Taking Care of the Bitterroot

One of the most common questions I get from our summer guests is: What do you wear in the winter? It’s a good question, and before I moved to Wyoming and learned the meaning of -40 degrees Fahrenheit, I would have wondered the same thing. The trick is to layer. I am normally wearing five layers of clothing underneath my Carhartt coat, an undershirt, a t-shirt, a sweater, a hoodie, and a Carhartt vest. Despite the cold nights, the sun is very strong at our elevation, so I am often taking layers off by 11:00 am. On the bottom, it is just jeans, wool socks and heavy boots. On really cold days (like the -40 I was mentioning), I have Carhartt bib-overalls that I wear over my jeans for extra warmth, but those are fairly cumbersome, so I try to avoid donning those.

The outfit I just described has been  my uniform since Mel and Bayard left for their month-long trip in India on January 21. It is kind of nice not to think about what I’m going to wear! Most of our animals make the trip down to our lower farm in the winter (where Richard and I live in the winter as well), but Mel keeps her young horses, brood mares, stallions, sheep, llama, poultry, fowl, dogs and cats at the ranch year round. When Mel and Bayard travel, Whistle and I head up to the ranch to take care of the animals, or as we say, “do the chores”. This is my second year doing the chores while Mel and Bayard travel. Looking back, last year feels like a warm up….2 weeks while they were in Egypt. This time is the real deal: a full month while they are in riding in India.

The truth is that I love being up here on my own in the winter. The snow accents the landscape, making the Absaroka mountains seem more formidable, the sagebrush softer, the Spruce trees greener. Doesn’t the tranquility just leap off of that page?!


From this angle, you are looking at the bench, where the horses spend the night, with the Absarokas in the background.

I feel like I am spending most of my time here tending to fires. Whistle and I are staying in our house, but I am eating meals at Mel and Bayard’s house (their kitchen is equipped for cooking, while ours is missing a lot of the basic supplies, since we do not spend our winters up here). Each morning, I wake up, start a fire in the wood-burning stove at our house, commute up to Mel and Bayard’s house in Bayard’s Rav-4, start a fire in the stove up there, eat breakfast, feed their house cats and dogs, and then head out to do the morning chores. I find myself looking up at the two houses periodically throughout the morning, making sure I can still see smoke billowing from the chimneys. After the morning fires are lit, any time I walk in a house for the rest of the day and night, I am immediately rushing to the stove, stoking the fire and adding wood. One night, when I went to brush my teeth, I looked in the mirror and hardly recognized myself…my face was completely covered in soot. I had not noticed all day long! There isn’t much reason to look in the mirror when Whistle is your companion all day– she’s not very judgmental if your hair is out of place!