What the cat misses out on

What the cat misses out on
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When I was a young girl growing up in the ’90s, living in the angst of the transition from not quite a child anymore and clearly not a grown woman, I have a distinct memory of looking at my family’s house cat, curled up on the throw blanket draped across the couch, and wishing I could be her.

I did the same with Dad’s cow dog, staring up at me in the garage, waiting for a scratch in the middle of my brooding over some fight with a friend, or the way my outdated clothes fit my body now, or how my hair fuzzed, not even close to the way it lay smooth on the girls in those magazines.

To be a cat, I thought, would be far less complicated. I didn’t want these feelings, the ones that were creeping over me, reminding me that the world was getting bigger, the expectations of me were quietly changing and I was starting to see it now, not certain I was ready.

To just know, like a cat, what you were supposed to do — eat and sleep and poop and curl up and meow at the door to be let out and then meow to be let in again — seemed like a less problematic existence. Even if you got left out too long in the rain, or you discovered your food dish to only be half full, not to the brim the way you prefer. Even if you didn’t have a human at all, or a bowl or a dish… a cat just needed to be a cat, and she knew how to do it.

I wasn’t so sure about the whole human thing.

Because a cat didn’t have to have the right jeans or haircut to find an acceptable place in the social circle, a dog didn’t have to pretend to understand algebra or have fights with her mother that ended in slammed doors and misunderstandings. A cat didn’t feel compelled to write sad songs on the pink carpet on the floor of her room, simultaneously hoping no one ever heard them and also that everyone would…

I’m all grown up now and when I turn on the news or listen to those sad songs or disagree with my husband, or hear a story about how we’re screwing this up, I think, in the next life, I might come back as a house cat.

Because sometimes, it seems, there is not one thing that we humans haven’t made more complicated.

Last week I sat on the back of my horse and in the crisp fall air, against the relentless wind and a sky that would eventually snow on us, I helped move our cattle home from spread-out pastures.

The notice was short for me to successfully manage all the things I thought I should be doing, but I had enough free will to chose what mattered to me that day, so I rode behind a string of black cattle, my now well broken-in body finding a familiar comfort there, free for the day from worrying about how my hair fell or what the polls or the numbers or the doctors say.

Because the job was to gather and trail and round up and sort and check and doctor and laugh and count and holler and wipe our noses on our hankies and say our toes were cold when we finished the task and went in for chili and coffee and cornbread.

And I thought, as I refilled bowls and mugs and asked around about dessert, that for a tough year I’m grateful for moments like this. It’s moments like this, perhaps the cat misses out on…

Stay safe. Stay strong. And for crying out loud, let’s take care of one another.


This year’s story…

The year is winding down here and it is doing so quite nicely. This morning there is a little fog that has settled in over the barnyard, coating the grass and trees with a thin layer of frost. I am waiting for the sky to lighten a bit before taking a trip into town, just as all of us up here this December are waiting, holding our breath for the snow to fall as it inevitably will. And in the hustle and bustle of our lives, the taking down of Christmas decorations, the New Year’s plans, the gift returns and holiday cleanup, my hope for you is that you are giving yourself a  moment to close your eyes and reflect on a year that was no doubt filled with achievements, heartbreak, love found or lost, adventure…all the experiences that got us safely to the cusp of a new year, a little older, a little wiser, and hopefully, a little better in spite of all of those lessons.

Lessons like when delving into a full-blown, first time in the kitchen salsa caning project at 8 pm, make sure you have the proper ingredients (like jars) and the willpower and drive to follow through into the early morning hours. Or the other lesson learned early on in the year about how to ensure you don’t ever get a visit from the Schwan’s man again in your life followed by the an over the phone tutorial on how to pull the FedEx man in a FedEx van out of your snowed in driveway in the middle of winter, in the middle of nowhere. Both lessons resulting in getting our ice-cream and our packages in town.

Yes, there was the lesson learned about what happens when 150 cows throw a party on your lawn after a big summer rain storm, the one about how to sprain your ankle jumping off a horse, the realization that I just might be too soft to be an effective 4-H judge followed by the other realization that apparently husband collects coolers, microwaves, bed frames, dressers, ice skates, thousands of unidentifiable tractor and truck parts, old lunch boxes, swallow nests, spiders, deer antlers, gears, wire, Christmas wreaths, scrap wood, a jeep and a partridge in a pear tree and keeps them piled up in our garage….and that isn’t likely to change.


And yes, I will always blame this on him. 

And then there was the blinding lesson the pug learned about messing with porcupines when you only weigh thirty-five pounds and a good portion of your smooshy face is actually covered in two buggy eyeballs, which resulted in the following lesson on how to get by with only one buggy eyeball. And after the three trips to the vet, the giant cone he was forced to wear and a few run-ins with the wall as he turned his head to look over his shoulder, the pug has pretty much been transformed this year into something that could be referred to now as “Bad Ass.”

Bad ass like husband running out the door in the middle of the night to save us all from the raccoon dangling off of the side of the deck with, umm, nothing but a gun in his hand and a mission in his groggy head. Turns out he got to learn the lesson about wearing clothes to bed in case of midnight varmint emergencies, well, twice.

Yes, some lessons catch us off guard and find us standing butt naked on the rail of the deck in the middle of the night with a shotgun in your hands and two full moons shining in the darkness…and then others roll into your lives quietly, like the herd of elk Pops and I snuck up on this spring, reminding us that life is magical and fragile and quite frankly a masterpiece.

A masterpiece that grows the raspberries in the east pasture and finds us riding our horses in the summer sun at just the right time to stumble upon them and indulge. It’s the kind of life that gives us voices and ambition to sing out loud next to people you respect and admire  and the ability to understand that it doesn’t matter where you are, in a barnyard, around a campfire, in a smoky bar somewhere, it’s the chance to blend voices, it’s the music in you that, when it finds its moment to be heard, is the true gift.

Like the gift I was given as I watched my husband walk across the pasture in the crisp spring evening at the end of the first pleasant day of one of the harshest winters of our lives. And as I watched him scratch the ears of his favorite horse from my perch in the passenger seat of the pickup I caught my breath in the realization that this is the life we were supposed to be living and that in this world full of snow storms and breakdowns and things that might never be fixed, I married the right man. And we are in the right place. 

And so here I sit in my husband’s favorite chair in my grandmother’s house on my family’s land on the edge of the badlands in North Dakota as the wind blows through the icy trees under an overcast sky. Here I sit with my coffee cup, taking a moment to reflect on a year that was observed just as much as it was lived. And if the words I scrounged up to describe the sound of a coyote howling across the landscape haven’t moved a soul, if the photos I snapped of the breathtaking sunsets were only seen with my eyes and the music I wrote of my home in the hills was only heard in my heart, today I can say with confidence something that may not have rung true a few years ago…it would be enough for me.

See, it hasn’t come easily, but as I walked out in the summer rain and bent down to snap a photo of a wildflower drenched in the season, as I laughed out loud at the antics of my pets, helped my husband in the kitchen, strummed my guitar, playing along with a song my father was singing or climbed on the back of a horse to show my friend around the ranch, I found myself becoming an a spectator, a witness to the life I was living. With my camera to my eye I noticed how the sky formed gorgeous silhouettes, how my father’s hands folded on the saddle horn while he counted the cattle, how my sister rides horse like she lives life…on a mission.

With the idea of passing on the story, I listened a little closer at how words rolled of tongues, paid attention to the heat of the sun, the bite of the wind, the way the snow crunched under our feet…

Yesterday a new friend exclaimed that one of the three things we have control of in our lives is our time. And I know sometimes it doesn’t feel this way, sometimes it feels time has a grip on us, it passes us by, it moves too quickly when we want it to stay and drags on the minutes while we wait to move on. But if we could give ourselves one gift this new year I think it would be this: to exist and move through our lives conscious of how we are spending our minutes, aware that they are with or without purpose. And then we should give ourselves a little bit more of it so that we might observe the moon as it rises big and bright over the horizon, kiss our husbands a little longer, let ourselves lie down in the spring grass, feel the warm sun and watch the clouds move with the wind, hold our children a little tighter and linger there to smell their clean hair, to feel their soft skin under our fingers so we can remember it well, that we can get to know it all… so that we might have it in us when we need it most.

So of all of the lessons learned this year, all of the things I’ve come to know and appreciate, one of my greatest gifts has been having your ear to listen, your eyes to see what I see, your words that relate to the chaos of life here in this space we share, to tell you these things and know that someone cares. Because the stories are there, boring or humorous, observational, poetic…everyone has them. But without you I may have never  told them…

And because of you I now know they are enough.

Happy New Year to you and all of those in your story!