Her own eyes.

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This is how they look when they both say “cheese.” It’s unreal, sometimes, the familiarities you catch in your child as she grows up.

It’s one of the curiosities of parenthood,  wondering what qualities you might find of yourself in them along the way.

My daughter has my husband’s smile.

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And his fearlessness, his bravery and confidence.

And the blonde hair of his youth.

She has my spirit I think. My musical heartbeat, my humor.

She shares our love for dirt and grass and sky and all things nature.

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But she has her own eyes. Blue and unexpected.

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I want to say, if I could keep her this age forever, I would. But it wouldn’t be fair to hold her back from all the wonders of growing up.

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I just wish I could save her from the heartache parts.

And I wish we all just had more time…

Version 3

I used to believe in forever, but now I think forever is too short.”
– Winnie the Pooh

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An old story

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Pops turned 60 on Tuesday.

A few weeks ago we had a big birthday party for him, complete with noodle salads and dessert, music on the porch, BYOB and a big board of embarrassing photos his sister drug out of the archives and presented.

My Aunt K. is the family historian. And now that she’s newly retired, she has the time to dedicated to embarrassing her brother just like in the olden days.

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Anyway, this week his brother is up from Texas and they are fixing fences, riding through cows and catching up.

I love it when family comes to the ranch. I especially love it when we’re around the supper table or chatting over drinks on the deck and old stories come up about the time when they were kids and their dad had a load of bulls on the truck in a cattle rack and forgot to latch the dump chain, successfully delivering the entire load of Charolais bulls on their butts in the yard.

“It was a pile of white bovine flesh,”* said Uncle W.

“And dad got out of the truck and started swearing and kicking at the chickens,” said Pops.

“And mom probly saw the whole thing from the kitchen window, but there was a back door on that house and she probly hightailed it outside to the garden…”

And there’s a million more where that came from.

But here’s one that Aunt K. told the night of the party about my dad as a little boy. I can’t remember how old now, but I imagine him seven or so, brown hair, brown skin, chubby cheeks and husky jeans.

He was riding in the car on the highway with his dad and spotted a road kill raccoon likely on its way to resembling a furry pancake due to its high traffic position on the road.

And he made his dad pull over so that the little seven-year-old version of my dad could scoop up that poor flattened soul and put it in a plastic bag.

“I know that animals get hit out here,” he explained to his father. “But it just isn’t right to let people keep running over him like that.”

And so his dad drove the tiny savior and the poor varmint his son scraped up back to the ranch where he received a proper burial.

And if that story doesn’t sum up what type of man he is, well then, I don’t know what else to tell you about the guy.

Except happy 60th dad. We love you.

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*the Bulls were fine 🙂 

Why I’m here.

We were out late last night working cattle.

And by late, I mean after dark.

And by after dark I mean, a sliver of a moon, a thousand stars, 50 head of black cattle, five people and one flashlight.

No, it’s not all raspberry picking, sunflowers and margaritas on the deck out here.

Sometimes we have to get Western.

And when all available cowboys and cowhands have jobs and responsibilities in the sweet and useful hours of the day, sometimes we find ourselves chasing the sun while we’re chasing the cows.

It’s difficult. Since moving back to the ranch two summers ago I’ve learned a lot of things. I’ve learned how to can a tomato, tile a shower, where to find a missing pug, how make a meal from what I have in my pantry because I’ve got no choice, I’m not driving to town, how to kill a burdock plant, what time of day makes the most magical photos and how long I can go without taking a shower before the neighbors start to complain…

But above all of that, mostly I’ve learned there aren’t enough hours in the day.

And I don’t know how Pops has done it all these years.

Ranching is a full time job. It’s not just about watching them graze in the pasture and riding through them like the Man from Snowy River every once in a while to get your cowboy fix. You have to feed them, move them, watch the water, watch for illness, doctor, move them again, find them when they’re out, fix the fence, move them, fix the fence, patch up corrals, bring them home, let the bulls out, get the bulls in, roundup, doctor, wean the babies, fix the fence, get a plan for hay, move the hay, feed the hay, break the ice on the stock dam and check them every day.

My dad has always had two full time jobs, one of them being ranching. His goal was to keep this place in the family and, during that time, that was the only choice. He would come home from work in the winter and I would bundle up in my Carharts and we would roll a bale out for the cattle in the freezing cold, nearly dark landscape. Sometimes I would drive the pickup while he scooped out cake or grain for a line of cattle trailing behind in the falling snow.

In the spring we would drive out and watch for calves being born. I would sit in the pickup as he braved the wrath of momma while he tagged and checked the baby.

There was more than one time that momma won the battle.

Summers were spent riding horses and moving pastures.

Fall was roundup and time spent in the pickup on the way to the sale barn.

And then he’d do it over again.

Every memory of being a side-kick ranch kid was one I hold close to me as part of my makeup, no matter the fact that I likely wasn’t one bit of help, except maybe that driving part.

And I like to think I’m good company.

I’ve been bucked off, had my fingers smashed, broken bones and cried out of frustration when facing a seemingly impossible task.

Ranching is not a job for the weak, and often I wondered (and I still wonder) if I’m made up of the things my father is made up of.

Why all of those years of long hours in town and late nights? Why not a house in town with a lawn, beer with the guys on Friday nights, golf on Saturday?

I never asked him because it’s a stupid question.

I’ve never asked him because I know the answer.

I’ll tell you here, but I have to do it  quickly, because in an hour, we have to be home from town and saddled up. We have to bring more cows home and it’s gets dark earlier every night.

So here’s what he’d say:

This is it for me. Give me the beaches of the Caribbean, the steep mountains of Montana, give me perfect city streets laid out and predictable, give me the cactus and mysterious heat of the dessert, give me the shores of the mighty Missouri, the fjords of my grandparents’ homeland and I will say they are good.

I will tell you they’re beautiful.

I have seen them and I believe that’s true.

But I would not trade one day out in these pastures for a lifetime on those beaches, even if it means broken tractors and working until midnight with no light but the stars.

And I don’t know what else to say about it except this is my home and I will do what it takes to make sure that it stays the truth.

And that’s why I’m here.

The boy on the hill…

Most Sundays we get together with mom and pops for dinner. After a week of work and crazy schedules followed by a weekend of chores and projects or travel, one of us decides that someone should cook a decent meal, pour some wine in a glass and make us all sit down.

I admit, with the house and my weird schedule, it has been momma making the meals lately.

But it’s one of the things I think we both look forward to, and now that the sun stays out a little longer and there’s no snow in sight, I pull on my shoes, whistle for the dogs and follow the winding creek to my parent’s house over three big hills, nestled in the oak groves. Husband, usually busy putting in the last nail for the day, meets me over there in his pickup and soon we’re settled the kind of easy talk that comes only with the people you’re closest to.

We complement my mother’s cooking, tease her about her bottomless wine supply, talk about work and weather and my stupid dogs. Usually I whip out a story that requires use of an accent and pops laughs and squeezes his eyes tight as he throws his head back. It’s my favorite look on him for so many reasons…

But my favorite is when we start talking memories. It usually always comes to this, a story about my father’s childhood in the very spot we’re building a house. A revelation about how my mom was forced to run track by her cheerleading coach, so she did it…in ballet slippers. Husband’s confessions about the punishment dealt out after fighting with his brother that included holding hands with him on the couch for as long as his father saw fit.

There’s something about being a room with people who you know the best in this world, people who know you in the same way, and still being able to learn something about them. And it doesn’t matter if we’ve heard the same story a few times, there is always something to add, a question to ask that reveals more character, more memory, sheds a different light on this person.

Last night pops shared a story about his childhood that I’m sure I’ve heard before, possibly dozens of times. But it doesn’t matter, I could hear it a thousand times and be transported.

I want to exist in this story, in this ten minute vignette of my father at four years old that somehow sums up everything he became here on this landscape as a child, growing into a man with white hair and a wife who he transplanted from city sidewalks and dance studios to a house at the end of a dirt road in the coulee with party-line phones and a bull snake in the shed.

I love the way he tells it, sitting at the end of the table, plate pushed forward, arms folded, coffee brewing for dessert. He looks to the ceiling as if up there he might catch a glimpse of that little boy, four-years-old with curly black hair riding bareback on a paint pony alongside his father. It’s fall or summer, he can’t remember. But I imagine the leaves were just starting to turn as the pair trotted out of the barnyard, the little boy on his father’s trail moving east toward the reservation where the cattle graze in the summer.


He’s not sure why his father took him along for an almost seven-mile-one-way cross-country trip. At four-years-old, he thinks now that it might have been a little extreme for such a youngster. But ask him then and it was all he wanted to do. Leave him behind? He would have tried to follow anyway.

The pastures out east, even today with an increase in activity, are some of the most isolated and untouched places out here. The rolling buttes rise and fall for miles between fences into creek bottoms with black mud and cattails, creeks that are difficult to cross with a horse, even in the late summer. The oak groves, bordered by thorny bull berry brush and thistle, begin to blend into one another and look the same. I’ve seen them play tricks on even the most familiar cowboy, getting him mixed up on what draw he’s in or where he is when he emerges from ducking and cutting through the narrow cattle trails along the banks.

So there he was, a little boy, clinging tight to that pony as it jumped over the creek and raced up the side hills to keep up with the big horse. And it was at the top of one of those rocky hills that his father told him to stay and wait.

“Don’t move,” his father said as he made plans to check the creek bottoms, to find cows that have been milling in there to stay cool and get away from the flies. “I will come back and get you.”

So on top of that hill sat my father on his pony. He shakes his head now and laughs as he tells it and we take a sip of our coffee, shift in our seats and imagine him as a little boy, wind flopping his hat and moving fluffy clouds that made shadows on the buttes.


He can’t remember if he was scared or nervous now. He searches for a recollection of that feeling in his coffee cup and then rests his chin on his fist. All he can remember is that he was told not to move and so he didn’t. He didn’t move as he scanned the hills and squinted into the oak trees for any sign that his father might be on his way back to him.

And while he was peering into the horizon, holding his breath and the reigns of his pony, someone did come over that hill. But it wasn’t his father in his saddle and cowboy hat, but a Native American girl with long black hair and legs dangling on each side of her bare backed horse under the late summer sky.

“Can you imagine what she thought,” my father chuckles at the memory of this girl, who he recalls was a teenager, but was probably only about ten or eleven years old, so young herself. “Here she found this little boy on a pony all by himself out there on the hill.”

He goes on then to tell us the part of the story we remember from last time it was told here at this kitchen table. He recalls how she asked him if he was ok and if he was lost. He told her that he wasn’t supposed to leave this spot. That his dad was coming back for him.

My father doesn’t remember many of the details of conversation, what she looked like, what they said, but he remembers she stayed with him, she stayed with that little boy with curly hair and a hat flopping in the prairie wind, on that hilltop, more than likely holding her breath and scanning the horizon for any sign of a cowboy coming back.

Now he pulls at his napkin and says though he doesn’t remember how long she sat with him, but when you’re four years old ten minutes can seem like hours. And I can relate, remembering my own time spent on hilltops waiting for this father of mine to come back for me. It could have been hours. It could have been minutes. But she stayed until that little boy had an escort through the valleys and over the creeks, back west to the barnyard and to his momma and big sister waiting with canned meat and biscuits and for a report of the day’s events.
And so he told it to his mother, the story about the girl. And for years to come around their dinner table this would be one of their family’s stories, one of the memories they would share over Sunday meals about a little boy who was my father who had found a girlfriend out east in the hilltop.
And as my father protested, they would throw back their heads and close their eyes and laugh…