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Know the West

Ranch Diaries: The ranching-writing life

Somewhere in the midst of the business of ranching I have to figure out a way to keep writing.


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.

The roadsides are so green that I’m wearing sunglasses. True, the sunshine is pouring down on a perfect late June Saturday afternoon, but the lush greenery we pass feels overwhelming. I’m off the ranch for almost two weeks, midway through Massachusetts on my way to Vermont. After this trip, I’m not sure when I’ll be back.

It’s the fifth and final segment of my two and half year low residency program. By 4 p.m. on July 5, I’ll have an MFA in fiction writing. My graduation garb is in the suitcase behind me. Traveling, I’m still in that transitory space I experience when my rural / minimalist / rancher life and my urban / social / academic life intersect. I love the balance between my two worlds, but sometimes adjusting to the pace of living elsewhere catches me off guard. I realize how much I appreciate simple things, like ice cubes, a corner store, hearing a rich blend of languages on the streets. I know that I’ll eat as much seafood as I can stomach, and I’ll probably lug a gallon of maple syrup back in my checked bag when I fly home.


Home. Right now, that’s the culmination of a storage unit in Springerville, Arizona; odds and ends packed into a spare room in Corona, New Mexico; and the contents of our tiny home camper, which will be emptied in the very near future as we ready to move into the renovated house at Cow Camp Two in July. When I get back home, the novel I’ve been working on needs to sit for a while before I start (another) round of edits. My garden, which this year includes potatoes, beets, lettuce and leeks, should be ready to sample. We’ll have Sam’s 17-year-old nephew Owen back for the third summer in a row, to help complete the final section of the steel pipe corrals. Family will be trickling in around August, and we’re in the final stages of hiring our second intern for fall.

Somewhere in the midst of all this business and excitement I have to figure out a way to keep writing. After spending two years in a program structured to facilitate furthering my creative work, I have a pretty good idea of what I am capable of producing. The question remains, however, if I’ll have the long-term commitment to keep up a writing schedule once school deadlines are a thing of the past. I wonder if I can resist the temptation to connect with a virtual world before I’ve put in some early morning pages, my best time for creative thought.

It’s going to take some discipline and conscious thought to preserve a time of day to do art and write, every day. Practice makes perfect, a horse trainer once said, and perfect practice makes perfect work. While that seems lofty, I identify as a writer now. If I want excellence, I will have to commit to my art. Sometimes it seems that hauling water from the well, cleaning out stock trailers, and watching that cow you’ve been trailing all afternoon jump the fence is the most important thing. And right in the moment, it is.

Writing and ranching are ways of life built on discipline and a commitment to excellence.

That’s how I’m going to approach keeping a space in our busy ranch life for painting, writing short stories, and crafting novels: by allowing myself to stop unproductive multitasking habits, I can stay present in the various sectors of my life, and give my full attention to whatever is at hand.