Sometimes things are so intertwined, it’s hard to sort through the tangled ball of yarn of events that connect the parts of your life.
That is what my life is becoming. A tangled ball of yarn.
A wonderful, connected, amazing, beautiful tangled ball of yarn. I pull on one piece and it pulls another in close. I pull it back the other way, but it is still connected.
Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt 2017: Sisters of the Sage
Two and a half years ago, I posted a piece about the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt. At that time, I felt the impact of the hunt, but I never could have imagined how it was about to change my life. That hunt gave me the confidence to go on other hunts. It gave me the determination to learn everything I could about hunting. From equipment to ecosystems, I soaked it all up.
I devoted quite a bit of time continuing my fly fishing journey, but I also started to give hunting just as much attention. These activities provided me with a deeper connection to the outdoors and a deeper love and appreciation for the land around me. I also began to recognize the part that Shelley played in all of this.
For those of you who haven’t read Sisters of the Sage, Shelley is the donor of the scholarship I was awarded so I could attend the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt. Shelley knew what this hunt could do for women. She arranged it so that every year one woman would attend the hunt through her generosity. And, I know I wouldn’t have continued down this road if it hadn’t been for Shelley and the connection I felt with her. This connection isn’t one of a long time friend or mentor. Shelley passed away before I was even able to meet her. The connection stemmed from those who love her and those who believe in her vision. It stemmed from those people who were willing to share the essence of Shelley with me and the voice and tone in which the scholarship was given.
As my life continued to evolve and gain momentum, I realized that it wasn’t just the scholarship that changed me. It was Shelley’s ability to see the impact this COULD have on a woman. It was the forethought and generosity shown by her. That is what impacted me the most. This concept…it truly inspired me to live my life. It took one person to inspire me to live my life. The impact, forethought, and generosity of one woman inspired me to take it further. That is where #onewoman began. With the realization that one woman can inspire someone to live their life, and the effect that has on everyone around her.
This last fall, I hosted a ladies beginning fly fishing camp at our cabin in the Laramie Range. Six women came from around the state of Wyoming and Colorado to learn how to fly fish and enjoy the fellowship of newly made friends. I shared my story with them and the story of our cabin. I shared Shelley with them so they understood the impact of #onewoman. The weekend was a successful endeavor, and at the end the ladies gave me a gift certificate. I used the gift certificate to buy a new rod, personalized with #onewoman.
However, when the rod was delivered it went missing from my front step. It took me by surprise, but I wasn’t angry or upset. It was as if I knew it would be taken care of. Orvis replaced the rod immediately. Within two days I had another rod in hand and ready to go. So I happily went along my fishy way.
Imagine my surprise when we stepped outside on the day after Christmas, to find a beat up, water logged Orvis box on the front step. It was the missing fly rod. I contacted Orvis…they said the rod was mine to do with what I wished. Another rod! I was beyond excited! But even through the excitement of landing another rod…there was something nagging in the back of my mind. I couldn’t bring myself to open the box and use the rod.
In early January I joined the First Hunt Foundation through the encouragement of a friend and guide of one of my previous hunts, Fred. My birthday was on the horizon, and a birthday fundraiser to benefit the First Hunt Foundation was what I had in mind. $500 was my goal. It was then that I decided to use the extra rod to encourage people to donate to the Foundation. To gain entries into the giveaway, people could donate or post about something that brought gratitude into their hearts.
The day to draw a name for the fly rod giveaway approached as the fundraiser closed. Another friend, Jason from Cowboy Drifters, donated a reel and line to outfit the rod. It was now ready to be passed on.
I loaded nearly 100 entries to the random name wheel and prepared to go live on Facebook to announce the winner. As I spun the wheel, my mind was racing with possibilities and the hope that someone would be chosen who could really benefit from a new fly rod. The first name that popped up on the spinning wheel of names was none other than….Fred! I chuckled at the coincidence of him winning the fly rod I was using to generate a fundraiser for the organization he introduced me to. He asked me to spin again, he was donating it to the next person on the wheel of names.
I spun the wheel a second time.
My friend and colleague, Ashley, was the next name to pop up out of the nearly 100 entries on the wheel! I was excited for her, as we had fished together before and I knew she would put the rod to good use. I ended the Facebook Live, satisfied with the giveaway and the amount of money raised for the First Hunt Foundation, which ended at $1,300.
But as I sat down to catch up on messages, it hit me.
Ashley harvested an antelope at the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt last fall.
She was the Shelley Simonton Scholarship recipient for 2019.
And out of nearly 100 entries, she also won the #onewoman fly rod tonight.
The Shelley fly rod.
Tears streamed down my face. This is the moment when the Universe taps you on the shoulder and says, “Hold my beer. I’m showing you how I run the show.” It’s that moment when you know in the deepest part of your soul that your efforts have been acknowledged. This was a tip of the hat.
Every decision I make is directed by the Universe and is bringing me into my best life. And when I’m ready…when it happens, get a front row seat, because it’s gonna be amazing.
You have a purpose. Do your thing. Share your gift. Refine and develop this gift, and be ready to receive all the goodness coming your way. #onewoman
About a year ago, my dad mentioned a women’s only hunt. An antelope hunt. Really not my thing. I smiled, nodded, and thought….yeah, so this has nothing to do with fishing, and hunting can be difficult…and you get hot…or really cold…and you sweat. And antelope smell. Well, I imagine they smell. I don’t really know.
Shortly after, I saw a post on a friend’s Facebook page of this very hunt. Everyone was smiling, there were sweet sentiments, and congratulations. Being a little nosy, I looked up the hunt to see what it was all about. Lo and behold….in the description, a word shot out at me. FISHING. If you harvest your animal, you come back to the ranch and have the opportunity to learn from a guide and FISH. Done! They had me…hook, line, and sinker.
I pulled up the application and typed out an essay about why I wanted to attend…which may have included a story centered on fishing and my kids. My goal was to harvest an animal the first morning out and then spend the next two days fishing. I read that there were many applicants and I kind of put it out of my head, knowing there was a good chance I wouldn’t be invited to attend.
And then, several months later, I got the call.
I was invited to attend the hunt on scholarship! The scholarship was set up through a fund by Shelley Simonton, a leader in making the hunt what it is today. I was beyond excited! Fishing here I come! Bring on the camo! I have struggled connecting with other women who enjoy fly fishing, and this was an opportunity to connect and network with women who may have my same interest!
My curiosity about who Shelley was got the better of me and I did a little online stalking. Turns out she was an influential woman of Wyoming, who believed in empowering women, their ability to be self sufficient, learning from one another, and the camaraderie experienced while hunting together. She sounded like my kind of lady. And I was honored to be included on the hunt through her generosity.
The following month, I received a second message. After battling cancer, Shelley had passed away. I was struck with unexpected emotion. I knew she had touched many women’s lives and I mourned for their loss. I also felt a sense of loss myself. Having never been able to meet this remarkable woman, I felt the loss of never being able to experience the infectious personality I had read so much about. The meaning of the scholarship became even deeper. I was hopeful for success in the hunt, to be able to honor her in the only way I was able.
Throughout the summer, I began collecting my first pieces of camo. I practiced shooting a gun and ended up receiving my first rifle. I excitedly checked off one item after another on my packing list. The anticipation of the hunt began to mount.
Driving onto the ranch property, I was nearly overcome with excitement. As I passed under the entrance welcoming me to my weekend, I looked to the sky and thought, “Well, here’s to new adventures. Wish me luck.”
Following registration, I headed to the gun range to sight in my rifle. There was a group of men available to assist with the sight in and I certainly felt like a fish out of water. I had trouble sighting in my gun, despite the gentle corrections from the helpers. Once the volunteers felt the gun was good to go, the gentleman encouraged me to try shooting from the prone (yes, I had to learn what that was) position, aiming at a “gong” on the side of the hill nearly 200 yards away. Awkwardly I assumed the position, laying on the ground as he helped me situate the gun. There was a cameraman nearby and I had to laugh as he was snapping pictures of this extremely obvious novice.
Aiming my rifle in the direction of the gong, I squeezed the trigger. The volunteer exclaimed, “You hit it!” I was doubtful. With my earplugs in, I didn’t think I heard the ring of the bullet hitting metal. I lined up a second shot. This time, as I squeezed the trigger, I heard the audible ring. I looked at him excitedly as he smiled and nodded back to me. I looked back through my scope and saw the paint chipped away where I had made the shot, nearly right in the middle. I was surprised, but encouraged, and thought I better quit while I was ahead.
Arriving back at the lodge, I was overwhelmed with how nervous and anxious I was for the following day. My hands were shaking and I was emotionally unprepared for how unsure I was that I could actually pull this off.
The next morning came too quick. I hit the ground at 5:00 am, jittery and uncollected. Nonetheless, I layered my camo, double checked for my hunting license, extra bullets, my rifle, double knotted my brand new, never before worn, hunting boots.
At the ranch house, I met up with my guide and local land owner, Kellen Little. My hunting partner turned out to be Wyoming’s first female Supreme Court Justice, Marilyn Kite, a founding member of the hunt. No pressure there. It was then that I was introduced to Shelley’s husband, Matt Bowers. He would be joining us for the day. Lord, please let an antelope stand in front of my rifle. I felt as if the outcome of the day hinged on whether or not I was able to harvest an animal. I wanted my guide to feel success. I wanted the Supreme Court Justice to smile upon me. I wanted Shelley’s husband to not feel like this was a wasted trip.
Squeezing into Kellen’s truck, we headed on down the road. The sun was just coming up and the frost sparkled over the Wyoming landscape. Everything was painted a crisp mix of green, gold, and orange. I sat up front, as I had the first opportunity to take a shot as the newbie. It didn’t take long before the other three passengers were cutting up and joking with one another. Watching them interact with each other, I eased into the comfortable atmosphere. Their stories of hunts from years gone by were rich. I laughed with them and was surrounded by their memories. The ribbing that each one endured from the others was endearing as personalities emerged.
I watched as they reveled in knowing they were among friends, who were about to make new memories together.
And I was privileged to be part of it.
The laughter and reminiscing was peppered with accounts of Shelley, and her personality became more and more evident to me. This person was such a highlight in so many of these stories. What gratitude I felt, because of her forethought and generosity. I was bouncing around in a truck, enjoying the incredible Wyoming landscape, listening to these three – who were quickly becoming my friends – recount great hunts of the past, learning about the history of the land….and a realization washed over me.
It isn’t about the antelope.
These friendships, these people, these relationships, remembering, memories, new experiences…this is the hunt.
Before we even made it to our first location, I knew this day was already a success.
I was in the midst of building memories of the 2017 hunt. We were on the verge of being a part of next year’s stories. Harvesting an antelope is inconsequential.
These people, the camaraderie, experiences, moments shared. This….this is what I came for. The anxiety of expecting an outcome for the day melted away, as I became one who reveled in knowing I was among friends who are making new memories together.
We searched, we stalked, we worked hard that day. I put many miles on those new boots. I scaled the side of a steep hill 150 feet high, shouldering that new rifle. I belly crawled, scuffing the shiny, new barrel on the ground. Just to peek over the edge of the hill and see the herd trotting out of range and climbing back down.
Marilyn, Kellen, and Matt laughed with me and we continued to formulate new strategies. They encouraged me. I felt acknowledged and accepted and I persevered through the day with a genuine smile on my face. The team motivated me to try again and again. Kellen’s patience and humor kept me on track and in the moment. His encouragement strengthened my resolve…even when I shot him a “What the hell?” look when he told me to get down and belly crawl with a rifle in my hand. This young lad, 10 years my junior, wants me to do WHAT?!? I can only imagine what was running through his head as he waited for me to literally inch my way a few feet each time.
As we slowly approached the fourth herd of the day, it was evident they were aware of our presence. The herd began to move away and out of range. We decided to make the long trek around the other side of the hill in an attempt to meet them from the opposite direction. We crept around the backside of the hill, putting another three quarters of a mile under our feet. Approaching the top of the hill, Kellen again motioned for the infamous belly crawl. The thought crossed my mind that he was pulling one over on me and the joking and laughing in 2018 will be about the middle aged hunter attempting the crawl.
We peeked over the hill and the herd was unaware of us. I quietly loaded my gun while Kellen continued to scope the herd. He looked through the range finder, which he probably picked up nearby from the dozens he has lost in the brush over the last five years, and whispered 99 yards. I waited for the herd to move into a position that I could view them through my scope. Kellen whispered the number of bucks and pointed out one that would be a good option. I struggled to find the buck in my scope. Finally, he stepped into position. “I got him in my scope,” I whispered. Kellen quietly responded, “When you are ready. Take your time. Deep breath.”
The buck turned broadside. I aimed the crosshairs of my scope behind his shoulder, where the white darkened to brown. I let out my breath, I squeezed the trigger. I watched the antelope through my scope and I knew I had hit him. He spun around and I reloaded my gun in anticipation of having to take a second shot. The buck fell to the ground as the rest of the herd blazed down the hill. I lowered my gun and a sense of accomplishment washed over me. I turned to see my guide’s excited smile, “You got him!” A celebratory hug and we were both on our feet headed down the hill.
As we approached the buck, I was in awe of how beautiful this animal was. I was filled with gratitude of the food he was providing for my family. I was proud that I was able to do something I was quite certain, just that morning, I couldn’t do.
That first morning of the hunt, I harvested my antelope. Later that day, Marilyn was able to harvest hers. We left the ranch that morning as strangers and a single goal in mind. We returned to the ranch as friends and comrades, accomplishing so much more than our intended goal. This moment, this experience can never be replicated. Yes, there will be hunts in the coming years that will add to and enrich our lives. But this one, the first, will always be.
Of course, I went fishing. The next two days were spent fishing with guides. I learned about casting, reading the water, bugs, and more information than I’ll ever be able to use. And I loved every second.
But, reflecting on the weekend, my mind returns to the hunt. Not the animal harvest. It is the moment in the truck, looking at these people who are now my people, when I realized the true intention of the day. The moment when I realized the day was already a success.
Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt 2017
Anyone who has ever had any interaction with a teacher, knows that there are three times of the year that you engage in survival behavior. Beginning of the school year…brain is transitioning out of summer, meeting dozens of new kids and parents, a to-do list a mile long, little sleep, much caffeine. Christmas…uh, no explanation needed. End of the school year…brain is fried from testing, students are checked out, running on empty, the to-do list mentioned earlier is even longer now.
Teacher interaction during these times require only one response. Smile and nod. And maybe a cup of hot coffee. Or a bottle of wine. Follow those simple survival techniques and you will come out of these seasons unscathed, and your teacher friend will keep her sanity.
So it comes as no surprise, that one evening as my head was spinning and I was overwhelmed with the beginning of the school year and trying to put on a very fake front for my kids, my son said….So, Momma, what’s your plan??
What’s my plan? Wha? Like dinner? First day of school clothes? Laundry? Dishes? First day of school lunches? Cleaning up the puddle of pee from the puppy? Chiseling off the dried milk and cereal from two days ago on the dining room table? There is a plan?! He obviously hasn’t learned the above mentioned norms, as he dares to ask a question that involves actual brain power. Poor little guy. He doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell.
As I descend upon my unsuspecting victim, eyes ablaze, fire exploding out of my mouth, smoke streaming from my ears…Plan? PLAN?! What are you TALKING about?! I don’t have time for a PLAN! The PLAN is to SURVIVE! Plan for WHAT??
He looks up and me and says, “Your fishing plan, Momma. What’s your plan for fishing?”
Oh. My heart.
Everything slipped away. My heart softened. My eyes teared.
This little seven year old boy. He knows how I best deal with stress. He recognized that I needed time. Time away. Time alone. Time outside. And he loves me enough to think of how to fix everything. Fishing.
Oh, my love, keep this tender heart of yours, it will come in handy when you grow up.
However, in the meantime, I made a plan.
Gotta take care of yourself before you can take care of others. And, one more thing, my kids are kinda awesome.
My dad talked me into it. On a beautiful, late summer day, at the cabin, he cast the line and handed me his fly rod.
I was knee deep in divorce that summer.
Too many years spent focusing on kids, careers, and not enough time focusing on our relationship left me foundering and depressed in a failed marriage. My life revolved around my kids – school, meals, sports practices, activities. Repeat. I had nothing of myself.
Divorce is an ugly and tragic journey that completely turns you inside out.
I felt like a shell of a person.
My spirit was drowning.
The stress of a divorce and adjusting to being a single mom of three kids was crushing me. The pressure, tightness in my chest, sadness, sleeplessness…it was all just too much.
So, when my dad handed over the fly rod, the last thing I was interested in was trying to catch a fish. I had fished before, but it never appealed to me. I was more interested in simply riding along and kicking back with a book.
However, that day was different. There was something about feeling the line run between my fingers. Straining to watch where the fly disappeared into the water. Standing with a mixture of anticipation, doubt, and on the very edge of disappointment. It was….emotional. Then came the soft tug. The first time I felt the sensation that every angler craves. The feeling that feeds the addiction.
My first fish was a gorgeous rainbow trout. The smile radiating from my face and the excitement dancing in my eyes captured the emotion in my heart perfectly. My life path made a hard left at that point.
Fly fishing gave me something else to focus on. I was obsessed. Thinking about what the fish were feeding on, where they were hiding, the elements, casting…feeling the rhythm of the cast and focusing on the point of the cast…it allowed me to escape. I was able to escape what was killing my spirit.
In a way, fly fishing saved me. It got me through the most difficult time in my life. It gave me something to look forward to; being outside in the beautiful outdoors of Wyoming, connecting with something so ethereal as native trout. Experiencing the release of a fish…whether it is 25 inches or 4 inches…is emotional. Watching it recover from the fight, feeling it slip through my fingers, it seemed to take pieces of my brokenness away with it each time. The release helped me understand the beauty of letting go.
Fly fishing gave me a renewed sense of spirit and tenacity.
Stress is still lurking, but getting out on the water helps me manage it. I can handle this life now.
I got this.