Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Pictures of life out here

Coach and I spent some time together on Thanksgiving and then loaded up and headed to Limon to meet his family...I think they like me, I'm happy to report. Nonetheless, Coach and I jumped in the truck and drove to the family farm south of Limon. Coach knows that I needed some additional photos for my upcoming gallery show at Morgan Community College (It has been extended! The exhibit will run from Jan. 10 through the end of February.) and have not been properly inspired as of late.

While at the Farm Bureau meeting a few weeks ago, we heard photographer Paul Mobley speak about his book, "American Farmer" and I truly found some inspiration and motivation following listening to and meeting him. Coach and I have an autographed copy of the book as well. It's a good one!

At any rate, Coach, my son, Coach's younger sister and I drove around the dirt roads surrounding the farm and little sister and I both had the opportunity to take some photos.

A few photos that will likely hang at Morgan Community College and one of Coach that I like. He was fixing fence and talking on the cell phone. My man has skills, what can I say?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Cow Tax or Bessie's New Sticker

Ah, the Environmental Protection Agency. I do enjoy those guys. They make me smile...a little like "No Child Left Behind" makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

There's been much discussion as of late regarding the proposed "Cow Tax," a proposed tax on entities with the potential to emit more than 100 tons per year of a regulated pollutant. Said emitters, if you will, would be required to obtain a permit in order to continue to operate. For about 90 percent of beef producers and 99 percent of dairy producers, this would add up to about $90 per head of beef or $175 per dairy cow.

Now, growing up in Colorado, I have come to appreciate clean air as much as the next guy and I do believe the EPA to have its place. However, emission stickers for cows are not only impractical but a real sore subject for any self-respecting bovine.

Greenhouse gas regulation would not only affect cattle producers but also farmers as crop production emits nitrous oxide, methane and carbon. Farms with as little as 35 acres of rice, 250 acres of soybeans and 500 acres of corn would be slapped with the requirement to obtain Clean Air Act permits. Now, crop production is more Coach's specialty than mine but this is going to hit farmers and ranchers in the pocketbook and send them reaching for their Excedrin.

Farming and ranching are tough enough without added headache and increased fuel, fertilizer and energy costs due to increased regulatory actions. Besides, where exactly would one place a sticker on a cow, anyway?

Monday, November 24, 2008


Writing has opened a number of doors for me and it is right at the top of the list of things I do daily (right next to wearing sparkles and using hairspray). In the course of a day I write this blog, assignments, detentions (not as much fun as one might hope and anticipate), short stories, grocery lists, text messages (OMG, BFF!!), and 4-H livestock judging team updates.
As I earlier mentioned, Coach and I spent the weekend at the Colorado Farm Bureau Annual Meeting. We attended the policy meetings and heard discussions about all issues pertinent to Colorado producers from border to border.
One issue came to the table for discussion regarding government regulation of potentially unhealthy foods, more specifically the government banning of McDonald’s Restaurants in poor, inner city neighborhoods in Los Angeles.
As producers, we appreciate the benefits of a healthy diet that includes beef. We certainly don’t want regulation regarding what foods people have access to and potentially damaging advertising campaigns. Now, I realize that if one were to eat at such an eating joint with abandon it would make for an unhealthy diet. However, I don’t want to see this regulation become a bigger, uglier blanket ban or regulatory action on foods raised on U.S. soil.
Long story short, Colorado Farm Bureau does not support regulation on foods and a sub committee was formed to write the policy for the review of the members. While I wasn’t directly on the committee, I did have opportunity to scribble down some ideas to take to the committee. In the end, the wording was defeated but I was gifted with one more opportunity to see just how powerful words are.
As young people in agriculture, we are blessed with new and exciting ways to give power to our stories and to get them to the people who need to hear them. There’s power in these stories, there’s power in these words. We’re outstanding in our fields and the power is ours.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

My hot date

So, I've been on a hot date or two here recently. You read that correctly, h-o-t-d-a-t-e.

I'm currently still on that date with the dated, we'll call him Coach. Coach, a Lincoln County Farm Bureau member, and I have been in Denver since Friday morning at the Colorado Farm Bureau Annual Meeting. I know this may not seem like a hot date but any time two people can get together and discuss agriculture's a date in my book. Plus, my son isn't with us, making it a date.

We were able to hear photographer Paul Mobley speak about his book American Farmer, a coffee table book containing photos and stories about the farmers and ranchers who feed us everyday. We have also spent hours listening to Delegate Sessions about Farm Bureau's stance on everything from the railroad that threatens to invade my fellow Lincoln County members' worlds to the omnipresent water debate, running especially hot right now in Weld County.

Chris Chinn, a stellar individual and hog farmer from Missouri, spoke to the Women's Luncheon attendees about educating folks about the realities of farming and ranching and the treatment of both beast and our planet.

We also sat in the Young Farmers and Ranchers Discussion Meets about the array of topics that are on the tips of the tongues of Farm Bureau members in Colorado and nationally. As a young member of Farm Bureau, I find myself in elite company with a group of young, dynamic, dedicated and bright producers from around the state.

As I prepare to leave the metro for the plains, I'm doing so with a readiness to serve agriculture, that which has served me so well. I'm leaving with a renewed passion. A blessed group are we.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

New Hometown- Installment 7

Travis had never liked to fly and he was thinking about this dislike when he and three other steer wrestlers boarded a small, private plane in Oklahoma. After sitting on the runway for an hour, the pilot decided that the weather over the western part of the U.S. wasn’t conducive to flying and he told the boys they could try it again the next day, if they wanted to wait. Travis left the airport in a hurry, calling his girlfriend who was at the house loading the horses, preparing to leave before the roads got too slick. She was sitting in the truck when he pulled in. He threw his bag into the trailer and jumped in the passenger door of the truck.
“Things just couldn’t be easy for me, could they,” he growled and she put the truck in gear and pulled onto the highway.
Grady and Drew were chopping water out of tanks in the east pasture by 7 a.m. Grady had plowed the driveway and I headed north to town to the office of the adoption attorney. The truck slid a little on the dirt road that led to the highway.
I was stomping snow off my boots when I walked into the office and the girl at the desk was a former student of mine. I remembered that she hadn’t left the little town where she had grown up and graduated from high school. She had married her high school sweetheart and when she stood to give me a hug, I saw she was pregnant. I need to send her a gift, I thought to myself, I had sent baby gifts to a number of former students and thought that I could get her something the next time I went to Denver.
The attorney was a heavy, friendly woman who sat behind stacks of important-looking documents. She slid the papers to me to examine. Grady and I would pay for the girl’s pre-natal care and the delivery and the private adoption wouldn’t require a home visit. The adoption would be final when the baby was less than three months old. I signed the papers, signed a check and stood to leave. The baby was due at the end of March.
The roads in Oklahoma were slick and Travis had driven through the night into New Mexico and toward Nevada. They stopped to eat and walk the horses around 3 a.m. and he was tired when he crawled behind the steering wheel once again. His girlfriend lay asleep in the back seat when he pulled the truck and trailer back onto the interstate. Sometimes nothing seems to go like it should and that was Travis’ thought when the truck’s dual rear tires began to slide on a bridge. He could feel the trailer skidding toward the truck but he didn’t hear the squealing of tires or the sound as the steel and aluminum crumpled. He didn’t hear the metal guardrails crumple and he didn’t see the fear in the eyes of the horses or his girlfriend, though he thought she probably screamed. She jumped to the floorboard of the back seat of the truck as the gooseneck slammed through the back window, spraying glass and snow over her neck and back. It seemed like hours before she was able to crawl out of the truck and find her cell phone. When the State Patrol pulled up, she was sitting shivering in her jeans and a sweatshirt on the shoulder of the highway smoking a cigarette with the hand that wasn’t bloodied, the hand that wore a diamond that no longer meant anything. Behind her, there was no movement in the tangled truck and trailer. At our ranch, the phone rang but no one answered.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Prolapsed Ewe

Prolapsed Ewe
Sheep are not known to be philosophers. When they are referred to as outstanding in their field, that’s really all they are. Standing, munching and ruminating.
When I showed market lambs as a socially awkward youth, it was cool to squat as close to the ground as possible in the showring while holding the lamb’s chin in the air. He looked regal and the showman looked like they were channeling a confused ostrich, hiding behind the lamb.
I raised breeding ewes and market lambs and I had a ewe lamb that I planned to keep as a breeding ewe. In the showring, it was necessary to brace the market lambs with one’s knee, slightly lifting their front legs off the ground to give the judge an impressive handful of lamb muscle. When I did this, it became immediately apparent to all that this lamb’s tail had been docked too short. She prolapsed and volumes of bloody, slick organs spilled from her only to be hurriedly replaced by another 4-Her’s father as I stood red with embarrassment enough for both of us.
The lamb wasn’t hurt, we gave her antibiotics to fight any bacteria that she may have fallen prey to and we returned her to her pen. I could place only one of my market lambs in the Livestock Sale that evening and I had planned to sell my wether, a castrated male that I couldn’t utilize to produce next year’s club lambs.
I felt guilty that my beautiful, long loined, feminine headed ewe lamb could not be used for breeding as the prolapse would recur again and again. I had to sell her as a slaughter lamb and I did.
Years later, I find myself thinking about the prolapsed ewe and feeling a bizarre sisterhood with her. I am, in sheep years, getting longer in the tooth and am not being utilized for the purposes I had originally envisioned for myself. While not long loined, I am a mother to my two person flock.
It seems that when one’s purpose is challenged, even the strongest can prolapse. I opened my eyes and found myself lying in a pile with my guts all around me with no one around to protect, inoculate or treat me. Who knew there could be so much spill out of one body? I’m months after my 31st birthday trying to stuff my guts and heart back in to a hollow shell and hoping that someone has a shot that can treat my affliction. Hoping that somewhere there is a flock and a purpose for me rather than just a cold, concrete killing floor.

Monday, November 3, 2008

New Hometown- Installment 6

In the winter months, the rodeos are inside huge coliseums and the associations host their finals rodeos and the lucky few make the trip to Las Vegas for the National Finals. This had looked like it would be Travis’ year and a week shy of leaving for Las Vegas he sat in a parking lot listening to the phone ring in his ear.
I saw his cell phone number flash on the caller i.d. and I hollered to the barn for Drew to come up before I answered.
“Drew’s coming up from the barn, he’ll be here in a minute,” I hadn’t said hello.
“I’m leaving for Vegas in a few days and I thought my son would like to go with,” he said. Your son, I thought. I had stopped really thinking of Travis as Drew’s father several years ago.
“That’s what you were thinking,” I stammered. “That you want to take a little boy to Las Vegas?”
“Yeah, my girlfriend is going and she can watch him when I can’t,” he said. “I want him to see his dad at the big show.” Drew burst through the back door, kicking off his boots and reaching for the phone. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other and listened to his father on the other end of the line.
“I’ll have to talk to mom and Grady, Dad,” he said and I exhaled. “All right…yep…that’s pretty cool, Dad… I’ll ask…okay…bye.”
I stood at the sink scrubbing an already clean crockpot, listening to Grady’s low voice reading a story to Drew. When the light in the bedroom turned off and Grady returned to the kitchen I was standing with my hands in the cooling water.
“What did Travis know?,” Grady was peeling his socks off and throwing them into the hamper.
“Drew didn’t say anything to you?”
“Nope, he’s worn out,” he said.
“Well,” I dried my hands on a towel. “He made it to Vegas and he and his girlfriend want to take Drew.” Grady chuckled.
“They do, huh,” he rubbed his eyes and skinned out of his shirt, throwing it into the laundry room with his socks. “What does Drew want to do?”

“He told Travis he would have to ask us but he didn’t say what he wanted,”
In his room, Drew lay awake listening to his parents’ voices, unable to make out the words and unable to decide what he wanted to do about Vegas.
“Vegas is 10 rounds plus they will have to go out a few days early,” I said. “That’s a long time for anyone to be out there much less a little boy who hasn’t seen his dad in a few years.”

Driving back from the ranch, Taylor felt relief and found herself dreaming about when she and her boyfriend would register at Northern Junior College. She would watch all of his football games, she thought to herself, and they could grow up.
That Monday morning, an attorney in a matronly gray suit began drawing up an adoption agreement.
By the time Drew and I reached the ranch after school, darkness had begun to cover the pastures. Drew ran into the house to change his shoes and grab his ball cap and chore jacket and he jogged to the barn, his boots throwing up little puffs of snow and dirt.
Grady had the show cattle in the barn and Drew began his chores, measuring feed according to Grady’s directions printed in all caps on a dry erase board. When they had fed and watered the cattle, they shut the light off in the barn and walked toward the house.
“Grady,” Drew said and they slowed their pace a bit, their breath clouding before them. “I think I would like to see one or two performances but I don’t want to be with them the whole time. I don’t even know his girlfriend. She might not even be nice.” Grady chuckled at the boy’s reasoning.
“I haven’t talked to mom about it much,” Grady said. “We were waiting to see what you wanted to do.”
“Maybe I can call him tonight and see when he’s leaving,” the pair came in the door, shaking the cold from their shoulders and Drew picked up the phone and listened to a cell phone somewhere ring in his ear.
At dinner, Drew reported that his dad was sending his truck and trailer and horses to Vegas with a driver and he would be flying into Vegas from Oklahoma with a few other steer wrestlers on a private plane. He didn’t say anything about how the girlfriend would be getting there. I assumed she would be the one making the drive.
“He said he would get me a ticket out of the Denver airport and I could be there for the ninth and tenth rounds and then fly back to Denver,” Drew looked at us.
“I suppose that would be fine,” I said, hoping the tickets would actually be purchased and that I wouldn’t be left comforting a disappointed little boy, again.

The days leading up to Christmas vacation are a crazy time at a school and this year was no different. My email inbox held a flight itinerary for Drew and I printed it out. Travis was due to fly early the next morning and arrive in Vegas a few days before the first performance. Drew would fly out of Denver several days later. Drew and I drove down to the ranch that afternoon and I was making mental list of the jeans and shirts to iron for him.
“Is the weather supposed to get nasty tonight, Mom?” Drew was looking out the window to the west and the sky was darkening. Snowflakes clicked a little when they hit the windshield.

Devil in the Small Town

Sometimes in the course of all of my photo snapping, I get one like this. It's not something you see everyday, it's pretty interesting and like O'Brien says of a good war story, it makes you say, "Oh,"

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

New Hometown- Installment 5

“Did you guys work cows this weekend?,” one of the FFA boys caught me as I walked into the doors of the high school Monday morning. He took my bag of graded papers from my hand and walked with me toward the high school wing of the building.
“Mr. MacNamara did but I spent more time reading essays than anything else,” I managed a smile, referring to the bag filled with essays about various topics, his among the stack.
“Oh, your eyes look red,” he said. “My eyes are always red after being in the corral with all the dirt blowing around. I don’t guess the wind is ever going to stop blowing.”
He grinned and left me at the door of my classroom to join a group of boys to go eat breakfast and prepare for the week ahead. I knew my eyes were red but cattle had little to do with it. One more month had come and gone without my being able to become pregnant. My doctor had tried to console me days ago but it was all that I thought about that weekend, especially when the open cows were hauled to sale.
My first hour class filed through the door and my classroom filled with students excitedly relaying news of their weekend and talk of the upcoming basketball games and the activities that would keep them busy in the week ahead. Classes came and went throughout the day and the quiet was welcomed when the last class bustled into the hall and the students headed to practice or work or home. Taylor came in as I sunk into a chair to begin my work in the wake of the students.
“Mrs. M?,” her voice was quiet. “I need to talk to you.”
“Sure,” I watched her settle onto the top of a desk and let one of her shoes dangle from her toe.
She told me the secrets she was keeping from her parents and I felt my breath catch in my throat. She was due to have the baby before graduation. We cried together for some of the same reasons.
When Grady came in from the barns that evening, he found me wrapped in a blanket on the porch. I was looking out toward the south pastures watching a cell tower’s lights reflect on dirty snow. My best friend, Steph, had already called him on his cell and he listened while the truck sat running.
“Are they going to keep the baby?” he took his hat off and rubbed his eyes. “Because if they put it up for adoption…we could…” His voice trailed off and he sat, tired from the day’s work. He sat down next to me and his rough hand was on the back of my neck.
The next morning, a substitute teacher opened my classroom for the day. Grady and I dropped Drew at the front door of the school and we drove north toward Greeley. Eastern Colorado was covered in snow and the snow at the roadside was dirty. Once on the interstate, the dual tires on the truck threw a tail of slushy water. The radio and the heater were both on. We sat while men in shirts with their names sewed on the breast put new tires on the truck and Grady drank coffee.
“Maybe we should see about adopting the baby,” I looked at Grady and said the first thing about Taylor’s baby that I had said since he had mentioned the option.
It’s a natural desire for a man and woman to have a child that looks like them. A child who has one of their noses or eye color. One who grows to walk or talk like the father or has the same laugh as the mother. But sometimes, a reflection of yourselves seems too much to ask.
We drove south and pulled into the church where Taylor’s father was the pastor. Christmas lights swung in the wind above the doorway and the inside of the church smelled like cinnamon and faith.
We sat across her father’s desk from him and Taylor’s mother stood behind her husband, resting her hand on the back of his chair. They were heartbroken and so were we. We talked for an hour about Taylor and her plans to continue her education. A few evenings later, the family car’s headlights bounced over our cattle guard and I nervously adjusted my sweater and stirred the contents of pans that didn’t require any additional stirring.
Taylor, her parents and the father of her child came into our home from the cold. The high school students looked nervous and her parents looked tired. We ate beef raised on our grass and made small talk, moving to the living room after the dishes were cleared. Taylor’s father, Drew and Grady pulled their boots on and walked to the barn to check the heifers while we remained in the house.
“Mrs. M,” Taylor looked like a scared little girl, younger than she actually was. “I’ve been doing a lot of praying about this baby.”
“I know you have, Taylor,” I said and fought the urge to find a mindless chore in the kitchen. “My parents told me that you and Mr. MacNamara haven’t been able to have a baby and I really want to go to college….I don’t think I can do this.”
“You don’t think you can do what, honey,” I said.
“I’m too young…,” and the tears began to run down her face. Her mother sat ramrod straight in a chair, unblinking. I moved to Taylor and sat beside her while her shoulders shook and the men came in from the barn.
One of the things I have loved about Grady is his ability to speak when others are unable. He took a seat across from us and cleared his throat.
“Taylor, my wife and I agree that you should get an education and there’s no need for us to lecture you on the importance of this to either of you,” he motioned a hand toward the boy. “If you can’t keep this baby, well, Mrs. MacNamara and I will adopt him or her.” The air was heavy. Taylor was crying and she nodded.
“I would like that,” she said.
Grady and I stood at the door and watched the car taillights grow smaller and then turn back to the north. When he hugged me, I buried my face into his chest.
“Well,” he said. “When is our baby due?”

Monday, October 27, 2008

Enough and the basilica

In July, I had the opportunity to join other Teacher Consultants with the Prairie Lands Writing Project at Conception Abbey in northern Missouri. At the time, I was preparing to leave Missouri for Colorado but first, I had to go before a judge in response to a plethora of motions and appeals. It was a stressful time, to say the least.
Conception has a number of classroom buildings, a gymnasium, cafeteria, dormitories and a basilica. We had some free time to write so I took my computer into the basilica to write.

It was cool and calm and quiet and I felt enough calm and enough peace that I was able to write a bit. When I exited the basilica, I had the first several pages of New Hometown.

The Abbey as it appears early in the morning before the humidity and heat overtake north Missouri.
Sometimes, all we can hope for is enough. Enough peace. Enough love. Enough good. Enough time. Here's hoping for you today, that you have enough of what you need.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

New Hometown- Installment 4

Taylor moved into our small high school at the end of her sophomore year. The students accepted her though I doubt it’s easy to break into a small group of students who have been together since Kindergarten. At the beginning of her junior year, she had made the cheerleading squad and was dating the son of a local rancher who is a standout athlete. She came to me to talk about college and not being a townie. She devoured the books I suggested to her and made excellent grades. As football season neared its end and chilly weather covered eastern Colorado, Taylor seemed to withdraw from her friends and looked increasingly tired.

It’s easy to be famous nightly when you rodeo for a living. Every small town you roll through looks similar and people turn and pause and look as you pass by, diesel engine whining, to catch a glimpse of which cowboy is behind the tinted truck windows. Travis had been famous nightly in the professional ranks since he was in college. He pulled into a café in a plains town without much thought. He stepped out of the truck and as he strained to straighten, his back and knees reminded him that he had been rodeoing for a living for 20 years and countless miles. He limped a little and the glass door dinged as he entered the café and took a seat, he and his hauling partner had time to kill before that night’s performance.
When Grady finished the morning’s cattle work and returned to town with an empty stock trailer, Drew sat in the backseat fighting off sleep and happily covered with dirt. Drew sat up straight in his seat when they passed through town and by the café and he caught a glimpse of the flashy aluminum horse trailer with Oklahoma tags.
“Grady, look!,” Drew was glued to the window, watching the trailer disappear. “That looks like my dad’s rig! Over there! I bet he’ll come see me!”
Drew continued to watch the trailer as Grady rolled through town. At home, my phone was silent.
That evening Drew and I drove to the ranch for dinner, Drew sitting shotgun trying to balance a complicated dessert on his lap. His football was rolling around in the back of the car and the evidence of his earlier cattle work was smeared across his face and under his fingernails. We rattled over the cattle guard and pulled into the yard in front of a cloud of dust. Grady was still in the feed truck and he stopped long enough for Drew to clamber into Grady’s lap to offer his driving help. I took the dessert in the house and then flopped into a chair on the porch. The auger in the feed truck was running and the dust from the feed was blowing back toward the truck. The cattle in the lots were milling in front of the bunks and I could hear the truck horn from time to time, undoubtedly courtesy of Drew. Wes’s truck rolled to a stop in the yard and he joined me on the porch.
“Your boy was a big help this morning,” I wasn’t sure if he was serious or not knowing how helpful Drew could be sometimes. “Boy, he just does what Grady tells him to and he listens real good.”
“Well, he sure enjoys helping,” I said. “I appreciate you taking him with you.”
“When we were on our way home, he thought he saw his dad’s trailer in town at the café,” he said and I tried not to let my surprise show. “Is he in town for some rodeos?”

Taylor’s shoe was rubbing a blister on her foot and she was trying to relieve the pain and still walk into church without slipping on the steps. She followed her mother and older brother into the church where her father served as pastor. He had been called there almost a year ago and Taylor found herself in yet another small town fish bowl as a preacher’s kid. Her parents were strict and didn’t know that her brother drank beer on Friday nights after football games and that she wore makeup she applied in the bathroom at the high school. She was feeling sick in the mornings and knew that she would soon be forced to reveal her pregnancy to her parents. Today, however, was not the day.
When she told her boyfriend, they shared a sense of panic and uncertainty. Both seniors, he was slated to play ball for a junior college north of their hometown and she planned to enroll there as well. The pregnancy threatened to change their plans but at that point, they weren’t sure how. They hadn’t been careless the first time they had slept together and he never suggested that he would not support whatever decision she might arrive at.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Book 'em

So, The Pioneer Woman is a bad influence on me. These photos were "fixed" on This one has the hair I wished for as a teen.
Scary. I went to high school with a girl we'll call Tina and her hair was rad like this!
I like this one. Perky in a serial killer sort of way... I am the Queen Bee...

These photos would be slightly more amusing to me if they didn't present a fairly accurate, chronological journal of my hair. Picture me showing a sheep and you've seen me at 14. I only wished for hair this cool. Hell, I might have even gone to prom!

Monday, October 20, 2008


In preparation for my upcoming gallery show and to allow myself some time to think, I set out Sunday down Highway 36 to take some photos.
I spent far too much time over the weekend obsessing about my unringing cell phone and the 12 million things waiting for me on my desk this morning. I got out of my car in Last Chance, CO, and took some uninspired photos of the old Dairy King. I doubt they will be appearing at a gallery near you any time soon. As I was making my way back to my car, two gentlemen in an expensive SUV pulled up next to me. They had spent the day walking at the racetrack between Byers and Last Chance that looks a bit like aliens set it in the middle of a pasture as an inside joke. Regardless, they had grown peckish at the track and wondered if there was a restaurant nearby. I don't know, dear readers, how familliar you might be with Last Chance, Colorado, but there are no eating establishments open on a Sunday afternoon. The gentlemen looked at me like I was surely keeping from them the wherearabouts of the closest mall and they went on their way.
I returned to the open road and sat in Last Chance debating my options. Limon was 36 miles, Brush was 40 and I could always turn back toward home. When I pulled into Brush, I took a few photos, bought a cold Diet Dr. Pepper and returned home they way I came. I have few photos to show for my trip. I didn't come to any fabulous conclusions regarding my mangled love life nor did I write the fabled ending to a novel. I did, however, enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Third Installment: New Hometown

The hum of bugs surrounds the porch and though my grandfather has told me a million times their name, I can’t recall whether they were crickets or cicadas. The humidity is thick and oppressive and the music coming from the radio inside is slowed by the thickness of the air. My grandmother was inside with her girlfriends, other wives married to oil men and Army men, and they were playing Bouree or Bridge.
The gin was cold and the glasses sweat onto dainty cocktail napkins purchased for just such occasions. In my grandmother’s closet hung her best outfit, pressed and starched to withstand the Louisiana humidity. I sat in the kitchen while she pressed it and talked to my grandfather.
“I told Dr. Wolfe the voodoo queens were coming,” she leaned into her ironing, willing the wrinkles to obey her. “I thought that if we carried her basket for her, maybe we could love her through this.” Her voice was thick now with the bayou and gin.
I opened my eyes and was no longer on the porch of my childhood in the bayou but on my own front porch on the ranch my husband’s family had owned for generations. I was in my 30s and my grandmother and her Bouree-playing girlfriends were all dead and gone. I recalled the woman they buried the day after their get together. I understood as an adult that the woman had suffered the long decline brought on by depression in an era in which it was not understood.
As a child, I thought the voodoo queens to be ugly witches who came around when death came knocking. On my own porch, I now understand them to be well dressed, charming belles who take mothers from their children. I’ve heard their voices and smelled their perfume in the darkness.
I heard the screen door shut behind Grady and I listened to his steps as he joined me on the porch. He sat down and stretched his tired legs onto a table. He smelled like wind and cattle tanks and chewing tobacco and dryer sheets.
“You should have seen my boy at football practice,” he stretched and put his hand behind my neck. “He’s one of the bigger boys on the line but he’s quick.”
It was my son that he was referring to, the one whose father was at a rodeo somewhere. Grady never referred to him as his stepson and that was a gift to all three of us.
I had spent the day teaching at the local high school trying to convince teenagers of the value of adjectives and literature written in a time with which they are unfamiliar. He had spent the day moving open heifers to pastures with our massive, black bulls to ensure February and March would bring calving season. In a few months, Grady would sort the heifers and cows that would not calve in the spring and cull them, sending them to a sale barn as they were of little use to us.
“I’m not pregnant this time either,” I blurted the words and took a breath of the dry air. I felt like one of the open cows who would be sent away since I had outlasted my usefulness.
“It will come,” he said.
The first time Grady invited me to the ranch for dinner, I brought tiramisu and we grilled beef that he had raised. After we ate and the day’s heat subsided, we made our way to the corral. Two black calves were looking at us through the gate, one with wraps on his front legs. Minutes later, I found myself sitting in the corral with one leg draped over the calf’s neck while I held his back legs. Grady was carefully removing the wraps from the calf’s buckled front legs. Flesh and yellow tendons were exposed and he gingerly separated the old bandages, occasionally dribbling clean water on the dried wounds to ease the process. The calf didn’t struggle much but when he did, Grady would stop and rub the calf’s head or hip and say, ‘It’s okay, buddy,” or “I know, but we’ll make it better,”. There, draped over a late Spring calf, sitting in a corral with my feet asleep and tingling, I wanted Grady to love me.
Several weeks later, Grady pulled up in front of my home with a trailer load of cattle. They rocked and stomped and swatted flies in the trailer, waiting for him to accelerate the truck and provide them with an Indian Summer breeze. It was dusty and loud but it was a breeze. My son, Drew, had been watching for the truck for what he thought was a lifetime though it had been only 20 minutes. I heard his aluminum baseball bat drop to the ground right before he and his dog came tearing through the house to reach the front door. He threw the door open before Grady had a chance to knock.
“I’m going with Grady, Mom,” he yelled and jerked his ball cap down over his red hair. Grady winked at me.
“Ready to go, buddy?,” he pulled my son’s ball cap off, tousled his hair and put it back on, pushing it over his eyes. Drew giggled.
Grady took big, sure steps toward the truck and my son bounced at his side. He scrambled into the cab of the truck and sat in the back seat in the middle between Grady and Grady’s father, Wes. They pulled out toward the highway and it was in between those two men over the course of months and years that my son learned the dignity of work and how to be a man.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Installation 2: New Hometown

I ate salsa in a sticky vinyl booth and laughed with a friend from back in the day. Steph and I took stock and inventory and wondered who was still around. It turns out that we scattered from high school and 4-H meetings to Montana, Wyoming, Kansas and New Mexico. Gabe fell asleep at the wheel and hit a bridge. I didn’t know that and it was almost ten years ago but I still wanted to cry. Suzie can’t seem to get pregnant and Kristen’s little girl had a bone marrow surgery. Megan is remarried now, wasn’t she three or four years behind us in school? They tore down the Grange but they still have dances at May Farms. Do you remember when she was killed? Her kids must have been about the same age as mine is now. That must have been 20 years ago now. They didn’t know where Misty was for a year or two but she’s home and married now, too.
The salsa was hot and ice cubes spun lazily in the sweaty glasses. We sat, getting the eyeball from folks who hadn’t yet realized that this is our new hometown. Cattle trucks lumbered through town on the heels of baffled tourists wondering if this is, in fact, the edge of the Earth.
We are out in the country where jack rabbits pack a lunch and you can watch your dog run away for two or three days. Driving home days earlier the flatter, browner and windier it became, the more at ease I felt. I stepped onto Corridor dirt, rubbed a little sand in my eyes and could see things more clearly.
It’s windy here and there’s little romanticizing this. Even the high school ball players don’t get too tall, they hunker down like tumbleweeds and like Wal Mart sacks on fence posts, we’re all blowing through.
I’m trying to fix my dreams at a different altitude. I’m trying to find that once sparkly girl who was fearless before she was reckless and misguided. Before she was Mrs., and worried about scary things that take your children in the night.
I was looking for a new hometown where old men sit and spit on the bench in front of the bank. I was hoping I could still two-step and teach and preach and hoping I could find a place for my 31-year-old self and a paint color for my walls. Trying to fix my dreams wasn’t even as difficult as determining the new ones. These dreams aren’t as shiny, but they’re real and good and are being washed clean in the wind.
Voodoo Queens
The voodoo queens nearly carried me away more than once. I fought to keep my head above swamp water but know the sting of water in my nose. When I met Grady, the ground solidified and the voices of my past had experienced their turn and were silenced. The voodoo queens want you to think you aren’t whole enough to love or be loved. They want you to think that the swampy ground is safe and they want you to think that you don’t have any more strength left in you. They drawl and want you to believe that even though you may be able to find some kind of one night reprieve from an empty bed, no one will stay past dawn. Their voices drip with chickory and sweet tea syrup but don’t be fooled into thinking they’re right.
The years during which the voodoo queens were calling for me the most loudly didn’t taste familiar like gumbo and cheap wine but like second rate ground beef, diesel smoke and the garlicky taste of Dimethyl sulfoxide rubbed into the sore legs of horses. I was the wife of a professional rodeo cowboy for nearly ten years. My compadres took crank to look their best at their husband’s sides. I was flashy as hell but wondered daily if anyone would notice if I hurled myself down cold, concrete stairs.
We kept track of time by knowing when the books closed at ProCom and when designated slack ran. I knew destinations: Houston, Denver, Kansas City, Cheyenne, Pocatello, Chicago, Deadwood, not by tourist attractions but by hours with a trailer from the rodeo previous and by the quality of the hospitality tent. I sat behind signs that read, Contestants’ Wives at some of the biggest, best paying rodeos in the country with the tasks of looking good and videotaping the steer wrestling.
One night, after a rodeo somewhere in the Great Lakes Circuit, a many-time World Champion staggered out of his flashy rig, tanked with cocaine and cocktails.
“Who wants to fuck a Hall of Famer?” he slurred.
Without hesitation, a blonde woman a rodeo cowboy might refer to as a buckle bunny, set her beer aside and followed him into the trailer. No one bat an eye.
It might sound romantic traveling the country and being married to one of the best professional cowboys in the country. I had some of the best barrel horses around; one was out of Florida for $20,000 and another was also used as a hazing horse and backed up some of the best steer wrestling horses in the business including one who was hailed as the best in the professional ranks in the Great Lakes Circuit. I had custom made spur straps and a big diamond wedding ring. My friends, other pro rodeo wives, were and still are among the most beautiful women in the world.
Some rodeo cowboys are not far removed from those addicted to drugs, gambling or alcohol. The cash, the booze and the drugs flow freely and the time between highs is deadly. When the crowds are loud and the money is easy, the mantra is Younger Women, Older Whiskey and More Money. In the years when winning didn’t come so easily, I watched defeats etch lines and leave scars whether the defeat was missing the National Finals Rodeo by mere dollars or it came in the form of a blown knee or a crippled horse.
When he found himself well into his thirties playing a young man’s game, the crowds hushed a bit. He was referred to as a veteran of the sport. He was losing to boys who were younger and faster. The crowds dispersed and the fans forgot his name. Thus began his decline and like a junkie or a drunk he was desperate, clawing and searching for his next high. He frantically entered rodeos. If a guy enters enough, he’s bound to win a check eventually. He entered until he won but the costs of the wins weren’t even with the responsibilities of a wife and child. The wins didn’t pay for diesel rigs and starched shirts and t-ball gear. The harder I worked at my job, the harder and faster the money went down the road until I couldn’t even see the taillights anymore. I didn’t cry when I told him I wanted out.
Months later, I returned to a town in which we had lived when he worked as a college rodeo coach. I went to the bar with some girlfriends and a familiar face sauntered to our table and called me Mrs.
I told him about the divorce. I didn’t tell him that it was like stepping off the merry-go-round and I suddenly didn’t have any friends and no one even noticed I was gone.
“I wondered when you would find out about the girlfriends,” he said and handed me a beer.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Famous in a Small Town

Mark your calendars for January! Morgan Community College in beautiful Ft. Morgan, Colorado, will be featuring my multi-genre exhibit for the entire month of January.
The gallery show will include photographs of rural eastern Colorado side by side with poetry, prose and excerpts from "New Hometown."
So, my challenge to you, my dear readers, is to cook up a fabulous name for the exhibit. Think ranchey, think rural, think of something...quick! Post your most inspired names under the comment section of this post (Look for the pencil!) and I'll soon post the official title of the exhibit.

Blog 101

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Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Kent Haruf said you have to know how to look at this country. It's not pretty but it's beautiful.

First installation: New Hometown

His daddy died in March. Spring in Eastern Colorado isn’t the dainty season featured on picture postcards. It is a season of wet snow and mud that threatens to suck the overshoes off of tired feet and the tires off trucks. The water and wind suck the life out of calves and it becomes obvious to folks why there are abandoned homesteads out here.
I heard the truck in front of the house and saw the awkward silhouette of a round bale perched on the flat bed. I was still in my clothes from the funeral, barefoot on the kitchen floor. I walked to the window again and still he was parked. He looked at me and motioned for me to come to him.
The insides of my coveys were cold on my bare legs, but I jerked the straps over my shoulders, shoved my bare feet into boots and walked to the truck.
Neither of us said anything and the heater in the truck burned my eyes. He put the truck in gear, and we rolled out toward the winter pastures above Bijou Creek. We drove to where the heavies lay in wait of their calves and where a few pairs were hunkered down against the wind.
I opened gates and he drove. He parked the truck on a gulch overlooking the home place and the engine purred and the wind rocked the cab.
“I never thought he would get old,” he said finally.
“I know,” I murmured. “I’m sorry.”
We sat in silence watching the snow and mud-caked fields dotted with black cattle and water tanks. He sighed and put the truck in gear again and we rolled back toward the house and took up life where we had left off.
Grady MacNamara had been taking care of business long before I met him. He has carried feed sacks, hay bales, his mother during his father’s decline and my sleeping son at one time or another. He carried me out of my pit to a place of mutual protection. In a country where the wind blows with nothing to stop it, he shelters me from the wind so I don’t blow away.
In the years before Grady loved me, I had, as my grandmother who was steeped in the sweet Louisiana traditions would have said, dropped my basket and nearly let the voodoo queens take me away.
A teacher new to a small town school cannot glide into town unnoticed, especially with license plates from two states away. I sat on the bleachers that first winter watching good, solid, down home men coach my son on the finer points of defensive stance, dribbling, rebounding and being a man. My son was enamored, I was thankful and sinking into feeling comfortable even on ancient, creaking bleachers.
Mothers made conversation with me and told me about their children. They asked enough questions to satisfy their curiosity regarding whether or not I was married. When they were satisfied that I am indeed unmarried, they would nonchalantly ask, “So, have you met Coach Robinson?” or say, “So you would have been in 4-H with Grady MacLennan, right? He bought a place in Agate…he’s not married either you know.”
Facing Giants
When the basketball court cleared and the sounds of kids and the round ball died down, I sat, alone, in the bleachers for a few minutes.
This is not what my life was supposed to look like at 30. I’m supposed to be on solid ground not scrambling to gain ground while facing down giants.
For months after I finally found the strength to leave my husband, I would hear the growl of a diesel engine, and my heart would plummet, thinking it was him and he was here to strip our child away from me.
I thought the hard part would be the actual leaving, the rubber hitting the road. But it wasn’t. Hard was sitting on my porch waiting to see his headlights bringing my son home and the light never coming. He’s left the state and he has a six hour head start. I’ll never see my son again, I would think. That was hard.
Hard was getting a glimpse of my new life in the same zip code as my parents. It was feeling safe and hopeful and a part of a community. It was getting my hopes up and then hearing the Sheriff pound on my door to serve me with papers. Seeing first hand that a father who fails to meet his obligations can still file objections and other scary court documents to try to dash my plans. That was hard.
Being the mom of the only boy on the football field who doesn’t have his dad there, rubbing shoulders with the other dads and dreaming big gridiron dreams; watching my son look out at the bleachers, at all the moms and him knowing full well that I was on the fifty yard line with snacks at the ready, trying my hardest to be both mom and dad and not getting it done; playing catch with my son and knowing he’s embarrassed that his dad isn’t around to teach him to throw a spiral. That was hard.
Wearing heels and trying to teach my son how to be a man, that was hard. Sitting by myself and feeling so tired and so used up that no man would ever want me again is hard. Feeling that there is no possible way that I have one more ounce of strength left before I curl up and refuse to face my hand is hard.
So, no, walking out the door was easy and I’ve not regretted that decision for even a moment, but life afterwards isn’t what I thought.
I went home to lay low, to be in the same time zone as my family and at almost 31, it might have been just what I needed. I was out here trying to fix my dreams. The dreams I had at 22 had blown away somewhere along the trip. I saw it coming but I couldn’t get out of the way.

First Post

I am 31.

I am a single mom, a writer, a teacher and a livestock judging diva.

I live on the high plains of Colorado and am the sparkliest teacher in my school. There are 14 teachers, grades 7-12.

I have begun dating again after 1 1/2 years following a divorce.

I have some good stories.