Tag Archives: Cowtail

So She Can Live Without Me

On the day my daughter was born, she started living without me. I mean “without” in the sense of “outside of.” Her body began to live without my body.

That day, her birthday, has meant something special to me for eight, almost nine years. It’s the day I became a mother. I’ve marked each year of her life with big parties (there have been ponies involved more than once), but this year is going to be different. It’s got me a little choked up.

Vivi has been wanting to go to sleep away camp so we’ve decided that this summer is her time to try it. I never went to camp, so there’s no legacy here. With the rampant enthusiasm of my friend, Bryn, I found a camp that looks like a perfect fit for Vivi. It’s a camp about leadership for girls. Teaching girls independence and competence. Cooking over a fire, playing in a swimming hole, singing songs together, paddling a canoe, sleeping in tents.


All great, all great. But after I clicked the Register button, I realized that Vivi will be at camp on her ninth birthday. I broke the news to her and her reaction was, “COOL!!!!” OK. Maybe it’s just me having a hard time with this.

Planning her birthday party has always been my special gift to her–a way of showing her how extravagantly she is loved. This year, my gift to her will be letting her go. Pushing her in the direction of living without me.

Since my dad’s death, I see the importance of making sure my children can live without me. I felt something similar after Richard died–I only had grief, not struggle on top of the grief. My husband was dead, but I knew how to do the taxes and change the outside flood lights and check the air pressure in my tires. I only had to learn how to live with missing him, because I already knew how to live without him. Same with Daddy–I miss him, but I still know everything he managed to teach me about living. He didn’t do things for me. He taught me how to do them myself.

Last night, I asked Vivi, “Is there anything about camp that worries you?”

“Not making friends.”

My heart seized up. What if that happens? What if, even though I know the counselors know how to make sure everyone has a good time, what if my little girl spends a few moments sitting on the edge of her bunk feeling alone in the world? GULP.

“Well, I don’t think that will happen, sweetie. You make friends everywhere you go. If you do find yourself feeling apart, be kind to someone else who might be having a tough time. The best way to have a friend is to be a friend.”

“Or what if I make friends then I have to leave them when camp is over?”

There’s that too, baby. There’s that too. “You’ll be able to see each other at camp next year!”And then I went to my room and cried a little bit with fear for her. But she’ll learn. She’ll learn to tell herself these things when I’m not there beside her. The only way for her to learn that she can navigate the world on her own is to let her live without me.

We spent Easter Sunday in the woods at Cowtail, riding ATVs and slinging mud around. I’ve never been comfortable driving the ones you steer with handlebars–I like driving the Mule because it has a steering wheel, a brake, and a gas pedal. The kids love the Mule because we can pile all of them in the back and go caroming over stumps and rocks, weaving through trees and plowing through mud holes. The kids have to wait until one of the adults will drive them.

carlos mule

Victoria rode shotgun with me for a couple of trail rides. It was tough driving in the rain. We had to remember to keep our mouths shut while hitting the mudholes at full speed–mud gets EVERYWHERE when you’re hooting and hollering. She’s never driven the Mule but she’s sixteen now and knows how to manage a steering wheel, a brake, and a gas pedal.

I gave her a little push and she tried driving it. She wouldn’t let the Littles ride in the back–it had to be just the two of us. And she may have pruned a sapling or two on the tight corners. But she did it.

After a while, I relaxed enough to look out at the scenery, which I never get to do when I’m driving. I saw dogwood trees that nobody planted, just blooming in the woods in the rain. I saw chunks of pink quartz peeking up from the earth. I saw 20 colors of green.

Victoria learned how to enjoy the Mule without me and that gave me the opportunity to sit there beside her, fully present.

As we ground our way up Rock Hill, she said, “I can’t wait to bring my kids to Cowtail. It’s cool to think that they’ll be playing with Grant’s kids and Jake’s kids and all the cousins.”

That’s family. Growing into that fine balance where you know you can stand on your own but you never have to be alone. With and without.

victoria mule

A Real Dog, All Day Long

Sunday morning, I sat on the edge of Vivi’s bed to wake her up.

“Hey, Vivi!  Today’s Cowtail Day.  You get to learn how to shoot your new bow!”

"Could you get these kids in their seats so WE CAN GO?"

“Could you get these kids in their seats so WE CAN GO?”

Her eyes flew open and she chirped, “Huck gets to be a REAL DOG…all day long!”  She threw back her covers to reveal some ratty blue sweats with a hole in the knee and an old t-shirt from Brasil.  “I slept in this so I could wear it to Cowtail today!  I’m ready to go!”

Cowtail is our family’s hunting camp–100 acres of forest land that has been in my grandfather’s family for over a hundred years.  When I say “hunting camp,” I am not being coy.  I once overheard my stepdaughter telling one of her friends that we were “going to Ashley’s family ranch for the weekend” and I corrected her by saying, “Ranch?  Sweetie, it’s some woods with a shack and an outhouse.  Let’s not blow things out of proportion.”

Keeping an eye on his babies.

Keeping an eye on his babies.

For decades, the land was leased to some strangers for the hunting rights.  Then it dawned on the six of us cousins, Pop’s grandchildren, that we could pay the taxes ourselves and keep the place in the family.  But the real reason is that Cowtail gives us a place to get our kids dirty.  Our kids are growing up on cul de sacs in tidy little neighborhoods.  That is NOT the way we grew up.  I still remember the Christmas when we got machetes (and a casual admonition to “be careful”) for playing in the woods.  We’d build a fort one weekend in the pine woods around our house then by the next weekend forget where it was and build another one.  Our same pack of six cousins rode our bikes miles into town, wandered around the cow pastures in search of arrowheads or built a dam over the creek just for something to do.  My mom says I called dams “water makin’ machines.”

Now we’re all polished up and living in The City.  Our dogs take baths, wear collars and mind their manners.  At home, Huck has a nice yard but he has to peek out at the rest of the world through a hole in the fence.  He’s only allowed to woof about five times in a row before he gets called back into the house.   There’s a fence between him and the river.



Huck loves going to Cowtail.  For the first 10 minutes of our car trip, we kept hearing this strange sound like a church bell inside the car.  Turned out it was Huck’s happy tail thumping against Carlos’ little metal shovel.  We had to stop the car and rearrange the stuff to make the ding-dong stop.  At Cowtail, he gets to roam free.  He woofs at stuff.  He chases squealing kids on four-wheelers down the muddy trails, never losing sight of them.  He eats a lot of sandwiches and cookies that drop from little hands.  His coat gets pieces of roasted marshmallow stuck in it when the kids use him like a napkin.  He wanders across the archery range and eight kids yell, “Hu-uck!” in unison.  He gets to be a real dog, all day long.

In the last five years, the boy cousins have made some serious improvements to the shack at Cowtail.  It’s got windows and a rain barrel shower and built-in bunks.  They called in a couple of favors and got some ‘lectricity strung up. There’s a firepit and a tire swing.  This year, Joe added a trampoline some neighbors threw out.   The outhouse even has a seat now!  They’s even a radio that plays both kinds of music–country AND western!

964278_10201797962103786_1118255642_oMy kids get so delightfully dirty there.  They play in the rain and the mud and the leaves.  When Vivi finds a smooth piece of old blue glass, it’s probably from a medicine jar that her great grandmother threw in a trash pile when Teddy Roosevelt was president.  Here’s Vivi trying to get marshmallow out of her eyebrow.

Just like Huck, I love going to Cowtail because I get to be real, all day long.  Wear my ratty sweats.  Shoot arrows at a target without worrying that I might be breaking an ordinance.  Pee in an outhouse while a mockingbird yammers at me to get out of her space.  Laugh with the same cousins I’ve been laughing with my whole life.  Throw logs on the fire.  Push the kids up towards the sky on a tractor tire until they scream.  Eat sandwiches and roast marshmallows and wipe my hands on my pants.  Drink wine out of a cup with my name written on it in Sharpie.  Hoot.  Holler.  Woof at stuff.


Then we load the kids and the dog and the dirty shoes and the leftovers and the leaf collection and the special rocks and the bows and arrows and shovels and really nice sticks.  We hug a bunch of necks and talk about when we’re going to do it again.  By sundown, we drive a slow mile on a dirt road then bump up onto the paved county road so we can make our way back to The City.  

Carlos played so hard this Sunday that this was him FIVE MILES away from Cowtail.  That boy done wore hisself plumb out!  That’s Huck right behind him in the back of the car.  Can’t see him?  Yeah, that’s because he was dog tired, too.