The grey Grand Am is pointed north-west. Her Grandparents are leading her to the rustic summer destination. Afraid of what the internet has to offer and wanting to know their grand-daughter is safe, they lead her to her first place of freedom in the north-west corner of Montana. After many miles of deserted highways and road construction they enter Darby, Montana. The night passes while they sleep in the Wilderness Motel along highway 93. Morning rises and breakfast is bought to-go. Climbing the beautiful paved drive-way to Hideaway Pines Ranch they both realize what an opportunity this is and a little piece of heaven to those who seek it. Deep embraces and loving looks are exchanged before Taylor climbs onto her mount. Watching her seventy-eight year-old, human idols waving good-bye to her, she slowly fades into the Bitteroot National Forest. The ride is damp and smells of ripe evergreens, it seems to last for a long moment while she realizes she has left all she knows long behind. Taylor just enjoys the movement of her favorite four-legged friend underneath her, it has been so long. She thought of how happy she was to escape the cement apartment buildings. Serving meals, inside concrete walls, had been her life for the past few years. Her childhood was filled with open fields and tall, green, grasses, flowing in the summer breeze. Back then warm waters awaited her arrival and she crossed them on her best friend. They used to ride, hide to skin, in the hot summer evenings, dreaming of a future neither one of them would ever see. The girl would grow older and find new love, leaving her old friend to grow old in aging pastures.
A couple of enjoyable hours passed exploring new Montana forest. They returned to the corral and said goodbye to the guests. The horses are led back to the barn and stand in a line while their tack is removed. 4-Wheelers line up and lead four horses at a time back to pasture. The head wrangler, Natalie offers to lead Taylor up to her new residence. Taylor follows Natalie up a winding dirt road that leads to a gate. The gate is unlocked and they proceed up a bare clay road, to a hunting lodge, on top of a lookout mountain. They exit their cars and walk into a log lodge that is big and open. A kitchen that looks over many mountains including Trapper Peak, is big and open to accommodate many folks at one time. Taylor immediately feels a closeness to Natalie, and looks forward to the work ahead of her. The lodge is empty at this time and they head back to the main ranch to say good evening to the rest of the crew.
On the way home Taylor stops by the only market in the small town of Darby. She picks up a few necessities for a couple of meals and some cigarettes. She turns left onto Rye Creek Road and turns up the volume to the song “play it loud”. Taking turns, a little too fast, she soon looses control of her lightweight car. The car slides right off the side of the road into a fast-running creek. She sits in her car stunned, watching the water flowing quickly by. Opening the door she steps along rocks, to climb on all fours back to the upper road that had bucked her into this rugged creek. She stands up tall and holds her cell phone to the sky, only to find she has no cell service anywhere she stands. Taylor starts walking down the road and quickly hears a truck approaching. She stops and turns to view an older pick-up with stuffed animals lining the dash of the truck. A man is driving and stops to ask her if “she needs a ride?” After explaining the situation she hops into the truck, while he drives down to the edge of the highway to call the local tow truck man. They drive back to the scene of the accident, to see her sad, little, silver car, sitting in the stream. Taylor lights a cigarette while they wait on the driver to show up and pull her car back onto the road. The tow truck pulls up alongside the scene of the slide-away. An older man climbs down from the rig, walks over, and starts to massage the young girl’s shoulders. Uncomfortably, she pulls away and they leave her to hook up to her car and pull it back on to the gravel road. Gratefully, she says, her “thank yous” and readily climbs into her car filled with all of her material belongings.
Taylor turns into the gated driveway and drives switchback after switchback to the parking area at the hunting lodge that will be her home for the next few months. She carries in her luggage and picks out her room. Looking out the window she knows she has made a decision worth while. There is something deep within her, it knows ultimate freedom is not relying on anyone or anything. It is almost like she has been a wanderer, lifetimes before, for maybe a few. Leaning over a deck railing she lights a cigarette and looks into the misty rain. Taylor calls her Mom and lets her know she has made it safe and sound. After hanging up she feels an overwhelming lonely feeling. She didn’t have near enough money to make it back home on and way too much pride to not see the summer through.
Waking up early for the first morning of her new job, she showers and braids her long dark brown hair. Puts on her cream colored cowboy hat, and her new ranch employee sweatshirt while heading to the main area of the lodge. Protein shake in her hand she leaves the lodge and heads to her car to start the drive to the guest ranch. The drive in is the most marvelous view she has ever seen. No wonder guests pay a thousand a night to stay in this heart grabbing place. It was nestled ever so perfectly into a serene evergreen valley with steep peaks of stark grey, jagged rocks. Looking out the passenger side driving in, could take your breath away. There was no bottom to see, just sharpness of a rocky slide leading down to a far away river. Pastures with roaming paint horses and many mixed, Quarter Horse breeds run along the driver’s side of the car, captivating your glance, making you feel as though you are entering a time that existed long ago. Walking the trail to the rider’s roost, for the very first time, she crosses the small bridge over the waterway. The rustic barn sits in a fog ahead, their is a list of names of horses to gather and a returning wrangler named Raven awaiting. They exchange greetings and start their four-wheelers. Taylor, follows Raven to a spacious pasture with dude horses grazing peacefully. Cookies in hand, they coax a few to them and chase down the remaining stubborn ones. Each catch their four and lead them back to the barn, behind four-wheelers.
Curry fast, comb knots out of the mane, pick hooves, on with the saddle blanket and up goes the saddle with the bridle over the horn. Natalie assigns the wranglers to their rides and they wait on the guest to show up. Upon arrival they are shown a demo of pre-ride instructions. Guests are loaded up on their assigned mounts (experience and weight taken account for). Taylor follows the ride once again to learn trails and the ways of this first -class ranch. The forest is musky and smells rich and damp of pine and animal. There is something healing about only the sound of hooves on worn dirt and being engulfed in trees. A closeness is felt between riders, even though they have never met. Away from everything, on a simple adventure, to feel the way life may have felt hundreds of years before. Small talk is made and smiles are exchanged. The brisk late-afternoon wind starts to blow over as the ride heads back to the ranch. The horses line up, knowing where to go, ready to be free back in their pasture. The Wranglers say good-bye to their new found friends and head back, horses in hand, to un-saddle and lead their trusty steeds back to graze for the night.
Taylor tries not to break as her car sways down the curvy road back to the lone highway. She enjoys her American Spirit with the window down as her burnt CD of 80’s country blares out the speakers. Excited to meet the new employees, due to be showing up, she smiles and enjoys the drive back to the lodge. What a fun feeling it is to not know what the summer beholds.