A spectator in a familiar world


Prairie sunsets make me a spectator in a familiar world

The sunsets on this prairie are nothing short of a gift.

After a long day working under the hot summer sun, or inside the walls of buildings that make us feel small, we understand that if we look up towards the heavens to catch the sun sneaking away, we may be rewarded with a splash of spectacular color.

I’ve seen sunsets in other parts of the world — across the vast oceans, peeking over the mountaintops and at the edge of rolling corn fields, but there is something about the way the sun says goodbye along the outskirts of my own world, against the familiar buttes and grain bins and horses on the horizon that puts me at ease and thrills me at the same time.

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I have theories about things like hail storms and tornadoes and blinding blizzards, that they’re a way of slowing us down, reminding us to surrender to an earth that spins no matter what our plans are for crops or hair-dos or making it to our Christmas party on time.

The storms are unpredictable, but the sun is always there. And it will always set and rise again.

Prairie Sunset

And sometimes as we put the burgers on the grill, close the gates for the cattle or roll the lawn mower in the shed might find ourselves bathed in yellow, gold, purple, orange, pink and blue and hues we’ll never find in our crayon box.

We might look above the oak groves or down to the end of the pink road and we find that sun bouncing against the clouds that roll over the prairie and buttes that we know so well, and if we let ourselves, we might think we’re lucky to have caught that fleeting, beautiful moment, one that is there for us, for anyone who has the notion to look to the horizon.

I tilt my head up and run to find the nearest hill so that I can watch how this landscape looks under the different shades of light.

Under these prairie sunsets I am a spectator on the familiar ground of home.

A tourist with my mouth agape in wonder.

And thankful for a world that’s round and a sky that’s so vast and forgiving.

Badlands Sunset

The difference between us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So he did.

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

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

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

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

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

So Husband made that horse go faster. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Silhouette or not, you are who you are.

And I am not a sexy silhouette.

A prayer for wild women…

To be content at the end of the day. As the sun goes down and the world goes dark, to know that it was yours for the taking, and so you took.

This is my prayer for you and wild women everywhere.

To know you’ve tamed some wild things, and let the others run free. To have ridden hard and fallen harder.

To have found your way back to your feet.

This I hope for you.

To have loved a good man, a good horse and a good dog, but not necessarily in that order.

To have been loved. I know you have been loved.

To have mud on your boots, on your face and under your fingernails and still call it a good day. To know the smell of a well-worked horse and call it sweet. To stand in the rain because it’s raining.

To find a soft place to land, wild women, I pray for a soft place to land.

To climb a hill to be closer to the moon.

To do it yourself because you can do it better.

To work. To work. To work. And to love it as much as you can possibly love it.

Wild woman.

Wild, wild women.

This is our prayer.

I will leave the light on…

To come down from the buttes after staying out a little too far past sundown only to see the lights of the barnyard illuminating the grass and the kitchen of the house glowing warmly through the windows, waiting for my return…

it means more to me than I can describe here.

I imagine the same sight greeting my grandparents, my aunt and uncle and my father. I imagine them feeling the same deep breath, the same overwhelming calm as they drove in from the fields, rode up to unsaddle a horse or strip off the layers from a hunt in the hills in the still of a late summer or autumn evening.

I imagine the smell of baked bread reaching them from the open windows or the smoke from a grilled steak waiting for them to sit down around the table, the door swinging open and the warmth of this old house whispering “this is home this is home this is home this is home…”

No matter how far you find yourself.

No matter the distance between you and these buttes.

No matter the time that has passed, the mistakes that you’ve made, the words you can’t take back, the pain you might hold onto, the life you might have found down the road or the love you might have lost here…

No matter.

Don’t worry.

This is home…

And I will leave the light on.

Bravo to the magic hour…

It’s been pretty scorching hot around the ranch these days, and I’ll tell you it’s not because of the sexy outfits I’ve been wearing to stay cool.

No, that’s not it at all. It’s just typical late July/early August for you. But you have to appreciate a place on the map where in the matter of six months you can experience a 130 degree weather shift.




I will be remembering this past weekend of 90+ temperatures when I am in my seven layers topped off with a hooded down parka that reaches my ankles.

Oh yes, I will remember.

But this morning as the thermometer stretches toward 80 degrees and it is only 8 am, I am remembering 30 below…and thinking no matter what, I like summer better. Hands down.

Because after a long, hot day where we’ve watched the sun emerge from the horizon and make its merry little way across the sky, beating down on our lawns and flower beds, sweating up our skin as we stand there, coaxing the flies to buzz around our ears and the corn in the east to stretch its arms a little higher, we sigh and sip our iced tea knowing that in a few hours we may be awarded a sweet reprieve. A breath. A sigh. A little cool-off before we hastily throw some burgers on the grill at dark and crawl under the sheets.

I call it the magic hour.

Others call it evening. Sunset. Dusk. Twilight. It’s that fleeting time where the sun moves slowly toward the west side of the world, promising soon to sink below the horizon, but not before it casts long shadows, turns the hilltops to gold, calls out the dragonflies, kisses the coulees with cool air, and fills our nostrils with the scents of crisp clover, wildflowers and grasses.

It’s the perfect time to grab your horse and head for the hills. Because if it was a windy day, the witching hour calms the breeze. If it was a hot and muggy day you might find yourself some cloud cover at the cusp of an oncoming thunder storm. If it was a sunny, 80+ day and you are out during the perfect time, you will literally feel the temperature dropping around you and your skin cool down as you ride or walk in and out of the draws and up the hill to catch the sunset.

We wait for it here, the magical hour, as we wipe our brow, salty and glistening from a day of work or play. But it’s all about timing, and we have turned it into a science.
See, if you jump the gun too early in the day, you will be saddling your horse in the intense sun of the late afternoon. The flies will still be nasty, you will be sweating profusely, your horse will be stomping at the pests and heat and you might get a little cranky riding toward that sunset waiting for the orange ball in the sky to move along already.
If you head out to the barnyard too late you will be rushing things trying to race the dark. And by the time you get on and move out you will have missed the the moments where the sun highlights the black backs of the cows on the side hill, the air shifts and cools your skin, the sun changes from yellow to pink and the deer might be moving and emerging from the thick trees. And your ride will be cut short, because once that sun touches the last hill your eye can see, it gets dark fast.
So you can see why it’s a craft can’t you?  You can see why we watch the sky, take notice of our skin and the shadows and when the sun is in the just the right spot, more west than middle, more down than up, more moderate than hot, we pull on our longer sleeves, head to the tack room to grab a bucket of grain and saddle up.
We climb on and head out along the edges of the oak groves and stay in their shadows while the sun moves a little closer to the edge of our world.

And when we’re cooled down we climb up to the nearest hill to see if we can catch a deer as it moves out of the trees to graze among the clover, to watch the dragonflies dart and dive, to catch the moment when the landscape turns from a painting with all the right highlights to a mysterious shadow with a strip of orange hovering above it.
And before that sun greets the other side of the world completely, we turn and head back home, cooled off, satisfied, decompressed, a little tired, a little hungry, a little more alive…
Because it turns out there are others who are waiting in the shadows for the cool down, for the sun drop, for the magic hour…
for the dragon flies…

And we don’t want to miss their show…

Bravo summer.
Bravo sky.
Bravo my crazy cats.
Bravo, bravo, bravo magnificent world.