I once loved a cowboy named Jack. He had the bluest eyes I’ve seen on a man and lashes that I envied. He was tall and his hair had touches of grey speckled in with the dark. We had met through a mutual friend at a time when he was passing through and I was seasoned for romance. He had never married while I had and he had never had children while I did. He was settled and wedded to a carefree life. I was taking shaky first steps toward life on my own.
Despite my instincts, there was something about Jack I could not resist. It might have been the stories he told or the charm I first saw as we rode horses in the mountains. Or maybe it was simply the blue eyes.
I knew he was a wanderer, a guy who traveled the world on horse business. My gut said he surely charmed women wherever he happened to be. And there I was, sure as heck done with the wandering type.
So when Jack came along, I did not get drawn in further than need be. He would come and go and even as we got further along, my resolve to remaining unattached remained strong. It was easy to turn it on when he came to town and just as easy to turn it off when he went away.
I learned to value the freedom I had gained with divorce. I discovered I liked answering only to me. I liked thinking only of myself when I planned what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. I loved depending only on myself. And from Jack I learned that if you are detached from the get-go, you might not get hurt and you might not hurt someone else. And, if something else comes along, you’re open.
But those lessons didn’t stick.
There is a place not far from the Lucky Dog Ranch where Jack and I would ride to enjoy the view. It overlooks an old homestead which sits on the rise of a hill smack dab in the middle of a beautiful valley surrounded by majestic peaks. It has been designated a historic site and was home in its time to several generations of the same family.
A rancher who runs cattle in the forest next to the Lucky Dog Ranch told me that his great-grandfather knew the family that had lived on the homestead. They were a hardy group, kept to themselves mainly, and during winter months they were trapped by snow in the limits of their beautiful valley. The heaviest snows of today are skiffs compared to what used to fall here. And every autumn when the sunlight began to change, they would feel it coming and hunker down to survive.
The cabin was inhabited until about 40 years ago. It sits now abandoned, its only visitors the cattle that come searching for feed and its only inhabitants the mice and bats that find their way in.
Last time I was there, an eagle watched over me. Had I had the right lens with me, it would have made for an outstanding shot. I listened to his call as I watched him soar down to the pond and pick up a trout. I could smell rain coming and I saw a deer peeking out from the pines. And as I took it all in, I wondered: What finally prompted that family to pack it all up and leave this valley behind? What made them make an about-face and correct path? Why did they pack it all up and leave the homestead to move to town?
It has been several years since I saw Jack. We kept in touch for a while but that was long ago. It ended. Gently, and without fuss. I did not feel a lot, one way or another, when it did. I guess it was that way all along.
I knew I didn’t love Jack. Love ought to make one feel more robust. It should make the give and take of the two-way interchange of love feel like only a small price to pay. It should make one want to make plans. It should be worth vulnerability.
I can’t remember exactly when I knew I wasn’t feeling love, but I am glad I did and that I corrected path before it was too late.
I imagine there was a lot of thought about leaving the homestead behind. Maybe the husband was the last holdout–holding to optimism long after the wife had given up. But in the end, he knew too. Life there was too harsh to sustain and it was time to move on.
I persisted for a while too. But I finally came to know that where I was did not suit me. Like the valley, it was ruggedly beautiful but it was hard to live there. I couldn’t sustain it and so I left a future of detachment to hold out for something else.