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?

Love and Cowboy Jack

The Homestead


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.


The Old Place

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.