Lessons from the Ranch

I spent my summer working at Ring Lake Ranch, a spiritual retreat center high in the Torrey Creek Valley of the Wind River Range in western Wyoming. The ranch is a gorgeous place, true to its tagline, “renewal in sacred wilderness.” (The photo above is Trail Lake, one of the two lakes the ranch borders, at dawn a couple of weeks ago.)

Some fun facts from my summer:

  • Number of miles I walked each day (on average): 6.5
  • Number of flights of stairs my pedometer tallied daily as I climbed hills and mountains: 24
  • Number of times I got my saddle out of the tack shed to go for a ride: 6 (that’s just sad, in 16 weeks at the ranch)
  • Age range of guests I led on hikes: 2 years old to 82!
  • Largest hiking group: 27 guests and staff
  • Most beds the staff and I changed in one morning: 41
  • Average pounds of cabin laundry hauled to the Dubois laundromat each week: 180
  • Average hours I worked each day: 10

You may gather by those data that I didn’t get much renewal this summer, and you’d be right. I didn’t get any writing time either. We were short-staffed, and I filled in wherever needed, including working the kitchen and helping the wranglers with the ranch’s herd of 32 horses.

It was, honestly, grueling in terms of physical and emotional effort. The exhaustion was lightened by some really beautiful moments on hikes, in conversations over meals in the dining hall, with staff on our rare off-times, and during evening seminars. Still, the summer’s work left me bone-weary and seven pounds lighter than when I arrived at the ranch in May.

One of those beautiful moments, and a rare time for me in the saddle, on the annual wrangler ride at the end of the season. This is Dundee Meadows, in the Absaroka Range.

I took the job of housekeeping coordinator/hike leader (which equals a more than full-time position, and requires very different skill sets) as an act of service, to use my skills and talents to help the ranch evolve in changing times.

I also figured I’d have some fruitful time to reflect on a question that has troubled me for the past few years: Where is home?

As it turned out, I was much too busy working to have time to reflect. Still, the question surfaced in the moments between waking and sleep each night. I saw the same images and heard the same words over and over, but it took me a long time to realize they gave me the answers I had been seeking.

Where is home? I kept seeing the view of Mount Lamborn over the hayfields of The Guy’s farm. I thought, I miss that soothing green. But I don’t want to live on the farm. Where is my home?

Mount Lamborn in the background over the farm.

I heard “private,” “quiet,” “secluded,” “shady refuge.” But where, I asked my thoughts in frustration. Where is this place?

Then it dawned on me. The place that fit those words and that brought the image to mind was a place I had not considered because it was too close to The Guy: Paonia, the small town surrounded by orchards and farms, home to around 1,500 people, that has been his community for nearly 30 years.

Paonia was his place, not mine. We had been so careful to give each other lots of space, to not encroach on each other. Could I find a place of my own there, both a physical space and a community?

I called him that weekend: “What if I moved to Paonia?”

“Why?” I offered the words and the images that had appeared over and over again in my mind. “I’ll think about it.” he said.

A few days later, he texted, “Okay.” Just one word. Enough.

“Are you sure?” A thumbs’ up emoji appeared by return text. More than enough.

I began obsessively looking at houses for sale in the former mining town colonized by hippies back in the day, and once home to the environmental newspaper High Country News; a town where pot shops coexist with hardware stores, an old-fashioned lumber yard, art galleries, bakeries, wineries, and a community theater.

Peonies blooming in Paonia.

A town named for peonies, one of my favorite heritage garden flowers. Where the streets are narrow, potholed, and shaded by huge old trees. Where the town park hosts “Picking’ in the Park” every weekend through the summer.

After weeks of hounding the real estate websites, and two quick trips south, I found my place. The image in my head of a shady backyard with a deep porch, and even, wonder of wonders! A writing hut tucked away under an ash tree next to the garage. A room of my own….

My 1920s bungalow, where the shaded front porch will be my library.
And the open living room/dining/kitchen will look homey with my sky-blue leather couch, Sam Bair rustic furniture, and my saddle on its stand!
The deep porch and shady backyard
And tucked away under a crooked ash tree, my writing hut.

By a stroke of very good luck, I was the first buyer to see it, and my offer was accepted. So I’m finally moving home. Where I will stay. And yes, it needs a little work (there’s a small matter of 1920s floor beams that need support after a kitchen renovation a few years back installed a very heavy quartzite counter, plus an aging garage roof). But mostly, it’s just where I need to be.

As soon as my sweet Montrose cottage sells, I’m packing up for one last move. And then I’m going to settle in and see what words come next…. And plant peonies to bloom in the garden next spring. At home.

Home: Restoring Hope Inside and Out


I am writing this post from the breakfast nook off the vintage kitchen of my new old house in Cody, in the northwest corner of Wyoming. Late-afternoon sun pours in through windows that are gray with at least a decade of grime, but no matter.


Through the door to the living/dining room I can see the shine return to the red-oak floors as they dry from their final coat of Bona Floor Rejuvenate. I have my feet up on one of only four chairs in my house, taking a break from the hard and long work of restoring this very neglected house. 


(Until the moving van arrives, my furniture consists of four vintage maple chairs and a matching table, all of which need refinishing; my Thermarest camping mattress and sleeping bag, which are surprisingly comfortable; plus a couple of packing boxes for side tables.)



My bedroom, in serious need of a new coat of paint and some furniture, but there’s art on the walls. (That’s a broadside by prinkmater Karla Elling of a quote from Terry Tempest Williams that begins, “I pray to the birds….”)


When I look over my shoulder at the kitchen, I can’t help but smile. The sunshine yellow steel cabinets, aqua wall oven and copper range hood, all circa 1956, the year the house was built and I was born, are gleaming again, thanks to Susie and Natalia, the cleaning elves who came to help me on Friday.



While I worked on hands and knees with a rag, paint scraper and bucket after bucket of Murphy oil soap and hot water, scrubbing years of grime and splatters off the floors, they carefully cleaned and buffed the kitchen, coaxing back its shine. And what a shine it has! I swear I can feel the house exhaling, happy to be tended again. 


I even scrubbed the tile floor in my new office, preparing it for the arrival of my file cabinets and boxes and boxes of books.



Out in the garage, my contractor, Jeff Durham, has worked magic with a structure that was only partly finished, and that badly. Jeff stripped crumbling drywall, replaced the non-fireproof door to the house, took out a dinosaur of an inoperable gas heater, and carefully rebuilt a cozy space for Red to live.



Red, snug in the garage this evening


Yesterday, I mopped the garage floor so there would be a clean place for the movers to put boxes and bins when the big truck arrives on Tuesday. Then I put the first coat of Bona on the floors, and while it was drying, I took a break and walked up the hill to the Post Office to collect my mail, and then back downtown to join the Cody Women’s Rally at City Park. 



Left to right: Spirit and Rattlesnake mountains and Red Butte, from my incredibly scenic walk to the Post Office. 


I wasn’t sure to expect at the Rally–Wyoming is a Republican state, and we just elected Liz Cheney (the not-good daughter of that Cheney) as our second US Senator. By the time I got to the park, a rowdy but good-natured crowd of over 450 people had gathered, young to old, many sporting pink pussy caps and carrying signs.



My favorite sign from the rally, both for the design and the message: “A woman’s place is in the resistance.” 


I stood in warm sunshine with friends Connie and Jay Moody while we listened to speakers reminding us of the value of women’s rights, immigrant rights, access to healthcare, and combating global climate change. Between cheering the speakers, Connie and Jay introduced me to their many friends.


My favorite part of the rally was a small moment, one that speaks volumes about the labels and stereotypes we allow to divide us. City Park is right in the center of Cody, fronting the main highway through town. As traffic passed, some drivers cheered the crowd, some yelled insults. I looked up as a semi hauling a load of logs thundered slowly along. 


The young male driver honked, pumped his fists, and then rolled down his window. I thought, “Uh oh!” Then he yelled, “I’m with you!” The crowd cheered. The driver honked his air horn again, a huge smile lighting his face, and drove on.  


On the political maps, Wyoming is marked as a Red State. That doesn’t mean that this is a bad place full of hateful people. Our world is more complicated than that. What really matters is not the labels or the divisive politics, it’s how we treat each other, the quality of the communities we grow, and how we work together in positive ways to nurture each other, our planet, and its web of lives.


This country is a democracy, not a monarchy. It is up to each of us to take part and set the tone for the America we believe in; the collective impact of our lives and actions is what makes this country great, not the loudest or most hateful voice. 


We can’t let the fear and bullying take away our power to do good and be compassionate every single day. We all need to stand up, raise our voices, and be involved in positive ways, wherever we are.


As the log-truck driver reminded me, it’s who we are inside that matters, not the labels and stereotypes we apply. There are good, caring, compassionate people everywhere. Let’s work together to be the America we all believe in. 



Blessings to you all from the blue-dusk sunset in my snowy Wyoming neighborhood.