There’s nothing wilder…

There is something about a girl and a horse.

Yeah, boys have their toys with wheels, their guns, their tools, their dogs and they look noble and masculine (and a bit like a western movie if they’ve got the outfit right) on the back of the beautiful beasts….

But it’s not the same.

I was reminded of this phenomenon this week when my twelve-year-old cousin from The Cities (yeah, we’re in Western ND, so even though Minneapolis/St. Paul is an excruciating 600 plus miles to the east, those are our cities ok…) came to visit the ranch for the first time (without her two brothers). My cousin is a fiery, sweet, smart redhead who has spent much of her childhood on the pavement giving all of that animal loving heart to her declawed cat who moves, like city cats do, throughout their beautiful home from sunny spot to sunny spot until he is let loose in the night to lurk through the neighborhood, exercising his wild side.

I love this girl and have spent time with her when she was younger, but never, I realized, one on one. So I admit I was a little nervous to have her out to this wild place, so far removed from the Super Target that is located down the street from her house, so far from the structured entertainment and the embracing neighborhood full of friends and swimming pools and a bike rides and movie theatres at your fingertips. I was worried she would be bored. I was worried she was going to miss her friends. I was worried that the things I liked to do when I was twelve (and let’s just admit it here, still do) would not appeal to her.  And to top off the unexpected anxiety, it occurred to me that this pre-teen might never survive without cell service!


So the plans I made to walk through the creek beds and pick wild berries and go fishing in the big lake and ride bike were on a list right next to the back-up plans of movies and swimming pools and manicures…you know, just in case.

But sweet Red was not nervous at all. Red packed her bags diligently in her room in the suburb of Minneapolis at the end of her summer with sweet adventure in her sight. She was on a quiet mission as she endured bravely the ten hour trip out west in a car with nothing on her mind but exploring every inch of this place on the back of a horse.

As soon as the car pulled through the breaks of the badlands and down into the valley of my parent’s home, Red stepped out and sucked in the fresh air and immediately buried her face in the necks of the two dogs rushing, tails wagging, coming to greet her. I’ve never seen a smile that genuine. I’ve never seen a heart open that wide.

And in that moment it was quite clear that this girl, with the freckles and the blue eyes and the beautiful, straight, long red hair–a girl so far away from me in miles and looks and lifestyle and years, did indeed share the same blood.

I should not have been surprised.  I should not have doubted this wonderful, curious, adventurous child.  With the perfectly placed ponytails and the cowboy hat and boots I lent her she even reminded me of Annie Oakley!

So I took this as my cue and I shredded my backup list and made plans to check off everything on the first one—the real one.

We had two days.

So we scoured the hills for chokecherries and plums, got her shoes muddy in the black mud of the crick (“do you say creek or crick?” “Well, I guess we say crick around here…”), threw the stick for the dogs to fetch and caught a frog. And because she is a Minnesota girl, I thought she should see a lake completely different than those in her backyard. So down the road we went to big, rugged, untamed Lake Sakakawea to fish for walleye against the clay cliffs that border the shore. And damn if Red didn’t catch the only fish. Big Fish.

Oh, her brothers would be jealous.

She swam with the lab in the cool North Dakota lake, she shot a Pabst can right off of the fence post with the .22, she rode the 4-wheeler, she tamed the wild cat, she sat out in the yard with the four dogs as the sun went down on what I hoped was a day of her dreams…

And she rode horse.

And If ever there was a moment that needed to occur in the life of a twelve year old girl—a moment that makes all of the annoying troubles of the world disappear (like puberty and high-water pants and friends who betray you and parents who just don’t understand), a moment where complete innocence and trust and hope appears again in the eyes of a girl on the verge of womanhood, it was this one.

We walked into the corrals and I pointed out her horse. Her eyes sparked.  I slowly and carefully showed her how to bridle the creature. She listened intently. I gave her the currycomb and she brushed his coat and mane. She asked where horses like to be scratched and her hand reached up under the chin of her animal and he answered her question as her new four-legged friend showed his appreciation by stretching out his neck and nuzzling her shoulder.

And if I thought Red’s heart was open as wide as a heart could be with her face nestled into the necks of the labs and the pug and the shepherd, I know now that I was strongly mistaken about how big hearts really are.

But I should have known. I was that girl.

I am her.

Because there is nothing like a girl on a horse. And until now, I guess I must have thought I was the only one who lost myself completely on the back of an animal who takes your life and carries it across the rugged prairies, through fields of clover and snakes and wild, wild things. I guess I thought I was the only one who threw my heart wholly to a beast who could launch you high in the air with one kick and send you tumbling to the ground, but mostly chooses not to (mostly…but sometimes you need to learn a lesson or two) and instead listens as you ask him to climb a hill

or go fast around a barrel or get up close to a raspberry bush so you can have a sample and then help you bring the cows home.

See, there is a certain amount of trust, a special trust, a different kind of connection between a girl and a horse. And bear with me because I think there is an amount of truth here…

A boy, a man, and his horse have a different agreement. There is a certain amount of power a man, whether physical or mental, is not willing to relinquish to a beast. There is an understanding between the four legged animal and the two legged creature on his back that they will indeed accomplish a task, together, successfully, the way it was meant to the man. And the man thanks the horse for his assistance.

And this is a wonderful thing.

But a girl loves her horse with the kind of tenderness only a woman can give. She longs to understand the animal and knows there are days when all you can do is walk slowly together down the road, no matter how pressing the issue. A girl wants to ride just to maintain a connection with her animal, to let him know that he is hers, she is his and she is here. But when the time comes to run, there is nothing more untamed, there is nothing wilder, there is nothing closer to the wind than a girl, hair tangling behind her, face close to the neck of a her beast as they reach for the horizon.

And up until now it didn’t occur to me that maybe that sort of wild is in every woman, somewhere.

So thanks Red. Thanks for coming over and showing me that even city girls can open their hearts and let go of their fear and their life and the world as they know it and….

ride like the wind.

When spontaneity strikes, at least put on pants…

So it rained like hell last night at the ranch. After a sweltering hot and humid day, the deep, dark clouds began to roll in over the horizon in the evening and we all scrambled to fulfill our outdoor plans for the night before closing the doors and pressing our foreheads to the glass to see what the storm had in store for us.

And what it had in store, it turned out, was like nothing I have seen in August around here. In fact, I failed to believe the blue clouds and flashes of threatening lightning until I found myself out in the middle of the pink road, turning the power walk with my mother (who I convinced not to worry, it’s not going to rain) into a power run as the wind pushed the rain closer and closer to our backs. Even when my dad came cruising over the hill with the 4-wheeler to rescue his maiden in distress, I refused his offer for a ride home and continued my trek to outrun the storm.

I guess I was finally convinced when I was a quarter mile from our little house and I was soaked, literally, to the bone. My socks were sloshing in my shoes, my clothes were sticking to my skin and the mascara I applied for a day of work in town was running down my cheeks.

I opened my arms to the sky, turned my head up and stuck my tongue out to taste it. Alright, alright, it’s raining, it’s pouring, in August!

And it was glorious.

So I walked a little slower to let it soak in my skin and wash out the stink and sweat and stress of the day and it wasn’t until I turned the last corner into the yard that concerned Prince Charming came up the road only to find his lovely wife looking like a mouse who had been swimming in a stock tank. He was coming to my rescue, but just a little late (in Scofield tradition)

But I was just fine–just fine indeed.

However, now that I am thinking of it, maybe I was a little too fine. A little too thrilled about the turn of events in the weather.

A little insane, perhaps.

I have heard stories and songs about this type of behavior happening to people after a drought–a long hot summer. They pray for rain, for a drop from the sky to relieve them of the dust and despair. So when God is finished with his long, luxurious bath, the heavens finally open up and He, always a conservationist, throws His water out to the most deserving of sinners. And they all rejoice with dances, and parties, whoops and hollars up into the sky.

They go crazy.

Just like me last night.

It could have been the kinetic energy swirling around in the air from the lighting show, making my hair stand on end, or the fact I had spent my first full day of work in town, or it could have just been the utter amazement we had at the amount of water gushing from the sky and down our roads, in our coulees and road ditches and collecting in rivers and deep puddles in the once dry, dusty and crusty areas of the place. Or maybe there was no explanation at all…

But something in me woke up.  After the heavy rain had passed, (or so we thought) already dressed for bed and ready to settle in for the night, husband called to me from the front porch to “get my shoes on and come out here.” So I slipped on my flip-flops, stood out on the front porch with Prince Charming and listened as the water rushed and gushed in small rivers through every crevice of our surroundings.

We took a couple steps off the porch together, trying, at first, to avoid the gigantic puddle in our front yard and to keep out of the deep mud. We followed the sound of the rushing rainwater and whooped in amazement at every newly formed stream and waterfall falling off of the cliffs and toward the barnyard. We followed the stream down to the horse corral where we discovered a river had formed, racing its way to the nearby creek bed.

Well, I had to see how deep it was, so I tentatively stuck one foot in. The other quickly followed and pretty soon husband and I were splashing and frolicking nearly knee deep in a river that had spontaneously appeared before us.

It was refreshing and freeing and magical and romantic and adventurous….

I stopped dead in my tracks, turned to husband and looked him square in the eyes.

“Let’s go slide down the gumbo hill.”


“Yes, we have to! It’s right there.”


The rainwater had completely washed away any inhibitions and returned me to my youthful, innocent and completely naive state.

I bent my knees and made fists, bouncing up and down with sheer delight.

“I really, really, really want to!”

Husband paused for a second, as if to make sure I was still the girl he married, turned around and made a break for the nearest butte, which was sticking out like a big, daunting, beautiful wart on the landscape outside the fence.

I followed happily, jumping, over the rocks, slipping on the slick mud, crawling on my hands and knees, clawing at the soaked earth and throwing off my shoes and jacket.

See, this is an activity that we used to partake in as kids. After a big storm we would venture out to the nearest gumbo hill and take turns sliding down on our butts, making mud pies and slinging the precious, slimy concoction at one another.

And quickly, for those of you who haven’t experienced what we call “gumbo” I’ll give you an idea of what we are dealing with here. This form of gray dirt, also known as clay, covers the buttes around this area. In the hot summer months, the clay forms hard crusts on the hills. The dirt isn’t very accommodating to much vegetation, so the tops of most hills look like a bald man’s head, but the vegetation it does support is rough and prickly and dry and hearty.

But when it rains, the clay buttes turn to a sloppy, slippery, sticky heaven. Anyone who ventures out into the landscape during or after a rainstorm will find themselves with half of the terrain stuck to the bottom of their boots. And the only way to get anywhere in that situation is to slide it out…

Which is exactly what we did.

In the dark after the storm, in my short shorts and pajama top, I found myself having scrambled to the top of the nearest, tallest butte, standing hand and hand with my husband in what was now pouring rain, looking down on what I was sure to be pure joy– just as I remembered it as a child.

It turns out what I did not remember was all of the jagged rocks that make their homes on the surface of the butte, protecting the smooth clay underneath. The cactuses also seemed to slip my mind, as did the sharp grasses waiting for me at the bottom.

See the thing about making the same spontaneous, reckless and adventurous decisions as an adult as you did in your youth is that, as a child, you no doubt had some voice of reason back at the house telling you about said dangers, how you might be injured or possibly die from the decision and telling you to play on the smaller hill and wear pants, at least.

But as an adult, your memory serves your agenda and you are bigger…so you choose the bigger hill….and you don’t wear pants.

So down husband went, off the cliff and into the dark, surfing on his man sandals, (or what I refer to as man-dals) arms out to balance his weight, catching air, spinning around, gaining speed rapidly and landing a triple axel in a puddle at the bottom.

I clutched my hands to my chest at the top, waiting to hear a sign of life, a cry, a scream, a wail of agony…anything?

“Woooo Hooooooo! Hahahahahaha!”

The thrilling sound bounced off of each hill and made its way up to me through the dark sheets of rain.

All is well. Pure joy. It must have been as fun as I recalled.

I took my first step toward adventure.

My foot slid down. Unsteady, it broke away from the other leg, which was planted firmly on the ground above.

I was in the splits (and I haven’t stretched for this) but only for a moment. My planted leg un-planted and sent me swirling sideways toward the ravine that joined our butte together with his neighbor.

Oh. Shit.

I wanted to start out in control. I wanted to take husband’s already plowed trail.

I mustered the strength to correct my path and squatted down on my feet, taking a cue form husband’s demonstration. You know, like surfing or wakeboarding or snow boarding…all the things I suck at.

Why would this be any different?

It wasn’t.

I slid for .5 seconds this way and quickly fall to my butt, where my shorty-shorts, along with my granny panties, promptly make their way up my crack as I gain speed, now on my bare ass, down an uncharted track of grass and rocks and cactus, cutting out a nice, wide swath with my cheeks.

My squeals of delight quickly turned to screams of agony and I put my arms out to try to slow myself as I hit the patch of vegetation along the bottom of the butte at speeds of what I am guessing to be at least 25 mph.  Now my hands are ripping through the tall grass and cactus as the skin of my precious, white tush is being torn to shreds by the crust of God’s green earth.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I slid to a stop at Prince Charming’s feet.


I looked up from the bloody, mangled, muddy heap that was my body. Legs sprawled, arms tangled–I took a moment.

Am I dead?

My throbbing ass cheeks indicated probably no.

And so did the hysterical laughter coming from deep within my belly and out my mouth and up to the face of the beautiful swamp man leaning over me.

He reached out his shredded, muddy hand and hoisted his pajama clad, soggy, bloody and whimpering wife to her feet. Wounded, winded, shocked and completely blissed out, I told him I didn’t’ remember the adventure hurting that much when I was 10.

And then I remembered the pants.

The evidence

The evidence this morning. Notice the two trails cut at the top of the left butte?

Yes, it rained like hell last night and I wish you were here to see the grass glisten, the trees drip, the ravines that were cut through our roads…and to grab my ointment. Because the girl who went to bed as a rain soaked ten year old woke up this morning as an adult. And she isn’t moving too fast today.

Ooof, and there aren’t enough band-aids in the world….

The bravery thing.

RooftopWe spent what I hope to be one of our last weekends working on the house renovation in Dickinson this weekend. And no matter how positive I keep my attitude during this massive project (that has, I think, worked really hard to ruin my life for the last two years) sometimes you just have to sit on the roof and have a little mental breakdown.

Because I saw my life flash before my eyes this weekend.

I have never claimed to be a brave person–I mean when it comes to hazardous situations that have the capabilities to maim or dismember or cause head trauma or possible death, the worst case scenario always flashes in my mind. I play it all out: I am running the table saw and my hand slips, slicing off a much under appreciated (until that moment) left hand appendage. I scream in horror. Blood pools from my hand and the husband comes rushing to my side, wrapping the wound with the bandana from his head as he frantically searches for the missing limb in a garage full of dust and tools and scraps I should have cleaned up yesterday, dammit. We rush to the hospital and the limb cannot be saved, and I walk around the rest of my life having to explain the accident and why I don’t have a left thumb. Knitting is definitely out.

I snap out of the day dream (or nightmare) and realize that the particular situation is probably unlikely, considering all of the safety precautions and the fact that I rarely run the table saw.  But I also realize that shit like this does happen sometimes. It happens to some people–you know, the ones that are walking around missing pieces of their bodies. And if I’ve learned anything in my short life it is that if it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen to me.

See, I’m accident prone. It has been proven. I have stubbed multiple toes, broken fingers, and have scars from minor,  “walking”Painting Hand and “baking” accidents all over my arms and legs. Yes, I have been labeled a bit of a klutz. My cousins called me “tuck and roll” for most of my life for crying out loud. This unique characteristic of my existence is at the top of my mind today because I am nursing an old injury. It “flared up.” (Does using this phrase make me that much closer to becoming the old lady I always knew I was meant to be?)  And, as chain of events seem to go, this happy little reminder of a youth spent in several different casts was the culprit of my near demise this weekend.

When I was about thirteen years old I was helping my dad get the horses in from the pasture to the front of the barn. At that time, our horses didn’t come when we whistled, unfortunately for me.

Most of the time when I was growing up we would walk to look for them in the pasture and then lead them in with grain, or take a bridal and ride one of them bareback home, while the others followed. Well this particular time my dad, my little sister and myself took the pickup and some grain out into the pasture to call them in. But we forgot a bridal. No worries. Dad told me to just jump on my old mare and ride her in. He had a piece of twine (or leather, I can’t remember, it’s all a blur now), from which he made a temporary bridal, slipped it over her nose and boosted me up on the old, red mare, stomping and milling around with the other ten horses. My mission was to ride her in while the rest of the herd followed.


Nothing could possibly go wrong.

Except it did.

RoadAs we made our way toward the barn over the hill, my horse began to step up the pace–from a walk, to a trot, to the not so fun on bareback fast trot, to an all out run.

I pulled frantically on my homemade bridal with no response, because the mare was on a mission and I guess my dad needed to take a class in bridal making. I was now trying to steer and gain control of an oversized animal with a mind of her own with a piece of string connected to NOTHING BUT AIR!!! And all the beautiful horses followed behind, bucking and kicking and snorting and stomping and laughing and teasing me as a tried to remain calm on the back of a 1,200 pound beast in the middle of a damn stampede.

So after weighing all my options and seeing my death played out in my mind, what did I do? I decided to bail.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, you could decide to jump on the hardest, most uneven, piece of hard packed gumbo on the ranch, which just happened to be littered with rocks and boulders and sharp objects ready to pierce your fragile skin. Yes, you could decide to jump off there, all elbows and legs flailing as you reason that hitting the ground on purpose couldn’t possibly be as life altering as hitting it by accident.

Except I am not sure there is a difference really. Hitting the ground is hitting the ground, especially when you abandon all logicalRear View falling moves designed to protect one’s limbs and noggin. Like the well known “tuck and roll.”

And I eventually hit the ground. And hit my head on a rock. And broke my wrist in half.

That was a fun one for the little horse gathering crew to explain to mom.

Anyway, after a surgery and pins and a summer in a cast, without really noticing, I have chosen to use that wrist as little as possible into my adult life. And this weekend that little injury came back to bite me… funny how my accidents connect.

Like I said, it flared up. I pride myself on being able to tell when the weather is going to change, because the old wrist stiffens up (yeah, I am definitely an old lady) but this was a bit more severe than an ache, and the weather wasn’t changing. But I didn’t let it stop me from getting my work done. No, not this tough girl. I complained enough about it, but I went about my business, which on this particular day happened to involve painting the outside of the house. Which requires a really tall ladder and getting on the roof.

Did I mention I hate heights? Like I pray to God when I am above ground level a few feet to save me from my immanent death.

LadderBut anyway, I also happen to hate asking for help. Because I should be able to handle moving a 20 ft. antique, adjustable fiberglass ladder around to all sides of the house with only one, measly, Olive Oyl arm.

No problem.

What could possibly go wrong.

Well, after a couple successful, but agonizing moves, exhausted and sweating to beat hell, I tried, one last time to move the 100 pound apparatus by positioning myself directly underneath it, balancing it on my shoulder as I attempted to dig the base into the ground and hoist it to lean it in its proper location. That was the plan. Until my good arm gave out and the ladder wobbled back and forth as my shoulders acted as the base in a teeter totter, positioning my head directly between two rungs. Two adjustable rungs. And in my efforts to stay standing to avoid being flattened by this fiberglass ladder that was ripping all exposed flesh to shreds, I maneuvered the ladder just right to get my good arm in position to fling the thing off of myself, which also happened to be the same maneuver that  signals the ladder to adjust. Adjust down. Which trapped my head between the two rungs.


I pulled back.

Still stuck.

I pushed forward.

Still stuck.

I wondered if the neighbors were watching.

Still stuck.

I contemplated the embarrassment of this sort of explanation on my death certificate.Rooftop

The pressure began to constrict my airway.

I laughed a little at the thought. I began to sweat. I thought about calling to my husband, but didn’t want the neighbors to hear. I started to cry…just for a second.

In one more breath of courage and adrenaline in the face of humiliation, I decided to see if my bad hand may be able to finally pull its weight around here and I reached for both sides of the ladder and with gusto managed to signal the ladder to adjust up, freeing my skull and rocketing the ladder to the ground.

Praise Jesus.

I ran in to tell the story to my husband, who promptly came out to move the ladder for me so I could get on the roof and finish the job.

Yes. That  is exactly what could go wrong. And exactly what I did. I got back on the horse. I got back on the roof. I dangled over the edge, scraping the siding, praying to the Saint of gravity or falling or not falling or landing softly (I’m not Catholic, and am not familiar with the Saints, but figured there must be one for these situations). I negotiated all worst case scenarios. I shook. I swore. I cried…just a little.

Brave PugAnd then I called my husband up for help. And he, like Superman, or Spiderman or something, jumped from the pickup, to the garage roof, to the house roof in three noble leaps to sit with me high above Dickinson, on top of the life we’re about to sell, as I wished away my fear.

I wished to be more like him, my husband, who conquers tasks, high above or down below ground (or in his most dreaded situations, like cocktail parties) with precision and confidence. I wished to be more like my pug, who on the way home leaped from the window of my moving pickup and bounced and rolled like a beach ball into the ditch, only to get up and run toward the house, because he just couldn’t wait to be back at the ranch and he thought he could get there faster.

But would life be easier without the fear–without our mind and our reasoning and our logic getting in the way of all of the things we are capable of? If we could just jump, head first like the pug as the ground goes whizzing out from under us without thought of how this could end? Would we be better If we could make the decision, in a split second, and have faith that it will turn out, or at least get us somewhere–somewhere more than a broken arm, a head stuck in a ladder or a life without bravery?

I don’t think so. Bravery defined is “feeling no fear.” But to live a life of bravery, to me, does not mean to live a life with no fear. We need fear–it makes us human and separates us from the pugs. It saves us from head trauma, hurt feelings and broken ams. Fear is always in there, somewhere. I mean, even noble husband is afraid of something (which happens to be spiders).  Fear gives us pause to reflect and really feel, to think and reason and then, hopefully do it anyway. Because it is the conquering that is the mostPug difficult, which makes it the most important really. It is the conquering that makes us brave.

I am working on it. The bravery thing. The conquering thing.

Because the project needs to get done, my husband’s not a great painter and I at least have one good hand.

And another for emergencies.