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Ranch Diaries: On returning home from the city

Whenever I leave, I miss out on big events at the ranch.


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.

Sometime around 2 a.m. last night, I woke to the sound of something rummaging in the dog food bin. I threw back the sheet, pulled on my robe, and let Belle, our Border Collie, slip through the screen door. She took off in hot pursuit of whatever creature had been tempted by the temporary location of the pet food. My headlamp beam exposed kibble spilled onto the ground, but the only eyes reflecting back at me are Mooska the cat’s, and she’s not large enough to have caused the mess.

Belle trots up, wagging her stump tail. I wonder what she chased off. I right the plastic bin and snap the cover securely. I switch the headlamp off. I take a breath. The coolness is a relief after the unusually hot temperatures we’ve had since I returned from Vermont. Then I look up, and I’m stunned. The Milky Way stretches broad and dense as a frothy spring river, cutting a swath of light across the sky. A part of me wishes to never move from this spot.


Movement. I’m smack in the middle of re-adjusting to the pace and rhythm of ranch life. A sixteen-day trip elsewhere means that when I get back, there’ve been changes, because life here doesn’t halt and wait for me to get home. In some ways I approach it all a bit awkwardly, feeling like a stranger on my homescape. Tinnie the milk cow finally had her calf, a big bull that our intern Kiki named Wiley. She’s now nursing him and two dogie calves and they seem to have worked out their mixed family dynamic without too much fuss. A few of our partners came to help finish branding the last few calves.  The house is freshly painted, inside and out. I pulled up a few of the potato vines and we enjoyed the incomparable taste of new potatoes for first dinner. It’s full-on fly season now. The rains we’ve been expecting haven’t come. Today is Kiki’s last day of work, and she’ll be headed back to Kentucky on the 15th. Sam’s nephew Owen is here to help until our next intern arrives near the end of August.

It’s hard to re-fit myself into these working parts that have moved smoothly in my absence. MFA in hand, I no longer have to divide my time between schoolwork and ranch work. It should feel liberating. While I’m looking forward to swapping desk chair for saddle seat, I feel in my absence that I’ve missed something special. One-on-one time with Kiki before she heads back to her last semester of college. The birth of a long-awaited calf. The last branding of the season, always a milestone. The bright magenta cholla blooms have withered, and there are two lovely teal, brown-speckled eggs in a curve-billed thrasher’s nest that was completed during my travels. The sunflowers in my garden have grown a foot, raising their heliotropic faces in a bright statement of joy.

Tucked in the quirkily illustrated text of a new book on untranslatable words, the Swedish “resfber” snagged my attention: “The restless beat of a traveler’s heart before the journey begins, a mixture of anxiety and anticipation.” This exactly describes the tension I feel about my journey onward. The forward trajectory of the life around me is visible, and I must move with it.