Category Archives: The Cowgirl and the Contadina

These are stories from letters written in 1995 between Diane on a Montana cattle ranch and Joanna in a small village outside of Spoleto, Italy in the province of Umbria. Diane and Joanna had been movie and television talent agents representing such actors as Julianne Moore, Emma Thompson, Christian Bale, Stanley Tucci and the comedian Lewis Black. Both jumped ship, skedaddled, flew the coop and escaped to the country. Joanna may have gone farther miles wise, but psychically Diane was on another planet. Joanna could get to Rome in an hour and a half by train. Diane could maybe get to a Costco in that time and only when the roads were good.

News From the Saloon – Bang for Your Buck

The bar has been rather quiet lately.  There weren’t as many Christmas parties as in the past.  Not as many people bellied up to the bar.  It’s always a little quieter after the end of the main hunting season that ends at Thanksgiving.  Not as many strangers dressed in camouflage, their orange heads bobbing as they  exchange stories of bagging that elk.  For that I am always thankful at Thanksgiving.  I am thankful that my neighbors have meat in their freezer for the year, yes.  But I am also  thankful that it is the end of dead animals on hoods of trucks season.

And now we have settled in for winter with mostly locals and the occasional travelers on their way across the state on I-90.  They mostly have tales of snow and woe.  There is still talk of hunting but it has to do with what the hunter got for Christmas.  This year’s present seems to be an electronic animal distress call.  And a young man at the bar had just received one.  What in the world was that, I asked.

“Well, it mimics an animal in distress like a rabbit so the coyote or wolf will  come to it and you can get your shot,” the young man replied.

The young woman with him remarked, “He can make all the sounds himself, so he doesn’t really need one.  His sounds are better than the recordings and, yes, quite distressful.”

“I learned those calls when I was a little guy watching the hunting shows on TV, ” he added.  “My mom would just shake her head as I did my best one, the dying rabbit.”

Now I was under the impression that most youngsters were forced to watch Sesame Street with Miss Piggy or cartoons about rascally rabbits.  Instead  I find out that there are little boys out there mastering the fine art of imitating dying bunnies and ‘lil Miss Piggy squeals.  Indeed, life is strange.  But having just see the magnificent “Life of Pi” by director Ang Lee, I’m not sure there is a right or wrong way of explaining the food chain to a kid. Sesame Street or Outdoor Living?  Whose to say?

So this is where the tale gets even stranger for me.  The young man said that he couldn’t really use his present much in Montana as they have rules about such things.  You can’t use electronic devices to lure or bait your prey.

Okay, I don’t hunt.  My sister does.  My uncles did.  My husband used to but hasn’t in 20 years.  He is a rancher and only uses his gun to shoot coyotes that come near his cows and calves.  So I don’t know much about it and usually only half listen to these hunting conversations which I find as tedious as they might find my conversations about life expectancies in the industrialized nations.

So I asked, “I don’t understand. What’s the difference between you making a distressed “lil piggy” and a gizmo doing it?”

“I guess it’s not fair,” he shrugged.  And this, by and large, was the answer I got from about a half dozen people I asked over the course of the next two days.

“Not fair?  Not fair?” I declared each time.  “You are going off to kill something.  I don’t get it.  What difference does it make how you do it? Why are there all these rules?  I get that there is a quota.  I get that hunters are used to thin the herds since there is very little feed around and it is better than having them starve.  Okay.  I get not shooting near a house.  I get asking permission of a rancher to come on his place.  But what is this “not fair” stuff?  It’s not like the deer and the hunter meet at the center of the field and agree on a set of rules and shake paws or hooves or hands and go back to their respective corners waiting for the gong to sound.  The deer and coyotes are not part of this deal.  They did not even designate representatives in the capital to speak on their behalf in making these rules.   I don’t get why it’s a sport at all, I guess.   Is this how an idea like “The Hunger Games” begins? Somebody decides who is predator and who is prey and what’s “fair”?”

The young couple were polite as I finished my rant.  They had no answers for me.

The next day I was having my nails done and I asked the question at the salon.

“Angie, come over here,” Melissa said.  “You hunt.  Why are there these rules about electronic animal sounds?”

“Well, you can’t bait them.  You can’t use a bucket of guts and you can’t use electronic calls.  It’s not fair, I guess, ” she replied.

“But what is all this “fair” stuff?” I repeated.

“Well, if you break the rules you have to pay a fine.  Maybe it’s a way of collecting money,” she pondered.

Okay, that’s an idea I can wrap my head around.  That might be a rationale for those rules.  Maybe it’s the only way a state can figure out revenue.  But there is something more.  Something deeper. The underlying idea is that hunting has come to be viewed as a sport and not something of a necessity.  And “sport” is an idea that has been around for thousands of years.  “Sport” is what keeps the plebes occupied while the elites steal everything in sight.  The elites have always resorted to “bread and circuses” to keep the rabble from cutting off their heads.  Until one day it stops working.  And that’s when the prey becomes the predator.  It is forever thus.

“Sooie!”

My Husband is Mad About Jill Stein…and Gary Johnson

He met me last night at our local watering hole and said, “I can’t stop thinking about what you said about that doctor and the other guy not being in the debates.  Who decides these things?” Continue reading

News from the Saloon: Gold Medal Costs You $9000 and other Yahoos

After a long and frustrating day of baling hay (too wet, too dry), my husband goes to town for some beers.  There he usually runs into an assortment of fellows who will invariably give him the latest shocking examples of evil government doings gleaned from somewhere in the Fat Cat News.

“The IRS is gonna charge our athletes $9000 for winning a gold medal!” a wizened fellow exclaims.

“That ain’t right.  Gud dam gubmint ” grumbles a guy in a green cap as he slams his beer glass down on the bar,  “Why they are fighting for us over there.”

“Get the ropes!  String ’em up”, two more guys yell out as the crowd now becomes tense and restless, grumbling about lack of good swinging trees because of the gd tree huggers. Continue reading

Boat Riders and Book Writers – Updated With Better Video

One of Gary Larson’s cartoons that has lingered with me over the years is the one where a small wooden shed sits in the middle of a construction site with a big mound of dirt.  Above the shed is the sign “Fred’s Fill Dirt and Croissants”.   I love it because it appeals to my love of contrasts and supposed contradictions.  It is also the story of my life.  Granddaughter of rich people from Philadelphia who made their fortune in bobby pins and hair nets and the granddaughter of a failed farmer who ended up on the Ford assembly line.  Trained to teach lofty subjects to college kids, but happier doing pratfalls in French farces in Off Off Broadway theaters.   Now living on a cattle ranch going to boat floats and book readings in one week.

“BOAT FLOOOAT! BOAT FLOOOOAT!”, the guys on shore yelled out to a river raft filled with pirate hatted young men. Continue reading

Tupperware and Condoms

In rural America, it can get really lonely especially for women. (Men have to “go to town” a lot for “supplies”.) So for some quick socializing lest you start talking to your dog a little too much and too loudly, you go to a hostess party when invited. What I discovered out here in Montana was that working and ranch women tended towards product selling parties such as Scentsy Candles, Norwest cleaning supplies, or the old standby, Tupperware just to have an excuse to get out of the house. The more, shall we say, upscale and college-educated women  tended to host luncheons for worthy causes. Not saying it’s strictly a money thing, but it mostly holds true that working women can’t get away during the work week to go to a Planned Parenthood luncheon and my college educated middle class crowd are not going to sit around discussing how to make a Scentsy bar of soap last longer. They can afford expensive soaps and so they spend their free time raising money. That’s just reality and not snobbery. And it turns out that the more “high class” luncheons come with a price. Continue reading

Chores

Newt Gingrich suggested that perhaps a good idea for poor highschoolers would be to work as the janitors in their high school in their off hours which would “be a way to instill a work ethic while also saving money”. A lot of liberals jumped on him for this screaming, “That’s an awful idea.  That is child labor and it’s racist to boot.”

Well, it sounds racist.  But most of all it sounds stupid and way out of touch with the lives of regular Americans.  So it’s not only racist, but it’s elitist.

What, pray tell,  are the janitors going to do when there job is taken over by teenagers?  Does Newt propose having the janitors teach? Maybe they will take on administrative duties? (Actually not bad ideas).  Did Newt think for a moment that real people are janitors. And janitors earn their wages. They are good at their jobs and probably proud of their work.  “Custodial engineers” are responsible for “making minor repairs to the steam plant, heating equipment, electrical equipment, plumbing…” according to PolitiFact.com.   (Do you want to have students working on boilers?)

Hey, people, janitors fix things not blather on about nonsensical ideas about what could be done to improve the lives of poor children.

Also, there is nothing wrong with kids doing chores.  In the one room school my husband went to they had a hot lunch and then they all did the dishes.  I used to clean the teachers’ coffee cups after their coffee break.  I was soooo relieved to be out of class for a half an hour.  It was fun.

My father ran a school for the handicapped.  He was an early pioneer in special education.  Everybody had chores including the physically handicapped.  Deaf dormitory students Richard and Cheryl helped my grandmother cook the evening meal and then do the dishes, just like a family would do.  David who had little use of his arms or legs could fold the napkins with his chin.  Older children helped the younger ones to bed.

On the ranch or farm, children fed the chickens, the pigs, and the bum lambs.  They helped with haying.  These are all called “chores”.  The difference between chores and child labor is how long the chores last.  If you send a kid down a mine shaft and they labor for 10 hours, that’s abuse.  If a kid has to do an hour of mowing or washing the car, that’s chores.

And taking a job away from a capable hard working adult is just stupid and not the way to help poor children have a better education and a better life.

Note to politicians: I got this insight from a manicurist who was appalled that this politician would suggest taking a good paying job away from an adult and give it to a 14 year old because all it was was cleaning toilets.  “No clue,” she said.

Food Fight

I’m reading Tom McNamee’s succulent, savory and savvy book on Alice Waters.  It’s called “Alice Waters and  Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution.”  Berkeley, California in the 1970s is certainly trippy.

Throughout the book, the narrative will be interrupted by Alice Waters giving a detailed description of how to cook a dish.  After reading about how to make the perfect omelet, I had to try it myself.  (I have to work on flipping it over in the air).  Having hard boiled eggs around also turned out to be a simple way to start the day.  Her search for the perfect lettuce and the perfect peach had me combing my local farmers’ market pretending to be a forager from Chez Panisse.  I brought the peach to my nose and inhaled.  I cradled the beautiful head of lettuce and pictured it on my table. I sniffed and caressed.

Lettuce

For many people, these are hard times.  So talking about good food may seem callous and a bit hippy dippy.  But that’s not why I’m recommending this book.  What we eat is something we have some control over.  We can eat simply and healthy.  And people on food stamps can buy produce from farmers’ markets instead of filling up on processed cheese.  I was at a farmers’ market in Livingston, Montana.  The couple ahead of me were buying some nice potatoes, lettuce, and radishes.  They used food stamps.

Radishes on Lace

Something else that I do to ward off the evil spirits of doom and gloom is to get out an old lace tablecloth and serve my radishes on a nice china plate.  A little elegance on the frontier is what ranch wives often tried to do in the face of dust and dirt.  And I continue the tradition.

When I moved here 18 years ago from NYC and LA, there were few farmers’ markets.  Oddly, I had been spoiled by living in those big cities.  They had fabulous farmers’ markets.  New Jersey is not called the Garden State for nothing. But Montana imported 80% of its food.  Also I discovered that people here did have vegetable gardens but they traded with their friends but didn’t sell the fresh produce.  Thanks to local women, we got our own farmers’ market.  And the ones in the larger towns have grown and become increasingly sophisticated in their consciousness of flavor and organic ways of growing things.  It took me years, but I finally convinced my rancher husband to stop grain feeding his steers and go grass fed.

I thank you Alice Waters for your pioneering spirit and pushing farm to restaurant and schoolyard gardens.  Yes, you can be a pioneer in Berkeley and you can lead a revolution with a spatula and a iron skillet.