Monday, October 27, 2014

Lessons in Ranch Living for City Girls: Back in the "City"

So the beloved and I are in the big city, population of 70,000, for a few months while he pursues his Master’s degree at the University of Montana, or as he likes to call it, The School of Nuts and Raisins.  Missoula is a lovely little town, full of quaint little shops, trendy restaurants and bars, and more health food stores than you can shake a free range, hormone-free chicken at.  It’s an eclectic, pretty town, with the beautiful Clark Fork River running right through it.  The university is a picturesque place, especially during this time of year when the leaves are changing to beautiful shades of red, yellow and orange, falling, and rustling under your feet.  The scent of fallen leaves is heady!  

Bayley likes to take advantage of the Autumn abundance and does her “business” regularly in the piles of leaves that are raked to the curb in our little neighborhood.  Thankfully, I don’t see too many kids playing in the leaves…  I DO pick up her more, um, solid, deposits, but for some reason, she feels the need to mark her territory in the maples…  Bayley is not a city girl and while she is a people magnet and draws them to her furry self like flies, she has also caused more than her share of hand-over-mouth reactions from various up-scale diners at a lovely little outdoor cafĂ© which is on one of our frequent walk routes.  Ah, diners at CaffĂ© Dulce, Bayley is a ranch dog extraordinaire and cares not that you are dining on your POACHED HALIBUT CHEEKS (wild Alaskan halibut cheeks poached in white wine, beluga lentils, grilled radicchio & a grapefruit & Serrano relish for $28).  She will poop right smack in front of you, shamelessly, half on the sidewalk and half on the grass.  And largely.  And be very proud of it.  The lesson I learned that day:  bring two bags or be willing to drive back…

One of the very best things about living in Missoula is the city's extensive walking/cycling trail system which is very dog friendly even if the bicyclists are not so much.  I find that I need some of those rear view mirror thingamabobs to strap to my head so I can see what’s coming up behind me.  The bicyclists around here are a different breed altogether from what I’m used to. Which is no bicyclists.  Albertans, yes.  Bears, yes.  The occasional imagined wolf, yes.  But none of those things will strike fear as much as a flip flop wearing, back pack sporting, dread lock topped, non-rules of the road obeying university student.  EVERYONE complains about them and I fear the day that the beloved clotheslines one who gets a little too close to his peacefully walking self.  Our landlord is a Missoula police officer, but I don’t think even he could do much for us if Bill was arrested for going all postal on a Schwinn boy.  For now, we have remained jail-free, but it may only be a matter of time.  Probably half of the population of Missoula would rise to his defense, though, since he’d only be doing what each and every one has fantasized about doing.

Missoula races chartIt fancies itself a progressive town, and it is, but one thing Missoula is not is racially diverse.  I wondered at the lack of that in such a university-centric place, especially because the University of Montana is a research oriented school, which usually attracts a very diverse student population.  Wondered so much that I had a look and came up with a handy pie chart and found out that one of the many things that Missoula shared with her sister in nutty raisin-ness and another town I have been to many times, Boulder, Colorado, is an overwhelming whiteness.  I have lived in Honolulu (as culturally and racially diverse as it gets), Tulsa (a hodgepodge of cultures and a surprisingly progressive city) and the East Glacier Park area (wonderfully, and also surprisingly, complex for anyplace, much less a very small town in far Northwestern Montana).  There are small pockets of diversity here in Grizz Country, but not many.  I have seen one non-Caucasian person in our neighborhood, which is a really nice little area with sidewalks and tree lined streets, and is populated with normal people who work for a living.  Seems odd to me.

Another lesson I’ve learned over the past few weeks that the universe has a sense of humor and smacks me with it every once in a while.  One of the few things that the Horseman and I disagree on is hunting and the issue has caused some slightly high pitched discussions in our home.  Now I am all for sustenance hunting.  Harvesting an elk or deer, while it’s not something that I care to do myself, is a rite of Fall in most areas of the country, and especially so here in Montana, and I say have at it.  I don’t agree with trophy hunting, but I don’t say a word to anyone about it.  If it’s legal, it’s your business.  I won’t do it, but I defend your right to.  Heck, I live with the trophies of hunts gone by right in my very own home.  However.  In the past few weeks I have been on the road behind vehicles carrying the following:  a dead moose on Hwy. 2, two dead mule deer, strapped very precariously to the back of a truck on Hwy. 93 and today, a dead elk on Reserve Drive at lunch hour.  Yep.  Me.  The animal loving, tree hugging wife of an ex-outfitter, forced to stare at critters that I am still in awe of being able to see regularly in the wild, now bereft of life.  There’s some irony, eh?  The universe reminds you to suck it up and put on your big girl panties once in a while.

I’ve been putting on a lot of big girl panties lately!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Lessons in Ranch Living for City Girls:  Things that make you strong and little creatures great and small...

Things the Horseman says when no one else is listening give me strength…  Through the long, challenging days of this summer, when I don’t think I’ll be able to lift my head from the pillow to cook one more breakfast or make one more bed, when my heart is heavy with loss and sadness, and when I feel my resolve wavering, the Horseman is my constant.  He’s not an overly demonstrative man and not prone to many public displays of affection, which is just fine.  In other words, he’s not much of a hand holder. But privately, he gives me love, strength, and steadfast support.  I know and he knows, and that’s perfect for us.  And when I get wind that’s he’s told someone something wonderful about me, something private and from his heart, well, it just lifts me up.  I have certainly needed a little lifting lately.

Ponygirl and others I love…  We tragically lost our sweet Ponygirl two weeks ago now and I miss her little star faced self every day.  I think her blue roan boyfriend, Dylan, is heartbroken, too.  Seems that every time we give him a little mare to love (he thinks he’s a stud), we take her away…  Ponygirl’s penchant for escape, her wandering vagabond spirit, her fearlessness at being away from the herd, and her insatiable appetite for the grass on the other side of the fence, took her up onto the highway and away from us on a pitch black, moonless night and into something that she could not have known and I could never have imagined. 

Maybe Ponygirl was never meant for us – never meant to be contained – so she became a little spirit having flown. Her almost black eyes always held something wise and almost challenging, but far away, if that makes sense.  She was headstrong and stubborn, but also sweet and loving.  She never quite healed physically from the neglect she suffered before she came to us, and seemed to be getting a little worse.  In fact, the night PG was killed was the first time she had wandered from the corral area in some time, and on that night she made it through the meadow, across the creek, through the fence, up the embankment and out onto the highway.  A little burst of “something” that we didn’t think she had in her that ultimately cost our naughty girl her life.  I thank God that the elderly couple who hit her, in their very small Prius, walked away, understandably quite shaken, but with only a few bruises.  The car was totaled.  Bill and Dusty found PG in a little copse of trees an hour after it happened and she had been thrown quite a way, dying instantly. 

I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to care for our little throwaway Ponygirl after her angels, Emma and Mara, brought her to us.  She was mine, but she belonged to everyone who met her or followed her silliness on Facebook.  She didn’t earn her keep, she broke into and out of everything (including Kris and Karla’s car, looking for beer), and she was constantly covered in burrs that I had to pick off, one by one.  I think she did that on purpose to get brushed and fawned over!  But her naughty antics brought a smile to my face every single day and I will miss her presence so very much…  I take comfort in the fact that she didn’t suffer, and that she’s free and whole now,  running with the big horses on strong, healthy feet, wind in her face and through that impossibly thick mane.  I’ll miss my stinkin’ cute, naughty, impudent, stubborn, little Ponygirl more than I can say.

I don't stay up too late much anymore since 5:30 a.m. comes awfully early around here and I tend to hit the bed a little before it's actually dark.  On the night Ponygirl was killed but before we found her body, I was standing on the shoulder of Highway 2 and I looked up and saw more stars than I've ever seen.  It's nice to think that her star is among them.

It’s a difficult thing, this giving of our hearts to these little beings with lives even more finite than our own.  When my dog, Sophie, died over three years ago, I thought I’d never heal from the loss of her.  A part of my life from the day she was born and for eleven years thereafter, she was my heart.  Then I met and married Bill and with him came horses to love as well as a beautiful, loving, gentle giant of a dog, Bayley, the Wonder Dog.  Bayley is perfect and loves any and all people she meets.  She’s a master manipulator when it comes to getting attention and belly rubs and brazenly places herself in the path to the coffee to optimize the chance of a stray hand finding its way onto her person!  Bayley is a 7 year old St. Bernard, as everyone knows, and her time with us is a nebulous thing.  Thankfully, she’s healthy and happy now but I think with fear in my heart of the day we have to say goodbye to her.  She’s my constant companion.  If Bill can’t find me, he’ll spot Bayley on the porch of a cabin and knows exactly where I am.  If I go for a walk, she goes with me - my little shadow. She’s here at my feet as I type this…  Saints are an unfairly short lived breed, but I think Bayley will break records with her longevity.  She has too many people to love and shamelessly entice into rubbing her belly.  She’s a little slutty that way.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Lessons in Ranch Living for City Girls, Redux.

Well friends, it's been a while.  Much has changed in my Montana ex-pat world, and I've sorely neglected the time I give myself to update friends, family and the random rubberneckers who view my upside down life with something resembling shock, benign pity or maybe a little envy.  Life has changed, evolved, and grown into something I hadn't anticipated but am embracing.

Since about a year has passed since my last update, I'll give you a quick review:  most importantly, the Horseman and I were married on August 31, 2013, on our ranch in northwestern Montana, a lovely end to a summer of ups and downs, successes and failures, more than a few tears but more smiles and laughter than tears.  The love I feel for this complex and smart man is boundless and I am proud and happy to spend my life at his side. It was a perfect late summer Montana afternoon, warm and sunny after days of not so nice weather.  Surrounded by family and friends who had cooked wonderful comfort foods and donned their Western best, we vowed to spend our lives together, for better or for worse.  I was blessed to be able to have my mama, sister, brother-in-law and my dear nephew, James, there to sit on my side of the aisle as well as some dear, dear friends present to make the day even more special.  The glaring absence of some of our dearest was felt, too... Bill's amazing sons, mother and sister were simply too far away to be able to make it, but we know they were there with us anyway.  That leap of faith for love that I took when I first started on this adventure has resulted in a life I never in a million years dreamed of with someone I couldn't possibly love more.  It's a soft place to fall.

So what have I learned this year?  That when you have a bad knee, it's not a good idea to get off your unfamiliar horse to walk him down a hill (when his buddies have gone on ahead) and then remount to ride the rest of the way. When your horse is frantic to get to his equine friends and back in the herd, spinning and rearing on a downward sloping path, you end up dismounting (rather than being forcefully and soundly ejected from your saddle) and walking the rest of the way anyway, under the staring eyes of many concerned cowboys. All street cred is lost in a limping, wild haired decent in slippery soled cowboy boots, with one kind hearted and tolerant cowboy by your side.  I'm sure there was more than a little pity for my husband-to-be at his choice of city girl...  Just as I'm sure he just smiled sheepishly, rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders before walking out to meet me.

I've learned to pay attention to the non-ADA compliant stairs to our bedroom when descending with a full laundry basket lest one slip down a few steps, landing on one's tailbone.  Where one sits for a few minutes to catch one's breath and blink away the tears before continuing to the more public areas of the house. Orthopedically speaking, Montana has not been good to me.  Knees and tailbones tend to take a very long time to heal.  Clumsy, I am.  Clumsy, limpy and bent.

I've learned that chipmunks aren't smart and tend to have a Jim Jones Kool-aid drinking mentality when it comes to mass suicide in a horse trough.  They're actually more like lemmings.  Or little failed lifeguards. And they turn odd colors and lose their hair in water and the image remains in your brain long after they've been buried (in case Bayley, who has tried to drag a large SPINE of unknown origin home from a trail ride, finds them) and the trough emptied and cleaned and turned upside down - not to be used by traumatized horses.  Ugh.  And sorry for the visual.

Bayley, the Wonder Dog, beloved by all.  Except little dogs.
I've learned that Bayley the Wonder Dog will always be by my side unless there's a nearby living chipmunk or squirrel in need of chasing.  Mostly because her belly is not going to pet itself.  I've also learned that Bayley isn't terribly fond of small, yapping dogs. Happily though, she hasn't tasted a little terrier/rat dog/chihuahua morsel and we haven't had to bail her out of doggie jail!  Have also learned that Bayley, Ranch Dog Extraordinaire, is a fine travel companion on 5 day road trips!  She travels like a boss, winning friends and influencing people! But not little dogs.
Ponygirl, jonesing for beer from Emma

I've learned that the loss of one great horse can be devastating and heartbreaking.  Truman was a beauty, inside and outside.  His mother was one of Bill's mares and he was born on the ranch, raised and trained by the beloved.  A big, brown, strikingly beautiful, kind and gentle soul.  His loss was a sad and terrible thing, but he's pain free at last.  I've also learned that a little throwaway pony can worm her way into your heart, even though she doesn't earn her keep, breaks into the barn to steal cookies, will take down a guest's tailgate and a beautiful singer for beer (photographic evidence to the left) and squeezes herself through the fence to get to the lawn grass. Ponygirl is too stinkin' cute for words and has become a naughty, but beloved member (by me, anyway) of our equine family.

I've learned that you can get through anything that life throws at you as long as you reach down deep to find your strength.  And that the strength you find is only in yourself and cannot be found anywhere else.  But that you can give that strength to another when they need it most.  It would be nice, though, if everything bad didn't happen at one time!

I've learned that sometimes you lose those that you never thought you'd lose and that no amount of apology is ever enough.  And that sometimes, you have to stop trying when there is no desire to try from the other side. And that forgiveness may never come, but it's OK.  Sad, but OK.  And that expecting an apology for harsh words and actions sometimes means that you lower your expectations because "I'm sorry I hurt you" will never come. But I've also learned that most times, those who truly love you unconditionally, and whom you love equally in return, will accept your apology and the friendship deepens and grows in spite of your failings - maybe because of them.  See Julie at left.

I've learned that moving back to Oklahoma for the winter to work in my chosen profession and to get the Horseman out of the snow, may not work well for either.  It snows in Oklahoma (some) and my chosen profession has moved on without me. Three months spent in Tulsa has been wonderful in that it's allowed time with my family and friends, which has been priceless and rejuvenating for me.  Not so wonderful in that time in Tulsa is time away from the ranch and that hasn't been so great.  The Horseman gets his strength from the land at mile marker 192 (it is his Tara) and I find that I do, too.  I miss it.  The mountains and vast plains, the snow, the people, the space. No sirens, no traffic, no threats.  The peace of the place can't be measured, but it is palpable.

There are innumerable lessons that I've learned this year.  Mostly good, some bad, but all necessary.

So we'll be headed back to our little piece of paradise in a few weeks.  And although I'll be so, so sad to leave my Tulsa home, I'll also be glad to return to my chosen home.  My big beautiful Tulsa, sweet and curious Guthrie, stoic and reliable Two Medicine and the other horses will be coming home soon, too, and I miss them dearly.  It'll be good to see them and put my hands on them.  It'll be good to be back under that Montana sky.  It'll be good to sit by the creek and walk the pasture with the unhaltered, trusting horses, Bayley at my side always.  The ranch may be under 27,000 feet of snow now, but summer is just around the corner!