Sera and I recently went back to my father's ranch in the Big Horn Basin of Wyoming for the second time this year, to decompress, visit family, and recuperate from a month of manic activity. It continues to astound us the amount of mental clarity that comes when we remove ourselves from city life. Traffic din and police choppers are replaced with the sounds of horse hooves on rain-cleansed soil, the migration calls of sandhill cranes and distant thunder cries across the mountain peaks.
The first day often feels like reverse culture shock, our bodies and thoughts unaccustomed to stillness and open space. But after the first night's meal, and a poetry reading of the requisite Billy Collins poem "The Revenant" at the dining room table, we ease ourselves into the pace of ranch life. By day, we help with whatever chores need to be done: weed pulling, laying irrigation pipe, mucking horse manure, tilling the soil for the Spring crop, and feeding the animals.
The eight equine residents of the ranch--all of them rescues who work summers as therapy horses for the Wyoming Boys School and local war veterans--grazed just outside our summer camper. Even after spending months with them as my bedroom window companions in the past, I still find them infinitely fascinating as creatures of healing power.
A few days into our trip, we were visited by Sera's father Steve. Having grown up on a farm himself, Steve took to the open space with the quiet contemplation of a man returning to a sacred space. Our walk to the mud swallow nests at the cliffs above the canals brought an added serenity--unbeknownst to me, Steve has had a lifelong fascination with the swallow. Their fervent swirling flight as we walked beside the cliffs brought him to a church-like calm.
Now, at home beside our computers and electronic devices and demands and commitments, we find ourselves assessing and reassessing how we live. Are we maintaining this Earth with the same commitment as my father and stepmother? Are we simply idealizing our trips to Wyoming since they are free of financial commitments to maintaining a ranch (while we visited, the irrigation canal needed emergency repair and one horse required medical care for anxiety-produced foot pain)? There's probably not a simple answer. But we take solace in knowing that there's a refuge out there hidden away from the melee of the modern world. A space for afternoon naps and home-cooked meals. A space to just be, and breathe.