Jessica (Fox) Epstein
Hereís how you get there.
Fly into the flat, boring, mud-brown plains surrounding Denver. Rent an electric-yellow pick-up truck. Drive west on I-70 and then north on I-25. Feel small under the big sky. Look over your left shoulder to the distant mountains in awe. Play country music really loud. Roll down all the windows. Take 287 north through Fort Collins. Speed past the tack shops, pawn shops, cheap motels and feed stores. Drive into landscape as barren as the moon. See nothing for the next thirty-six miles except 16-wheelers barreling down on you, one general store and signs that say,
ďCaution Strong Winds.Ē
When you see the weathered wooden sign, make a left and start down the dirt road. Turn on your 4-Wheel Drive. Grip the wheel tightly as the sun sets. Go up and over red-brown ridges and past stolid, grazing beefalo. Yup, beefalo. Donít stop at the first ranch, make a right at the fork and drive on. After another ten minutes youíll see a light, a white building, a bunkhouse, a barn, an arena and a few trucks. Youíll see horses. A young woman with the warmest smile and brightest eyes youíve ever seen will come to meet you. Youíre at the Two Bars Seven Ranch in Tie Siding, Wyoming.
If there is a spiritual center to the United States of America, this is it. Itís a place of rock, sky, water and unlimited kindness. Hereís an example. The Ranch advertised for a new cook in a Nebraska paper. Mary, from Lincoln, got the job and one day asked why they placed the ad in a Nebraska paper and not a local one. Polly, the owner, said, ďWell, we heard there were some hard times there and thought someone might need a job.Ē
Itís the place where hard-working hands carved a way of life from sagebrush and sweat.
Itís a place where you lean against the wind, and the strength of place and generations holds you fast.
Learn that Tie Siding is a place where the weak donít survive. The winters are unimaginably isolated and cruel. The hours are long and the work is grueling, but the summer nights are unspeakably beautiful.
Sense rain coming from a long way off. Hear coyotes at night. See the wispy arm of the Milky Way, satellites rushing across the darkness, and a million or so stars. Drink cold beer. Make friends with a young woman from Cheyenne whose grandmother helped save Danish Jews.
If you hear that thereís a rodeo back down in Colorado at the Larimer County Fairground drive the dirt road and the highway back south through blinding rain, lightning and wind. Youíll be afraid of breaking down because youíre utterly alone; there are no phones, no lights and no houses.
Make it to the fairgrounds. Watch little girls showing their goats, then eat some funnelcake and wait for the rain to let up. When it does, look west, and see the sun setting crimson and purple against the Rockies. A blond, beautiful rodeo queen covered in red, white and blue sequins will gallop around the arena with the American flag in one hand and the reins of her white horse in the other. Stand up with ranchers, farmers, mechanics, teachers, businessmen, 4-H kids and migrant workers. Place your right hand over your strongly beating heart. Pledge allegiance to the flag and to the Republic for which it stands. Get choked up.
Drive back north in the dark without fear. Know that if you break down, someone will stop and help you. Itís that simple. Someone will reach out to you. Youíre not alone. You know this is as sure as you know youíre an American and damn proud of it. Get some coffee. Fill up the gas tank. See the long, dark road stretch out before you.
Take a deep breath and start for home.