Even though I grew up in Small Town Texas (think Dillon in Friday Night Lights, and you’ve pretty much got my home town pegged), it wasn’t until we bought the land that I finally met real cowboys. Or at least, cowboys as they are stereotypically categorized; weathered, bow-legged, boot-wearing, tobacco-chewing, swaggering men (and women). These folks actually have cows and ride horses. They can rope a steer and throw it down for branding. Real cowboys can hitch a trailer and even back it up while driving. They kill rattlers and eat bbq and drink a lot of beer and cheap whiskey. At first, I was mesmerized by this crew of neighbors we famously met through Dee-you-wayne, the gentleman who lives “next door” and rode up to the property on horseback just months after we bought the place. Through him, we’ve been connected to a whole slew of individuals who look, act, and sound exactly like whatever your brain conjures when you hear the word “cowboy.” I love each and every one of them. Dearly.
But I’m no cowboy. It’s true I have cows and can saddle and ride a horse. But that’s about where the similarities end – I thought. Until recently I still felt like an imposter rolling up to Coyote Creek Mill in the old farm truck, jeans, and boots for the monthly feed purchase. But after going through my first kidding season with the goats, having been punched down a few notches through the drama and misery of that experience, the truck and boots feel less costume, more utilitarian. Shoving an animal body against a wall to administer shots or drenching it with medicine or removing a sharp object where it’s been impaled, or cutting back horn buds that have grown too long or gathering body parts left behind after an attack – well. A person starts to feel legitimate. I never anticipated the toughness that must come along with this lifestyle; a physical armor you wear to shut out unexpected sights and smells that affront the senses daily.
In the midst of what looks to be a major professional transition, I find myself in the murky waters between the future and right now – a job I worked hard to attain that in no way aligns with what I claim to want. Without any solid plan for the next several months, I’m inadvertently clinging to what is familiar; the tenderfoot inside still terrified of anything unconventional. I’m battling my internal cowgirl who wants to just cut the crap and get on with things already – whatever they may be. But farm armor doesn’t always translate to careful negotiations. Professional discussion. Thoughtful consideration. It’s a strange balance I find myself striking but not really striking. So I wonder if there’s room for both of us right now, the cowgirl and the tenderfoot – a physical juxtaposition. There has to be, I suppose, until I figure out the intermediate steps between conventional work and the unmapped territory where I appear to be headed. I wonder when I’ll adopt the swagger and leather skin of a “cowboy” but think it’s more likely I’ve become one without perceiving the transformation. These changes make me both tough as nails and fragile as glass machinery, still going through the motions of daily, physical work but likely to crumble if knocked just wrong. An exhilarating, terrible moment at once.
Last night I had a few drinks to smooth the edges off a particularly stressful day. Before bed I headed outside to pen the bucks, an activity that’s become extremely interesting since Boss – a 200 pound goat high on testosterone and covered in his own urine – has decided he no longer would like to be penned at night, thank you very much. After summoning my last iota of energy left in the day to pull him into the pen, I stood beneath the summer sky, heaving to catch my breath. Sweating and covered in the musk-funk elixir that is Eau de Goat-in-Rut, I put my hands on my hips and stared above hoping to catch a few shooting stars from the Perseid meteor shower. Work-related conversations whizzed across my brain like ticker-tape and the memory then of how they affected me earlier in the day suddenly seemed ridiculous. That upset me?! I remembered, wiping sweat from my forehead with a grime-covered hand. I just wrangled animals at midnight, caught a glimpse of coyote eyes in the brush, finished a big batch of passable cheese, milked animals twice, fed and watered, fed and watered, fed and watered. And that conversation was upsetting?! I laughed audibly. At myself. My tolerance for bullshit lowers as my physical toughness thickens; an unanticipated correlation that I hope will carry me far, far into next month, then the next month, then beyond.