Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Calamity Jen

I've never been to Europe. Except for a few cross-country trips and a couple of island vacations, I wouldn't consider myself much of a world traveler. Hell, I haven't even seen the world's largest ball of string or South Dakota's corn palace. My path seldom varies, yet I have been able to intersect with some genuine characters. As a result, I have in my possession a choice collection of crazy and cool friends.

Jenny Booth moved into our neighborhood when I was in the sixth grade. She lived next door to my best friend Laurie Fry and I soon became the third wheel on a bicycle which clearly needed only two at a time. Since my house was about a block away, I often found myself left out of the loop and pissed off. (Those who remain close to me might cite the beginning of a pattern, but that's subject matter for another cup of coffee.) In spite of occasional tensions, we managed to rack up quite a few wonderful adventures. Having full run of the then undeveloped woodlands above Laurie's house, we hiked, camped and even built a fort that was the envy of the neighborhood boys. Laurie and Jennifer were remarkably tolerant of my moodiness and insistent behavior and had front row seats to watch as the seeds of anal retention sprouted. "Of course we'll buy galvanized nails for the fort, Joan. You're right- we must have galvanized nails." In return, I provided them with plenty of fodder for healthy laughter as I attempted to shed my uptight and prissy skin. You can imagine the response when I showed up for a camping trip with a satin pillowcase. As the other kids chanted, "Harrison's got a satin pillow!" I tried to explain that it was an old one my mother had given me, but the imagined shade of my blood had already turned an ostracizing shade of blue.

Although we moved in and out of each others lives throughout high school, the bonds were never broken. Laurie chose to go to college in Washington state, while I remained closer to home at the main campus of Penn State in State College. Jenny was two years behind us and our relationship strengthened as I came back for breaks and summer vacations. Her family became my "second family"; I loved being with the Booths and their extended clan on holidays and the annual family reunion on Memorial Day. My folks were understandably jealous as I had chosen another family over my own, but the feelings melted away as they were brought into the fold and went on to become good friends with Jenny's parents, John and Donna.

Eventually, Jenny heard the call of the west. Her passion for horses led her to Phoenix, where she landed a job at a racetrack. Not particularly enamoured with the industry, she moved on to Cody, Wyoming where she became a "wrangler" at Valley Ranch, a beautifully rustic lodge on the Shoshone River. Along with the demanding care of the horses, she tended to the equine needs of the guests as she led them through the surrounding countryside on horseback. The abilities of the riders were varied and often a test for the guide's patience, but Jenny rose to the task and performed her duties, with what else, grace.

The following years played out like a series of red dots traversing a map in a spy movie. My address book has pages of crossed-out listings chronicling her whereabouts. After Cody, she touched down in Arizona, doing a brief stint at an Arabian farm. Moving on to Stanley, Idaho, a tiny town nestled in the Sawtooth mountains about an hour from Ketchum and Sun Valley, she led pack trips in the summer and drove teams of draft horses as they pulled sleighs full of guests into the snow-covered mountains. At the end of the ride, they found a wonderful dinner waiting for them, and I suppose it was at this time that Jenny began to hone her culinary skills. Clever and creative, she went beyond franks and beans into the land of homemade croissants and sauteed sweet potatoes. "Now that's French, ain't it? Why that little lady sure can cook up some fancy grub! And she's a hell of a lot easier on the eyes than some old codger in his undershirt and suspenders..." Sorry-guess I was out riding the range for a few sentences. Back to the saga.

After five years in Idaho, she moved on to Telluride, Colorado, where she spent the following five years working as a wrangler at the Skyline guest ranch. Her next stop was Reno, Nevada, where she was able to devote herself to another of her passions-carving. Her designs, mostly equine in nature, were drawn on the face of a moose antler and executed, using a Dremel, with precision and fluidity. Though one might think of antler carvings as somewhat kitschy, these are not your grandmother's crocheted poodle toilet paper holders. The forms pulled out of the antler are detailed and energetic, surrounded by a seemingly in motion negative space. She received commissions for her pieces and continued with her work until, you guessed it, she moved.

Back to Telluride for a few years, and then on to Durango, Colorado ( are you out of breath yet? ), where she stayed put for nearly a decade. She trained cutting horses, willing and athletic animals prized for their ability to separate a cow from its herd, and even went on to excel in competitions. Her days were long, and the work to maintain the barn and grounds, backbreaking. Burnout began to set in and seeking a change of pace, she took a framing job at an online art gallery. She honed her computer skills and enjoyed the camaraderie of her fellow workers. The gallery was sold a few years into her tenure, and she found herself at another crossroad. So...

This past year, she moved back to Cody. She hit the ground running, and took advantage of a myriad of opportunities. She works part time in an art gallery, took a position at a bank, and signed on as cook for several hunting camps. Not surprisingly, the bank job didn't hold her interest, but it wasn't long before she was back in the saddle again. She is now assistant to the performance horse trainer at a privately owned operation which focuses mainly on reined cow horses and cutting disciplines. Back in Cody's arms, she has built a new life filled with satisfying work and wonderful friends. It seems that my cowgirl friend has come full circle.

Welcome home, Jenny.

1 comment:

  1. wow....this is one spunky cowgirl! (she might even be a tad gypsy).

    made me think about the choices we make in a lifetime. not easy to walk into the unknown. cheers to Jenny!

    note to self: get a real pony....