Sunday, May 19, 2013

Cowgirl Sass & Savvy

The willows of my world

by Julie Carter

The home of my childhood was a high mountain ranch where snow covered mountains offered seasonal runoff to feed creeks and springs. Where there was water, there were also willows.

Country kids are easily entertained and in my youth, it was an era of simple entertainment by making do with what was available.

My three brothers and I fished and played cowboys, Indians and hillbillies in the willows along the creek. We camped at creek side, ate burned marshmallows from a sharpened willow stick and told ghost stories to scare ourselves, all the while able to see the lights of home from our camp.

We rode our horses anywhere we wanted to go, just as long as we told Mom where we were going and when to expect us back. Often we packed a lunch and would be gone all day on some adventure into the hills.

In the winter we shoveled the snow off the beaver ponds to ice skate on. We let the barb wire down on a fence so we could have a nice long toboggan run without having to duck under the wire.

Spring brought the snow melt and the creeks would run high and bitter cold. It was more than a kid could stand not to get in that water and do some wading when ole man winter finally left the high country. My dad would scold and threaten us to stay out of the dangerous running water.
But as kids will do, just as soon as we thought he wasn’t looking we had socks and shoes off and waded in. And, just as soon as we stepped foot in the water, he’d come with a fresh cut willow switch to sting our back sides all the way back to the house.

One of my most embarrassing moments in life came when a friend and I decided to do a little swimming in one of those beaver ponds.

I was about 8 years old and after a day of riding horseback through the meadows and hillsides, she and I decided the heat of the summer sun would be best soothed by a quick dip in the cool waters of Muddy Creek.

We tied up our horses, stripped down to our underwear, waded in chest deep and splashed away until it was time to go home.

Riding horses with wet underwear under your jeans is a most chafing idea. So I decided to abandon the wet undies by tossing them deep into the willows where I was sure they wouldn’t be found in my lifetime.

Two days later, my dad, with me along, took a group of guests trout fishing along that same creek. Fate was not kind to me nor was his ornery sense of humor.  He spotted the discarded undies almost immediately, poked them out of the willows with the end of his fishing pole, and paraded them in public like a flag waving in the breeze. The willows had given me up.

“Are these yours Julie?” he asked knowing very well they were. He was grinning from ear to ear at his discovery and my embarrassment. You just didn’t show folks your undies anytime and this was just over the line!

I wavered between extreme mortification and fear of what was to come next when he remembered he’d specifically told us not to go swimming without permission or supervision. 

In lieu of using a willow switch to tan my hide for disobeying, my dad only scolded me. I’ve often wondered if I got off light because he so enjoyed the moment. 

I think the world would be a better place if there were a few more “willow moments” in the lives of our youth.

Years ago when I mentioned to my dryland New Mexico born son that he needed a willow switch across his bottom he asked “What’s a willow switch?”  I had to cut a juniper branch and show him.

Julie can be reached for comment at

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