A Story Worth Tellin’

The following post is dedicated to and written for the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame.

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“The idea is not to live forever. It is to create something that will.” ~Andy Worhol

As I was driving home yesterday, we passed our neighbor’s teams of black percherons standing together in the corral.  It was said to me, “that is something I could never get into or find the fun in.”  And I thought about that, and it hit me hard how much the world has changed into a fast and so-called improved pace of life.  And I slowed down, and I smiled to myself thinking, “I could.”

I hear it often. The “I don’t get it. I don’t understand why you hitch a team to feed cows when you have a perfectly good motorized vehicle at your disposal?  Why don’t you use a 4-wheeler instead of that cold-backed colt to night check those heifers? Who cares about seeing the Bob Marshall Wilderness from the back of a horse leading a string of mules?  What is the point of climbing on that bronc just to hit the dirt short of eight seconds?  I don’t get your ways.”

Here’s my answer to that…

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I say iron sharpens iron.  Sociologists may label the cowboy’s choices a lifestyle.  Psychologists may see it as obsessive to worry over critters and hay crops and good horses.  Economists just say it’s damn pointless to throw your money and effort after foolishness.  But as for the cowboy, well, he just calls it living.

What you get out of life is just what you put into it.  And the benefits of being a cowboy, well, words don’t suffice.  It’s a life well lived and even harder earned, but it’s tradition and knowledge and heritage. It’s a legacy made of generations of hard living, hard working men and women before that carved a life out of the coulees and mountains and sagebrush seas.  It’s fixing old, worn saddles and harness, not buying new.  It’s the satisfaction of a well-aimed heel loop on a wily calf to drag them to the branding fire. It’s knowing that young colt is gonna test your mettle, but if you gentle him right, you’ve got a good dancing partner. It’s knowing nothing is going to be handed down to you on a silver platter, and you wouldn’t want it to be anyway.  Because the grit in your gut and the try in your soul is what makes the man.

It’s honoring traditions, and taking time to listen to the old men that talk about the days of long ago.  It’s considering yourself lucky to look out over a herd of well-matched and bred angus in the heat of summer grazing. It’s blazing new backcountry trails on a fine mountain pony.  It’s helping your neighbor come branding time whether the cooking is any good or not.  It’s teaching the younger generation the meaning of a little hard work while getting dirt under their fingernails; it’s responsibility and knowing their roots. It’s about having a story worth telling at the end of the day.  It’s a legacy.

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So, I believe in the old cowboy ways.  The things a cowboy has are simple. It’s work ethic, appreciation for land, good stock, a hard-working partner, and good neighbors.  These traditions deserve to be preserved and honored.  Take the time to visit with an old cowboy or cowgirl. Look around at this Big Sky country with its Charlie Russell sunsets, and be grateful for the cowboy, the Native American, and the land that made them. Is your story worth tellin’?



Happy Trails,

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Heather

 

 

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Life, Live It

“The trouble is, you think you have time.” ~Buddha

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These past few weeks, I’ve once again found myself looking at life through a lens of loss and struggle and a gamete of emotions I am unable to reign in, and not even really wanting to try.  I’ve needed to feel the rawness of it, the deep love of my family, and not take one, single breath for granted.  It isn’t all sad, but I am learning to hi-light the good moments and savor them a little longer; letting them take the edge off the sadness that revolves around death and loss.  It also, as it well should, makes me reflect strongly on my personal journey in this one life I get. So this rambling is written out of a place of realness and vulnerability and projected out into this big, wide world for your interpretation and judgement, but also as a source of strength and perhaps a self-check.  What are you doing with this one life you have?   If a loved one were sitting at a desk tonight penning your obituary, what would they say about you?  

 The harsh reality of a death is that you dying doesn’t affect you, but impacts those left behind.  The hardest part isn’t saying goodbye to someone; it’s learning to live without them. It leaves a hole in a heart, it leaves an empty chair at a dinner table, it leaves words unsaid, it leaves dreams unfulfilled, it leaves a stillness and quiet that in fact echos off the walls of one’s mind & heart.   Your birth and your death are your bookends, your timeline, to squeeze in as much as one can into the book of life, and if you’re lucky, you get to write numerous chapters full of life lived through good times and bad.  The truth is, we are all pushing the time we have in this world. So I ask you again? What would those left behind have to say about this one life you lived?

Were you strong because you knew your weaknesses?  Were you beautiful because you knew your flaws? Were you fearless because you knew it was your chance to fly?  Were you wise because you learned from your mistakes?  Did you love because you felt hate?  Did you laugh because you knew sadness? Did you live with a sense of urgency?  Did you share your heart unselfishly?

 Maybe the real tragedy isn’t in fact our death, but what we let die inside of us while we lived.  Because, the trouble is, we think we have time.  We think we can tell someone we love them later, we think we can take our kids fishing another time,  we can take that Sunday drive in that old pick-up truck another day, we can mend that broken fence later. Guess what… we don’t always get that time.

I don’t want to leave this world with doubts, or worse, leaving anyone else doubting. I want to use up every minute, and I want that to be my legacy.  I want my obituary to be so full of good things, ornery sentiments, integrity, honesty, smiles and tears and love, not for me, not for my memory, but as a comfort and a reminder to those left behind. A reminder that you have this one life, so live it.  

The gate only opens once to that ol’ rodeo of life. You might as well spur the hell out of that bronc and just let ‘er buck!

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Happy Trails,

Heather

Look Up

“Pretty little thing, sometimes you gotta look up, and let this world see all the beauty that you’re made of, because the way you hang your head, nobody can tell, you’re my Virginia Bluebell.” ~Miranda Lambert

I’ve had so many dreams in my life. So many things I thought I would be by now. I’ve outgrown some of them, and some of them have outgrown me. And there are those I still long for to come true. And they will. I have faith.

The first time I saw thirteen year old Rachel Myllymaki run the barrels at a local rodeo, her yellow hair flying out under her hat and her horse on fire, I wanted to be a barrel racer… Some days I still want that.

I wanted to be an equestrian cross-country jumper the first time I watched it on the Olympics.  I borrowed my mom’s dressage saddle and jumped my pony over every log, ditch and downed tree I could find. Until the big girl dreams came along, but some days I still long to take that jump, too.

I wanted to be a female horse trainer and rancher and equine vet. Yes, all of them.  I wanted that big, blue sky ranch with horses as far as they eye could see. I still want that, too.

Nowadays, I find myself longing to help others through horsemanship and the wilderness and helping run the family business. I also want to write novels and short stories and take pictures of the beauty that graces me every day. And I will.

You see, sometimes we outgrow dreams, and sometimes they outgrow us. But they also follow along silently until something, or someone, reminds us that they’re still beating in our heart and soul, and they’re worth giving another thought.

I lost focus along the way. Life changed so fast and my priorities morphed over the years to accommodate choices I made. And it wasn’t bad.  But my dreams didn’t go away. I just forgot to look up. Worrying about failure, worrying about timing, worrying about finances, always worrying and always wondering. And then I finally asked myself why? What in the hell am I waiting for?

We all ask ourselves these questions when we set out on a personal endeavor. The importance of feeding our souls and feeding our dreams with good people, positive thinking, beautiful scenery, love and light, fuels the fire of wanting to accomplish something significant. When we’re passionate about pursuing life, it spills over to others.  It is the want that keeps us trying.

When dreams are written on our hearts with permanent ink, tattooed there, they may fade, but it’s our job to not let ourselves down.  

Don’t be hard on yourself. Take a moment to look back on where you’ve come from, from where all you’ve been. Revel in it. Marvel at it. Evaluate the heartache you’ve felt, but nurture your new found strength. And grow in it, and trust that you’ve got this and God has you.

Despite all you’ve been through, you’re still here. Even though the sun didn’t always shine, you still grew. You’re a mosaic of all the shattered pieces of your life, with the bits of dreams still there and the flicker of hope still burning.

It’s never too late to get your shit together. Because that’s the beginning of something good, something strong, and something that’s right for you. In that pit of anger, of sadness, of frustration… that’s your new beginning. And those tucked away dreams are your way out.

So, pretty little thing, don’t forget to look up, and show the world all the beauty that you’re made of.

Dream big. Dream forever. Live authentic and live true to yourself.

~Happy Trails

Heather

A Pace I Long to Keep

wp-1470584727537.jpgThese past few summer months have been nothing short of crazy and chaotic between work and home life.  Some of you may know that I work for an electric and telecom company here on the hi-line of Montana, but what you don’t know is I am a credit representative.  That means I get the pleasure of disconnecting services for non-payment and am somehow the late bill and payment negotiater.  Let me just say right off, I am fairly sure this must be karma biting me square in both butt cheeks, because I have had my way a time or three with  a Dish Network or Verizon wireless customer service rep in the past.  Truly, what goes around comes around, but at the end of the day, I usually go home feeling like I’ve been hit by a freight train driven by a sixteen year old that was just given the keys for the first time.  And on my drive home nightly, I ask myself why? What lessons am I learning? How can I be a better person? And as I am beating myself over the head with all these thoughts and “lessons” I am learning in my job, my mind drifts to a simpler time.  A time when I didn’t have to think about much except what to make for dinner… A time I could watch my life unfold between my horse’s ears down a mountain trail at a pace I now find myself longing for…A pace I long to keep.

Between these ears my life unfolds at a pace I long to keep.

Every breath, every thought just makes more sense here.

My heart and mind are put at ease.

No phones are ringing, no device needs response

No man is whining about his selfish needs.

All the while the trail unfolds between my horse’s ears

At a pace I long to keep.

The hustle and bustle of life’s worries & strife

Become a distant sound muffled by my horses’ feet

As ol’ roany clips over God’s landscapes

And I watch my life unfold at a pace I long to keep.

Between these ears I see vistas grand and Big Sky true.

From towering mountain peaks to sagebrush coulee breaks

I think what more could this girl need?

As my horse travels freely along at a pace I long to keep.

You can keep your city life, your heels, dresses and fine wines.

As for me, I will don boots and jeans, while the wind teases my hair

And Roany and I will slow lope across the miles while life unfolds

At the only pace I long to keep.

In closing, be nice to the person on the other end of the phone; she’s just trying to do her job. Your life is a one time offer. Use it well. Love often, share a smile, be kind to one another, lend a hand. Remember what really is important to you in this life, and remember who you want to be. Ride high and stay grounded.

Happy Trails,

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Raise ‘Em Up

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This is how kids should spend every day…learning to work, learning their worth, learning to contribute positively to society, learning how strong they can be, learning the physicality of the elements, learning to push themselves beyond their comfort zones, learning teamwork, learning compassion, learning to use common sense, learning that life doesn’t involve a screen and being entertained endlessly, learning to smile and joke and to have a sense of humor, learning to cuss and thank God in the same breath, learning that this is real life, learning a job well done doesn’t necessarily reward you monetarily, but emotionally, and learning to feel good at the end of the day about your accomplishments and to be grateful for the opportunity offered. So, raise them up strong…raise them to know right from wrong. Raise ’em up.

Brandin’

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For my generous friends and their families that have been kind enough to share their way of life with me… Thank you…

I haven’t written much about the hi-line of Montana since moving here.  Mostly, because I was fairly certain that nothing about Havre could compare to the spring beauty of my home in the mountains, but I’ve been proven wrong.  And as much as I love the receding of the snow-line on the mountains, and birth of the wildflowers and watching the ice retreat from it’s alpine lakes, spring on the prairies of central Montana are truly awesome. The foothills of the Bears Paw Mountains are beautiful in their balsam root bloom, the fresh scent of sage, the greening up of winter wheat and alfalfa fields, and pastures full of newborn calves and new mamas that speckle the landscape.

But as picturesque as the landscape is, the ranching and agriculture families of the hi-line are the heart of the country.  That becomes so evident during the spring and branding season.  Ranchers are a proud, hard-working lot that carve their livelihood out of the formidable landscapes of the west.  Raising cattle ain’t for the faint of heart.

By the graciousness of my friend and co-worker, I was allowed to spend the weekend riding and to help out with their branding.  I didn’t grow up working cattle; the mountain horses and mules from our dude ranch were my exposure to livestock.  And I thought I had somewhat of  a handle on that cowgirl lifestyle…until now.  I’ve ridden rugged mountain terrain all of my life, and the prairie handed me my hind parts on a worn leather platter. Those hawthorn-covered coulees are steeper than they look when you’re at run downhill after a wiley little calf.  We pushed cows and calves where cows and calves didn’t want to go. And my horse worked harder than he’s probably ever worked since I’ve owned him.  I swear we covered 20 miles in 10, and the majority of it at trot or run. That grass wasn’t growing under anyone’s feet.

Eventually all the cattle were penned and separated, and once the branding started, it was all hands on deck. There were family members, neighbors, strangers and friends all working to get the same job done.  There were calves making men outta young boys bucking and kicking all the way to the fire.  There were no gender roles, girls roping, and handling stock just the same as the next.  Fathers helping daughters, husbands working with wives, and kids working with kids, and the older generation helped guide and coach the younger along. I let my eyes take it all in and felt a lump rise in my throat. These moments are exactly what life is all about.

At the end of the day, the cattle were branded, cold beers were drank , good food was eaten, and stories about back in the day were shared around the table. With pride for a job well done, and feeling lucky to have been part of this tradition, I threw my leg back over my ol’ roan horse and we headed out to push the cattle back out.  What a sight watching mamas join back up with babies as the bawled and called their way back up over the hillsides.

The smiles in the eyes, the ‘thank yous’ and the ‘good jobs’ were generously passed around.  It was an honor to be part of something so worthwhile, with people I am proud to call my friends.  And the best part was being asked back to do it all over again the next day…

I will forever be grateful for these opportunities that the generous families around here have been kind enough to ask me to be a part of.  Life is good on the ‘ol hi-line, and it’s even better in the brandin’ pen.

Happy Trails,

Heather

I Gotta Horse For Sale…

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Those of you in the horse world have seen them…those “horse for sale” ads and groups on Craig’s List and Facebook.  Now, I don’t begrudge someone wanting to sell a horse, and possibly recoup a little of the money spent on raising or training one, but from what I’ve seen lately, I’d rather buy a goat. And, before ya go and get your undergarments in a giant wad, or your hinder in a binder, here’s an example of what appears to be an acceptable ad these days:

RANCH DISPERSAL SALE

‘Beautiful Brood Mare Prospect’ 10 years old sorta broke registered American Quarter Horse grade paint brood mare with one eyeball, accidentally bred to my neighbor’s jack donkey through the fence. Bloodlines are amazing triple bred Doc Bar on sire’s side but the dam mighta been out of the great bronc, Lunatic Fringe.  She appears to be built for speed, but only when I try to catch her out of the 40 acre pasture, but most of the time she’s real friendly and you can catch her pert near anywhere with a grain bucket.  She’s pretty good with three of her feet, but that left hind is kinda a bitch. She might take your head off.  She’s a little toed in, and spavin hocked, but her teeth are good.  She may make a real nice barrel horse if you give her a 200 foot by 400 foot arena to turn her in.  Only asking $10,000 or best offer, but to a good home only.

’16 Year Old Seasoned Head Horse’ He’s a little stiff in the morning, but hell, what guy worth a plug nickel ain’t?  Appears to loosen up after stumbling a few laps around the the arena or 2o minutes of ground work.  He needs a little extra padding on them whithers and every month or so needs some cortisone injections, but he likes the vet.  He hates dogs, but would probably make a good “husband horse”.  I do believe John Wayne learned to rope off him.  He ground ties, trips into the trailer, and sleeps standing up.  He’s safe for most folks, but occasionally spooks at his own farts. He’s a steal at only $15,000. Won’t last long.

‘4 Year Old Green Broke Roping/Hunter/Jumper Prospect’ Nice tall boy. About 16H, a little narrow chested, but will grow. Has one testicle left but seems real calm and quiet.  Started him hunting and packing last fall.  That’s how we found out he’s a jumper.  Had him at the pack out corrals and he jumped the 8ft fence to flirt with the neighbor’s mare.  Once we caught him and had him tracking on some elk, he spooked when we shot the rifle, and we got to spend the rest of our time hunting him.  Brought him home and put him to work ranching, because we’re real ranchy punching cows and stuff. Threw a loop off him and he seemed to settle in real well until I realized I pantyhosed the calf, pissed off the mama cow, and ran the rope up under his tail.  He bucked just a little and cow kicked at me as I went off, but he just needs a little more ground work I think.  He’s gotta go though, cause I got some hospital bills to pay.  Only asking $14,500.  That should about cover the doc’s bills.

After all that… who needs a horse? Y’all be careful horse swappin’ out there… As for me, I’ma gonna buy me a goat…

Happy Trails~

Heather

 

 

She Rides

This is an ode to the most beautiful woman I know.  No finer lady will this world have the pleasure of knowing, and at 66, may she know that’s she’s the most beautiful version of herself now more than ever.  May this serve as a reminder that even though she’s a mother, a wife, and a grandmother, that she is still all woman, and most importantly, uniquely amazing with what she offers up to this world with the biggest and kindest of hearts…. Happiest of birthdays, Mama…

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I always picture her here on the back of spry black & white paint horse riding down a mountain trail. Her black hair and dark eyes glitter, and you know she’s at home here, the most in love here, and the most alive here.  She sits tall and true.  She rides.

 But in all actuality, this is how she handles life and all the crazy it throws at her.  She’s seen mountains of heartbreak, admitted guilt, nursed sick children, loved her family and husband fiercely, she’s fallen and risen, and prayed her way through it all. Sure, she’s made mistakes and blamed herself; nobody is more aware of them than her.  But, through it all, she rides, head held high, straighter and truer with every turn of the trail. She rides.

She’s tough. I’ve seen her eat dirt coming off a rank colt, and pull herself up and throw a leg over him one more time, just to prove she’s boss.  She has a way with horses; she sees untapped potential, and she loves the challenge of the ornery ones. And she rides them. She hangs and rattles with the best of ’em because she rides.

Lord, she’s strong; strong- willed and strong-minded, but mostly, strong-hearted.  The only fear I’ve ever seen in her is the possibility of losing a loved one.  And she’s been there. She’s lost love and she cries.  And she loves again, stronger. She extends her open arms and heart to those around her, those in need of it most, stranger or friend.  She rides through this life with grace and love. She rides.

She paints beautiful pictures, she builds a home full of laughter, love, kindness and respect.  She’s music, Sunday morning hymnals, and a little kick-ass country because it’s Monday.  She’s fast horses, Sunday morning church, and a lover and a fighter.  She’s woman, all beautiful woman, refined and lady-like and tough as nails. She’s all of these because she rides.

I’m lucky enough to call her Mama.  There’s nobody I look up to more in this life, and I am forever grateful for all she’s ever been to me. Strength when I needed, a boot in the ass when I deserved it, and unconditional love always. Thank you for all the firsts in this life, like teaching my to drive a stick and pull a horse trailer, how to cook, and how to get tough when the tough get going.  Thank you for your love and support through the years when I doubted my own skills and strengths.  But I’m most thankful for your teaching me to ride. Straight, strong and true, she rides…

Love you, Mama. Happy Birthday!

I Thought of You Today…

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I thought of you today while the wind teased the loose tendrils of hair from under my hat. The familiar feel and memories of a spring with you came flooding back. The horse hair curried, the mane and tail trimmed and shaped, the tack cleaned and oiled just right. My horse rolled air through his nose, and snorted with anticipation. He knew the first ride of spring was upon him. Old Roany gave me the look, the one you used to tell me to watch for. The look that allows a fraction of insight into their heart and soul, the one chance you get at an advantage on a spry, spring-backed horse. I saw so much life there. He told me not to worry or be afraid. And he told me he would test me, but he also told me to trust. He read my hesitation. You see, he’s sort of like you were. Standoffish. Confident. Proud. Full of life. I saw your reflection in his eyes and your words echoed in my ear, softly. I saddled him up, lead him away from the hitch rail, the wind picking up force.  My bosal hackamore, the one you gave me, hung from the horn, and I always see your hands, weathered and rough, on the mecate. I bridled him, patted him, and gave him one last look as I grabbed a hunk of mane, and swung a leg over ‘ol red roany. Hump in his back, wind in his tail, and the look in his eye, he strode out just like he always does every time, quick and sure-footed and in charge. You would’ve liked Red, Popi. He would have been just your style. The smile on my face said it all.  Anyway, I thought of you today…

Leaving a Legacy

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Some moments simply leave your mouth absent of words, your eyes filled with warm tears, and your heart so full of love and pride, and when those moments come, you make note of every detail in that capsule of time.  My grandfather, Clarence Barron “C.B.” Rich was recently inducted into the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame this month in Great Falls.  I have written about my grandpa in the past and shared how he impacted my insignificant, little life, but to witness what it means to really leave a legacy behind for another generation to nurture and care for as their own is priceless.

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He was one of thirty-five inductees, living and legacy, to be honored at this year’s ceremonies.  How a committee narrows down a group of thirty-five cowboys from all of those spread out over the years in Montana is baffling, because as I sat there and listened to the names being read and the story behind each cowboy or cowgirl, I thought how extremely lucky I was to be in the company of these fine inductees and those that came to honor them.

The stories shared were truly etched from the pages of Montana and western history; stories from train robbery attempts and assisting outlaws to carving out an honorable life from the harsh and formidable landscapes we now take for granted.  Underneath every Stetson hat in that room, was a true and honorable cowboy or cowgirl.  And somehow, I was lucky enough to be connected to this amazing moment in time.

I looked around the solarium full of people, close to probably five hundred, and with each name read from the inductee list, there was a family member or friend there to receive the award.  There was a deep pride each one felt hearing their inductee being named, the standing ovations and the well-deserved applause for those known and not known, for their accomplishments and attributions to the community we call “cowboy”.

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There were bronc stompers, ropers, farmers & ranchers, cattlemen & women, teamsters, outfitters, outlaws, horse trainers, artists, authors & poets, rodeo competitors, and  livestock entrepreneurs, all being honored. They were, and are all “cowboy”,  and all darn sure legendary.  Their stories were significant, entertaining, and different, but the commonality was all of these people were and are, tough as a new bride’s biscuits.  They tended livestock in the worst of weather, they cut trails, built barns, rode rough horses and even rougher country, all in the name of providing for a family, a community, and a country.  Their purpose was strong, bold, and etched out of crusted sweat on their brows, and callouses on their weathered hands.  Not a one of them missed the mark on work ethic and values.  They all knew what it meant to be a part of something bigger than themselves.  They loved their families and communities, and fought for their country and our freedom.  They had grit, true grit, in their guts and steel in their veins.

I observed the younger generation looking on in the room, and wondered if any felt like I did?  Will generations yet to come understand what it took for their ancestors and loved ones to build their legacies, their homesteads, ranches, and hard-earned dreams? Better yet, will they even care?  Will they know to look up from their mobile devices and televisions, and work at a back-breaking speed to beat a storm?  Does our current culture and warped society give a damn about such things anymore?  Do they care about pulling calves in a March snowstorm? Will they know the exhilarating feeling of throwing a leg over a fresh colt, or to climb a mountain pass and blaze a new trail over rugged miles of rocks and trees?  Will they know the art of carving life out of a Charlie Russell landscape? Will they appreciate the hue of the prairie sunrises and sunsets as they glance of the coulees and breaks?  Will they be inspired to do more and be more?

I hope so.  These people leave an amazing legacy to carry and pass on down the line.  They take so much knowledge and history with them when they go, and they live big boots to fill.  I am honored to be a part of such a life, and I hope that I am able to do more than ride along on the coattails of my grandpa’s legacy.  Because it’s about time I made my own…

Happy Trails~