An Eager Beaver

I have never been good at playing it cool. I am the quintessential wear my heart on my sleeve kinda gal. Some of my sisters (I have 6 of them) tease me about this and how if, say I like a guy, I don’t really dally about being coy and waiting to see what will develop. If I ever do seem coy and cool or mention that I don’t much feel like shaving my legs, then trust me, I do not have a crush on you. If I did have a crush on you, I would certainly be a red-faced, stammering fool as well as pretending my legs are about to be featured on a Venus Razor commercial.

For the record, I am never cool.

I was once wearing my running shoes: Asics, in a hippy community and I was chastised for it.
I am usually sweaty. Even if it’s wintertime. Even right now, whilst writing. In air conditioning.
I have a rock collection.
When I dance, there is always one point where I am compelled to snap my fingers. My sister tried teaching me what to do with my hips during a sultry dance at my brother’s wedding and I fiercely shook my head no. I can’t even practice how to be cool.

My sisters are all unspeakably cool, though. They go to concerts of popular bands before they are popular, dress like they belong in an underground L.A. hipster movement, though they’d kill me for saying so, and they are who I look to, though I am the oldest, because they are my muses.

So it would stand to reason that if I can’t be cool, I certainly couldn’t play it cool. With men or otherwise. This is where my eagerness comes in. Men and otherwise. Especially of late.

I am real excitable, see? Sometimes if someone seems passionate about a topic that I too am passionate about, my words come out of my mouth, tumbling over one another, like kids just released for recess, fighting for the first to be on the swingset—wait are swingsets still cool?—and I bulldoze the person with my words and giddiness.

I later feel terrible, though it was merely my excitement, my eagerness to share in passions that leads me to sometimes talk over people. I did this with a guy I liked a couple of months back. He taught me how to fly fish and I packed us a picnic, though it was too windy outside, so we went and sat at his kitchen table and talked for hours. He was so easy to talk to and wanted to talk about things like bears, donuts, making homemade jam, and our grandparents.

So naturally my excitement levels were that of effervescent champagne bubbles, bursting, simply bursting. At one point, in a flow of words I couldn’t stop, I was trying to make a point about how I’ve heard childbirth is nothing like the movies—thanks always for the grim details, Ash.

I kept going though, trying to further my point, saying, kind of how my introduction to the real ins and outs of sex as a teen were from reading Harlequin Romances. You know, those ones where the woman on the cover is in a too small dress and the man has too-large muscles (there is such a thing, sorry Ryan). And those sex scenes lead you to believe that orgasms are always multiple and simultaneous. And then when I really did have sex many, many years later, I thought, wait what? WHAT!? This is an outrage!

This is when I realized I was sharing too much, getting too excited, and I stopped myself abruptly. Talking sex wasn’t something I had had on my agenda, even in a cheeky comparison manner. I wanted to keep going to explain that my initial disappointment in sex had gone away, but I didn’t want to dig myself deeper.

So I shut up, red-faced and mumbled “TMI,” while sipping my second cup of coffee.

He never called.

I figured it was one of two things. My overflow of words. Or my sex anecdote.

Either way, I shrugged it off. When I later relayed the story to my sisters, much to their constant amusement on my treacherous love life, I noted that if a man isn’t in love with my words or my wild and inventive ways of accidentally embarrassing myself, well then he probably isn’t my fella.

But the thing is, I cannot help it. I am easily and overly excitable. I am an eager beaver. I am an antsy-pants. All these are my nice turn-of-phrases on the reality, which is that I am mostly just good old impatient. And the only time I have noted that my massive impatience was a good thing, was when I lived in New York City and it seemed everyone there too was also an eager beaver.

How this plays out lately? Well. I am impatient, err, very eager to make some friends. I know this isn’t something that can be rushed. Especially because I value quality over quantity. It’s simply that I am a social gal. I like having word-athons with someone. I like when people like what I like: hiking, fly fishing, photography, books, Hemingway, bourbon, donuts, animals, humanitarianism, trees and mountains, orgasms, ya know, all the good shit.

And it’s tough, when all my people are, well, not here in Cody, Wyoming. Then I find myself offering up abundances of information with near perfect strangers, like my fly fishing coach. I told him the other day that I was down to five pairs of underwear and not my good pairs, because the thought of doing laundry at a laundromat would lead me to going commando—something I despise more than underwear that aren’t boy shorts—before I caved and actually washed some clothes.

God bless him, he didn’t kick me out of the store. And even seemed mildly pleased when I showed up for fly-tying later in the week. But yesterday when I was about to peruse potato salad options at the local grocery store, which happens to be near the fly shop, I found myself going in, out of sheer eagerness to just be near another human who wanted to talk to me. I told myself I was being an eager beaver. Not being cool at all, trying to harass my fly fishing guide into hanging out with me after hours, just for the sheer camaraderie that is having friends.

He wasn’t there, which I think is for the best. If I didn’t embarrass myself with the underwear story, I surely would have trying to reel him into a forced friendship.

But, see that’s just how I am. An eager beaver. An antsy pants. Someone who is very excitable and wants to share passions: words or big O’s—hard won though they may be—or both, when I do meet that fella.

And realistically, uncool or not, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

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Richy Rich

I bought a seven speed bicycle the other day. It is a rust bucket of a Schwinn. The seat is torn and gaping open and it will only shift into two gears: six and seven, the two most challenging gears. Of course I didn’t know about the gears when I bought it. The bicycle also had two mostly flat tires, and yet I was willing to take my chances for the five dollar price tag and the pure wind-in-my-hair joy I knew it would bring me.

The thing is, I have been on a bit of a budget. Not that I don’t always thrill over a deal, or typically have wads of cash to throw around on fancy high-dollar peddlers, but a five dollar bicycle in a tourist town, in July, well, I consider that good fortune.

I have had a lot of other good fortune lately and it has mostly coincided with my mad attempts to horde the few dollars I have to my name. Exciting as it has been to start a new job as a reporter, find my own place and start the heady task of furnishing said place, it is no inexpensive feat. Also I haven’t gotten a paycheck yet.

Upon moving into my very cozy cabin-esque apartment a little over a week ago, I took stock of what I needed, which to make the list short was: everything. To be fair, the apartment was furnished with a queen-sized bed, vintage dresser, kitchen table complete with two cushioned yet stained chairs, an orange and brown scratchy/deeply hideous loveseat, one torn and tattered green rocking chair, and a ripped footstool. I am not exactly sure why so much of the furniture is torn and stained but I chalk it up to the last tenant being a bachelor and not a serial killer.

I slowly began the hunt for my long list of household items. I spent my lunch breaks from the paper poring over every shelf in every thrift store in town, checking things off my list: silverware caddy, utensils, baskets for storage, a single plate and single bowl. I was as vigilant for deals as a hunter is for the snap of a tree branch. I got my glassware half off one day. I found forks and knives five cents apiece, along with the baskets. I accidentally bought a space heater instead of a fan, so that was a loss, but lucky for me, Cody gets so cold and windy at night that I feel like I might be swept off to Oz. And I might one day need it, probably before July is through.

I bought a cooking pot for $2 at a consignment store and a vintage turquoise hamper for $6 although, that was a bit of a splurge, but I put back the fly fishing vest for $5 that I yearned for deeply even though it made me look like a husky pre-pubescent boy. I found an electric tea kettle with a sticker that said $4 but rang up $3. I passed on things like full dishware sets or drinking cups, and chose to stick with my one plate for now and drink out of my Nalgene bottle when I was thirsty.

Also I had a vast coffee mug collection to start with, so I’ve survived. A friend slept over one night and I heard her rustling around to get a drink in the middle of the night. When she crawled back into bed with me, I apologized for my lack of dishware and she said it was alright, that she’d found a mug that said Milk. It actually says Beast.

What was left over after I paid rent, bought absolute essentials like toilet paper, dish soap and a small starter set of grocery items like bread, blueberries, yogurt and almonds—things that could not be purchased thrifting—was a meager amount. This was of course after I bought a celebratory pizza and a six pack of Blue Moon as my one indulgence to life on my own. I proceeded to eat pizza for two meals a day, four days in a row. I rationed that pizza pie like you wouldn’t believe. I even rationed the beer. There is still one bottle left.

I felt a little grim about making a grocery budget out of five dollars, but that was what I could finagle for the week. I knew the bread and blueberries could only go so far, but I also knew my mama raised me very well when it came to being thrifty. I decided I wanted some sort of sliced turkey or chicken breast because I knew I could eat that for two meals a day like I had the pizza.

I went to the grocery store where I saw sliced chicken breast was on sale for $3.98 a pound and I was beside myself, thinking I had an extra dollar to work with and I could get a whole pound of chicken when I realistically expected only half a pound. There was some debate about the sale, however and a manager was called, then another manager. I grew a little frustrated as I had my heart set on the sale price and was not backing down, though I tried to come across as friendly, I insisted the sale sticker had no date and said clear as a bell the $3.98 price.

Finally the manager handed over my sliced chicken and apologized for my long wait and all of the confusion, saying the item indeed was on sale. I started to walk over to produce to find what I could get for $1 when I noticed the sticker on my chicken said $.48 not $3.98. I stared at it thinking there was some mistake and but then I thought perhaps God was giving me a break. I was downright jubilant and found some guacamole on sale and sweet potato chips and went home and ate that for days until the chicken ran out. When the chicken was gone, I spread guacamole on toast and sprinkled parmesan and red pepper packets on top that I had left over from the pizza and washed it down with a brew.

I panicked one day when I thought I had run out of shampoo but then I remembered my bath bag where I had stowed away half empty travel size bottles of shampoos that people left in their cabins, back when I was doing housekeeping in June. I put all of the travel size bottles in my shower and calculated that I had at least two weeks before I actually needed to buy a new bottle of shampoo.

I hung out with new friends who gave me an old blender and a stash of Mason jars they had in their garage. I signed up for text alerts to get free movie codes for Redbox rentals.

I had next to no money for groceries this week until I get paid and I had called my mom one day to excitedly ask her, “did you know you can buy a single carrot?”

My mom asked why I would buy just one carrot.

“Because it was seventeen cents!” I exclaimed. “I could get two side meals out of that carrot!”

And that’s when I found my bike. That money was strictly earmarked for groceries but I had to. Hence the single carrot. The tires were low and needed to be filled and there wasn’t a single gas station that I could find that had a free air pump, though I did find one that you could pay by the minute. Or so I thought.

I had exactly one quarter left to my name that I honestly didn’t want to give up, but I really wanted to ride my new bike, so I put it in the air machine. Nothing happened. I stared at the machine, not exactly feeling dismay but wondering vaguely if I could get my quarter back, when a man nearby hopped out of his beat-up truck and asked if I needed quarters. I swatted my hand, “no. I just thought you could pay for one minute. I didn’t know you had to commit to the four minutes for a dollar. I really don’t need four minutes.”

“I have a whole bunch of quarters here,” he insisted grabbing a bunch off his dashboard and placing some in the machine while I still argued that he didn’t need to do that. Suddenly air was whooshing out of the hose and he smiled. This was the epitome of people in Wyoming, just wanting to help.

I thanked him profusely and he was gone. I filled up the tires on my bike and checked to see if my car tires needed air once I was on someone else’s quarter. I then brought my new/old Schwinn home and took her for a wind-in-my-hair, joy-filled ride. A grin was perma-plastered on my face. Even when I went uphill. Even when I realized the shifter was broke. Even when the handlebars stained my hands black.

And you know what the funny part is? Used shampoo bottles and used spatulas and coffee mugs that say Beast and rickety bikes and guacamole sandwiches and single carrots, and free movie rentals, and tattered furniture and faux wood paneling in a studio apartment that looks like the scene where the Grinch steals everything and even the mice are aghast at the nail holes and crumbs aside… well all of this doesn’t make me feel poor at all. It makes me feel quite rich.

I think I’ve finally made it.

**My good friend Ryan and sweet sister Kia helped in the way of my grocery budget funds. Without them I wouldn’t have eaten guac sammies and carrots and blueberries and almonds and pizza and Blue Moon’s, but instead would’ve had to eat s’mores fixin’s and Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I would be remiss if I didn’t say I am also rich in family and friends.

Solo Camping

I think I might be a grown-up. I know how this sounds. Of course by all standards, I am a grown-up. I live apart from my parents and pay my bills and brush my teeth and get dressed in the morning unassisted. I don’t know that these are qualifiers for grown-up-hood actually because five year olds too know how to get dressed and brush their teeth, but they can’t buy whiskey and move cross country whenever they feel like it, so I stand by my declaration.

Anyway, this occurred to me last night as I was walking to the bathroom at the campground I was staying at. By myself. I kept giggling like I was a kid who had in fact snuck out of my parents house to do something illicit. I did do this once as a youngster, with my best friend Katee Peach—that really was my childhood best friend’s name, isn’t that perfect?—this is what Bad Mary Janes we were. We snuck out around midnight, drove to Meijer—a nicer version of Wal-Mart, but not as classy as Target, for those not in the know—bought bulk candy and sat in the furniture section feeling smug, rocking on faux leather office chairs until our eyes got heavy and we inevitably just drove home.

I told myself when I moved to yet another new place by myself, that I was going to attempt to do things alone, things that I would have previously never considered doing alone. One of those things was go camping. In my mind going camping alone, seemed rather lame. Who would I chat with and snuggle and eat s’mores with? Turns out the s’mores thing was hardly a problem. I made it my mission to eat enough s’mores to account for two people being there. I know, I had to take one for the team on that one.

I had decided to ease into camping by myself, I wouldn’t venture into the Wyoming wilds alone, alone. First I would start with a campground and I opted for Buffalo Bill State Park on the reservoir. Not too shabby canyon and water views, accompanied by the secure feeling of collective campers, and a distinct lack of grizzlies seemed wise.

I brought my childhood stuffed giraffe that I still cart around the country when I am in between snuggle partners as she makes a good fill in. Lula didn’t disappoint. She didn’t fight me when I put her worn orange cotton ears tightly underneath my neck. She also didn’t object to my constant position switching in the night to get comfortable on my stack of about 9 folded blankets.

I can’t say I deserved a high-five for setting up my tent because it is new technology and basically idiot-proof. I am pretty sure I could have Mary Poppins’d that shit, and sang a song to my tent and it would’ve risen. Also God love a Coleman, because the beaut held up to insane and persistent Wyoming winds all. night. long. I kept checking the corners which I had weighed down with rocks, because my campsite was pure rubble and I could not get the stakes in.

But the tent and Lula held through the onslaught.

I had made a fire, no prob, because duh I was a Girl Scout. Although, okay I love to throw that out there, but I think I actually was a Brownie and never graduated past Brownie. But I did sew something once, so, I am pretty sure I still get the honor.

I drank peach beers and smiled dreamily at my blazing fire, the sun dipping down behind Cody canyons and felt like I was figuring it out. At least I hoped I was. I wanted to start in on my laundry list of worries because that is my usual pastime, but I refused. I told myself I would simply enjoy the pure pleasure of being alive and able to camp on my own in the West. Turns out this wasn’t a hard feat.

I kept laughing and it wasn’t from the peach beers, though to be fair, two did make me tingle a bit. I sincerely felt in awe of doing an activity that seems like it should be a two person activity, and making it fit one. My bed, happily high from the obscene amounts of stacked and folded blankets only took up a small space in my five-person tent. But I liked my miniature living room, with dimly lit lantern, Wall Drug cowboy satchel filled with books, my styrofoam cooler brought purely to protect the chocolate and brews, and then there was me and Lula.

I always say that I have the worst night’s sleep on record when I go camping, and I surely did. I was up every half hour it seemed with howling winds that shook every seam in my tent relentlessly. I wondered if the wind would pick us all up: me, the tent and Lula and cart us off to Oz. I dreamt about packing up the tent multiple times, but each time I woke up and heard the wind and rain, I snuggled deeper into my blankets and prayed. I didn’t pray for protection against a wayward tree crushing me, but for God to not let my new Coleman get destroyed after only one use.

I had fallen asleep wearing pants, a long sleeve shirt, doubled with a thick sweater and wool socks. I awoke sweaty and to the sounds of squawking birds. The tent was now still and my body ached as I wearily peeled off socks and multiple layers of my clothes. I whipped off the mounds of blankets and unzipped the tent flap to a cool breeze and bright morning sun. I gulped in the fresh air and wondered about coffee. I also wondered if I could shoot the squawking birds without incident.

Camping is slightly like heartache following love. You wonder why you bother, yet secretly are up for all the thrills all over again.

I debated whether I had the energy to pack up without caffeine first, but I swallowed some stale water from my Nalgene bottle and ate three squares of a Hershey’s bar and determined that would have to suffice.

As I tried to stuff the tent back in the bag that never seems big enough to hold what came out so easily, I thought, hey, I did it. I camped alone.

The Camp Hosts from Georgia who were making their morning rounds around the campground called out, “leaving already?”

“Yeah I was just here for one night. Now I am going hiking.”

“Be safe,” the man said.

I nodded, feeling sweaty from the effort of shoving the tent into its too small bag.

And just like that I was off in search of the largest coffee I could find and a hike that would quench my never-ending thirst for more adventure. Alone or otherwise.

The Wildness in Me

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.

The Recipe for More Than Enough

I often wonder what my life would be like if I stopped worrying? For starters I would have so much time on my hands that I could probably cure cancer or become a millionaire. Although, I am actually nowhere near science-brained enough to tackle cancer, other than with hippy plants and prayer. So that’s out. And I don’t care great deals about money to make being a millionaire an aim.

I just want to have somewhat fancy breads, cheeses and chocolate in my life, good company, and be able to get Sallie Mae off my back indefinitely. And uh… I mean if God threw an outdoorsy gent in there who happened to have a beard, I certainly wouldn’t complain…

But speaking of fancy breads and good company and the niceness of life and bearded gentleman… I actually have all of that already. Well, technically I don’t have a bearded gentleman per se. But I have a real solid bearded pal who envelops me in great big bear hugs and kisses my forehead from time to time. So it counts.

All of this is to say, I am not secretive about my freakouts. I pretty much always tell people when I am freakin’ out. The ranchers know when I am losing it, because I come over to their cozy hilltop log house and have coffee with them and probably wear them down with my words. And my girlfriends know because I have a brew and do it all over again. And then my sisters pick up the phone while I am driving and I love their sweet voices and I focus on the road, watching intently for deer and cry and then pray I don’t hit a deer for the third time. So yeah… I am not one of those bottle it up girls.

While being back in Wyoming and learning to be a rancher and experiencing some of the most incredible experiences to date involving roping and jam sessions and baby cows and cowboys have left me nothing short of awe-struck, I have had my moments of adjusting. Adjusting to life by myself. Adjusting to the prospect of turning thirty and wondering if I’ve mucked up somewhere along the line because I don’t have a baby or a ring on my left hand or enough money in my savings or checking for Bank of America not to punish me for having so little money.

All that is worry mixed in where a whole lot of splendor could be steeping. And all the worry had been doing was taking away from the simple splendor and God’s grace. I was noting the splendor sure, because I am drawn to that always, but I couldn’t stop the worry though. I said I was stopping and I tried to mean it, but I became overcome with worry again and again and again, until I called my mom one day in an absolute fit of overwrought histrionics and said I was worrying myself ragged and needed an escape.

I had talked to a lovely friend in Sheridan—on the other side of the mountain—who invited me to stay with her and I speculated to my mom about the costs of the miniature road trip. She insisted I go and told me not to worry over any of it. To treat myself to coffees at Andi’s and a sandwich at The Cowboy Cafe and a salad on the porch of The Sheridan Inn. I did all three and I let my breath out. Breath that had been terribly trapped in fits of anxiety deep in my core.

I stayed with my friend in her home that reminded me of my childhood best friends home. It was herbal-y and full of sunshine and twinkle lights and love. Oh my goodness but love was soaked in every molecule and fiber of that place! When my friend set down a cutting board of fancy cheeses, bread and veggies in front of me. When she poured me sun tea she’d had on the porch all day and her husband and I agreed it was good, but if we had a splash of bourbon… bourbon was added to the sun tea and I sighed merciful content. When she told me the story of how she happened to meet her husband on a plane when she had started to question if she’d ever find love again, I thought, okay not only is there love in this place, there is hope.

And I decided right then and there to give up my worry. Or do my very darndest to at least backseat the little brat who had been taking over the wheel of my life as of late. It was so sweet to sip on bourbon sun tea and breathe. And think of meeting someone in a fanciful way that didn’t involve my worried fitful brain and worst-case-scenarios. And later sit on one of the widest and most open porches in the west with a waldorf salad and A Moveable Feast and take pleasure in merely being. Just being alive here. Wasn’t that enough?

Of course it’s enough. Why do I get so gluttonous for more? Green-apple splashed salads on airy porches was enough. Bourbon sun tea with a darling of a girl and her love was enough. Sleeping soundly with the window open and a slight chill was enough. Going to visit my bearded friend because I knew he’d cuddle me—and play Scrabble with me. I was Twain, he was Faulkner, because we make Scrabble aliases. And make me laugh and generally help me to forget all about my incessant worry—for no other reason than because darn it all I needed to be cuddled (and maybe I missed him a wee bit). But that too was enough.

And the more I got to thinking about my life here, it dawned on me that the simple splendors plus the right amount of hope, minus substantial worry would be the recipe for more than enough. Then it’s funny how these things happen but I began to notice even more enoughs. I had so many enoughs overflowing my pockets, I was starting to feel jubilant. Like running through the rain yesterday and pausing thinking, my God do people realize how amazing it is to run in the rain and feel wet grass on their ankles? That got me through my entire day yesterday: wet grass on my ankles, while running to a barn in the rain. More. Than. Enough.

And when I would wake up and frantically search the bed for my worry, like uh-oh, you’ve had your fun, now girl get back to the business of bluesy terror over your life, I would calmly and rationally tell my brain: All those worries you worry over, welp, turns out majority of them cannot be solved in this instant before coffee, so uh… Worry, maybe you had best just skedaddle for today. And probably tomorrow while you’re at it. Because I am doing my best here. 

So here I sit. It is snowing and I am going to make sweet potato biscuits and cookies. I am tucked in at the rancher’s beautiful window-lit home for the day. And later, when the ranchers return, we are having kiwi margaritas. Yeah let that sink in, a kiwi… margarita. I don’t know, man, but bourbon sun tea and kiwi margaritas in the same week… I gotta say, that’s a whole lotta splendor goin’ on. And if you’re reading between the lines right, there’s not a whole lotta room for worry in between bourbon sun tea and a kiwi margarita. At least from what I understand about life.

 

A Day in the Life of a Rancher: The Branding

I got to experience my first calf branding the other day. I was unnaturally elated and felt like this was the height of cowboy culture—other than perhaps moving cows by horseback which I am also dying to do.

I am not sure why I went into it so full of pep, as the very words, calf and branding together don’t exactly speak to a lot of joviality. I knew branding would probably be intense but I still wanted to see this iconic ranching experience.

Upon arriving I noted a smell similar to that of being in a dental chair having a cavity drilled. I could see billowing white smoke coming up from the backs of where the calves fur was being singed. Then I noted small trickles of blood coming from both their ears and lower extremities, having just been castrated and dehorned as well. The testicles were then thrown into a Folgers Coffee container. My eyes kept going from Folgers container of testicles to the calves’ eyes. I watched on trying not to get shook-up when they struggled on the calf table.

Every time I could feel myself being slightly taken aback by the very rawness of ranching and that animals would indeed need to experience some pain in their lives—much like us humans—my rancher friend who was castrating, would smile reassuringly when he caught my eye, in a way that seemed like a shrug, what can ya do?

What can ya do, is right? This was the rancher’s job and all of the things taking place needed to be done. For starters, I myself, like almost everyone in America enjoys cheeseburgers; and I know that a cow doesn’t simply lie down and die in a field of daffodils on a dewy morning, only for a rancher to stumble along and go, hey, this would make a fine meal! I happily and blithely enjoy cheeseburgers with no thoughts of the dirty work involved. All that aside… Castration, I learned, prevented inbreeding, or breeding too early and allowed the bulls to focus on their feeding versus breeding. The dehorning had several purposes too, involving safety for the ranchers and the cattle’s ability to move through chutes unencumbered at meat-processing plants.

The calves were given two shots during this process. This is where I got put on in the lineup. Shot detail. I filled up the shots for each new calf about to have his first real-eye opening experience about life in the Wild West, just like I was having my own. I felt helpful in this way, though, and like I was doing something of import and healing for the calves. Every time I got to fill a new vial and see a calf hop off the table, I felt a little better.

They were corralled into a small pen that doubles as a table which flips up. Then the calf is held down with prongs while all the necessities take place. A lot of bellowing goes on and their eyes get slightly bulgy. But the interesting thing about their bellowing is it doesn’t get that loud. I thought, if that were me on the table getting branded and castrated and dehorned, they’d hear me bellowing clear over in Thailand, that’s how much I wouldn’t be having it.

Now here is the really interesting part. Once the calf is let go, he’d hop off the table and scamper away looking no worse for wear. Truly. And all of this is only a couple minute process. Either calves are great pretenders, or they really are quite resilient even if they’re hurting and they simply go back to the business of being young’uns who curiously run around the yard and play or go looking for their mama. I couldn’t believe it. About 97 of the 100 or so calves that were being branded that day all looked right as rain and like nothing at all had just happened to them.

About one looked as if it had gone through some sort of ordeal, while two others had the grandiose notion to perhaps lay in the sun and take a well-deserved nap. If I was a calf, not only would I be the single calf in the herd looking as if I’d just had an ordeal, I would also be the one napping and I would be running and bellowing to my mama about said ordeal. I probably wouldn’t shut up about it for weeks. The other calves would roll their eyes and think I was a pansy-ass. But it’s true. I now knew that one of my “bad” days was nothing in comparison to a calf’s bad day.

I was also informed that sometimes the calves get diarrhea and spew all over whoever happens to be at that end of the table, either brander or herder. My friend told me that one year her young son—who was also helping that day—was standing decently far away on herding patrol and still got diarrhea splattered all over his face. His face. I can’t even… Although her comical response to this, was that it probably boosted his immune system. Ranchers, gotta love ’em.

But all of the shock of what very real ranching and branding looked like aside, I had a whole new appreciation for my cushy life that had hardly touched on real farming, or any truly harrowing experiences. I had never been branded, thank God, but I also had never had to brand anything either.

My day of branding may have been the first day I wasn’t altogether romanced by ranching. But on the tail-end of this sobering thought was that it was okay. I didn’t always have to be romanced by ranching, because like the ranchers had been saying over and over to me, there were lots of aspects of ranching that didn’t look particularly romantic. They were gritty and filthy and tough and bellowing and covered in diarrhea and/or blood.

And if I thought I was the only one struggling to see the calves struggle I would’ve been wrong. I later talked about it with my rancher friend in charge of the castrating and he agreed, branding was a tough thing to see and an even tougher thing to do, but it was a necessity for the herd. It had to be done in order to prevent their animals—their assets—from getting lost and unrecovered or stolen and it was the best way, where other ways, like merely tagging weren’t nearly as reliable. He confessed he didn’t like it any more than I did, but that it did have to be done. And I admired him deeply for that.

He also pointed out that our culture as a whole was getting a bit too soft over the animal killing thing. He said, “Nowadays, I’m afraid if you put a couple people in a room with a gun and a rabbit until they starved, several people would choose to starve or end up shooting themselves before they killed the rabbit. And we have to get away from that.”

I thought that notion was slightly comical, but probably true. I will admit I recently ran over a rabbit on my way home from work and felt horrible about it. But, I would have no problem killing a rabbit if that was my only means of sustenance. Especially if I was starving. If you have ever seen me when I am starving you’d understand that I’d probably kill you if you got in my way of some juicy meat over the notion that it was cruel. Ask my sister Kia about this, when she dared to eat a bagel in front of me during competition on The Biggest Loser and I wasn’t allowed to touch a carbohydrate. Needless to say, Kia probably now has a complex about bagels because of how poorly I reacted.

And don’t get me wrong now either. I am an animal lover through and through. I think Sea World and zoos are incredibly cruel for animals and I don’t support that shenanigans. I don’t however think ranching, hunting or eating meat as sustenance is in any way cruelty to animals.

As the day wound down, and mama cows got reunited with their calves and everyone seemed content, I noticed my friend’s young son snatch what I thought was a calf testicle and pop it in his mouth. Now it was my turn for my eyes to bug out of my head. I thought I was mistaken and watched intently as he went to do it again, singeing it first on a still-hot branding iron, and even offering me one. I shuddered and said no thank you. He laughed and said, “I betchya I could get you to eat one by the end of the day.”

“It’s highly unlikely,” I said while leaning over a fence leaning into the warm sunshine, but smiling at his gumption anyway. I later learned they were full of nutrients and all the ranchers seemed nonplussed by his eating them, even noted that it’d probably be good if I ate one too.

I couldn’t bring myself to, even when the young lad cooked them over a handmade grill instead of a branding iron. I knew I was inching ever closer to the vicinity of my dreams of being a rancher/farmer, but yet… I still had a long ways to go. At least until I could ever dream of branding a calf or eating one of their testicles… but maybe one day. Stranger things have happened.

But for days after, I thought a lot about the branding in particular and the romance of the West. Was there a romance to be found in branding? The calves being branded was not terribly romantic perhaps… But then about a week later, I found myself sitting in a rancher’s home having been invited by my friends to a jam session. There were about ten musicians in a circle playing banjos, harmonicas, a bass and guitars while singing old Western tunes. I had just eaten the most unbelievable steak that my friends I did the branding with had brought and cooked perfectly. I sipped on cool white wine while watching the makeshift band tap their toes in time to the music and wondered how I could burn this memory to my brain? I didn’t want to forget the music in the large and open log cabin facing the Wyoming mountains with the April sun on my face.

And that’s when my brain answered back, you could brand this to your memory. And I smiled on the word brand. Alright. I will somehow brand it to my memory bank, burning it there with a hot, hot iron, singeing it into my neurons, so I could draw it up one day for the same warmth the sun and the sounds and the wine had given me. And just a few songs later, the band wanted to dedicate a song to our beloved Merle Haggard. They played Merle’s, “Branded Man.” I couldn’t help but think maybe the universe was with me on this one. Maybe the romance could still be found. Even in things branded.

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.