The Life We Choose

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Highway 200, a low-shouldered arrow across Montana has once again brought me to my other home.

Bismarck, North Dakota.

Where there is horizon as far as you can imagine and no mountains to be seen in any direction.

The trip is long but the company was perfect and the weather just right- not too hot, not too cold. The only potential glitch was the “sleeping” lady behind the wheel of her parked mini-van at the rest stop. She had her head back and her mouth gaping open, with the van still running.

Several of us rest-stoppers started to crowd around the van.

“Is she even alive?” one asked.

“I’m not sure,” my MD husband answered.

We continued to crowd. I was worried she would wake up and see us all standing around her, thinking it was a zombie apocalypse and end up dead from a heart attack.

“There- I saw her breathe,” Alistair told us and we all smiled at each other and went back to our own vehicles, to our own adventures, in our own directions.

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Some might say this is a dreary trip to make but I actually enjoy it. I like the sleepy little towns of Circle and Jordan, the section lines, the supposedly-decommissioned missile silos, the random farmhouses that appear after the next rise, and the way the prairies open up once you can no longer see the Rockies behind you.

I like this time of year- the tawney tan hues of yesteryear’s fields, the sagebrush and tumbleweeds amidst brown soil that has finally shed its winter jacket, and the odd blade or patch of green grass that is peeking through.

Grass that is reaching up to the sun for warmth, nourishment… love.

The landscape right now is dotted with cow/calf pairs- Angus, Charolais, Herefords, “Oreo Cookie” cows….

There are a lot of great cow vets out there but I’m not one of them. I like cows. I did do some bovine calls when I first worked as a vet in Bismarck.

I don’t think the cattle farmers thought much of me showing up in the wee hours to pull a calf wearing makeup and my pink Carharts. And my red rubber boots that have bumblebees on them.

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I tried to make the best of it but it wasn’t my thing.

Along the drive I got to watch antelope, sheep, horses and bison grazing in their wide open pastures. I watched farm dogs working with their farmers as we whizzed along highway 200, heading east as dark grey clouds headed north.

As always, I am spell-bound by the Badlands of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Along the Interstate is the south unit of the park where the buffalo roam and the deer & the antelope play. These rugged lands have been shaped over decades by the incredible forces of water and wind.

Lots of wind.

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Wind that blows incessantly on the prairies. Wind that almost has a personality- its like another friend when you live here. When it isn’t blowing, everyone notices it.

Your friend isn’t there.

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Its one of those friends you don’t always want to hang out with, but its still one of the constants of life out here.

Alistair lives and works here for half of every month before coming back to me and Montana to play for the other half.

We have a nice house here that we’ve lived in for about 15 years. Its not grand like our home in Montana but it has served us well.

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It is where our broodmares live and where their foals were born and raised.

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It is where Gareth came to spend his high school years with us.

Its where Whitney and Loki then joined us.

Its where I graduated with my Bachelor’s of Science and eventually recieved the news I was accepted into vet school.

Its where we climb on top of our roof to watch the fireworks on the 4th of July with whatever friends and family are here to join us.

Its where I last worked as a full time skating coach, prepping my kids for competition, choeographing fun routines and helping them prepare for their moment in the spotlight.

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Many of the furry Fyfes joined our family in our Bismarck home- Casey, Harry, Cleopatra, Mulder, Sport, Mouse, Georgia, Jockey and even Luigi.

So much is the same here- the expansive sky that we hot tub under at night sipping wine and scotch; the wooden stairs that Alistair nearly killed himself on 2 summers ago; the broodmares, with our arabians, Susie, Cocoa and petite Jessi, the former racehorse, Katie and reliable old Raven.

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But a lot has changed in the 7 years I haven’t lived here.

We’re getting new neighbors again.

Four farms, all on 40 acres were all that was here when we came to town in the late ’90s. A few of us had kids who grew up together. We all helped each other put square bales up and into our barns. I’ve doctored a few pets and even said goodbye to 2 of our neighbors’ horses.

And now new folks are coming.

And the growth in Bismarck is unbelievable. You’d have to be a fool to not get work here. Every restaurant, hotel and business is hiring, with flashy billboards and fluorescent letters advertising their $12.40/hr starting wages and excellent benefits.

And my mares, Shadow, Willow, and Daisy aren’t here.

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And there are no barn cats greeting me as I swipe at cobwebs when I climb up on the hay bales in our barn.

And one of the young neighbors who grew up with my stepkids is no longer part of the neighborhood- she was one of the ones who joined us on the rooftop. And in the hot tub.

And we are all getting older and more grey and now my North Dakota dentist tells me I need 2 crowns.

Crowns! I’m only 41!

Many things have changed in my home on the prairies.

I am enjoying the new restaurants and the happy feeling of being surrounded by people who have work. I am enjoying seeing my brother-in-law and other good friends & their pets. I have enjoyed the first set of new neighbors and met the ones who will replace them just today.

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I am hopeful that many of our animal companions will journey with me back here when I need to handle these thankfully-painless dental issues. I hope that Loki and Casey will see the farm again, if only to sniff where they used to piddle and rub muzzles with the horses who like them.

I am a lucky woman who has the opportunity to know two very different lives. We choose this life because we aren’t quite ready to give either of them up- the employment and our land vs. the majestic mountains and our relaxation.

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Breathing in the scent of sweet grass and alfalfa vs the pine trees that fill the air in western Montana.

Maybe someday it won’t be like this but for now we will appreciate what we do have, where we have it, and who we share it with.

With all that changes and all that remains the same.

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6 thoughts on “The Life We Choose

  1. Cindy

    As always you make me smile when I read your story. To have the best of both worlds is wonderful and to really know that is the case is even better. Some days we take things for granted and really we should just enjoy each and every minute!!

  2. kathy graham

    Thanks Tanya lovely hearing about Dakota life and your sharing the photos.Felt like I was on the trip with you! I get how difficult it must be to be away from there.It sounds like Heaven too just like our Montana paradise.Nice you can hang on to both worlds!

    • Thank-you, Kathy. There was one extremely windy day (which is saying something in ND!) and that always makes me appreciate our mountains in MT a bit more. 🙂 Makes it easier to leave the prairies but not leave Alistair there.

  3. Sue Mohr

    You are a born writer, Tanya. This brought back memories of when we visited with you in that home in South Dakota, with our dog, Padre, and how Casey licked him almost to death, and the memory of your tour of the Badlands. It was summer and really nice and best of all was spending time with you guys.

    • Thanks so much, Sue. Yes, our trip through the Badlands together, watching the wild horses was pretty special. Casey will stilk lick anyone or any dog almost to death. 🙂

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