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~


Heather 

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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

 

 

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 ~

Me

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. ❤️

Hometown

days-gone-by_16812654352_oHometown. You spend the entirety of your childhood waiting for the day to leave this god-forsaken place just knowing there must be a bigger, better world out there awaiting you. And there possibly is.  But what you don’t realize at the time is you will come to miss what your hometown has truly manifested in your heart of hearts.  It won’t be a sense of success or money that you seek, but the first time you come back home after a long period of being gone, your heart will see what really mattered all along…A sense of comfort and belonging and stillness and peace. And most importantly, love.

It’s not much of a secret to anyone how much I miss home.  But I was ready to leave for a while when I did a few years back.  Ready for a change. I was one of the few of my graduating class that stayed.  I didn’t seek out grand college ideas, even though I wanted to be a large animal vet.  I didn’t mind bar tending and waiting tables and working odd jobs just to get by, because I always had my family and the ranch.  I had what I needed to feel fulfilled out my backdoor.  And then life changed. Family came along and bills needed paid, and it was evident that I had to do something about it, so moving happened. And I embraced every part of it.  I had to. Adventure and change finally awaited me, and there was no sense not meeting that change with arms wide open and a freshened heart ready to beat strongly.

And life went on in my hometown.  Without me.  And I thought, “I don’t miss it. It is always there to come back to.”  I still tell myself those things.  And with every drive back home, the  “I don’t miss it” turns into “I miss some things about it”.  And then phone calls come about people passing, family and friends and high school pals, and the “I miss some things about it” turns into “I miss home. Every damn day.”

16812880925_4783c52764_hWhen I walked through the doors of my favorite church this Christmas for service, I had a difficult time managing my tears and swallowing the lump in my throat.  It was joy and peace and love I felt.  The friendly faces, the “it’s so great to see yous”, the warm embraces, the “we miss yous”  and kind words.  Life went on, and some things changed, but the one constant was the goodness of what I always loved about my hometown hadn’t… the love of good people and their hometown hearts.

And I am forever grateful for my hometown. For the county lines that bring a smile to my face when I drive that familiar drive west.  I remember fondly the first kisses that happened here, the football field full of black and gold, and the smell of peanut butter and paste that greets my senses in the schools I grew up in.  I am grateful for those church pews and the warm and welcoming faces that don’t forget me.

I love the scent of pine that greets my nose, the mountains and the valleys that I intimately know; the back roads I drive to get lost on and with every little, winding mile I find another piece of me.  With every visit, I come back to life here. I realize that in leaving my hometown, this crazy, hectic world has given me sanctuary here.  A place to come back to, to right the wrongs, to remember my roots, and a place to just be me again.  A place to anchor in the storms of life.  A place that continuously welcomes me no matter the time that lapses.

Hometown hearts, they are the love that makes a place home.  And I am proud of the place I call home. Always and forever will be…

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Just Your Time

I was asked recently what I wanted for Christmas this year, and I thought about that. Of course there are material items that came to mind. (I am only human.) A horse trailer was at the top of the list, but then a truck upgrade was, too. I’m not much for impractical items like pretty jewelry or fuzzy leggings. (Leggings tell entirely too much truth for my liking!) So, I decided it’s not about what material item I could want or need. My needs are met, but sometimes the needs of the heart fall slightly short. And what we could all use more of on this earth, is just a little more time.

My needs are really what I want for all of you…I want for you a place to call home filled with family, laughter, slight dysfunction, and a whole lot of memories to be made. May it be filled with less stuff and more love.

 I want your time. Time for a visit over coffee with friends, new and old. I want for you to pass on an old tradition or trade you’ve learned or perfected, and share that with the next generation. Stay connected to them without a device. Teach them what it means to pull up their bootstraps and dig in. Help them see what life there is to be lived out there. Let them embrace their roots and their wings. I want you to live, love, smile, and give. Give of your time because you can. Give of it because you want to.

I want for that bronc to test ya, but may you be able to match him jump for jump. Sometimes life is all about that hang and rattle. And if you hit that dirt, pick yourself up, dust off, and try again. May your whiskey be smooth and straight. And may it kick your butt just once to remind you of your limits. May your music be beautiful and speak to your heart.

May you find grace and forgiveness if you’re seeking it for yourself or others.  May you find joy and peace and strength. May you smile more and dance any chance you can. Hit the pause button once in a while, and make time. Make time to get back to the heart of life. Hug your family, kiss the babies, and fall in love all over again.  

I guess I really want nothing of you, but everything for you this holiday season. I just want your time. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your care and love and insight this past year. May your holidays be all you wish for and more. Much love to you and yours, and as always, Happy Trails from my Big Sky to yours.❤

~Heather

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

Cowgirl, Who Are You When the World Ain’t Lookin’?

I will admit, I’m a people watcher. I find myself intrigued and wondering what makes up the character of a person. As women, we often feel threatened by what we perceive other women to be. We measure ourselves strongly against other’s physical appearance, by successes, by well-behaved children, by the cars we drive, by relationship statues, by friendships, and facebook posts. We constantly strive to measure up. And sadly, I catch myself doing the same. In that acknowledgement, I also realize that life is so often not what it seems. Every single one of us has a unique story, has scars, lives with fear, smiles through tears, or has a chapter in our life story we don’t read aloud. This realization levels the playing field.  We’re in this life together to help each other, inspire one another, cry with one another, and embrace our differences. 

So, that is where the following rambling came from, knowing we all have secret hopes and unfulfilled dreams. I challenge you to not compare your uniqueness to another, to look deeper than the surface of yourself and others, erase expectations and preconceived notions, and see the heart and soul of someone. Read between the lines. You may be surprised what you find you can relate to…

Cowgirl, who are you when the world ain’t looking begging you to be all it expects you to be? What are your hopes and dreams? What do you see when you look in the mirror? Are you happy with what you’ve come to be? Do you beat yourself up because you think you’ve failed? Do you like who you see? Are you still searching, longing to find your voice down deep inside? Are you happy, really truly happy and feel life is as it should be?

Are you looking for love? Are you married and struggling to reconnect? Do you still long to find your childhood love and ride off into a sunset? Are you missing someone? Their touch? Their smile? Their laugh? Do you ask if love will ever be? Do you have good friends? Or do prefer to just be?

Who are you, cowgirl, when this old world ain’t looking, waiting for you to make your next move? When it’s not asking you to be what you don’t want to be? Do you close the chapter on your book of life that hurts too much to read? Do you hate yourself for your mistakes? Do you wish you could just change everything? Anything? Just that one thing? Do you have regrets? Do you share unselfishly your gifts and talents with others, or tuck it away in safety away from the world’s harsh reality? Do you know who you really want to be? Do you rise up? Do you try again? Do let it all go? Do you let it be what it will be?

Are you hardened or closed because you’ve built walls to guard your heart? Do you cry for no reason at all? Are you sick? Are you tired? Are worried about it all?

Hey cowgirl, who are you when the world ain’t looking?

Do you dance in your underwear and sing in the rain? Do you drink wine straight from the bottle? Do you like your whiskey straight? Do you paint your nails red, bright, shiny red because it makes you feel pretty? Do you let your hair down, or cut it off because you just need a change?

Do you hike a thousand miles through the wilderness just to know your real heart?  Do you love whomever you want? Do you raise babies, and ride broncs? Do you work at your passion? Or just a job to get by?

Do trail cattle on the  calico prairies and sagebrush sea? Do you let that wild horse run? Do you let your lungs breathe the mountain air deep? Do you travel the world to see through new eyes? Do you put down roots and watch them grow? What is your story? Why?

Cowgirl, be who you want to be anytime, anywhere… Even if this world is watching, do just as you care.  Quit waiting, quit wondering. Just get out there and live, cause this one life ain’t waiting on you, so why are you waiting on it?

Happy Trails, Cowgirl~

Heather ©

Ride


Ride until the broken is mended. Ride until the tears are dry. Ride until the closed door reopens. Ride until you feel that high. Ride until weakness fades. Ride until you know you can fly.  Just climb in the saddle and ride.🌄