Lady Moon, and being "good enough"

My sister Katie and I are women who worry, constantly, about how to be good enough.  At 37 and 40, we are both women with graduate degrees, lovely Colorado houses, children, and loving spouses -- and yet we both become easily consumed by anxiety that we are not good enough wives, good enough mothers, good enough friends, good enough daughters, good enough artists, good enough people.  Our worry weighs on us, threatening us, unbalancing us.

We talked about this as we hiked the Lady Moon Trail near Red Feather Lakes last week.  What has made us this way, when other people evidently waltz through their lives with very little worry at all?  Why do we feel so responsible for everything and everyone?  Was it our upbringing on an Iowa farm, in a culture that praised children primarily for their contributions and hard work?  Was it the model of our mother and our aunts, our grandmothers and our great-grandmothers, who hurried to please and do and fix?  Or did we simply inherit a chemical propensity to be anxious?

And how can we teach our daughters, Elida and Mitike, to relax into who they are, to live fully in the moment, to take responsibility for only what is theirs?  Even more importantly, how can we unlearn all this worry and model more confidence for them?

The Lady Moon Trail to Molly Lake (July 20, 2017)

We talked about Chimamanda Adichie's 2016 book, Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, in which Adichie advises women to teach their daughters to be kind, not "nice."  We talked about a parenting book Katie had just read that warns against only praising children for what makes the adults proud, lest they learn that they are only loved when they please us.  We talked about our childhood on that farm in eastern Iowa, which always felt idyllic, with its barefoot summers in the long cool grass, and which maybe was.  We talked about Elida and Mitike, about what we love about the strong little women they are becoming, and about how we worry about them.

Meanwhile, the Lady Moon Trail wound its way through stands of aspens on an old road overgrown with yellow Golden Banner, blue Harebell, and deep pink Horsemint.  And the longer we walked, the better it was to just hike together in the sunshine, to photograph some Wyoming Paintbrush, to strike silly poses with a moose antler, to watch the clouds build over the Mummy Range.

The Lady Moon Trail winds through purple Horsemint here (July 2017).

By the time we reached Molly Lake (a lake named for a Molly I cannot find in any histories of the area), we had laughed quite a bit, too, and that tension we each hold too much of our lives had eased.  We agreed that we can (and do) teach Elida and Mitike this.  Get outside yourself, literally.  Walk for miles with a beloved person who knows you well.  It becomes easier and easier to just be, to forget the anxiety about what we should do.

My sister Katie being wonderfully silly with a moose antler (July 2017)

Unfortunately, that awareness (for me, and I think for Katie) only lasts a moment.  As I drove south back to Denver, I fell quickly into ticking through all the "shoulds":  I should get groceries, I should take Mitike to more museums, I should be a better communicator with my far-flung friends, I should start planning my lessons for the next school year, I should work more on that novel, I should be a better house cleaner, I should. . . The "shoulds" overwhelm.  They threaten to choke me.

Then I started to think about Lady Moon, for whom the trail Katie and I hiked (and the inaccessible private lake that trail parallels) was named.

Catherine Gratton Lawder Moon did not worry, ever, about being good enough.

When, orphaned after her Irish parents' deaths in St. Louis, she worked for a physician as a servant, she did not try to speak properly, but earned the nickname "Cussing Kate."

When she turned 18 in 1883 and struck out for the West, finding work as a laundress, maid and waitress at Norman's Elkhorn Lodge in Larimer County, Colorado, she did not try to preserve a reputation, but earned money from male visitors in whatever ways she could.

When Cecil Moon, a son of an English baron, fell sick and needed nursing on the ranch she and her new husband, Frank Garman, ran, she did not worry about what was morally right or socially permissible.  She fell in love with Cecil, divorced Frank, and became "Lady" Moon.

When Cecil pleaded with her to don dresses, speak quietly, and behave demurely at his family's estate in England when they visited in 1889, she refused.  She wore her cowgirl clothes, rode Western style on her horse Moses (whom she had brought to England on the ship from America), and flouted her Irishness in Cecil's parents' faces.

When the Larimer County authorities accused Catherine of burning down her own house on the Moon ranch above the Elkhorn to collect the insurance money, she shrugged, continuing to ride into Fort Collins clad in the fine clothes, furs, and jewelry she had supposedly lost to the fire.

Catherine Grattan Lawder "Cussing Kate" Moon
In 1909, when Cecil filed for divorce so he could claim his title and wealth from his family, who refused to accept Catherine, Lady Moon did not fall to his feet weeping; she did not beg him to stay.  She laughed in his face, because he had signed over all of his properties and wealth to her on his many drunken nights.  She became the first woman west of the Mississippi to pay a man alimony.

When the U.S. government outlawed alcohol in the Prohibition Act of 1920, Catherine brazenly distilled her own bootleg whiskey on her ranch, which she and her men then sold in Fort Collins.  She sewed a special lining into her bloomers to hide her stash.  One night at a party on her ranch, she fell down drunk and glass bottles of whiskey clattered out.  She was arrested, but then acquitted because no authority was willing to search her bloomers.

She ran her ranch like a man.  She held raucous parties; she kept over twenty dogs at a time; she swore and caroused with her ranch hands and various boyfriends.

Harebell and Golden Banner on the old Lady Moon Ranch.

Again and again, the cattle ranchers in Red Feather Lakes and Livermore pleaded with Lady Moon to close and chain the cattle gates after she rode her horse, Lady West, through them, but she shrugged off their pleas.  It took the ranchers weeks to separate their own cattle from the mixed-up herds.  (In stark contrast, my sister and I dutifully re-latched each of the three cattle gates through which we passed on our hike.)

Two women who always latch cattle gates.

In 1925, at age 61, she did not even die politely.  Some say she died of uterine cancer; some say she died of alcohol poisoning, and some say she was the woman found murdered in the Livermore Hotel, maybe by her own bootleggers.  It's true that her will revealed a good heart:  she left the bulk of her remaining money ($500) to the St. Vincent's Orphanage in Denver.  But she lived hard, and always against what society thought she should be.

Lady Moon's gravestone in Fort Collins, CO
Her refusal to obey convention -- to obey anyone, actually -- made Lady Moon famous.  Her life inspired a Broadway play, Sunday; the radio soap opera, Our Gal Sunday; a one-act play, Lady Moon; a novel, The Lady from Colorado; and an opera, The Lady from Colorado (revised as Lady Katie).


But. . .do my sister Katie and I want our daughters to be like that?  NO.

Do we want Elida and Mitike -- and ourselves -- to gain a little more of that I-could-care-less fire?  Yes.  I'm certain Lady Moon never lay down in her bed at her ranch worrying about whether she had done enough that day, or whether she had offended anyone.  She did not care.  She believed, deeply, that she was good enough exactly as she was.

And maybe that's why I want to research all these women Colorado has honored on the maps.  I want to learn other ways to be a woman.  I want to whisper those ways into Mitike's and Elida's ears; I want to tell those stories to myself and to my sister.  I want us all to know that sometimes, it might be important to hide whiskey pints in our bloomers and swear with the men.

And sometimes, it might be okay to leave the cattle gate unlatched.  Maybe.


A Red Dome Blanket Flower in the aspens on the Lady Moon Trail (July 2017)

How to hike the Lady Moon Trail to Molly Lake
1. Drive to the Lady Moon Trailhead, just south of Highway 74E (across the road from the Mount Margaret trailhead).  Note:  Lady Moon Lake is on private property, so it is not possible to hike there (thus the hike to Molly Lake -- I've emailed the Red Feather Historical Society hoping they can give me insight into who Molly was).  I DO appreciate that, like Lady Moon herself, Lady Moon Lake defies societal rules, but it's not worth the fine/trouble of striking out across private ranch land to get there.

2.  Hike about 1.1 miles from the trailhead to the junction with the Granite Ridge Trail, and turn right toward Manhatten Road (it's clearly marked with a sign).  In July, the wildflowers on this route were stunning.  Note the Horsemint, the Mariposa Lily, the Golden Banner, and the several varieties of paintbrush.

3.  Hike for 2.7 miles (through two cattle gates) to a clearly marked junction with the Molly Lake trail.  A very short trail leads to the placid Molly Lake, which is surrounded by lovely smooth stones perfect for lunch spots.  We saw quite a bit of evidence of moose -- scat, an abandoned antler, and hoof prints in the mud -- but we never saw the moose himself.  

4. Return the way you came, or get someone to pick you up at the Molly Lake Trailhead, just under a mile from Molly Lake.  No matter what, enjoy the solitude.  In our 7.6-mile hike, Katie and I saw only three people (all at Molly Lake).

Who was Molly?  I haven't figured that out yet, but Molly Lake is a peaceful place (July 2017).


"Catherine Lawder -- Fort Collins' 'Lady' Moon."  Fort Collins Historical Society.  Retrieved from  22 July 2017.  Web.

Fleming, Barbara.  "Lady Moon left riches-to-rags story in Fort Collins."  19 September 2015.  The Coloradoan.  Retrieved from  22 July 2017.  Web.

"Lady Moon."  Retrieved from  22 July 2017.  Web.

"Lady Moon Ranch Tour."  Retrieved from  22 July 2017.  Web.

Livermore Woman's Club History Committee.  Among These Hills:  a History of Livermore, Colorado.  Double DJ Enterprises, 1995.  Print.

Looney, Robert C.  "The Story of Fox Acres."  October 1978.  Retrieved from  22 July 2017.  Web.

"West of Lady Moon."  Groundspeak, Inc.  Retrieved from .  22 July 2017.  Web.

"Wrangler Trail Stories." Retrieved from  22 July 2017.  Web.

1 comment:

  1. I love this so much. The history is insightful and your reflections are relatable (for me) and powerful. I can't wait to read more!


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