When spring works leaves a cowboy’s wife home alone with the kids, she takes on ambitious home-improvement projects.

My husband, Jim, recently loaded up his horses, saddle and bed roll to day-work for a not-so-local ranch during the spring works. In his absence, I’ve assumed all the manly duties around the house, such as placing empty milk jugs in the refrigerator and leaving my dirty socks in the middle of the bedroom floor.

I also decided to try some home improvement projects, since we are first-time homeowners who recently relocated from a remote ranch to a small place several miles from town. My work crew consists of a 6-year-old, a 3-year-old and a teething baby. So far, I have demolished part of the yard fence, broken a leg off the kitchen table, and spray painted the baby. This is not surprising, because I am barely qualified to operate a screwdriver. Uses include removing the lint trap from the dryer and taking apart doorknobs I don’t know how to reassemble.

Since I am left unsupervised with a work bench full of real tools that plug into the wall and make cool sounds, I picked up the power drill and replaced the old mini blinds with new window treatments. I’m sure Jim will be impressed when he sees them. It takes true talent to completely strip 6 screws while hanging a two-bracket curtain rod.

little cowboy roping dummy by a cedar stay fence
A cedar stay fence provides a nice backdrop for a budding roper.

Backed by zero evidence to support my reasoning, I decided to increase the difficulty of my home-improvement projects by replacing a large section of deteriorating fence in the front yard. I woke up one morning, put on my work gloves, strapped a 20-pound infant to my chest, and repeatedly heaved a digging bar into the ground. Because thanks to modern feminism, I now have the ability to make such foolish decisions.

After sweating and straining all morning to produce only two shallow post holes, I realized the rest of the fence actually looked super straight. To reset any additional posts would not only be unnecessary, it would constitute a gross waste of valuable natural resources. For the sake of our environment and to protect the world we leave our children—and grandchildren—I took off my gloves and leaned the digging bar against the fence.

Then I went into the house and had a heat stroke.

When Jim returned from camp, he complimented my fence building project.

“You did a great job, honey,” he said. “But why are those two posts taller than the rest?”

“Because that’s as deep as I could dig the post holes. Can’t we just take a chain saw and top them to match?”

“Sure, that is one fence-building method,” he said. “You just don’t see it too often on a white picket fence. That’s more what you do when using cedar stays to build a night lot at cow camp.”

“Then let’s go back to cow camp,” I said. “I don’t need a picket fence for the yard. I don’t even need a yard. I miss the Hereford bull that came through the gate every night to eat leaves from the tree by our bedroom window.”

“Then pack a suitcase for you and the kids, grab a box of diapers, and come visit me at camp for the weekend,” Jim said.

And we did! Check back next month for the full story.

it's cool to be cowboy


After growing up in a ranching region of northern California, Jolyn Young moved to Elko, Nevada, in her early 20s to work on a local ranch. While helping some neighbors move cattle one day, she met a tall, partially civilized cowboy named Jim. He told her stories about starting 5-year-olds at the Spanish Ranch and roping horses in Owyhee on the Indian reservation. By the time Jim picked Jolyn up for their first date in a ‘92 single cab Ford, she was smitten. The two were married just before the birth of their first baby. Since then, Jolyn has accompanied Jim on a working tour of several ranches in the American West. So far, they have lived in Nevada, Arizona and Oregon. She is convinced that each time they move, he takes it as a personal challenge to move her farther from town. Jolyn now regards cell phone service as a luxury, and she isn’t afraid to build a fire in the front yard to cook hamburger goulash and a loaf of bread. The life of a cowboy’s wife is always challenging and often isolating, but it is never boring. Finding the humor in the hardships can lessen the struggle, and that is what Jolyn strives to share with others through her writing. She and Jim currently live at Mann Lake Ranch in eastern Oregon with their three kids, Grace, Milo and Levi. They have since upgraded from the ‘92 Ford.

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