I never really cared too much for winter on the east coast. The snow tends to be slushy and dirty, filled with grime from traffic, that can linger for weeks after a storm creating a soggy and depressive atmosphere. The clouds, too, linger around and whole months can go by in a dull, overcast, grey. But this doesn’t mean I don’t like winter. I have vivid memories of a family trip we took to Lake Tahoe when I was boy back in the late 70’s. As we were passing through the mountains at night to reach our destination, thick flakes of snow began to fall, rushing at the windshield in a mesmerizing, kaleidoscopic, pattern and filling my heart with delight. The next morning I woke up to an absolute paradise of a winter wonderland: quaint log cabins with heavy white roofs lined with icicles, dark green pines sagging low with snow, the mountains more majestic than ever, and of course, the infinite lake stretching into a misty abyss, all illuminated by the morning sun. It all impressed a sense of wonder into my heart that has never left me to this day. Winter can be stunningly beautiful, and so it is out here in Wyoming.
I had been a little intimidated about the onset of winter out here, however. For one, I’ve been scrambling to shore up my new house to ready for the season. This house had all kinds of problems and would have been a damp and frigid pit of illness all winter had I not taken urgent measures. But now, after fixing a leaky roof, leaky propane, and rotten siding, as well as replacing a rusted out wood stove and stuffing a lot of gaps with insulation, my home is actually quite cozy and hospitable. It feels good in here, especially looking out the window at an endless sea of white framed by speckled mountains.
I was also a little worried about maybe getting a bit lonely and feeling isolated, since I did only move here a few months ago and don’t have a lot of friends yet. But truth be told, although I’ve been alone for the past few years, I haven’t felt a single pang of loneliness in over a year and a half. I think it’s more than simply growing used to solitude; I feel I’m growing closer to God. I feel a conscious presence everywhere around me and in my heart. I feel a new sense of hope and purpose in life emerging from the ashes of yesterdays dreams. I don’t feel isolated from anything, but rather intimate with everything. I think I’ll be quite content just diving deep into music recording projects this winter, puncuated by frequent outdoor escapes to snowshoe through the mountains, cross country ski across a frozen resevoir, or ride powder at the nearby resort.
But this is a blog about horses. We got our first winter storm out here just a few days ago. We may have gotten eight inches or so, but I discovered that the big snow drifts out here can quickly turn a few harmless inches into several deep feet of heavy snow. I was worried about the horses on my land. Their water was frozen and so was the hose to fill the tank. The horses themselves were standing out in pasture with their backs to the heavy winds that were scattering snow and frost everywhere. I messaged JW to ask if we should be concerned. He wasn’t worried for them at all. He knew the storm was passing and the temps would come back up, and he knew the horses would eat snow to sate their thirst when their trough was frozen. I still felt a little sorry for the horses and decided to bundle up and brave the snow to feed them some apples and keep them company. They were excited for the apples and glad to see me, but no more than usual. They seemed completely content, business as usual, as if they didn’t even notice the weather. The only difference I noticed at all was that the lower half of their snouts were dark-stained with moisture from grazing through the snow.
The next day the sun came out although the snow remained on the ground and the temperatures low. Again I went out to greet them and enjoy their company. They were perfectly happy in the weather conditions, very lucid and bright in their vibrations. I felt lifted up by just being around them. They helped me to feel the vitality of the moment in fearless contentment. They were not daunted by the cold, nor anxious about the winter. They were alive in the present, thriving, confident. They were illuminated by the sun, supported by the earth, groomed by the wind, and sated on snow. In that moment I felt a sense of possibility as wide as the endless prairie.
After witnessing the beauty of a snow-draped Wyoming and the fearless fortitude of four, fine, horses, all my anxieties facing the winter have vanished. I don’t see the months ahead as any type of descent into less favorable conditions. I see a sun ascending over the white-capped mountains, its radiance accentuated by the crisp winter air. I see a woodstove in my basement, heating the floor boards and keeping the whole house warm. There is a fire kindled in my heart that warms my whole being in the same manner. I will tend to it, and not let it go out again.
My relationship continues to evolve with the eight horses I have access to on a daily basis, my neighbor’s herd of four (three geldings and a mare), the four grazing on my land (1 gelding and three mares). An interesting an unexpected lesson that the alpha’s of each herd taught me recently, is that hierarchy and pack dynamics matter, and that even as an outsider human, I have to cooperate with these aspects if I want to sustain harmonious relationships with all the horses. As I mentioned before, my neighbor’s horse Lefty shunned me for three days once the new herd arrived on my land. He had sort of laid a claim on me and tended to monopolize all my attention, pushing the other horses away or even biting them if they approached while I was petting him. Once he saw me lavishing affections on the new horses and feeding them apples that used to be for him, he ignored me for three days, wouldn’t come near me, and wouldn’t let me pet him. You could say he gave me the silent treatment. And it worked! I did feel snubbed and at first I couldn’t understand why. I hadn’t realized that horses are so temperamental.
This week, Cece gave me the silent treatment as well for a day and half, but for a different reason: I was being too fair and equal to all this horses in her herd, not giving her the greater share of attention and treats she was entitled to as the alpha. It started with an afternoon apple feeding. I cut two apples into eight slices, two slices for each horse. I gave each horse a slice in the order they were standing around me. Both Cece and Jasmine were suprisingly pushy, getting a little too used to getting sweet treats. When I went to give the last apple slice to the omega of the herd, the smaller, reddish mare, she was very hesitant to take it and I couldn’t understand why. She loves apples. As I was trying to give her the slice, Cece kept pushing into my personal space, and the reddish mare had a frightened look in her eyes. I tried to give her the apple one more time but she made a cry and jumped back, as Cece tried to pounce on the apple. I wasn’t going to try and force feed her the last slice, but I felt Cece didn’t deserve it because she had been so aggressive, so I gave the slice to the ever mellow and sweet gelding, Ticket. From then on Cece wouldn’t let me pet her for a day and a half. She even seemed to tease me. She would let me approach her, but as soon as I reached out to pet her she would quickly walk away as if to make a point. Point taken. I felt snubbed again and could feel the coolness of her emotions. She was mad at me.
After contemplating it for awhile, I think it was more than just being mad for giving away her slice. I think she is the alpha of the herd and is used to getting the first drink of water and the best patches of grass. I think she expects the others to defer to her and I’ve noticed they always do. By being fair about distributing the apples equally, I was actually going counter to the natural order of things. That’s why the red mare was hesitant, confused, then scared; I was trying to force on her what really did belong to Cece, what Cece was entitled to as leader of the herd. By not giving her the last slice, I basically disrespected her and sidestepped her authority.
Since then I’ve really taken the time and acted sensitively to win back Cece’s affections, and have succeeded very well. In fact, just two days ago she did something that no other horse has yet done; as I was petting her back, she stared leaning into me and swaying back and forth to rub her side on me. The swaying was very rhythmic, and with each sway should would lean into rub me. This went on for several minutes and felt quite intimate, especially feeling her massive weight pressed upon me, but her knowing just the right threshold of strength. Cece has also begun to act possessive of me like Lefty used to, and if I go pet any of the other horses for too long, she’ll approach to arrest my attention and push the other away. I guess now I’ll have to decide if I’d rather be friends with all the horses, but have Cece be a little cold to me, or if I should just have Cece as my best friend and maintain a more cordial relationship with the others. As you know, I am new to horses. I must say I never expected them to be so sensitive and tempremental. Yes, horses can be catty.
Today I walked a loop around my property at sunset. The horses were uncharacteristically scattered thoughout the pastures, each one doing his or her own thing. I intended to just pass the horses by and not bother them, but as I came up on each one, it ran up to greet me. They all knew I didn’t have apples. They just wanted to say hello and see what I was doing. Yes, my relationship with these horses continues to grow. They like me, we all get along, and we seem to have an understanding. I find it very fulfilling to be accepted by the herd, and they provide me endless delight. I often experience deep inner silence when I am with the horses as well. I feel their own silence by just spending time with them, and fall under its spell. They provide for me a portal to a more natural, wild, state of being. Horses are indeed noble creatures. I am honored to walk among them.
It fascinates how much depth there is in getting to know horses, how many layers. Not having spent much time around horses, at first I was getting to know the general nature and temperament of the animal, how they communicate, what they do and don’t like. Then I discovered what it’s like to establish familiarity with the herds, to get a place where we’re all comfortable and okay with each other. But now I’m getting to know these horses on a much more personal, intimate level.
I really noticed this today feeding apples to both herds of four that I have access to, the four grazing on my lot and my neighbor’s four horses. I fed my horses first and spent some time with them, and then left them to graze in my north pasture and went and fed my neighbor’s horses along my southern fence. I’ve known my neighbor’s horses about a month and a half longer than I’ve known my horses. My horses and I are really starting to have a rapport. They follow me around more often now, and I have unique ways I interact with each of them according to their nature and how our friendship has progressed. I think we all still feel a little new to each other, still retaining a degree of shy politeness, but we’re definitely getting over the hump into more casual relations. Ticket, the only gelding of the group, and “the dumb one” as JW puts it, is just as mellow as can be. He just stands there. I feel I could set a table on his back and eat dinner off him and he wouldn’t even mind. Or I could place my laptop on his back and write my next journal entry. Maybe I’ll try it. He’s not a moron though, just mellow. He’s plenty receptive to my attention and affection. Cece and Jasmine, the two bays, have opened up to me the most. We’re all quite comfortable with each other now and there is warmth between us. The smaller, but well-toned, reddish horse, who I uncreatively call Red, is still the shyest. But she may just be the omega of the pack. My neighbor’s mare Macy acts similar and is definitely the omega of that pack. She loves me, it’s just that the other, more dominate, geldings box her out and make her stand back. When I catch her alone she always runs to greet me, in fact, of all eight horses she does seem the most happy to see me each day. She’s beautiful and graceful, and has an angelic air about her.
After feeding my herd apples, they followed me for awhile, and then got the picture they weren’t gonna get any more servings. I felt like such a king being followed by a single-file line of large, majestic, beasts. I had intended to just go inside, but I saw Beau staring at me from across the fence. I’ve come to really believe that horses are telepathic and can beckon me from a great distance. Beau wanted me to come say hello. He wasn’t hoping for apples, I think he was just bored and hadn’t seen me in awhile. Nevertheless, I quickly ran inside and cut enough apple slices for all four, knowing the rest would come if they saw Beau getting treats. Indeed they did.
Spending time with these four who I’ve known considerably longer, it became very apparent how much more at ease and familiar we were with each other. It was as if we could all be our true selves and leave careful politeness behind us. It felt playful, and with much more content in the communication between us; we had more to say, greater rapport. As I’ve mentioned before, Beau can be incredibly pushy when he smells I have apples. I feel though it’s become a bit of a game, even an expression of intimacy. He loves to test my boundaries and is definitely smart enough to know when he crosses them, but loves to persist doing so even when I chastise him. But I’m no pushover, so I’ve started to match his willfulness with equal force in pushing back. It’s almost like wrestling. He likes to see what he can get away with, but I like to see how forceful I can be with him before he gets mad or spooked. We both enjoy it, and in a way it expresses how comfortable we’ve become with each other. It’s like how you can spar or wrestle with your buddies. You love each other and mean no harm, but it’s fun to test strength and wills sometimes, or to be rowdy just for the sake of rowdiness. I enjoy fighting with Beau. He knows I won’t hurt him, and I know he won’t hurt me. Sometimes he’ll even grab my fingers with his teeth, but just like a dog, he knows just the right amount of pressure to be felt but not to injure. One of these days I’m gonna bite him back!
Lefty is the horse I’ve grown closest to out of all eight. He’s a beautiful horse, and even my neighbor agrees that he’s the brightest and sweetest. He’s a great horse, exactly the kind of horse one could hope to have. He can be all business when it comes to apples, but when the feeding is done, he’ll spend more time with me than any of the others, and he’s even protective of me. He’s the alpha of the herd, and when we’re bonding, he doesn’t let the others come near. Him and Beau are good friends though and will usually start grooming each other after my visits. Today I spent a whole five minutes rubbing and scratching Lefty’s back while softly singing the Hunuman Chalisa. I noticed that both his hears were turned around in my direction listening intently. We had a real moment. We’re definitely friends.
Later Old Man Baker came around. I really like him. He’s well older than all the rest and is all skin and bones. He almost always keeps to himself and has never taken an apple from my hand, but in recent weeks, he will hang around and let me pet him. I think he has a beautiful face and eyes, but he does have these two deep pits above each eye, I guess just a sign of his gauntness. Today for the first time I scratched the inside of these pits with my finger. It was weird. They were so deep! He didn’t mind though. He’s a smart, sensitive, horse, but his age really shows, even in his attitude. He’s so independent and has this air about him that he’s seen it all and isn’t impressed. I love that guy.
It’s such an exciting adventure for me to not only get to know horses, but to discover the depths of their intelligence, warmth, and personality. I really am becoming friends with all eight. It uplifts my heart, enriches my life, and these experiences make everyday a good day.
I just wanted to show off my new diner booth. All my life I’ve felt very comfortable in a diner booth with a cup of coffee and a good book or a deck of cards, and I’ve spent countless hours of my life doing just such. I first broke through and fell in love with the genius of Shakespeare while snorting lines of Ritalin off a diner booth table in Las Cruces, New Mexico decades ago. I had to write a book report on a Shakespeare play for English class, and I got so jacked up on the Ritalin we had smuggled over the border from Juarez that I finally achieved the necessary level of focus and cognition to really break through and witness the Bard’s high language and wit. I absolutely fell in love with Shakespeare that night and I have subsequently read his entire canon with great awe and delight. Amphetamines weren’t required to appreciate his work after that, I only needed that initial lift so his wit could penetrate my thick skull. From then on, I was dialed in.
For nearly ten years I played reggae music in African clubs in Adam’s Morgan DC, often playing six nights a week. I would stay up smoking, drinking, and jamming each night, not getting to bed until four a.m. Every morning the first thing I did was plop myself in a diner booth at “The Diner” on Connecticut Ave to thaw out and ressurect myself from the previous night’s revelries. I had three significant girlfriends during that time, and each one would join me often to play cards and drink coffee, talking shit and laughing for hours. I sometimes wonder if the waitstaff ever pondered, “What’s up with the hippy and his card playing girls?” That’s just what I do. I like playing cards in diner booths. Fewer things make me happier. Maybe that stems from when I lived in Guadalajara Mexico in my early twenties, and each morning I’d eat my huevos rancheros by myself in an classic cafe and watch the old men play dominos. I could find all the contentment I needed there.
Since I’ve decided that my new home is my true home, and I plan to live here until vacate the planet, I figured I oughta just go ahead and get a diner booth to provide for the few simple props of my heart’s enduring contentment. I must admit, it was my friend Michael who really put the idea in my head when he helped me move my stuff from the east coast. Something was just missing from a blank, windowed, wall in my kitchen and I said I oughta put a little table there. He paused, then said, “You oughta get a diner booth”. Euraka! I knew it had to be.
And so I searched the internet and ordered one. Coincidentally, the booth was made and shipped from Morgantown, West Virginia, not too far from where I used to live and where I’d often perform at 123 Pleasant Street. It was a little more than I was hoping to pay, but the women on the phone was just so authentic and kind that she made me want to give her my business. She reminded me of everyone I’ve met out here: no guile, pure sincerity.
I just wanted to tell you about my diner booth, one, because I love it, and two, because it’s the location from where I’ll be writing all that’s to come from here forward. So when you read these, just picture me content in my diner booth, tapping away on my elderly laptop with a cup of a coffee making rings on the table and Indian music streaming from my little speaker box. There might be a ribbon of ganja smoke rising from the ashtray as well, dancing in the light from the window through which I watch horses graze over the endless Wyoming prairie. Yes, I have found contentment.
I now have FOUR horses grazing on my property until winter sets in. As a person who adores animals but has never had much experience with horses, this has been a real blessing and joy for me to get to interact with this small herd on a daily basis. I’m really trying to have no expectations and to not impose my will upon them, but to simply learn from them and interact with them on their terms.
I go out and talk to them and pet them everyday, and every other day or so I’ll feed them apples, trying to avoid having our relationship be solely based on me feeding them treats. Although I am somewhat of a new acquaintance to them, they have all been quite receptive of me. As I approach them they never run away and will let me stand in very close quarters with them, sometimes tightly sandwiched between their massive bodies. All of them let me pet them, but the two bay mares are the most receptive to my affections. The buckskin gelding, whom their owner says is a little dumb, seems mostly indifferent to me. The smaller, reddish mare seems the most wary of me, but not so wary that she avoids my pets. I refer to them by their color and sex because I only know two of their names. The indifferent bucksin is named Ticket. Although he is indifferent and maybe dumb, he seems to have a very gentle, mellow, nature. The smaller of the two bay mares is named Cece. Of the four, she is the most affectionate and personable. The larger, older, bay I’ll call “Softhead” for now. Her forehead above her eyes and between her ears is incredibly plush and soft, moreso than any of the others, and I enjoy petting her there. I’ll call the smallest, reddish, mare “Red” for obvious reasons. Softhead is the most pushy of the four, and she is the only one whose behavior I’ve felt any need to correct at all. When I feed them apples, she has poor manners and will push her way into my personal space, trying to grab the apples out of my hand or to even dig them out of my pockets. My neighbor’s horse Beau does the same thing. And so I’ve had to push back to a degree, telling her no in a lightly stern voice, pointing my finger in her face, and sometimes pushing her head away. It’s quite a new experience to me to have to push back against so large of a beast that could easily trample me and kick my ass if she chose, however, I’ve noticed that she is quite receptive to my admonitions and clearly understands my intent. In just a couple days she has shown remarkable improvement in this regard. Although she is pushy when it comes to apples, she otherwise comes across as quite intelligent and good natured. She is the largest of the four and I believe she is the alpha of the herd. She was slow to warm to me, but is now quite personable as well, receptive to affection, and nearly as sweet as her slightly smaller twin Cece.
I felt that yesterday was a bit of a breakthrough day in our relationship. Around dusk, I walked out to the pasture to feed them apples. They all behaved quite well. When I first started feeding them, all but Softhead were hesitant to even take the apples and spent a good amount of time smelling and investigating the fruit before taking them from my hand. That is no longer the case, and all four are eager to take the treat from my hand. I find it funny how even with something so simple as eating apples, they all have their individual nuances. My neighbor’s horse Lefty always drops pieces of the apple and I have to pick them up and refeed them to him. Cece is still a bit hesistant each time, while Softhead the most enthusiastic. Red has a funny habit of taking the apple by biting into each slice with his teeth to grab it, while all the others just scoop them up in their lips and then proceed to chew. After feeding the apples, I petted them all for a minute and then walked away far across the field to the highest point on my land where I have a wrought iron bench for watching sunsets. I never try to dominate their attention or take up too much of their time, rarely spending more than five minutes or so with them at a time. As I said, I’m trying to avoid imposing too much of myself upon them. I’m grateful for the minutes we have, and I don’t want to distract them from their natural function of incessant grazing.
After sitting on the bench for a few minutes watching the sun go down, I glanced over to the herd a couple hundred yards away. They were all facing my direction attentively watching me. Then, led by the two bays, they all started meandering towards me. Ticket at first lagged behind munching grass but then trotted to catch up. The bench is in the northeast corner of my lot. Here they all congregated and continued to graze, well aware of me but not paying me a whole lot of attention. My heart was warmed by the fact that they came all the way over just to be near me. They already knew I didn’t have anymore apples. I really enjoyed the peace of watching the sunset in the company of my new equine friends. Then both Cece and Softhead sauntered over to me at the bench. Softhead walked behind me, and Cece approached me from the front. I’ve read that a clear sign of affection and bonding from a horse is when they put their noses right up against your nose and mouth and share their breath with you. Both of them did this several times while gazing into my eyes. They were both fully relaxed and had the kindest look in their eyes. I too was very calm and relaxed, and reflected back to them my own love and affection, softly petting both of them on their necks and under their chin.
This experience meant a lot to me. I hadn’t asked anything of the horses, but they chose to come and keep me company of their own accord and to give these expressions of bonding and affection. I felt like Sally Field in her somewhat awkward but charming Oscar acceptance speech many years back: “You DO like me!!!” That’s why I felt yesterday was a breakthrough day for me and the herd. It was the first time they sought me out and showed their affection without me asking for it or trying to earn it through pets or treats. It really warmed my heart. These horses DO like me!!! I have very few friends out here in Wyoming so far. These horses are becoming more than just the beautiful beasts in my pasture; they’re becoming my friends, and I look forward to watching and writing about this friendship as it grows.
I don’t know if any of this is actually interesting to my few readers, but that’s okay. I’m writing this blog for my own understanding, as well as to hone my craft of writing. Nevertheless, I hope it brought you just a touch of the joy that these horses bring to me.
I know next to nothing about horses, or at least I didn’t up until two months ago. That’s the whole point of this blog; it is about my own personal discovery of horses, not what I’ve been taught or read in a book, but what I come to understand about these graceful beasts through my own experiences and contemplations. Up until moving to Wyoming from Loudoun County, Virginia this summer, I’ve had very limited access to horses and few experiences. I have gone horseback riding three times in my life, but these were brief, paid, outings through professional services that didn’t afford much intimacy with the horses nor allow me to get to know them too well. When I lived in Loudoun County I would see a few horses on my daily strolls, but horse culture is much different in Virginia than in Wyoming. In Virginia, horses are much more a luxury of the rich, and I confess, I projected that aspect onto the horses themselves, perceiving them as some sort of elitist, snobbish, animal. Occassionally on my walks the horses would come up to the fence and let me pet them, but these encounters were too infrequent and short to allow me to develop any real understanding or meaningful relationship with them. The day I moved onto my forty acre ranch in Sundance, Wyoming on the first of July, 2020, all that changed.
The very first thing I saw driving down my gravel driveway for the first time was a group of four horses galloping along my fenceline to the backdrop of the setting sun over endless, rolling, prairie. That beautiful moment touched my heart deeply and I took it as an auspicious sign from the universe, a blessing for my new life in wild, wonderful, Wyoming. Although I was well aware that horses are abundant in this state and can be seen grazing in nearly any pasture, before moving in it hadn’t really occured to me how quickly and to what extent horses would become a part of my daily life. I did not move here with ambitions to keep horses, rather to simply enjoy the peace and quiet of living close to Nature. As I said, I always assumed horses were for rich people and beyond my reach, so I never really dared to dream about having horses of my own one day, nor did I think I’d ever have an opportunity to know these wondrous creatures more intimately. Things are different now.
Where I now live, practically everybody has horses on their land whether they are rich are poor. My neighbor to the south of me with whom I share a fenceline has four. The family across the street has one, and his neighbor to the north has more than a dozen. Every property along the mile-long drive from the main road to my house has horses. And now, I even have two on my own property! I don’t own them but I’m allowing them to graze on my ranch as a favor to my new friend, JW, who has been helping me repair my house. He said the past couple years have been drought years, that good grass is getting hard to come by, and that allowing his horses to graze here would be a big help. What a win-win situation! It’s like having my own horses but without any of the expense or responsibility. I’m thrilled to live with these creatures now and to have all the opportunity in the world to come to know and understand them better, as well as to develop meaningful bonds. This journey is what this blog is intended to capture.
The horses on my land are a bay mare and a buckskin gelding named Cece and Ticket. My neighbor Dan’s horses are a buckskin mare named Macy, a buckskin gelding named Lefty, a reddish gelding named Beau, and an old, black, gelding named Baker. Dan’s horses were already often at my fence and I’ve had plenty of opportunity to get to know them since I’ve moved in, but ever since Cece and Ticket arrived, now they’re at my fence even more often, being so attracted to the newcomers. So everyday I get to spend plenty of time with these six horses. I’ve already established an easy, comfortable, relationship with all of them and have learned a lot, but there is much more room to grow in this regard. As this blog unfolds I will share the many encounters I have with this equine gang of six and the impressions they make on me. I feel it’s worth pointing out, however, that I am asking nothing of these horses but communion and companionship. They are not my horses. It is not my job to correct their behaviors nor to train them, nor am not trying to ride them. I simply want to get to know them on their own terms, as they are, while fully respecting their free will.
Perhaps the experience of writing this blog over the next few months will also prepare me for owning horses of my own some day, which I do now dare to dream of and which I feel has become part of my destiny as an animal love and a Wyoming ranch owner. It will take a little while and I’m in no hurry. I need to start earning better after the professional hiatus I’ve taken over the past eighteen months, and I’ll need to build a small stable and invest in basic supplies from tack gear to feed and watering troughs as well. In the meantime I’ll be reading many books on horsemanship and horsecare, learning from locals, and most importantly, from Cece, Ticket, Macy, Lefty, Beau, and Baker.
As we grow older in life, alas, it seems we have fewer and fewer new experiences and less things to get excited about. Horses are entirely new to me and I’ve very excited to now dwell amongst them. I simply want to share this wonder and joy as it unfolds during the journey ahead. That is the purpose of this blog and I hope you enjoy it. Stay tuned!
For those of you who want the TLDR version, in short, I bought a 40 acre ranch in North Eastern Wyoming, right on the edge of the Black Hills, half an hour from Devil’s Tower. The ranch has no covenants, meaning I can do whatever I want, and it came with a modest manufactured home with an extension and a basement, a good well, electricity, and a septic system. Continued below pics…
After spending the month of March fishing in the Florida Everglades, I stopped back at my parent’s house in PA to get a few ducks in a row, and then headed out to the Black Hills of South Dakota. As soon as I arrived in the Black Hills I got snowed in high up on a mesa for a week, but luckily made it out before my propane ran out and my pipes froze. I spent the next couple months mostly camped out in the driveway of an old friend in Custer, SD while working with a realtor actively scoping out properties in the Black Hills area. I felt a real urgency to acquire property before the housing market and economy got any worse. Many people have been fleeing costal cities and seeking real estate in the wild and free states of the West, and I cannot deny that I am one of these. My plan was to start looking in the Black Hills, and if that didn’t work out, I’d move over to Wyoming and start looking. If that didn’t work out, I’d scope out Montana and Idaho. I knew it would be wise to acquire property while I still could, but I basically left it in God’s hands to help me find the right home. I was not let down, despite a trying and demoralizing start.
The housing market in the Black Hills of South Dakota was insultingly bad. My realtor confessed to me that the other realtors in the area had decided to “test the market” due to the influx of potential homebuyers by inflating home prices up to 60% above their actual value. In addition to this, no one was selling, and their was very slim pickings to be found. Rich people from out of state were constantly combing Zillow for their western dream homes, snapping up every decent property with cash buys, site unseen. The only properties I could afford were either small, exposed, tracts of land right on the roadside with no utilities, or shabby homes on quarter or half an acre. Nevertheless, I stuck it out for at least a month and kept searching, constantly being let down upon viewing the properties offered. In the meantime I had started looking on the Zillow app for properties across the border in Wyoming.
Things looked a lot more promising in Wyoming. There were more homes and tracts of land for sale, and the prices were reasonable if not cheap. I could have afforded parcels up to 150 or so acres, but none of them had utilities and I was very intimidated by the costs of building a home, drilling a well, installing a septic system, running electric lines, etc… Finally I found this 40 acre parcel in a ideal location with a modest home, no covenants, and all the utilities installed for what wouldn’t even buy a rundown townhome in the northern Virginia area. Not only could I afford it, but I’d have money left over for improvements and savings. I jumped on it, drove out on my motorcycle from Custer to view the property, had a quick powwow about it with my parents to receive their blessing, and then headed straight into the nearby town to find a realtor and make an offer. We offered $15k under the selling price and they accepted the offer.
Anyone who has ever bought a home can tell you how stressful the time between having the offer accepted and closing the deal can be. During the month it took to close, another buyer made a provisional offer for the place at full price, so the seller basically did everything she could to shake me off and have me back out of the deal. Yet everyone I talked to familiar with the local housing market agreed that I had scored a great deal, and that finding good tracts of land with no covenants and all the utilities installed was becoming very rare across the entire state. Compared to the inflated home values I had witnessed in South Dakota, this would have been a good buy even if the home was a pile of ashes.
To calm the anxiety of closing, I spent much of the month of June camping and fishing in the Bighorn Mountains of central Wyoming, one of my favorite places on Earth. That was about the only play time I’ve had all summer, being so focused on buying a home. The Bighorns are heaven on Earth, and it blows my mind that I now live only a short morning drive from them. To my great joy, finally the closing day came on July 1st, and despite all my worries and anxiety, I pulled into the driveway of my new ranch, keys in hand.
Almost immediately I flew back east to get the rest of my things from storage, and drove a uhaul truck back with a friend following me in my Toyota pickup. Since then I’ve been incredibly busy moving in and scurrying to fix up the place before the harsh winter sets in. They do have real winters here. Lots of snow and below zero temps. But that’s okay. I plan to be a reverse snowbird; instead of heading south in my van each winter, I will stay home and work hard on recording music, then spend my summers touring around the west in my van.
The house has needed a lot of work. I had a badly leaking roof, a broken but highly necessary water-softening system, a propane leak, damaged siding, a questionable old furnace, and several shoddy windows that need replaced. At first I found it very hard to find contractors out here to help me with all this, but to my great fortune, I finally found a new friend, JW, a very competent independent builder who seems to have mastered all aspects of home building and repair. He’s also a true Wyoming rancher and former rodeo competitor. He’s sort of taken me under his wing and has helped me get up to speed on many aspects of ranch life, and he even brought two of his horses to graze on my land until winter since the past couple years of drought have made good grass hard to come by.
Quite unexpectedly, horses have become one of the main themes of my life out here, and the center of much of my joy. The very first time I drove down my driveway with the keys in hand, the first thing I witnessed was my neighbor’s four horses galloping along my fence line. Fewer things are more beautiful than watching horses gallop across the rolling Wyoming prairie, and this moment sparked a new love in my heart and fascination with horses. Since that day, I’ve become very good friends with my neighbor’s horses. They are often at my fenceline, and we chat and nuzzle every day. Now I have two more horses on my property that I can spend time with whenever I want and even ride. These horses have only caused my neighbor’s horses to spend more time at my fence line, so now I basically have a tribe of horses I get to bond with daily. It’s a total game changer, and does so much for my peace of mind, groundedness, and wellbeing. I’ve never really had the opportunity to get to know horses in my lifetime. Where I lived in Loudoun County VA, horses seemed to be exclusively a luxury of the rich, and I guess I projected that association onto the horses themselves, seeing them as some sort of elitist, snobbish animal. It’s not like that out here at all. Everybody has horses. They are a constant part of the landscape, free ranging on vast tracts of prairie. So now I’ve finally had the opportunity to get to know horses intimately and spend time with them daily. What sweet, sensitive, and graceful beasts! It’s changed my life.
All in all, I am very happy out here. For the first time since leaving my boyhood home, I have finally found a true home, and I intend to live here for all the rest of my days. I really couldn’t ask for anything more. My property is a secluded, true slice of the wild, Wyoming, prairie, adjacent to the awe-inspiring and magical Black Hills. The more I contemplate this land, the more I realize it is like a living ocean. All day long, antelope come and go grazing across the rolling hills. These grasses and sinkholes contain so much life. There are coyotes, enormous jack rabbits, tame cottontails, porcupines, skunks, raptors, songbirds, rattlesnakes, and even the occasinal elk. I am never alone here, but part of a much greater family coexisting together. I am committed to keeping my land wild and pure. As much as I love guns, I won’t be shooting on my own land nor hunting. There’s a nearby gun range for that. I want to encourage wild animals to live on my land and feel safe here rather than scare them away. The only farming I’ll be doing will be contained to a hoophouse garden, gravity fed with collected rainwater. The only mark upon this land I’ve really made is a simple walking path around the mile-long perimeter. It is truly quiet here. My entire western horizon is absolutely unblemished by any sign of man apart from a cattle herd that comes and goes, making for perfect Wyoming sunsets every day. My entire county has zero traffic lights and zero traffic. I get along great with the locals; they are some of the most genuine, self-reliant, and sincere people I’ve met. And I have the entire Black Hills National forest at my disposal just across the main road and another section north of town. I live in the same state as Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, the Bighorns, the Wind River Range, and Devil’s Tower. This is truly God’s country, and I am grateful beyond all expression to be able to dwell here in simplicity and peace.
I plan to put up a yurt and a tipi in the northwest corner of my lot by next summer, as well as construct an outdoor kitchen and shower, and a composting toilet for guests. All my life I’ve wanted to acquire a little slice of wilderness to be able to provide a place of rest and retreat for world weary souls. I see this land as a gift from the universe, and I certainly intend to give back and share what I can. All my friends and good-hearted acquaintances will be welcome here, and will have a place to rest and decompress, to rediscover their center and connection with Nature.
Throughout the summer I did still manage to collect some excellent wildlife footage for future music videos. As soon as I get this house fixed up for winter, I may take another short van trip while the weather allows, but then I’m getting right to work on new creative content, new music and videos. Very soon, I also plan to start another blog project all about my discovery of and experiences with horses. Stay tuned! Stay in touch.
After 12 days of cold and solitude fasting my senses in the Badlands, I arrived at my friend “Ranger Rene’s” house in Custer, SD late Thursday afternoon. I went to highschool with Rene, she was a fellow deadhead and best friend of my highschool crush. She’s been living out here for twenty-some years working as a National Park ranger, and has worked at nearly every park in western South Dakota and eastern Wyoming. She and her boyfriend Chris are both avid climbers and cavers, and their house becomes somewhat of a flophouse for climbers and outdoor adventurers on the road throughout most of the season. So there are always plenty of interesting folks coming through, and over the years visiting out this way, I’ve made friends with quite a few of them.
When I arrived no on was home, so I took the opportunity to get a much-needed shower after seven days of no bathing, to do my pile of laundry, and to tidy up my van. Right as I finished up all that, Rene and Chris, their roomate Mordy, my new best bro Buckman rolled up the driveway, soon followed by two chill dudes Matt and Josh who I hadn’t met before. We fired up the grill and lit a fire in the fire pit on her back patio, and spent the rest of the evening drinking and dining, playing music, smoking funny cigarrettes, laughing and catching up on things. It was a great “homecoming” to an area I think might just be my home from here forward. I’ll be staying in the Black Hills for awhile looking at properties, while continuing to cherish the outdoors fishing and filming wildlife.
Near the end of the night my friend Buckman, a former park cop turned irie climbing guide at Devil’s Tower, asked me if I’d help out with a climbing guide certification test he was overseeing. I was to play the part of “client 1” and be led up two different routes in the spires near Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park by Chris as part of his climbing guide exam. For me, not being the most experienced climber, it was a wonderful opportunity to hang out with my friends and get a free climbing lesson covering all the basics. Everything went without a hitch and we enjoyed a blissful early afternoon hanging off rocks and goofing around in the wilderness. Buckman was plenty serious about the exam however, as well as Chris. All in all it was a great balance of work and fun.
On the way hiking out I saw a fisherman casting trout spinners into the lake and asked him if he’d been getting any bites. He enthusiastically responded, “Oh yeah! I’ve caught 15 so far.” How could I resist such good fishing?! When we got back to Rene’s I immediately grabbed my rod and jumped on my motorcycle heading back to the lake in hopes to catch dinner before we all headed out to a concert in town. The first fish I caught was the largest rainbow trout I’ve ever caught, and I caught three more good-sized rainbows in short order, keeping only the biggest two. I could have stayed there and fished till dark, but we had plans, so I cut it short and headed back to Rene’s with my trophy fish. I filleted and fried them with some potatoes and veggies and enjoyed my first fresh trout dinner of the season, providing Buckman with a dinner plate as well. Then onto the show!
There’s a fairly new theater in Custer called the Beacon, and they were kicking off their season with Jamal Crossland, a creative and gifted banjo picker, one of the better known contemporary musicians out of Wyoming. The show was nearly sold out, no one was wearing masks, and by the end of the night a whole lot of people were dancing and getting rowdy. We all got a little drunk and lit and had a blast. We brought a good-sized crew back to Rene’s for an afterparty where things got even sillier. We ended up having an “interpretive broom dancing” contest, which is pretty much just as it sounds. We did interpretive dancing to an odd selection of music while holding, balancing, and doing tricks with a broom. It was silly and raucous, and the perfect way to cap off my first full day in the Black Hills this year. I think I’ll stay awhile. It’s so beautiful here, rich with wildlife and wild people.
I’m currently writing this from a hot springs spa in the southern Hills, just having soaked in hot mineral baths. I’m gonna have another soak, smoke a spliff, do some yoga, and then head back out to Sylvan Lake to catch dinner. Life is good in the Black Hills.
I’ve really been enjoying searching for wildlife in the Badlands and shooting pics and filming footage. I’ve been getting some great footage which I’m saving to present in my next music video. Starting Thursday I’m gonna camp in my friends driveway for a few days and take advantage of her electricty and wifi to put the video together. Soon come! In the meantime enjoy these pics.
I had a wonderful day spending time with wildlife while shooting footage for my next music video, and I shot a few still pics while I was at it. I was super excited to get the coyote shots. They are more elusive than the other animals, seen more infrequently and usually at a great distance. I actually first encountered him as he ran up a distant hill but was unable to get my camera out in time. As I was riding my motorcycle back to camp, I passed along the other side of the hill and happened upon the same coyote, now out in a meadow chewing on a prairie dog. I wasn’t fast enough to film him eating but I did get some nice videos and these pics. Although it appears he is going for the magpies in the one pic, they were actually there for the remains of the prairie dog as he was just finishing his lunch.