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On Loss

July 14th, 2013

My father was the last person to comment on this little neglected site of mine. Grandpa Heinz Says:
December 31st, 2012 at 1:35 pm I am so proud of you Sarah – for your determination and Wyoming grit, for your amazing ability to tell a story and suck us all in, for your commitment to living that is real and non-synthetic, and for so much more. And I love your sweet little Poa Sage! She is a beautiful reflection of you! I LOVE YOU! –dad

It’s words like this that make me think I can’t continue living the life I know without him. And every single day I swear at the dirt I walk on for consuming my father before I was done with him being my dad and a grandpa.

Loss is omnipotent. I am not the first to experience this disbelief, complete belief, total surrender to that which I can’t control, all again and again like a load of laundry run through with stains that don’t disappear. These cycles of pain are on a looped musical track of insanity. I never prepared to lose my dad because I never expected to lose him. How is it possible that there are only a handful of “knowns” in this lifetime, and this is one that we just don’t prepare to face?

A year ago this month my family was here with us for our week of wedding anniversaries. My folks celebrated 40, us 10, and B&B 1. We met in Laramie and then drove over the Snowy Range to hike above Lake Marie. I was 7 months pregnant and my dad was 2 months out of heart surgery. We hiked above that Lake until the clouds rolled in thick- so for a long glorious while. There’s nothing that my sister and I like to do more with my dad then play outside. Hiking, biking, working, that’s what we do. And there’s nothing more humbling than trying to keep up with the man ahead of you with scars still fresh from heart surgery.

My dad’s spirit is present. I seek kindness. I seek patience, love, commitment. I nuzzle into his hug and feel his beard on my cheek. I gleam when he comes to join me as I play the piano, belting in his baritone voice. My dad the perfectionist, the hard worker, but the man who always, regardless of time or place, answered his phone when I called. And whatever he felt, he felt sincerely and adamantly… the joy at card games all together, the frustration with people who I felt had been unfair to me, the admiration of an adorable grandbaby, and fascination with new skills.  Genuinely good, gracious.

There was never a moment to doubt my dad’s dedication for my sis and I. There was nothing on this earth that made him prouder than our neurotic, bouncy selves. He believed in nothing more than us, his two sometimes seemingly radical daughters.

Each day I have this strange and sick hope that my phone will ring and his name and picture will show up on my phone. Death isn’t fair in this earthly way. But neither is hunger, corporate greed, environmental degradation, or discontent. Yet this is where we reside. A hole is left that won’t be filled. His goodness and acceptance will glow from where that hole sits, and will embrace my baby girl in ways that only my dad could. Life won’t be the same. I grip the hope that he will always be with me, though. I miss him.


Poa’s Arrival

December 28th, 2012

Before my sister left after being with us for a week and a half, she left this note pounded onto our “office” wall. It’s evidence of events surrounding Poa’s birth.

I spent 9 months looking forward to knowing my babe would be born in a barn. It took only 45 hours of labor before I decided that maybe, just maybe, that wasn’t actually going to happen. And when I made that decision, I also decided to be completely at peace with it.

Contractions started Monday afternoon, October 1. They became consistent around 10pm that night. By 2am, I was punching my husband in the side to get up and go through it all with me. By 9am when Heidi our midwife arrived, I was dilated to 6cm. We were making steady progress. At 1pm, Heidi changed her clothes, directed my sis and Josh to start filling the birth tub, and began laying out any and all birthing tools and materials. We were getting close and I couldn’t even begin to comprehend the levity of that reality.

Rebekah disappeared for a bit to get some fresh air. We heard some banging on the far side of the barn and I wondered to myself what in the world that crazy sister of mine might be doing. A couple minutes or moments later, Rebekah came through the door… and the banging didn’t stop. In between contractions I raced over to peer behind the tarp that separates our living space from our shop space and saw leaping flames coming from the far wall. My sister scampered around looking for fire extinguishers, and Josh frantically began directing me to start hooking hoses up to each other as he attempts to smother the flames. I remember thinking to myself, “Huh. I sort of feel like I can’t do that right now. My abdomen is pounding and there’s a baby knocking on my cervix.” Thankfully Heidi had the sensibility to figure out where the hoses were and how to help get water onto the fire.

Meanwhile, I stepped outside, rhythmically breathing, listening for the baby that was ready for some proper introductions, plotting what I would do if no one noticed that a baby was emerging into the world while they fought a fire. By 4pm all related to the fire was calm, I was in the birth tub, and Heidi warned that the contractions were only going to get more intense and closer together. Okay. I’m ready. Let’s do this. My brain had entered into that labor mode of self-cheering, foggy with my surroundings, but able to so clearly hear my body’s directives.

Tuesday evening, after hours of denial, I admitted that my contractions had all but ceased. Time kept ticking and my body had seemed to sense a need for flight. My baby was in hold mode. We tried to work with any wave of light contraction that approached. Poa had begun her journey, and I could even feel her head, but there were no contractions to clench the process and keep any sort of momentum going. I was tired. My birth team was exhausted. At 1am my water broke and nothing changed. It was time for a nap.

Each time I tried to rest, mediocre contractions would creep up. I couldn’t rest. Josh and I decided to go for a walk to visit the horses, thinking some fresh air might release my brain and my body. We climbed repeatedly up and down ladders to the roof. I lunged. I drank a gallon of espresso. Nothing was working. By 1pm on Wednesday, after being awake for 56 hours, I was ready for my body to cave. Even if contractions were to start back up, I no longer had the confidence that my energy would sustain. We huddled. Our consensus was to make the 96 mile drive to the hospital in Laramie, planning to take medication to restart contractions.

The doctor on duty had other plans for us. As I sat on that hospital bed, head to head with my husband, I felt like the joy of childbirth had become morose. After a 9 month journey of preparation and many hours of owning the process of that birth, I had reached the lowest point I had emotionally or physically ever been. Entering the hospital, we were swarmed with a sense of emergency and out of control sensations. My clothes were literally stripped from my body, plastic bracelets were secured onto my wrist, machines were chained around my middle. It seemed as though our words were not being heard. I was told multiple times that I shouldn’t care more about the process than the outcome- meaning, I was selfishly choosing to want to naturally birth my child rather than surgically remove her from my uterus at her expense. I was criminal. Yet I trusted what my body was capable of and truly believed that the fear imbued in the fire had shuttled my body into fight or flight mode. I arrived at the hospital believing that I owned that birth and was capable of giving the best for my baby. A mere five minutes after arriving I realized that the labor and delivery floor was owned by that doctor, and my body was no longer of my jurisdiction. After a grueling decision-making process, I was required to sign paperwork stating that I chose to go against the doctor’s recommendations and was willing to take responsibility for a host of nightmarish possibilities.

Hearing my baby’s steady heartbeat, seeing the support of my family and midwife, and knowing the nurse on duty was steadfastly ready to back our decision, we were ready to meet Poa. And we did, at 12:24am Thursday morning.

She came with little fanfare, perfectly colored, screaming at full throttle, and ready to eat. The relief was unbelievable. The union wasn’t something I could grasp right away. All I knew was that we had a new arrival to our family and she was ours to meet, cherish, and basically keep alive. What an amazing addition to our world she already is… thank you for being patient and resilient, Poa Sage.

Week 28

July 2nd, 2012

Time is moving so quickly. I feel as though I’m traveling by train, watching the months of my life speed by, my eyes darting back and forth trying to gauge the months by the shape of my being. Our list of projects is long, the satisfaction to be is clear. But I keep putting my foot out as though to trip the rush of it all. In those moments, when I trip up the speedy ghost of time, good things come- like spinach sauces, time with horses, and beautiful moons. Thankful for quiet moments spent with good people, a kicking baby, lazy dogs, delicious food and slow sludgy hot afternoons that call for naps. And especially thankful when I happen to trip my husband’s speedometer at the same time…

Baby Season

June 30th, 2012

Feverishly house building sun up to sun down, Josh is convinced this baby won’t be born in the barn.

Not a calf, mind you, but the growing being in my belly. I know it takes a while for things to truly hit me sometimes, but I really feel good knowing that in 10 years we’ll be able to tell this kid that they were born in a barn. There’s just something so down to earth about it. And right now, as much as I’m ready to truly have a home, this concrete floored, sound echoing, box of a shop is just that. It’s where Josh and I have been for six full months of baby growing.

I’ve cried more tears, wondered about more unknowns, then what feels like possible in a lifetime in just the short time this body has been changing. There are fists and knees knocking around inside of my belly now, and from what I hear, things just start becoming more real each and every day. My belly visibly contorts under my cotton hand-me-downs, and on our nightly walks to check cows, I clutch under the stretching mass of my belly, hoping it doesn’t speed down to meet my feet. These memories will all be dusted over with a strange veil of drought and dryness, but always with the figures of amazing people sucking up the ironies and supporting us.

We’re still waiting on one mama cow to calve. We were able to purchase 8 bred moms, 4 yearling heifers, and 2 steers from a farm in Star Valley Wyoming. This herd was bred over several months, so there is one yet to come. But we do have eleven spunky new members of this Uplift Grass Works herd out running around and appearing to be munching on the grass. There’s so much to learn from a cow about birth and health. A little quiet, isolation, peace and innate knowledge should make a pretty decent birth. If we can only keep our brains from getting too far in the way.

Winter quiet

April 27th, 2012

Yes, winter is quiet. And came quickly in October this year. By November I was pale and ready for a trip away.

We returned after the holidays to a grandfather who’s health had all but failed. We were able to see him one more night before he lost consciousness the following evening, finally passing away in the middle of the night. Sadly, I wasn’t able to tell him that the time had come for us to give what he’d been asking for during these months we’ve lived in Wyoming- finally, he was to be a great-grandfather. We didn’t know, or I would have whispered it into his always listening ear that very night.

Grandpa Arno was from North Dakota, a once lonely, now oil-industry-booming little town called Watford City. His wife is buried there in the cemetery alongside his parents, the original family members to homestead on a piece of property that became fields of wheat. In our long-bed, beat up, single cab pick-up truck, Josh, Diego and I followed Josh’s aunt and mom through the winter west, through the state of Wyoming, on into South Dakota, finally reaching the Badlands of North Dakota past dark. And all the while Grandpa rested and waited patiently in the back of our pick-up, laid into a box that would be delivered past midnight to the local Watford City, ND funeral home. Grandpa had never flown before. Transporting his body the 600 miles to his awaiting cemetery plot would have meant many miles of travel by air. Grandpa would have to be driven by our local funeral director the 4.5 hours to Denver for the flight, followed by being picked up in Bismarck, yet another 3 hours from his final resting place. Josh saw no sense in that, believing that Grandpa would have wanted us to take him on that final journey. So, after 24 hours of taking that odd piece of news in, we packed, sent the foster dog to a temporary home for the week, made sure the cows had feed and water, and loaded gramps for the long journey north.

After 12 hours and many miles of sheer ice in the Badlands that had us crawling and almost constantly peering behind at grandpa, we pulled into Watford City for the week of services and saying goodbye.

And now time has passed. We hunker down to ground level, seeing signs of green grass. Spring winds have whipped at an almost everyday 40mph speed (and a not unusual speed of 60+ mph), drifting the bits of remaining snow and knocking the migrating birds off balance. Life is good as I move through the second trimester of baby growing, Spring opens it’s sleepy eyes anew, and Josh moves forward with Art ambitions and house building.

We expect calves in May and look forward to a second season of calving, only this time our herd has grown to include eight new mamas. We’ll have 14 calves on the ground in the next 8 weeks. Our family grows, and we look forward to the craziness and unknowns to come. Embracing creativity. Living authentically and transparently. Breathing in the knocking wind- well, not really. But trying to manipulate the brain into knowing there is good in the wind. It’s a never dying battle, tricking the mind to embrace something so volatile and abrasive. Ah, but it is, and this is, and life continues. Sometimes we think we should be in San Francisco. But we continue on, hugging each other and waking each day to bigger hopes… high tunnels, a growing family, and grandpa’s being seeming to look down on us in the brilliant night-time star drenched skies.

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My First Branding (and some Chicago-ites first as well)

September 11th, 2011

Waking to 37 degrees this morning, summer is walking on down the Continental Divide to South America, leaving me trembling… not in cold, but in fear of the swiftly approaching winter! I best get grooving on some branding thoughts before they disappear as well.

This year was my first for branding. Part of me almost thought that I would be able to avoid the process. I hadn’t been looking forward to the idea of wrestling our (rapidly growing) calves and doctoring them with tattoos, branding irons, and vaccines. And to be honest, that feeling hasn’t changed for next year. I’m already again not looking forward to inhaling that rank burn smell, to seeing the calves move their way around the corral in fleeting movements of anti-surrender. But enough on what I’m NOT looking forward to… this year was smooth and there were many stellar performances by all involved.

Meet our cast of characters:

DonRay, J’s dad, a lifetime brander, wielder of stories, and master of all things metal. He basically filled in all the holes on this day, directing as he muscled his way in on the heads.

Brenda, my extremely flexible, willing & wonderful aunt who married my Uncle Joel back when I was in 4th grade or something. We’re glad she’s in the family. She keeps things level. A Chicago native. She was designated nurse. Handed over the branding iron, the tattoo stamp, the ink, and the vaccines. Way to stay level-headed, Brenda.

Joel, number 6 of 7 kids in my dad’s family. He’s hilarious, a gifted graphic designer, and really you just never know what to expect with him. He drinks good beer and wine with us. Also, born and raised in Chicago, he took these photos.

Carl, my 18 year old cousin, lifelong resident of Chicago. He’s an Illinois State Champion in high jump. He’s also tried a brief one month stint as a vegetarian. Good thing that was over in time to brand. Carl handled the tightening of the rope some, as well as held down a heel in the back.

Zach, a new friend that does research on hawks out here in Wyoming. His mom is one of our greatest friends from Ann Arbor, director of the Gallery Project. As it turns out, you’d never guess Zach isn’t a native of Wyoming and that this was his first branding. He really pulled through. He’s job was basically to manhandle the back end of the calves. He learned the technique real well by the second calf.

Josh, my husband who has rested his roping wrists for about 15 or so years. He came back strong… he did all the dirty work.

Sarah, that’s me, the one that locked herself in the bathroom after it was all said and done to cry away the intensity of it all.

There’s a strange culture to branding, one that has a celebratory nature. People seem to like the festivities of branding day, a day that signifies real work. A day where you walk away dirty, beer can in hand, and realize that you’ve done a real day’s work. We only have 6 calves, but I think overall there was that same feeling to the day. The exhaustion category was definitely had by all, but there was also a feeling that we did the best job we could, and that was pretty darn well for two ranchers working with five urbanites. We figured out the system and worked terribly well together. Things to change for next year… BRAND EARLIER! These babies were enormous for wrestling.

DonRay would brand 100 head of calves each year. Large ranches will brand a 100 at a time out in the field, and have multiple days of it. To think of our experience, I realize just how unique it is in this context of Wyoming. As we grow, this day will change. Never will I enjoy the idea, but I know it will get easier.

And now the question of why, why, why must you burn the skin of these cows. The answer is complicated (or maybe it’s simple?) but involves western ranches that utilize public lands. There is no better way to identify an animal. The range is full of black angus these days, and regardless of breed, livestock have always been a loved item for thievery. So branding is legally required for running livestock on public lands. Many ranchers run their herd on miles and miles of land, leaving room for cattle to wander, or stock trailers to come and load up without being seen. Animals can’t be sold at market or processed at a slaughter facility without being inspected by brand. So that’s why. I haven’t figured out a better system yet, but when I do, we’ll spread the word. And pass it by the feds.

The calves have all recovered nicely, two of the bulls are now steers, and the mamas still allow us to scratch behind their ears occasionally. As much as it seems like these animals would be traumatized, as soon as they were reunited with their moms, it seemed like life was pretty much back to normal. I’d see a wince of pain when the mom would try and lick the brand, but it didn’t take long for that to all just subside and for the eating of grass and milk to commence. It’s good to experience this on a small scale, and we’re oh-so-grateful for the support of family and friends who were willing to come and spend the day doing something down right dirty.

Now…. on to building the log house. Every morning wakes me, the cold warning us of winter to come (though I swear it was only just here….).