Tuesday, April 30, 2013
One day I woke up, one month shy of fifty, a single white woman living on my parents’ ranch in north central Montana, and I was gut shot! How the hell did this happen? I was stunned. I had been keeping my head down and pretending for so long, I hadn’t noticed … anything. Idealistic blinders firmly attached, I ignored the misgivings in my head and came back here willingly some eighteen years ago. My three older sisters had lives to attend. I was sick of living in town, sick of my job, had the wrong degree and no money, and I was desperate to do almost anything else. So I stuffed all my things and self -delusions into Dad’s horse trailer and came home because I love this isolated arid place: rattlesnakes and sagebrush, horny toads and prickly pear, juniper and scrub pine dotting the volcanic shale hills and coulees, the usually dry mineral laced creek trickling through gumbo clay banks draining eventually into the Missouri.
You learn a lot of things by the time you’re fifty. I’ve begun to realize there will be no big payoff. This is it. I’ve never been married and I have no children. Between Dad and me, all the men with potential were run off. So I have been unmercifully alone living a life as a round peg in a square hole. The universe doesn’t like that sort of thing. Over the years, I should have made some changes. I came awfully close a couple of times. Still I did nothing, risked nothing, gained nothing. And now, I’m gut shot, with no one to blame but myself, and no one to even bring me a warm beer like they do in the movies. I’m really not much of a beer drinker although I drank my share in college. I’m allergic to wheat, so there’s that. White alcohol like gin or vodka gives me leg cramps. My mother taught me that. Whiskey, Dad’s favorite drink, is fattening and gives me the worst headaches. I prefer wine now, Italian wine in particular. So I threw my best clothes and a new pair of shoes alongside wrinkle cream into a bag and hauled my nearly fifty year old butt over the pond to Italy for a week in February as a birthday present to myself. I caught a deal on a travel site and put a deposit down so no one could talk me out of it. My birthday is in March, and all of my birthdays over the last eighteen years have been about birth of calves because as cattle ranchers, that’s when we begin calving. I can’t say I haven’t resented that, or sitting home alone on New Year’s Eve, but I didn’t want to be gone during the most important season for the ranch. I have experienced enough miserable March months when the lives of weak young calves were balanced precariously on the whims of Ma Nature. So, I responsibly chose February to be gone.
I have never enjoyed the month of February. Montana winters can be harsh. The holidays break up November and December. By the end of January I am tired of winter. There is nothing to do but endure February, to put the heavy bulky clothing on again every day and go about the chores, the chores, the chores: feeding hay, hefting buckets of pellets, chopping ice open for the livestock. By March I am desperate for the smell of warm earth, or one little sprig of green grass, for longer days and receding brown. So, by the time February rolls around, I’m over the splendor and drama of the American west and the freedom of working your guts out schlepping to ungrateful bovine all winter. And there’s that irritating capitalistic “holiday”, Valentine’s Day. So, Ciao, bebe, I lined up some old people/cow sitters, fired up the plastic and was off. Great Falls to New York to Madrid and what felt like two days later, our little plane dropped down through puffy happy clouds over Vesuvius on approach to Naples. The first thing I noticed: it’s all extraordinarily green! Unless you’ve spent eight months out of the year waiting for that color, you cannot fathom what a welcome sight it was. I might have been really tired, but I nearly burst into tears.
I went on a college sponsored trip to northern Europe back in 1983 and let stupid fear keep me from going back to study. It was a decision I’ve always regretted and that coupled with my upcoming half-century birthday made my choice easy. This time I didn’t talk myself out of it. This time I didn’t think about anyone else or their opinions. This time I was going to be pro-active rather than re-active. So, there, next to the intense azure of the Tyrrhenian Sea on the flying buttress cliffs of the Amalfi Coast, I peeled off the armor and allowed myself to breathe.