call me excitedly this morning to say, “I am putting money in your bank account today that is strictly earmarked for yummy groceries, a bottle of wine and a treat.” I then called my mom to tell her this and my mom says, “you’re welcome.” I know, Mom, ya did good on giving me my baby sisters. I can’t wait to make it as a really posh writer one day and call my sisters with news that I will be depositing funds into their bank accounts for yummy groceries, wine and treats.
Living in a place where bald eagles swoop, and mountains envelop, and coyotes howl, and cows move freely about the road, and ranchers say to me, “I’ve been praying for you,” when I mention trying to finish writing my book, and a community that includes me like I am one of their own, though I’ve only just begun here, and getting to deliver pizza because if I were truthful with myself, it’s kind of fun and working amongst teen boys with Bieber hair who talk about ‘Twitter being so out, while Instagram is so in,’ makes adult problems seem kind of trivial and far off, because teen boys are lighthearted and amusing.

Which all brings me to this term “the arrogance of belonging,” by David Whyte, which I read about in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic and loved it. She also said “you are allowed to be here, and that—merely by being here—you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own.”

Even if everyday I am not ranching and romancing the West with prose and possibility, I am here and I do belong. And the experience of being a pizza delivery driver, while still getting to go out and see baby calves, or have a chill shimmy down my spine upon hearing coyotes howl at dusk, or kiss boys merely because I feel inclined to, is a part of my experience.

And the thing is I chose this experience. I chose not to apply for big girl jobs, or newspaper jobs, or jobs with 401K’s and health insurance in order to have my own experience in the West and write my own way. Even if it humbled me greatly to fail a handwashing quiz and wear a pizza ball cap, I realized a humbling experience or two never hurt anybody. In fact I hope I am better for it.

“The arrogance of belonging pulls you out of the darkest depths of self-hatred—not by saying “I am the greatest!” but merely by saying “I am here!”
-Elizabeth Gilbert

He’s the Berries (Part 1)

Musings

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.