My experience of farm life has been fairly limited up to this point.
When I tell people I’m originally from the country, they often presume I grew up feeding chickens and milking cows. In reality I grew up on a quiet suburban street in town, and the only real brush with farm animals I ever had as a kid was at a picnic when a horse came after me for my Mint Slice biscuit. I’ve had difficulty getting close to horses – and any other animal that are taller than me for that matter – ever since. I think horses are beautiful and graceful and regal-looking, but they’re also enormous and muscly and I don’t want to fight one for a biscuit ever again.
But New Mexico presented us with the unique opportunity to stay on a proper ranch (which in my mind is a farm in the desert…right?) with Brendan’s friend/ex-boss David, who now lives in Santa Fe and works as a metal artist creating beautiful jewellery.
Santa Fe is a very pretty, sleepy little place that survives mostly on tourism trade, revolving mostly around the city’s prolific art scene. The art hub is Canyon Road, where we wandered in and out of galleries, talked to a real-life cowboy who was also an art curator (he had some great stories about haggling price with Arnold Schwarzenegger), and stopped for a drink in a bar that was apparently once frequented by Billy the Kid.
Meanwhile, back on the ranch, David lives with his French bulldog, Rupert (to quote David, Rupert is essentially ‘a bowling ball covered in fur’. He’s a nuggety, affectionate little thing and loves cuddles almost as much as our dog loves pizza), two donkeys named Cisco and Sadie, a couple of chickens and a barn cat called Josefina.
Uninvited guests on the ranch include coyotes and rattlesnakes. My first question to David was whether he shot the rattlesnakes; since my mum told me my grandpa used to kill snakes with a shotgun and a saucer of milk I figure this is a standard response to a snake invasion.
David doesn’t shoot them, but he tells me that it’s the baby rattlers you really have to watch out for; the adults give you a pretty good warning with their rattles, but the babies are too young to have developed those yet – however their venom is still as potent as an adult’s.
So there you go. Don’t mess with a horse that has a sugar craving, or baby rattlers.
Jumping from New Orleans to Santa Fe overnight felt kind of like the land at the top of The Faraway Tree had changed, especially when it came to food. Both places have their own unique flavours and specialties.
In Santa Fe, you’ll find chile comes with nearly everything. You can choose red, green or ‘Christmas’ chile – which is a combination of both. And where there’s chile, there’s normally also cheese and beans. One particularly delicious breakfast consisted of a breakfast burrito stuffed with scrambled egg and chunks of chorizo, wrapped in a soft flour tortilla and served with beans, melted cheese and Christmas chile.
Santa Fe also has good American BBQ. On our second day we visited a little BBQ joint called ‘Cowgirls’. In keeping with its name, Cowgirls has vintage photos of actual cowgirls decorating the walls. The ribs (a beef half-rack) were served with a spicy BBQ sauce, coleslaw and yes, more beans. But freaking delicious.
As well as being spicy, the meals are enormous. Maybe it was the slow-burning protein of all those beans, but we ended up eating only two meals a day in Santa Fe out of sheer inability to process more. But it’s a good thing we kept up our energy levels for Double Take, a shop not far from Cowgirls that’s full of clothes, antiques, books, and most importantly – cowboy boots.
Buying a pair of cowboy boots was on my trip to-do list, and Double Take had hundreds of different pairs lined up along the walls, all arranged by size. I must have tried on about 30 pairs while quietly strategising as to how we’d fit them in our luggage. After I choose two pairs and Brendan finds a pair also, we decide we just need to buy another bag.
Later that day, feeling a little bit Jabba-the-Hutt after the half-rack of ribs I’d massacred earlier, I decide to go for a run along the road around the ranch perimeter. My virtue was rewarded with quite a spectacle; I got to watch the sun set and the moon rise over the desert. I’ve never seen a sky so big, nor shadows that stretch so far. It was a beautiful and very peaceful moment. Then then the sun went down completely and I started getting illogically nervous about being eaten by a pack of coyotes, so I ran home.
The next morning I get to try out one pair of my cowboy boots on the ranch, feeding Cisco and Sadie. And when I say feeding, I mean just trying not to get in the way or get kicked, although they seemed like very lovely donkeys and not at all likely to be biscuit thieves.
It turns out cowboy boots aren’t just there to look pretty (who knew?); they’re ideal for ranch life because the leather is so thick, rattlesnakes can’t bite through them. So when I wear mine walking the dangerous hallways of the Sydney advertising industry, I’ll know rattlesnakes are the last thing I need to worry about. Ad wankers, yes. Rattlesnakes, no.