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.



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,

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,





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~


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,





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 ©

She Walked Beside the Wagon

Pictured Above: Lizzie Kate Longstreet (Hunter)Rich and Frank Rich
Guardian angels. I believe we all have one. And currently mine is looking down on me with rolled eyes, and her head shaking saying, “Heather, the good Lord thinks this would be a grand day for you to finally get your s*** together.” (I’m sure she’s cussed a time or two in her day, or I wouldn’t be feeling so kindred).

I believe 5′ tall Lizzie  Kate Longstreet (Hunter) Rich, my great, great grandmother, with her dark, raven hair is my guardian angel. Here’s why…

The stories of Grandma Lizzie have always intrigued me. She came west with her family on an oxen train in 1864 from Missouri, and settled in Montana, where she met her husband, Frank Rich. It was always said Lizzie was a crack shot and a helluva horsewoman, breaking her last colt at age 76 while riding side saddle.

 One of the stories my grandpa C.B. used to tell was of a feisty pony that kept bucking him off and running back to the barn leaving him afoot. He said Grandma Lizzie had had enough of the ornery pony and told him to go saddle him up because she was taking him berry picking that day. Well, the day went on, and Grandma Lizzie was nowhere to be found until later that evening.  When she returned, her basket was plum full of berries and the pony was worked over in a lather. Whatever transpired while berry-picking later caught up with the poor cuss, as it met its demise that night in the barn. She’d literally ridden him in the ground. Grandpa always said, he never crossed Grandma Lizzie and that story was proof why. 

Whether it was the lifestyle, or her raising, or a combination of consequences, Grandma Lizzie always seemed like the toughest lady, and in that strength of character, from listening to timeless story after story, I found something as a young woman I could grasp onto. 

I often listen to music, usually of the country variety, and I once came across a song sung by Lorrie Morgan called “She Walked Beside the Wagon”. I was fresh out on my own and unsure of everything. There I was, navigating life to the best of my ability, and struggling with decisions and choices, and now faced with raising a child. I felt lost, worried, and alone. I really had no inkling of where to go in life when I heard this song. It goes…

“She felt the cold and dreary wind chill her to the bone. Through the Oklahoma dust before there was a road. Determination on her face and aching in her feet. With all hope gone, she still walked on, into history. She walked beside the wagon, and she held her head up high. If she walked beside the wagon, so can I. So can I.”

This song brought Grandma Lizzie to life for me. I could picture her struggling and working hard to raise a family in the wilds of untamed Montana. And I could feel her blood pulsing through my veins and her picking me up and saying to me, “Keep a going, girl. A little hard work never did a body harm.” Knowing I had to be strong, I let her presence settle in my soul. And I’ve kept her tucked away to draw strength from on occasion, then and now.  Because if she could walk beside the wagon, so could I.

Strength. We all have it. I see it in women everywhere. I saw it in my Grandma Helen raising a family full of love, and loving one man her whole life, waiting out a war a half a world away for him to come home safely. I’ve seen it in my own mama nursing my brother during leukemia, and still finding it in herself to selflessly give of her time and love to the rest of us. I’ve seen that woman hit the ground hard off a wily colt and get back on the son of a gun for another go round.  I see it in girlfriends, my sister, my cousins, and most recently, my Aunt Sharon, who just lost her childhood love and husband this last fall. The grace with which she pushes on is nothing short of amazing.  And I see it in my own daughter, Kiley, as she now finds her way. 

Ladies, we’ve got this. We’re made of tough stuff. Because if she walked beside the wagon, we can too. No words ring truer for me. Grandma Lizzie, wherever you are, thank you for reminding me to always pull myself up by the bootstraps and to carry on. Because we all have this one life to live. It’s up to us to live it well, no matter how tough it gets. And that is a beautiful thing. 

Happy Trails~


A Story Worth Tellin’

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

“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…


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.


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,





My Sister

“She stands firmly on her own two feet; and I just behind her should she ever need me.”~J. Iron Word

My sister. Jamie Kay. I just knew the day we brought her home from the hospital, we had the wrong package. I was supposed to be a big sister to a little brother, Joshua. I even confessed that to the local pharmacist in town at three and a half years old. I told him we brought Jamie home and left Joshua at the hospital. But, here she was, my little sister. And I didn’t think much of her for a while.

But then our parents split up when we were young. And we were weekend warriors between households. And I thought more of her then. Little did I realize at that moment, the best gift our parents would ever gave us was each other.

And she made me mad. She  irrititated me. She was in my way. She beat me at Monopoly. And she was an amazing reader. And she was smart, so smart. And she looked cute in dresses and had sandy brown, curly hair and dimples. But she irritated me.

As teens, life turned a little upside down as life tends to do from time to time. And there was a moment it felt like she was all I had. I wasn’t always nice, and I wasn’t always able to look outside myself to see what she needed from her big sister. But she hung on. She graciously, quietly grew excelling at school. And carried burdens and buried pain and smiled all the way through.

And I graduated from high school while she entered her first year. I stayed close to home and fixed her hair and did her make-up for homecoming. I drove her around and talked boys and went to movies and drank wine one crazy night, because that’s what big sisters do.  And our relationship grew. A new appreciation came about for the young lady that I grew up annoyed with, yet wanting to protect from every injustice this world could muster up.

And life grew another step. I had a baby and I watched her love my little girl and sing her lullabies and snuggle her tight. She drove me home on nights I had one too many. And I got married and she moved away to college. And joined a sorority. And met a boy that broke her heart. And moved on and met someone else. And she smiled again. Like all the way to her toes. She got engaged and I was cautiously happy. Then life turned upside down for her. And he was gone just like that. And I couldn’t bring him back. And no amount of being her big sister could change life for her when she desperately needed it to. But she hung on. She stood strong.

And she met her husband, a really great man. And a wedding came. And babies came. And we got through awful parenting days together, sharing stories and drying tears and laughing until our sides hurt, validating each other’s crazy.

There’s an honesty about my sister that’s a rarity these days. She’s pretty damn admirable. And every time I’m around her, I draw strength. I see unconditional love. I see the authenticity she emotes.  She has fire in her soul and grace in her heart. She’s my favorite soul to laugh with. I can’t imagine this life without my sister. My best friend. She’s my reality check. She’s my honest jeans and swimsuit shopping partner. She tells it like it is. She calls me out on my bullshit and lifts me up. And tells me when my haircut sucks. Nobody will ever be as entertained by us as we are. She is my kind of kindred crazy.

Together we are dreamers and doers. We are secret sharers and each other’s support system. We follow our hearts bound by similar beliefs and inspired by dreams. My sister. How lucky I am to be hers.

May today be the happiest of birthdays, Jamie Kay. I am proud of everything you are, and I thank God every day he chose me to be your sister. I love you. Yes. To the moon and back!

Love ~


It Will Come

•The Answer Will Come•

A new year, a new day, a new page in your novel of 365 pages. If you’re feeling like you’ve got to have a plan in place, a road mapped out in front of you to follow, to not lose track, to stay the course, but damn, you’re just not sure…Not sure of one blessed thing other than knowing you just can’t stay where you’re at, you’re not alone in the fog and the wonder. I feel you. I’m right there with you. I have no idea which tack to take. And it feels helpless and useless. But guess what? You have a desire in your heart, and that is in the process of coming into expression. It may not yet be tangible, but it will come. It will come. Don’t dwell on the appearances that make that desire feel hindered. Give yourself over to the conviction that you don’t have to have it all figured out today, January 1st, 2017. Just tell yourself, “It will come.” Healing of your heart will come. The right place and space will come. The right time will come. Harmony and understanding will come. Peace will come and strength will persevere. Faith and trust will come. There is an appointed time when your desire and your faith meet in the deepest part of your heart and they agree that now is the time. So, my friend, you may want to ask yourself for definition and clarity on your desires and wishes. Ask if this is the best you can imagine? Is this your truest and deepest wish for yourself? And you may want to pray and lean into faith and clean out the emotional closet, declutter and simplify anything that obstructs that desire. Because it will come. That answer will come, so be ready. If it feels delayed and slow, know it’s temporary. It just means you still have work to do. Any challenge that arises is just a calling for clarity. And you need to lean into faith just a little more. Dig deep. Be strong. Be peaceful and be fierce. The answer will come. And you will know that you’re about to step foot into the best damn adventure you and that crazy heart of yours desires. You don’t have to have it all figured out today at this very moment. You only need to know you’re ready for a change. The answer will come. ❤️