This week (mea culpa)

I overestimated my free time in the week before my wedding. I should have known that I wouldn’t have a single minute.

It’s been a whirlwind: Dinner on Saturday with my fiancée. Church services Sunday with her and her sister’s family, with Sunday dinner afterward with the minister who introduced us (and will be officiating at the ceremony). Then home to my parents’, and bouncing back and forth between their house, my fiancée’s parents’ ranch, my siblings’ and her siblings’. And, today, to the ranch for the rehearsal and then to the restaurant where we met, for the rehearsal dinner.


I have had time to write one thing. I don’t want it to go up until after we’re married, however, so I’ll schedule it for tomorrow evening or Sunday.


The forecast is mostly sunny, moderately hot, no humidity. I’m hoping for those little clouds that march across the sky. They mean home to me.


Wish me luck today, and (God willin’ and the creek don’t rise) congratulate me tomorrow!

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In transit

I’m in an airport, between planes. I’ll finish this up on the last leg home and post it tonight.


My fiancée went out West last week.

She started and runs her company. She’s turned over day-to-day management to her partners. So she can come and go as she pleases.

I had to go to Asia for work, but I’m free for the next month.


We will be married at my fiancée’s family’s ranch. It’s spectacularly beautiful, especially at this time of year. It’s in a valley bounded on both sides by untouched mountain wilderness. The sun will be going down over the mountains to the west during our ceremony.

Her family has spent the last year restoring the ranch house and sprucing up the yards and outbuildings.

Her great-great grandfather received the land as a grant for his service in the Civil War. He was an inveterate improver, innovator and experimenter.

My fiancée’s great-grandmother kept a scrapbook of newspaper articles about her father. Almost every edition of the county weekly newspaper had an article about one or another of his innovations – the electric generator and banks of batteries to light and power the ranch, the irrigation system that still waters the ranch, the various machines he bought. There are also articles about his lawsuits against mining companies for polluting the stream that waters the ranch.

He built the house in a grand style for his family of nine children.


We’ll be married in a field. The forecast is for beautiful weather. If it rains, we’ll be married in one of the old barns.


My fiancée will pick me up at the airport. We’ll have dinner at the restaurant where we met. Last year, we had dinner there on the first anniversary of our meeting. This year, it’s a little earlier. We have a more pressing engagement for the actual anniversary.

We’re going to have our rehearsal dinner at the restaurant Friday night. The ranch is 75 miles away, but the restaurant is in the nearest town large enough to have an adequate supply of hotel rooms.

Tonight, my fiancée and I will be staying at the B&B where we stayed after our anniversary dinner last year. Tomorrow, we’ll go to church at the church I used to attend, then each to her parents’ homes. I want to spend a few days with my family before starting a new life.

In-laws-to-be

My fiancée’s parents’ ranch is about 15 miles up a valley in the Rockies. The original ranch – the “hay ranch” – is several miles of flat ground on either side of the stream that drains the valley (and gives the valley its name).

The hay from the hay ranch feeds their cattle during the winter. The productivity of the hay ranch determines the number of animal units (cow-calf pairs) the ranch can carry.

In the spring, after the snow melts from the high pastures, they drive the cattle to upper range. In the fall, they round up the cattle and drive them back to the hay ranch. It’s a delicate calculation: They want to keep the cattle on the high pastures (and off hay) as long as possible, but they don’t want them trapped in an early (or late) blizzard.

Just to burst any romantic notions: They don’t use horses to drive the cattle. They use four-wheelers. They only use horses to roust cattle out of brushy side draws in the fall roundup.

My fiancée has a horse. When she goes home for August, she likes to ride into the back country and to ride fence. (Riding fence is riding along the fence line to look for holes or down fence. She does it on a horse, but that’s just for fun. She can fix small problems with a fencing tool, a fence stretcher and some barbed wire. If she sees anything more serious, she drops a pin on a GPS. A hand will come up with a Gator to fix it.)


The ranch house and yard sit at the mouth of a side valley that winds up to their upper range and their summer leases. The little creek that drains the side valley runs through the ranch yard.

My fiancée’s great-great grandfather built the ranch house in the late 19th century. He did it in the grand style – grand enough to house his family of nine children. The family was nearly wiped out in the post-WW1 drought and credit crunch. Just as they were recovering, the Great Depression nearly wiped them out again. But the ranch has survived in the family.


The kitchen is the heart of the ranch. Everyone in my fiancée’s family – men, women and children – loves to cook and is very good at it. The kitchen is enormous and equipped to the highest restaurant standards – a present from my fiancée.

If you’re looking for someone on the ranch, the place to start is in the kitchen. In any family gathering, there will be at least a half-dozen people in the kitchen – cooking, tasting, discussing the cattle markets, calf or hay yields, politics or theology – or just hanging out.


My fiancée’s mother is the happiest, most generous, most optimistic person I have ever met. The glass isn’t half empty or half full. It’s always full. She’s not stupidly happy. She’s intelligently, realistically happy. She’s an acute observer and an astute judge of people. She is endlessly tolerant and forgiving. She’ll never say a bad word about anyone, but there’s never any question about where one stands with her. She exudes goodness, grace and charity, none of it pious or false or hypocritical. She could not be self-righteous if she tried. She is my ideal representation of a Christian woman. She is what I aspire to be. She is delightful.

Her father is as comfortable as an old shoe. He’s warm and funny, with a store of sharply perceptive comments and funny metaphors (“slicker than a new-born baby’s bottom”; “tighter than a gnat’s hide stretched over a barrelhead”; “drier than a cow chip on the Chisholm Trail”). My fiancée says he has a ferocious temper if pushed too far, but I haven’t seen it. His pride in his kids and his love for his grandkids is touching.


My fiancée’s siblings regard her with bemused awe. They grouse good-naturedly that when she was growing up, she was able to get out of ranch work by burying her nose in a book; that she has their parents wrapped around her little finger; that she was a borderline felon as a teenager, but she got away with it because she got straight As. The most common remark in her household is, “For a girl who’s supposed to be so smart, you sure do a lot of stupid things!”

My fiancée warned me that her oldest sister is a “potty-mouthed smartass”. The first sentence I heard the sister utter was a description of my mussed hair and happy face. The description included a word that does not appear in family newspapers. The second sentence I heard her utter was a hope that I was good at oral sex (she used an earthier phrase), because somebody needed to thaw my fiancée out and turn her into a human being. On the other hand, she is fiercely protective of her siblings – especially my fiancée.

Her oldest brother manages the family ranch. He’s big and bluff and loudly hale-fellow-well-met. He hides his shrewd business and personal sense behind a seemingly irresponsible goofiness. Of all the people we have come out to, he is the most genuinely delighted by it.

Her youngest sibling is the sister who outed my fiancée to her minister, leading the minister to set us up on our first date. The sister is very much her mother’s daughter: quiet, generous, optimistic, happy and gracious, tolerant and forgiving, combined with a hard-headed realism even beyond her mother’s. She has been my best friend, my only real friend, for many years. Even though she heard all the awful rumors – mostly true – about my past, she still befriended me. As proud as she is of her sister, she is even more protective of me.

Her other siblings are intelligent and devoted, but (relatively) colorless. Her sisters- and brothers-in-law are delightful, if a little overshadowed by her siblings. All have happily accepted that my fiancée is gay. All treat me with love and respect (even when cloaked in potty-mouthed smartassery).

August

She’s gone.


My Love has always spent August at her parents’ ranch. She helps with the August work: cutting, raking and putting up hay; riding fence; chasing strays; doctoring cattle; working on trucks and tractors and implements.

She rides her horse back into the wilderness. She honky-tonks with her high school friends.


Her whole family – parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins – gets together for a big cookout. Steak for the adults, burgers and dogs for the kids, potato salad, green beans, corn, tomatoes, cucumber slices, berry pies with home-made ice cream, home-baked bread.

In years past, the main sport at the cookout was teasing my Love about her lack of a love life. At last year’s cookout, she came out to her siblings. The next day, her sister outed her to the minister of her church – the minister who had been counseling me. The minister set us up a few days later.


My Love left for home on Friday.

I’ll join her out there this coming Friday – the first anniversary of the night we met. We’re having dinner at the same restaurant.

Her family cookout will be Saturday.

Everybody will be there this year: brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, grandparents, uncles, aunts, great uncles, great aunts, cousins, second cousins, even some third cousins. They are coming from three states.

Everybody wants to meet the girlfriend. (That would be me.) My family is coming, too.

My Love’s family is unusually close-knit, even out to second and third cousins. They are also hilariously boisterous. Should be a lot of fun.


After the cookout (and Sunday services at my old church), we’ll spend a few days at a “luxury guest ranch” in the mountains and the weekend with my parents. I don’t know what the sleeping arrangements will be. I’m not going to push it.

I’m less than 6 months into my new job; I can’t take off more than a week. My Love will come back with me and play Suzie Homemaker for the rest of the month.

We aren’t in Kansas anymore

Nor, indeed, in my home state.

Everyone I knew growing up was white, other than a few Hispanic and American Indian families. Everyone was a Christian. Everyone worked on a farm or ranch or in a business that supported farmers and ranchers.

I first met an African-American at the University. I had a Jewish roommate, but everyone she knew was Christian.

Most of my home county is uninhabited. Even in the valleys, ranch houses are miles apart. The largest town in my county has a population of just over 1,000.

My Love’s county is even emptier, whiter and more agricultural. The towns (all three of them) are even smaller. Much smaller.

Our home counties are poor. The per capita and median incomes are only a few thousand dollars above the poverty line. Over 20% of the population is under the poverty line. The median income is less than two-thirds the national median income. The distribution of incomes is flat. My family was comparatively well off – certainly in the top quintile – but I would have gotten a full scholarship at any decent college.

More concretely, the table of census data below hints at some of the differences between home (figures for my Love’s and my home counties, combined) and Manhattan (New York County).

A few things to note in particular:

  • Our two counties together are about 200 times the size of Manhattan. Yet Manhattan has over 100 times the population. The population density of Manhattan is 20,000 times that of our home counties (almost 70,000/sq mi vs 3.6/sq mi).
  • Home is overwhelmingly (93%) White.
    • There are maybe 25 African-American families, in an area larger than Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut or New Jersey.
    • The largest minorities are American Indian and Hispanic, and their numbers are negligible.
    • Almost everyone was born in the United States and speaks English at home.
  • Manhattan, on the other hand is ridiculously diverse:
    • A quarter Hispanic.
    • Almost a fifth African-American.
    • An eighth Asian.
    • Over a quarter are foreign-born
    • Almost half speak a language other than English at home.
  • Almost everyone at home lives in a single family home. Almost no one in Manhattan does.
  • Per capita income in Manhattan is 3 times that of home.
  • The entire economy of our home counties is agricultural.
  • People at home are more than 5 times as likely to have served in the military.
  • Although the percentages of high school graduates are about the same, the percentage of college graduates in Manhattan is about three times what it is at home.
Home Manhattan
Population 14,573 1,636,268
under 18 17.6% 14.7%
65 and over 26.1% 14.2%
White 93.1% 65.0%
African American 0.3% 18.4%
American Indian 3.5% 1.2%
Asian 0.4% 12.1%
Hispanic 2.5% 25.8%
Foreign born 2.1% 28.5%
Language other than English at home 3.4% 40.4%
High school graduate (age 25+) 87.4% 86.0%
Bachelors degree (age 25+) 18.9% 58.9%
Veterans 13.3% 2.6%
Housing units in multi-unit structures 5.2% 98.5%
Per capita income 20,749 62,498
Median household income 35,602 69,659
Persons below poverty line 20.5% 17.7%
Private nonfarm employment, 2013 2,544 2,116,201
Manufacturers shipments, 2007 ($1000) 8,315,093
Building permits, 2013 4,856
Land area in square miles, 2010 4,488 22.83
Persons per square mile, 2010 3.6 69,467.5

 

Death

 This originally appeared (in slightly different form) as
my comment on a post at one of my favorite blogs,
eerily cheerily


One of the things that has struck me most strongly about moving from the rural mountain West to New York City: People are insulated from death. I assume that’s true of urbanites, suburbanites and townsfolk everywhere in the developed world.

Most people in the developed world will go through their life never seeing a person die young or violently or suddenly. They might hear of it. They probably have seen a body in a casket. But if they have seen someone die, it will be someone old or frail, in antiseptic conditions.

I’ve never lived in a city before. I’ve only been here a few months. But my Love warned me about this before I came here. I’ve seen it already. People do not understand death, other than death from old age or cancer. They are not equipped to deal with it. They – we – have cultural and social amnesia. If people aren’t exposed to it, it doesn’t happen.

Oddly, they’re the ones who seem to need trigger warnings. Tell someone that your child cousin was killed before your childhood eyes in a horrible accident. You will be met with disbelief, an inability to comprehend. It’s seems to be a sort of PTSD, except that they’ve not had a traumatic stress. It induces cognitive dissonance, in some, a rampart of willful obtuseness.

My Love and I grew up in a different place, the rural mountain West. Young people – even children – die suddenly and violently. I started kindergarten with 30 children, all the 5-year-olds from half a county the size of Rhode Island. Four of those kids were dead in horrible accidents before I left for university. My Love and I have both witnessed sudden, horrible, violent deaths. Deaths of children and family members.

I grew up in town – a very small town, far from any city, but town. We were somewhat insulated from death. My Love grew up on a ranch, where sudden and violent injury, maiming and death are commonplace, a yearly occurrence.

We don’t have shrinks out there. You go to your minister, he tells you your loved one is in a better place and you’d better get back to work or your kids will starve. It’s a harsh world. Leave the dead to bury to their dead.


Slightly edited from the comment.