Unplugging, Part 3

I believe I left you at the time of my college graduation and first “real” job.  I will spare you all the details, but just to give you an idea of my mindset, I admit there was a scene involving me driving my red pickup truck through a barren desert wasteland somewhere in Southern California on the way to my new life, with me singing along to the Dixie Chick’s “Wide Open Spaces” and bawling my eyes out.

I sweated my way through my first California summer.  The schedule was grueling. Rewarding, but grueling. Between caring for the horses, teaching lessons doing devotionals with staff and with the campers, hiking back and forth up a steep hill from the dining hall to the barn, campfires–and did I mention somehow I ended up leading worship with my guitar for the campers evening chapel time?–I only had one day off a week (sort of, if it wasn’t my turn to feed the horses) and a couple hours to spare in the afternoons.  By the end of the summer, I was spending those afternoon breaks with soon-to-be Mr. Wrangler, taking illegal trail rides into the state park land that bordered the camp property.  Shhhhh don’t tell the park rangers!  It was a wonderful way to get to know each other, though–plenty of time to talk yet with the safe buffer of the horses to fill any awkward gaps.  Here’s a pic Mr. Wrangler snapped of me on one of our date rides.

peter and I

By the time Mr. Wrangler had done his job wooing me and we were planning our life together, I practically cried with joy when he found a job as a farrier’s apprentice in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  He was excited to try living someplace new, and I was thrilled to be so near Silver Birch Ranch and within a few hours of all my friends and family in Illinois.  True to my friend’s prediction, we were married in less than a year after my college graduation.  We spent our first year and a half of our marriage in America’s Dairlyand, but Mr. Wrangler was growing dissatisfied with his job (for a very good reason, too–I’ll get to that soon).  One day he said, “Why don’t you see if you can get a horse job in Montana or something?”  I laughed.  I knew from experience how hard it was to find the “perfect” horse job, but at the time I was just working at a temp agency and teaching a few riding lessons on the side.  I did, for the very first time in my life, have my own horse!

dewey side shotme and deweydewey close up

Wasn’t he a cutie?

However, I had bought him with the intention of training and selling him.  Really, there wasn’t anything solid tying us down in Green Bay, as much as I liked it there.

Thinking I was merely humoring Mr. Wrangler,  I hopped online to an equine job staffing board and found a listing for a job teaching horsemanship at a girls boarding school–in Montana.  I sent in my resume, had a phone interview, and before I knew it I was on a plane headed for a real interview.  I stayed in Missoula the first night there and was absolutely enchanted by it, but the real treat came the next day as I drove my tiny little rental car north into the Seeley-Swan Valley.  Snow-capped mountains, crystal lakes, majestic pines, wildlife galore–June in northwest Montana is simply breathtaking.  I saw moose and bear just driving to the school for the interview–which I nailed.  Obviously.  I was able to spend a few extra days exploring the area and hiking.  I saw waterfalls and a secluded, appropriately-named Crystal Lake in the Mission Mountain Wilderness.  Every night when I called Mr. Wrangler, I told him, “I can’t wait for you to see this.  You aren’t going to believe how beautiful it is here.  You’re going to love it.”

The wilderness was calling us!

IMG_0047 IMG_0049

Unplugging, Part 2

After my full year of living in the northwoods at Nicolet Bible Institute, I set off to finish my bachelor’s degree at William Woods University.  Going from the northwoods of Wisconsin to what felt to me like the deep south, but was really only Missouri, was a shock to my system.  I love my Alma mater, but I do not love Missouri.  It is beautiful, with rolling green hills and abundance of picturesque farmland.  But it is hot, and the humidity thick. William Woods has very high standards of care for its horses, and one of the rules was that we could not put our horses away if they were the least bit sweaty…  Until of course, it was so hot that they were just sweating while standing in the shade of the barn.  Snowfall is minimal in the winter there, and every time we had a storm of freezing rain, I found myself longing for deep snow, my cross-country skis, and the solitude of the forest.

My goal, upon graduation, was to find a horsemanship instructor position at a camp, dude ranch, or school in a cold climate.  I interviewed at a ranch in Minnesota, a breeding and lesson barn in Maine, a camp in Ohio (southern Ohio, definitely not far enough north for my tastes), and a camp in Southern California.  I was offered all of those jobs, except that the one in Ohio wanted me to come weeks before school was done.  I didn’t want to miss my college graduation, and the camp just didn’t quite feel right to me anyway.  I didn’t feel the job in Maine was a good fit with the personalities of the owners.  The employee quarters at the Minnesota dude ranch smelled so strongly of cigarette smoke that I could never live there for health reasons, and they only had horses for half the year..  The California job came along last, and I knew it was the right one for me, despite being in not the “right” location. I would be the director of the horsemanship program–camps all summer, trail rides all fall.  It was a Christian camp, which is where my heart truly was.  And while it was in California, it was on a mountain, so the heat would not be so intense, and I was told it did snow some in the winter.  Most importantly, I could not ignore the feeling that God was calling me there, regardless of my plans to move somewhere cold.

As graduation came closer, I was packing up my room and my roommate said to me, “I have this feeling you are going to get married next year.”  I laughed at her.  I had been determinedly single for about three years at that point, with no prospects on the horizon.

“No way.  I’m not going to date any boys from California.  I don’t want to get stuck there.”  My plan was to work at that camp for approximately two years, then start watching the Christian camp job postings online for my dream job in my dream location.  THEN I would get married and live happily ever in the middle of nowhere in a place with mild summers and long, cold, winters.

She shrugged. “I still think you are going to get married next year.”

She made this prediction a few weeks after I had briefly met my husband-to-be for the first time on a tour of the camp where we barely acknowledged each other, a few months before I would overhear him tell a friend “I am so tired of California.  I want to get out of there and try living in some REAL woods,” and almost exactly one year before our wedding day.

Until next time,

Erin, AKA Wrangler Mama

PS Thanks for taking this journey down memory lane with me.  I promise to go back and add some photos as I find our old albums and get all my technology set up again.

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