A New Year, A New Look, A New Website

We all reinvent ourselves from time to time. In my case, this usually involves hair color and heavy eyeliner. In the case of the Padlock Ranch, all it took was a fab new website to make what was really good look utterly amazing.

That’s right…the other day I clicked on over to see what was going on at the edge of the Bighorns, and wasn’t I just plain dazzled to see all new photos, an easy-to-navigate new layout, and all-in-all, a fresh new look that befits the place that captured my heart not so many months ago. I can promise you it is only a matter of finding the right time and I’m going back.

I urge you to find the right time, too.

Whether discovering it for the very first time or discovering it anew, the Padlock is where we can all find a little bit of peace and purpose in 2012.

Maybe I’ll see you there.

CLICK HERE FOR A LOOK AT THE PADLOCK’S NEW LOOK

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Trip to the Padlock Ranch in Wyoming Featured in November Issue of TRAILBLAZER MAGAZINE

Check out the November issue of TrailBlazer Magazine–now available where magazines are sold (subscriptions available online at www.trailblazermagazine.us). I documented our August trip to the Padlock Ranch in Wyoming in a feature article–just turn to page 22!

Pick up a copy of the November issue of TrailBlazer Magazine and turn to page 22! Makes me miss Wyoming...


TEX, A Children’s Book Set on a Working Wyoming Ranch, Is Now Available! Check Out the Video Here:

Those of you who followed this blog earlier this year—when TSB Managing Director Martha Cook and I traveled to Sheridan, Wyoming, for a week on the glorious (yes, I’m still basking in the glow, several months down the road) Padlock Ranch—may remember that while we were there we took a first-day field trip out to the Wymont Ranch (read about this excursion HERE). The Wymont is home to Mimi and Dick Tate, and also the setting for the new children’s book Trafalgar Square Books just released: TEX.

TEX is a delightful and colorful kid’s book about working hard, appreciating the natural beauty around us, and dreaming big. Illustrated with authentic photographs taken on the Wymont, it is the first book for children by Dorie McCullough Lawson, wife of painter and former resident of Sheridan T. Allen Lawson, and daughter of the historian David McCullough.

The book is utterly charming. As the mother of a two-going-on-three-year-old, I love being able to read a book that instills such simple and integral lessons in the midst of bright color and photographs of the great outdoors. And, most importantly, at the end of the book, the little boy goes to sleep!

Check out the book trailer here, and order a copy of TEX for your favorite little cowboy or cowgirl at the TSB bookstore, where shipping in the US is always FREE.


The REAL Visit to the Mint Bar and Drive-Thru Liquor Stores…Really? Yes, Really.

The notorious stuffed wolf at the Mint Bar--yep, I saw it; it exists.

For all those who read my early “pre-trip” post about the iconic Mint Bar in Sheridan, Wyoming, I thought I best create a permanent (translate: online) record of my actual visit. Yes, I did go…while they are closed on Sunday nights, they are open at 10 a.m. on Monday morning. While I didn’t DO a shot, I did GET a shot…of the notorious stuffed wolf that stands nobly above the main bar on a shelf reserved for taxidermy of various origins. I also got t-shirts, and was super-pleased to meet the owner (yes, there and working at 10 a.m. on Monday morning).

Booze takeout? In Sheridan, sure....

It wasn’t just the Mint Bar that fascinated us in the realm of the alcoholic in Sheridan…we were amused to no end by the idea that a) they had liquor “takeout” that you could order and stick under your arm before you shoved back your barstool and stumbled for the door; and b) they had liquor DRIVE-THRUS….yes, I know, Wyoming isn’t the only state to host this phenomenon, but that makes it no less amazing in my eyes. A good idea to let people drive up to a window and order a handle of Jack with the motor running? As a former bartender, it seems a dubious proposition at best….

The drive-thru liquor store down the street from our Sheridan hotel. Yes, I agree, the construction is suspect.

But that detracts not from its charm, from an Eastern girl’s perspective…


My Son, the Buckaroo

My week in Wyoming at the Padlock Ranch was the longest stretch of days I’ve been away from my son, Augustin, who is two-and-a-half (or a little older) now. Cell phones didn’t work and I convinced myself the “emergency” house phone was for that only…so no morning catch-ups or “night night Mommies” or “I’ll be back soons.”

These days, when one is uber-connected to everybody, everywhere, all the time, this can be a difficult thing. At first I felt like something was missing, like I’d forgotten my hat or my glasses. But gradually I grew accustomed to just thinking about “back home” and all those who awaited our return, and a moment of silence became the equivalent of telephone pleasantries. I like to think this system of communication, however intangible and unquantifiable, worked just fine.

As is evident by this blog, we DID have internet–wireless access was fantastic throughout the Padlock guest lodge. So my son got to see pictures of me, and hear all about my adventures “riding horsies,” via the words I recorded each evening. After our first day he renamed his rocking horse Copper (as she was formerly called “Margaret” for reasons unclear to me, I tend to think this is an improvement). And then, after seeing a few more photos posted here, he grabbed his grandmother’s sunhat–and she captured the moment on camera.

I give you my son, the Buckaroo.

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Where’d the Blonde Cowgirls Go????

Martha on Cactus at the Padlock Ranch in Wyoming--"cowgirl in training."

When I walked into Managing Director Martha Cook’s house this weekend, a question, something along these lines, was posed by Martha’s husband Lantz.

I suppose if we looked at this query from one perspective, we could answer, “Well, redheads are far more fashionable these days.” If we’re comedians by day, we might reply with a wry, “They’re out looking for their brains.” Perhaps if we felt of a philosophical turn of mind, we might surmise that a far more serious kind of seeking was taking place…and we could find them if only we, too, found a “calling.”

Roping practice at the Padlock--do you think the "city duds" give me away?

In this case, we were in fact, never really cowgirls…although I’m flattered to have been labeled one, even by a fellow Easterner. That we had the chance to “play” the part, to keep our bottoms in a saddle most of our waking hours, to think like a cow and “eat like a man” (I don’t think diets are necessary when you’re working that hard), and wear a hat, hold a horn, and swing a rope like the “real deal” just might…well, that was just amazing. Amazing in the way a dream sequence might play out…even more so now that several weeks have gone by and I’ve been able to perfect my own performance in the role in my head.

I’d tell you some good stories, but I fear there’s enough film and camera footage on this blog to expose me as an individual prone to exaggeration…albeit glorious in detail and drama.

She's gone "English"--with Clarke this weekend, and looking nothing like a cowgirl, alas.

Martha and I had a chance to sneak in a ride on Sunday morning. It was a long weekend, and one spent by most cleaning up and digging out from the devastation left in Hurricane Irene’s wake. There were many opportunities to volunteer, help, and get muddy alongside friends and community members (our towns were amazing in their ability to organize and inform–thank you!) And it just felt good to be on a horse, moving over the mud instead of through it, for a little while. In honor of the GMHA 100-Mile Ride, which was canceled due to the GMHA grounds’ extensive damage, we trotted along the trail for a bit, thinking of those who should have been…or would have been….riding those same miles had Irene stayed off the coast instead of swinging inland.

Perhaps a few were blonde cowgirls.

Maybe they’ll be back next year.

Martha and Buster after our Sunday ride, East Coast Time.


Cattle “Hat Cam” Debuts and One Week Later, I Dare to Reminisce…

I wonder if there is a line of demarcation following momentous events in one’s life—you know, a dateline you cross that either makes it okay to talk about “it” some more, or on the other hand, signals a point when you really should just let it rest and let everyone around you forget what a great time you had…since it was probably without them.

In this case, a week of work and city under the belt, plus an unruly hurricane bearing down on the Trafalgar Square Books offices, not to mention the homes of family, friends, and colleagues, has made the fading taste of latigo, sweat, and sun-faded grasses a little sweeter and a little stronger…dare I say for “old times’ sake”? It doesn’t take long to make a soft bed and good meal a distant memory. Nor do many days have to pass before a new friend, once close enough to share a quiet riding moment with…or a sunrise…or a flickering campfire…seems almost a stranger again.

The horses I had the pleasure of riding over the course of the week I spent with TSB Managing Director Martha Cook on the Padlock Ranch in Ranchester, Wyoming, have no doubt forgotten me—my scent, my voice, perhaps my weight in the saddle. They have done well by another rider by now…or more likely several. I am not inclined to imagine that they might remember me the way I remember them: Copper…patient, sure-footed, and sweet-faced; Smoky…with a nose for a cow and an unusual gaseous propensity; and TJ…so sensitive off the leg and weight aid, big, and handsome. When we drove off the ranch we crossed their dateline. We no longer figure into their work-oats-range equation.

I’ve wondered a bit if I’ll find the time in the months ahead to sift through the hundreds of photos I haven’t posted here, in order to show more of them. I’ve pondered whether it is worth it–whether anyone really cares. But then, this evening, I finally had a chance to edit down one of the “hat cam” movies I managed to capture (against all odds), and I found myself transported for an hour to a quiet mountain range deep in the middle of this expansive country. I lived it all over again, for a few minutes, right here at my desk.

And that is worth sharing.

The song is “Grandfather’s Brand” by the Padlock’s own Jesse Ballantyne, from the album Cowboy Serenade. Like it like I do? You can download it HERE.


Last Day, Final Ride, Flight Home

To our surprise, we had time to go for one final ride before we caught our (very small) plane out on Saturday. It seemed appropriate to “wind down” and bid a final adieu to one of the views that had, frankly, become almost commonplace over the course of the week. We saddled up and climbed up through the horse pasture behind the guest lodge, and after a brisk canter brought us to the top of one of the Wolf Mountains (really, hills), we looked away toward the Bighorns, Sheridan, Dayton, and Ranchester.

It seems natural that on a last ride on a last day of a memorable and wonderful week one would spend time considering how best to revisit the adventure again in the future…it seems natural that one would go over and over the highest of the (many) high points and laugh again at the goofiest moments–smile at the touching or tender ones.

We did all that, I’m sure.

I write this now, just outside Boston, on a muggy night with the window open before my computer. I can see the chain link fence across the way glinting in the street light. I can hear the cars going by on McGrath Highway. It was only yesterday that I rode TJ  up a Wyoming hillside next to Martha and Steve…but it already feels like years ago.

I miss it.

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Day Six: Contemplative Ranching

Today was our last full day at the Padlock Ranch in Ranchester, Wyoming.

Tomorrow I have to ride in one of those little airplanes again.

Pavement, traffic, and my desk chair await.

I could attempt to describe the day we had, as I’ve done in previous posts. I could summarize our conversations, the things at which we laughed, the views at which we gazed.

But I think, if you’ve been reading along this week, that by now you get it.

At one point this afternoon, our group gazed out over a long valley after having pushed 100 or so cattle through it and up the mountainside. We sat on our horses, side by side, and watched a few bovine stragglers weave their way out of the brush and up through the tall, waving grasses. Someone remarked that watching cows was fascinating. We all agreed.

After a week of moving with the cattle and learning how they communicate, what they notice, when they walk and when they run, Martha and I continue to be endlessly amused by their curiosity. They crowd around you, ears forward, eyelashes long, with a look of bemused wonder. Even when a comrade is roped (this time of year, most likely for doctoring purposes) and her or his bellowing must certainly communicate stress and/or anger at such an affront, cows will generally stick around, stick their nose in, and “ask” what’s going on.

It might be fascinating watching the cows, but the cows spend a lot of time watching us, too.

This mutual character study can’t help but be good for both sides. In the cows’ case, a little human presence breaks up their long days and offers a little adrenalin rush…after all, it must get boring working one’s way from grass patch to grass patch, brush to meadow, lying down and standing back up.

In the humans’ case, we have a chance to slow our usual manic pace to match the cows’…we can breathe more slowly, consider the landscape before we move across it, and think a lot about mealtimes.

The Padlock offered me a chance to leave the world of Apps and deadlines, reach down and touch the ground I’m standing on, and look up and acknowledge the heavens above. It made me think, but not in the sense of buying or selling or making a living. It made me think about earth, wind, and sky. It made me think about land stewardship. It made me think about the food that I eat and the hands that grow it, raise it, and harvest it.

I joked a lot this week about leaving my brain behind and actually gave myself permission to let my head “run on empty.” But the truth is, I had more opportunity to indulge in quiet contemplation and deep thought this week than I have in a long time. The Padlock Ranch experience wasn’t a frenzied rush to get things done; it wasn’t programmed from sunup til sundown. It wasn’t forced, or exhausting, or overwhelming–all of which I can imagine are possibilities on a ranch “vacation.” Martha and I were masterfully woven into the fabric of daily work on the ranch, so that we weren’t just along for the ride. But, at the same time, our hosts respected our comfort zones and allowed us to decide how much we were ready or willing to give. We didn’t ride nose-to-tail; we had freedom of movement. We didn’t chatter incessantly, but spirited conversation flowed easily between and around comfortable silences.

Basically, it rocked.

We hope to get one last ride in tomorrow morning before we go to Sheridan to catch the first of two planes home. In the days ahead, I’ll share video and more photos, as well as detailing symptoms of Padlock Withdrawal. I can’t believe the week is over already.

At least I have an awful lot to think about.

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Day Five: Making Movies and “Hot Dogs” (and a Little Riding, Too)

So, I know I’m behind a day, but yesterday started early and ended late (which here, is a good thing). The good news is today you will get two posts complete with tons of pictures (to drool over, I should think).

We were up early Thursday morning…the sun was just rising when we all made our way out to a draw just a ways down from the lodge. We were there to see the horses brought in–or rather, to watch a film crew watch the horses brought in.

A French film crew creating a documentary about the West had requested Padlock provide a number of opportunities to obtain footage, and I have to say, I can’t imagine a better setting. With no outside distraction, breathtaking scenery, and the drama provided by the livestock, horses, and hands, what more could you really want? (A couple of curious greenhorn bystanders, perhaps?)

We were on the ground early in the day, and got a lesson in colt-starting from Steve Johnson and his son Isaac (a film crew request). The colt belonged to Padlock Assistant Operations Manager Les Nunn, and he was a bright, nice-looking colt that had obviously been started right. It was only his second time in the round pen, but he advanced through the lessons in a mannerly way, and before we all knew it, Isaac was on him. As many of you know, started right, a colt isn’t going to put on a bronc show the first time a rider gets in the saddle, and this morning’s demonstration was testament to that.

We rode out later to drive some cattle, again for the film crew (as well as to check for foot rot), and it was by far the most intense “ranch” experience I’ve had yet. We had to gallop up and down some steep hillsides and actually (no, really!) turn the cows, keep them together, and all the things you see on TV and wish you had the guts to do.

The Padlock’s hundreds-of-thousands of acres is actually made up of a number of smaller ranches that were acquired over the years by the ranch founders (as well as the original Padlock lands). One of these, the – V (umm, I think that’s the right way to spell what sounds like “Bar Vee”) has some older ranch buildings on it, so we took the wildest ride I’ve ever had in a golf cart over a rocky cross-country “road” (I guess you could call it) to have a look (and there Padlock CEO Wayne Fahsholtz saved us from a long walk back by filling up our tank with diesel). The property is truly lovely, and the terrain quite different than the valley in which the guest lodge is located. Perhaps this is what has impressed me most about this trip to Wyoming–the remarkably varied landscape, from lush green to arid dry to rocky mountaintop.

Our day again ended around a campfire, where I was introduced to the best “hot dog” I’ve ever tasted–they are actually huge and sausage-like, but filled with Country Natural Beef (yep, the very same from the Padlock program). I also was informed that a hot dog is also known as a “tube steak”…perhaps that makes it more palatable? Knowing that it is all-natural beef certainly does…

So, the moon came up, the doughies came out, and pretty soon we knew that this day, too, was done.

That it, in fact, was a “wrap.”

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