Love Affair in Montana


Truth be told, a love affair gave me the name of Winsomebella.

It was after I discovered how beautiful feels and why pretty is deep, scrubbed-clean to the pores of the soul and without any mascara. I finally noticed that lovely is simple and raw—-best with just a dab of what makes the mouth turn up at the corners, a small touch of that which makes the eyes light up and a slight tint of the added shimmer of wrinkles.

Around age five, I remember wearing an orange pouf skirt and tiara and twirling so the layers of my skirt would rise like a hula hoop over my hips. I didn’t worry about who might see or what they might say. I was beautiful and remarkable—I knew that.

I was not yet carrying my parcel of nasties.

If I remember correctly, it was not long after the skirt and tiara that I earnestly began my collection. I spied all sorts of nasty things. The tinier, the better, I picked up what I chose, held it in close grasp and examined it over and over and over. I added till my accumulations became quite heavy, a little here as my parents parented, a little there while my teachers graded, a whole lot more while my coaches pushed, plenty more when friends moved on. And then I filled it to overflowing when my husband strayed.

As luck would have it, a dear man showed up when the formerly beautiful and remarkable me was vastly overworked from carrying a boatload of uncertainty. He was smart and strong and kind and gentle and he wore his self assuredly. He called me Winsomebella and he took me to Montana.

When I first arrived, I was three states north and half a lifetime from where I intended to be. I avoided mirrors and photographs and spoke softly and didn’t sing much, even to myself. And I certainly didn’t dance. I never left the top button of my blouse undone or let my hair grow out. And I didn’t wander by myself because I did not know how to operate my internal GPS.

I re-learned those things in Montana.

I was wrapped by buttes and prairies and peaks and the vast space above horizon and I warmed.

Love and the land etched across me, like the glaciers that changed this part of the world. Ever-so-slowly, I began to change.

I started to feel charming and Winsomebella-like.

Winsomebella, it seemed, deserved it all. She had earned her cache of curiosity, her angling toward adventure, her passel of possibilities. She quit avoiding mirrors and photographs, her voice spoke up, she sang loudly with the radio, she danced by herself, unbuttoned her blouse and let her hair go wild. She was not afraid to wander alone. And she realized that raw and without makeup was most beautiful and remarkable.

I came to Montana again this week to write and to wander, to shoot pictures and to see. And what I learned this time is that all along it had been my voice, and only mine, that had caused all the fuss and the bother after age five. Not parents, or teachers, or coaches, or peers or an ex-husband.

Surrounded again by the beauty of this place and the love of true voices, I knew again what being Winsomebella means.

It means I can wander and find my way, scrubbed clean.

Truth be told, it’s about a love affair with me.

Thank you to best selling author and wondrously kind Laura Munson and the loving and wise women that went out of their way to retreat in Montana. You cleared my voice. So much so, I may whistle as I walk, loudly.



A Love Story I Glimpsed




Permanently Cowboy


“I’m not going to tell a story the way it happened. I’m going to tell it the way I remember it.”

Pam Houston


I once wrote about Love and Cowboy Jack.

This is not him.

He is not nearly as handsome as Cowboy Jack.  But if you stop long enough to look closer, he has a peculiar sort of charm.  He doesn’t complain.  He doesn’t talk too much.  He’s relaxed, steady and content where he’s at.   He doesn’t need a remote for entertainment and he doesn’t ask a lot. 

Doc Holliday’s

He keeps watch up the street from Doc Holliday’s in a part of town where there aren’t too many gamblers at the moment.   The folks who work in the halls at present spend about as much time outside on the narrow sidewalk as they do inside at the tables.  Watching, smoking, chatting and waiting for paying customers.   

If there’s no one else around, they talk to the old cowboy outside.  The nice part of that is there are no arguments and no one else with whom to compete for topic.   What would otherwise be soliloquy becomes conversation and nobody is the wiser.


I was inside a shop that sells various old things about noon on a day when the door stood open to let in fresh air.  There amidst the dolls and the hats and the faint stench of various this and that of long ago, I got a notion that I might like to buy a Raggedy Ann doll. 

As I picked it up, a rich voice outside the door made me look to the street.  I saw a big man with a black hat at the top end of drawn out jeans.  Two American flags were painted on each toe of his boots.  I could see that his face was lined and grey and more used up than his body might suggest.

Town Surrounded

In the higher elevations and thin air of chunks of Colorado, there is no shortage of character.  If you walk the streets of most any small town you will find at least one somebody who has traced a route less traveled.  If they are wealthy, they are called eccentric.  If not, they are called spirited.  

So I thought little when the man with the black hat took a drag of his cigarette and looked straight at the eyes of the stiffly seated cowboy and began to talk. 

“I don’t know the best way to say this.”

His left boot kicked at a rock on the ground and he grabbed hold to the anchor of the silver buckle at his middle.    

“I have missed you and I love you.”

He pulled off his hat and ran his hand through the fixed and skinny hair underneath.   

“Do you think you could marry me”?

Getting no reply, he turned away and squinted a wrinkled eye toward the street.  

He was quiet as I bought the Raggedy Ann doll and did not look up as I passed the two cowboys when I left the store.  When there was decent space between us, I turned back to look again.   

Just then, a rounded woman walked out from a building and crossed the street toward the man with the black cowboy hat.  He put his hat back on and sculpted his belly back into alignment with his jeans and shifted in his boots as he stretched taller.  When she got to him, she reached hold of the hat and leaned as far up as her comfortable shoes would let her and kissed him. 

They stayed like that a moment too long and I watched with a tad too much interest. 

Their story, as I remember it, was a story of a shy and awkward cowboy who had long ago lost his young wife.  Since then, he kept to himself mostly, busying the years by mending fence and finding strays and watching as the price of cattle and the work it took to run them made it harder to make a living each year. 

Carefree Living

She had come to town after a divorce, which happened before the complicating factors of children or money.  There had been time spent since then with men who seemed nice enough but they never stayed long enough to sink their hearts into it.  She came here broke, but all in all, she’d done pretty well with the shop she had on Easy Street. 

They met one day when she decided to drive to Denver to Christmas shop and was headed out on the highway that eventually meets up with Interstate 70 and she had a flat.   She knew how to change a tire but he happened to be right there, mending the broken fence at mile marker 9, at the spot where the cows had forged open range last night.  He’d been taught manners by his mama and since he lived the ethics of a cowboy, he knew what should be done and so, he fixed the flat. 

She went on to shop but when she got home from Denver she called and asked if he would like to come for dinner.  He seemed to like the roast she cooked and they talked and smiled a lot and before she had to go back East to care for her ailing mother, it seemed they were moving in a certain direction.

Dim View

After roundup months later, he decided to go to town to see if she was back.  He walked into her store, twisting his hat brim in his hands while his eyes adjusted to the soft glow of the inside and he heard in his ears the full-out dash of his heart.

She was with a customer who was not from around here but she stopped and walked over to him and held out her hand and smiled.  She said she could stop for lunch in a half an hour or so,  if he had time.   He told her he did.

And when she crossed the street to greet him a short while later, they kissed, long and slow, almost like they were standing under a full moon instead of on the sidewalk in the middle of town and in front of the cowboy who sits watching stories, day in and day out.  Not long after, the cowboy in the black hat found the courage to use the speech he had practiced with the stiff cowboy on the street.   And she said yes.    

Theirs is a love story I glimpsed as quickly as I did the wink of the seated cowboy as he reigned solid and quiet over the sidewalk before I moved down the street.

“Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories.

Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them.”

Eudora Welty


Are there stories around you that beg to be glimpsed

 or whisper to be heard?

Twenty Push Ups

Black Sand Cove, Nevis, West Indies


There is a modern-day fairytale that begins like this:

Once upon a time in the midst of raising children, a lovely lady who had grown a bit complacent was surprised one day when her mate of many years said I don’t love you anymore.

She, being the stronger of the two, continued as the primary parent. She, being the person that she is, thought first of the children while he thought first of the fantastical things that seemed important to him in mid-life.

Time passed and as she sent the last child off to college, he was on a beach with someone who made him feel younger than he was. And while he and the other were lying under the sun, her life alone began.

It was the first time she had lived alone and she decided to enjoy it. She chose to eat cereal for dinner on occasion. She chose to let the house get a bit messy now and then. She chose to play music with the light on when she woke at night and could not get back to sleep. She chose when and where and why and how without consulting anyone.

In the quiet of that empty nest she remembered being 22 and young and in love. She did not remember exactly how it was she chose her mate. She could recall only that when college ended and careers began, others started to marry. Marriage, it seemed, was the next logical step in life.

There came a night when she woke in the middle of her king-sized bed and asked herself, out loud, why had she thought she was ready? Could she have possibly known herself well enough and loved herself completely at that long ago time?

She recalled living blindly, caught up in the moment and in a gale of love that had swept in on the wind of fear. In hindsight, it was like grade school. Everyone was being selected, one by one. She feared she might be the person nobody picked. She would remain standing, all alone and by herself, if she did not marry soon.

As it happened, she was not chosen and she was left standing alone, these many years later. And it was scary. This was not the future she envisioned when she married. This is not what she expected would come to pass when she was young and raising her family and being supportive and loving while all the while thinking the days ahead would be spent with the person to whom she vowed her forever.

In the days of scary quiet that followed after the kids moved out, she made herself do something new and a couple of push ups each day. Before terribly long, she could do twenty push ups and she had traveled by herself to a place a thousand miles away that she had always wanted to visit. She did things she had not done before. Like asking for help and not minding if she caused others to wonder and worry. Like not bothering to make the king-sized bed if she did not feel like it and to undo another button on her blouse.

One day this strong, amazing woman decided it was okay if she slept horizontally but alone in a king-sized bed. She looked in the mirror more often. She was told that she had a beautiful smile and that her eyes were very bright. People asked if she had lost weight. She spent her time exactly as she wished and she chose people to share time with that made the far-off future seem less scary, and even a bit nice.

The amazingly strong woman said to herself that in a manner of speaking she would be spending the rest of her life with a new person she had recently come to know and love.


And she felt happy, content, and at peace with that prospect.

One day after she decided how she felt about herself could be called love, a handsome man rode in and tried to “woo” her. He tried and tried but she wondered if there was space in her self to love another now that she so loved herself. She had come so far from where she had been when her husband first left. She did not want to go back to that place.

In addition to being handsome, he was patient. He treated her with kindness and consideration unlike anything she had known before which caused her to consider him differently. She could see in him quality and value. And she noticed that she smiled more and that her eyes seemed even brighter when they were together.

One day as they danced, the amazingly strong woman told him she loved him. The words popped from her mouth before she had time to think of their meaning. And she knew there was, in fact, space in her self to love another. And she knew more that she so loved herself that whatever way the wind blew and whatever moment of the far-off future she was in, she would not be afraid. And she vowed that from this day forward she would be true and loving and faithful.

To herself.

And she felt happy, content, and at peace with that prospect

To Sea: Nevis, West Indies