I come from cowboy stock. The real deal. Cattle ranchers, living in a beautiful bit of wilderness at the Arizona-New Mexico border. The ranch has been in my family since 1891. My grandmother was raised there; her mother rode a horse the 27 miles out of the canyon to get to a hospital for my grandmother’s birth, her first of five children. (They opted for home births after that trip!) To get to the ranch now, we ease our 4 wheel drive down the gravel switchbacks, cross the river a couple times if it’s low enough and if not, ditch the car and call my family to come get us in the tractor.
Today, my dad’s cousin runs the ranch. In his soft-spoken drawl, he tells us the ranch belongs to all of us, it’s just his watch. Though I’ve never lived there, there’s a part of me that is connected forever to WY Bar ranch on the Blue.
It took far too long to take my husband on the long trip to the Blue (the town – which consists of not much more than a one room schoolhouse – is Blue, named for the river/creek that runs through it, but we’ve always said, “the Blue” or “on the Blue”). Coming from Paris, he was fascinated at the thought of meeting real cowboys and seeing an honest-to-goodness cattle ranch. When we finally made the trek, he stared out the window in silence, murmuring from time to time, “Wow. This is beautiful.”
We sat up late into the night talking with my aunt and uncle (really my “uncle” is my dad’s cousin and my first cousin once removed, but we call him “Uncle”), eating meat and potatoes and drinking stiff Hot Toddys. The state cattle inspector came by to check on how things were going, make sure no cattle had been lost to wild animals or accidents, make sure all was well. He sat down to chat with us.
After three words from my husband’s mouth, his face contorted and he leaned forward, staring at my husband.
“Where you from?”
“I’m from Paris.”
“Huh?” He turned to me, perplexed. He couldn’t understand my husband’s accent, which isn’t really all that thick.
“Paris. France,” I said.
“Huh. What’s it like there?”
My husband hesitated, unsure how to answer. “Um, well, Paris is a big, really old city. The country is a lot of rolling hills, rivers, there’s lots of little villages, nothing like this here – ”
“You got cows there?”
“Yes. There are cows.”
The inspector nodded and seemed satisfied.
One night we gathered around a campfire, listening to my cousins and their friends tell stories of their different cowboy adventures, drinking beer. It was 17 degrees out, so we pressed as close as we could to the fire. When we all turned to warm our freezing backs, one of the friends drawled:
“We’re all warmin’ our buns, but Stéphane there, he’s warmin’ his croy-sants.”
My husband said he felt like he’d stepped into a movie, into a world and lives he hadn’t known existed.
My uncle listens to my cousins and me tell tales of wandering the planet, of our adventures exploring various European cities, living abroad, trekking through South America, and he smiles and shakes his head, then says in his soft drawl, “It’s just so neat how y’all get out and see the world. Between y’all, you’ve been just ‘bout everywhere. Me, I just about never been on an airplane. I don’t much like being away from home.” It’s so different from the life I know, and I love him all the more for it. I know a little bit about a lot of different places and I pat myself on the back and feel so worldly. My uncle will laugh and call himself a hick, but to me, he’s classic America. He’s got his home on the range, he works hard from dawn to dusk and then some, he knows every craggy cliff, every stone, every stretch and bend of the Blue River. He loves his life, his home, his country. There’s poetry to that.
I envy him sometimes, to which I’m sure he’d scoff. I forever battle between searching out adventures, jumping into all the unknowns I can find, versus the desire to find a place I can set down some roots and truly feel I belong; to find that which eludes me: the feeling of yes, I am home. My cowboy cousins, they know where they want to be. They have generations of history behind them, rooted to Blue, AZ. They are Home, and they live it, breathe it, love it.
My wanderlust must come from my grandmother, the same one who was raised on the ranch. She and my grandfather lived all over the world: Chile, Mexico, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Kuwait, Denmark…. Her home was decorated with Persian rugs, African Tribal masks, blue and white Danish dishes. She introduced me to eating croissants for breakfast. She would have loved to meet my husband. I wish I could talk to her now – about her adventures both growing up on an isolated ranch and then as the worldly woman who smiled so broadly in those photos taken around the globe. From cowgirl to world traveler. What an adventure.
I look forward to taking my kids to the ranch and letting them wade in the river, run through the forest, meet my dear family. It’s as much a part of their heritage as is France.