Adjusting to life closer to town means less varmints and more Internet.

My husband, Jim, and I recently relocated our family to rural Nevada, where we bought our first home. Jim claims he has been a homeowner since he left home to cowboy at age 17, but I told him a canvas range tipi didn’t count.

“Why not?” he asked. “It had a floor, a roof, and a door, just like any other home.”

“Yeah, but the door had a zipper and the whole thing came with a carrying case. Now, we have a street number and house keys.”

girl with baseball cap and pink rifle gun
Grace takes “stranger danger” to another level.

This is our first set of actual house keys, since we have spent the entirety of our nearly 7-year marriage living on remote cattle ranches where locked doors were unnecessary. We now live on a handful of acres with visible neighbors, which to townies may seem like a lot of land, but to us it’s on the small side.

Because we can see other houses from our porch, I warned our 6-year-old daughter about the dangers of talking to strangers. She took my speech so seriously that she now refuses to cross the porch without an armed escort. The child is even reluctant to complete routine household chores unaccompanied by a trusted adult.

“Grace, will you feed the dog?” I asked her one evening.

“Will you come with me?”

“No. Her food bowl is 2 feet behind you.”

“That’s too far. Quick, get the gun!”

“For the dog?”

“No, a car just drove by!”

I quickly dumped some kibble into the bowl and threw a Snickers bar at my daughter before she could grab her pink .22 from the gun rack. I had a hunch that our small child shooting the tires of a passing Ford would hinder our efforts to assimilate into the community.

And I was eager to adapt and re-learn the ways of civilized people. After several years of living two hours from the nearest town, I was a little out of practice, though. To help his remote ranch wife blend into the new neighborhood, Jim politely suggested I refrain from building a fire in the front yard and cooking dinner.

“Why not?” I asked. “Outdoor cooking is actually quite trendy. Lots of people cook over an open flame.”

“Yes, but not spaghetti.”

I self-consciously packed away my Dutch oven lid lifter and other cow camp cooking supplies. Living near town sure comes with a lot of rules. I’m probably not supposed to stand on the back porch in my pajamas and shoot varmints, either.

While I stay home and give the neighbors something to talk about, my husband will venture forth from our little homestead to day work for area ranches, train and sell rope horses, and hire out with wagons to help with seasonal work. In the past, wagon season meant I was alone in a remote cow camp equipped with only a faulty generator and a broken windmill. I’m not sure I can handle taking care of kids, horses, and a house cat by myself armed with broadband Internet and cell phone service with a hospital and grocery store located a mere eight miles down the road.

I’ll give it a shot, though. If our new lifestyle gets too easy, I can always set up a tipi in the front yard and cook chicken nuggets over an open flame.

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Author

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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