agriculture life, photography, Uncategorized, writing

Growing Through Goodbyes

County Fair 1-2It is fair season across the country.  County fair was always the highlight of my summer – I finally got to see all the hard work I’d put into my horses, pigs or other projects come to fruition. I looked forward to the ribbons, competition and friends. Sometimes I even made some money.

But every fair also ended on a bittersweet note.  The final day of county fair was also the day of the livestock sale, and that meant saying goodbye to an animal I’d grown to love. I cried each time I walked my hog into the sold pen or loaded them onto the truck bound for market.

“A lot of kids cry when they have to sell their animals,” you might think.  “It’s a tough thing at the age of ten.”

I was 21 and still crying.  I really did love those damn pigs.

Recently, a friend shared this article on Facebook, and I thought it was a pretty good read.  Saying goodbye: How parents teach their children to part with market animal projects

But why, friends and family would often ask, would you ever raise an animal if you’re just going to send it to its death at the end of the summer?

Raising an animal is a learning experience in and of itself.  I learned tangible skills like creating a budget, applying for a loan and how to reinvest profits into my project.  But I also gained a heap of character through responsibility, pride of ownership and dedication.  I developed humility and grace, because the outcomes were not always what I thought I deserved.  And I flat worked hard at tasks cleaning stalls, walking pigs, stacking hay and hauling buckets.

Selling my animal and knowing it was bound for slaughter also provided me some opportunities for emotional growth.  Life is not all lollipops and sunshine.  An animal must die so that we have meat.  It is as simple as that.  Being part of that cycle of life and death made me accountable for my actions as a meat eater.  It is easy to order a hamburger from a menu or buy processed chicken at the grocery store and wash your hands of your complicity in its death.  It is another thing entirely to actually get your hands bloody, so to speak, and be accountable to the process.

My heart hurt ached each time I had to say goodbye.  Those pigs and cattle had become part of my life.  I had tamed them with Cool Ranch Doritos, scratched their ears, kissed their faces, fed them grain, doctored their wounds and loved them with all my heart.  So saying goodbye was always hard and always emotional.  As my pig walked out the gate and into the sold pen, my eyes would well up and boil over.  The tears would fall off and on for the next few hours as I cleaned out pens and loaded tack.  The first year I raised pigs, I couldn’t eat pork for three months.

But I would do it again in a heartbeat.  I will encourage my daughter to do it, too, though ultimately the decision is up to her.  I would love for her to learn all those life skills like money management, communication and responsibility.  But she’ll get lessons in honesty, grit and toughness as well.

In my mind, raising market animals is not teaching our children to “betray their animal friends” as some animal rights organizations would have you believe.  Rather, we are teaching them the value of the life of an animal.  My daughter will learn that her actions have consequences for her  AND her animal, both good and bad.  She will learn to own those actions, just like I did.  As my dad used to tell me, our actions become our character and our character becomes our future.  Own your actions, build your future.

In much the same way, my  husband and I are honest about his work raising fish and now pheasants.  We own our actions as they pertain to the death of the birds he raises.  Some of these animals will supplement wild bird populations.  But most are raised and released for  hunting opportunities.  Last year I took my daughter to the hunting check station on the opening day of pheasant season.  We watched as the hunters came back with their birds and cleaned their carcasses.  We talked about how the pheasants she helped Daddy care for will now feed other families.  And we talked about how those hunters pay money that helps take care of all the wildlife and land that we love.  We even ate some of the pheasants  that died before they were released.  Because that is all part of the process.  I’m not trying to be cruel to my daughter.  But I am being honest and growing her heart.

I hurt at the end of every county fair.  I hurt from each of those goodbyes, but I also grew from them.  I am better for all the lessons I learned from each pig and cow.  I grew in confidence because I could take care of and provide for a life other than my own.  I learned that it is okay to be vulnerable.  I learned that I can survive the sad moments.  I learned that no matter how much it hurt, I still had the capacity to love.

So to all those kiddos out there saying those hard goodbyes, you have my empathy.  My heart breaks just a little for you because I know all too well how much it hurts.  But you also have my respect and admiration because you had the courage to put your heart on the line, the honesty to own your actions and the toughness to see it all through.  That’s called grit and it is a trait that will serve you and our world for years to come.


nature, photography, Uncategorized, weather, writing

And Mother Nature Taketh Away

Goshen County Light Show CRThis summer, we’ve been enjoying the bounty from the garden we planted.  All that came to a crashing halt last night as our area was hit with a massive storm that included winds, hail, heavy rains, more hail and lightning.

Our garden is almost a total loss and my flowers I keep along the house are no more.   Our yard was littered with dead birds, toads and even some rabbits. Fortunately, we didn’t sustain any real property damage.  Our friends and neighbors weren’t so lucky.  Just a half-mile down the road, one neighbor had his corn destroyed.  Another lost all the north facing windows in his house.  The talk all over the county fair today was about crop loss, broken windows and praying today’s storms give us a break.

About 45 miles due south of here, weather completely devastated the town of Pine Bluffs with a massive hail storm.  Golf ball-sized hail destroyed almost every window in every house and car in town.  On the level, 36 inches of collected hail was recorded.  It looked like Christmas in July, the stuff was so thick.

After the storm rolled over us, I tried my hand at some lightning photography.  Even seeing the storm from a distance was awe-inspiring.  The raw, unrelenting power of nature left me gobsmacked.  Lightning popped and crackleded in the distance, thunder rumbled into the void and I was left feeling how truly very infinitesimally small I am in this amazing universe we call home.

Wyokiddo was pretty bummed today as we surveyed the damage to our garden.  “No more vegetables?  But we worked so hard!” she wailed as we picked up tree limbs.

I was heartsick about our garden, too.  But it is just a garden.  It was not us, or our home or our livelihood that was destroyed.  I tried to use the opportunity to teach my little girl about toughness and gratitude.  So we talked about how we can be sad we lost our lovely garden, but we should also be thankful that we are safe and so are our friends and neighbors.

“But why did the storm want to wreck our garden and flowers?  That’s not nice!” she told me, stomping her foot in frustration.  It was all I could do not to laugh at her outrage.

“That’s just how life works.  Bad things happen like storms.  And we can be sad when our things get wrecked.  But good things happen, too,” I told her.  “It makes the good times just that much more fun!”

“Like the carnival.  That’s fun!  I can’t wait to go tomorrow!”

And with that, she was all smiles and giggles thinking about our upcoming trip to the carnival tomorrow.

Mother Nature giveth, and she taketh away.  All we can really do is enjoy the former, weather the latter and remember better times at the carnival are just around the corner.



nature, photography, Uncategorized, Wyoming

The Sentinel of Goshen County

Bear Mountain CR.jpgLong before I ever moved to Goshen County, Wyoming, to live on the bird farm, I traveled here to meet a friend from college and tour his farm and vineyard.  As he was explaining the area landmarks, he mentioned something about Bear Mountain.

“What mountain?” I asked.  I remembered passing some mesas, but certainly no mountains and none that I thought would be bear habitat.  This place was pretty flat, as topograpy went in the Cowboy State.

“The big plateau looking thing as you head South toward Cheyenne.  There’s a rock that juts out from it that looks like a bear.”

I contemplated the scenery on my drive home and did indeed locate “the bear.”  I called The Ferd to tell him I’d arrived safely and thank him for dinner.  I also told him the rock looked more like a prairie dog than it did a bear.

His response was prompt and vehement.

“You shut your damn dirty mouth, Terry.  That’s a bear and no one can tell us locals otherwise!”

Now that I’m a resident, “the bear” greets me each time I leave or enter our county to the South.  Even Wyokiddo likes to snap photos of the beast out her window.  He’s a fixture on our drive to see Nana and a welcome site as we head for home after a long day in the big city.

He’s my bear and I’m sticking with him.  (But I still think it looks like a prairie dog.)


country life, photography, Uncategorized, Weekly Photo Challenge

Cherry On Top

Emily SplashingMy response to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Cherry on top.

While Outdoor Guy toiled away tending to pheasants, Wyokiddo and I spent some time cooling off in the town pool.  She swam and splashed her way through the better part of the afternoon as I kept one eye on her and one eye on a burgeoning thunderstorm toward the south.

When my little water bug had her fill, we headed for home.  As our car climbed out of the valley and headed toward the bird farm, the tail end of the storm I’d been watching crossed the plains up ahead.  A solid wall of white and gray clouds extended as far as I could see from east to west.  I hoped it meant rain, because we have been oh so very, very dry here in the Inter-mountain West.

Excited, I called Outdoor Guy and confirmed that it was indeed raining at our house.  By the time I pulled into the driveway, the water falling from the sky was oscillating between big, fat raindrops and pea-sized hail.  My husband met me at our unattached garage with raincoats for me and Wyokiddo so we wouldn’t get soaked dashing to the house.

It is only our second summer here in Goshen County, Wyoming, so we don’t really have a yardstick of measurement.  But all of our friends and colleagues are saying it has been one of the hottest, driest summers they can remember.  Outdoor Guy and I were practically giddy with excitement at the moisture.  Thirty minutes later, the skies were clear and we were left with 6/10s of an inch of rain and cooler temperatures in the wake of the storm.

The cherry on top was the chance for Wyokiddo to go splashing in puddles.  Life is always better when there are puddles.



photography, Uncategorized, writing

Evaluating A Little Piece of My Soul

Ten Sleep CreekToday, Wyokiddo and I made the trek into town to deliver my photos to the fair.  I’ve been shooting so much this past year that I had several I felt were worthy of entry.  Several hours and $70 in prints, frames and mats later, my photos are entered.

I’ve been entering things at county fair since I was a kid.  Usually it was a horse or livestock, but I also entered record books, artwork, food stuffs and even some leather work.  Back then, entering in fair was part of the process of completing my 4-H or FFA project.  I didn’t think twice about dropping off an entry.

But today…today I actually felt a little apprehensive.  Would the judges like my images?  Would my very best work stack up competitively against other photographers? After all, I was putting a little piece of my soul out there for others to see and judge.  This year was a little nerve-wracking, I think, because my secret ambition is to one day work as a professional photographer.

There, it’s out there.  My goal is to “turn pro” in a few years and actually make money as a photographer.  I’m taking classes, working on a business plan, researching issues like insurance and liability and improving my photography skills each and every day.  So there is more at stake, at least where my heart is concerned, by putting my work out there for evaluation.

While I get all my ducks in a row to work professionally, I’m working toward being professional in my photography each and every day.  And that includes inviting criticism of my work.  My work will one day be critiqued by clients, potential clients and my community at large.  So I need to get used to it.

But there is also value in such critiques.  It is an opportunity to see my work from an objective perspective.  I might learn how to improve.  I might also learn what I am doing right!  Not all critiques are criticism – some can actually be validating.  A second opinion might reveal strengths and weaknesses, both of which I can draw from to improve.

I  had a choice this morning.  I could have shoved my photos back in their bag, hightailed it home and just hung those babies on the wall.  But that won’t help me grow.

There is only one way to avoid criticism:
Do nothing,
Say nothing,
And be nothing.


Instead, I chose to grow.  I decided I want to truly excel at the craft of photography, so I needed to put my ego aside and put my work out there for judging.

Bring it on.  Gulp.




country life, humor, Uncategorized, writing

Revenge of the Pheasants

I’ve been laid up sick the last few days with what the doctor confirmed is a campylobacter infection.  What is campylobacter, you ask?  Long answer is that it’s a bacteria carried by animals, including poultry and pheasants.  Humans can get the bacteria by handling the animals themselves or improperly cooking the meat.

The short answer?   As my wise-cracking father would have said, campylobacter is the shits.  I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.  Well maybe all those terrorists wreaking havoc around the world.  I would wish this on them.  It would be hard to focus on world-destruction and murder when you can’t get more than 20 feet from a bathroom at any given time.

I contracted campylobacter by handling the pheasants then inadvertently touching my face before I washed my hands.  Most people who become ill with campylobacteriosis get diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever within two to five days after exposure to the organism.  I had all of the above.  Emphasis on the former.  I even reached a new low point in my adult life when I was required to poop in a bucket to provide a stool sample.

The only levity of the situation came when I was at the doctor’s office getting checked and I handed the nursing student the “Physcian’s Alert Card” my husband had provided me.  The card alerts physicians to consider zoonotic diseases when evaluating a patient with the card, because of proximity to wildlife and/or livestock.  All the wardens, biologists, etc. carry them.  The card lists a whole host of diseases ranging from brucellosis, Avian influenza and leptospirosis to giardiasis and rabies.  The little student nurse visibly blanched when she read it and quickly scurried out of the room to “consult with the head CNP.”

I half expected her to return in a Hazmat suit.  But she came back a few minutes later with the head dude in tow and proceeded to give me a wide berth the rest of the exam.  I think she feared for the integrity of her sassy orange Sperrys.

When she asked if I was depressed or feeling sad, she didn’t appreciate my response that was along the lines of “I accidentally pooped my pants when I sneezed the other night.  So no, it’s not the best week of my life.”

Two hours and some blood tests later I was sent home with orders to get some “bowel rest” and hydrate.  The nurse also didn’t think I was funny when I said if I could get my bowels to rest I wouldn’t be in the doctor’s office to begin with.

Yes, it’s toilet humor.  But the toilet is about all I’ve had the last four days.  I work with what I’ve got.



photography, Uncategorized, writing, Wyoming

Water Tower Town

Water Tower Town

In response to the  Weekly Photo Challenge: Look Up.

On our first trip to our new home here in eastern Wyoming, I had to smile when I looked up and saw not one, but two, water towers greeting our arrival.  It made me think of Scotty McCreery’s hit song…

In a water tower town everybody waves…

We only moved 350 miles, from western Wyoming to the eastern edge of the same state.  But Pinedale seems a continent apart from our new home near Yoder, Wyoming.  The town itself isn’t much to speak of.  There’s a K-12 school that Wyokiddo will attend, a post office and a community center that caters mostly to seniors.  The local restaurant closed a while back, and even the bar shut down.  We have no mountains, the temperature has already reached 100 degrees three times this year and there is nary a moose in sight.

I never felt comfortable with the oil-field wives or yuppie turned hippie crowd in Pinedale.  Don’t get me wrong – I loved the wildness of of the Wind River Country and we made some great friends in our time there.  But this place feels like home in a way that Sublette County never did.  I was raised in these plains, just south of here, so the grassland and wide open spaces feel comfortable to me.

But mostly, it’s just because of the people.  Their attitude toward work, money, possessions and what’s important in life more closely mirrors my own. They wave when they drive  down our road.  Folks drive Ma’s car to town because it gets better gas mileage and the farm truck is dirty.  Traffic jams are caused by farm equipment.  We get invitations to events hand-delivered to our mailbox.  There is a different value set and pace to life.

Where your friend’s a friend and your word’s your word
And our pickup trucks, they ain’t for looks, they’re made for work
Corn grows high, crime stays low
There’s little towns everywhere where everybody knows

Yeah, Friday night football is king
Sweet tea goes good with anything
Peace and quiet make such a beautiful sound.
Nobody eats ’til you say amen
And everybody knows your mom and them
You can see who loves who for miles around
In a water tower town.
Yeah, in a water tower town.

This water tower town suits me just fine.



country life, Uncategorized, writing, Wyoming


Cottonwood TreeIt was a pretty uneventful day, by anyone’s standards.  Outdoor Guy, Wyokiddo and I took in a few garage sales in the county, spending a grand total of $6 for a bike helmet (Wyokiddo), boot dryer (Outdoor Guy) and U.S. history book and scrapbook paper (me).

Wyokiddo and I spent almost two hours in our small inflatable pool we set up on our patio.

Dinner featured t-bones from a steer raised by my father-in-law, a salad made with produce from our garden and homemade ranch dressing made with herbs also from our garden.  We topped it off with root-beer floats for the whole family, followed by another round in the pool.

My life is not glamorous.  I shop at garage sales, drive a used SUV and forget to put on deodorant, let alone makeup some days.  But I have a husband that respects me and provides for us, a daughter who looks up to me, a family that loves me, money in the bank, food on my plate and a roof over my head.

As the Zach Brown Band would say, I’ve got everything I need and nothing that I don’t.

I am rich beyond words.  Maybe we could all do with a little more homegrown in our lives.  Just a thought.


Birds, nature, photography, Uncategorized


Young Robin CR.jpg

As I pushed Wyokiddo on her swing this morning, I noticed an adult robin hopping around with a worm in its mouth. My daughter and I stopped playing and watched as the robin took the worm to the base of our tree and fed it to a baby robin! He was so still and blends in so well, we didn’t even notice him until he opened his beak! This little guy must have fallen from the nest and isn’t quite ready to fly, so mama and daddy robin are taking him food. I just love his little “ear tufts.”

We see a lot of the ugly side of nature.  It’s nice to see the tender side, too.