Why Am I Here?

Why Am I Here?

Cows silhouetted against the evening sky, The Other Colorado
Livestock silhouetted against evening sky

Life in The Other Colorado. What’s out here? Flat but slightly rolling semi-arid shortgrass prairie land, populated with more beef cattle than people. I grew up back east, among rolling hills forested with a mix of evergreen and deciduous trees, thick with an understory of shrubbery that provided plenty of nesting for many varieties of songbirds and a few owls. From those forested hills sprung springs and streams aplenty, providing, in their lower reaches, shale-line pools in which to swim, and waterfalls to admire. A land teeming with natural life, and blessed with beautiful, vineyard and tree-lined lakes in which to fish, sail, or water-ski. And that’s what I love. Does any of that exist here? No. Resoundingly, “No!” So why am I here? I ask myself that question about every other day.

Here, there are hot, desiccating winds in the summer, blizzards in the winter, early snows, and late freezes. Any organic material (a leaf, pile of manure, or dead rodent) will more likely dry up and blow away than decompose to enrich the soil. This is a far cry from the land I had known, in which a seed or plant stuck into the ground would grow and thrive with little care. Beyond the tough, short native grasses, nothing here will grow without plenty of human help. And maybe not even then.

During a period of unemployment, I had spent part of the summer working my way across Wyoming on a wagon train. It was a sesquicentennial celebration of the Oregon Trail. Once you get to Wyoming, most of the original trail is still accessible. We had permission to cross the Sun Ranch, so were able to stay on the trail the whole way. It was the experience of a lifetime, and felt like my true calling. There are not a lot of  paying jobs crossing the country on a wagon train, but couldn’t I re-create some of this, living on a ranch? Raise horses and take packing trips into the mountains? I thought, “Someday!”

The following year, I met a fellow who lived in a cabin on forty acres of land where cattle and horses ran free on open range. I began to think, “I could do this.” I realized I didn’t have to wait for “Someday.”

I can enjoy living in a city, or I can enjoy living in the country. But I naturally lean toward peace and solitude, and had in the past (among mixed woods and farmland of the northeastern states) very much enjoyed living a farm life: riding my horse through the woods, trout fishing in the creek, and growing and preserving fruits and vegetables. After about fifteen years as a city dweller, I was ready to get back to the country.

After looking for mountain land, I decided I didn’t like the commute. I took a day off work, looked through the classified ads for parcels of land for sale across eastern Colorado, located them on maps, and set out to explore. Most were too flat and barren, and felt too exposed. One was very remote, and too far away to commute to town – a couple of hours. On the way back, I left the two-lane state highway to wend around the dirt roads. Coming over the crest of a hill, I saw a for sale sign on the next property before me, which spread up and across the slope of the next low hill. Immediately, I could see a future ranch house sitting partway up the slope, painted white, with a screened-in front porch. I’m not certain whether I took possession of this land, or it possessed me. It was a match destined to be made, and life here has inspired me to write, as no other time or place has.

I’m here because the land was affordable; it was quiet; people were few and far between (there are a lot more now); and the commute to town, aside from the distance and the time it took to drive it, was an easy one with little to no traffic congestion. I’m not certain if I realized it at the time, because I was thinking in terms of creating a horse and ranch aspect to my life, but this place has allowed me to live out my pioneer spirit.

What I started with was bare land (enough to graze a handful of cattle or horses through the summer) surrounded with four strands of barbed wire fence, containing only a non-working century-old, hand-dug, windmill-powered water well. That’s it. No power. No trees. No water. The nearest people lived a mile away. Wildlife consisted of a badger or two, a couple of skunks, cottontails and jack rabbits, Western Meadowlarks in the summer, and Horned Larks singing life into the fields with their delicate tinkling music year-round. Once in a while I might see an antelope off in the distance. And there was some kind of rodent that tunneled through the dirt, chewing the roots off of too many of the seedling trees I had planted. A pair of coyotes and a lone fox crossed the property at night. Prairie spadefoot toads croaked in the dug clay-lined “stock pond” that would fill once or twice a year (or not at all) in a torrential summer afternoon thunderstorm.

This land offered solitude and peace. It demanded blood, sweat, and tears.

Why am I here? This place called to me, and I stayed.

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