When do beginnings begin? Tyler, my last-born child, just celebrated his twenty-fifth birthday; Ken, my firstborn, is about to have a different kind of birth day: the arrival of his own firstborn. I think about births and beginnings as I sit on bleachers overlooking a roping arena that tunnels the view south to Mesa Verde and back through the years, to times with the boys’ father, back when we were roping, cowboying, happy. How many events did I watch from similar grandstands? How many times did I race down the arena myself, swinging my rope, my husband or another cowboy tracking me, heel loop ready?
I saw the beginning of that life and lifestyle in preceding generations of my family; I did not see an end. But it did end—I left the marriage and went off to graduate school, prying myself away from the horses and cattle. Horses had been a way of life for me for more than a quarter of a century; ranching was part of my marriage and my heritage. Even so, I could not foresee this future: On Tyler’s twenty-fifth birthday, the Cachuma Ranch, Colorado, owned by Cachuma Ranch Co., LLC, officially became ours.
I grew up thinking the Chumash word cachuma meant bear. Years ago I chose that name for one of a series of fuzzy, roly-poly, bear-cub looking pups: Cubby, Oso, Cachuma. Searching now, I find that its true Chumash spelling is aqitsu’m, that it was the name of an early village, and that it means sign. I can only guess that this refers to spiritual signs rather than road signs, although sometimes those can point in the same direction.
I’m not sure where I got the bear interpretation. For people in Santa Barbara County, California, Cachuma is the name of a lake. For my family, that lake is a reservoir of water hovering ghost-like over my great-aunt and great-uncle Sister and Ed Janeway’s hayfields, the drowned part of the original Cachuma Ranch (see “The Last Cows”). They named their ranch for Cachuma Creek, which flows from the mountains toward what used to be part of the Santa Ynez River and is now the “lake.” Maybe Sister or Ed told me cachuma meant bear. That is definitely bear country, home to many ambling black bears and their roly-poly cubs.
Sister and Ed are long gone—I can’t ask them, nor can I beg permission to use the ranch name. I can simply hope that wherever they are, they understand it as an honoring.
The new Cachuma Ranch won’t run cattle the way its namesake did, or my great-grandfather’s ranches, or the way Ken and his father still run cattle today on their different places. It is a horse ranch, the 171 acres equipped with horse barns, hay barn, round pens, the arena, and pastures big enough for horses to run. And it is a place to write.
The new Cachuma Ranch is in the Four Corners region of southwestern Colorado. From its highest point, I can see Colorado’s Mesa Verde and Sleeping Ute Mountain, and the shimmering outlines of mountains in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. I cannot see the rivers that hold this country together, tying the land to the Colorado River, heart of the Colorado Plateau, but they’re there: the Animas, Dolores, San Juan, and their tributaries, ambling down from the high country like bears in the fall.
The views here swell the heart. The possibilities—and the work necessary to make them happen—are as endless as this desert-mountain sky. Promise stretches from horizon to horizon in every direction. All signs point to this.
These signs, like those rivers, have led me here.