Monday, August 8, 2016

Rancher for (Half) a Summer

Back in May, I headed out west to work on a dude ranch. I worked on the kitchen staff, where I learned some awesome new recipes, and got up close and personal with meat. I've been a vegetarian for fifteen years, so prior to this I'd never really had to think about things like, you know, how to cook a hamburger. Or a steak. Or various parts of a chicken. But boy did I learn. I had to come back a little early (I was supposed to be there until September) due to some family health issues. But everything's going well now, and while I miss the ranch a lot, it's nice to be home.

There was no cell service at the ranch, and very limited internet, so this summer was a chance to get away from screens. I knew I wasn't going to be able to stop myself from writing, so I brought a notebook, but I liked the idea of some time to think about what I want to write next without any pressure to, you know--actually write it. Anyway. I promise I won't bore you with the whole tale of how I Found Myself this summer. But it was a very cool experience, and helped me get back in touch with some aspects of myself that have kind of fallen by the wayside over the years. Here were some of the highlights:

1. Horses. I love horses. Owned all the Saddle Club books. All the Thoroughbreds. Riding Academy. Short Stirrup Club. Black Stallion. You get the picture. I rode competitively from ages 6-13, and had beloved a pinto pony named Domino, who was my everything. Then, for many years, I didn't ride, because I became a teenager, and that took up a lot of time and energy, and then I was an adult and realized that horses are insanely expensive (thanks Mom & Dad!). So I was a little nervous about getting back to riding this summer. But as everyone promised, it was like riding a bike. You never forget. Except my no-longer-thirteen-year-old body was unaware that moving my muscles in this manner was still a thing. Everything hurt after my first ride. Hips, knees, arms, ass, sunburned lips... But it was fantastic. And I fell in love with this horse, Daisy, who is basically a combination of Shadowfax and Domino.

Daisy showed me the meaning of haste.

2. Reading. After I started publishing a few years ago, the amount of time I spent reading went way down. Which saddens me. So I decided to take advantage of my summer without computers, and packed approximately 1100 books. My suitcase was 4 pounds over the weight limit, and when the airline people suggested I try moving some things into my backpack, I opened the suitcase and books spilled everywhere, and I was like, "You know what, just charge me the $25." I read so much at the ranch, and it was glorious. My favorite reads of the summer were Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and Broken Harbour by Tana French.

Tana rocks my world.

3. Letters. Back in '08, I worked at a summer camp. I didn't get cell service or internet there, and at the time, that didn't seem like such an out-of-the-ordinary thing. People wrote me letters; I wrote them letters, and everything was great. Shortly after that, the idea of being without a phone or email became unthinkable. So this off-the-grid experience was much more intimidating. But my friends and family stepped up to the plate big time. I got so many wonderful and hilarious letters, cards, and random items. Even the Professor wrote me regularly, her words faithfully transcribed by my mother, who was dog-sitting. And one of my favorite parts of the summer was spending my evenings on my porch, writing letters to people.

Even her letters were judgey.

4. Hiking. There were so many amazing places to hike around the ranch. But the walk I did nearly every day involved going up a slight ridge past an old fur trapping house. Once you were up on the ridge you had a beautiful view of the valley, the snow-covered mountains, the was just perfect.

This freaking trail.

The sunsets were, y'know, pretty meh. 

All the altitude-related nosebleeds were worth it.

Were there rough parts? The mosquitoes were like some kind of genetically-enhanced Michael Crichton creation, and for the first week my nose gushed a pretty constant stream of blood from the altitude, but those were small prices to pay. This place, and the people I met there, were unforgettable. And even though I'm spending most of my days now parked in front of a computer, I'm continuing to work my way through the mass of books in my still-not-unpacked suitcase--and writing the occasional letter.

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