Right now, my laptop wallpaper displays the silhouetted backs of four horsemen riding into what I can fairly safely assume is the sunset. It's an image from the documentary Unbranded, which I helped fund through Kickstarter a couple of years ago and have not yet settled down to watch since it came out this fall.
Despite that, I have a solid vision of the play of muscles beneath the tanned skin of the men's forearms as they handle the reins and the loose roll of their hips and shoulders as they adjust to the horses' steps. Saddle leather creaks and dances with the low drawl of comment-based conversation. The damp reek of warm horseflesh fills my nose and fading sunlight mixes with dust in the air.
In what seems like nearly a different lifetime, all of that was familiar. My grandfather had me riding at age 3 and bought me a stubborn and somewhat ornery pony named Little Bit when I was 4. Riding the fence line, cheering from the top row at the rodeo while balancing a fry bread taco on my lap, learning about the difference between ranchers and cowboys, admiring sagebrush and golden grass, and watching out for rattlesnakes. That was the real deal for me, and I miss it all: the places, the people, and the time.
Now, although I have a pair of Justin lacers in my closet and a straw cowboy hat hanging on the wall, I also have Al Jazeera queued up and three offices of the United Nations bookmarked on my computer. I'm as likely to wind up in Europe as in California. This year's marginal tan is fading as I go cross-eyed on books and articles about Serious And Important Things. And I'm occupied with marketing plans and technology companies on a daily basis. All of which fit just as well as my boots.
When it comes right down to it, though, I'm still that little girl in the golden west. I can sing you the Nevada state song and every verse of Waylon and Willie's "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys" (old faded Levis, children, puppies and all). There's something to be said for the values and the approach all that brings to a life. But maybe you just had to be there.