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The life of a rancher is a life full of laughter, love and beauty. It can also be a life full of challenges, tears and a lot of dust. Debbie Raney has lived this life for over 50 years in Eastern Oregon’s high desert, with 30-plus of those years as a ranchwife. Hair on Barbed Wire is a collection of her poetry, stories and photographs that celebrates the commitment ranchers and their families have to the land and their livelihood. Beginning with an insight into the scars and callouses on a ranchwife’s hands, and ending with a tribute to those who share her love for ranching, Debbie gives a unique perspective into the experiences only those who have “been there, done that” could know.
The young checker takes the ranchwife’s money at the counter of the grocery store. As the exchange is made, the checker’s eyes linger on the other woman’s hands and then glance up apologetically. Rough, calloused and scarred, the ranchwife quickly hides them from the checker’s sight. On the drive home, her mind relives the embarrassing moment.
Perhaps they are not the hands of a model, she has never had a manicure. But, like the magazines in the rack by the checker’s stand, her hands are teeming with stories.
The scar that runs across one thumb was compliments of a swather sickle that was reluctant to be pulled out.
The fingernail that grows with grooves in it is the result of a hard-headed bull that wanted to be “in” not “by.”
Most of the knuckles have at one time or another been scraped to the bone. Changing a tire in the dark can almost guarantee at least one gash before the spare tire is put on.
Barbed wire was the source of a lot of wounds. Most healed without a trace, but some left their mark for life.
Shoveling horse manure out of the barn keeps calluses on her palms; and when a rope runs through anyone’s hands enough, it doesn’t matter what your gender, a permanent track is made.
With all of the stories the ranchwife’s hands could tell, the most important one would be how the silver band on her left hand was put there by her one true love. She vowed many years ago to stand by this man and together they have built a life and a family.
As the ranchwife drives down the dirt road to her home, she realizes the young checker’s look of empathy was unnecessary. She is proud of the scars, marks and unfeminine traits her hands reveal – they confirm her commitment to her husband and to their lifestyle.
Debbie Raney has spent her entire life in the agriculture industry. She grew up on her family ranches in the Eastern Oregon communities of Frenchglen and Diamond.
She and her husband, Hoot, now raise beef cattle on their ranch in Harney County, Oregon. They have two daughters who live on the ranch, and four grandchildren to carry on the family tradition. Debbie has published freelance articles and photographs in several agricultural publications, and worked as a newspaper editor for several years.