Branding… Our love story

The ranch… Home… Our island under the Crazies… No matter than names I call this place, one thing stays true: it is its own living, breathing thing. Of course it would change left on its own, without my cowboy and his cowboy co-workers keeping to the natural ranch schedule of things. Life on the ranch is cyclic and so there is no start and, as any bride to a ranch cowboy will tell you, no end. The summers are a flurry of activity -fixing fence, moving cows, haying. Fall is dominated by hunting season, at least in our house, though there is shipping, vaccinating, and other stuff to be done. The winters are relatively quiet, as there is only so much one can do is -20 degree temperatures and 28 inches of snow. That said, cows must be fed everyday, water holes kept open, and it is the perfect time to fix the things broken during the rest of the year.
And then it is spring… My favorite time of the year on the ranch, and with my cowboy. We met in the spring and it always brings back memories of those early days. Spring always feels like the beginning of something good, and it was for us. I met my cowboy in high school, though as he likes to say, I was way too cool for him (and I probably was.) Years later, in the Office Bar in Livingston, we met again. Eventually my cowboy called me up, asked me out to dinner, and so our whirlwind began. At the time I was riding horses for a dude ranch in Paradise Valley, my cowboy was working in Belgrade. We were both young, single and not too worried about anything. We would go out dancing and drinking with until the early morning hours and then go our separate ways, he off to weekend brandings and I back to hard mouthed dude horses. Don’t get me wrong, I have been to brandings before but only to help put lunch on and watch. My cowboy would come back from those Saturdays dirty, covered in cow shit, and happy as hell, while I, on the other hand, had loped rubber-sided dude ponies in a circles for 6 hours in driving spring snow. I was missing out. The weekend came for my cowboy’s parents’ branding, an event which I had heard all about and would have to miss because of my date with dude horse hell. As I sat in my truck, looking at the line of horses waiting to be ridden, the sun came out and my hangover cleared. Looking over at my best partner-in-crime and fellow nag tamer, Cassie, I told her I quit and I quit now. I grabbed my saddle out of the barn, loaded it in my little truck and headed out for a shower, an aspirin, and my first branding with my cowboy. Eventually, I found my way to my cowboy’s parents’ place and the branding pen. Cowboy was happy to see me, smiling and shaking his head as I drove up in my little red truck and “Who’s better than me?” t-shirt. That afternoon I got dirty, covered in cow shit, and, as predicted, was as happy as hell. Since then I have been to many more brandings, with and without Cowboy, even roping at one last spring. For other Montana cowgirls, branding may be about work or tradition, but for me they’re about love.

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