Home.

Dear you,

   Tomorrow I’m coming home. To be honest, I didn’t think I would. There are so many places to go, so many things to see, and I had just begun writing that story. All these plans had started taking shape in my head, and I was ready to leave the last four years behind me. As it turns out, the only place I really want to be is the place I was so eager to get away from. That’s what happens, isn’t it? You walk away from something only to realize your heart is screaming at you to turn around. I guess the story isn’t quite finished yet, and I can’t close the book until I know how it’s supposed to end. 
   I didn’t grow up in Orlando, and I have no family there. I will never be stopped in the grocery store by someone I used to go to school with, or recognized as so-and-so’s daughter or sister or ex-girlfriend. It isn’t my hometown. It is my home. I don’t know how to explain that feeling. Home. It is the only place I’ve ever felt relieved to return to. I have no idea how this sprawling, ostentatious city somehow managed to capture my heart. I have no idea what I will find when I return to it. 
   We all crave a little adventure sometimes. It’s exciting, and enlightening, and necessary. It took five months on the other side of the country for me to realize that adventure is based entirely on perspective. There is no more adventure in Colorado than in Florida. There was simply more adventure in the girl who bought a one way plane ticket than in the girl who was working double shifts and living above a garage. This summer did a lot for me, but most importantly it forced my perspective to change. It forced me to to look beyond the routine and see what a beautiful adventure every moment of this life can be, if you’re looking for it.
   I don’t know quite what to expect in the coming months. I don’t know what happens next in the story. I only know that in twenty-four hours I step off a plane, and my next adventure begins. 

Sincerely,
Me

If you need it nailed, call a wrangler. So long summer.

littleguy

Dear you,

   These letters are just one of the many things that fell by the wayside this summer, along with my hair, my cuticles, and my sanity. We woke up with the sun, and often fell back into bed sometime long after it had sunk back down. During our breaks I was lucky if I found enough energy to shower and maybe even brush my hair. It was a long five months, a never-ending summer that somehow flew by. Every day dragged along, every week felt like it took several seasons with it, and yet in a moment it was over, and none of us could quite figure out where exactly it had gone.

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   You can’t immerse yourself in dude ranch life for that long without learning more than you signed up for. I could mend a high tinsel fence break with my eyes closed, and probably measure feed bowls in my sleep. Five months of grumpy horses, grumpy children, and grumpy bosses taught me that there isn’t a lot of difference between the three. Colorado weather ensured that I will never again trust the forecast, nor buy a tent that isn’t properly waterproof. Any horse I own from this day forward will be perfectly still when ground tied, able and willing to assist with opening gates, and completely comfortable with cattle, goats, fish, saddle bags, ponchos, tractors, screaming children, crying children, sleeping bags, umbrellas, fishing poles, golf carts, bicycles, fire trucks, superhero capes, fluffy tutus, and the possibility of coming into human living quarters if necessary. When is that necessary, you ask? Become a wrangler and maybe you’ll have the pleasure of finding out. The application’s online, along with the necessary forms to sign away your soul.

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   I spent my days leading clueless guests on trail rides through the mountains. The kind of clueless that lends false confidence and the arrogant belief that they actually know how to ride. Here’s a tip: If you ever find yourself, by choice, at a DUDE ranch on a push-button horse who dutifully places himself in line without any help from you, then you’re not a good rider. You’re just not. You may be an improving rider, maybe even promising, but above all else, you are a novice. Novice. The fact you’ve been on a horse more than twice in your life and have, in fact, loped once before does NOT make you an advanced rider, and I promise the trail guide in front of you is rolling their eyes and gritting their teeth at your ignorance. Cool, glad we cleared that up.

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   I’m also not sure any of these parents really understood what they were entrusting us with when they handed over their six year old’s and watched us plop them up on a horse and haul them off into the great unknown. We fed them pudgy pies and milkshakes. We encouraged them to kick their horses “like you would kick your brother” (They have tiny legs. Tiny legs are not very effective. Big kicks are therefore necessary on big, stubborn horses.) and to keep their horses away from one another because “you don’t like your friends touching your butt either.” We taught them to pee in the woods, which is a humorously complicated concept to a six year old. We were obviously horrible the best influences you could have found to entertain your children for a week.

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   About the time we all figured out what the hell we were doing there it all started to end. My body had adjusted to crawling out of bed and dragging myself to the barn every morning in the dark. I could tack a horse in four minutes flat. I had perfected my lesson script. Then all of a sudden, Breanna needed a ride to the airport. Chelsea was packing up her car. Our little family was shrinking, our guest number decreasing, our workload lightening. That’s about the time I began realizing just what I was going to lose when the summer officially ended. A group of girls that knew me better than I wanted to admit, who had become my best friends, who had lived with me and worked with me for months and still found me interesting enough to spend their time with. A collection of hearts that would forever be tied to mine, ensuring I never lacked someone to miss.

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   There were so many difficulties this summer, and so many frustrations. Mountain fencing was hard. Dealing with EIA for a week without hitting anyone was hard. The never ending line of navajo blankets to be washed was hard. But the hardest part by far was saying goodbye to all of them, watching Jenna drive off and Lexie board her plane, and walking away knowing that was the last time I would see those faces for far too long. At the same time, they’re what made the whole thing worthwhile. I would powerwash a hundred more navajos for those girls…although I can’t honestly say I would put up with EIA again for anyone. Ever.

On to the next adventure.
Sincerely, Me

julyfourth

Dolla Dolla Bill

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Dear you,

Well, I’ve officially been here a month now. Most of our big ranch projects are over and we get our first guests this week, and from here on out I know the summer will soar by us. In the past few weeks I’ve lost count of the horses I’ve ridden, and nearly all are well trained, well behaved, and a lot of fun. But some have become regulars, become favorites, become mine. I want to tell you about the first.

During our first week here we spent a day mending “mountain fence”, or the fencing which encloses our horses at night when they are turned out on the mountainside. We were taking a break, propped up on fallen trees as we ate turkey sandwiches and peanut butter cookies and tried to ignore the storm clouds rolling in around us. 
“Let’s talk about bucks,” my head wrangler said with a grin. 
“What do you mean, bucks?” I questioned. 
“Horses that buck. I want to know who’s okay with being put on horses that buck.”
I hesitated. “I mean, I don’t like horses that buck, but I don’t mind riding them. Depending on the buck, I guess.”
She nodded thoughtfully and kept chewing her sandwich.
A few days later I was assigned to Dollar. 
He’s not a big guy, somewhere just under 15 hands. A classic bay, his face is painted with what would be a perfect blaze if it hadn’t somehow gotten smudged in the middle. He is listed in our horse inventory as a Paso Fino, but his paperwork doesn’t offer a clue as to if that’s actually true or where exactly he came from. He’s just another ranch horse, from another horse trader. The only difference, it seems, is how much smarter he is than many of the rest. He always knows what’s going on around him. Always.
I had ridden Dollar a few times already when we started our long wrangler ride out to Rainbow Ranch. We lease part of their property and needed to clear the trails there for the upcoming season. He was already one of my favorites, and everyone knew it. Dollar is respectful and responsive on the ground and under saddle, and has an unmistakably quirky personality. He had always been a total gentleman before, but as we entered the first valley and I asked him for a lope he saw an opportunity and took it. Out of nowhere, we suddenly went airborne in several directions. I saw nearly every angle of that horse before I hit the dirt.
A little shakily, I climbed back on and attempted to hit the restart button, and for the rest of the day he was as well behaved as usual. My trust in the little man had been shaken, though, and when asked later that day if I still loved him I replied “Yeah, we just need some couples therapy.” 
A few days later I was assigned to Dollar again for a session in the arena. After a few minor discussions about proper canter transitions (or in other words, CHILLING THE FUCK OUT), we had a nice ride. Before I dismounted I began to unzip my windbreaker, and he began to have a heart attack. We walked around the arena with my windbreaker flapping and rustling, me offering words of encouragement, and little Dollar alternately shaking and feigning curiosity. I dismounted and rubbed the jacket over his shoulder and neck and face, until finally he would let me flop it over his back and swish it around his ears. “You’ve got this,” I told him. “Bad-ass snot-faced Paso Fino’s can’t be afraid of blue windbreakers.” 
A wrangler passing by started to laugh. “You two just get each other,” she said, “I think you’ve connected with him.” 
“Well I guess that’s a good thing,” I replied with a smirk, “because sure as hell nobody else wants to connect with him now.”
This probably doesn’t sound much like the girl-loves-horse story you thought was coming, and it’s not. It’s a story about the horse I just might learn the most from this summer. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the back of a horse, it’s that you don’t become a better rider because of the ones that do everything you ask. Improvement is the result of challenge, and struggle, and the questioning of what you know. Fear is not supposed to hold us back but give us an opportunity to overcome, and in overcoming, to grow. Maybe Dollar and I both just stumbled upon one such opportunity. 

Our couples therapy is going well, just in case you were wondering.

Sincerely,
Me

Applauding Aspens

Dear you,
Today we rode through a small Aspen grove, white trunks reaching up for the sky all around us. Their tiny green leaves just arrived last week, and looking at them I remembered how I’ve always heard them described as quivering, or trembling. And I couldn’t help but think how wrong that seems. I didn’t see trees trembling with fear, but applauding their new visitors. A standing ovation to welcome us in, a cluster of old friends waving goodbye as we slipped away. Aspen trees, I think, are sorely misunderstood.

Did you know that a grove of Aspens is really one organism, because the root system is entirely connected underground, and they all share identical genetic markers? The biggest Aspen grove is in Utah and is one of the oldest known living organisms, and also one of the biggest.
Did you know that Aspen trees have an SPF of 4? The white powder on their bark contains spf, and can even be used on our skin.
Did you know that the bark of Aspen trees is often eaten by deer and other wild animals because it’s a natural anti-parasitic (dewormer)?

Well, you do now.
And you also know that Aspen trees don’t tremble, except maybe in excitement.

Sincerely,
Me

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak;

courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

- Winston Churchill

Welcome to The Saloon!

Welcome to The Saloon, otherwise known at the ctr girls dorms, otherwise known as home sweet home. This is where we’ll be sleeping for the next four and a half months. Your sympathy is appreciated.

Forgive all the giggling, Lexie’s shirt was ridiculous and Bree just can’t take anything seriously.

Faces

Dear you,
I wonder how many faces there are in the world who I could love, or could love me. It has only taken a few days for this awesome little bunch to start feeling like family. A week ago, I had no idea who these people were, and a few days ago I was still trying to learn all their names. Now they are part of every moment. I wonder how many names I have left to learn in this life, how many faces I will memorize. Will I bond with them over saddle leather or fundamental frequency or beer preference? Will we become friends for a night, or a summer, or a lifetime? How lucky I am to live a life so constantly filled with people I adore.

Sincerely,
Me

I’m cold.

Dear you,

I finally made it to Colorado! They lied, it’s cold. Really, really cold. 

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I have a new perspective on snow, and that perspective is that SNOW TURNS INTO LOTS OF MUD. The paddocks are now huge, manure-filled slip and slides. It’s kinda fun, actually, so long as you don’t land on your ass and you don’t think about it too much. 

So no, I’m not a big fan of the snow. But I am a Florida girl, and I do get a little carried away by it once in a while, because it’s sort of like a giant magic snow cone being poured on your head. Who doesn’t get carried away by that image?

I tried to include a video but can’t quite figure out how to attach it, but basically it was just me squealing about how pretty the snow was while it was falling. 

I’m definitely going to learn a lot here. We’ve been on the ranch for three days and we’re already establishing our wrangler swag (which means, in non-wrangler terms, that we’re awesome and can do more bad-ass ranch shit than you). 

Bad-ass ranch shit I can now do:

  • Drive the tractor and dump truck.
  • Dig post holes through straight up rock.
  • Use the drill like a boss.
  • Mend fences…kind of. 
  • Not get the truck stuck. 
  • Build pitchfork racks.

Ranch shit I can’t do:

  • Stay warm.
  • Resist eating a second cookie. 
  • Stay warm. 
  • Make it up cardiac trail, the never-ending set of stairs from the barn to the lodge, without wanting to die. 
  • Stay warm. 

But really, I’m starting to love it here. The people are fantastic, the ranch is beautiful, the horses are sweethearts, and the cookies are amazing. It’s gonna be a summer worth writing about. 

Sincerely,
Me

“You’re straight Cali now, like me.”

Dear you,
Cali is amazing.
Mimosas-on-the-beach-and-sexy-brazilian-surfer-boys-and-blueberry-waffles-amazing. 

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Let me introduce you to Marcella, who I have now spent many more hours with. Luckily we didn’t end up hating each other, because that would have been awkward. Other than her absolute hatred of salad, she’s a pretty great person. Not only did she let me crash on her couch, she gave me the best Cali beach tour ever.

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My favorite was Venice beach. The crowds and the surfers and the storm of so many different hearts beating out their own rhythm. It’s not afraid to be itself, and neither is anyone strolling the boardwalk. Venice is shameless. 

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On to Colorado! I hope there are blueberry waffles. 

Sincerely,
Me

Layovers

Dear you,

I’m sitting in the Denver airport contemplating the brilliance of the Rockies, and the odds of my next plane crashing, and the new life that I will soon slip into. My soda is already watered down and my right foot is asleep. I hate layovers.

Everyone keeps telling me what a great adventure this will be. Really, though, the adventure began so long ago. I wish I could pinpoint exactly when, but in this constant rush of moments there is rarely just one that changes everything. More likely, it was all of them, a sum of seconds too dependant on each other to untangle.

I guess it doesn’t really matter now anyway. What matters is that somewhere between filling out a form  labeled “Colorado Trails Ranch Wrangler Application,” and lugging a Victoria’s Secret tote full of cowboy boots through airport security, the world got a little bit smaller, and I got a little bit braver. And now here I am, waiting on a plane to Los Angeles to meet a girl I’ve spent all of eight hours with before today. 

I’ll let you know how it goes. 

Sincerely,
Me

 

“Adventure calls on all the faculties of mind and spirit. It develops self reliance and independence. Life then teems with excitement. But man is not ready for adventure unless he is rid of fear, for fear confines him and limits his scope. He stays tethered by strings of doubt and indecision and has only a small and narrow world to explore. ”