My sister Cris and her husband Joe have a beautiful piece of property, called Paradise. They run their cattle on the land there and, every April, they round them up for branding. Friends and family come from all over, they bring their horses, they ride and rope and brand and cut and vaccinate. It’s the real deal with men and women who come to help and to share an experience. Cris and Joe are generous hosts. Joe stays on the ground doing the work, rather than getting on the horse to rope. I learned a few years ago that that’s the etiquette – if they’re your cattle, you let other people do the fun stuff. Cris counts the number of calves, bulls from heifers, and helps get everyone fed and supplied with the things that are needed at such an event. Bill and I go each year and sit fence -- Bill never having been a horse guy and I’m a long time from it. I feel like a city girl even though I grew up around this kind of thing. I’ve grown awkward around horses and try to stay out of the way and admire my nieces, Joely and Alyson, how confidently they ride. It’s at Paradise that I see how much time has gone by from the summers when I was on a horse most days. We were never a big horse family, but dad kept horse for us kids to ride – lazy, easy horses named Freckles and Lucky Bob. Like lots of girls, I was horse crazy and, even though we had live horses, I collected horse figurines back then and at one time had around 75 of them scattered around my bedroom.  I still get a thrill at the beauty of a horse or the pure joy of a colt.

My sister leads us up to the small cemetery that sits on a bluff above Paradise. The graves there are from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Mostly children. It’s easy to imagine the funeral processions, leading from the little cabin down by the creek and up the trail to the cemetery, men and women dressed in black, wildflowers blooming, the wind, the loss of a child maybe more expected in those days but still unbearable.

We talk about my niece Devin. The last time I saw her was here at Paradise three years ago. She died in May, 2007. We miss her so.

Jackie Shannon Hollis