Old ranch pickups never die. They just get put out to pasture.
Old ranch pickups never die. They just get put out to pasture.
This little chick had a rough day today. I’m not sure how his afternoon began, but it ended with a tongue bath from a very curious puppy. Border collies make terrible bird mamas. He’s now safely ensconced in a tree in our yard awaiting some assistance from mom.
This weekend, the woman that introduced me to Outdoor Guy asked me “So do you feel like you have a strong marriage? Everything is good?”
Without hesitation, I answered “Yes.”
While this friend and I were once quite close, life and jobs have moved us in different directions. The weekend was a great opportunity to touch base with one another, and I think she just really wanted to know in her heart I was doing well.
“Yes,” I answered again with a bit more urgency. “We’re great.”
Today, as I sit here on our eighth wedding anniversary, my “yes” just doesn’t seem adequate enough of an answer. It doesn’t capture the depth of my feelings for and about the amazing man I married. The man that keeps me grounded and lets me soar. The man that wipes my tears and kicks me in the butt. The man that lifts me up and brings my head out of the clouds.
In many ways, it feels like we’ve been married longer than just eight years. We’ve endured the birth of our child, the death of my father, the loss of two pregnancies and the death of two beloved dogs. We’ve survived three moves and two career changes.
Some of the ladies were ribbing me about sneaking out of camp to call Outdoor Guy and check in. But that’s what makes us who we are. I don’t call him out of any sense of obligation or because we need to keep tabs on each other. I genuinely want to talk to him, to hear his voice, to know how his day went. And he wants to know how things are going for me, too.
We love each other. We respect each other. We value the strengths and support the weaknesses of each other. We are a team.
I’ve over-thought and second-guessed many decisions in my life. But never him. Never us. I didn’t hesitate to say yes eight years ago in our vows and I won’t hesitate to say yes when someone asks me if my marriage is still going strong. Yes. Yes. A thousand times, yes.
I spent the last four days nestled in a little nook along Clear Creek on the eastern slope of Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains. Oh how my soul missed those mountains.
It felt like old home week for me. The earthy smell of a dewy forest floor, the tang of pine, the crisp air stinging my cheeks, the twittering of chickadees… it was a feast for the senses. Wildflowers carpeted the hills, the meadows afire with the likes of arnica, lupine and prairie smoke yet to bloom, set against the jaw-dropping beauty of granite peaks like Loaf Mountain and Big Horn Peak.
Just looking at this stunning, familiar landscape made my heart sing with happiness.
Most of my time was dedicated to taking photos of women learning new outdoor skills. But when I thought no one would miss me, I would sneak away to find a mountain view to photograph or just a quiet spot in the woods to stop and be. The soft cushion of pine needles under my feet and the occasional chattering of a red squirrel provided a quiet musical accompaniment to my thoughts and musings.
I never realized how much I truly missed living and playing here until now. Outdoor Guy and I started our lives together on the western slope of these mountains. Together, we fished the high country and hunted the lowlands. We talked about our present and dreamed of our future.
When it was time to pack up camp, I drug my feet coming home. I didn’t want to break the spell this place had woven around me once again. But I had made my choice long ago, and it was time to leave this place behind me.
Twenty-four hours later, it was back to Goshen County, where wide open spaces and endless views give my soul room to breathe. A place where tractors and balers churn across the hillside A land of the heady smell of fresh-cut hay and cow manure. These plains of my childhood are as comfortable as an old pair of shoes. Antelope and hawks, “minor fauna” like Woodhouse toads, sagebrush lizards, bull frogs and opossum to encounter. New friends that welcomed us here with open hearts and treat us like family. This place is home, too.
“You can’t ride two horses with one ass, Sugar Bean.”
As Wyokiddo and I sped toward our house with the bright red doors, I contemplated the conflicting emotions inside me.
We live in world where we are forced to make dozens of choices daily. We are expected to choose a course of action and stay on our side of the that line in the sand. Paper or plastic. Organic or conventional. City or country. Foreign or domestic. Red or blue. Society demands strict adherence to this rigid dichotomy.
I believe otherwise. My life is richer for the diversity of experience. We can have plains and mountains, frogs and elk, roots and wings. It is the breadth and very dichotomy of this state itself that feeds my soul.
Wyokiddo, Outdoor Guy and I got up a little early this morning to head down to our local reservoir for some fishing. We got skunked.
On our walk back to the car, we saw some tiny little lizards darting across the path on the dam. They were about the size of Outdoor Guy’s index finger and lightning fast. We were also treated to the antics of some fat, lazy prairie dogs and a burrowing owl sighting on our way home.
“Sorry we didn’t catch any fish,” I told Wyokiddo as we put our stuff away in the house.
“Are you kidding?” She asked me. “We saw lizzards and owls. this was the best fishing trip ever!”
I love that even at five, she’s starting to realize our mornings on the water isn’t about how many fish we catch, but about what we experience along the way together as a family.
You turned five this week, as you happily told everyone we encountered the last few days. You think turning five means you can run faster and reach taller things like your other five-year old friends.
We celebrated with a party with your Wee Pals friends, lunch with Daddy on the actual day, and a party with family a day late because of some crazy thunderstorms that hit Wyoming on your actual birthday. What a lucky little girl you are to have so many people who love you and want to celebrate with you. I made an Elena of Avalor cake, and the hit presents were an Elena of Avalor guitar and a Minnie Mouse watch.
You have grown so much in the last year. You are definitely a big kid now, ready to tackle kindergarten in the fall and anything else that life might throw at you. I love your sense of adventure and willingness to try new things. School, soccer, ballet…you tried all of them with a zest and confidence I admire. Today, you went off the diving board at swimming lessons and swam to the side. You didn’t hesitate once. Your fearlessness inspires me to step out of my own comfort zone and try new things with you.
Your friends are becoming more important to you. At school, I was told you usually preferred to play with the boys. You love to play chase and tag and monsters and bad guys. You attended your first birthday parties this year. You teachers described you as the kind of girl who is friends with and plays with everyone. When your new friend Colby told you his horse died and he was sad, you came home and drew him a picture to help cheer him up. I love that you are social and genuinely kind to everyone.
Our relationship is changing, too. No longer do you accept everything I tell you as gospel. You question me and test me. Sometimes it infuriates me, but I also know that it means you are developing your own sense of self and independent thinking skills. You are also developing your own opinion on everything. It is hard to accept because I still want you to want and need me. But you are growing up and that means sometimes we will disagree.
You are looking forward to kindergarten and being with your friends. You’re sad that Colby, Brady and your other Wee Pals friends won’t be there with you. You cried when we had to say goodbye to Mrs. Mareta, Mrs. Molly and Mr. Lance at the end of the school year. But I know you will enjoy the coming years too. You are very much like Daddy and I in that you love to learn and understand how things work. You are reading simple books by yourself, adding small numbers and counting higher and higher each day. This spring, you accurately explained to me what an eclipse was, even demonstrating it with your yogurt, cereal bowl and water glass at breakfast one morning.
You continue to be an animal lover and nature explorer. We spent hours in the barns so you could see and hold the pheasant chicks. You love to watch nature shows like Wild Kratts and Nature Cat and learn about animals. At night, when we give you kisses and cuddles, you most often want to play the “Animal Game,” where you describe an animal and we have to guess it. You know where an animal lives, what it eats, what it looks like and other weird facts about it. Lemurs, giraffes, turtles, panda bears, whale sharks, you love them all. You are Ziggy’s best friend and Roxy’s best girl. I love watching you play “dog trainer” and putting Ziggy through his paces. You were so upset when Roxy got bit by a rattlesnake. I don’t think you slept at all that night we had to leave her at the vet. Thankfully, she recovered and the two of you were back to playing dress up in a few days.
It is no surprise that you want to be a veterinarian when you grow up. But I can also envision you as a scientist, teacher or a wildlife biologist like Daddy. With your sense of adventure, I can picture you tracking down snow leopards in the Himayalas for your own Youtube channel. Or maybe you’ll be an artist. We spend hours drawing, painting and doing crafts. My office is rapidly filling up with all your artwork!
Your favorite song right now is “Dirt on My Boots.” You love it when Daddy and I turn on the music after dinner and we dance in the kitchen. Some of your other favorites are “Walk Like an Egyptian,” “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” and “Happy.”
You are one of the only 5-year olds I know with a summer job. After dinner, you, me, Daddy and Ziggy head out to the bird pens to run the chicks into their houses. Sometimes you like it, other times you’d prefer to stay inside where it’s cool. But we’re it as an opportunity to teach you about chores and responsibility. You’re learning that life isn’t all fun and games and that we can’t quit just because a job gets hard. I hope that seeing him in action and being around him will help you develop a work ethic like Daddy’s. And I hope that little glimpse into how hard he works for our family will stick with you for life, and you’ll appreciate the sacrifices he makes for our family. Chance are good you’ll like this chore less and less as time passes. Until the day, that is, that you realize it wasn’t about working but about family.
There are times I look forward to the fall when you will be in school and I will have more free time. But most of the time, I just get sad thinking about it. You’ve been my constant companion and partner in crime for the last five years. Not having you with me all day will be a big change for both of us. No more impromptu trips to Cheyenne for lunch with Nana or afternoon runs to AJs for a soda. I will miss this time with you more than you’ll ever know.
We argue and get frustrated with each other. We get mad. You get sad. But nothing is ever too bad that we can’t fix it with an “I’m sorry” and a good, long hug. May that always be the case for our relationship. We love you to pieces my dear, sweet, kind, beautiful girl. Happy 5th birthday.
(This is the fifth in a series of letters I’ve written to my daughter each year on her birthday. When she’s 18th, I’m going to give them to her and let her see herself through our eyes over the years.)
Our neighbor brought a gift for Wyokiddo today in the form of a jar full of tadpole shrimp, or “Triops.” They are tiny little crustaceans with three eyes and up to 70 pairs of legs. This one was no bigger than the tip of my pinky finger.
They don’t have a real long lifespan. Most will die within 90 days, if their water source doesn’t die up first. They must be tougher than they look, because some species of Triops are more than 300 years old.
Nature continually surprises and delights me!
Earlier this month, I went legit and officially created my own business, Dirt Road Wife Photography LLC. I have an tax ID number, official looking paperwork from the Secretary of State and a business checking account. Heck, I’ve even got business cards.
Except sometimes I don’t feel legit as a photographer.
I will encounter a new situation and don’t know exactly how to tackle it in the moment. Or I get home, start editing my images and am crestfallen because what felt good in the moment and looked good on my LCD screen isn’t wowing me after the fact.
Sometimes, it’s other photographers who undermine my self-confidence. Long-time pros who make snarky remarks about all the wannabe mom-tographers devaluing the industry and undermine their pricing.
“Is that what I’m doing?” I ask myself. “Pretending to be a photographer? Am I a joke?”
I compare my work to the work of the professionals I admire and it feels woefully inadequate. Tara Bolgiano, Janelle Rose, Cassie Madden…real women, wonderful people and phenomenal photographers who seem to ooze beautiful images and confidence out their pores. And I work and practice and study, but I still can’t quite get there…
Those are the days I think about selling my saddle.
It would be easy to quit. Walk away. I’ve had different offers for work, who’s to know I chose it over my secret goal of being a professional photographer?
I would. I would know that I took the easy way out. That I was afraid to grow, to risk. And I would regret it.
So I’m going to tackle this new goal like the others I’ve set for myself. I’m going to continue to work and study and practice. I’m going to hustle. Maybe I’ll get there, maybe I won’t. But I do know I’ll never ride that horse to the finish line if I sell my saddle now.
*”Don’t Sell Your Saddle” is a poem written by Don Bilup. The above photo is mine, copyright Dirt Road Wife Photography LLC.
As spring winds down and summer begins, ranchers in Wyoming begin the time-tested tradition of branding their cattle. Branding predates our state, and is still the most reliable method of marking cattle for identification.
How a cattleman organizes his branding is as unique as the actual brand itself. Some families choose the traditional route of roping calves out of a herd with horses and cowboys. Others choose to use a chute and table, eliminating the need for horses. Some features are a matter of necessity, others of tradition. Some ranch branding probably don’t look all that different than they might have 100 years ago, save for a iron heated by propane instead of a wood fire.
But some things don’t change. No matter where you go, you’ll find neighbors helping neighbors. Kids work side-by-side with their parents, learning how to brand, rope and even castrate the bull calves. Socializing with friends and family. Earthy smells. Petty squabbles. Cussing. Laughter. And food. Lots and lots of homemade, delicious food.
Joining the Smith family and their crew is quickly becoming one of my favorite parts of the year.
For years, I’ve watched nature shows about the Northern Lights and longed to see them. I figured it would involve a trip somewhere, well…north! But last night, Outdoor Guy saw an anomaly in our night sky as he went to check the chick hatcher one last time before bed.
“Hey, come see this,” he called. I slid the computer off my lap, shoved my feet in shoes and walked outside to join him.
To the northwest of the property was a weird streak of light rising from the horizon into the night sky. My first thoughts were moon dog or someone with a bonfire and the smoke and light were playing tricks on our eyes. But the conditions weren’t right for either of those.
“I gotta get my camera,” I said and dashed into the house.
I spent the next thirty minutes playing with long exposures and light painting. I went to bed happy with the performance of my new camera and pretty satisfied with the image I managed to build. I woke up to others’ photos of these same lights, folks who lived hundreds of miles from my house. The consensus was the same.
Well I’ll be damned.
Last night, standing behind our house in south eastern Wyoming, accompanied by a background soundtrack of owls and frogs, of I witnessed the Northern Lights. Hats off to Mother Nature, that was quite a performance.