Patricia Frolander's book of poetry, nominated for this year's High Plains Best Woman Writer award, opens with the title poem, “Married Into It,” laying the groundwork for her tales of navigating a life once foreign to her, a life as a rancher's wife.
Not only was she accustomed to being a city dweller, but she also had no idea that while she was her husband's understudy in this new world of farm animals and machinery, blizzards and droughts, raising a family and running into town, the community would be her audience. The other ranch wives didn't allow her much of a learning curve. Her experiences were fodder for their 17 households' party line.
Perhaps what her neighbors underestimated was Frolander's level of perseverance and fortitude. Yes, she had married into it and she wasn't going anywhere. Her husband, Robert, was her partner, and she wanted to be there for the branding, barbed wire fencing and baling.
It is easy to nestle into this book, quietly observing her daily domestic duties, the tranquility of prairies and the changing of seasons on this northeastern Wyoming frontier. But as quickly as a valley vista can go from serene to menacing, Frolander recounts some far from placid memories.
“480 Seconds” tells the story of a brewing, ominous cloud and of the narrator barely returning home before hail decimated the family’s crop. In eight minutes they lost two-thirds of their income. “Staccato hail deafens / windows explode in shards of glass. / Eight minutes of terror."
"Ezra" recounts the loss of a friend who was able to cheat death throughout his 83 years until disease overtook him. “A lingering death – / bullets would have been kinder /...He wanted to come home / to die in the house he'd built / and the arms of a family / who claimed him—and he did.”
Frolander's poems are a sweet blend of private illumination — “I bend into cool water, / drink deeply / of fulfillment met in solitary places” — and the insights of a contented partnership. Riding alongside her husband of 49 years, she acknowledges, “I stay for the rhythm of season, / for the land, always the land, / and / for a man whose hands know my heartbeat.”
One hopes that the same tenacity reflected in Frolander's weathering of ranch life will be the impetus for her to continue to write and share her stories. After finishing this slender volume of poignant tales, the reader easily imagines herself floating on the soft pitch of the prairie's breeze, above the din of the neighbors nattering, “Now if that don't beat all.”
Connie Dillon is a photographer, playwright, publisher of “The Real Estate Book” and a member of Zonta Club of Billings.