What if I…failed?

It is hard to fail quote Theodore Roosevelt“Oh, umm, I can’t make it out this weekend. I have other plans. Maybe next weekend?”

With the dial tone ringing in my ear, I shook my head. Plans, Erica? Maybe curling up on the couch for a Grey’s Anatomy marathon. To never know if this could have been my chance? Utter silliness.

I gulped in a big breath and hit redial. “You know? I’ve canceled my plans. Saturday noon work for you?”

It was the first real possibility in a long line of empty attempts in obtaining gainful employment on a ranch, and I was scared. I never would have admitted it at the time, but now I can nod and tell it like it was.

Scared that it wouldn’t pan out.

Scared that it would.

It’s difficult to explain how terrifying a dream can be when it suddenly orbits within reach. Dreams are easy to talk about when they’re floating on a fuzzy horizon. They are infinitely harder to live when they swoop so close you can see their belt loops.

I had busted my tail in pursuit of my dream of working on a cattle ranch. And all of my best efforts lay alongside a heap of rejections. I’d started to give up. To the point that my application for this job lay on my kitchen table for days before I finally plunked it in the mailbox.

Because even though I wanted to work on a cattle ranch in the hardest way imaginable, I was equally worried about how I would handle such a seismic shift in my landscape should it become reality. I mean, what if I…failed?

Ah, there it was. Truth peeping out from the pile of excuses it’d been hiding under.

Of course there was the usual apprehension about leaving friends. Parting with a place I loved. Stepping out of the comfort of a job I knew how to do into the arms of a job filled with unknowns.

But really I was just scared I would fail, and in the moment that phone call came, it was easier to put off a potentially life-changing moment than it was to grab hold and wrestle it to the ground.

Here’s lookin’ at you

Well, I thought I could let this slide past. I was tempted to say nothing, and I still am. But just like a white cow in a black herd, you notice when someone who authors a blog doesn’t show up for a year.

Yep, didn’t even need my toes to tick off how little I’ve written. Six posts in 2013. A pre-schooler could count the minuscule molehill of words I’ve managed to sling together.

Why so little?

The excuses roll too easily. A new job, in a new place. Replacement of computer and software, camera and lenses. Less time, less internet access.

All true, but the real reason I haven’t been writing is I needed a creative interlude. An intermission of impossible length, far too long to expect the readers from Act I to be here for Act II. And that’s okay.

There are still a myriad reasons I’m hesitant to end my creative vacation, but I am often at fault for focusing on all the reasons something won’t work instead of honing in on the one reason it will. Right now, I am a camera on the one reason it will.

I think we’ll be shifting direction a smidgen here on the Rancher. If you are a young woman – or if you have a daughter, niece, wife, friend – interested in working on a cattle ranch, then you’ll want to check back in. To my two youngest sisters, Stretch and Slim? Here’s lookin’ at you, kids.

Baxter Black on the Airplane Mini Screen

The only logical explanation is the airline is using hidden cameras to spy on me. Here’s how it went down.

I get on the plane last night. I pulled the short straw with a middle seat so I got in and out of my row three times. Airlines loading planes from aisle to window is like loading a pot of cattle from the step to the nose.

It’s a fancy plane with mini televisions in the seat backs with previews and advertisements rolling. Mine is advertising stock trailers. Or some sort of horse product. I don’t know, I’m watching the silent movie version. And then this:

Baxter Black

Yes, that is Baxter Black on my screen. The remnants of my old communications life stirred inside me. How awesome that Baxter Black is in front of the eclectic audience that is the airplane crowd, I thought. Just a smidgen of ruralness to be sure, but a smidgen is more than zero.

And then I looked around. To the right, to the left. Craned my neck, awkwardly stood up in the guise of stretching so I could see down the corridors of seats. My silent movie was the only one with Baxter Black on it. The only one!

I sat back down, looking at my boots. Gingerly brushing the Carhartt logo on my coat. Furtively eyeing the flight attendants.

How did they know?

Hidden cameras. It is the only answer I am willing to entertain at this time.

Chatted with 5-year-old you lately?

The first cold snap has enveloped us. The last remnants of fall slipped out the window, and the chilly fingers of impending winter snaked in the door. I’m a rebellious five-year-old all over again, shouting at Mother Nature “I don’t wanna wear a coat!” As long as the wind doesn’t blow and I keep moving, I’ve been able to tough it out.

As we kick off Thanksgiving week, I can’t help but be cliché in my thoughts. Thankfulness. We shouldn’t have to put “thankfulness” on our to-do list each day, but if that’s what it takes to make it a habit the rest of the year, then maybe we need to.

Today, this week, the whole year, I’ve been thankful for my job. I don’t mean I’m thankful to be employed with the ability to cover my expenses. Though I’m certainly grateful for this, the luxury of loving what I do is of even greater importance.

My office is the outdoors in all its guts and glory. My windows are the morning sunrise, high noon clouds and twinkling stars at dusk. I work with horses, cattle and dogs. I drive on gravel roads, leave cell service in the dust and can’t imagine a better way to be.

As I type, I think maybe I should delete everything I’ve written. It seems like acknowledging what you are thankful for and how you have been blessed should be a straightforward affair. This, this and this are good in my life. The end.

But every which way I’ve tried to say it just comes out reeking of “I have a shiny new toy” syndrome. I know there are millions of people who don’t know what it feels like to love their job. They are living as a means to an end, a pathway to a retirement where they hope to finally spend their days doing what they like.

I get it. Trust me when I say it doesn’t have to be like that though. For now? Maybe. For a few more years? Okay. But if you don’t love your job, then you need to start asking yourself a few questions. Start with “why” and “what can I do to make a change in the right direction”.

Get in touch with that five-year-old kid you used to be. The same one who didn’t want to wear a coat and dreamed all the dreams she didn’t know would be so hard to find in real life.

The Fitting Room

The last thing I wrote about was calving season. Now here we are in mid-August, the summer slipping silently past into the river of no return. It’s been eight months since I started a new life. I’m still wiggling around in it to see how it fits.

You don’t know much of anything about a new job until you’ve been there a year, especially in the ultra-cyclical world of ranching. Until you feel how the seasons sit on your shoulders for a second time, you don’t know if a job is the right fit or ready for a trade-in.

Right is different from perfect, you know. Right is liking it most days, loving it some. Disliking it a few days, hating it none. It’s fights and squabbles with frequent moments of catching your breath and soaking up how lucky you are to be in a place like this. But perfect, is there such a thing? Maybe grandma’s apple pie or a summer sunset on the river.

I still get questions about how I ended up here. In the words of my newly acquired Kiwi friend, “I drove here.” Knuckles, new Kiwi friend.

You don’t do this in our society. You don’t leave a nice office job with a good company. You don’t step off the career ladder you’ve been climbing. You don’t toss years of effort into the garbage to wrangle cows.

But I did. And I don’t regret it. I don’t care if others think I’m sitting at the bottom holding the ladder I used to be climbing. When was the last time you went to the store and saw a row of identical happiness for sale? You can’t buy it, and everyone needs a different brand.

So the last six months? Calving cows, sorting pairs, shipping to spring grass and then summer grass. Fixing fence, miles of fence and more fence. And – shhh, don’t tell, because I don’t want to ruin my cowgirl rep – driving bankout wagon during harvest. Some days I was even good at it, usually on Tuesday afternoons.

I’ll probably be sitting in this fitting room awhile longer, checking out how I look in my new job that feels old in all the best ways. I’ve always hated the fitting room – in the store, in relationships, in books, in vehicles – but this one comes with horses, cows and wide open spaces. It’s a good place to try on.

Ranch Life Realities: It’s not all romance.

  1. I lost THE book. And the binoculars, but magnifying glasses for creepers can be replaced. I LOST the BOOK in the middle of a thousand acres of wheat stubble. Each calf’s color, gender and birth date are recorded in this book. Can you imagine if a hospital lost its birth records?
  2. I about tipped the ranger over. Not once. Not twice. THREE times. In a 60-second time frame. I’ll ride a horse across a canyon rock slide without flinching. Put me in one of these 4-wheelie mabobbers, and I’m a complete pansy. I was perched on the edge, ready to fling myself off if it tipped over. I swallowed my heart 18 times. It’s probably enlarged now.
  3. The ranger incident(s) is clearly why I lost the book and binocs.
  4. Returning to the scene of the crime revealed the lost treasures. I’m putting them in a steel briefcase and handcuffing it to my wrist. I’m also going to write “Actually I did not wear a pocket protector or fanny pack in high school.” in Sharpie on my forehead.
  5. I was holding an orphan calf on my lap while driving into the barn. Trying to navigate with six feet on the gas pedal? I dropped him like he was a year’s worth of recycled newspapers, and he fell under the ranger.
  6. But thanks to those years I never drove race cars, I had all my quick vehicle pedal reflexes saved up. I nearly shot through the windshield, but I didn’t run over the calf. I even had an inch and a half cushion. Plus he was stunned from his ungraceful dismount. Otherwise he might have flailed his way into a pair of broken legs.
  7. Then while I was tagging calves, I found one in Tumbleweed Draw. It’s a sandy descent, slogging through waist-high tumbleweeds. Mama started snorting and tossing her head. She’s bluffing. I moved in closer. She started pawing up dinner plate-sized chunks of dirt. Impressive. I’ll haul her over to rototill my garden. Steepest part of the descent, and she charged up the hill. Mayday! Mayday! This is not a bluff! Launch exit strategy!
  8. I’m sure I looked like an overweight marshmallow in my bibs and heavy coat, backpedaling out of that draw. I worked with an old Mexican cowboy in a corral once. “Oh she’ll stop,” he told me that day. “Just stand there, and hold your ground.” I’ll hold my ground, you betcha. From a place where that cranky old broad can’t eat my face.
  9. I really liked this philosophy from Larry Olberding on tagging calves. “Those ear tags are just something for YOU. They mean nothing to the mother cow. She knows who her kid is.”
  10. All of this happened yesterday, the day I’ve officially been living the dream for a month on an Oregon ranch.
  11. But even when you’re living the dream, you still get dumped out of bed. It’s life’s way of reminding you Madame Reality rules this side of the tracks, not some glitter-dusted wizard out of a Disney movie.
  12. It doesn’t mean the dream isn’t the dream anymore. It just means your dream is putting on some miles.

Who’s gonna fill their shoes?

They don’t make country music like they used to. That racket the new country radio stations are playing? I don’t know what it is, but it isn’t country. I’m not sure most of it is even music.

I’m grumping like an 80-year-old woman with a pipe and a rocking chair, babbling about the old days. But what happened to creative lyrics that told a real story? When did artists let go of the art of making music?

George Jones sang about it in Who’s gonna fill their shoes?

Who’s gonna fill their shoes
Who’s gonna stand that tall
Who’s gonna play the Opry
And the Wabash Cannonball
Who’s gonna give their heart and soul
To get to me and you
Lord I wonder, who’s gonna fill their shoes

And I got to wondering, who’s gonna fill the shoes and boots and lace-ups of the farmers and ranchers? While they may not be knocking on the blue-haired doors of nursing homes just yet, a lot of farmers and ranchers are on the downhill slide of life. Jesse Bussard touches on this topic of aging farmers and ranchers and young people wanting to get started in her Beef Producer blog “Future Ranchers Lack Keys: Land, Livestock and Money”.

Who is gonna fill their shoes? Is it you? If so, post a comment. Even if it’s just a short, “My name is Festus McGou, and I am [or hope to be] a pumpkin farmer.”

I don’t want folks saying they don’t make farmers and ranchers like they used to, because I don’t think that’s true. If your dream is production agriculture, then stand up and say so because there are those who need the camaraderie and others who need to hear their footprints won’t go unfilled.

Unfilled boots in northeast Oregon snow

If Cows Really Were Purple

The idea of a purple cow was made popular by Seth Godin in his book Purple Cow about marketing. As most things garnished with a Seth Godin stamp, the concept is brilliant.

Here’s an excerpt from the Fast Company article that launched the book:

The world is full of boring stuff — brown cows — which is why so few people pay attention. Remarkable marketing [purple cow] is the art of building things worth noticing right into your product or service. Not just slapping on the marketing function as a last-minute add-on, but also understanding from the outset that if your offering itself isn’t remarkable, then it’s invisible — no matter how much you spend on well-crafted advertising.

Of course Seth is talking about figurative purple cows, but what if cows really were purple?

If they were, I wouldn’t have had to be two feet from this calf to see him.
Baby calf bedded down in wheat stubble

And I wouldn’t have any trouble spotting him when I moved a few paces south. (Where the heck did he go? It’s like he pulled an invisible cloak over his head.)
Hidden calf in wheat stubble

When Dreams Look Like Cow Pies and Calving Season

Don’t dream your life; live your dream.

When I was a girl lying in bed waiting for sleep to claim me, I daydreamed. I made up these elaborate mind movies, and they were all about one thing: cattle ranching. Until I was pushing through high school, my biggest dream was to raise cattle. After dabbling in different directions for a few years, that dream returned in full force.

And now my dream is coming true.

Did I just type that? My dream is coming true?

It hardly feels real, but it is. I’m trading in my office space for thousands of acres and hundreds of cows. Leaving the 4-walls lifestyle for the remote corners of an Oregon ranch.

Following a dream is never perfect, and this one is no exception. I’m excited for this nose dive off the cliff of adventure, but it’s cloaked with a bittersweet cape. I love where I live. 100% of the time. These Palouse hills and the mountains of north Idaho, my blue-trimmed little house and my friends – it is my home.

But I’m not waking up each day knowing that when I’m 60 I’ll look back on a life following the trail I wanted to take. When your dream looks like cow pies and calving season, you’ve got to pull on your boots, grab a fist full of mane and take the trail that’s going to lead you over the mountain you want to climb.

Let’s get trottin’.

IOU: A Homemade Christmas

A cedar tree cut from the pasture. Flannel shirts. Blizzards. Overflow of food – gravy! Piling into a mid-70s Ford pick-up to tackle the backroads to grandma’s house. Reading about the birth of Jesus on Christmas Eve. Feeding calves. Homemade gifts.

Those are my Christmas memories. Humble, perhaps, but rich beyond any dollar amount.

Now I hear stories about how some woman punched somebody else to get an Elmo doll, sparkly doo-dad or whatever fad is happening that I don’t have any idea about. What kind of Christmas memories are those?

I’m not against giving gifts – I’m against mindless giving. And the best way I can think of to step free of the mindless giving cess pool is to do a homemade Christmas. At least once, at least partially.

Homemade gifts are chock full of love, time and thought. When you sit down to make something for someone else, giving a gift becomes a brand new thing.

Not good at making and creating? Do an IOU. For a week of doing the dishes. For a foot massage. For folding the laundry. For mowing the yard. For control of the remote. For just about anything, as long as it holds significance for the person receiving the IOU note.

It’d be a pretty great gift if my future husband were to hand me an envelope with a card that said, “IOU an evening horseback ride and a sunset picnic”. Provided I could cash it in during the summer months.

Maybe as a last-minute gift, slip a card in an envelope addressed to the family with “IOU a homemade Christmas next year” written on it.

IOU: A Homemade Christmas