Disclaimer: don’t expect (or fear) this level of sappiness on the rest of the blog. What can I say? Love stories just get me, and I like ours a lot.
I get asked so often about how Bert and I met, and how I went from being a suburban-raised, law-school-bound sorority girl to full-time hired man on a ranch to a ranch wife and mother raising babies of various species on many thousands of acres. It’s a long story, but if you’re interested, continue on, intrepid reader!
Growing up, I always loved the outdoors and the mountains. My parents took us camping, hiking, bike-riding, skiing, sledding—a Colorado childhood through and through. I loved horses from the moment I knew what one was, and was taught to ride on a family friend’s ranch near Aspen when I was little. I dressed up as a cowgirl regularly, and wanted to be my Kirsten doll and read every Little House on the Prairie book over and over (except Farmer Boy, I never liked that one, perhaps I should revisit it and give it another go).
Fast forward to my college years, where I thought I was going to get a degree in business and then go to law school or get my MBA, and subsequently realized business is not my thing. At all. Also I’m horrendous with numbers, and since lots of business involves money, you can imagine how well my accounting classes turned out–I thought I was having a breakdown. So, thanks for a fortuitous requirement-fulfilling course that I was obligated to take, I switched my major to Environmental Studies my sophomore year and was a much happier, less anguished and sleep-deprived camper thereafter.
Except for when I was taking Chemistry, but I’ve blocked it out and so should you.
In my junior year, a professor encouraged me to look into writing an honor’s thesis, so I started hunting for a topic because writing a hundred-page paper sounded like a fab idea because when you’re in college you have no idea how much time you actually have on your hands. Coincidentally (providentially), I worked for the Business Research Division at the business school for most of college, and at that time we were conducting an economic impact survey of the National Western Stock Show upon Denver and the surrounding areas. Thus, we were spending lots of time at the Stock Show with clipboards and surveys and horses and cows, and I guess those early days on the ranch in Aspen stuck with me pretty hard because I knew then that I needed to write about the environment and ranching. It took awhile to narrow down exactly the topic (my not-so-concisely-titled thesis ended up being called something like Building Rancher-Environmentalist Relationships to Protect Ranchland Environments from Development—woof) and I needed help on the ranch side, since Boulder supplies environmentalists aplenty but is rather high and dry in the agriculture department. I was directed to Colorado State, and Dr. Jason Ahola ended up returning my email plea for help, probably out of curiosity at this overly enthusiastic girl from Boulder who’d emailed half of his department. Either way, bless him, because knowing him has changed my life!
Having never been around cattle really, the good professor invited me up to the college farm to see some cattle and ask some questions. That day, they happened to be breeding cows, which is a lovely process involving a frozen straw of bull semen, a shoulder-length OB glove, and a whole lotta lube, and I will let your imagination (or Google) do the rest. Dr. Ahola, being the hands-on guy that he is, told me to grab a glove, and steered me over to a young man in a jean jacket with the bluest eyes I had ever seen, and told me that he’d show me what to do. Thus came the first-ever words that my future husband spoke to me: “You’re going to want more lube.”
Swoon, right? Okay, not so much. I survived the day, finished school for the semester, and went to Rand, Colorado to some ranching friends of my mom’s to do an “internship” for a month. Although I was dating someone else at the time, when Dr. Ahola emailed me and told me that Blue Eyes was working right down the road from me, I was excited because there weren’t any other people my age in the area, and that kid was just so darn nice. Things were falling apart with the boyfriend as they so often do in college; he didn’t quite get my newfound love of cattle and horses and thought it was just a phase and that my choice to stay the whole summer instead of just a month was a poor one. I don’t blame him for since it happened awfully fast, as things often do when you’re 21, but I knew better.
If I’d had the words at the time I would have been able to tell him that this was a sea change in my heart, and God’s hands were all over it, and his dream of being a big-city lawyer and politician were just not going to work with my conviction that living in the middle of nowhere was going to be my happiness. You know when you know something deep in your bones, like it’s a truth that’s always been there that just wasn’t plain to you until, well, it was? That’s how I felt about ranching.
Bert and I ended up running into each other at a ranch barbeque and he mentioned that he wouldn’t mind some help with a horse he was starting—he wouldn’t cross water, and boy would it be handy if he had someone else to ride with him to give the colt a little more confidence. Pretty smooth, eh? So I’d go over there after work in the evenings and ride along with him. We’d talk, ride around, have dinner, and I learned pretty fast that his bones held the same truth that mine did, which at the age of 21 took me by surprise. My five- and ten-year plans had obviously become much more amorphous since it became clear that law school was not my path, but I never thought I’d meet The One quite that fast, as getting married and having kids was always a vague inclination I had had, but never thought would come to fruition in my early 20s. He told me later that he wasn’t sure he’d ever find a girl he liked that wanted to live in the middle of nowhere, and he was just as surprised as I was that it happened to be me.
The rest, of course, is history, and we’ve been together ever since.
I earned my honors and graduated that December, and then moved to Rand to work full-time as a ranch hand. Bert ended up working for the same ranch as me, and we spent our days together with the cows and horses, riding and putting up hay and hunting for cows and bulls in the forest. We knew that spring that we were going to get married, but he waited to ask me until my birthday that November because we didn’t want to freak our parents out by getting engaged less than a year after we’d met. We left the ranch in Rand and moved to Harrison, Montana to work for Sitz Angus, and were married in September of 2012 in a barn and it was glorious! Dr. Ahola came, of course, as the matchmaker in this story. A year later, some major prayers were answered and Bert applied for and got a job closer to home, and we moved back to our native Colorado.
Our two boys were born while we lived on that ranch in Colorado. We became a family of three in February 2015 when Wacey was born, and then became an official wolf pack of four last March when his brother, Buster, made his fast and large way into the world.
This past August, we took a leap and moved to New Mexico. That ranch sold in October, so we packed up again in November and moved to a ranch down the road. It’s 96,000 acres in the high mountain desert of southeastern New Mexico, and it’s definitely a new adventure!
Not a straight or narrow path by any means, but it’s our story and it’s so obviously full of divine intervention and someone else’s planning that it gives me the willies in a good way. Bert and I count our years together in seasons—seven calving seasons, eight winters, eight fall work seasons, and lots and lots of lube in each breeding season—and some of those seasons have been hard, and I mean hard. We’ve had to make some really tough choices and work in some really tough environments, but there’s no one else I would rather (or could) do it with, let me tell you what.
Someone once told me that if our marriage could survive a horrendous calving season, then we’d be able to weather anything. We’ve done forty straight days of snow and blizzards with many nights of 60 below or more, we’ve done a horrible bout of in-utero sickness that kept killing newborn calves before we were able to help them, we’ve done two calving seasons with human newborns where I had trouble figuring out up from down some days…so I think we’re set up pretty well for the long haul.
I can’t express to you the gratitude and thanks I feel every day for this life that I’ve been given, or the path I could never have forged or chose for myself. It’s way better than any plan I could have orchestrated myself, and boy oh boy do I love it.