Ancient History

Follow Me?


The explorer

Aspens and evergreens grew thick to the west of my uncle’s Blue Mesa cabin. The forest floor buzzed with insects hunkered underneath fallen pine needles. Logs, rocks, stumps, chipmunks, swooping camp-robbing birds, and opinionated ravens thickened as my sister and I walked deeper into the wall of green and gold.

“Don’t go too far!” our mother would shout from the cabin door, snapping us out of the dream we were neo-Ingalls, a Mary and Laura for the late 20th century. Baseball caps instead of bonnets, jeans instead of calico, KMart’s Adidas knock-offs instead of ankle-high boots—we were ready to explore and perhaps discover abandoned gold mines, Native American relics, bear skeletons, and any other buried or unburied treasures previously overlooked by Francisco Coronado or Cortez.

“Yes, Ma!” Wasn’t that what Mary and Half-Pint called their mom?

We wandered, pointing out objects of interest. Indian Paintbrush, the red-feathered wildflower, grew in abundance. Tiny wild daisies, purple flowering bushes that smelled sagey, Mormon Tea, Columbines—none could be gathered into a rustic bouquet because we were taught to leave wildflowers alone. It was always okay with me because I regard bees suspiciously and bees were in abundance in the mountains. So we continued looking for that which would make a bespeckled professor shake our hands at a news conference—Priceless Treasures Found By Sisters.

For a long time our eyes found nothing unfamiliar. Growing up in Colorado meant we were savvy about ant-filled fallen trees and mottled sunlight creating the illusion their were thousands of deer fawns stashed in the bushes all around us. Then I saw it—a small mound that looked like undulating earth frozen in time, so I kicked it. To my surprise it flipped over, revealing an underside that was flat and smooth. I began noticing other mounds just like it all around me. They were about the same size as dinner plates, rising to a peak of about four or five inches. They looked geographical, with a carved-by nature texture, dried by thin air. If the mountains had eyes, these were the teardrops. Wow.

We gathered them into our arms, shouting at each other how many we had. Six! Seven! I got nine!

Let’s go show mom and dad!

Hurdling over downed trees, leaping over stumps, we scrambled breathlessly back to the cabin where we offered our find to our parents with frantic expectation. For a moment there was silence as they considered their daughter’s harvest before they burst into convulsive laughter.

“Do you know what those are?” they demanded. I imagine by this point they were needing the nearby outhouse because not many bladders can withstand that kind of laughter.


“Those are cow-pies!”

“Cow-pies? You mean…”

“Cow poop, girls.”

I can’t speak for my sister. I felt horrified, betrayed by my eyes, tricked. Foolish. Really, really dirty. Duped by poop.

We washed our hands and arms as our parents explained how ranchers used the national forest land in the summers for their cattle. The cows were gone, but left evidence behind.

The experience didn’t kill us, so it was with narrow-eyed-knowing a year later when my sister and I stepped up to participate in a cow-pie throwing contest. It was July 4th, Independence Day. The dried disk I chose to hurl through the air felt familiar in my hands, nature’s own frisbee. It flew far—I had a good arm, good enough for a blue ribbon. I told everyone we knew how I won a blue ribbon throwing a cow pie that day. I was proud I finally won something, but even more proud I wasn’t disgusted or afraid of getting a little dirty. Like before.

I was a tough girl, a bossy older sister like Mary, pigtails flying and freckles flickering like Laura.

With time, those experiences that frightened us or scandalized us can actually be empowering. As an adult I can think of things I once feared and tried to avoid that I now regard with shrugged shoulders. Like cooking a turkey for a houseful of Thanksgiving guests, or childbirth. Okay, maybe that still scares me a little, even the sixth time around. I’m just going to have to grab on, feel it’s familiar weight in my hands, and just do it. Like before.

6 comments to The explorer

  • Oh my, what a wonderful post! I hope this birth is by far your best ever. And I remember pretending to be Laura and Mary Ingalls too. What fun.

  • What a picture you two must have been with your arms full of cow pies.

    Wonderful post!

  • Oh the cow-pie goodness. Funny, funny, and beautifully written as alwasy. I think when I grow up I want to be you. Your blog is so gosh-darned inspiring … even when the subject is throwing cow pies.

    Congrats on the blue ribbon.

    And really, any woman who made it through labor without an epidural and only a stained-glass window and a rocking chair to keep her company can certainly go one more round.

    I hope this one is easy for you, though. I am contemplating number two, and the thought of the birthing process is still a little off-putting … and I didn’t have a particularly bad labor with the first one.

  • I loved this story. I love that you can make a story about poop beautiful and meaningful. I love that you made an analogy between giving birth and tossing cow pies!

  • Oh dear, I love your writing. I know, I’ve said that before, gushing isn’t really particularly helpful feedback, it’s not connective and it’s not constructive, but you know what? Wow. I really love your writing. And I wish you had been my friend when we were kids. I did have a friend named Gretchen but she pinched my arm until it bled because I stole her eraser. You would have been a highly preferable friend, cowpies and all.

  • mopsy

    Thanks, everyone.

    Inkling, we would have had a blast, provided you kept your mitts off my eraser, too. I probably wouldn’t have pinched you, though. I was more of a tattler.

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