{Mustang}

She watched a scorpion scamper from underneath the corner of the porch to a patch of sage smattered with orange and red paintbrush. It was her favorite wildflower. It always had been. She’d seen it blooming in June in her hometown mountains in western Montana; the vibrant, deep red always caught her attention riding along the trails. But here, in the sagebrush steppe of Nevada, the color appeared more orange in tone, and the way it looked against the greener, spring tones of sage, subtly yet strongly standing out, made her love it all that much more.

She rested her folded hands on the railing of the rickety porch, squinting into the late afternoon sun, her green eyes creased at the corners showing crow’s lines. She grabbed the end of her black, platted hair, and fondled with the handmade silver concho securing it in place. Her fingers were adorned with old silversmith rings and donned her favorite shades of jade and turquoise and her veins traced and bulged under her copper bracelets at her wrists. Her style was eclectic; from her weathered, old high top, custom buckaroo boots, pant legs tucked, to her braided horsehair belt and old pearl snap thinly worn shirt with the sleeves rolled. She was naturally beautiful and never fussed with maintaining her appearance. Her mid sized frame showed the hard work she’d put in outdoors fixing fence, working cows, and riding young colts.

She’d made a trip to Wadsworth to bring her Gran some horsehair for hitching. Gran. She was something. Jade looked back over her shoulder at the old Paiute woman with so much love and admiration. Gran was what everyone called her. She’d loved and raised and mothered more strays than anyone, and she’d taken a liking to Jade when she first expressed interest in wanting to learn beading and braiding. Gran had learned how to hitch hair and braid from her husband, an old vaquero from from California, selling her pieces to make ends meet.

Gran’s gnarled hands gently worked the gray horse hair. “This is a good color, Jade girl. You got a good one. A good bbooggoo.”

Jade smiled at Gran’s Native tongue. Bbooggoo was simply horse in Northern Paiute. She’d seen the steely gray colored stud not far from her shack early this morning when she’d been out gathering in the yearling colts, and heard the yips and howls of a pack of coyotes trying to move in on him. He had a busted shoulder; no doubt the recipient of a life ending blow dealt by another stud scrapping over mares. He’d hobbled up the hill and was struggling to get away. She knew the kind thing to do was put him down.

She pulled up her lever action .30-30, lined up drawing an x from each ear to eye and pulled the trigger. Her heart sunk along with the gray’s body to the ground. She fought back the bile in her gut looking to make an exit. She hated to do it, but hated even more the suffering. The coyotes scattered at the shot, and Jade made her way to the carcass. It was obvious he’d been struggling for a while, ribs showing, his appearance shrunken, and his hide covered in ticks.

She reached down and touched the neck, closed her eyes, and muttered a blessing over the horse. It was something Gran taught her, to always give thanks to the horse for his existence. Only then could you harvest any of the mane or tail hair. The mane was preferred for hitching and braiding because it was more soft and supple, and it also made the best mecates. It was only fitting that a wild horse that lived here, also met his fate here in the rocky sagebrush patch. She took in the toughness of his muscle, the shape of his hooves with the prominent frog, the square jaw, wide set eyes, small ears and short back. She stroked him one last time before she took what she needed of the hair, closed the eyes on the dead stud with her palms, tipped her hat and walked home.

It was a way of life here, and not one easily understood, but she embraced it fully. Jade turned around and found a chair next to Gran on the porch. Gran reached over, patted her hand, and smiled. She was missing teeth, her skin weathered, but her deep brown eyes always sparkled and spoke of her youth.

“Stay for supper, girl?”

“Sure thing, Gran,” Jade said, reaching over and clasping the old woman’s hand.

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Born {Game}

“Baby sister, I was born game, and I intend to go out that way.” ~Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne) True Grit

It’s a funny, enlightening, scary and humbling thing to write out a list of things you feel you’re good and bad at. I did this recently. I will tell you, there were direct correlations and similarities between the two contradictions. I realize I’m pretty darn good at drinking coffee until it’s an acceptable time to drink wine. I’m good at laughing at inappropriate things at even more inappropriate times. I’m good at praying on a Sunday and cussing because it’s Monday.

Self awareness comes to us in raw moments in life, and you have the choice to embrace it or put in on the back burner of life and never take a look in depth at the real you.

It’s easy to identify and align yourself with family traits and traditions, and grow up thinking one way your whole life, thinking this is all that’s important to me, this is all I will ever want. But someday, you will realize your life has taken its own course like you just picked up your own reins to your own horse to ride over your own mountain pass. There you sit in the saddle, and how tall and strong and true you sit, matters. You look ahead at the mountains and the picturesque beauty, the blush of new beginnings, the clear mountain streams that bubble from the hillside giving you crisp, clear hopes calling you to dream bigger.

Life twists and turns down the trail; it’s going along status quo, your packs are riding on your mules nice and square, and then, you start chewing on the choices of your life like a piece of sinewy, tough jerky, you just pulled out of your day old lunch from the saddle bags, and you don’t always like the taste. The words of Jesus and the devil play simultaneously in your ear and talk over each other. And there becomes this sudden rush of trying to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong for you, because daylight is burning on this one trip around the sun.

The trail becomes this hot, scorched burn scar and life is baring down on you. I believe in those moments, that’s what you find what you’re really good at. You’re good at being tough and squaring your shoulders. You’re good at following your gut. You’re good at remembering what makes you, you. You realize God has His purpose for you.

You pass a green tree starting to emerge through the ashes next to the trail, and you identify. You realize you can’t see much beauty, but you see traces of what’s to come. And you know it’s just a matter of time before its beauty fills you up again.

Baby sister, you were born game… Hell, ya might as well go out that way.

Happy Trails-

Heather

{Gone}

Sometimes I get these wild and crazy ideas about stories I’d like to write. I literally have ideas on a continual turntable running through my mind, and I’m terrible about putting them down somewhere when they come to mind. Sometimes inspiration comes from the slightest things- like watching my horse’s mane move on the breeze- sometimes it’s a nostalgic feeling that washes over me remembering the used to be- sometimes, it’s song lyrics- if the truth were told, my mind never really shuts off. So, I decided to put one of those ideas down- it’s just a little quip- a little insight into a story I may or may not someday write- but here it is…

She cracked the heavy oak door open to her modest, old ranch house, and stepped out onto the wrap around porch. The scent of piñon pine and sage wafted in on the early summer night breeze. She watched the last orange and pink rays of the sun warm the high desert mountains before waning into the horizon.

Her eyes drifted to the dirt road and the tail lights leaving. They didn’t pause, he didn’t slow, there was no hesitation. “That’s it,” she thought. She wasn’t sure how she felt yet- she knew it was coming- but in the moment she had no tears to cry, no assuming lump in her throat- because she’d been too damned independent her whole life. At 42, she rather enjoyed her solitude. “It is what it is,” she muttered to herself and let the words float away with the lights. What he didn’t know was he’d be better off in the long run.

She sat a moment in the old rickety rocker on the porch, listening to the creaking of wood on wood, as she pulled a pack of blue American Spirits from her jacket. She lit one up and breathed deep- letting the smoke roll over her. She rarely smoked. But tonight- she didn’t care- she just sat there and blankly stared into the night’s sky. The stars were starting to glow.

From the corral in the distance, she heard him nicker. Her longest friend. She got up from the rocker, took another drag, and strolled over the rocky drive to the corral gate. He walked up to her, and she reached for the familiar silhouette- her old bay friend. She ran her fingers through his mane, took the last long drag on her cigarette, and tossed the butt down, crushing it with her boot heel. She reached for him with her other hand- sunk her forehead into his neck- and just held on.

This is where her feelings surfaced. This is where she felt something- felt everything. It was her process. This horse had been through it all with her. He’d wandered through her remote place in the Virginia Range with a small band of mares- a young, strong bay stud. He caught her eye from the get go- the scars- the muddy, craggy look of his face- the shiny red mixed with black- and she lured him into the corral one morning. He willingly came, and when she shut the gate on him- he never flinched. It was like he’d been here before- so she held on to him- that was 15 years ago…

And now, here he was, standing quietly… just being. As she stood there letting his smell fill her nose, she finally felt that lump form in her throat- tears stung her eyes… and she thought of the news she received last week on her annual doctor’s visit. Words like “Stage 4” and “too late” and ” we could try” filtered through. She let the tears spill from the corners of her tightly squeezed eyes.

The bay lifted his head, nickered loudly in her ear, jarring her back to reality. She raised her head, looked up, and stroked his neck. She saw the herd rolling through in the distance. He nickered again-

She turned and walked away and he followed. With her back to him, she opened the latch on the gate, and turned back one last time, wiped away tears from her cheek, and stroked his mane. She stepped aside, out of his path- and let the pony run. After all, he was no different than her- he was just some wild thing- and he didn’t owe her one damn thing anymore- he never did. It was the right thing to do.

She sat down in the dirt, right there by the gate, leaned her head back against the post- and closed her eyes.

All the Way {Back} to Me

The foamy sweat rolls under the curry comb as I watch each line the blade makes in the red color of your winter coat. It’s unusually warm for January. You cock your hip and lick your lips standing quietly, eyes slit against the sun. My hand runs through the course and knotted mix of gray, red, white, ambers, and black hair that makes up your mane. I let my knuckles catch in the knots and lean in, resting my head against you. I feel the weight of my thoughts dissipate, fading off with the gentle breeze and I just breathe.

I let the pungent, sweaty stench from your hide fill my nose. At this particular moment, I just feel- feel moments that have made up my life and how the horse played an ever present role in it. How you, my friend, Twist, brought me all the way back to me.

I don’t think you will ever know the scope of how you’ve impacted me; how you reminded me of what I once wanted to be. As life with horses does, or maybe just life in general, confidence came and went. I lost it. I didn’t have it anywhere in my life. Not as a mother, not as a wife, not as a woman, and certainly not as a horseman. I was no longer feeling like that carefree girl with life ahead to frivolously waste. I trembled at steps, stumbled over decisions, filled my head and heart with negativity, and shut the door on all sorts of dreams.

And then, there you were. I don’t remember the exact moment you brought me back to life- to the realization that love and forgiveness of myself was essentially the path back to being in love with horses again- in love with life. Perhaps it was a slow progression, a steep yearning inside to smile again… just a quiet reminder that I was a cowgirl- in my heart- in my spirit. All I needed was to put that foot in the stirrup, grab a hunk of mane, and swing back in the saddle.

Somehow, here with you in this moment, I look back on the last eight years with you- and I see you’ve taught me so much- you held that mirror up to my soul- you taught me to forgive- you taught me to trust- you brought me full circle, reminding me I can, reminding me to pick up the reins of life and ride for all it’s worth. You brought me all the way back to me.

I let the ebbing streaks of the remaining afternoon sun soak in. I look at you and the corners of my mouth begin to turn upward. Setting the brush down, I give you one last run over with my hand, untie the lead rope and lead you to the corral. Watching you roll three times all the way over and half way twice, and I just smile- the kind of smile a young cowgirl does when she’s just spent the day with her horse. Thank you, my old roan friend- For all those happy trails- the rocky pasts, the more assured present and the good Lord willing, the happiest of future miles…

Happy Trails-

Heather

Worn

Coming home always stirs up memories. Traveling down old roads in favorite, familiar places does that. I let my my mind run its course through those memories, linger in the dents and curves and worn edges of my heart and soul, and I just… smile.

It comes to mind that the best thing about these memories is that they feel comfortable and happy and worn… Worn like the faded color of the photograph of my grandpa smiling back from atop his favorite black and white pinto. Worn like the grayed and weathered wood Bob Marshall sign on top of Pyramid Pass. Worn like the leather on my saddle and the feel of old horsehair mecates. Worn like the miles on old roany down dust laden trails through mountain passes. Worn like Daddy’s bible and his hands from a hard day’s work and Mom’s favorite recipes in the family cookbook and the smile lines that etch the corners of her mouth. Worn like love that binds us all and has seen us through our best and our worst. Worn like my first old pick up truck and the dirt roads I drove down. Worn like the words carved on epitaphs of loved ones and hand written on cards from my grandma. Worn like the town I grew up in that made dollars on timber, that loved their neighbor and didn’t shut down their parking lots, and opened their doors to strangers. Worn like old friends and familiar smiles.

Worn. Memories worn so thin you could see straight through them. Memories so precious even when they’re just a little torn. I find the finer things don’t hold a candle to these worn memories because the finest things worth keeping are worn.

Make a lifetime of memories. John Lennon said it first… “Life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans.” Make worn memories.

Happy Trails~

Heather

Forgotten Words, {Remembered}

Dedicated to the forgotten and future versions of ourselves… Woman, man, boy or girl.  I hope that by offering up these simple and humble words, you find something to identify with, to love yourself for, to do better, to try, or dream.  Happy Sunday~

Aspirations. Dreams. Goals. Hopes.  When I was a young girl, I had these, and they were so grand.  If I had been smart, I would have written them all down and followed through, formulated the hows and whens and whys to get there.   So here I sit at 41, kind of wondering now, would it really have made the difference?

I can tell you now, that perhaps that letter to myself, that map of dreams, is so far from center and true and right than I could have ever imagined.  That damned ol’ hindsight…

Would I have continued on had I known it would be so different than that of which I envisioned?  Regardless, I did.  And this is my life made up of these series of choices, changed lanes and junctures in the road.  But had I known then what I know now, what would I change and do differently?

I wished I could have known that life would move me in ways unfathomable; that it would blindside me and confuse me and hurt.  But that it would also be so beautiful and inspire me in ways I never knew possible, and I that I let each sunrise and sunset breathe new air into my lungs.

I wished I could have known that I’d love people thinking I would always get that in return; that I would love people that I would someday lose; that people would hurt, disappoint, and change. But, I loved them anyway, and I gave it my best shot, and that love always finds a way back.

I wished that I had known I would someday be the bad person, the one that hurts others; that I would be alone and lost and so damn unsure, and that I would be so exhausted by the chaos of it all, I couldn’t always see the light; that the mistakes I make cost others in ways I couldn’t and wouldn’t know until it was too late.  But, I made them anyway, and I learned from them, and that forgiveness from others and myself should never be taken for granted, and that I learned to tread easy.

I wished that I had known there were events in life that I would never quite come to terms with, that the answers that I sought were not always the ones I wanted to find.  Or, that I would need to find closure on my own without taking the easy way.  But, that letting go was never quite as hard as I made it to be, and when I finally looked up from the search to the hows and whys, peace was there.

I wished that I had known that loving others was going to be easier than loving myself, inwardly as much as outwardly; that I would struggle every time I looked in the mirror accepting myself; that I tried to be a copy of society’s perfect human picture. But, once I learned to love my flaws, it reflected in other areas of my life, making that acceptance just a little easier.

I wish I could know that the best of life is truly yet to come; that serving others, being selfless, making mistakes, finding faith, and loving with all I have would make this crazy, messy, unpredictable life all that more beautful; that I survived it with some scrapped together grace and dignity, and that I left the world a better place for it.

Someday, I will reread this.  It will remind of the marks I made and missed.  I will be remembering words I had forgotten.   But, may I not be wishing I had done one thing differently.  Here’s to living authentic and hoping you remember your forgotten words, too.

Happy Trails~

Heather

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{Believe}

“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive- to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” -Marcus Aurelius

Life. It’s unexplained; the highs and lows, the ebb and flow of good and bad, the mixed bag of emotions inside of us. It’s just life. But one of the most difficult things to come to terms with is your fellow man’s input on your life. Their perception and thoughts of you impact you far more than you should ever allow.

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We live in a society that plays on and profits from our self doubt. We are who we are, and we suffer because we imagine we should be different. We imagine we should be a replica of a celebrity, a friend, or a flawless more perfect version of our own reflection. We hold our appearances to a high standard and place our value and self worth on our outward appearances instead of valuing and nurturing and loving the inward. Starve those thoughts. Believe that whatever flaws you think you may have are your own brand, your own version of perfect. Believe in you. Just. As. You. Are. And that’s when you, yes you, become rich in the things that really matter.

Not everyone will understand your journey in the world; perhaps not even you. That’s okay. Stop needing the answers to it all. Just live with purpose, because the last time I checked, you’re here to live your life, not to make everyone understand or justify your choices. Those that truly love and accept you, know just where your heart is and don’t question. The sharpest critics are those most often blind to their own shortcomings, insecurities and mistakes. Their opinions truly aren’t your problem. Love. Love anyway. Because the happiest people are the ones taking care of their own business and choosing to improve themselves. Be one of those.

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Changing lanes in life requires ambition, going with gut instinct, grit, pain, and not always knowing the reason why. Not everyone deserves to know the real you, so let them judge who they think you must be. Be happy anyway, and wish them well, and be on your way.

Be grateful for your life; every aspect of it. Life is full of ups and downs and twists and turns. Guess what? That means you are alive. One trip. That’s what we all get. So, journey on. And don’t stop believing.

Happy Trails-

Heather

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{Strong Enough} To Bend

It was a hot, high noon in July as I topped Pyramid Pass headed down canyon on an eight day backcountry trip to the heart of the Bob Marshall. I’d seen the burn scar late last fall after the fires subsided. I knew the devastation that lay ahead, but as I rode through it with fresh eyes of summer, I felt my heart strings twinge and the insurmountable lump in my throat form. I worked to fight back tears as my eyes took in the charred landscape sending more heart pangs deep in my chest and feeling them make way to the pit of my stomach. Gut punched. Heartsick.

Tears welled, and I pinched my eyes shut feeling them trickle down my dusty cheeks wondering if that were the one drop of moisture that I might feel all damn day on the twenty odd miles of barren trail ahead. My throat swelled and felt dry. I reached out to the burnt and gnarled alpine fir and felt it’s brittle branch snap as I pulled my sooted hand away and brushed it against my jeans. I watched the powdery dust plume with every step my horse took, and I lifted my eyes skyward. I didn’t ask why. I didn’t care anymore, but the thirty plus years of memories flooded back; memories of green, of the tree with grandpa’s initials carved in it marking his presence in the Bob; miles upon miles of memories riding different horses for long hours down this Young’s Creek drainage I literally grew up in. And I know the heaviness of those memories I felt, my parents and Aunt and Uncle feel ten fold as they ride these same trails.

I can’t begin to explain in any sort of tangible fashion the amount of space this place has in my heart or that of my family’s, and no matter how much I tell myself to not be attached to such earthly places and things, it can’t be helped. Or maybe I don’t want to help it. Being of the mountains, this place is steeped in every memory, every fabric in the tapestry of our life here. I know this place made me. It shaped character. It made me tough. The drastic change of the landscape, in some places almost unrecognizable… it just feels like a well aimed kick by the meanest son of bitching mule you’ve ever met.

I recenter myself in the saddle, open my eyes, and look ahead. I have to look ahead. We all have to look ahead. And as hard as that may seem, I look again at the curled, burnt, little pines that turn earthward after a fire, almost as if they signify a slight circle of hope. Little sprigs of green bear grass show their tufts here and there, the fireweed blooms it’s brilliant purple, the birch leafed spirea softening the blow of black. The quiet bubbling springs and elk wallows that never before revealed their presence now show as if to remind me this too will be beautiful again one day; even if it never happens in my lifetime.

Strong enough to bend. That’s what it means to see something that means so much through it’s worst of times. This new reality of living through fire reminds me what true rejuvenation means, it reminds me to grow and change with it, to love it thoroughly and wholly, and let it’s scar be a part of my family’s story of how we were all strong enough to bend.

Remember there is always beauty in every state of being in this life. We’re all strong enough to bend, and we’re all better for it when we do~

Happy Trails💕

Heather

{In Pictures}

“We take pictures as a return ticket to a moment otherwise gone.” ~Unknown

People ask me how I got into photography. I’ve always loved the same things as the next person… the pretty, scenic overlooks, rugged mountains, showy morning and evening skies… but when I moved to Havre a few years back, I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I couldn’t see definition or change in landscapes or find beauty in the old, brown wheat rows. I had to look for it, and you know how it goes when you look too hard for what you think is the right thing, you miss something even better?

I’ve had that moment a lot in photography. One night, as I was out driving hoping to catch a sunset, I came across this old, white horse. Honestly, he was homely, scarred, pink skin around the eyes and nose, dirty and nothing spectacular. And just as I was about to speed on by, he turned in the setting sun, and he came to life in the light. And something spoke to me. Like once he was proud. Like once he was young. Like once he was loved. And I slammed on the brakes, jumped out of the truck and proceeded to take about 50 pictures of him. It was sort of an amateur photographer’s glory moment.

Whether or not the pictures were amazing, or the content was right, or the lighting and processing was good, became irrelevant. I remember this moment teaching me a lesson: slow down and look a little closer. I was missing a lot of beauty looking for the grandiose.

I still pull over for pictures. Sunrises. Sunsets. Horses in a meadow. A child smiling. Reflective water. I’ve taken thousands of pictures over the last few years. And I’ve learned a lot about myself looking back on the moments since I picked up a camera.

I’ve shared in some beautiful moments being behind the lens. I’ve seen beautiful smiles of people that love one another. I’ve scenic places that take my breath away. I’ve seen my children grow. I found new love behind the lens. I found focus. Simple as that.

That’s what I’ve grown to love about photography, and it’s my hope to continue to share these pictures I take care with all of you as a return ticket to a moment that would’ve otherwise been gone.

Happy Trails~

Heather

{Ride}

Yesterday, as I was sitting in the alleyway of the barn watching Twist munch on his oats, listening to music, drinking a beer, and taking in the first signs of spring, I thought about my grandpa. It always hits me being in the barn, and especially this time of year, just how much I miss him after all these years. I don’t know if it’s the old, dust covered harness that hangs in the rafters, the pile of tack that needs oiled and cleaned, the smell of horses, leather, wet earth and oats, or maybe it’s the combination of all of it. And as my eyes drifted to the mountains and the landscapes of home, I wondered what he’d think about all this change since his passing; the change in the last place he called home, the mountains he left his childhood home of southeastern Montana for, the family that’s left here to carry on his legacy and name and dreams, yet working to forge their own and honor tradition. Would he liked what he saw? Would he be proud? I wished I could talk to him as the forty year old version of me and not the nineteen just once. To have five minutes with him to seek a little wisdom and insight about it all. About this life and what’s in store. And as I looked back at my horse finishing up the last bit of his grain, it hit me that if he was here, he’d say “just go ride, Heather Anne”.

And he’s right. It doesn’t matter what’s changed. It doesn’t matter what the future holds. It’s about living in the here and now and taking change in stride. And the best stride to take it in is that of an honest horse.

You see, Grandpa was right about a lot of things, but the one thing he was most right about is the therapy that comes from riding; the peace it brings.

So as spring slowly forges it’s way in the form of mud, rain, and little flowing rivers in the barnyard, I’ll wait patiently for those mountains to thaw and reveal their change they undoubtedly hold. And I will ride down the muddy roads close to home until then, and think of him when I do.

Miss you, Popi❤️