A RANCHER AT HEART
by Debra Salonen
Many thanks to Pistols and Petticoats for welcoming me to this wonderful community today!
I love characters–and people–who pretend to be realists but deep down they’ve never let go of the dream. I believe that brand of tenaciousness is what settled the west. And nobody illustrates that Oh-hell-no! spirit better than a rancher.
Doesn’t matter if he/she has ten acres or ten thousand, a rancher’s reality is tedium, back-breaking work, worry over ornery beasts determined to get into trouble when you can least afford a vet bill, and then you get to do the same thing all over again the next day. And the next.
Although I was born and raised in a college town in eastern South Dakota, I’ve known many ranchers. The first–my uncle, J.W. “Jiggs” Thompson–captured my heart as a child and continued to be a hero of mine until the day he died.
Uncle Jiggs truly was one of those larger-than-life men who rode hard, lived large and created lasting memories in the lives of the people who loved him. A Lakota Sioux born on a reservation beside the Missouri River, Jiggs was pulled from his family’s arms as a young boy to attend “white” school. Smart, clever and ambitious, he figured out how to succeed in the face of the many obstacles set before him. War took him to the South Pacific, but it couldn’t stop him from returning to the arms of the love his life, my father’s sister, Helen Robson Thompson.
As a child, I should have been terrified of this giant of a man whose booming voice and commanding nature was so different from the people back home in Brookings. But, I wasn’t. Jiggs loved kids, and he opened his arms and heart in a way that made me feel protected and safe.
I’ve always equated that nurturing quality with the ranching way of life.
I have a neighbor who lives on a five-acre parcel in the foothills of the Sierra, along with four horses, three dogs and two kids. And an understanding wife. This man is not a rancher in the classic sense of the word, but he embodies the rancher spirit in the way he cares for his animals, teaches his children through example, hard work and fun, and shares his love of the western way of life with others. This generous spirit came through loud and clear in the grins on the faces of the children who got their first horseback ride at our fall festival.
As you may have guessed, I revere the ranching spirit and I’m always delighted when a character with this sort of mettle shows up. Gage Monroe, the hero of my Tule Publishing holiday release, MONTANA MIRACLE, was raised on a ranch in Montana’s Paradise Valley. Not a big ranch, but big enough to feel a deep abiding connection to the land and the few head of cattle his father ran. But circumstance took Gage away from his family’s homestead for many years. He returned to Montana with the sole intention of ridding himself of this last–now, greatly diminished–lodestone, so he could start a new life–footloose and responsibility-free–somewhere warm. Unfortunately, he discovers the last renters left behind a horrific mess, which includes two ancient draft horses and a donkey.
A lesser man might have walked away. But not Gage. He does what needs to be done. And when a stray dog shows up, Gage makes room in his heart for another castaway. And some barn cats. And a woman who recognizes Gage for the man he is–a rancher who lost his way but not his rancher spirit.
MONTANA MIRACLE is available on all formats here.
I love and admire the sort of hero who puts the care and welfare of animals at the top of his Must-Do list. Every Christmas, you hear about people who give pets as gifts, only to have that adorable puppy/kitten grow up to be a dog/cat that doesn’t fit the harsh reality of the family’s circumstances. Shelters will feel this impact a few months down the road. So, instead of a traditional sort of prize today, I’d like to make a $25 donation to the animal shelter of the winner’s choice. I like to think that by helping animals in need, I’m channeling my inner rancher. Or if the winner prefers, I will send her a copy of one of my previous anthologies (US residents only). To be entered in the drawing, please tell me the name of your favorite rancher–real life human being or book hero/heroine.
Have a beautiful, blessed holiday, my friends! And happy reading in the New Year.