Aunt Fran's Ranch

I was eight years old in the summer of ‘07. My family took a trip to visit my Aunt Fran’s ranch  in Medora, North Dakota.  I had never been there before, and I was excited to go. Playing at home everyday that summer had grown boring; I was ready for something new.


We traveled a long way to get to the ranch.  We finally came upon a long red dirt driveway that led down to the ranch and opened up into a small valley. A wave of excitement ran through my body coming down that hill and seeing the ranch. I could see the whole ranch, but I still had much more to uncover.


On one side of the driveway sat an old, small, log cabin that was built in the pioneer days. Two hammocks hung under the overhang out front, and were surrounded by bushes and flowers. On the other side of the driveway, a barn sat with a rickety, wooden outhouse next to it. Wooden stables stood on the other side of the barn. A fence ran along the outside of the cabin, barn, and stable. However, it didn’t enclose anything; the cows roamed freely around the vast property. On both sides of the cabin, rolling hills rose up, and a swampy stream barely trickled in front of sandstone cliffs that stood mysteriously along the skyline.


I stepped out of the car to find that the hot sun blazed overhead, with not a cloud in the sky.  Nonetheless, my toes itched to start exploring. Before I could, Aunt Fran came out to welcome us.  She wore a salmon colored buttoned up shirt tucked into her worn Levi jeans. She had her glasses on with her bolo tie around her neck and cowboy boots on her feet.


“Hey ya’ll,” was her greeting; she was a real cowgirl that one.


Aunt Fran ran a bed and breakfast from her ranch, so she had a few extra rooms for us to stay in. She led us to the cabin, and showed us where we could put our things. I stepped into the small cabin expecting a refreshing blast of cold air that one would normally find at a bed and breakfast. I was surprised to find that there was no a.c. Not fretting too much about that I moved into the cabin to see the kitchen, dining room, and living room were all combined together in the same room.  The kitchen was small and the dining area consisted of a single table with four chairs and a bench. The living room held a small couch and a chair. old black and white photos of rodeo scenes and cowboys covered the walls. It smelled slightly musty, but mainly of maple syrup, and I instantly felt at home in the quaint cabin.


I walked back outside and stared straight ahead at the sandstone cliffs. There was something about them that I couldn’t quite place, that drew me to them. I didn’t want to explore them right away, because I didn’t want to start to climb them only to find that I would fail. Instead I turned to the barn where Aunt Fran had mentioned that there were seven little kittens.  I played with each one until  my mom came and told me to give them a  break.


“Fine,” I whined, “I’ll go look around some more.”


“All right just watch for rattlesnakes,” my mom warned.


I walked back out of the barn and into the sun and dry air. The sound of weeds, rustling in the breeze, wrapped around me like a warm blanket.  Again, I glanced over at the cliffs wondering why they mesmerized me so much. I still didn’t feel ready to take them on, so I walked instead over to the horses.


Of the two horses in the stable, only one of the them  was especially friendly and liked attention. I later learned his name was Lucky Bucks. I had never been around horses before, and  it was new and exhilarating to be by one. Lucky Bucks seemed like a good companion and I felt envious of Aunt Fran for having him. I decided that when I got home I would ask my parents for my own horse. After a while, Lucky Bucks started growing tired of me and he wandered away to find something new. I decided that I would do the same thing.


I looked over at the cliffs, yet again, and that time I was ready to go and explore them. Even though I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to climb them I knew I had to try. My whole life I had been so dependent on my family and friends. I never did things alone, I always needed someone’s help, because I didn’t trust myself . Whether it was getting an idea for a project or deciding what game to play, I always wanted the reassurance of someone else. That time was going to be different.


I would not be scared that I would fail.


I walked the short distance to the mushy stream. I can do this I thought. I needed my own reassurance this time, not someone else’s. That place was something completely new to me, something I had only read about in books. It was an adventure, but it also made me nervous. What would happen if I got lost? Or what if I encountered a rattlesnake like my mom had said? I needed to do it though, I had to accomplish something on my own. I had to discover what was on the other side of the stream. I couldn’t fail.


I eyed it up, making my game plan. The stream was maybe four of my strides in width. I started looking for the spots of ground that were sticking up from the stream, and planned which ones I would put my feet on to make it across. I took the first step. Almost immediately, my foot sunk into the muck.  Startled, I quickly jumped back. This must be quicksand I’m dealing with, was the first  thought that ran through my over- exaggerating young mind. It was harder than I thought to cross the stream. I had to be quick, like running on hot lava. I took the first step once again, and then the next and the next, I practically sprinted across the stream.


The adrenaline that I had slowly left my body. I stared back at the stream with a feeling of triumph.  I turned away from the stream to look up at the cliffs. I would have to come up with another game plan to conquer them. With my new confidence, I started off through the thick, pokey underbrush, at the base of the cliffs. There was only a slight incline at this part and other than the brush, it was easy to accomplish. Once I was through the brush, I started making my way slowly up the winding paths to the top of the cliff. I didn’t end up making it very far. There was a ledge on the middle of the cliff that jutted out, and there were no more paths to continue up. I walked out onto the ledge. I looked down and could see everyone back at the cabin. I shouted and waved at them, and they waved back.


I was relaxed, sitting there at the top of the cliff. I ran my fingers along side of me. The sandstone left a dusty residue on them. I brushed it off, leaving my childhood that had been filled with self-consciousness behind me. I had done it. I had conquered the quicksand stream, and the thick spiky underbrush I tried something new and it paid off.  Nothing could beat the feeling that I had in that moment. I felt invincible, and I would have been content sitting there for awhile if it weren’t for the flies. They were everywhere out there and their bites hurt. When I finally couldn’t stand them anymore, I decided to head back. Before I left, I  carved my name into the sandstone as proof that I was there and also, as a way to always have a piece of myself on that cliff.


I walked back down the cliff with my head held high. I encountered the stream once again, but this time I wasn’t scared of it. I knew that I could cross it. It was just a little mud mixed with water after all. I made my way back across the stream deliberately slow,  proving to myself that I was being silly before. After I crossed the stream I looked back, and let out a small chuckle when I thought about what I looked like the first time I crossed the stream.


Back in front of the cabin, I turned back to the cliff. That moment that I had made it to the ledge was liberating. By conquering the cliff, I had also conquered my fear. I was no longer afraid of failing or letting myself down. I had gained a new confidence that would change me forever. I would never forget that moment on the cliff.
That night as I layed in bed, I reflected on my day. I felt the sting on my legs from where the underbrush had scratched me, but it was a welcome reminder of what I had accomplished earlier. The room was hot, and I was too consumed with thoughts to sleep quite so soon. My mind wandered back to the cliff, to the solid rock below my feet, and the soft breeze blowing against my face.  Eventually, my thoughts turned into dreams. I woke up the next morning to the smell of pancakes and maple syrup. I sat up ready to see what this new day would bring.






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