by Deanna Dickinson McCall
Rough Patches by Deanna McCall had me smiling when one character ended up covered in manure and came out laughing. A real book about ranching! There are books about ranching and books written by people who wish they were ranchers. The first are gritty, raw, and filled with both wonder and pain; the second tend to be romanticized versions of a mythic West, books which real ranchers see a mile away. Rough Patches by Deanna McCall stands firmly in the first.
"When I was growing up, someone having a tough time was said 'to be going through a rough patch,' writes McCall. "It is typical of the West's vernacular, the ever-present understatement common among ranch people." McCall writes of the ranching life with a keen eye and an honest heart, her love of the ranching life deep enough not to shy away from the often unromantic reality. McCall lifts the human with stories embedded in the ranching life. The people of her stories wonder about their lives, work hard, sometimes drink, get sick, cry, laugh, and yearn. As I read, faces of the people of my own ranching roots appeared before me. McCall writes with details—"I made bread this morning. We can have a piece to dunk in our coffee"—that bring the reader's own life into the book.
Rough Patches is filled with real ranching lives. It often feels as if there are more rough patches than smooth times. These are the aspects of ranching those interested in the romanticized myth don't want to hear about: the manure, the cold, the sweat, the loneliness, the debt, the eyes and heart ever-seeking the horizon of land and life. And yet it is exactly these details of the ranching life that have not changed through the century and ground this reality and makes it sing.
The finest of reads, Rough Patches is one of those rare books for all who live the ranching life and those who wish they did. Ranchers will recognize their lives and family within its pages, and those who want to know the ranching life will dip into this life in ways that will bring deeper understandings. I encourage you to make yourself some coffee or tea and sink into the lives and way of life within these pages. Whether you are a rancher or not, the humanity in these pages will make your own rough patches feel a little less lonely.
Deanna Dickinson McCall currently ranches in the mountains of New Mexico with her husband, Dave. She is from a long line of ranchers, people who revere the land and livestock, and love their livelihood. Deanna and her husband spent 22 years raising their 3 children on a remote Nevada ranch without electricity or phones. Besides ranching in several states, she's ridden for paychecks, sold feed and received cattle at sales yards to make ends meet when necessary. Visit her website.
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