Lost & Found

“The fear of loss cannot outweigh the joy of life.” – Lana Linhart

My little hiatus from blogging wasn’t planned. Life, living, the heat, oh God the beloved heat, and the sunshine – they swooped down like a red-tailed hawk and swept me clear away. They say it takes winter to appreciate summer, bad times to make the good times sing, and heartache to know when the heart is full. I can’t argue with they but I do think I detoured into the wild of my own mind this past winter, losing – almost completely – the feeling of sweet joy, of anything at all being effortless.

And of course I threw myself a few punches for taking it all for granted, sometimes having to actually say these words aloud: you have legs and arms and a beating heart, legs, arms, beating heart, legs and arms and a beating heart. It seems silly to even think of this now, sitting on my back porch, bare skin to the sun, sprinklers ticking their way across the infinite acres before me. It’s a dream, heaven here on earth.

This morning I woke before Chris and stumbled out into the sunlight straight from bed. The chickens, all grown now, were chasing bugs and paired up, exploring. The horses and goats came trotting to the fence to greet me and stayed a while, Lucy letting me kiss her on the nose the way she always does. However silly it may seem, I’ve learned that in order to be truly found, you have to get a little lost.

On a morning like today’s, several weeks ago, I was scrolling through Instagram and came across a photo on the Women Who Farm page of a woman and a goat, the text was a story of loss and it nearly brought me to tears, hitting too close to home to this lifestyle. The last sentence was this one: “Because at the end of the day, the fear of loss cannot outweigh the joy of life.” These were the words I needed months ago, as a reminder that joy will always tip the scale, always.

So here we are, 10 days out from summer, I’m about to marry my best friend in less than two weeks, completely lovesick with the sun and heat, horsing around and holding tight to these words from Lana.

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A barn of our own, almost complete.

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Trip 2, wasted hay.

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“Can I get in?” #getinthelift

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I think he was always a cowboy.

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The love, oh the love.

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Willoughby, being his usual flirty self.

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Future Mr. & Mrs.!

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The original “baby”. My sweet Raven.

Home In The Mountains

“I’m a person of the mountains and the open paddocks and the big empty sky, that’s me, and I knew if I spent too long away from all that I’d die; I don’t know what of, I just knew I’d die.” – John Marsden

Today, Monday, it is 75 degrees and the sky is dressed in its best shade of blue. The past three days have been the same, gradually warming and slapping my skin with a nice late spring tan. My friend Julie, who I guided horseback riding adventures with last summer, came down from Kalispell to go to work with me on Friday. We saddled up and rode the hills and all at once I forgot how easy it is to take these days for granted. Riding and writing, riding and writing…

We camped at Sanders County Fairgrounds on Friday night in the pickup right next to my girls, who were lucky to have stalls and not stand tied to the trailer. Saturday morning we hit the trail with 148 other riders and saw every variety of tracks and scat but no glimpse of the wildlife who left them. Getting home, after two blown tires (one overdue and the sun-rot spare) and belly-hurting laughs laughter, was perfection. It was front porch sitting, tennis ball throwing, goat and horses lounging in the sun, lawn mowing perfection.

And just like that, the weekend is over and we’re back in the race to our wedding date next month. It’s all talk of flower vases and cake stands and lengths of table linens. This trail riding trip was meant to be a commencement of sorts to our season of riding but it looks like the next several weekends (and weeknights) are spoken for – sanding and painting a vintage table and windows, pouring concrete for our alleyway in the barn (wedding dance floor), ordering the barn roofing supplies, Chris slaving away on the trusses to finish off the barn, and finding him the perfect tie to wrap up the end of our preparation.

Happy Monday, readers!

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Atop a mountain ridge in Plains, MT with Lucy

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Looking West from our wedding ceremony spot

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Front porch daisies

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Looking North, my favorite tree on our property

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My head-deep huntress, Timber, finding some moles

Black & Bloom

“You’re the only girl I’ve seen for a long time that actually did look like something blooming.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

I fell greatly in love with literature in college, near salivating over how words could be strung together in such a way that formed a caricature of yourself right there, written on the page by some stranger that knew you better than you knew yourself. Our secrets, our fleeting thoughts, our happiness. For me, stories are the common thread in the patchwork of people.

Wildflowers make you love in this way. Their tiny, spectacular details are a marvel. Their faces are bright and in bloom and blushing with all the attention. Yesterday, Chris and I took Timber and Derby (our failed-foster black lab – yes, we’re keeping her!) on our first hike of the season in the Bitterroot Mountains. We’ve been riding and hiking the Sapphires (Eastside mountain range) for weeks now because they are typically dryer open hillsides, populated with the ever fragrant sagebrush and sudden flicker of bluebirds. The Bitterroot drainage ditches are the narrow valleys in-between mountains where the runoff has begun, rushing the dense forest with the sound of moving water, the aftereffect of our long, hard winter.

Back at home, our apple trees have blossomed and our poplars are green as the grass. Our lone laying hen has befriended our younger chicks (finally!) and the baby chicks have recently moved into the coop. This is only our second spring in our home and after such a brutal winter it feels like a gift all over again.

And so our Derby, new member of the herd, will come home for good this week. She is back at the shelter to finish out her time in the stress test study, which breaks our hearts, but we’ve already readied her bed and I’m already wearing black hairs on my clothes. It’s the look of a fur-mama and it couldn’t be a better gift (or day) for such a blessing.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Narrowleaf Mule Ear

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Meet Derby!

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Blue Clematis

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My new favorite photo of Timber, in her element

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Our trail became a stream for a little while. Timber loved it!

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Lover of all things that can be thrown

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Calypso, also known as a “Fairyslipper”

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Derby riding cab (she’s been a house cat for too long)

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Home sweet home

May I Always Be The Kind Of Person My Dog Thinks I Am

“All his life he tried to be a good person. Many times, however, he failed.
For after all, he was only human. He wasn’t a dog.”
― Charles M. Schulz

It’s amazing what Sundays can do for the soul. They are, for me, as they should be – sacred. It’s usually a portrait of Chris and I starting our day in conversation, sprawled on the carpet and calling Timber over to us, to which she answers by dragging herself across the floor in a last effort of trying not to get up. These Sundays smell like pancake batter and eggs and they end up in a heap on the couch – relaxed, rejuvenated.

Our property is in full bloom, becoming more and more lush and vibrant with every passing day. I’m wearing my first sunburn like it’s going out of style, savoring the sting when the shower water hits me. The magazine I work for had a little get-together in Missoula a few nights ago and one of the hosts said it had been 200 and something days since the last 70 degree day. We all shuttered and turned our faces toward the sun. Anyone who lives in Montana will agree, it’s worth every minute of cold for our 3 months of complete heavenly bliss.

We’ve been our absolute busiest in the last 10 days: making substantial progress on the barn, taking a soap making glass, weeding the gardens, landscaping the goat paddock (yes, really), saving Montana’s state bird (the Meadowlark) after she hit our living room window, and lastly, today, helping out the humane society where we rescued our Timber in a research stress test involving us fostering a sweet (very mischievous) little Chihuahua named Scamp. It’s a full-heart feeling seeing a little 4 pound puppy run out of his kennel and make way into a strangers’ arms with no reservations.

Our horses and the goats have all made it to the vet and are ready for another year of good living. Shadoe, our doe, got a sonogram but no babies in that belly just yet! When she is pregnant we’ll continue our research in all things “kidding” and ready ourselves for the milking process so we can make cheese and soap, for starters. This year we’ll keep gaining ground on our way to becoming more sustainable and harvesting or raising our own goods. We’ve been spoiled by truly local food and learning more about where our food and products come from, which is also why we’re so excited for our guests to enjoy a taste of Montana – in all respects! – next month for our wedding. They’ll be eating bison burgers from our neighborhood herd among many other tasty treats and locally sourced products! As the song says, Meet Me in Montana.

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Left wing taking shape!

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Scamp. Could he get any cuter? No, we won’t be keeping him but I’m 150% sure he’ll get adopted very soon.

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Scamp takes on all of the “big dogs.”

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Chris, the biggest animal lover on the planet. He adores this sweet pup. We’re so happy to be able to love on him and show him what a good life really is. He’ll be off to his forever home in no time.

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Timber and Scamp enjoying their first day together.

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The stare off. Lucy, our mustang, is the most curious, playful and fearless horse I’ve ever met.

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The silliest girl there is! My Shadoe.

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Willoughby getting bigger by the day, and more beautiful.

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Montana’s state bird, the Meadowlark. She recovered from her collision!

On Earth As It Is In Heaven

“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.’” – Sylvia Plath

I’d begun writing this entry on several different occasions within the past few days, continuously opting out to indulge in the hard-to-pass-up springy activities—playing ball with Timber, closing my eyes and listening to the song of the cranes in the refuge or the call of a brightly colored pheasant poking his head above the grass along the still-empty irrigation ditch as I feed the herd. Our evenings are filled with sawdust from barn building and dirty gloves from weeding in the flower garden.

Our tiny chicks are still under heat in the tack shed and our medium chicks aren’t quite ready to be introduced to our lone laying hen, Fiona. She’s been accompanying me in the garden, making like she’s busy until I rummage through the dirt and scrounge up several worms, served up on my palm for her dining pleasure.

I’ve also been riding all day everyday, at work and at home, getting 15-20 horses (and myself) back into shape. On the weekends, and sometimes during the week, I take either of my mares to Bass Creek Trailhead and take them for long (6-8 mile) jogs that consist mostly of dirt road riding but lots of tight dirt trails that maze through dozens of streams and obstacles, perfect for season conditioning. We pass and meet all sorts of people on bikes, with dogs, strollers, cars, and once – a woman walking her cats. I feel so blessed to have this perfect gymnasium be only a 10 minute trailer ride from our home, close enough to fit it into a busy schedule but all at once feeling like you’re miles from everything. Timber, our lab, loves this time of year when we hit the trails for long runs. She is my between-the-ears view wherever we go. We’re blessed to have her, too, for she rescued, and still is, rescuing us.

So here we are, there we be – out of the house and sprinting towards summer with busy hands and feet. May is almost upon us!

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6 mile breeze with my sweet girls, Raven and Timber, in the Bitterroot National Forest

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Riding at my cattle ranch job. We came up the hill and surprised a herd of 50 or so elk!

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Hanging at home

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Looking northwest from our east pasture

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Timber, our rescue lab, having “a ball”

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My love, in his spot

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Is there anything better than goat snuggles?

Dog (& Chick) Days Of Spring

“Let it be.” – Paul McCartney

These past couple of weeks have been a long slow breath that whispers let it be. It’s been difficult getting on without our mischievous Murphy at our sides. His presence was such a light in our life, one that has left us with a hole in our hearts. His little corner of our property is a wooden cross against the bluest, wildest, biggest sky there is.

Let it be.

On a whim on a Sunday we brought home 5 more chicks to replenish our backyard flock, and we’ve been diligent about protecting them from the red demon in the fields. Their little peeps and bodies are bringing us some much needed joy while we wait out a windy cold spell. Before bed you’ll find us in the red-lit shed peering over the edge of their trough, ooo-ing and ahhh-ing at their precious little lives.

The horses have been put back to work full-time, lunging and groundwork after my work days and riding 2-3 times per week. Today, Easter, will be our first official trail ride of the season! Happy Easter, readers! I’m being a little ambitious and bringing my DSLR camera out horseback today to capture some through-the-ears shots of the warming landscape of our favorite trail at Bass Creek (the bottom of the mountain on the right in the first photograph).

We’re promised it’ll warm up this week, which will mean readying for our vegetable and flower gardens, picking up loads of gravel and soil and going full steam ahead on the barn. And more trail riding! For those of you wanting to know a bit more about trail riding out West or just interested in seeing the kinds of trails we are lucky enough to ride, visit often! I can barely contain my excitement for revisiting favorite spots and hauling to new ones including an organized trail ride hosted by a backcountry group in Plains, MT next month (one that Chris is opting out of to happily indulge on a surprise trip to Vegas with friends). Not to worry, there is fun to be had with girls and horses right here in Montana. Yeehaw!

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New fire pit for our campfire rehearsal night this June

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Raven, left and Lucy, right

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3 week old Barred Rock chick

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Welcome, Speckled Sussex 2 month old chicks!

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2 week old California Grey chick

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2 week old Speckled Sussex chick

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Our sweet lady, Shadoe

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Rides through the refuge with our Timber girl

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The refuge looking a little more like spring

Branded Hearts

“They had come to a time when no one dared speak his mind, when fierce, growling dogs roamed everywhere, and when you had to watch your comrades torn to pieces after confessing to shocking crimes.” – George Orwell

It’s not uncommon for fathers with calloused hands and skin like leather to keep their daughters locked away at home for as long as they can. They’ll talk about how their girls are turning into women and how they haven’t seen them since they got their licenses. They’ll joke about how one day they’ll come home to their daughters rooms – a mattress and a change of clothes and nothing else. Poof. 

In the brilliant bright light of a Sunday morning sunrise, I’m crouched on one knee with a rifle pressed against my shoulder and my hand, warm and tight, against its fore-end, waiting.

We lost our beloved Murphy just over a week ago and only a few short days after his passing I watched the blonde blur of our visiting fox drag away one of our chickens, the one we had nursed to health all winter long. Sitting there, on our porch, gun pointed toward a space between logs, my left foot and leg goes numb, my nose begins to run, my heart slows and I’m ready.

Life on the farm isn’t forgiving. It doesn’t care whether you’re hurting or in need of time or just some sunny days. It strikes you when you’re down and knocks dirt in your eyes, then it grabs you by the collar and asks you who you really are.

This week I’m the girl that didn’t think twice about taking a life to right a wrong, whether it’s right or wrong or somewhere in between. It’s all shades of gray and fits of rage and an eye for an eye, and turning your own cheeks red in embarrassment for believing there could ever be peace on earth.

This week, too, I pull the calf gate open and watch the velvety little body fight against the push and these words: come on sweetheart, everybody goes. She goes. And all at once gets locked into a fixed position and lifted off her feet to lay flat for branding. In the shower late that night I stand in water hotter than I can bear and smell shades of singed calf hair and remember the way the cream colored smoke rose and made all of our eyes tear. Go on, sweetheart I whisper beneath my breath as she runs toward mom out in the pasture, back where she came, forever changed.

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