COMING HOME: A balancing act on the ranch
WATFORD CITY, N.D. -- Living and working out here on the ranch can be a balancing act for everyone. And regardless of the long days of summer, it seems we’re still always in a hurry – to get the fence fixed before we move the cows west and the cows moved before the sun goes down and supper made before midnight.
Most days it seems like I will never catch up. I mean, put me on California Chrome, and that horse would take one look at me and decide that running isn’t his thing today.
Not until we’re pointing toward the barn anyway.
But Pops. Pops could ride a horse that was halfway to the light at the end of the tunnel, and that horse would turn right around to give him his last breath.
This is how it usually goes: Come home from work, quick change my clothes, head out the door, saddle up a horse and find a pace behind Pops as he heads out in front, providing me with directions that I cannot hear because he is facing the hills and I am three horse-lengths behind him.
I will yell, “What?”
And he will say something about following a cow through the trail in the trees.
So I will.
Only there won’t be a trail.
But good news, my horse will quickly find a lightning pace, and he will decide to make a trail of his own through the brush so thick that I will lose sight of that cow and all forms of life and light.
I will hear Pops hollering from what seems like 20 miles away and wonder how he got that far in what I’m certain has only been 30 seconds, because racing through the dark forest of the ranch trying not to die a mangled death makes a girl lose all sense of time and place.
“Jessss!!!” Pops’ voice will echo through the trees. “Wheeereee youuuuu attt?”
“Uhhhh …” I will spit the leaves from my mouth. “Just, uh, cutting a trail here …”
And I will bring with me some souvenirs from the experience – sticks in my shirt, leaves down my pants, acorns in my pockets and twigs jammed nicely in the puffs of my ponytail while I emerge on the other side of the brush alone and searching for any sign of the cow.
But it won’t matter. Pops will already have her through the gate, and I will cuss just loud enough for the squirrels dangling from my back pockets to hear while kicking to catch up and ridding myself of the vegetation I acquired on my “Blair Witch” journey through the coulee.
And I will catch up just in time to follow him to the road and into the barnyard, where we will load up the horses and I will wait to make sure Pops’ tractor starts so he can get home and get a bale of hay.
But it won’t start.
So I will drive him and the horses home.
Slowly, you know, because I apparently like to torture this man who’s always racing the sun.
But we’ll get home before 11, which will be plenty of time for me to whip up some sort of casserole for the other man in my life who has just returned from work. And I will be feeling proud that I can balance it all, pulling off a morning deadline, an afternoon at my desk, a wild evening roundup and a decent meal while managing to maintain a few shreds of dignity.
I will sit next to my dearly beloved, and while he takes the first few bites of his meal, I will wait for his compliment on my fine cooking skills.
And then he will look at me, an unexpected, unpleasant scrunch to his face and ask what I put in this thing.
To which I will reply, “Cheese, noodles, hamburger … the regular … why?”
And he will get up from his chair while pulling something from his mouth, look at me and say, “Because I just bit into a stick.”
Yes, some days, out here, the teeter totter teets more than it tots.
Call me if you need the recipe. I’ll be shopping for khakis and a house in the suburbs.