What is a Perfect Day made of?
I’m not usually one to wax poetic about Perfect Days, for a couple reasons:
- I like doing several different activities. It’s not like I could ever do everything I enjoy in a single day.
- I have been on a critical quest for improvement (self- and otherwise) for as long as I can remember. Usually when I finish doing something, I immediately start taking notes for how I can make it even better next time. It’s just my personality, but it kinda keeps everything from being quite just right.
Still… last Saturday morning I was showering at 3:30 a.m., preparing myself for a 4:45 breakfast with the cowboy crew, and I was thinking about the day before, and for some reason my mind kept saying that it had been a Perfect Day.
Last Friday was nothing spectacular or particularly rewarding. We had gone to Billings for a funeral the day before, spent $300 on groceries at Wal-Mart, came screeching back into the VX about midnight, and Beau was up again at 5 a.m. to saddle because the crew was on its way from the various corners of the ranch to help him turn cattle out to summer pasture.
Back at the house with sleeping kids, the sunrise my backdrop, I set to work unloading the groceries, which hadn’t gotten unloaded from the pickup the night before in our flurry of transferring kids from carseats to beds and then collapsing into our own bed. We have four coolers that we can stuff a lot of groceries into, but let’s just say that the Cool Whip was good and thawed by the time I got it into the house (about 16 hours after purchase). Also, we have stinking mice in our pickup, and I noticed as I was unloading that the mice had tried valiantly to chew into a carton of donuts and a package of those flavored straws that the kids like to put in their milk. Sigh. Just another day in my sanitary life.
I got the pickup unloaded and, back inside, wading amongst grocery sacks, started noodles to boiling for the casserole I was planning for lunch. Once the kids were awake, I got them into the bath to wash off the grime of the Burger King we’d eaten at in Billings. I continually stepped over grocery sacks on my way into the kitchen from the bathroom.
The kids finally all dressed and ready for the day — which is no small undertaking — we hopped into the Polaris Ranger to drive over to the bunkhouse to shut curtains and turn on the window air conditioners, as some of the crew would be spending the night. On the road we met my mom, who was traveling with my dad, who (despite his broken collar bone and five broken ribs, which are preventing him from riding these days) had come up to oversee the work of the crew from his vehicle.
Mom was likely appalled at the condition of my house when she stepped into it — grocery sacks strewn about, dirty dishes mounded in the sink, noodle pot bubbling over on the stove — but it ain’t nothin’ she hasn’t seen before at my house. I set the kids to work taking groceries out of the sacks and lining the food up on the table. Mom tied into the dishes, and I assembled the casseroles. Yes, plural.
By the time the crew was in for lunch — done moving cows for the day — the food was good and ready and select rooms of the house were acceptably clean. The leftover birthday cake I’d cleverly pulled out of the freezer for dessert wasn’t the delicious ending to the meal I would have preferred — there was a reason it was leftover — but nobody complained.
It was a hot, hot day, and the guys mostly took it easy following lunch. Mom deserves all credit for any sort of dish-doing that gets accomplished around here, which they were. Later, as my dad slept in the recliner and Mom in the glider, I took a long nap with the baby on the couch.
Then, before I knew it, the men were shuffling through the door for supper. Now, I better take a minute to explain something. The PV crew has never made a habit of lounging in the afternoon and camping out overnight. My dad has spent a lot of time in his life shuttling down the dirt roads that join the feedlot at headquarters (where he lives) to Horse Camp, Butte Camp, and Ridge Camp. Those three cow camps are all connected in a triangle shape, each 13 miles from the other, and the feedlot is probably 15 miles from the southeast edge of the triangle, all part of the same ranch. That’s a lot of ranch country to cover in between, but Dad has done it resolutely, both horseback and by pickup, for almost 50 years. He figures his job is to be out there in the middle of it all, and he’s not much for sitting still. The crew might brand two days in a row at Butte Camp, but crew members have always returned home to their respective beds in between brandings… because back at their home camps, there is water to check, there are pastures to clean out, and there are chores to attend to. A dayworker once said that the PV was the only place he’d ever worked that the boss expected you to make a second circle after the branding was over. It’s always been the PV philosophy, partly adopted by my dad from his predecessors and partly made by my dad: there’s a lot to be done around here, and we don’t waste daylight hours with rest. After you eat, you hop on your horse or you get in your pickup and you go somewhere… anywhere… and you get something else done.
This VX deal has been different, though. When the PV bought the VX and turned it into a fourth camp almost two years ago, it represented a new era for the PV. While the rest of the PV is contiguous — meaning all the land touches — the VX is in a whole new direction. A couple neighboring ranches and a highway and 40 miles separate the VX from the rest of the ranch. Beau and I moved up here with a whole new territory to explore. Most of the work here Beau can accomplish by himself, but at certain times of the year the crew shows up… to help with branding, weaning, turning out, etc. And maybe because my dad is letting off the accelerator a little as he ages, or maybe because it seems a little silly to drive 40 miles home just to turn around and drive 40 miles back at 4:00 in the morning… the crew has taken to overnighting here at the VX. We have an old trailer-house here that serves as a bunkhouse, and Nate likes to bring his cowboy teepee and truly camp out, and we have a TV and DVD player set up for them over there, and they stretch out in their bedrolls for sleep and they shuffle through my front door for supper and, a few hours later, for breakfast.
Last Friday night, the kids and I had a special supper planned for them. We lit the fire pit outside, we sliced a watermelon and put it on the picnic table, and we put together trays of hot dog fixings and s’mores fixings… and we gave everyone a stick. And those ol’ cowboys, guided by my little kids, roasted their own suppers over the campfire.
It was a beautiful, quiet evening here on Porcupine Creek. Not a single vehicle on the county road to the east; the sun setting in spectacular color behind us. We fixed ‘dogs, whittled away at watermelon triangles, took interest in who was building the most interesting marshmallow-and-chocolate conglomeration. The kids entertained with their stick horses, some of us roped the dummy… and we just plain relaxed. Relaxing is something these guys aren’t well-acquainted with. It’s something we hardly ever do together as a crew. But that night — maybe because they all figured they were stranded up here north of Ingomar anyhow — no one was in a hurry to finish and turn in for the night; the animals were situated and would need no more care ’til daylight… and so we sat around the fire and enjoyed the company. It was pretty much perfect.
Early the next morning as I showered the cobwebs away before our 4:45 breakfast, I wondered why the day before had seemed like a Perfect Day, one I was reluctant to end. Even though I had dishes to do and breakfast burritos to assemble after the campfire was snuffed out, I had been in no hurry to send everyone to bed. Certainly the rush-less atmosphere is something I value greatly in this life — because my personality is different from my dad’s, yes, but also because we don’t often get to do it.
But I’ve also decided this must be part of it:
I think a Perfect Day is a day on which you’d be obliged to pause time. No looking forward to something in the future; just a perfect contentment in being right here, right now. Had I been able to pause time last Friday, here’s what I would’ve captured:
– Our kids at 5, 3, and 1. Each at an adorable age, none of them in school yet, unadulterated by the ways of the world, all of them still thinking it’s perfectly acceptable to run around without a shirt on.
– The VX in a good grass year, in all its hardpan, gumbo, treeless glory. We are blessed to live here, secluded from the troubles of the world.
– These cowboys — Joe, Verg, Nate, Brian — just as they are: each one peculiar in his own way, just as I am peculiar in my own way, but each one also a valued piece of the puzzle that is the PV. These are the folks we’re doing life with, and they’re good folks.
– My parents and my husband and myself, not a day older than we are right now.
Perfect Days don’t come often; in fact, I don’t think it had ever crossed my mind previously that I’d just experienced a Perfect Day. And certainly last Friday was not without the troubles of this world: groceries, mice, and dirty dishes.
Still, for all that’s above, I’d have been obliged to pause time.
© Tami Blake