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Know the West

Ranch Diaries: How to have a clear head and rested heart

It’s difficult to prioritize mental and emotional health in ranching, but vital to do so.


Ranch Diaries is an hcn.org series highlighting the experiences of Laura Jean Schneider, who gives us a peek into daily life during the first two years of Triangle P Cattle Company, a new LLC in southcentral New Mexico. Installments are every other Tuesday.

I’d been counting on this camping trip for months. It bolstered me through busy weekends, the stress of presenting my graduate lecture, the pressure to throw a nice heel trap at branding: In late July, I would head to the mountains with a bunch of other women for three days of relaxation.

As this past weekend arrived, however, I wavered. Smack in the middle of finishing up the house remodel project, I would be leaving in the midst of touch-up painting, hanging cabinets, setting countertops, and cutting and installing trim. It’s been parched here on the reservation too, and we’ve been moving cattle around in order to make sure they have sufficient water. I felt guilty that I’d just been gone for a few weeks — even if that was less vacation and more necessity. I decided to stick with my plan. I needed a surge of feminine energy. I needed to connect to nature without the behinds of cattle in front of me. I needed to meet new faces, grow my New Mexico connections and keep working on building an intentional community.


But a few days before our departure date, the cancellations started. Moving cross-country. New job. Change of plans. Our count dwindled from eighteen to three, with a fourth woman and her seven-month-old daughter joining us Saturday night. Hearts sagged, but we were determined. The three of us met at the Manzano Mountain Campground, and tried not to be awkward. I’d discovered Julia on Instagram after meeting her younger sister in California this spring. Turned out we have the same birthday, and the same two teeth capped. Turned out that Sasha, my husband’s niece from Santa Fe, and Julia, were both in realty.

Turned out that the three us felt more like sisters than anything.

We settled around the shaded picnic table and spread out a tablecloth. I’d felt embarrassed bringing it, but had to wonder why when it was enthusiastically welcomed. With mismatched cups and plates and plasticware, we investigated Brie and goat cheese, grapes and olives. We fished pickled radishes from the slick glass jar with fingers stained pink. We took a walk at dusk, enjoying the cool. I rolled out my bedroll under the stars and hardly slept in the bright light of the moon.

Sasha made scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast as we planned our day. We turned our adventures into a photo shoot for Milestone Leather, modeling Julia’s handmade leather bags. We wandered among the Quarai ruins, marveling at the height of the three-hundred-year-old stonewalls. After a lovely drive in the wrong direction, three park rangers directed us to the local swimming hole in the town of Manzano. We swam in the pond by giant cottonwoods before feasting on grassfed beef burgers with onions caramelized in honey, goat cheese, and pickled radishes. We spit lemon seeds from a huge green salad piled with fresh vegetables and dressed with citrus and olive oil. Abundant. Content. Fed, in body and spirit.

As we packed up our site on Sunday afternoon, raindrops sprinkled down. I considered them a good omen. It’s difficult to prioritize one’s mental and emotional health in ranching, but it’s vital to do so. After having these few sweet days without any pressures, I’ll be tackling the rest of the house painting, the gardening, and the moving-in process with a clearer head and a rested heart.

I’ll be ready to settle into our new home.