Faces Of Fall

“I had closed my eyes and seen a place I hadn’t known existed. There was no anger, no loneliness, no jagged icy fear gnawing at the wires of my body. For that one moment, the noise inside my head had turned still and silent. If hell was real and true and all around us, then heaven was too.”
― Aryn Kyle

Thankfulness isn’t a season. I usually have to remind myself of this but the weight of the world has grown in size, getting harder to manage, like a full bucket of water that bumps against your leg and soaks your pant. Only worse.

I’ve stopped loading the dishwasher, cooking dinner, and now, stopped blogging several times to play with Piper. She is utterly in love with me like no animal has ever been. She lives just to have fun, has no fear in her heart. She makes me full-belly laugh multiple times a day. I, too, am in love with everything that she is. I, too, am so grateful just to be here, alive, to be able to care for her and all of our animals. It’s too real of a thought to think you could go to a concert and never return home.

So I interrupt everything, and play. Happiness like this is right here, pawing at my jeans and nipping at my sleeve. I am so grateful.

We had a party on Sunday and it was so nice to visit with friends, eat, and just be merry. I wish I’d snapped a photo of all four chickens lined up on Willoughby’s back when I was showing him off to our realtor. There’s always some sort of shenanigan going on it seems, and I love it. I’ve always thought our little place to be a magical hiding spot from the world, more true now than ever. This place saves me every day when I drive past our entrance gate. I see our two horses with their ears perked, our goats call to me as if to say hello, our dogs show their teeth and yelp and bounce in excitement. It is home, happiness.

This is us, another turn of the season, brightly lit with fleeting color. Soon all will be gray and white and hushed but for now, this is us, still showing some skin, still soaking in the fading warmth with our faces to the sun.

 

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Lucy & Raven against the prettiest backdrop of autumn

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I swear he was snacking on a branch and not hissing at me. Steve!

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Our favorite chicken, shhh don’t tell the others

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Little Whitefish snagged on the Bitterroot River

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Our girls! Timber, Derby, Piper

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Miss Shadoe, such a love

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Piper, same size as the hens!

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Willoughby kisses!

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Hubs casting away with our adventure girl, Timber

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Last Best Farm

“They love to live in the presence of animals. They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it is making them miserable. They love to live where they work and to work where they live.” ―Wendell Berry

A friend recently made a comment about Piper winding up at “the farm”―you know, the place where ma’s and pa’s used to send the family critter when an accident came up, or the reason why the good dog never came home. But of course she meant it in the idyllic way, the way of it being heaven on earth, a dream, an endless blue sky. She meant our farm.

My favorite thing about bringing a new pet home is realizing how much more love you can give when you thought you couldn’t possibly love any tighter, bigger, wilder. On Tuesday, I attended an effective livestock handling clinic for work and later that evening Chris and I went to the volunteer & foster family appreciation party at our local humane society. The day was filled with continuous realizations that we are an animal loving community, we make a difference.

I also watched a mini documentary on people finding purpose this week, part of the Humans of New York series, and it felt like a dream I had once―living with Chris in NYC, on the hamster wheel of success, dealing with the way my life got turned upside down after my father died. Maybe he, too, went to “the farm.” Ours. Spiritually, emotionally, physically, I needed to be here in this place. There’s a little space in me that smiles at the notion of some acquaintance asking where we’d gone―to live on a farm of course.

In the last two weeks we’ve received our first mountain snowfall. It’s thankfully snuffed out the majority of our mountain flames and rid our skies of smoke. And all at once it feels like winter―warm hats, brisk winds, icy hands, frisky and furry horses and goats.

We are readying the chimney for our months of use that will begin any day now, our night lows dipping into the twenties and the snow gradually making its way down the mountainside to our valley. It always feels like a race to get things ready, to take mental shots of all the fleeting color. It feels like we’re embarking on another journey, locking the windows for rougher waters that may lie ahead. Ahoy!

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See those snowy mountains? Happy Fall!

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Mustang Lucy and Willoughby, our Nubian buck, hanging out together, per usual

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Steve, finding safe higher ground in our chicken coop, away from Piper

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Timber, sneaking in a nap

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My Raven, soaking in her grand view

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Living room love

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Mighty Piper, amongst all the soft things. Those ears!

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Beautiful Derby, always regal, always wanting to play ball in the house

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The last of my summer blooms. Isn’t she pretty?

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Our favorite driveway, welcome home

 

 

Respite

“The universe, I’d learned, was never, ever kidding. It would take whatever it wanted and it would never give it back.”
― Cheryl Strayed

It’s been 49 days since our governor declared a fire emergency for the State of Montana. At this present moment we are about ten thousand acres short of matching the total acreage burned to our state’s population―yea, just over a million. Since September fourth, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality has rated our air quality from hazardous to moderate. It’s also been ten days that Facebook has asked me to donate to the hurricane relief fund.

This will probably be the only political note I’ll make so stick with me for a moment, will you? I think it’s a tremendous trait to want to help everybody, maintain equal rights for all, clean the earth, you know, do the do-gooder right thing. But we’ve failed at this somewhere along the line and we’re divided as a nation. Someone is always “hurt” by someone else, turning around and taking their emotions straight to the bank. I’m guilty. I had someone write to me last week to say that I should accept that wildfires are a natural reoccurring act of nature in Montana, and that the hurricane in Texas should be of higher priority. When hurricanes, too, are an act of nature. This woman said this during a week that I had to get driven home due to signs of smoke inhalation, during a week that I could barely get through farm chores without getting out of breath. There were a lot of things I thought of saying to her, but I didn’t. It’s a new thing I’m trying out.

All this is to say I’m going where I always go when things get bad. Home. Am I being kind to my husband? Kind to my animals? Am I doing everything I can to care for them? Is my husband caring for me? Being kind to me? Are we eating well and protecting ourselves? Yes, these things are a blessing, I am home, I am safe, I am loved. I am forgetting the world for a bit, let them turn their trust to themselves and their neighbors. Let them survive the way we are, here in Montana. Because after all, you put your own breathing mask on before you assist others. Take care, world. Work from the inside out.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for letting me vent. And now you get the pleasure of meeting our newish addition, Piper! Ever since our beloved Murphy passed on, we’d been keeping our eyes out for another miniature pinscher, or miniature dachshund. His little body housed a giant personality, one that all little dogs wear. Our hoping and wishing came to life earlier this week when I saw a photo that our humane society posted online of our little Piper. She was just what we were looking for. Within five minutes adoption papers were filed and we brought her home to our loving farm. It wasn’t until last night, when the winds kicked up and cool air rushed in and our skies birthed a beautiful blue sky that we ventured outdoors to play ball until we all were blue in the face. This place is magic, and sometimes when nature is doing her thing, you’ve got to step up and create your own.

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Piper on left, Derby on right. Derby, our 6 year old black lab, adopted 5/2017

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Timber, approx. 7 year old chocolate lab mix, adopted 10/2015

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Chris, against “moderate air quality” backdrop

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Piper, eyeing up Steve, our grey tabby in the distance

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Piper, 11 months old miniature pinscher, adopted 9/2017

Home fires Burning

“A real diamond is never perfect.”
― Anthony Doerr

The last three weeks: corndogs and rodeo at the Western Montana Fair, shiver when we see the fleet of National Guard vehicles heading to help people evacuate their homes, write and edit and stress over the October issue of the magazine I work for (because this was my first issue in my shiny new position as managing editor!), trim trees and get our grass growing, watch horses look longingly over the fence at grass growing, make appointment for Shadoe to see if she’s pregnant, see 95% solar eclipse, pick up eight tons of baled hay, start and finish more home projects.

Staying busy in this heat and smoke has been difficult. We’re almost right back to where we started in January― going outside only when necessary, or only for a few hours at a time. Our summers usually look like riding and trailering the horses on a weekly basis, taking the dogs on a long Sunday hike after breakfast. It’s been weeks since we’ve gone anywhere and the world beyond the windows is a gray one. We’ve been lucky to enjoy a clear day here and there, where the winds blows a different direction, but each night we stand out on the front porch and watch our mountains burn.

Just yesterday, Chris and I were cruising around the mall in Missoula (something we never do) and we spent about fifteen minutes popping the lids off several White Barn candles, one of which being―hilariously― “fresh air.”

I’ve taken to crafting and baking, shutters and lime torts, and I’ve taken refuge in our home, decorating and rearranging. I never thought I’d say it but I’m so looking forward to the rain of fall, assuming that it’s coming. This weekend we might make a grand escape for bluer skies, somewhere about two hours from us where the air is clean and we can forget about the devastation of our state for a couple of days.

Until then we’ll be here, home fires burning.

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Smoked In: Portraits

“That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality–your soul, if you will–is as bright and shining as any that has ever been….Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.”
― George Saunders

In winter, a frozen fog shielded us from the sun almost entirely. There were days when I was curled over my steering wheel watching for the yellow lines on the roadway, staring directly overhead at lunchtime and seeing the smallest pale light fight through what seemed like a globe of haze. Today feels similar, though I stand in the yard barefoot and in a sleeveless shirt and I’m looking at a blazing red eye in the sky. Alas, this means the blue bird days of summer are behind us.

This bittersweet season feels more like the romanticized writings of summer in novels―captivating, sweep you off your feet, dare to do anything, sun bathe naked, walk barefoot, and then…fleeting, gone. The nights are crispy now, cold only moments after the sun tucks itself away. I’m not sure if there has been one day this entire year that I haven’t worn a sweater in the morning or at night. So in Jackson, on the way back from our honeymoon, I buy another sweatshirt and wear it religiously. On the back it says Adventure is Worthwhile and it sort of feels like a get well soon card: Just ride it out for those really great days. It’s so worth the deep freeze and the choke of smoke. Love Always, Montana.

It’s funny how the portrait of yourself changes along with your lifestyle or landscape. Most evenings I sit with my feet perched up on our coffee table and I always notice the small brown dots just beside my ankle bones―evidence of a life I left in NYC, wearing ruby red heels that nagged me all day long in this particular spot. It’s been over two years now since I’ve gone and my feet, along with my whole being, are thankful. I’m the girl in boots, even at magazine meetings, and jeans and I’m fueled by iced London Fogs and―if it were healthy―chicken and waffles. I’m 26, I ride horses by day and write/edit for a magazine by night and days off. I’m a religious reader of high brow fiction, I love a good baseball cap, and there’s nothing like a good clean house before watching TV with Chris each night.

So we are here, going about our business with whirlybirds overhead, all of us against the dreary end-of-the-world backdrop of fading grays.

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ME: Writer, blogger, farm mom, cowgirl, wife, sister, friend, aunt.

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CHRIS: Structural Engineer, farm dad, snowboarder, gym-goer, pasta and pastry enthusiast.

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Lucy & Raven, our sweet girls.

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Evening chores…

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Selfies with Timber. What a lover!

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All grown up!

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Willoughby, chowing down on dinner. 

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My heart!

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Our cape cod style farmhouse, my pride & joy. 

Domestic

“If you have not touched the rocky wall of a canyon. If you have not heard a rushing river pound over cobblestones. If you have not seen a native trout rise in a crystalline pool beneath a shattering riffle, or a golden eagle spread its wings and cover you in shadow. If you have not seen the tree line recede to the top of a bare crested mountain. If you have not looked into a pair of wild eyes and seen your own reflection. Please, for the good of your soul, travel west.”
― Daniel J. Rice

My favorite part of camping is seeing the highway on the way out. Funny, but true. I’ve never considered myself a “camper” by any means. My fight or flight instincts start to stir at the thought of it and all the what-ifs rush in: what if a bear comes into our tent? What if a forest fire rips through? What if our truck doesn’t start and we have no cell service? What if something happens to one of us?

Camping and anxiety are just one of the same to me, and when I think of our friends―those who backpack into the wilderness for days or weeks on end―I think of them in a dreamy light smiling for an REI advertisement, jealous that I can’t wear the same look of ease.

Our kind of “camping trip” is laughable. It’s Chris and I and our horses and dogs, several forgotten things, an air mattress and one night away from home. It’s laughing at our own expense until our bellies ache, and filing into the truck at 2:30 a.m. because a hole in our air bed let all the air escape from beneath our bodies. It’s also realizing that two labradors can’t fit alongside us in our cab and pumping the air bed once more and riding out the rest of the night overtop the inevitable slow leak. It is as if someone has dropped us in my unimaginable nightmare―alone in the woods without a plan.

But these things we shared: an evening on the river, fishing, rock sitting, laughing. Wading in and out with our labradors and throwing the tennis ball to Derby until she and it were a caked muddy mess. Fetching our horses water and making ourselves some “college budget” wraps, a stumbled upon favorite from when Chris and I were in school―peanut butter and chocolate chips. Chris helping me into the truck when all else was packed up and the horses were loaded because I was feeling like a truck had accidentally struck me amid our overnight failing after being thrown from a horse twice the day before. Our fun is sometimes dangerous, sometimes unplanned, sometimes a complete undoing of sorts but nevertheless, we were together, in shambles and tremendously in love.

Happy Monday, readers. Love always, the Montana Domestics.

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Beatin’ The Heat

“When I feel the heat, I see the light.”
― Everett Dirksen

The mornings have been short stints of perfection: the sun is hung up in the sky long before I wake, the air is cool and still, the grass is damp with dew, and the deer―sometimes dozens―are disappearing from their night in the neighboring hay field. Every morning I wish I had thirty extra minutes to just sit on the porch and enjoy the peace of it all before the day (and heat) kicks in, but of course I’m too exhausted to get up earlier, having spent most nights staying up too late to watch the 10 p.m. sunset and awaiting the roll of evening air―my cue to open all the windows in our home.

Last night our line of towering poplars swayed with the wind, their leaves rustling while the goats stretched for another branch they couldn’t reach. The horses’ tails were at rest, a respite from the daytime swarm of flies, and the chickens were perched outside their coop. It’s moments like these when I feel like summer is a babysitter. It’s telling me not to worry, all is well, go have fun. It’s our great reward for surviving winter on our own, each of us battling it from a different angle.

The hottest part of our day comes when we both return home from work, so we’ve been frequenting the river access in town along with few other like-minded people (and their dogs!). Timber and Derby LOVE the water. Timber is more of a wader and Derby will swim to the bottom of the Atlantic if it meant retrieving her ball. We’re beatin’ the heat and enjoying all sorts of free fun that’s available here.

Tomorrow we leave for our first overnight camping trip with the horses and dogs. I’m a little nervous but mostly excited. I mean, what could go wrong with hauling over two thousand pounds of babies into the woods for a night? We’ll be at a poplar fishing hole north of us, equipped with horse pens, and we’ll be feasting on cold foods since campfires are a no-go in stage two fire restriction areas.

Happy weekend, readers! I hope to have some fun camp photos to share next week!

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Back home, watching the smoke steal the sunset.