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.

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.