A real version of Country Living magazine

Nashville

Just got in from Nashville (where it was an unseasonable 25 degrees without their “windchill”) and arrived to blowing snow and no travel advised. There’s a reason only the strong survive up here (and a reason we all head south about now) but even the strong are getting cranky about it…

 A real version of Country Living magazine
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The snow was blowing big flakes sideways across the prairie and the weatherman warned of minus 30 wind chills and it was just another February morning in western North Dakota.

I loaded up the kids and the car: coats, hats, mittens, blankies, sippy cups, snow pants, snacks for the trip to town, more snacks for the trip back home, lunch bag, computer bag, checked my pocket for my phone and we were on our way… Backed out of the garage, up the driveway, around the little corner and, with a sip of coffee, noticed that with the fresh snow, it was nearly impossible to distinguish where, exactly, our little road was.

Leaned forward, squinted my eyes, misjudged the curve entirely and sunk that car full of snacks and snowpants up to the floorboards in the ditch. Before I even reached our mailbox.

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So I want to talk about country living for a minute. Are there glamorous parts about it? Sure. When the sun is setting on a 70 degree summer day and you’re on the back porch listening to the crickets singing and watching the lightning bugs flicker in creek beds. These are the things Martha Stewart, Country Living magazine and that adorable home-renovating Gaines couple sell you about the whole rural experience.

That and the solitude, fresh air and the fact that they’ve never walked outside to find their pet goats standing on the roof of their car, but I digress.

But I’m guessing neither Martha, Joanna or the editors at Country Living have ever lived where that fresh air hurts your face, winter lasts 37 months and every outfit must coordinate with snow boots and a beanie. No. They live in a world where the dirt, mud, melty snow and apple juice magically stays off of their photo-ready vintage farmhouses decorated with fragile antiques and (*gasp) white rugs.

In these magazines and home renovation shows I’ve learned plenty on how to make a cozy breakfast nook (I’ll never have a breakfast nook) and what flowers to put in my foyer (I will never have a foyer). Curiously, I’ve never come across any tips on what to do when you drive your car in the ditch in your own yard 30 miles from civilization. Sigh.

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Luckily I’ve found myself in this predicament enough times that I’ve developed my own list. The first step being, of course, slamming my hands on the steering wheel in exasperation.

The second is new to me, but involves answering all 50 million of my 3-year-old’s questions about why we’re not moving, which is my favorite step.

The third? Pray that my dad’s home so I don’t have to suffer the humiliation of explaining this situation to neighbor Kelly or risk death by frostbite while hoofing it down to the house for a shovel. Good thing I always pack snacks.

Anyways, I guess what I’m saying, Martha, is some of you have never been pulled out of the ditch by your dad’s old feed pickup in a wind chill blizzard warning and it shows.

If you need me, I’ll be conceptualizing my own magazine idea that will offer fewer tips on decorating that space above your cabinets and more information on the flooring that best blends with scoria mud, how to find a body shop that will removed goat hoof dents and a list of excuses you can use on your neighbor should you find your car stuck in a snowbank. In your own yard.

I think it’s going to be a hit.

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Like a spider mother

Rosie and Me

Coming Home: Not that different from a spider mom

On a long, late night drive last week, I stumbled upon a radio program that aims to explore the topic of love and how it unfolds, beats, bends and connects us.

It’s a big task, telling love’s story. I wasn’t convinced I was up for a bunch of sappy romances, if that’s how it was going to roll out, but I put in a lot of road time and good radio has the potential to save my sanity, so I gave it a try.

How did they kick it off? With a story about a common spider — the kind that is likely spinning a web in my basement right now — that spends the majority of her lifespan spinning an unexceptional but practical web in which to lay her sack of eggs that will hatch and feed on another set of eggs she’s laid specifically for that purpose. And when they’ve run out of other options for nourishment in the web, the mother taps on her silk, summoning her babies, and then, well, I didn’t really see this one coming… They eat her.

And in that moment, driving 65 mph down the highway after a late night of work and a long and challenging week with my children, I cried.

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Last night, I was leaving my mom and dad’s house when I remembered I needed to make a dish to bring to a party I had the next evening. I forgot about it, so I didn’t have any ingredients for the promised festive appetizer, and a trip to the grocery store with two kids is a good three-hour extravaganza that I didn’t have time for the next day.

I swore.

And my mom went to her freezer and gathered all the ingredients I needed for a dip and she sent me on my way, just another small act in a lifetime of having a mother who would just as easily give me her life as she does her frozen bread bowl.

It sounds silly saying it that way, too trite for the magnitude of the sum of all of motherhood’s parts, but in that moment, driving down the highway with the vision of that spider’s sacrifice, it felt like I was allowed to feel the true weight of my children on my body.

Your heart forever walking around in the world? Yes. We’ve all heard that one. But this spider’s story resonated more with me.

Piece by piece by piece, we give — our time, our milk, our lessons, our worry, our words, our sleep, our hopes, our songs, our bodies, our space, our home. Our freezer bread.

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And it may not be a big, grand finale gesture like our sister in the web weaves, but if she could see beyond where she sits in the corner with the dust and her life’s mission — if she could see you up there at 3 a.m. laying on the hardwood floor outside your toddler’s bedroom door, because it’s the only way she’ll quiet down now — she would nod her spider head and admit we’re not that different.

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Click here to listen to the spider episode, which is the introduction to the great podcast “This is Love.” I recommend it for heartwarming and unconventional stories about what it means to love

Do you have a favorite podcast? I want to hear it! Seriously,  a good podcast saves my sanity!

And the sparkle of childhood followed us home…

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The light of childhood reminds us to embrace life
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It’s no secret there are things in this life that are ruined by adulthood.

I remember thinking this as a kid when I was jumping into the cold water of Lake Sakakawea on a hot summer day. The water couldn’t be too cold. The sky too gray. The wind too wild. None of those elements existed to me at 7 or 8 because there was the water and I needed to swim. And so I did. And when I emerged and looked over at my parents visiting with friends on dry land, I wondered how anyone could be so close to a lake and keep their hair dry.

When does it shift in us? When does that water become too cold? The sky too gray? The wind too wild? When do we decide that in order to have fun, the sun must be shining in the most optimal way?

I wondered this again as I watched my 3-year-old daughter put her nose down to the freshly fallen snow, stick her tongue out and lick it up. I laughed as her little sister mimicked her, sitting up to look at me with pink cheeks and a kiss of frosting on her lips, and I remembered then how fresh snow tasted, although it hadn’t hit my lips for years.

And neither had an icicle, even though every time I see one hanging sharp and crystal clear off the eaves of a house, I think about pulling it down and having a taste. But I never do it.

At least I hadn’t for years, until I became a mother, and then slowly, the magic of the world that seemed to have faded out to dull tones of beiges and grays started to glimmer and pop and shine again in the little fluffs of light and sparkle that follow in my daughters’ wakes.

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Last weekend, I wrestled my girls into their snowsuits and loaded them up in the pickup for a drive out into the pastures of our place, determined to get our Christmas tree cut, in the house, thawed out and decorated before the weekend was over. I was on a deadline. My husband was on a deadline.

But that morning, we stepped out into the bright sunshine after days of fog to find our whole world sparkling. We couldn’t make out a cedar tree from an oak tree in the hills because of the glare, so we got out and walked into the hills to take a closer look, to lift Edie on her daddy’s shoulders, to let Rosie eat snow. To come up for air.

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And when we were trying to find a way to get us all back to the pickup with a tree just a little too big for the space, looking down at a steep icy slope of a hill, I think it was the 8-year-old version of me that whispered, “Let Edie ride on its branches, like a sled! Her daddy will pull her down!”

And so that’s what we did. We stepped off the shore and let the fluffy, glimmering light of childhood follow us home.

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The promise of spring

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I wrote a version of this week’s column for a presentation I gave to a congregation and community celebrating Harvest Fest. I wrote it after roundup and shipping and selling our calves, a special time of year for us and one we were so grateful to do alongside my dad this year.

On Saturday we celebrated my oldest daughter’s third birthday and on Sunday we celebrated my baby, who turns one this Saturday. We were surrounded by friends and family in a life as parents. A life that just four years ago, I wasn’t convinced we would have.

And while I won’t deny that there are hard and sad and hopeless things in life that will not and can not be changed, but simply endured, sometimes there is light. And we have seen it.

Read the full version of my talk below or click on the link for the newspaper version. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend filled with gratefulness.

I am grateful for you.

Coming Home: The promise of spring

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When I was a kid, on the first warm day of spring, my dad would take us to the top of the nearest hill to find a dry spot where snow gave way to grass. We would sit down then on that piece of ground, maybe without our snowpants for the first time in months, and lean back, letting the warm sun shine on our faces and my dad would say something like, “Such a beautiful day. Isn’t this marvelous.”

Dad is the only person I know who regularly uses the words “marvelous.”

But it makes sense for a man who’s been accused of being optimistic, sometimes to a fault. On his way to roundup cattle or to fix a fence, my dad never passed a raspberry bush, a chokecherry tree or a plum patch without taking a detour for a taste. He’s never driven by a deer in the draw or an eagle in the sky without stopping or slowing down to recognize it. And when he sees a feather from a turkey or a hawk on a ride through the hills, he stops along the trail, gets off his horse, and picks it up to put in his hat. Or when we were younger girls, to give it to one of us.

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This is the way I grew up. The fourth generation born to a ranch that has now been in the family over 100 years.

As a kid it was hard not to fall in love with a world, with life, when someone was walking in front of you pointing out all of the things there was to love about it. And that bluebird that followed my father while I was following him, well, it was hard to live a life without her following me too.

As a ranch kid, though, you don’t get the benefit of being sheltered from some of the tough lessons of life. The unexplainable stuff. The things you can’t control. I remember saying silent little prayers to myself when my dad would bring a calf in from the cold, feed it and warm it in the basement, only to delay the inevitable.

I saw how his eyes dropped, how he shook his head and paused for a moment before sucking in breath, exhaling and moving on.

I remember my heart breaking and somehow knowing, that he could only do what he could.

The rest wasn’t up to him.

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Last week I sat on the top of my horse and rode next to my father as a grown woman. We were chasing the cattle we own together on the place where my dad was raised, where I was raised and where I’m raising two daughters of my own.

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Last year at this time my father lay in a hospital bed at the beginning of a five-month battle with pancreatitis that had him fighting for his life. And while my mom sat by his side in a hospital hundreds of miles away, my husband, young daughter and I were home, taking care of the cows, shoveling snow, carrying out holiday traditions, waiting for our new baby to arrive and feeling powerless to change the trajectory of my dad’s circumstances.

His prognosis was dire and our hands could not do anything to fix it.

Losing my dad so soon was not in our plan.

And while all I wanted was a big, extraordinary miracle to save my father’s life, I have never lived in my faith that way. When I lost my grandmother when I was only eleven years old, I remember looking at her casket at the front of the church and wishing she would just sit up and tell us it was all a bad dream.

But I did not pray for that, because I didn’t believe those were the sort of miracles God sends.

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I find my faith in the small miracles, the way the setting sun illuminates our world in glowing pink and orange on it’s way to the other side of the earth. The way it rises every day, regardless of our joy or our pain. I see my faith come to life in a newborn calf, just born minutes before, standing steady on his own four legs as his mother licks him clean. I see it in the snowflakes piling up on my doorstep, knowing, when I look closer, each one is perfect, unique, and so, so fleeting.

I see God in the red on the tomatoes I planted with my daughters our garden, each one round and perfect and ready for picking with nothing but dirt, water and that trusty sun.

And I see it in the chubby fingers of my daughters, the ones that came to us just as I was losing faith in miracles of any size.

As I grow up I come to understand that I was right when I was a child, that faith and God aren’t wishes granted or one big miracle that answers your prayers, but a million tiny, beautiful moments that pile up like those snowflakes on the top of the hill outside our window in the winter only to melt with the spring sunshine and remind us that, as my husband would say, “There’s more here than us.”

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My dad’s recovery was proof of those small miracles. The kind hands of a caring nurse, my mother’s relentless devotion to her husband, the capabilities and training of the doctor,that moved him to take a risk. My dad’s strong heart that refused to quit beating. His lungs that continued to suck in air.

I looked over at him as he sat on his horse in his wool cap and leather chaps, the cattle in front of us moving their way across the creek and toward the gate. My husband, uncle and neighbor stretched out on horseback in the hills surrounding us, and my dad stopped. He put his gloved hands together, the leather of the reigns between them, and he looked up at the sky. Then he looked over at me and he hollered,

“This is me. Thanking God.”

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And it’s cold today. The snow is blowing sideways outside our windows. Winter is coming to test us. To freeze us. To make us sad or lonely or desperate. To make us question.

But faith? Faith is the promise of sunshine on that hilltop to melt that snow

Faith is remembering the marvelous promise of spring.

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The “good days” are a mess

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Happy Halloween.

Whew. October 31st, I think I’m happy to see you. Not just because I’m looking forward to dressing up as a mermaid with the toddler and trying to convince my baby to keep the fishy bonnet on her head as we traipse around town this afternoon, but also because this is the last day of what has been a month that’s been chaos.

Chaos with a month-long chest cold on top.

Chaos as in working nights and every weekend.

Chaos as in a house addition project that’s not going swimmingly.

Chaos as in I thought I filed my column last week but got distracted by something (Lord can only guess) and I forgot to hit send, which marks the first time since I started this gig that I missed a plan for the column.

Oh well. We’ll try again next week.

Next month.

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And we’re getting by on coffee and granola bars and trying to go with the flow even when the flow looks like dragging my meltdown-mode toddler out of gymnastics and negotiating every holiday and birthday and gymnastics class in her little life to get good behavior out of her for the pumpkin painting event at the Nursing Home we were headed to. It was likely the fact that the kid likes grammas and would do anything to paint and not my threats that made that experience more lovely than stripping her out her leotard while she swung at me and I pretended to be one of those calm moms who wasn’t going to get to the car and threaten to take away all her birthdays.

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And right now it’s 8:45 am and she’s asking for candy…soooo…we’ll see if we survive today.

We will survive today. Because, as dad reminded me in one of my long “trying to figure out my life” discussions: “These are the good days.”

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And the good days are messy. Perpetually messy, like my toddler’s hair and our bedroom.

Messy like the bed and the floor under Rosie’s highchair.

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Messy like the best laid plans and the never finished dishes and the bathroom floor with every drawer emptied by the baby in the name of keeping her occupied so I can finish my makeup.

Messy like the seats and the dashboard and the cubbies of my car.

Messy like the desktop of my computer. And my desk for that matter, because I have projects going on and little people who don’t take very long naps.

Messy like my closet full of things I wear too much and things I used to wear in a life that looked different. Less complicated.

Not as sticky.

I feel like I’m never going to get caught up. Does anyone ever feel like they’re caught up?

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Last weekend I spent the entire Sunday morning cleaning the main floor of my house, sweeping, scrubbing and vacuuming while my toddler followed me around telling me that it hurt her ears, only to watch it all unravel as almost every member of my extended family made their way through the door to play with the kids and encourage them to walk around eating crackers.

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I looked around at the crumbs and the toys and the laughing people and realized what my problem was. I can’t seem to get caught up on things like the landscaping or the window washing, not necessarily because I can’t find the time, but because I am using that time for other things.

Like trips to the playground outside with the kids.

Trying to do a good job and my work. Driving to town to go to the doctor to get the girls’ flu shots and make sure I don’t have pneumonia. Daily phone calls to my little sister. Constructing my baby’s Halloween costume out of felt and hot glue.

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Cookie decorating with Edie while my baby unloads the Tupperwear cabinet.

Staying up too late catching up with my husband while we ignore putting away the laundry. Visits to the pool and to the horses and to the nursing home and to gymnastics and Sunday family visits and crafting projects and pumpkin painting and all the things that make messes…

So I guess I will get to the mess when I get to the mess. Because the absence of crumbs must not be that important to me. If it were, I would spend more time on exterminating them. Because in my life there has never been enough time available to fit in all of the things I think would be fun or important to do.

And I guess fun or important to me doesn’t always include getting to the dishes first.

Oh, sometimes it does. Like when I know company is coming.

But mostly, I’m just a little embarrassed by the sticky spot on my floor when someone unexpectedly drops by, but I always let them in.

Of course I always let them in.

Because one day these girls will be old enough to help me dust the shelves and unload the dishwasher and make their beds and I fully intend on teaching them the importance of taking care of our things and our house and our ranch, but maybe sometimes not at the expense of a good ride or a trip to the pool on a hot sunny day.

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Because I like to do stuff. To keep busy and engaged and sometimes that makes us all crazy, our kitchen countertops cluttery, and my toddler collapse in a pile in the middle of the parking lot while I try to make her hold my hand and walk with me so she doesn’t get hit by a car. So then sometimes I need to learn to step back and chill it out and give us all a minute so that we can continue on with the “good days.”

Happy Wednesday Halloween. Here’s to candy and chaos and surviving the rest of the week!

Mermaid Edie

In those boxes under the stairs…

Coming Home: Some things are worth saving
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OK, please tell me everyone has it — that space under the stairs or in the attic or the corner of your bedroom piled up to the ceiling where you put all the things.

All the things you want to save but don’t know what to do with, like the junk drawer every Midwesterner tries and fails to clean out every three years.

Please tell me you know what I mean so I don’t feel alone in the stacks of boxes I’m wading through here to make room for a plumbing project under those stairs.

Because I usually blame my husband for all the clutter, but four hours and 10 tubs full of less-practical things later, I’m admitting I’m guilty of the sentimental version of his shortcoming. And apparently it comes with baggage.

Because does the 35-year-old version of me need the graphic design projects I completed my junior year of college? Or a psychology textbook? Or a stack of blurry and misfired shots from my high school camera or this keychain that probably meant something to me but now I can’t remember what?

At some point in my life I must have thought so. But last weekend, in the name of time and an attempt to declutter my life to make room for the two new little lives that exist in our house now, I tossed them. I tossed them because, while it all served as a reminder of the things I used to do, it was no longer what I needed to remind me of who I used to be.

Some things aren’t worth saving, I decided. But it didn’t take much more digging to find the things that were. A box of random photos I hadn’t seen in years, photos that spanned decades, randomly tossed in a box and buried under things to deal with another day.

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Evidence of Sisterly Love and overly festive jammies

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A reminder of my fashion forward-ness

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That time we puffy painted everything…and babysat the neighbor’s goat over Christmas break

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A picture of me that could be a picture of Rosie (with brown eyes)

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Halloween with the little sister a million years ago

A photo of a 1-year-old me tucked under my grandma’s arm on her old brown couch, both of us worn out and sleeping in her little farmhouse that I can still smell if I close my eyes.

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An image of my little sister, 6 years old, standing outside with a Band-Aid and a tear on her face. She always had a Band-Aid and a little tear.

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A rare photo of my mom and all of her young daughters in our kitchen. Dad sleeping against the piano while we opened presents at Christmas.

Me, 16 with bad hair and a bad sweater, sitting next to my boyfriend in a wrestling T-shirt.

And then piles of carefully folded letters and notes we wrote to each other while we were falling in love with no real grasp on the future or that it might look like a house on the ranch with our babies and a space under the stairs stacked with books and DVDs, paint cans, a witch hat, yearbooks, sports buttons, trophies, a salamander and memories worth digging out sometimes to remind us where it began.

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Which, it turns out, helps in the whole moving forward thing. These things are worth saving.

Distracting things.

If you need me, I’ll be under the steps, trying again.

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Oh, love can come a long way…

Dear Daughters

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Coming Home: Dear Daughters, From Mom
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Dear daughters,

While I type this, I’m sitting in the living room. Rosie, you’re crawling around the floor, picking up things to put in your mouth and pulling yourself up to stand along the couch. Your big sister is sleeping, but your nap ended early like it usually does, and so the toys are all yours for now.

I’ve been watching the two of you grow over the summer, not just into your selves, but into each other. Rosie, your first year of life is wrapping up quickly as you, Edie, look forward to celebrating your third birthday with a pink mermaid cake.

You think Rosie needs a mermaid party, too. And she wants to be where you are.

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Girls. My daughters. Sisters. You won’t remember this phase in your life, the phase when you were so little together and how it felt to be crawling around on the floor of this house that will forever be the backdrop of your life together, the setting of big and quiet moments that will come to define you.

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And as much as we, your parents, want to do right by you, more than any of that we want you to do right by one another.

Because Edie and Rosie, to have each other is a gift, one that you will take for granted over and over again throughout your life. Rosie, you’ll borrow Edie’s favorite sweater and take it off when the sun gets too hot and leave it on the bleachers or the bus. Edie will be mad. You will be sorry.

And you will fight. And it will be a drop in a bucket of annoyances and disagreements about dishes and who fed the dogs and why Rosie read your diary, Edie.

Yes, if you keep a diary, the other will find it. And yes, you will have secrets. But my hope is that if those secrets need to be kept, they will be kept from the world, but not from each other.

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But in order for that wish to come true, you, my wild girls, will have to be true, too. Because the world can be scary. I know because I’m big. And as much as I want the hardest thing about my life as your mom to be the constant reminder for you, Edie, to stop hugging your little sister so hard, I know harder problems loom ahead. That’s the cost of a life worth living.

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And I will tell you over and over in a hundred different ways in my life as your momma that this world is so much easier to face side by side.

Even though I think you’ve already figured it out.

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You proved it to me yesterday, Edie, in your attempt to save Rosie from the loud and terrifying vacuum cleaner, rushing over to her, wrapping your arms around her tight and demanding me to shut the thing off.

“You’re scaring my sister!” you yelled at me with a glare across the room.

And my laugh released a little knot in my chest I didn’t know I had until that moment.

Dear daughters, you’re going to be all right.

Love,

Mom

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The heebie jeebies

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Coming Home: Spooked by ghosts, even if they’re just imaginary
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Last week, my dad was hauling our old feed pickup back from the shop on a flatbed trailer during oil field rush hour traffic, a little white-knuckled and stressed at the task.

Tired from a full day of work, annoyed at fellow drivers and maybe running a worst-case scenario or two through his head, he glanced in his rearview mirror to find a white pickup bearing down on him, looking like it was going to run him clean over.

He had a moment of panic, a few curse words and a split-second prayer to Jesus before he realized the threatening pickup was actually the one he was hauling on the trailer behind him. He freaked himself out.

And I tell ya, I can relate. Lately, I’ve been feeling a little of what I refer to as the “heebie-jeebies” around this place.

I think it started with the stray bat that made a surprise appearance in our bedroom, iced the cake with the weird creature scratching on the inside of our walls and now continues to send shivers down my spine every time the music on my office computer decides to play at random times, with no explanation or human close enough to make the command.

To top it off, I’m now literally sleeping with the light on because whatever ghost is living in this house has decided to keep the ceiling fan bulbs partially lit in our bedroom, no matter what button we push or switches we turn.

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It goes along with the weird situation with the chandelier we thought was broken one day only to find it working the next.

Must be our ghost. I mean, it makes sense. Our house is new, but it sits on an old homestead. And there were people on the land long before that. So maybe one of them moved in with us and enjoys a good prank every once in a while.

I mean, it must get dull being a ghost, especially when all we watch is “Wheel of Fortune” and “The Cat in the Hat.”

Which is what I was thinking last weekend when I went riding with my niece and she discovered my missing sock out in the middle of the horse pasture. After running over a few scenarios in my head, none of which effectively explained how the thing got from my bedroom to a patch of grass a mile out of the house, I decided it was our ghost.

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And when I explained it to my husband — how I pulled off my riding pants and socks that morning to put on my church clothes and when I went to put them back on again, my sock was nowhere to be found — he wasn’t as spooked as I wanted him to be.

He just calmly suggested that maybe my sock was stuck in my pant leg and dropped out during our ride through the pasture. It wasn’t nearly as dramatic as runaway pickups or haunted houses, but certainly more logical, which is clearly what a woman spooked by a sock needs in her life.

That, and a little more sleep.

If you need me, I’ll be under my bed.

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Small things

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A few small things
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I love standing on the top of the hills around our house and scanning the horizon and the ribbon of road below me to see who might be coming or going — the sun, a neighbor, an oil field worker on his way home.

But often I feel like looking closer to see what’s happening underneath the grass, in the shady cool places of the ranch. All those small pieces that make up the mosaic of this landscape fascinate me.

In my other life, before the babies came, I would spend my evenings in my walking shoes, enjoying quiet moments out in our pastures. My favorite was when my husband would come along and we would wander together, slow and hushed along the deer trails, noticing how the dragonflies swoop and swerve, their delicate and transparent wings reflecting the sun.

Pushing a path alongside the beaver dam, the late summer cattails fuzz and the flowers hang on in the shade, staying cool and crisp as they reach for small glimmers of sun peeking through the trees. On the surface of the creek, the water bugs stay rowing and afloat by some combination of mechanics or magic above the school of minnows flashing their silver bellies in the hot sunlight.

I look at him; we look up at the birch tree branches. He looks at me and I tell him to watch for mushrooms growing on trees and chokecherries and the plums in the draw.

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And we walk. Along that creek that runs between the two places and down to the neighbors’, through beaver dams and stock dams and ponds where the frogs croak wildly. We would clear a path through bullberry brush and dry clover up to our armpits, jumping over washouts and scrambling up eroded banks, noticing how some oak trees have fallen, hollowed out and heavy with the weight of their age, the weight of a world that keeps changing, no matter if a human eye ever sweeps past it or inspects it or theorizes about it, or tries to save it. It changes.

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We’ve been married 12 years now, but I’ve loved this person since I was a just a kid. Three years ago on those quiet walks, we could only imagine a time in our lives where moments like these would have to be planned and adjusted to accommodate baby bedtimes, bathtimes and suppertime schedules.

That our life and our living room would be covered in noise and toys and new tiny moments we’ve created on our own that now hold their own mystery.

And I used to wish that this man and I would walk together in the coulees in these acres for a lifetime, with eyes wide to the small things that live and thrive and swim and crawl and grow outside our door.

And now, I hope that for us and for our own little creatures living and growing and crawling and thriving inside of these doors so that we might all move together in life like we moved through those trees — switching leads, pointing out beauty, asking questions, being silent, stepping forward, taking time and loving the moment … and one another in it.

Mushrooms on Trees

Hoofbeats and paw prints and measuring time

Chad on his bay horseHoofbeats and paw prints and measuring time

My husband used to have a big yellow dog that would pull him around town on his Rollerblades. Young, strong and full of heart, the two of them flew through the quiet streets of our hometown, back when Rollerblades were cool and so was he.

I never knew the Chad that existed before that dog. They called him Rebel, except the only rebellious thing about him was that he’d take a cracked door as an invitation to go wandering.

Before Rebel, Chad’s family had a pup named Cookie. I never knew Cookie or the young boy my husband was when he loved that dog except I saw the home movie his parents took when they surprised their boys with her.

Chad always described it as one of the best and most exciting days of his childhood, so I couldn’t stop laughing when I saw the footage of that young kid standing so stoic and serious with that puppy in his arms, willing away his fidgety little brother with the darts of his eyes.

Last night, my husband and I started talking about our new border collie pup, a welcome addition after we lost the lab we had since we got married 12 years ago today. We are excited to see what kind of cow-dog she might become.

And then, without really realizing it, we started recounting our memories together according to which animals were there loving us, bucking us off, running away, getting hurt, growing old and teaching us lessons along the way.

“So, I starting hanging around you when you just got that horse, Tex,” he recalled.

“And my old mare Rindy, you remember her,” I said, reminding him of the first time I took him riding at the ranch and how I wanted to impress him so badly that my enthusiastic attempt at a graceful mount on her bare back resulted in me landing in a heap on the other side.

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Then there was his mom’s dog, Phoebe, who got her through the sadness of an empty nest, and our cat, Belly, who was so bonded with my little sister that we all got to watch her give birth to kittens on the beanbag chair in her bedroom.

And I never thought about measuring a good life by the good animals who witnessed us growing up, heartful and heartbroken, falling in and out of love with people and life and learning how to let go and hold on tight to one another or the big plans we’ve made and changed a million times.

They’re along with us, on the end of a leash, the reins or the bed, steady and predictable.

“Cowboy’s close to 20,” my husband realized then about the young bay horse that made a cowboy out of that lovestruck teenager.

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Seems like time wears itself thinner on the backs of the beasts we love until, one day, we catch ourselves remembering them and the scruff of their fur and the click of their paws on the pavement and how they pulled us through when we were young, strong and full of heart.