Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Accidental Cowgirl Mary Lynn Archibald

Big happenings going on at the Hall of Fame today! Mary Lynn Archibald is dropping in with her book Accidental Cowgirl: Six Cows, No Horse and No Clue on her WOW! Blog Book tour.

As it also happens, a couple of roofers dropped in today to work, so I hope you'll excuse a couple of bang bangs here and a bang bang there. If you'd read Mary Lynn's funny memoir about her experience living at Twin Creeks Ranch, you'd laugh at this coincidence. 'Cause if there's anything I learned from reading Accidental Cowgirl, it's that it's always something. But I should let Mary Lynn tell you more...

New challenges can actually keep you youthful, but I was unaware of that when my husband and I found ourselves living on 120 acres of amazing steep land in a remote forest in Trinity County, California, trying to raise cattle.

Actually when we saw a gorgeous meadow with pretty white and caramel colored cows meandering through, it never occurred to us somehow what was involved in keeping it that way.

What we saw was a magnificent view, acres of streams, two burbling streams (with waterfalls) and a lovely two acre pond in which we would swim and laze on all the wonderful relaxed days we intended to spend at our wonderful country retreat.

Little did we know that we were poised to enter a whole new, strange and wonderful period of our lives, and an almost mystical connection with the land. Twin Creeks Ranch. Our own private Shangri-La.

It turned out that the cows we had seen went with the place. Who knew? Indeed, who knew anything about cows? Not these two fifty-something suburbanites. The whole experience was so unique and fascinating that I faithfully kept a journal the whole time we were there. I knew nobody would believe me otherwise.

We soldiered on for twelve years at the ranch, doing the best we knew how (which wasn't much) for a herd of cows we grew to love; a herd that grew from six to nearly thirty. I should mention that these were beef cattle, so the object is to raise them and then to sell them-something we found difficult to do. Ours were Polled Herefords, which most any rancher will tell you, have the sweetest nature of any cow there is.

They were sweet. We named every one: Peaches, Paco, Pansy, Curly, Hortense, Hamburger, and so on. That turned out to be a mistake as you can imagine.

They became our largest pets and our biggest worry. And then there were few other things to worry about: the flower garden; the orchard; the two ranch cats we'd inherited that, according to the previous owners, had spent their whole lives on the ranch and couldn't be moved, and the half-acre vegetable garden. Add to this that we had a four hour commute each way from home to retreat, and our retreat quickly became our home.

We were challenged, all right. We were also tired. I can't say our "Fountain of Youth" ran over, but I do know I got in a lot better shape, charging up and downhill from the house to the barn, from the barn to the pond, from the pond another half-mile to the neighbor's fence, in search of wayward cows.

The folks who owned the porperty before us, a sweet couple in their 70's who loved the animals and land as much as we did, looked fit but weary. My predecessor swore that her doctor said she had the heart of one much younger, due to altitude (2500-3000 feet) and exercise (see above). She seemed youthful and happy.

But then, she was leaving.

Mary Lynn writes about her life on the ranch with humor and pluck, but she also writes about tons of stuff that's so foreign to this Georgia gal that I was simply fascinated, page after page. I learned quite a bit about that area of our country, and quite a bit more about cows. Which may not sound exactly riveting, but honestly, I couldn't put her memoir down. Maybe because I sat there thinking, Hmmm. I'm about the same age as Mary Lynn was when she started her adventure on the ranch. And mowing the lawn is kind of an adventure for me.

Oh, I also asked Mary Lynn a writer-ly question, for those of you considering your own memoir-writing. I wanted to know how she fleshed out her book, and how she remembered those (Ker-plunk! Falling roof debris-hold on a sec-) days so well. As you read, she kept a journal. But she also researched Trinity County, with the added good fortune of having access to many first-hand accounts from local historians (from the 1960's). Mary Lynn wrote that "it really helped me in writing the historical background of the memoir, and in addition it helped me understand something about the personalities of the people who originally settled the place."
You've got to be tough, to embrace that kind of living, says Mary Lynn. As one mountain woman told her, "When the power goes out around here, we don't get upset. We just open another bottle of wine and wait till it comes on again."

And that pretty much sums it up, says Mary Lynn. But if you ask me, there's much more. So you'll want to check out her memoir, Accidental Cowgirl, here. Or snoop around where Mary Lynn Archibald blogs here or where she talks business here.

Or you know what? (Dril-l-l-l-l! Sheesh-I can't think!) Read her book for an inside view of ranching, cows, and wine. I'm giving it away to one lucky commenter. So leave a thought or two, and your email, if I don't have it. I'll draw a name on Friday (when the gutter guys are here , banging away).