How I Got Here

NATURE, it’s in my blood. My earliest memories are of meadows, forests, streams, and wildlife. My first desire was to have a horse and ride the range. My first Halloween I dressed like a cowgirl. My first crush was on a cowboy. My first appreciation of “art” was the splash of orange and purple painting the sky at sunset.

Even though my early years were spent living in the suburbs east of San Francisco, I dreamed of being a pioneer, facing the challenges and adventures of a life before cars, TV, and fast food.

When I was nine, my family moved to a house on a river with an acre of land just east of Eugene, Oregon. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. We had a garden; I learned to fish, row a boat, build a campfire, and shoot a gun. I bought a 2-year-old barely broke colt that I was afraid to ride.

White tablecloths and fine wine

White tablecloths and fine wine

I would go on to win dozens of awards for horsemanship. I went to college to become a veterinarian, though settled on journalism, since I didn’t get along well with math. I dropped out of school during my 5th year to run off with a buckaroo. I worked on some of the great old cattle ranches of the West, until I realized I didn’t get along well with that cowboy. For nearly a decade I was a successful businesswoman with a big house on the sand in Huntington Beach, CA. I traveled the world, dabbled at being a wife, and tried to like shopping and fine wines. No matter how much money I made, that life sucked the soul from my bones.

Building my cabin

Building my cabin

I dropped out of civilized society to live off-the-grid as a 20th century pioneer in a tiny log cabin I built in the Oregon Outback. Ten years farther down life’s path, I settled in Bend, Oregon, striving for balance between rugged and refined.

In all that time, I never once thought of becoming a farmer. Yet here I am raising heritage breed livestock, tending my garden, and selling the fruits of hard labor to family and friends.

How did I get here? Well, it was an accident, actually.

From Dawn’s Diary

October 11, 2008, ASPEN RIDGE RANCH — Smokey Joe died today. I knew it was coming, but this is a hard loss. It’s not just that Smokey was my first, but he was simply the best horse–and the best friend–I’ve ever had. During our 36 years together he helped me grow up, taught me many lessons, and carried me on his back, racing the wind, until the end. I held his head in my lap as he took his last breath, then cried for an hour. It’s odd, I’m a grown woman now, but I can’t recall my life before him. Now what? And what will I do with Brumbie; a lone horse, without a herd, without his buddy?

February 2, 2009, ASPEN RIDGE RANCH — Made it from Bend to Aspen Ridge in just over two hours. After settling in and getting a fire going, I went to look for Brumbie. There was still a lot of hay in the barn, though it’s been more than 3 weeks since we last fed. I tracked him into the Aspen grove, and spooked a herd of 14 elk. I guess Brumbie is hanging out in the grove, not in the barn, so he’s not alone. I hope the elk pass through often, to keep him company.

March 20, 2009, BEND, OR — I just got a call from a vet in La Pine. She’s learned of an abused paint mare that needs a good home. I know my life has changed, that horses don’t really fit in now that I live in town most of the time, but Brumbie might live for another 5 years and it’s not fair to leave him alone at The Ranch. I can’t bring him to Bend and put him in a stable; not after living for 25 years with sweet river water to drink, green grass to munch, and open fields to run across. So I put out the word, and now, perhaps, he’ll have a companion.

March 21, 2009, ASPEN RIDGE RANCH — Found an old mare that had been beaten, starved, abandoned, and needed a new home. She arrived at Aspen Ridge Ranch—a black, brown and white painted bag of bones and matted hair—to find green grass spreading out as far as the eye can see, and a dashing, “mature” appaloosa gelding prancing about. It was love at first sight. The two horses sniffed noses, then Brumbie squealed, and trotted off into the trees with his new girlfriend close on his heels.

Missy and Brumbie

Missy and Brumbie

April 30, 2009, ASPEN RIDGE RANCH — Missy’s put on a lot of weight and now she’s plump and shiny. Her rear leg won’t ever heal, so she can’t be ridden, but Brumbie is smitten. They are both in the their 20’s so I figure they’ll live their remaining years as an old retired couple chomping grass and soaking up sunshine.

May 8, 2009, ASPEN RIDGE RANCH —I’ve been thinking Missy had moved beyond plump to downright fat. But today I noticed her udder was swollen. Though I’ve never owned a mare before, I suddenly realize she isn’t just fat; Missy is pregnant!

Eddy at the udder

Eddy at the udder

June 4, 2009, ASPEN RIDGE RANCH — Talk about smitten. I’ve been around horses my entire life. Yet somehow I’d never had the privilege of being with a newborn foal. Many newborns are cute, adorable, and precious. Eddie (we’ve named him after my uncle, who just died) is all those things and more. He’s a beautiful dark bay and somehow elegant, even as he learns to use those long, gangly legs. He’s not shy around us. I could just sit in the pasture and watch him forever.

September 29, 2009, BEND, OR — Though we spent much of the summer at the ranch, we’ve been back at our little house in Bend for the past two weeks. We’re heading to the ranch shortly, for my birthday weekend and to get another load of firewood. I’ve missed Eddie terribly.

Autumn leaves at Aspen Ridge Ranch

Autumn leaves at Aspen Ridge Ranch

October 1, 2009, ASPEN RIDGE RANCH — Lovely fall weather in the high meadow of the Yamsi Valley. Before even unloading the van I sprinted (aka hobbled as fast as I could on my bad knees) across the river to check on Eddie. I’ve been so worried about him. It’s the longest we’ve been away since he was born. Oh, how he’s grown in just a week. He came running from way over in the aspen grove, his graceful legs flashing. He’s gotten quite good at bucking and hopping and expressing his joy through motion. His coat is dark auburn, getting long in preparation for winter.

The aspens are yellow, orange, and red, the grass burnt gold, and the river is still warm enough for swimming. But it’s only a matter of time before the snow flies. We have plenty of hay put up for the horses this winter. Brumbie and Missy are fat. Eddie is nearly weaned. We’re planning to come down at least once a month, ski the six miles in from the paved road, and feed enough hay to keep the horses going until the next trip. This routine has worked fine during past winters when I’ve had to spend months away, but I can barely stand being away from sweet Eddie for even a week. How will I make it for most of a winter? He’s growing so fast, I’m afraid I’ll miss too much of his “childhood”.

December 6, 2009, BEND, OR—Now that we spend winters in town—for work and easier living—I realize it’s just not tenable for me to be away from Eddie for six months at a time. It’s like being in a divorcee and getting your kid for one weekend a month. I want to be with him every day, to watch him grow, to train him, to be pals. If I can’t live at Aspen Ridge Ranch full time, then I want Eddie and the other horses here in Bend with me. I’ve looked at horse boarding facilities but that’s not looking like a good solution.

December 21, 2009, BEND, OR—Found it! Though it’s not at all what I started out searching for. During a chilly bike ride today, along one of my favorite country roads east of town, I saw a lovely piece of land for sale (a foreclosure). Ten acres, a gorgeous mountain view, 15 minutes from downtown Bend, with a big red barn, a workshop…and a house! The crazy thing is, it’s priced about the same as the bare land I’ve been looking at.

April 9, 2010, BEND, OR — Finally, moving day. We’ll bring the horses up to Bend next weekend after a bit more fence repair.

We’re working frantically to get some raised beds built so I can grow a serious garden for the first time in years.

Yesterday I rescued a dozen ducklings; their mother killed by a car. Since there’s a lovely pond on the property I brought them to our new home. I guess this means we’re raising ducks.

I’ve always been interested in heritage breeds livestock, especially those hippie looking Scottish Highland cows, so I checked Craig’s List yesterday. No Highlands for sale, but I stumbled upon a “starter flock” of something called Jacob Sheep. With ten irrigated acres of pasture, there’s more grass than the three horses can eat. Since I love lamb but can’t afford it, I’m thinking we could raise a couple lambs each year for meat, perhaps a cow too.

Okay, so I get carried away dreaming. I mean, I know nothing about sheep. But I did put in a call inquiring about that starter flock.

Funny, I set out to find some horse pasture close to town, but it seems I might accidentally become a farmer.

Our first Jacob Sheep

Our first Jacob Sheep