You likely wouldn’t be able to tell it now; but I was born in San Francisco and raised in the Bay Area for a significant portion of my life. I even moved back in my late 20’s after having given birth to my son (now a 25 y/o Army veteran on his globe-trotting honeymoon: www.globalcrusades.net). When I was a child I absolutely loved going into the city, and reckoned I’d move into the heart of San Francisco one day. At the same time; I spent much of my youth in a suburb of San Francisco; a coastal town in San Mateo County aptly named Pacifica. What I loved about Pacifica back then was that one edge of town was sandy beaches and rock cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and the opposite edge of town was forested hills and mountains. Farms dotted the area and I loved seeing the lush green pastures winding their way into the hills, with horses frolicking amidst the sea breezes.
It was there, in that country-ocean oasis on the outskirts of San Francisco, that I developed my dream to one day own a ranch or farm. Some place where I could live off the land surrounded by an assortment of critters. Having grown up with a myriad collection of domesticated animals (dogs, rabbits, ducks, and a tortoise) I couldn’t imagine a life without them. But Life happens and sometimes reality gets in the way of our dreams, and in the blink of an eye I was 30-something, with a young son, a cat, and a mobile home in the East Bay, toiling away at graduate school with a mindset far from my youthful dream of Eagle Mountain Ranch (EMR is what I named my ranch, and all my Breyers model horses were given the EMR brand).
Fast forward to 2011; when I was notified that I was being offered a position in the Army Substance Abuse Program at Fort Riley, Kansas. I had applied for a position at one of the three installations in Georgia, having fallen in love with the South when I served in the Army, and I wanted to remain within close proximity to my son who, at 19, would be living on his own in Florida. But G-d had a different plan for me, and in October 2011 I relocated to the heartland.
Although I didn’t know it back in 2011; moving to Kansas was, in a sense, going home. My first abode was a room for let on a horse farm, which reconnected me to my childhood love of horses and my childhood desire to own one. I stayed on the horse farm for only five months, but before I moved closer to post, I bought one of the horses I’d fallen in love with. In 2012 I bought my first-ever fishing license and reconnected to my childhood joy. I have fond memories of sitting atop my father’s shoulders at the Sports & Boat Show, at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, and fishing for trout in the “kiddie pond,” and sipping hot coffee with my dad while we fished from a canoe on some pond. Easily 30 years passed between my youthful fishing adventures and my return to fishing with my step-father, who took me out trolling for trout on his boat when we did a family RV trip to Eagle Valley, Nevada. It was that later experience that got me hooked again, yet two years passed before I started fishing regularly in Kansas.
For a year, prior to getting my service dog, I fished as often as possible; being outside, at water’s edge, was my stress relief and re-creation. During trout season (October through April), I could be found fishing on post before work, grabbing 30 minutes of trout time, and after work, sitting for hours, and of course on weekends, weather permitting. I seldom found myself alone, however, as there were almost always other fishermen out, even at 7:00 a.m. before work.
In late summer of 2014 I met my friend, John, who has been my hunting benefactor ever since. As we sat in a Starbucks one afternoon, sipping coffee (there’s definitely a coffee theme….), I shared with John my desire to hunt, while discussing being an avid gun lover. John welcomed me to hunt his property, took me out and showed me around, and remained close by if I needed assistance (his home is on property). When I harvested my first whitetail doe in autumn 2014, John came running to help me track the blood trail and taught me how to field dress a deer… and then helped me drag the 150 pound (somewhat less without guts) creature up to his truck. One of his neighbors came out to help as well, and then John volunteered to drive me with my prize doe to the meat locker 45 minutes away. When I harvested my first autumn turkey in 2015, John showed me how to field dress it. For almost every step of my adventure into hunting, John has been there, often with another neighbor friend, Dave, ready to assist.
So it really came as no surprise when John recently asked me to “farm” with him. He had purchased an antique blue tractor, tilled a plot of land on his 15 acres, and began purchasing veggies. All I’d have to do is buy something I want to plant, help plant the seedlings and seeds, and weed every weekend. With frequent thoughts of Eagle Mountain Ranch in mind, especially over the past two years, I jumped at the chance to participate. After harvesting my spring long-beard on Saturday, I started the task of digging holes and planting. It felt good to have my fingers in the fresh Kansas soil, and by the time I got home to shower I was sporting an official Kansas red neck.
As a side note: The term “Redneck” is considered a derogatory slang term for poor rural southerners who are viewed as politically conservative, racist and religious fundamentalists. In Kansas, the term reverts to its more accepted original meaning, as a reference for agricultural workers with a red neck from being burned by the sun while working outside in the fields (per American Heritage Dictionary online).
As I admired my red neck and dirty hands I realized that, in my own small way, I am living a Kansas lifestyle. With rare exception, my weekends (and sometimes evenings after work) are spent outdoors; fishing, hunting, and now tending to my crops. It’s a lifestyle that agrees with me, and something I far more enjoy than sitting in a hospital all day. Kansas has reconnected me with myself; with who I am at my foundation. Even taking a brisk walk with my service dog through the woods on post, after work, creates a sense of peace and wellness. The woods have become my true home and it often feels like there’s no place I’d rather be (except I don’t like my neighbors there; the Mosquito family and the Tick family).
One day I hope to own my own piece of Heaven on Earth that I can cultivate, hunt and fish; but until then, I feel extremely blessed by G-d to have been given a home in Kansas where I can grow spiritually and personally, like a vibrant, maturing snap pea. I may not always live in Kansas, but I am sure that Kansas will always live in me… and I will continue to enjoy embodying my Kansas Lifestyle.