“I’m sorry, honey,” I said, repentant.
I was leading a horse down to the barn from the driver’s side window of our nice truck. Because it already had the carseats in it, and our barn is too far away to leave the babies, and I couldn’t carry one and lead the horse while watching out for the other. “I’ll just take the truck,” said I to myself, “Problem solved!”…I thought. Our truck door now sported a two-foot wide dent, but the impact was accidental and it’s just a dent. The horse didn’t hurt itself at all. I would’ve liked for him to say, “That’s alright babe. It happens,” but there was silence on the other end of the phone. Yikes.
It’s the general practice, from what I understand, that men buy their wives a dozen roses to say they are sorry. But what should a cowgirl do? I’m not sure if other women ever have to apologize to their husbands as much as I do. Most times, it goes like this:
“Ah! who tracked mud on the clean floor?”
Sheepishly, I admit it was me. “Sorry, I’ll clean it up.”
On my own clean floor! I probably had to run inside (leaving two toddlers under three in the yard) to grab any one the items I forgot:
“Tassie” the pacifier (s)
Toothepaste the stick horse
or glasses…my own glasses.
“Who got hay all over the carpet here?”
Me again. I went to the barn with my pants rolled up and didn’t know they had collected those tiny alfalfa leaves; didn’t know my pants had come unrolled while I bent down to talk to my little one about picking up after herself; didn’t know I had left a trail of hay dust in the hall…on my own freshly vacuumed carpet.
The inquisitor is my dear husband, who keeps things tidy, takes his boots off at the door, rinses his plate after dinner, and uses the laundry basket-all without being told. So when something happens that was not my fault, the great likelihood that it could have been sort of stacks the odds against me.
Other ranch wives that I know have all said they count their husband as ‘one of the kids’ because, like them, he will track mud in or invite the dog to come sleep by his chair, or let the dog rinse his plate. They lightheartedly fuss about how he must have been ‘raised in a barn’. My response is a nervous chuckle and an indiscriminate nod. Oh, I understand alright. Much more than they know! One day on our outfit would reveal the truth. I pretty much was raised in a barn-by choice, of course. My mother wanted to raise a lady, but from the time I could walk, I wanted to be outside and if I had to be indoors, then dogs, ponies, rabbits, kittens, and all the dogie lambs, goats, and calves were invited in. My poor mother. She just gave up. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em… and that’s what she did.
When my happily ever after began, no one could’ve told me all the apologies that were in store for me. My husband was (and is) a gentleman who by now has had enough practice parenting (with me!) to be fairly competent with the kids, more so than most, I’d say.
I have learned that explaining too much when apologizing is a bad idea. A dozen red roses though? No. Cowboys don’t really do roses. I just don’t see my husband sniffing flowers and suddenly forgiving my careless mistakes.
But…my mom’s Cherry Coconut Dessert sometimes works like roses. If not, then Peppermint Brownies and Ice Cream will. Or a plain ol’ Chocolate Cake. With a kiss or two, of course. In extreme cases (like the horses denting the truck…on two different occasions), a nice shoulder massage with Young Living Essential Oils will relieve lots of tension. Literally.
God bless the good men in our lives who show us godly patience and grace. Or who learn how to show it because of us.
You’re welcome, honey.
Mom’s Cherry Coconut Dessert
2 cans cherry pie filling (Not plain water-packed cherries. The ridiculously sweet kind.)
1 box yellow or white cake mix
2 sticks of melted butter
2 tablespoons water
Heat your oven to 350 and spray a regular cake pan. You will then layer the ingredients in the above order in the bottom of your pan. Yep, just spread the dry cake mix right over the cherries. I make it heavy on the pecans and light on the coconut, or leave the coconut off entirely. It won’t hurt anything. When you pour the butter over the cake mix, do it slow and don’t miss a spot. The water is for the corners and edges, just to add a little moisture should it become too dry. (If your offense is truly criminal, sprinkle some sugar over those buttered pecans!)
Place it in the oven for around 28-30 minutes, until the coconut looks toasty and the top is that famous golden-brown. Serve it warm.
Note: This dessert was originally my grandmother’s, and it has been served at more brandings and shippings than can be counted. It’s a family go-to, favored by all because it’s easy and delicious. Only those who count calories won’t like it.
Your favorite brownie recipe
4-6 drops of Young Living Peppermint Vitality essential oil
Simple: just add the essential oil to the batter, bake, and you’ll end up with gooey, chocolatey, minty goodness. This is better than peppermint flavoring because the essential oil has amazing benefits and no chemicals, dyes, or sweeteners, etc.
Young Living Panaway Blend might be Cody’s favorite for a ‘massage’, but he likes Stressaway, too. I call it a massage. Really though, it’s just a neck and shoulder rub during which I try very hard not to talk too much. Mix 4-6 drops of Panaway or Stressaway (or even just Lavender by itself) with a couple tablespoons of pure olive or coconut oil. Pour some in the palm of your hand and rub it on the neck and shoulder area and commence to ‘massage’ both your troubles away.
I use essential oils daily for many, many things. If you’re curious about why, there’s a page here on the blog that explains my journey. You can find it by clicking on the “Essential Oils” button on the menu at the top of this page. My Facebook page, “This Instead: Life with Young Living Essential Oils” (search @makingahand), also has more information.
Up Next: Chapter 2 of Chisum’s story coming soon!
We all find ourselves somewhere between two narratives: one that values all things by their usefulness to man, and one that values all things by their usefulness to God.
I have waited for years to tell this story. I’ll let you decide which narrative fits it best.
Not all ranches can afford to raise their own horses, and most don’t use mares for ranch work. Whenever a filly is born out of carefully selected stock, it’s a disappointment. Fillies are typically sold before they reach riding age, with few exceptions. Today, this practice is changing, but the ‘no mares’ policy is still in place on most ranches.
The last foal born on the Carrizo Valley Ranch was a filly. The wind howled like a pack of coyotes the day she was born. She matured into a fine young horse and true to her sire’s genetics, her sorrel coat began to fade to grey. She was easy to halter break, and she had her mama’s good sense and gentle nature. The most identifiable characteristic she had since birth was a large set of ears that curved at the tips and large, bright eyes. Her name was Chisum.
One year later, we started re-modeling the corral, and were welding wire panels on the gates. The ranch had no more use for mares and the others had all gone, so Chisum lived in the corral. She was the only one left because she was mine and I, a college drop-out, still kept my horses there while I decided what to do with my life. One day during our work on the corral project, she rolled under a gate where the panel wasn’t welded at the bottom, and shredded her hind leg. I found her. She hadn’t been there long but that moment is frozen in my mind. I knew her destiny had changed forever.
Horses hold my feet to the ground while at the same time, they keep my head in the clouds. I do not remember a day in my life when horses didn’t occupy my thoughts. My plans for the last foal born on the Carrizo Valley Ranch were to rodeo again on a horse I had trained myself. I couldn’t go and buy a competition horse, but I could ‘start from scratch’. Didn’t bother me that the foal was a filly. And even if she didn’t make a performance horse, I still planned to use her on the ranch. I had learned from my mom that people who don’t ride mares miss out on half the good horses in the world; if you treat mares like geldings they generally act just like them: even-tempered, willing and honest. But my plans ran into reality at this point and that began to change things.
Chisum was classified as ‘grade’. She was an American Quarter Horse but couldn’t be registered, and because of that, I could never prove what I knew about her breeding. Why does this matter, you ask? In specialized equine sports, the pedigree determines up to half (if not more) of the dollar value of the animal. No pedigree, no dollars. In the past, people might have valued a horse on looks and/or ability alone, but today, in the western horse world, it doesn’t work that way. No one intentionally uses grade horses for breeding. If Chisum didn’t make a nice riding horse, she would be worthless. Now, with a mangled hind leg, standing in the hay barn bleeding, her value was sinking and her future looked dim.
I did what I could for her, although it looked bad enough to consider putting her down. She couldn’t walk on it at all, the tendons were obviously badly damaged. A friend of ours who was trained as a vet tech came over and sewed her leg back together. She let us do everything we needed to do without sedation.That says a lot about her willingness and trust, even then.
I prayed for her. I kept her in the corral and changed the bandage every day for months. She healed well, but the scar would always be big and ugly. I didn’t mind. I was grateful just to have her. She seemed grateful, too. When I came to the barn every day, she nickered softly to me whether it was feed time or not. Slowly, the limp started to disappear, but the real test of soundness would be when I started riding her as a two year old.
I made a choice then. A foolish choice. A rookie judgement. A decision based more on faith than the facts in front of me. I gave my heart to a horse, I attached all kinds of folly and empty hopes to the chance she might be sound. Keeping her and feeding her was a risk. She might never ‘pay for herself’, and the voice of reason whispered that she must. So I prayed for her, I hoped she would be sound, and I trusted that the bottom line would take care of itself. My own budget problems would have been easily solved had I not gambled with ‘reality’. Instead of being ‘smart’, selling her, and waiting for the time when I could afford a nicer horse, I saw her with rose-colored glasses and hung on to her when I couldn’t really afford it.
Reality for some people is like that. It really is rose-colored and glorious and full of promise; the odds are never too great, the risk always worth taking. And for others, reality is a bottom line. It’s sacrifice and survival, triumph with grit; it’s being smart and dismissing all the folly, faith, wishing and dreaming and seeing things in black and white. The difference between these two perspectives of reality is as deep as the Grand Canyon and as wide as the Atlantic. In one reality, seeing is believing and in the other, believing is seeing.
The time came to start her under saddle. This is when Chisum defied everything I knew about starting colts. I knew her bloodline had some unruliness in it, and I anticipated the challenge, but there was none. I did all the groundwork preparation that I knew to do at the time. Chisum just did it all and looked at me as if I was wasting her time. So on the second day, I thought, Heck, she’s mine and I’m just playing around. Wonder what she’ll do if I just treat her like she’s broke?
(“Broke” is a cowboy term that means a horse is solid on the basics under saddle and will primarily obey the rider and not it’s own instincts. A ‘broke’ horse is submissive and willing, and reacts with maturity to any situation.)
I caught her, hobbled her at the door, and brushed her off. She stood there and never even twitched. I threw the saddle on her and slowly tightened the cinch, all the while thinking she would blow up. I took off the hobbles and asked her to take a step, ready to get out of the way when she realized there was a saddle strapped to her back. But she didn’t do anything but look back and smell the stirrup. Two days later, I was riding her outside the corral and Bek, only a puppy, was jumping up on the saddle with me.
Never would I start a horse this way; not before or since, and to admit that I skipped so many steps with this filly is a little embarrassing. But I had prayed for her so much, and she trusted me. Not only that, but she never once limped on that leg. I felt sure this miracle was a down-payment on all the success ahead for the little filly and me.
Then my life began to take some sort of shape, a shape that didn’t have room for a two year old filly. I could only keep one horse, and I had another horse I couldn’t let go of. He was the first one I had ever started, and had been my pal through the roughest days of my young life. He and I were so grown together that letting go of him would be like cutting off my head. Besides that, he was much more useful. I was forced to choose between my someday-dreams and my right now. There were more than a few days spent struggling inside between seeing and believing, but in the end I chose to let her go.
The morning I sold my filly, I felt forced by my circumstances to choose the other reality, where everything is black and white and the bottom line dictates all decisions. It broke my heart. I hardened myself and walked away, my last glimpse of her was trotting off, tossing her long, thick mane and whinnying softly after me. I cried in secret, but I didn’t go back and change my mind. Had I done the right thing, or had I failed? Had I chosen common sense, or had I given way to doubt?
I felt God speaking to my heart in that moment that someday, my children would ride her. I would see her again. I shook that off, telling myself it was foolish to imagine God weighing in on this. Reality is black and white, and if God had that planned he would have to just make it happen. Without my help. I forced myself to forget it and never to bring it up again.
God doesn’t care about something so trivial, I doubted deep within, It was just my own imagination. But still, I hoped. Every grey mare I saw from that day on was closely scrutinized just in case it was her. I looked for the scar and studied the ears. Grey…but what sort of grey did she turn out to be? Fleabitten? All white? Steeldust? I would never know.
Unless…unless God really did speak to me the day I said goodbye to Chisum.
It pierced me with hope like an arrow, I wanted to believe that somehow, someway, Chisum might come back. I wanted to believe that God did care about something so trivial that affected me so deeply. Of course, I never dared to say it out loud. I fought it. I doubted it. But it was still there.
And this horse, along with everything else, fell somewhere between the two narratives. People have no use for a green broke filly with a big ugly scar and no proof of a reputable bloodline. But God did.
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Down the road a ways in a cowgirl’s happily ever after, when she’s hobbled close to home by love for the little cowboys and cowgirls, the happy hum of home life just wouldn’t be right without the critters. And no description of a ranch woman’s domestic routine can leave them out and be really true.
Once, when I was 14, I got myself in trouble trying to justify the presence of every animal on the ranch to a guest from the city. I proudly told her, “Every animal on the ranch has a purpose that benefits the ranch,” in a self-assured voice. She was sitting on our couch with Toby, the Dachshund.
“Well, what about him?” she asked, twirling his long, velvety ears in her fingers.
I was stumped for an answer. He certainly had no purpose beyond keeping that spot on the couch warm! I learned a lesson about boasting then, so I won’t insist that the presence of all these animals can be economically justified. They’re just being well cared for, and that’s about it.
I never really put much thought into all the critters running around. Every ranch has a few of these. I always considered the ‘important’ animals more worth mentioning-the horses we ride and the cattle that provide our living in one way or another. But now that these petty beasts represent my only daily hands-on agricultural connection, I would like to introduce mine to you.
Bek is nine years old this year. She is usually caught with her head down a hole, digging. (That’s cow dog misdemeanor #1.) Our horse trap is full of her pending projects because, like me, she gets interrupted all the time. Unlike me, though, she remembers to go back and check up on them. That’s what “Bekkie” does for work, actually (in the cow dog world, this is probably the equivalent of organized crime). Any dreams of becoming a cow dog were ended when she was bitten by a big rattlesnake about five years ago. Her recovery was not complete and whatever mental gifts she was born with were greatly diminished. She’s still smart, but it comes in spurts now. I don’t mind having a buddy like her. Bek is my friend. She makes a poor pet, she’s always smelling like something from the underworld and really doesn’t like affection on anyone’s terms but hers. Bek understands me though. I can’t count the times she was the only one who listened and really understood. She will do anything for me, even sit at the table and pretend to be human, bark in syllables when I ask her a question, sit with the stroller and keep the horses away, and though not possessed of courage for herself, she will protect me from a mad mama cow with her last breath. She and her compadre, ZZ, make sure the cats are bored by killing rats and mice around the house. And of course, her excavating skills are elevated to superpower by now, much to my husband’s chagrin.
Riley is the ‘golden child’. She’s smart, pretty, talented and funny and she has a somewhat successful (legitimate and above-board) career as a cowdog. In fact, her only flaw is that she is a workaholic. The cats don’t get ‘lazy days’ when Riley is around. I’m sure they tried to tell her they are nocturnal, and they need their rest, but it would have fallen on deaf ears. She likes to bicker with the other dogs and tries to make them feel stupid by crouching and using her ‘eye’ on them. They are sure to let her know they don’t like it. Being a Border Collie comes with a stigma. I’ve always thought that if a fella could handle a Border Collie without breaking it’s mind or spirit, he could understand women. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that, because Riley is my husbands’ best friend. She gets to go with him when I don’t, and I must admit I’ve been jealous a time or two. I reckon they both know that though, and might even enjoy seeing me get put out by something so petty. Regardless, Riley is my buddy, too, and when I need anything done, I whistle for her and not the other two. She’s the brains of this outfit for sure.
ZZ (or Zeva) is the kid’s favorite. She’s the youngest, at the ripe old age of three. She’s a little bit of an airhead at times and I say that knowing that she is very well-bred. I think there are times when she consciously decides to do stupid things just to amuse herself at my Yosemite-Sam-like reaction. She gets a kick out it. Yes, I’m quite sure she sits back and chuckles with an expression of pretentious innocence. ZZ pals around with Bek, but she is considerably brighter and more athletic. So when I see them out there in the horse trap checking their holes and then take out after something (cow dog misdemeanor #2), I know ZZ may be gone a while. I holler until my voice is gone, madder than a hornet because I can’t call her off. I’m bound to the stroller and have to give up. But ZZ doesn’t give up easily, and returns with a jackrabbit several hours later. Bek doesn’t have that kind of stamina, and will sit down and wait for ZZ to bring in the prize; then they both bring it to me as if each had an equal role in obtaining it (taking equal credit for the rabbit, but not for the disobedient act of running it down, as it were). But then, that’s ZZ’s nature. She’s fast enough to outrun me and smart enough to stay gone a long time, kind enough to humor the old dog, mean enough not to let Riley get the prize, and big-hearted enough to leave it for the cats to eat. Her exuberance sometimes gets the better of her and she knocks down toddlers like bowling pins, but she’s gentle enough to kiss them until they stop crying (or get insanely mad at her!). She’s the most kind-hearted, loyal, and fun-loving dog I’ve ever had.
Barn cats are an elite group of feral felines. And Custer is no exception. But he has lowered himself to domestication in return for that rare delicacy known as ‘cat food’. His harem has followed suit, as have all his prodigy. He got his name when he was the only surviving kitten within a 15 mile radius and the dogs ganged up on him regularly. Besides that, he’s a yellow tabby. Custer is the best ‘dog’ we have. He comes when I whistle, stays right with the kids everywhere we go, greets us warmly every day, and never barks. He just doesn’t wag his tail. He and his family are a valuable necessity for keeping snakes, mice, and packrats at bay. We need them because our yard is the only shady green spot for miles of cholla and rocks, and this attracts the slithery types.
Lilly and Nessie
Being a dwarf goat is probably the funnest job around here. All you have to do is play and eat. Lilly joined our outfit over a year ago. She’s sweet, and fat, and a big hit with toddlers. But she is also a fierce defender of the young and helpless; one whom all our dogs have learned to keep their distance from! She takes short expeditions out into the cholla to graze on weeds, but she never goes too far and always has an entourage of seven or eight guinea fowl to warn her of approaching danger. She has taught her daughter, Nessie, all of these important things. Nessie, a much sleeker version of her mama, still has a lot to learn. I’m always having to free her from fences and gates where she gets her horns stuck. She can holler like a human when she needs help, and she can run, jump, climb and land on her feet like an Olympic medalist. Most of the time.
These poor birds are only slaves. They are not loved, spoiled, or even spoken to. They are only here to lay eggs and be targets of toddler rock practice. It’s sad but true. They do live in a nice yard with comfortable nests and they never miss a meal. So I guess they don’t have it too bad. Probably the only complaint they would have is Riley. She persecutes them with her laser Border Collie “eye”. Thanks to them, however, I never have to buy eggs and we always have good breakfast burritos. A good hen is really a goldmine, if you want to see it that way.
The Guinea Birds
Guineas are ugly birds that look like grey rocks in the tall grass. They will never sneak up on anyone, nor will anyone ever sneak up on them. They’re deafening when they start their warning cry, and they have no low-volume sounds. We only have them to help us keep the snake population down. Their African origins make them tough to catch and pretty resourceful. They’re a real menace, actually, and very annoying; but I have not found a baby rattlesnake around the house or barn since they have been here, and their favorite thing to eat is ticks. They’re welcome in the yard, because I’ll put up with anything for that! My little daughter loves her guinea birds. If they hear her voice, they come from wherever they are to greet her. They like her and she likes them. She can get close enough to them to almost touch their backs and they don’t run or fly away, which I find remarkable considering when I approach them, they scatter like giant possessed quail, blasting deafening sirens.
From time to time, every home corral is blessed with the presence of a beef steer. Sometimes he gets gentle enough to be a buddy. We had a beef steer a couple of years ago. Ours was born on the neighboring ranch where they range cattle in summer country on the Capitan mountains. He didn’t come down at branding time, and by the time he did the following spring, he was no different than an elk but considerably less majestic. We purchased him for a beef, branded him and brought him home. In the time he spent in the horse corral eating as much as we could feed him, he never quite got used to humans. I was extremely careful feeding him, as he always stood in the corner with his head as high as it would stretch, snorting at me and pawing the ground. His final act was to send my husband leaping over the fence in a single bound. But oh, he sure tasted good! Beef. That’s who’s for dinner every night around here.
Shaka and Abraham
The first time I saw Shaka, my own firstborn baby was not even a month old. My husband brought the orphan calf into the garage where he set up a temporary stall on cardboard and straw, complete with a warming light. Deer-legged and fuzzy, he was the feistiest dogie (pronounced ‘doe-gee’, not ‘doggie’) calf I had ever been around. Feeding him three times a day with a newborn in the house was not easy given the snow and cold, but I was more than happy to do it. Whenever it was warmer, Shaka came and laid down at the door with the dogs. And when he got hungry, he would butt the glass and bawl. No different than the other baby I had to feed!
Then came Abraham. He was born in a deep cold snow storm and was very weak. We weren’t sure he was going to make it, he was so small it was likely he was a twin. Chilled down and shivering, he huddled under the light with Shaka to keep him warm. Their stall was in the corner of the insulated half of the garage, and just as warm as the porch would have been. I gave up my own naps, between feeding my newborn daughter and Shaka, to sit with little Abraham and try to teach him to nurse from a bottle. Nothing was working for him. It seemed we would lose him. The second night, about 3 or 4 a.m. (no telling, and anyway, I didn’t get that much sleep back then!) I went to God about the calf. I told God the odds were stacked and that I knew a calf wasn’t much in the grand scheme of things. But I asked God to save him anyway. We had done all we could for the little fella. Well, God heard my prayer. The next time I came in to feed the calves, they both drank a full bottle. And Abraham and Shaka lived in the yard until they got too big.
I love all the animals I’ve been blessed to care for. There’s a misconception about the people in this line of work, that they’re calloused and don’t care about their animals. I don’t understand how that could be. Why would we do this if we didn’t love these animals? I’ve seen grown men shed tears over horses and dogs, and children raised out here all learn to protect and love orphan calves, lambs, puppies and kittens. The cycle of life and death is always before you as you witness the births and the deaths, so that over time, you come to the wisdom of knowing the value of life. It’s very precious and often short, so love as deep as you can for as long as you can. Let each life fulfill it’s own purpose, and don’t interfere in such a way that would destroy that life or its’ purpose. And sometimes, the purpose of a life was love, from start to finish.
I’ve always said that if a person’s soul can have a landscape, mine would be like the north side of the Capitan Mountains. The shapes of the hills against the sky, I have them memorized. It’s sweeping and lonely but there’s nothing out here to distract you from the sky. The sky is the great variable in life here, it’s the determining factor in success or failure of all these family ranches and the many lives of cattle and wildlife. Not much happens on the ground in a year, but we hang on the changes of the sky. It’s those months of the year when it doesn’t change at all that worry me.
Funny that the sky is what we all seem to depend on but we can’t control it or even predict it. Even though every person out here has a weather app on their phones and watches the news just to hear the weather report, we laugh to ourselves because none of those things can tell us what we wish we knew. Is the sky going to change today?
Day after day after day of hot wind and clear skies through May, through June, and now through July has put the range in a tight spot. We’ve seen a few storms come through. But the days following a light sprinkle are dry, hot, and clear and have been too many. We have dried up.
What does that feel like? Well, it’s desperate. Like any gal, I blink longingly at pictures of landscaped yards with flowers and sod grass, with a cozy patio and a beautiful little fire or water feature. I water the yard sparingly, knowing irrigating a lawn in the middle of nowhere, growing grass that nothing is going to eat, seems somehow a waste of resources. Makes for a poor home-maker. But I can’t help it. My yard is sorta sad. I keep it alive, just hoping the sky will change. It’s dried up.
There are lot of things you let go of in desperate circumstances. Appearances are the first. What used to be a ‘scenic view’ of breath-taking majesty is now just thirsty rangeland. And the ranch life follows suit. The romance of a cowboys job shrivels to just maintaining water lines, fences, and feeding cattle. He trades his view between a horse’s ears to day after monotonous day of looking through the windshield of dusty feed truck. Waiting for the sky to change, because the land is lifeless. Dried up.
We like to think of the earth as life-giving and nurturing. But ranch life out here has taught me otherwise. It’s the sky that gives life and nurtures that life on the earth. And if it doesn’t change, everything is just dried up.
Pressing on despite the unchanging summer sky, we function on less, and less, and less. Desperation tends to fog the mind. I know. I can’t forget the feeling of the hot, dry earth or the merciless wind that always comes to lick away whatever life was trying to hang on. Cattle don’t go far from water in their pastures because there’s not much point in wandering around where there’s nothing to eat. Even chollas start to wilt and hold back their blooms, because those that dared to bloom learned the hard way. The wind stole the petals from their roses, never to be seen again. They, too, dried up.
As I write, I feel tears rising. Because this is the way it feels for the seemingly long season of new parenthood. I never anticipated the limitations I would voluntarily accept because I love the little ones. At first the sacrifices were no big deal. I could adjust. But the sky just wouldn’t change, the demands kept coming like the hot, dry wind, and I dried up. Dropping the pretense of having it all together today, I wilt. I need a little time alone. Denied. I want to gather with the crew. Denied. I want to work alongside my husband. Denied. I need to put some miles on my mare. Denied. Denied…denied…for one reason or another, these things I think I need to stay alive don’t come or can’t get to me. Like the clouds that sparkle with lightening on the eastern horizon at night, what I need is too far away to help. Not dead yet, just …dried up.
Perhaps it’s something else for you. A long dry season that came in the form of a health issue, a floundering relationship, a difficult job, a financial failure, an addiction…Maybe you feel that same desperation that forces you to live on less, and less, and less and you don’t think you can hang on another day without blowing away. Maybe you function on so little of what your soul really needs that you don’t even look alive anymore, like the pedestals of grey that are supposed to be green gramma grass plants. When we look at rangeland that has this affliction, it’s very hard to believe it can come back at all unless…unless you’ve seen it before.
The resurrection of dry rangeland begins when the sky changes one hot afternoon. Clouds will build and do nothing, one here…some there. They just look impressive as they roil and climb into the stratosphere, their dark undersides anchoring them to their shadows. Then clouds form over the mountains and it rains up there. Somehow, even though the cattle still haven’t seen green grass since October, hope returns to the people on the ranches. We know it’s coming, we just don’t know exactly when or how much.
In the month or two until autumn, it rains enough to green things up. After a good rain, the grass is lives again. You can almost hear it reaching upward with a shout of relief. Two weeks and it’s tall enough to wave in the breeze. Give it more time and it will head out and leave seed for next year. The sky changes every day, bringing out the best in the earth. Finally. The cattle trek to water as they graze, ending up there with full bellies to drink deep and lay down and rest.
I didn’t write this to subliminally blame God for making us suffer while we wait for Him to come through. I’ll let you in on a secret that I have found. When I’m wholehearted in what I do, when my commitment is whole-hog-or-none to Jesus Christ, I become an oasis.
At a well in ancient Samaria, Jesus met a dried up woman. “Jesus answered her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I will give them will never thirst. Indeed the water I will give them will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4, v. 13 and 14.
Let’s not read that so fast. Let’s go over it one more time.
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I will give them will never thirst. Indeed the water I will give them will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
God doesn’t wait for you to get desperate and then come to your rescue, like the sky over the north side range. No, it’s His intention for you drink the Living Water, and to become a spring, welling up to eternal life. He intends to remain a steady, unfailing source of life for you through anything.
“Blessed is the one…whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by the springs of water, which yields it’s fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither-whatever they do prospers.” Psalm 1, v. 1,2,3
In my adventures of motherhood, as I bend and try so hard not to break when my wants and needs are denied, I am learning this secret: “I’m not saying this because I’m in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4, v. 11, 12, 13
Too often we take only v. 13 as an empowerment message from God meant to be on our terms, but the context is so important. Whether it rains on time, or not at all, we have a spring that never runs dry. And this is how we thrive enough to share life with others, and not just stay alive but grow, too. He’s the secret.
It is Himself that gives you that can-do attitude in the face of anything. Never again will you have to look at your soul’s landscape and lament that the sky isn’t changing. If you have Him, you won’t be living on less, and less, and less but more, and more, and more. This is what I have found in Jesus-abundance of life despite the limitations of the season I’m in. I never have to live another day dried up.
“Mornin’,” the rancher mumbles to her as he rolls out of bed. She blinks, takes a deep breath, and leaves her pillow, knowing as she makes the bed that she won’t be back.
She flips on the kitchen light to shake off the early morning dark. He’s already outside, she can see the barn light is on. He’s catching horses and pouring out feed. The sun won’t reach through that window for another hour and a half, but by that time, if she doesn’t have breakfast ready for the crew the whole day will be thrown off rhythm. Eggs. Sausage. Tortillas. Tin foil. Somewhere between these things, the smell of coffee starts to wake up the other occupants of the house. One of the her little ones is up.
When the crew shows up to eat, they come in her house and don’t take their boots off. Without saying much of anything, they line up with plates in hand. She has set the day in motion.
“Orange juice or more coffee guys?” she asks, sleepy kiddo on her hip. The little cowgirl is barely awake and too shy to speak to the men gathered around the table, but she’s up and dressed because she wouldn’t miss it. It is 5:30 a.m. after all.
“Thanks, this salsa is sure good,” one of the men might say. She lets the complement roll off her back while she gathers plates. Out the kitchen window she sees tail lights and a cloud of dust in the first morning light. The baby will wake up any minute now.
Her routine is the same as usual for a little while. Chickens, the other horses and the dogie calf get fed. She scrapes off any breakfast leftovers for the cats and waters and feeds the dogs. If she has time, she’ll tend to the laundry so she’ll have that done. But by 8:00 a.m. she starts lunch. And this is where she shines. It’s the one job on this ranch she knows she can do and do well. She puts her hands to it and hums along in the kitchen because she knows they’ll all love this potato salad. And the brisket she cooked last night…and the pie…He could call anytime in the next three hours, so it will be smart to have things ready. Sure enough, the phone rings at 10:45 a.m.
“Hey, we just finished the second bunch so you might want to head this way,” his words are casual but she can read the way the morning went in his voice.
“Ok,” she says. He knows he asks a lot of her. And she knows he is depending on her.
Loading up the chuck wagon is a logistical feat in itself. She has her paper goods, napkins and more coffee in a box and has packed a couple coolers, one with hot food and one with the ice and tea. Then the kids. She throws her hair back under a ball cap and asks herself if she forgot anything. On her way out the door she grabs her camera.
Halfway to the corral where they’re branding, he calls and asks her to go back for one more bottle of vaccine from the barn refrigerator. On her way back he calls and asks her to stop and turn a valve on. But she makes it to the corral as they are finishing the last bunch. The kids are glued to their daddy from this point on. He sets the youngest up on the back of the branding rig to watch and lets their daughter help him vaccinate.
But the woman who cooked breakfast perches on the fence, carefully choosing the right spot. Not for camera angle, but to stay out of the way. She could spend a lifetime out here and still not understand their ‘rules’. After seven or eight years, though, she has at least gotten down how to stay out the way. It was a foreign world she has always been happy to come to when he needs her, but fitting in here would take an act of God. She learned that the first time she tried to join the crew horseback before the kids were born. The man she loved turned into someone else, his voice barking sharp orders she didn’t understand. He had been reluctant to bring her along and she couldn’t understand that until then. After all, what’s so hard about riding a horse? But once she got out there with him, she figured out that he was right. She didn’t belong out there. Memories of that day have done more to make her content with her role than anything else, besides being good at her own job here.
But the kids? Its a different story. Even the littlest seemed to understand how to stay out the way before he could even talk. And their daughter only thinks of going with her daddy. Days like today-blowing wind and dust and sun- are her favorite. He brought her a horse and she’ll stay with the crew after lunch, to finish branding and put cows back and do whatever else it is that they do. She begs him to teach her how to rope, she begs to ride, begs to work the chute…and her daddy almost never says no. He patiently teaches her enough to keep her safe and lets her try things like sorting cattle on her horse, following him, and when she gets in the way, he corrects her with a hand motion or a simple word. Maybe if he had done that with me, I would be more help, she thinks. But no. She really wouldn’t want to have to stay out there in the wind all day. And, she likes her job. Besides that, if she didn’t do her part, it would put more on his shoulders that already carry enough.
Lunch is served on the tailgate of the ranch pickup, on top of a tablecloth she brought. Things are held down with rocks to keep from blowing away, and the crew sits in the shade of their stock trailers, on the ground, telling stories and stuffing their faces. She is showered with adoring complements of how great her food is, and it makes her smile. She whips out her camera as they all get horseback and gets a few good shots for Facebook. Then she packs it up, that is, what’s left, and heads home with a crying kid. He doesn’t understand why he can’t stay with sis and daddy and the cowboys. But by the time they get home, he’s asleep. She cleans up her kitchen, tends to her dishes, and heads out to do her other chores for the rest of the day. She has everything ready for tomorrow, when she will do it again, and again…for the next three days. She’ll have to go to town at some point for more supplies, as next week they’ll finish branding on Tuesday and Wednesday. If the weather is good. Without realizing it, all his concerns are hers now, too. There was a time when changes in the weather meant nothing more to her than a wardrobe adjustment. Now she’s like him, always checking it and worrying about whether or not it will rain.
After writing this I realized I have no idea what I’m talking about. This is the ranch wife life, and I’m living it, too. But to put it in perspective for you, I am the granddaughter of the little girl in this story. I’m the third generation of women who stayed in the corral with daddy instead of helping mama clean up after cooking for the crew. I have had to make some serious adjustments from loading a horse in the morning to loading up babies instead. But now that I have lived on both sides of this fence, I can tell you that these women are truly the most valuable asset a ranch can have. They can cook great, keep a house and garden and raise kids, make their man happy sometimes with an additional income, and look pretty doing it. They may not know it, but the sight of them pulling up with lunch makes everybody’s day, especially his. They are the unsung heroines of the sometimes epic days of working cattle. While the most remembered thing may be somebody’s near wreck or super loop, no one forgets the food and the kindness that it was made with.
I gave my heart to becoming a good hand with horses before I remember anything else about life, but now, I kinda wish I was more like them. The ranch wives. They are the real top hands, you couldn’t throw just any gal into their position.
Hats off to the Ranch House Rose. She’s special, and the place wouldn’t run without her.
I would like to thank the women in my life whose stories I have borrowed from to write this post. Shirley Goodloe, Mary Lou Edwards, Connie Goodloe, Beth Sisk, Toy Long, Kit Hall, Jani Day, Dot Vaughn, Sherry Haught, Stacy Turney, Brianna Gibson, Ruth Wold, MaKayla Eldridge, Kyla Bannon, Amber Eldridge…and others of you who are the top hands on your outfit. You’re all special to us.
“…and He said to them,
“If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
from Mark 9:35
One of our wedding gifts was a treasured antique cast iron frying pan. It’s a big one, a full 11 inches, perfectly ‘seasoned’ as the cast iron gurus call it, and over 100 years old. It came with lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ and some bragging about it’s value. I loved it instantly and regard it to this day as one of my few most treasured possessions.
As of almost five years ago, I had probably cooked a total of 20 meals in my entire life. I mean, meals that weren’t canned soup or frozen pizza. Don’t get me wrong, I loved to eat healthy food, I just didn’t ever learn how to cook it. Learning to start colts seemed so much more important of a skill. Once, in Junior high, my mama determined to teach me to cook by putting me in a cooking school. If only I had paid attention! The only reason I made it through the class was because my little sister did it with me. Once again I repeat the adage, “Mama tried.”
When I met Cody I owned a set of dishes (I used the cereal bowls), a muffin tin (go figure!), waaay too many coffee mugs, one never-been-used cast iron skillet that I ended up with somehow in my wanderings, and a brand-new Pioneer Woman cook book (my Dad’s gift when my husband and I got engaged. It was a silent but very strong hint that I didn’t get until after the vows were said! It’s falling apart now due to over-use…).
When I started using that ol’ frying pan, I would wonder at the stories it could tell. A hundred years’ worth of food. Perhaps that old skillet was used by a ranch wife whose culinary skills were just as seasoned. Or,maybe it was only a tool used by some bitter old camp cook somewhere out there under the open sky. It might even have been a weapon of self-defense a time or two! You never know. As a bride trying her hand at cooking for her new hubby, these thoughts rushed in to give me a sense of gravitas about my new role.
I falsely believed the skillet would somehow magically make me a good cook.
I’ve burned more stuff in that skillet than you can imagine. Stuff the dogs wouldn’t even lick off. Despite my failures in that realm, the skillet is still as magnificent as it ever was. Magnificent, but not magic.
I wondered after a while why anyone would even use cast iron anymore, unless they just like old things. I mean, if it wasn’t the secret to making every meal the best anyone has ever tasted, why put up with having to ‘season’ it every time you use it? I can just throw the non-stick specials in the dishwasher, for crying out loud! All this effort and no instant results seemed a burden. But over time, the ol’ frying pan began to teach me the lessons it had learned.
The cast iron frying pan that sits on my stove is older, probably, than my great-grandparents would be today, and unless I mess up royally somehow, it could outlive us and possibly even our great-grandchildren. The lesson is that quick fixes and convenience cannot deliver what time-tested patience and diligence can. I’m the mama of two kiddos under three, and I’m always rushing around. Slowing down to maintain that ol’ frying pan has forced me to care about my task, even though it is often a dull one. That’s a good clue about how to make a hand in the kitchen, folks. And in marriage, too. There’s no instant, easy way to fix the issues in a marriage. It’s that daily maintenance again that will help it stand the test of time.
Thankfully, my cooking failures have never diminished the value of that ol’ frying pan. It’s still the treasure that it always was and still as useful as the day it was poured, if not more. So if marriage and skillets have anything in common, it’s the fact that they will always work once you’ve learned how to use them. As long as you care about it, it will serve you well.
Here’s hoping your marriage legacy outlives your cast iron skillet!
In my almost-five-years of cooking, I have learned how not to care for cast iron, so I’ll pass on what I know.
1.) Never leave water sitting in your cast iron skillet. Rust is unappealing.
2.) Soap is counterproductive. If you thought you needed it to help dissolve stuck-on scrambled eggs, just wait until the next time you use your skillet. Then you’ll know what ‘stuck-on’ really means.
3.) Being in too big of a hurry to season the skillet before you put it away means you better have plenty of extra time when you want to use it again. It’s a tortoise vs. hare kind of a deal.
This is how I learned to take care of my wonderful ol’ skillet:
(The same way my mama does it. Funny thing, this turns out to be something else she was right about.)
Maybe you’re wondering what the term ‘seasoned’ means. Well, next time you’re in Wal-Mart and you walk by the cooking section, have a look at a plain cast iron skillet. The tag will likely say, “pre-seasoned” but I would ask, ‘compared to what?’ The surface of it will look like asphalt. A well-seasoned cast iron cooking tool will appear mirror-shiny and feel smooth as glass. Factories can’t season skillets anymore than dishwashers can wash dishes (let’s be real about this y’all!).
Antique skillets are usually found wherever people aren’t looking for them. And if you find one that no one was looking for and it has the name ‘Griswold’ or ‘Wagner’ on it, you should probably buy it. In doing a little research trying to find out where mine came from, I found out anything that says ‘made in the USA’ is not an antique because it would have been cast after 1960. But I say if it’s not cracked and its seasoned well, there’s nothing wrong with it!
The difference between the antiques and the modern ones is easily felt. The old ones are lighter, thinner, and stronger. They were hand-poured into a sand mold and polished smooth so they would season and cook better.
For those of you who are interested, keep an eye out for future posts about some chuck wagon cooking tips from my mama and a dutch oven recipe or two from my grandmother. It’s a fact of life that a cowgirl must cook, regardless of how much better a hand she is with rope and horse. The women who have gone before me have learned a thing or two more than I have about this; they’re worth sitting up and paying attention to when it comes to cooking. (I know, I grew up on their food!)
Cowboy terminology defies modern usage of the English language. We use words in ways that someone from the outside just cannot understand. Cowboys don’t like to be laughed at, but the fact is that to anyone who doesn’t know what our words mean, the way we use them is actually funny. But the concept of ‘making a hand’ I hope can translate. Let me give it try.
I have been told countless times in my life to ‘make a hand’. It’s something adults in the cowboy world tell youngsters as much and as often as most other kids are told to “Sit up straight.” When used to admonish, it means something like: “Do your part. Don’t be lazy. Hustle. Quit jackin’ around. Don’t think about how tired you feel, finish your job.” But we all live to hear this phrase applied as praise from the chapped lips of rough-handed man who has become, in our eyes, the definition of the term “hand”.
“Try to make a hand gal,” he might say as you ride by him, patting your knee. And you swell with euphoric triumph that he spoke to you, blended with the terror of failure; and you try to stay focused on your work.
When the word ‘hand’ is used to describe someone, say, if you ever hear a person described as ‘a real hand’, it’s the highest complement in the cowboy culture. And it is rarely given to a woman. Very rarely. Furthermore, the complement is meaningless when it comes from someone who hasn’t earned the right to be called a hand themselves. This is because of all that is implied by the word: authentic, supremely skillful, tough, faithful,ever-ready, always putting your whole self into your work; it’s an ethic, and it’s part of our code.
I admit it’s pretty funny, really, to use the word ‘hand’. There are some other really funny words we use, like “sticky”, “fresh”, and “punchy”…I won’t go into all that just now. If you think of it in light of the common term ‘handy’, the real meaning will start to dawn on you.
For me, I would hope someone could write this on my tombstone. But I know that won’t happen. There have been some real stand-out days that somebody might say I made a hand, but truly I have never been able to surpass average performance at any of the cowboy’s celebrated skills. These days, though, I am finding this ethic applies to a person even outside the cowboy skill set. That’s what I want to tell you about here. You see, I am trying to make a hand at being a cowboys wife and the mama of a couple of youngsters. You’ll find this amusing as we go along, seeing as how I am as familiar with domestic duties and culinary arts as a gopher would be with skydiving. I’m here to show you (and myself!) that all it takes to really make a hand is heart. The only one who is really qualified to give you that title is God.
Were we to translate Jesus’ parable into ‘cowboy-ese’, where the Master says, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter into my rest,” it would be paraphrased, “Way to make a hand, kid.”
And I live to hear my Father say that to me one day.