Monday, June 18, 2012

Cowgirl Dreams Do Come True

Vee Bar Ranch, Laramie, Wyoming

Hoofbeats. Dust. Sun.
Every morning just after sunrise, the horses gallop in on a rush from whatever pasture they leisurely roamed the night before. They live like horses were meant to live; running free and bold and safe within their herd, eating native sweet grasses, taking shelter under trees. The wranglers  drive them in, and the rest of the day, the horses choose us women to fancy them. We spread out into the open range where there is loose stock to look after; we climb a nearby mountain for expansive views of the landscape,and  giggle nervously as we try riding bareback with (look Mom, no hands!) our eyes closed.

One morning we rode across desert dry ground and over muddy irrigation ditches. Adolescent eagles perched in a mammoth nest at the top of a poplar, and wild iris poked up through tall grasses, swishing in the wind. Black angus cows watched our meanderings as we gently herded them toward a salt lick.  In the afternoon, we rode through timber; all ten of us women plus two young wranglers: competent, capable girls on break from university. 

Of the ten women riders, three have survived breast cancer. We talked about our busy, complicated lives, what goals we hold dear, what dreams and their revisions we were still chasing.

Someone said, like the horse, women know what it feels like to be preyed upon, and then before the thought could fully sink in, we attended to negotiating a crossing; our horses stepping carefully over river rocks as we splashed through clear moving water.

I sank my body into the saddle and let my mind drift into real time. Smelled the sweet sage, felt the gathered reins in my hand. And I imagined the horses waking up from their sleep, content in their herd, grazing in the sweet grass, choosing us as we have chosen them, all of us fully anchored to this wild, beautiful earth.

*You can join retreat leader, writer and horsewoman +Page Lambert, in Laramie Wyoming for her yearly Literature, Landscape and the Horse program. You'll enjoy lots of riding, writing, laughing and sharing with other women horse lovers, and get a good taste of authentic ranch life. 

Note: I left Laramie, Wyoming on June 10 for a boat trip from Seattle to Anchorage, AK; we will be at sea for 21 days with little internet access. Please stay tuned for my next blog post...with patience.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Messing About in Boats

            “So what’ll we name her?” my husband asked as we sped across Resurrection Bay in search of silvers.  I presume that boats are traditionally named after females due to the fact that a man’s kinship with his boat is a lot like love.  But this I resisted.  Barring tradition, the kids and I suggested genderless Alaskan names; names that would reflect explorations unique to our environment.  Or, a name with the word blue in it would do, since the boat's painted glacier-ice blue.  How about Bluebird?  Too predictable.  Blue Moon?  Fairly inspiring. Blue Skies?  Too cliché.

Choosing a name is a curious endeavor, like naming a baby. It's best to get a feel for its personality before labeling it for eternity. In boat language, that would be how she hums, the feel of the wheel in your palms, how well she anchors up, or drifts. The landscapes you visit, the rogue waves she weathers. My husband, shaking his head simply insisted, "think female." Needless to say, the maiden voyage was carried out nameless.
I had reservations about that first experience with the sea, about exposing ourselves to such large spaces of open water though my husband assured me, this boat could handle it.  Initially I wasn't convinced. He had no more of an acquaintance with the sea than I did. Landlocked, my husband was brought up in Iowa surrounded by green swaying hills and orchestrated farmland; he spent most of his time harvesting corn and muscling hay bales. I, however, grew up surrounded by water on three sides and learned to swim early on the shores of Lake Michigan. But the only threatening waves I'd encountered were those self created on a pair of water skis from the back of a speeding motor boat.
Nevertheless, we became ocean explorers and the art of seamanship began to deepen with time.  Knowing the sea had an unforgiving temper and absolutely no conscience, I reasoned it wasn't any different than the tundra and weather and so many other unpredictable elements that comprise our northern landscape.  To curb my fears, I became better educated and fluent in marine terminology.  I learned to dump an anchor, tie a reliable knot, and understand the “rules of the road.”  Most of all I learned to be astutely observant on the water, all the while having a good time.
             Looking back I realize that boats were always a big part of our lives, but in much smaller doses.  Twenty years ago, a small group of us pioneered running Eagle River rapids in single slalom kayaks and learned the lesson of wetsuits firsthand.  After our first child, the kayaks were replaced with a sturdy fiberglass canoe that could hold the whole family, plus gear.  After the second child was born, we explored greater, wider rivers in rafts and pontoon boats.  Our horizons continued to expand as the family added years. 

Exploring Shuyak Island, Kodiak
Then one summer, we left the realm of motor-less motion altogether and purchased a Zodiac for the sole purpose of exploring the coves and bays of ocean communities.  There we got hooked.  From Sadie Cove to China Poot, from Bear Glacier to Thumb’s Cove, the smell of sea air, the wind and spray on my face, and the rollicking sea otters bobbing in the waves were all pleasantly addictive experiences.  In the Zodiac we kept land in sight at all times and discouraged inclinations towards open sea.  Hugging the coastlines, a rich banquet of sea life offered captivating discoveries.  Cockles, crabs and moon snails on the beach.  Blue mussels and spitting butter clams in tide pools.  And defying nature’s color scheme of blue and green, scarlet sea stars clinging to rocky outcroppings at low tide.

messing about in dinghy
             Inevitably, change would come.  It was time to move up to a bigger, faster boat with a heated cabin and plenty of room on deck for fishing.  Hence a 27 foot RIB, meaning, a rigid inflatable boat that holds 145 gallons of gas and sports a 225 horsepower motor, in addition to two marine radios, a depth finder, and a global positioning system.  It is a workboat, one born of utility and capable of anchoring up in only two feet of water.  The front hull drops down and can load anything from drift logs to six wheelers.  She was born into the world with the expectation that someday she’d pay for herself, whether by barging supplies westwardly on the Yukon to hauling building materials across Kachemak Bay. 
For the time being, however, we’re still in the recreational mode.  Travel is fast and loud.  We no longer hug coastlines.  We fish for halibut and throw out shrimp pots.  We search for good dive sites and comb vast open areas where killer whale pods are known to inhabit.  Explorations are expanded still and land shrinks further and further from view.  Yet through all the years of upgrades and changes in boat desires, the circle is now complete as we load sea kayaks on the big boat to ferry into coves for a throwback to quiet explorations.  It is these times I love the most; enjoying the intimate, personal, and ever so quiet travel of kayaks on a glassy sea.

bon voyage

Clearly, our teenagers prefer the big boat reasoning we could go out farther, and get there faster.  On our last trip, we motored out to the south end of Sheville Island and were treated to a stunning show of sea life.  A school of Dalls porpoises; their short triangular dorsal fins cut through the surface, throwing a beautiful “rooster tail” of spray.  With a steady swim of up to 25 miles per hour, the playful porpoises crisscrossed the bow and enticed us to chase them.  The kids ran up and down the deck trying to get the best view.  Further on, we cut the motor and idled past bronzed sea lions sunning on an outcrop as the slap of surf gently cradle-rocked the boat.  It seemed the farther we roamed, the more surprises we encountered, like explorers being pulled to what lie around the next bend.
Back on land, the subject of boat names came up again. 
“I’ve got it,” my husband said.  “We’ll call her Tookah.”
“Tookah.  I like it,” I replied.  “How did you come up with that?”
“She’s a tentacled alien in the radio drama, Ruby, the Intergalactic Gumshoe,” he said.
(My husband listens to lots of science fiction books on
I can’t fault him his imagination and I was pleased with the result.  At least it sounded Alaskan.
Husband...yea, I know he's weird!
All in all, I am reminded of a quote from the book, The Wind in the Willows. "Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing...absolutely nothing...half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats," said Rat to Mole. A simple truth, indeed. and we've finally found her a name. TOOKAH. In big blue letters.

Savoring roasted marshmallows at camp

curious shorebird