Layers.

There’s a moment between summer and deep autumn at the ranch that’s so good at being glorious that it actually makes us all believe we could last forever under a sky that’s bright blue and crisp and warm and just the right amount of breezy all at the same time.

We’re easily swayed to forget up here, you know, about the drama that is our seasons. I imagine it’s a coping mechanism we develop that gets the crazy stoic people here through -40 degree temperature snaps.

It’s forgetting that gets us through, but it’s remembering too. The combination is an art form.

Because at -40 degrees we remember that one-day it will be sunny and 75.

And when it’s sunny, 118 degrees and 100% humidity and there’s not a lake in sight, we remember that -40 degrees and somehow find a way to be grateful for it all.

Yes we keep taking off layers and putting them on again until we make ourselves the perfect temperature.

Funny then how we’re not really good at giving the in-between moments the credit they’re due around here. We usually grab them up and soak them in just enough to get some work done on a horse, paint the house, wash the car or get the yard cleaned up for winter.

Because we’re taught up here to use those perfect weather moments to prepare us for the not so perfect ones that are coming.

That’s why fall, though a romantic season for some, gives me a little lump in my throat that tastes a lot like dread and mild panic.

Because while the pumpkins are nice and the apple cider tastes good enough, I can’t help but think that autumn is like the nice friend who slowly walks over to your lunch table with the news that your boyfriend doesn’t want to go out with you anymore.

And my boyfriend is summer. And when he’s gone, I’m stuck with the long and drawn out void that is winter–with a little splash of Christmas, a hint of a sledding party and a couple shots of schnapps to get me through the break-up.

Hear what I’m saying?

But the change is beautiful. I can’t help but marvel at it really, no matter its underlying plot to dry up the leaves and strip them from their branches and jump start my craving for carbohydrates and heavy whipping cream in everything.

So I decided to give it the credit it was due yesterday and I took a break from the office chair intent on marveling at some leaves, collecting some acorns and walking the trails the cattle and deer had cut through the trees during the heat of summer.

I will never call this moment a season, it’s too fleeting and foreboding for that, but I will reach out and touch those golden leaves and call it a sort of magic.

The kind that only nature can perform, not only on those leaves, but on the hair on a horse’s back, the fat on the calf, the trickling creek bed, the tall dry grasses, used up flowers and a woman like me.

Yes, I’m turning too. My skin is lightening. My hunger unsuppressed. My eyelids heavy when the sun sinks below the hill much earlier than my bedtime.

My pants a little tighter with the promise of colder weather.

Ok. I’ve been reminded. Summer–a month of electric thunderstorms and endless days, sunshine that heats up my skin and makes me feel young and in love with a world that can be so colorful– is over.

And so I’m thankful for the moment in these trees to be reminded that I have a little time yet, but I best be gathering those acorns.

And pulling on my layers.

Love and weather.

Today Americans are talking about the weather as we watch the television report on an epic storm that is promising to roll in with a fury on the shores of the east coast.

Tucked safely in the middle of the country under gray skies we spent our weekend watching the snow fall outside our windows. It was the first significant dusting we’ve seen since it melted off the earth last spring, fulfilling a promise of warmer weather like it does year after year. And so here we are staring another winter right between the eyes, wondering how we’re going to fare, wondering if the snow will pile high, wondering if it will be bearable.

There are times during the cold seasons I ask myself why I didn’t chose to live in a climate that promises endless 70 degree days. There are places like this, I’ve heard about them.

A lot of people in short-sleeved-shirts play tennis and golf and watch baseball there.

I contemplate this when I’m scraping ice off the windshield or half of the muddy yard off the bottom of my boots. I think about California when I’m leaning against a strong 30 mph winds or helping to shovel a stuck 4-wheel-drive out of a snow bank in the middle of a blizzard.

Yes, there are times I wonder why I tolerate such weather, but it’s never the day the first snow comes.

Because no matter how old I get or how many season changes I’ve lived through, there is still something oddly peaceful and calming about the first flakes drifting quietly from a gray sky, finding their way to the ground and turning the landscape from brown to white.

I feel the same way every year. It was no different on Saturday when I opened my eyes and looked out the window of the bedroom to find the ground covered in white. I woke husband and we just laid there on our stomachs, heads resting on our hands as we stared out the window and watched little birds hop from branch to branch, sending the fluff flying off the brown leaves and finally down to the ground.  We turned over and pulled the covers up to our chins, snuggling down against the chill in the house, the arrival of the snow suddenly making us feel less guilty about our desire to stay in bed a bit longer to recover from our 2 am arrival home that morning after my CD release party.

The gray and white weekend stretched over us like that blanket, laying heavy and soft on our bodies and welcoming us to sit close, make breakfast, drink coffee into the afternoon and keep the animals inside and at our feet.

In my life I have welcomed many first snows with this man, in different houses in various stages of our relationship. It’s a familiar feeling standing next to him in my wool socks as I press my nose to the window and he crosses his arms and leans back on his heels. We say the same things– we say it feels like Montana or Christmas. We wonder how long it will last, we talk about the chores we need to get done, we negotiate the movie we’ll watch.

We make soup.

And pretzels.

I snap a photo, not so much a documentation, but a ritual I’ve developed at the first sign of winter, as if capturing the change in weather will make the feeling stay.

In three months I will be thoroughly chilled. In three months I will have worn out my turtle necks, lost my left mitten and all evidence of ever having seen the sun and given up on the prayer of squeezing into my skinny jeans.

And today the snow that coated the ground this weekend has warmed up and turned the once frozen dirt to mud beneath my feet.

But this weekend I spent the first snow of the year with my first love. Standing next to him in the house we’re building watching the first flakes fall it occurred to me that in so many ways waking up next to this man is like waking up to the fresh and falling snow every morning–full of promise and quiet comfort, familiarity, fresh starts and wonder.

I may tire of this snow and the way it lays heavy on the frozen earth for months, but I have not grown tired of this man laying next to me, weaving his fingers in mine. I will never tire of his coffee, the dumplings he makes for his soup or the scruff of his beard grown in after a weekend without shaving.

California might have the sun and the waves of the ocean, but it does not have the snow.

It does not have the snow or the man I love standing next to the window in his bare feet watching it fall.

Trail Riding

It was a beautiful fall weekend at the ranch and to celebrate roundup and the change of the seasons and friends and horses and kids and ranch life in general our community got together for a trail ride.

The Blue Buttes Trail Ride is a tradition that has been organized on and off for years in this rural “neighborhood” that spans a circumference of 30 some miles.

When I was growing up this event was the like Christmas. The opportunity to ride my horse across pastures all day alongside my best friends made me feel grown up and capable and wild and free and a million things that a little girl wants to be when she’s 8 or 9 or 10.

Sometimes it snowed. Sometimes it rained. Sometimes the wind blew and sometimes we got all three. But regardless of the weather, the neighborhood showed up. They showed up with their horses and wagons and drinks and snacks and kids and they rode together on a trail mapped out weeks before that stretched for miles across pastures and cleared fields, through coulees and along fence lines and roads.

I don’t remember anything from when I was a kid about the route we took or the weather really, I just remember being so excited the night before that I couldn’t sleep. I remember riding my old mare, Rindy, kicking my feet out of the stirrups during the third or fourth mile, swinging my leg over the top of my horse’s neck and thinking I was cool.

Thinking that there was no kid in the world luckier than me.

And so this weekend, almost twenty years later (20? REALLY?) I saddled up again to hit the trail with my neighbors. And I have to say, aside from a little horse malfunction due to all of the energy in the air on that warm fall morning, it wasn’t long before I was feeling all those things again.

Cool? Well, maybe it was more temperature related than attitude, but capable and wild and free and lucky?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

And really proud of my community and how they’ve held on to this tradition despite a changing world.

Proud of how they’ve kept their kids on the backs of horses and encouraged them to run.

Humbled by how they swing ropes and hitch up teams of horses to wagons.

Proud of their potluck dinners and generosity and enthusiasm for a lifestyle that is unique and important and tested by the modern world every day.

For twelve miles I sat on the back of a good horse and rode next to a friend. We talked about life and house building, husbands and pets, horses and work.

And we observed our world as it played out before us, young kids, their stirrups barely reaching the bellies of their mounts, kicking and flying back and forth across the pastures as fast as their horses were willing to take them.

Those kids would have gone faster and further if they were allowed.

And we watched families connected as they talked and laughed and moved through the pastures and gates. Old friends catching up.

Sisters laughing and joking.

A big extended family loaded and bundled up in a wagon sharing snacks and stories.

A husband and wife riding quietly side by side, helping one another along.

Whatever’s going on here.

And my friend and I, getting to know one another and the landscape that stretched for twelve miles as Pops pointed out where his mother was born, the dam where he used to swim and the route we took nearly twenty years ago when I was 8 or 9 and knew nothing but those miles and the back of my favorite horse.

Last Saturday I may as well have forgotten everything I’ve ever learned and all the things I’ve seen and have come to know in those years between. I may as well have forgotten I’d ever wanted to be anyone else.

Or anywhere else.

Because I was having good old-fashioned, genuine fun.

And I was the luckiest kid in the world.

The difference between us.

I convinced Husband to accompany me on a ride after work on Tuesday. The weatherman warned me it might be one of the last nice autumn days for a while and I felt the need to take advantage of it.

Plus, I dreamed the night before that I was riding a fast horse like the wind through the tall grasses in endless pastures and I suddenly felt the urge to make that dream come true.

An evening ride wasn’t a hard thing to convince my dearly beloved to participate in. Especially if it meant he could pretend he was looking for cows and actually getting work done. So off we went, the two of us, seeking the only kind of marriage therapy that works for us–a little ride together through our world.

The breeze and the light were perfect and my horse was just the right amount of lazy.

Suddenly I felt a wave of creativity as the sun crept down toward the edge of the earth.

So I asked Husband if he would be opposed to a little “sunset photo shoot” along the horizon, you know, because he has always made such a nice silhouette.

As usual, he humored me and I quickly planned out a method of capturing the romantic vision I had of my husband riding his bay horse at full speed across the landscape.

I got off my horse and crouched down among the grass as my husband followed my directions to “run your horse back and forth in front of me for a while until I say stop.”

So he did.

Thrilled with the results of that handsome man and his handsome horse romantically frozen in a moment of speed and power inside of my camera, I hollered at him “Go faster!”

So he went faster, back and forth, working on his horse, going nowhere in particular, just back and forth across the sky.

But from behind my camera they could be going anywhere, that man and that horse.

I felt like an artist with the power to freeze time, the gift of my camera allowing me to catch that horse’s mane as it reached toward the sky and his feet as they gathered beneath him.

“Go faster!” I hollered from my spot behind the camera.

So Husband made that horse go faster. 

Watching them move across that landscape was beautiful and romantic and rugged and western and kind of like a John Wayne movie scene…all of the things Husband can be to me sometimes.

“Stop. Come back. Come here!” I yelled, suddenly struck with another idea.

The idea that if my husband could be all those things as a silhouette, I wanted a shot at what I could be as a dark, mysterious woman on a horse against the backdrop of a setting sun.

Husband stopped his horse in front of me and I handed him my camera.

“Can you take some pictures of me now?”  I asked as I climbed up on my horse who was lazily munching on the tall yellow grass. “I’m going to go really fast. See if you can get my hair blowing in the wind as I ride off into the sunset.”

Husband took my camera and snapped away as I worked to channel the dream from the night before, the one where I leaned into the neck of my horse and kicked him gently as his hooves moved faster and faster across the landscape, gaining speed, pushing forward, becoming one fast blur as our hair whipped together in the wind.

Only, it seemed my horse didn’t have the same dream.

Nope.

His dream involved less running through endless pastures and more grazing through them.

And about half-way through our second pass across the photo shoot area, Husband yelled “Faster!” and the horse between my legs, the one I envisioned behaving like Black Beauty as I channeled my inner rodeo queen, began to behave more like the mule in that John Wayne movie with the nun.

And in one swift jump and kick, that horse demonstrated the major, glaring difference between me and my dearly beloved:

Silhouette or not, you are who you are.

And I am not a sexy silhouette.

Under a Badlands Sky…


One of my favorite autumn rituals has become my now annual trip down the road to visit the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park just outside the ever-expanding limits of my home town.

These days, more than ever, I believe this park to be a blessing and a gift, a reminder among the chaos of a bustling industry to slow down and remember the best things in life.

The sky…

The grass…

The quiet, wild things.

I like to visit those rugged buttes to be reminded that I am one of those quiet, wild things and last week I took my Little Sister along on a little hike so that she could remember that too.

See, Little Sister has just recently come into some major responsibilities after graduating from college last winter. And with her new teaching degree in health and physical education, she has found herself in a small school outside of our hometown writing lesson plans, leading jumping jack sessions, chasing around adorable kindergarteners and helping seniors prepare for college while working on getting a master’s degree in counseling and guidance.

I’m tired just thinking about it, but so proud of this woman who, in my mind, should still be 8 years old and following me up the creek to the forts we built behind the house.

I still find it a little disheartening that when we grow up that seems to be the first thing we give up…walks to nowhere.

And building forts.

But that’s what the ranch does for us, and places like this park. It provides us with a reason to walk to nowhere, to climb to the top of a hill and look down,

to notice how that jet leaves a white streak in the sky and to wonder where it’s going…

while we find we’re happy to be right where we are.

Happy to point out the small deer crossing the road or a chipmunk below our feet instead of worrying about deadlines and messy kitchens to clean.

Happy to notice how the sun shines through the changing autumn leaves on the river bottom instead of how the end tables need dusting and the windows need a wipe.

Happy to trip on a rock as we make our way down from the buttes, happy for a near-miss incident that we can laugh at together, thankful we made it in one piece.

Thankful that we’re not sweeping right now.

Or doing paperwork.

Or making dinner.

Thankful that someone set aside a place for us to go to get away from all of the things that seem to matter so little when it comes to a choice between watching the leaves change or watching a television screen.

Thankful that we can walk to the river and talk about the time Little Sister broke the tire swing as it flung her out over the coulee and dropped her in the creek. Thankful she survived the fall, though she was certain she was dying.

Thankful she has nearly forgiven my reaction of hysterical laughter.

Thankful that years later, though those jets could take us anywhere, we still chose to be out under this beautiful and familiar sky…

Together.

A new quiet chorus repeats…

If I could fill my blank page with words that made up the most perfect ending to a season that has given us her all, glorious and blue, green and orange and wildflower purple and full of life, I would give to the wind a voice. And he would speak deep and coarse about the way the grass bent beneath him as he worked to push the storms through the buttes and over the prairies.

He would tell us how he worried it might not dry up, how he watched as our lands soaked with water forcing trees to uproot and slide down the hills, and rivers to rise and fill up our homes. He would cry on these pages. He would say “it had to be…it had to be so, just as I must take the leaves from your trees.” And then he would laugh a big laugh at the way our hair stands on end when he comes around and how we lean into him out here…

the way we loathe him and need him and keep him under our skin all at once.

If I wrote the book I’d make the wind tell us. 

If I could paint the most beautiful cool down, I would splash the canvas with gold and deep rich pinks and burgundy hues. I would use my soft brush to give the sky more clouds, thousands of clouds, fluffy and white, a stage for the sun to dance upon, to reflect her light, to choreograph her show the way it was meant.

I would paint the warmth of her glow on horses’ backs and splash her down between the shadows of the trees where the deer go to water. And next to the barn the cats would bask in the light–the light I would make live forever on that canvas. Forever in that space between day and night, sun and storm…warm and cold…

if I were to paint the cool down I would use all of my brushes and all of my colors.

If I were to sing from my soul an encore for the season’s end I would put the chorus on the wings of the geese. And as they took flight, catching that wind, touching those golden clouds, out from their lungs the world would hear a song so true and pure that up from the depth of the ponds and streams the frogs would find the harmony and the waterbugs would hum along.

The wild elk bedded down in the tall yellow grass would throw their heads back and bugle a sad, sad song of goodbye, the crickets would cry and the coyotes would take to the hilltops. The kittens would purr softly, the mice would hold still already and the cattle would stop their chewing to hear as the verses moved from the crocus to long days and onto cool rain.

And the third verse would swell and blend with the howling house dogs and the last screech of the red tailed hawk as the bridge pushed us to the end and then set us up with a prelude to a season changing…

And the geese would fade out for they’re heading south and in their place would be only the sound of winter…

a new quiet chorus repeats…

…another pallet of blues and grays…

…and a familiar wind to remind us.

To always ride horses…

Last weekend Little Sister came home for the hustle and bustle and celebration of Little Man.

Have I mentioned that I love it when Little Sister comes home? Well if I haven’t said it sixty-thousand times already, I am saying it again and singing it softly to myself in a little tune I made up while I work on building her a quaint house in the oak trees next to mine, complete with a tin-can phone stretched across the yard and a couple of reclaimed lawn chairs from mom and dad’s junk pile.

It’s going to be just like old times.

Because here’s the thing. Everyone has people in their lives that they would like to keep wrapped up in a pretty little box in their pockets so they can carry them along and take them out whenever they need a good laugh, a smile, someone who really understands where you’re coming from, and who will, well you know, tell it to you straight.

My Little Sister is one of those people for me. I wanna wear her as a locket and show her off to friends. I want her confidence and quick wit at my fingertips. I want someone to drink margarita’s with and who will consume bowls and bowls of tortilla chips and cheese dip with me in the middle of the day in sweatpants without judgement…whenever I feel like it.

I know this is weird. I tested the theory out on Husband and he said I was a dork. Especially after I told him I wanted to wear him as a scarf around my neck so I would always have him there to protect me and provide for me better judgment wherever I go.

Well, it sounded good in my head, so I’m sharing it here. I imagine a few of you will be able to relate to my desire to be able to morph my favorite people into accessories and then un-morph (?) them back into people again whenever I feel the need…

Anyone?

Well, anyway, since I have yet to find that Genie to grant me my three wishes, I will just have to take what I can get of Little Sister when she comes around. And one of my favorite things to do when she shows up is to grab her and Pops and Husband and the horses and take a long ride out in the buttes. Because really, there’s nothing better than the smell of horses, crisp air, quiet trails, two of my favorite cowboys chatting about plans and my favorite high strung best friend on a high strung horse snorting and laughing and prancing along the prairie beside me.


So that’s what we did last Saturday as our chatter around morning pancake breakfast brought us too quickly into the afternoon  It was a little chilly out there when we stepped out into the farmyard and Little Sister was dressed just a bit too fashionably for this type of activity, so I promptly dug out my dorkiest hat, gloves and fur-lined vest and we were on our way under the big gray sky that hadn’t made up its mind whether it wanted to rain on us or shine. 

When taking a ride is my idea my posse generally agrees that we will have no particular agenda but to enjoy ourselves out here, to explore and tell some stories, check things out or just be quiet. And so that’s what we did. We strolled through golden grasses, and crunched through fallen leaves in the coulees, the two black cowboy hats in the lead and the frizzy haired women trailing behind.

We stopped on hill tops to catch up, to take a look around at how some of the leaves are desperate to hang on the oak trees, to check out the fences, to listen to one of Little Sister’s stories about school or one of my long stories that usually ends with me embarrassing the shit out of myself.

And as the words between sisters bounced off the hill tops and blew away with the wind and the guys talked hunting and horses, Little Sister’s horse, as he generally does, began to warm up enough to show his personality and the wild whites of his eyes. Here I will tell you that unless that horse and I are chasing after something that is running away from us, I prefer to avoid the Red Fury and stick to the Paint Mare, but Little Sister barely notices the animal beneath her snorting and prancing and all around making sure the other animals know that he needs to be in the lead.

So in the lead she went. That’s the funny thing about horses, while you are on their backs living your own little life, having your own conversations, thinking your own thoughts, they are underneath you, carrying you along on strong and quick feet and, if they are allowed, they are doing the same damn thing. And it was quite apparent that the Red Fury had only one thing on his mind that day and that was to be ahead of the mare I was riding.

It was driving him nuts.

And it was hilarious. Each time Little Sister’s horse would find himself a step behind he would snort and lift his head a bit higher and work on his rider to allow him at least one more step ahead. And so naturally I was tempted to see what would happen if I took off up the hill to catch a snapshot of my favorite people riding toward me. So I did. I rode up the hill ahead of the gang and turned around at the top to find Little Sister and the Red Fury flying up the hill behind me.

Apparently the Red Fury wasn’t about to allow this, and Little Sister didn’t care. She was along for the ride. The ride which I tried to document up until the part where the space between her ass and the saddle measured about a mile and I was almost certain she was going to be launched.

I think I yelled something like “Hang On!”…which is always so helpful in times like these…

but Little Sister just squealed and laughed and said she was a bit rusty after sitting in classrooms.

Which brings me to the point of my story, I do have one (besides embarrassing my sister.) I remember growing up here and taking these rides in the fall air, smelling the same smells, and feeling the same blessed. I remember making a promise to myself not to grow out of this. Not to ever say no to a ride with my father, to a chance to really live out here on these trails. I remember knowing, even at 10 or 12 years old, that I was lucky to have this experience under my belt, even when I had just hit the hard clay ground so hard I couldn’t feel my left arm after being bucked off of my gray mare yet again.

I remember telling myself that until I was old and gray I will always ride horses. No matter the agenda, no matter the responsibilities, no matter the fear of falling. I will always ride.

So seeing my Little Sister fly up that hill on a horse that has just as much attitude and free spirit as the woman on his back, I was reminded of that little girl with wild curls on a white pony named Jerry trailing behind me, singing songs to herself, telling me to wait up, getting her beanie hooked on a branch while riding through a trail in the trees, smelling those same smells, feeling the same breeze and promising herself the same things.

An hour before in the house over pancakes that memory was another life. It was other people in another time with different agendas and thoughts and outfits. But in that moment when Little Sister reached the top of that hill having recovered her balance and her breath, out of my mouth came laughter that was so familiar to me, and out of hers came the same. We were those children again, tucked snug in our puffy coats, cheeks rosy, chattering and riding with Pops in our own little world, promising one another, if such a promise can be made, not to grow up. Promising to stay out here just a few moments longer, to run just a little bit faster.

To stay together.

To remember we are blessed.

And so we rode. We rode with our father, with our other best friend, side by side or tail to nose, or spread out wide over the flat, under a sky that had decided to shine its sun on us after all.

So if I can’t have a locket at my fingertips to hold these moments with my sister, or a scarf around my neck that is Husband’s strong arms keeping me safe from the world’s worries,

or my Pops on a horse forever riding beside me telling me I’m doing fine…

…at least I will always have that promise. The promise to make more moments like these.

and to always ride horses.

October Rain

There’s nothing more spectacular than a season change. And around here, we all have the chance to get up close and personal with the shifting of breeze, the cool down or warm up and the new colors the big guy decided to paint with. So when I feel the shift, when I hear the leaves start to crackle or take notice of something new poking through the ground in the spring, I pay attention. I look around. Because I hate to miss a day of it, really. It happens so fast. One morning you will be walking through oak groves of plush grass, under a canopy of leaves sparkling with life and green, and the next those leaves have all changed clothing and some have already decided to turn in early for the year.

It’s this time of year, the autumn, that I hate to be away from the ranch. I hate to miss the 50 and 60 and degree weather, perfect for rounding up cattle and maybe, if it’s the morning, digging out my neckerchief.

I hate to miss how the horses seem to lay a little longer in the sunshine, breathe out breath we can see into the crisp early air and work on growing their wooly, winter coats. I hate to miss the days the leaves on the oak trees start turning from green to yellow to orange one by one or the crunch of the leaves under my feet and the smell of the damp air reminding me of a childhood spent in these very same places, in this very same season-change ritual.

Oh yes, I’d hate to drive away from this toward warmer sun in the south or shut myself in between safe and heated walls and miss all of the miraculous and well planned preparation going on around me. Because I fear that if I didn’t pay attention to the shifts occurring on the top of the buttes, under prairie grasses and  animal skin, I wouldn’t understand what was happening to me….

…why my skin has faded in color and is begging me to put on long, wooly sleeves, why I want to warm up soup and sink in next to husband on our big chair and talk about plans and life and how I adore him. Without taking notice of the cool breeze, settling plants, and a sun that sinks below the horizon at an earlier hour each evening, I may not understand why my eyes feel heavy, my body weary and my bed calls my name at an hour when I may have still been on a back of a horse miles out in a pasture just months before in a season we called summer.


I might not understand why I don’t allow myself to go down easy, why I hustle around the house at 8 pm putting the finishing touches on projects and work, strumming my guitar and singing songs into the darkening sky, making sure all living creatures in the household know that I have things to do yet, I’m still here, regardless of the light. I would find myself crazy and alone in a world that was trying to get some sleep already if I didn’t witness the sky putting up the exact same fight during this time of year…

See, she’s not quite ready either–not ready to turn in her party dress. Because this time of year, more than ever, in the evening hour, right before dark I catch her showing off her biggest, most fluffy clouds with splashes of fuchsia and deep orange costumes as together they threaten a heavy fall shower with big, splashing raindrops when all the world thought the next thing to come was the dark and the snow.

I see her, I know what she’s doing, I understand the need to make a scene like this and I hear her laugh as she watches the crazy woman with the camera gaze at her face and dream about climbing those very clouds and laying down there for the winter, held softly in the warm fluff of the sky, eyes closed tight, knees to chest like a child, sleeping soundly through the winter until she lets me down with the rain in the spring.

But it can’t be so. I must stay here on the crust of the earth and watch her performance as she turns down the lights and paints the world soft pink, how she keeps the rain in the sky for a few moments, under small and un-daunting slivers of fluff evoking a trust and wonder in the creatures below basking in the uncommon warmth of a late fall evening.

Yes, I must wait here and watch as the sky pushes her sun further down the horizon line, lighting up the farmstead one last moment before she lets loose those big drops of rain, slowly at first, onto the crazy woman’s head.

Because the sky thought the woman needed one last reminder of a warmer world.

And she was right, the sky, she was. The crazy woman who could see the barnyard, a small dark dot on that very horizon, quite enjoyed the way the drops stuck in her fuzzy hair…

the way her feet helped float her body down the butte toward the light glowing from the kitchen of the farm house….


she laughed at the sound of her big brown dog’s paws hitting the dirt, his mouth blowing out air, his tongue hanging and bouncing along his clumsy body as he found his rhythm alongside a woman who was running now…

Running in the autumn rain, under a sky who is wrapping up her show, a season, with a reminder of the scent and feel and colors and sound of summer…

One last rain.

In autumn.

So I slowed my pace because a little rain never hurt anyone…

and me and the sky, we were not going down easy.

Waiting for the cold…

It’s late October and our windows have been closed for weeks, sealing our houses up against the chill that this month lays upon the nights. And we button up in the morning as we step out to start our cars, or saddle a horse, or feed the livestock or take a jog while the streets are quiet. We rub our hands together and notice our breath pushing out our bodies and floating in the atmosphere, hanging our words up there to linger for a bit. “Huh, look at that,” we say. “Haven’t seen my breath for months.”


Our words forget that they can be seen now.  Our skin forgets, somehow, what this chill feels like. It forgets it bites a bit. It forgets the way the cold comes in, rustling the near-bare branches, dancing with the dried up grasses and the remnants of the wildflowers left behind brave and brittle…just as we have been left here season after season. 

Yes it’s late October and we are reminded by the flush in our cheeks and the boots on our feet, prepared for the moment the sky could fall. Any moment . Our senses know it, we were animals once. The ones who move along ridge lines and on horses’ backs, behind the path of a deer, they remember. They remember that animal’s still there.

So we put on our wooly coats like the horses do and crunch through blankets of leaves on the ground, stripping off layers as the sun rises to give us one  more day of warmth. Oh, we know it’s a gift. If only it could stay until late November. But we take it. We do.

We roll up our shirt sleeves and bring the cattle home. We stroll our babies dressed in fleece on sidewalks along paved streets. We sit a little longer on the front porch. We think of making apple cider, some biscuits, maybe a pie for dessert.

We eat soup and hang on, like the last of the yellowing oak leaves, to a hope that the snow will stay up in the air.

We hang on to the colors that don’t dare leave us, the colors that stick out on the landscape and promise a reprieve from the brown…

from the inevitable white that is to come.

We hang on and take trails still made of dirt, breathe in the damp air and find a quiet spot to watch the birds get ready for it too, wondering where they go in times like these…

…wondering if they’d take us too.

Wondering if they are ready.

Missing them already.

Yes, it’s late October and just like us the sun is slower to rise and faster to set, the dog takes pause before he walks out the door,

the horses nibble on hay, the cows stay close to the barn, the birds move in bunches and call to one another “come on, come here, stick close together, we have places to go” as they fly over a landscape that is rough like our skin,


and an earth that has given in to rest and is waiting, like us, for the cold.


Margaritas/mimosa…and get me on a horse…

type type type type, click, click, type, click (a sound effect to set the stage for the following Facebook conversation that occurred a few weeks ago)

Me: “Looking forward to your visit to the ranch. List three things you MUST do when you get here.”

J:          “1. Margaritas/Mimosa
2. Cowboy Photo Shoot
3. Get me on a horse”

That’s my friend J. And that’s why I love him…our list of priorities seem to always match up. That and the fact that he made sure to include a ranch visit in the time he took off after running a MARATHON in the Twin Cities just days before. He chose this as his relaxing place…and I wasn’t about to disappoint, seeing as I am a professional relaxer myself.

J, at the ranch!

So I stocked up on wine, tequila and dark beers, pulled the burs from our trusty trail horse’s mane and tuned up my camera…and then proceeded to make a grocery list that had a front and a back side full of important ingredients like cream cheese, avocados, butter, heavy whipping cream, bacon, eggs, biscuits, tortilla chips, and a question mark next to the word “apple pie?”

I was pumped. I love hosting friends who appreciate the adventure of taking a trip out to the middle of nowhere to hike the hills, learn to cowboy and sit close at the kitchen table in this small house and tell and hear stories from my family and neighbors, eat and drink and fill the space and the barnyard with laughter, just the way life was intended to be spent.

J understands this. I haven’t known him to take a single moment for granted. But he’s not the type to preach about it, it’s not an action taken from the pages of a self-help book or from the trauma of a loss. It’s just his mentality. Live…really live. So when I met him in town I was not surprised to find that I could check the “make pie?” item off my list. Because J had already made one. A serious homemade, Martha Stewart looking pastry made with the freshly picked apples from his mom and dad’s backyard.

Yup. That’s J. He just whipped it up, no problem. No real recipe really and no big dramatic statement to the world screaming from the rooftop “hey world, I’m making a ppiiieeee…home made crruusstt…filled with juicy aaapppllleeess…my own rrecciippeee…” Not that anyone I know would ever make such a big deal about a baking attempt…

ahem.


Anyway, I gladly took the pie in its perfect little pie box and then drove my guest and longtime friend to the badlands to hike up some buttes and show him the North Unit, a National Park he had yet to see from the top.

It was no problem that he had just run 26 point whatever miles a few days before. No problem at all…he was happy to lead the way up the trail to the top of the world with me. He’s got this under control. I mean, just a few month’s earlier he completed a 500 mile bike race and then went on to some sort of 100 + mile running relay in Colorado a few days later (I can’t remember the exact details because I was too busy trying to catch my breath on the way to the top of our destination…I’m not sure, but I could have blacked out and started dreaming of what I was going to make with cream cheese and biscuits…anyway…) what was a little hike in the uncharacteristically warm and characteristically windy ND weather?

Physically it was nothing for him, but what it meant to him to experience this with a friend I know was as priceless to him as it was to me.

And along the way we caught up. I hadn’t seen him since we met up in Minnesota to listen to music and ski down mountains in sub zero temperatures. I caught him up on my plans and he informed me that his goals for the year included getting in shape, and taking on new physical challenges…which explains the marathon and camping out on a mountain under the stars in the chill of the winter.

The man really follows through.

And I was so proud of him as I huffed and puffed along, back down to the car, explaining that Cowboy’s cooking has been pretty divine lately and I have settled into a comfortable life of eating and milling around the homestead coulees taking photos and thinking about things.

He said he knows, he’s been keeping up with me here and sharing what I’ve been doing with others.

And so we drove out of the park, stopping to discuss the impractical composition of bison, with their tiny tails, big shoulders and flat faces, along the way.

Then it was off to the ranch (with one stop for vodka and ice on the way) where I didn’t have to apologize to J for the lumpy yard, a result of the cow volleyball tournament. He didn’t care, he was too busy mixing up Jameson ginger ales and settling in. And then husband came home to whip up a batch of his famous knoephla as we sat around the kitchen table and munched on appetizers that, you guessed it, featured cream cheese as the main event.

Because we needed to get nice and fed and warmed up for our long day of exploring the ranch. So after supper we loaded up in the pickup, I squeezed my cheese loving ass into a bathing suit and we gazed at the stars as we soaked in the hot tub and made our plans for the next day…

which included waffles, homemade chokecherry syrup, mimosa, coffee and a walk along the creek that runs between the two places only to run into pops who had come home early to take us on a ride out east…

and the rest of the week went as follows…

more dip, roast beef, saddle up the trail horse, battle with my mare who has now decided she is absolutely uncatchable, but that’s ok, because I could show off my running and cowboy skills to my guest, go riding with pops, meander through the fall pastures, look back at J’s huge smile when his horse broke into a trot…

come home to guacamole, chips, more Jameson ginger ales, wine. Greet my momma at the door, pour her a glass, put on the steaks, welcome the neighbors, put a leaf in the table and bring up the folding chairs, put the bread in the oven and heat up the soup, take the potatoes and steaks off the grill, think that we should probably have vegetables and whip up a salad, pour some more wine, make a vodka tonic for the new guest, make sure we aren’t missing a food group, sit down behind our plates and tell stories, ask questions, laugh and don’t turn in until we have a slice of that pie with coffee…

go to bed full and happy, wake up for caramel rolls, coffee, another ride…

and then come home in time to get in on the end result of an elk hunt, which meant riding in the back of a flatbed trailer attached to a 4-wheeler and trying to avoid permanent damage to your rear end while pops drove at a reasonable speed over some unreasonable terrain….

…because it wouldn’t be a visit to the ranch without at least one genuine redneck experience…

Come home laughing, hug one another goodbye and make plans for our next adventure…

and be thankful your good friend, the one who drives 12 hours after a marathon to the land of cockleburs, mud and an uncatchable horse just to spend time with you and husband, is the kind of man who would leave you the rest of his pie…

We’re so thankful we have a friend like that.