{Goodbye, Old Friend}

For Grandpa and Teton. May they be riding down those trails together again…

It’s been time for a while now… to say goodbye. And I knew you knew that when I walked out in the corral the other day on that cold and frosty morning. The time had come to let go. And I could hear Grandpa saying the same. The goosebumps came, the hair stood up on my neck, and the tears welled on my icy eyelashes while I slipped the halter on and walked you to the trailer…

It’s funny how one, single moment can cause a flood of memories. This moment, this short walk from the corral to the horse trailer with the last horse, Teton, Grandpa C.B. rode and called his own, did just that.

Memories of every single horse I’ve owned in my lifetime flashed through my mind; the good moments and the not so good. I could hear my grandpa’s words from that July day in 1989, as I stared at the carcass of my horse lying on the cold concrete floor in the vet’s office, my 12 year old heart crushed and broken, tears falling and his hand on my shoulder, “Sweetheart, you’re gonna outlive a lotta horses in this old life. You’re gonna have to toughen up.” I looked at him, thinking how cold and cruel and unfeeling he was, but now I know he was right.

And I have toughened up. I’ve had to thanks to my life’s path of working at the ranch with the horses and mules. I have outlived a lot of them; really good ones and some real pains in the ass. And none of them have been easy, but I’ve learned so much during these junctures in life. I just haven’t learned to say goodbye to these old friends very well.

Saying goodbye to Teton was really tough. The last memory I have of Grandpa at the ranch was on this quick little black and white pinto. He still carried himself with that snap of step and ears perked, but his body was failing him at 28. It was time, and it was the right thing to do. So, I smiled through tears closing that trailer door. I knew Grandpa would be waiting at the top of the pass for this good old boy, ready for that last ride through the mountains of time.

I find a little comfort in this thought… And I smile thanking God for all those horses I’ve had the pleasure of crossing trails with over the years, and the ones hopefully still to come. And although, goodbyes never come easy, I know they’re going to come regardless. And, like old cowboys and their horses deserve, I will honor them by carrying on and remembering what it means to be cowgirl tough.

May the good Lord bless and keep you; you and your old friends.

Happy Trails~

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{Perfect}

You don’t have to be perfect to be amazing. You don’t even have to be amazing. Sometimes you have to give yourself little pep talks like “you’re a bad ass woman” or “you’ve got this”. Maybe you know you’re purpose or maybe you’re paralyzed by the “what ifs” and the “it can’t work”. You don’t need to have every hair in place, dressed just so, or have it all together to share that big, amazing heart and soul; to share your kindness. You just have to show up ready to seize the next opportunity to do as such. Perfect isn’t real. Perfect is boring. You definitely don’t have to be perfect to be amazing. You just have to be you in all your glorious mess and chaos and love💫 .

{Old}

Growing old is a luxury denied many. I think of that often. And as that thought sort of festers, it enlightens an awareness in me. I see silver streaks making their presence known in my hair, lines marching and etching their way across my face. And I see a different light in my reflection. I see a different me. Maybe even a better me.

And as I let the thought of learning to accept aging gracefully settle in my head, a crooked, half smile sort of creeps across my face…

Why fight what is a beautiful thing denied many? Because if the good Lord sees fit to keep me around for a while, I plan on doing this life right. Right by Him, right by others and right by me.

I will take time for long walks with loved ones, play fetch with the dogs, and take in every last sunset. I will sit next to the love of my life and sip wine and hold hands and smile. I will love.

I will make mistakes. And learn and grow and try again. And I will say I’m sorry. I will change. I will make new friends, and I will say goodbye to others. I will let go.

I will listen to music; loud rock, classic country, and soft blues. And I will sing every word in my truck with the window rolled down while the wind tousles my hair.

I will wear wide-brimmed hats, turquoise and silver and old boots. Everywhere. And when people look at me funny, I will just smile without a care knowing they’ve yet to find their own peace. I won’t change who I am or what I’ve become for anyone.

I will work hard with my hands, ‘til they’re old and wrinkled and veiny reflecting a lifetime of stories. I will sweat and break my back and be grateful that my bones hurt at the end of a long day’s work. I will know that I’m still alive.

I will love my family fiercely. I will love my neighbor and lend a helping hand to strangers. I will pray for a better day and a better way.

And I will ride horses for as long as this body will allow. I will wander aimlessly through a pasture full of grazing horses on a starry, summer evening touching soft noses and calling their names.

And at the end, when time draws to a close, I hope that I’ve made a difference somewhere; that maybe by living fully, someone drew an ounce of inspiration and strength to try again.

I will be proud of the woman I am when I am old.

{Alive}

October 4, 2017

3:15 A.M.

I open one eye and look at the alarm clock as it sounds, my body not wanting to leave the warmth and comfort of bed. My brain starts slowly processing the day’s task at hand. Ten hours in the saddle, thirty miles to ride into the wilderness to our hunting camp and back out, the rugged, rocky trail, the mules loaded with hay. Damn. No. I can’t force my body out just yet. Ten more minutes of useless sleep…

4:02 A.M.

The lights are on at the barn. I hear hoof beats running in the dark and my cousin calling “come boys”. It’s time catch up the stock and saddle. Headlamp lit, I find my way through the dark, the cold, frosty dark, searching for familiar faces. My roan horse, Twist, greets me first and nuzzles me for his treat. He knows what’s in store today; my best friend for the last six years. I catch him, lead him to the barn for his grain, and head to halter the mules, Bart, Ranger, Cecil, Matt and Luke make up one string. Otis, Kitty, Spice, Betty, and Delilah, the other. Ten head today is all to be packed. I brush them, give a little extra love to Spice, my favorite girl, taking in the warmth of her winter hair that is now in place against my cold hands, and saddle them up.

8:20 A.M.

I turn behind me to watch the packs settle in, listening to the sound of the hooves beat down the frozen turf, they crunch as they connect with ice and rock. I hear the mules breathing and noses blowing as they start to set a steady pace knowing the climb that lies ahead. I face forward in my saddle, look out over my roan’s ears and do the same. I give a glance overhead and pray for safe travels and an open mind and gracious heart. I just ride.

10:42 A.M.

My teeth are chattering. I’m shivering violently as my body aches for some shred of the sun’s evidence on the snow covered northeast draw. I can see it above me, thawing the peak as a few orange rays slowly trickle their way down from the opposing side. I remove my gloves from frigid fingers and reach in under my horse’s mane to rob some heat. It’s the coldest morning I can remember riding. I look one last time at the sun as the trail makes its crossing through the draw and finally up the western, warm slope. I look back at the mules again, watching the rhythmic bob of the hay loads riding down the trail on sturdy backs, giant ears working to and fro and perking gently as we cross the narrow, slick bridge. I talk to them. “Easy boys. That a girl, Spice.” And as we meander our way up through the exposed red shale and mudstone, the sun finally greets us with its ever-loving presence. I close my eyes, breathe deeply inhaling the musty smell of wet tag alder and aspen leaves, the aroma of pine mixed with earthy mud, the scent of horse and mule sweat. I smile. There’s nothing like it. You can’t jar this scent or buy it in a can. I open my eyes and let the sun warm me until the shivering stops.

12:02 PM

We’ve crested the pass. I look to my right to see the familiar glacial cirques and craggy rock faces of the Swan Range. In the remains of the last snowfall, I see fresh grizzly tracks reminding me my horse, mules and I are not the only travelers on this corridor. I follow the tracks for a mile or so, watching them stop and feed and smell, no doubt readying itself for the onset of winter’s hibernation, the Hyperphagia stage. I realize how much I’ve come to love this pass. What once was an acquaintance has become an affair. I’ve come to know every detail, slope, slide, and nuance of this trail. The sun continues to thaw the cold, and melt the smattering of snow on the nearby bear grass clumps. High country. God’s country. Big Sky country. We descend down out of the alpine basins, watching the river drainage stretch and wind below. One and half more hours to camp… Eleven miles down, nineteen more to go.

There have been some long days accumulated lately. There have been dark nights. There has been frustration and plenty of cussing, like the air out both of your lungs type of cussing. There has been laughter and jokes told and teasing and a steep learning curve packing mules this fall. My mettle has been tested. Tears have fallen. But not one, single regret. Because I found a piece of me in all of this, a bit of strength in this solitude and perseverance. I found memories and heard my grandpa’s voice speaking to me, and the words of his Outfitter’s Prayer ring in my head with a resounding impact. It’s with a longing hope, I can reflect back at 90 years old, Lord willing, and know I really lived, that I took in every moment and let it seep into every fiber of my heart, and etch a strong memory, one that makes me momentarily feel alive again.

Happy Trails,

Heather

Trail Time

Trail Time. I’ve logged some serious miles on my saddle this summer. And I’ve had the pleasure of riding some fine horseflesh, and with each mile looking out between those ears, I soak up the intrinsic value of time spent doing exactly what I love; riding my horse through the wilderness and the backcountry, over new trails and old.  

I’m always amazed at the newness of this country I’ve ridden through my entire life. Every turn reveals a slight change and offers up a new perspective physically, as well as emotionally. I love this place, and I really love how it unselfishly continues to nurture the human soul year after year. Wilderness. To quote a fellow wilderness traveler and friend,  “The heart of the wilderness is within the wilderness of your heart. Ride there.” 


Ride there. Trail time opens the floodgates to a plethora of thoughts. Life passes by at 3 mph and it feels like a 100 years sometimes. I ponder what life has bestowed on me in a short span of 40. Love. Jobs. Horses. People. Favorite memories. Hurt. Pain. Happiness. Music lyrics. Poems. Dust covers and shrouds each passing memory and thought as my horse tracks along. I watch and wonder what lies ahead. Sometimes I’m sure. Sometimes I’m not.

I ride, trying to make sense of it all. To the right of the trail, I watch the river ripple along, and I allow myself to get a little lost in the moment. The water flows gently, never forcing her way, never pushing, just rolling rhythmically. I think silently about all the changes that have made their way into my life, not so different from the way the water runs gently nearby. Maybe I’ve been a little lost here and there, but the beauty has always been in the unsureness of how I’d find myself and my purpose in life. How every little thing, moment, nuance, and experience were just small specks adding to something greater. And I realize in watching the river flow over the colorful freestone bottom, that it will be just a matter of time before it will all make sense… and in this particular moment, I don’t need to understand a darn thing; I don’t have to have it all figured out. I just need to be.


So, I turn back in the saddle, looking onward, and let life unfold between those two ears, and I open my heart to all of life’s possibilities. I let go. I smile. I have faith. And I have hope. I remember what was and think about what will be. I just breathe. 

That’s trail time.

May your trails be happy ones.

~Heather

Home Again

My eyes popped open this morning, and as I wiped the sleep from them, I read the alarm clock’s time, 5:39 a.m. I woke with a jolt realizing I was supposed to be at the barn over a half hour ago to help get a backcountry trip packed out before the mid-July heat pounded down from the sky.   I pulled on my pants while brushing my teeth and putting my hair back in a ball cap, and I rushed out the door to the barn.

 The sweet morning smell mixed of grass, dew, and horse greeted my nose, and I heard the morning routine in full swing at the barn,  the squeak of the corral gates, the horses and mules being saddled, my co-workers hitting an easy morning stride, and the smell of pancakes and sausage wafting down from the lodge kitchen causing all senses to be alive. And I smiled. Yes, I was late, which I never like to be, but somehow there was no stress or worry accompanying the mood. All was right at 5:46 a.m. on a beautiful Sunday morning. 

I’ve been home over a month now, and it’s taken a little time to readjust to not having a strict schedule and having a work life outside of an office cubicle, and I don’t miss much about that. I will eternally be grateful for all I learned in that setting, and the friendships formed there, but there ain’t nothing that compares to being home. 

I love these mountain trails I ride that are littered with the prettiest of purple penstemon this year, the clear streams, the love of my folks and family, the crew I call dear friends, the ornery roan horse that I call mine in that corral, the old crew cab truck that is guaranteed to only have one of three music cds stuck on repeat- Garth Brooks, Patsy Cline or Creedence Clearwater Revival- and the feeling of knowing that every day I wake up, I love this life even more. I go to bed too tired to worry about shucking my boots off at the end of the day, my hair is usually a mess, make up is non-existent, my house usually looks and smells like only my 14 year old son lives there, but my dog is happy, and so am I. It feels darn good to be home again…

Change… it happens to everyone. And if you find yourself in a place in your life you know needs it, make it. Do it. Live this one life you have with all that you have. We may be lucky enough to get 80 years on this planet, and spending 65 of them doing something you aren’t passionate about isn’t quality. Life is all about the quality of time you have here, so have faith in all the good Lord made you to be, and make that change. Tackle the hell out of your life, and live and love authentically and true to yourself.  Because change can be the best thing that ever happened to you.

Happy Trails,
Heather 

Heads Up Boys

 

d38cc-ralphstringThe following story is dedicated to the men in my life, my grandpa, dad, uncle, brothers, and friends that continue to answer the call the mountains ring out; the ones that share a passion for a well-matched mule string, a fine lead horse, tidy packs, a campsite next to stream brimming with cutthroat trout, campfire coffee, and the sight of a high, wide and handsome mountain pass stretched out for miles ahead…

It’s late spring hedging into early summer here.  It’s that time of year at the ranch where maintenance beckons hard working hands. There are fences needing mended, tack needing repaired, trails needing cleared, and always fresh horses needing a shake down. And as all of this culminates, I look around at the calling mountain passes still shrouded in snow, and a smile etches across my face.  It’s almost time to cross over those passes and mountain streams swollen with spring run off with a loaded mule string in tow, and watch the rhythmic bob of the packs, listen to the snuffle of a good-working string horse steadily trudging along the trail over the pass.  The rebirth of an old way and tradition…

And as much as I love it, I look over my shoulder at my Uncle Jack repairing a decker pack saddle with skilled and tough hands, and I know he loves it even more.  He has generously shared his passion of this generational lifestyle with countless others.  And he’s anxious to see what those familiar mountains have in store for the season.  He knows every intricate detail of miles upon miles of trails, and he’s about to teach a new group of youngsters that same appreciation for this land and way of life.

It’s pride in a uniformed and tightly mantied pack, a load that can ride for miles.  It’s looking out over the corral of horses and mules, and lining them out just so; a horse that holds steady through rough terrain and keeps a level head in tense moments; a quiet strength.  It’s a lead mule with a good mind and a steady pace, the youngsters that are learning from the veterans, the popper mule that steadily anchors the back.  When the packs are loaded accordingly and the string is lined out ready to work, blowing noses and stomping feet, he throws his leg over his pony, and picks up that rope on his lead mule, gives one last look over his shoulder, and calls out “alright boys, heads up”.  Long ears pricked and alert, they line out just like they always do, ready to work another backcountry season rocking packs down those familiar mountain trails. It’s art in motion.

It’s a feeling of “home”, a man, his horse, his mules, and a mountain trail calling his name.  There is nothing like summertime in the backcountry of Montana.

So, here’s hoping our trails cross this summer, and if so, tip your hat to those hard-working mules and horses you meet along the way, and smile at the man or woman leading them.  It’s a good and honest way of life…

Happy Trails,

Heather

 

 

 

Under This Big Sky

I’ve often found it easy to wax poetic about the mountains of home in western Montana. I’ve always referred to them as the supermodel of landscapes, so easy to admire with their grandiose perfection in almost every season, the clearest of streams that flow with force and clarity revealing colorful stones that tell of it’s geological history and beauty, high alpine basins that offer refuge to an abundance of wildlife, and coniferous trees of every variety. The mountains of Montana always seem easy to love and admire and to put on a pedestal.

But Montana has a hidden gem and a rare beauty in her sunlit plains and prairies. Spring on the prairies is tough to beat. And it’s never prettier than during branding season. Maybe it’s the sight of cattle dotted across the greening landscape and rolling hills. Maybe it’s the people that gather to work and lend a hand. Maybe it’s fresh backed horses. Maybe it’s the culmination of it all. It’s romantic and darned beautiful.

Because there’s something to be said for a place that doesn’t have all the rough ridden off it yet, or a horse with a little edge left to him. There’s something to be said for old saddles and pick up trucks and trailers with rust and dents. There’s something to be said where life ain’t always shiny and everything is brand new. There’s something to be said for the cowboy running irons and working stock, and old corrals that need mending. There’s something to be said for the hands that work in a place just like this. A place where you can look for miles upon sagebrush miles of coulees and breaks, and not see another soul. A place where the sky is so big and blue and wide, where a man can cuss and air out both lungs, but can talk to God and thank him for the things he has. A place where life just makes a little more sense; in it’s simplest and purest form dressed down in hard work and sweat. There’s something to be said for a place that doesn’t have all the rough ridden off it yet.

May your spring be filled with new adventures and happy hearts.


Happy Trails~

Heather 

Horse Tradin’ With Siri

Every spring, we embark on long, arduous adventures crammed in a truck in search of replacement horses and mules for the ranch.  This is a family tradition, and one we ALL do  together. It’s an opportunity to shake off the winter blues and pass along a little knowledge to the next generation; even if that only means knowing what kind of licorice to buy Grandpa at the one convenient store stop we get along the way.  This spring was no different, as my folks ventured east of the divide to Havre, thanks to a promising horse for sale Craig’s List ad my mom came across in Glasgow, Montana.  Horse trailer in tow, they headed east.

One small factoid that shouldn’t be overlooked, is that my dad recently became a “smart” phone owner of the iPhone variety at the ripe, young age of 69.  May. the. good. Lord. help. us. all.  Now, I’ve always looked up to my dad.  The man is a wealth of knowledge on vehicles, tractors, chainsaws, horses, cattle, the mountain terrain, and the Bible. But when it comes to him sorting out technology, it’s about like trying to pick up a horse turd by the clean end. It’s darn near impossible.  So, needless to say, it’s been a steeper-than-a-cow’s-face learning curve.  That is, until a new woman came into his life…THE Mistress Siri.

Now, Dad is about as old-fashioned as any man can be in this day and age.  The kind where the men are the head of the household, and all decisions and consultations on such decisions, are run by Dad first. Then Mom usually does it how she darn well wants to after she fluffs Pop’s feathers with said consultation.   Anywhooo…back to Siri. I have never seen my Dad consult with a woman for directions of any sort, until this satellite wonder. Surely, Siri had to be invented by a feminist woman, just to get men like my father to actually have to consult a female on something as important as say….directions; directions to the said Craig’s List ad destination in Big Flat Eastern Montana.  BFE for short. (If you want the real definition for BFE, consult Siri)

So, with Siri in tow, perched on her fancy dashboard holder as if she were Dad’s new right hand man, we set east in search of horses. Somehow, Dad and Siri had managed, without too much assistance, to strike up quite the relationship, because anytime one of us piped up from the passenger seat about the distance to our destination stating it should only be about 2 and 1/2 hours, Dad informed us that according to Siri, it was in fact 2 hours, 43 minutes and 12 seconds to our final destination. He’s always been one for the meticulous details. Great. There we had it. Captain Auto Correct and his Co-Pilot, Ms. Siri.  The epitome of knowledge at the helm headed east on Highway 2.

We laughed and shared stories along the drive, discussing weather and upcoming plans for summer, until Siri piped up about needing to make an upcoming left turn.  According to the man’s directions from the Craig’s List ad, Siri had to be off a road, but when it came down to choosing between my Mom’s hand-scribbled directions on a post it note, or the smooth, cooing of Siri caressing my Dad’s ears with her lies, Dad chose Siri.

Siri took us on a detour. A teeth-jarring, in need of a new sports bra, jaunt across eastern Montana.  The truck and horse trailer rattled and clamored over the dirt road as my mom and I exchanged eye rolls.  We rolled along until we came to a crossroads waiting for Siri to steer us in the right direction.  But, Siri went haywire and lost all signal.  Siri got us lost somewhere between Hiway 2 north of Glasgow and the Canadian border.

To say Siri lost all rights as co-pilot that day is being nice.  We did make it to our destination, which was about like you’d expect from a horse for sale craig’s list ad.  Nothing there was worth a plug nickel, no matter how much Cowboy Bob tried to convince us otherwise. We left with an empty horse trailer, and headed back home.  A different route.

As for Siri, I hope to all that is holy and good she is never consulted with for directions through the mountains with my Dad.  May he rely on his own instinct and knowledge….or at least learn to listen to my mother now and then.

 

Happy Trails,

 

Heather

 

Fix

We all go through crap. Life sometimes rolls it out in epic proportions. This post isn’t meant to be directly about me,or someone in particular, but it’s something I do happen to see in others’ daily lives, and at times, my own. You stick out ‘shituations’ as I like to call them, because it seems easier, or you fear disappointment. You stay status quo, tread water, muck shit out of stalls; whatever analogy you need to use to refer to your life, or status, or relationship. People stay stuck and become accustomed to longing for something or someone to fill a “you” void. And eventually you talk about it, and confess your feelings, and someone else feels they need to finally fix all the holes they see in you. And you know they really can’t. And it comes down to someone telling you they wished they’d have loved you better back then, and you have a colossal epiphany that that’s not what the missing link even was. Because you suddenly realize that above all else, you wish you’d have just loved yourself better. It’s not about someone else’s wrongs or rights that have lead you to the point you are. It’s yours. Some of it innocent and unaware, but some completely intentional. Wherever you’re looking to go from here, just do it by honoring yourself a little more. If something or someone is sucking the life out of you, stop it. End it. Change it. Don’t put all your stock in someone else. Be the kind of person that drives others crazy only by doing nothing but being just your true and real self. And lastly, don’t give up on the person you’re becoming. You did that once. Don’t do it again. Step out in faith and confidence. Happiness awaits.❤️

Happiest of New Trails,

Heather ©