Incredible Western Women Series
For those of you just joining us, here’s a little background…
Born in the small town of Colville, WA, I was raised in the Spokane suburbs and moved to rural America with my husband a little over three decades ago. Country life is an amazing place to raise our sons and grandkids. Here on the Colville Reservation, we have lakes, rivers, and creeks to fishing and swim in, hills and mountains to ride horses and hike on, and plenty of space to enjoy family time.
Four generations have grown up and enjoyed this land and all it provides.
I’d like to share rural America with you through the words and photos of incredible western women. And if you are a western woman or have someone in mind who can share their stories with us, please pass on their name and contact information to me. I’d love to include them on this journey.
So now, let’s open the corral gate and hear from this month’s western woman!
It is a pleasure to introduce Amy Hale. How many women do you know who are paid working cowboys? I know of one – Amy. We met through Women Writing the West, and I’ve had the pleasure of handing her a WILLA Literary Award for the Creative Non-Fiction category. Her passion for the written word and the western lifestyle shines when she resites or speaks. The way she writes, really, is breathtaking as you soon will see.
I’ve pulled up, let everyone ride ahead of me in the jig line.
I came here thinking I was tough, that I could learn to do almost anything. Three days later my heart lay defeated on cold ground, beneath sky too big, beside rocks too hard and brush too thick and slopes too steep and shouted orders coming too fast and too complicated.
I know nothing.
Tomorrow, I’ll cinch up all wrong.
After only five or six years of self-doubt and uncertainty, I sit by the fire and almost know the right questions to ask, make a few cow drives almost in the right place. Block a trail without being told, almost. The shouter stops mid-shout when he sees I am already there. Throw my loop in the dirt twice in a pen of fifteen calves. Start asking a different set of questions.
But there are spurs on my feet and a sweated hat on my head and my saddle is no longer new. I should oil it on a Sunday afternoon. Five or six miles away, cobwebs sully the corners and laundry piles beside my unmade bed because this morning I crawled out from under this canvas to start this dawn fire while horses chewed their way through hay and grain.
I am a key player in the day’s game, flank up after we shove ’em through the gate, spend the whole morning tucking cows back in—walk along, girls, walk along.
The sky spreads from edge to edge doing a true west stretch.
We do the horseback dance, sorting the herd, but I’m still smoothing out the turns and steps and bends. Call my horse Twinkletoes and laugh when we are done. Slide off to help kindle a different fire, pull my cinch extra tight—there are some big longears in this bunch. She’s a disgruntled Twinkletoes—she thought I said we were done.
I’ve learned not to count the calves with complete ears and pristine hide because it takes as long as it takes. We work our way through and I’m finally at a place where I can joke with the crew, built loop resting in my right hand. One of the few times in my life when I’ve felt graceful, when I’ve found grace.
I know the drive to Mud Spring—could do it in my sleep. Or the rain. Or the almost dark. Hold ’em up on water before trotting back to camp for two cool beers, my shirt damp with sweat, salt from my lips on the rim of the can, the sun boiling the evening clouds. Throw hay to the shippers and water the horses and look at the crack in Bonnie’s hoof.
Break up some wood, tiny twigs and tree bark, blow hard—I’m building another fire. Beef from the cooler and scent of smoke while patties sizzle—no more hair on my knuckles, the chuckles of cooking over wood. Camp buttoned up for the night and our bed rolled on the ground, I stand in the early dark, not ready to lie down.
The sky is still too big, the rocks are still too hard, the brush is still too thick, the slopes still rise above, neverending. None of that has changed. But there is a fire overhead that I didn’t build and I’m carrying one of my own.
It burns hot behind my eyes.
Connect with Amy
Amy M. Hale cowboys for wages on a grazing allotment in Arizona. She is the author of five books, has two grandkids, and is a morning person. Her current books are published under Amy Hale Auker.