Even though I spent three years of my life living in the city, it really is true that you can take a girl out of the country, but not the country out of the girl. I moved back into the country onto the family ranch a few years ago and have been happy as a spring calf ever since. True, it has its disadvantages, among them not seeing every new movie that hits theaters since the nearest theater is an hour away, but I don’t really miss much — certainly not the noisy neighbors, cars driving past the house at midnight, or all the money I spent because the nearest craft store was ten minutes away. Growing up a country girl was a wonderful thing. I grew up in jeans for practicality reasons, and still wore them even when I lived in town, even though I am also a little bit of a fashionista sometimes. I went to sleep at night listening to coyotes howl; no sound in town can compare to that, or keep me up at night. I grew up around wide open spaces, and rows of houses and pavement make me claustrophobic. Give me wide open spaces and a herd of antelope that makes a permanent home on our rage, and I’m delighted. I get to walk the dog each morning across the prairie and encounter patches of Indian paint brush and cactus flowers.
But mostly I can tell the difference between real country people and imports, because the real country folk have an entirely different approach than the imports, when it comes to taking care of fences (real ranchers know which end of the fence is their responsibility, and don’t mind you crossing onto their land to track down an errant bull), in being neighborly, in taking good care of their property, and they know how many head of cattle or horses a section can handle. Country girls are practical. We know that as much as we hate to tell dad about the trespassing porcupine in the knowledge he will be forced to shoot it, it has to be done for the preservation of the sanity of the ranch dogs. It’s likely we have seen the results of not being so vigilant, in holding a dog down while those terrible quills are drawn out of their faces. We have smelled the stench of branding day and dealt with cranky bulls, and toted a calf five miles back in the cab of the truck after it has bolted off and nearly run itself into the ground with exhaustion. We’ve been up at five in the morning in the freezing cold to help with feeding the cattle in the midst of a snowstorm, and cut fences to let a trapped antelope through (and mended it again when we were done).
We know the value and worth of firearms and how to use them, because in the main house is a rack of shotguns that range from more modern fare to Civil War era pieces, and they have come in handy when dealing with rabid animals or rattlesnakes. We know enough not to get kicked by a horse/mule/bull, but have been bucked off more times than you can count, and usually landed either in barbed wire or cactus. Our rule of form is to never trust any animal or underestimate them — we’ve seen the wind knocked out of full grown men after being kicked in the chest by a month old calf, and know how to scale a six foot fence before the bull can reach it ahead of you. We know never to let the dog chase off a coyote further than we can see them, because coyotes often work in teams to try and isolate ranch dogs and take them down. We have never worn sandals in our life and are proud of it. Sturdy shoes are our preference, or a scuffed pair of boots that have seen better days but are comfortable.
The term “flood” prompts one major reaction—to run like gangbusters for the creek to watch it come down and wipe out all the fences between here and wherever. On occasion, it wipes out the road crossing as well, which is a major event but nothing to be too worried about, since we can manage without going to town for at least a week. Our use of “Branding” is not a reference to brand name clothing. In fact, the only brand name clothing we own are Rockies Jeans. No, real branding is not all that fun. It stinks to high heaven, rounding up the cattle beforehand is a pain, and contrary to what Hollywood might imply in its movies, it generally does not happen in the midst of a blizzard. We have fixed fence at least once, generally much more often than that, and our idea of a nice evening is laying out on the lawn and gawking at the stars, because we can actually see them — unlike city folk. Our truck has gotten at least one flat tire from a rusty nail off a fence post that disintegrated at least forty years ago. And that is being generous; the more likely case is a dozen flats, and the ranch truck is running on bald tires, with an expired license plate and a clutch that throws the driver two feet forward by lurching whenever it is employed. We’ve raised a wild animal at least once—abandoned raccoons, bunnies, or coyote puppies, and thought nothing of it, except being sad when it was time to let them go. Lastly, the term “going to town” means something monumental, since it’s so far that we’ve learned to go without or get five other things done at the same time (feed store, grocery store, library, home!).
I have met many country girls in my time, some of them over seventy years old. One was rather awe-inspiring, a woman who pulled more calves, drove more cows, and trained more horses than anyone I had ever met, as well as raised a passel of kids. She always wore jeans and boots, and a genuine cowboy hat with a smashed brim and sweat stains was never far from her hand.
Country girls are unhappy in town and happy in the country. They are not pleased to see subdivisions going in, because it means less range land for wild animals. They are used to rutted, muddy, sandy roads, and driving four miles to get the mail. They generally have at least two ranch dogs they like, their family has known their neighbors for twenty-five years, and the thought of camping doesn’t appeal to them, because why bother, when you live in the country? They can just open their window at night and listen to the silence. Talking politics means asking each other what they’re going to do if some dumb city slicker gets into office.
Maybe you are a country girl, or maybe you just want to be one, raise one, or marry one. It’s easy, really, how to accomplish this. Love the wide open spaces. See the beauty in every creature God has created. Stand at the window and watch it rain. Don’t drown out the silence with noise. Wear sturdy shoes, and above all, don’t ever believe the smart-alak kid who tells you those brown things in the pasture are mud pies…
* This article written with a stereotypical glint in the eye and a little bit of sarcasm and literary inflation on the side. Then again, much of it is true — but only a real country girl would know that.