I didn’t notice his hands at first. There was so much to take in as we sat in the little dark bar on Halloween night in far west Texas. Adults in costumes. Sugar skulls. Chicken fried steak. The Astros. Tequila shots. A spilled drink and a responsive waiter. Jalapeno gravy.  And cowboys sitting at tables. Not people wearing cowboy costumes. Real ones. Real cowboys. With boots and hats and horses and trucks held together with baling wire. For such a simple and authentic place to be and live, there was a part of me on stimulation overload as I absorbed the magic of my surroundings. Despite the almost full moon, the sky seemed as big and dark as any sky ever. Stars seemed closer. I felt smaller. I was on my way to experience what would be an epic camping and hiking experience and that night, I had plans to meet a friend of a friend. As we shared a Texas-sized meal and a Texas-sized conversation, Joe approached our table. When you live in a town of fewer than 500, everyone knows everyone. There are no secrets and as my new friend explained, you can’t hide. I’d never thought of it quite like that. I’d always thought that when you live in a remote area it’s easy to hide – but it made immediate sense that actually, that wasn’t the case at all. The vulnerabilities that we want to deny, or cover and ignore are far more exposed in a close-knit community. As Joe hobbled up to say hi with a genuine smile and warm eyes, my friend commented that he was walking better. I wondered what had happened because nothing about his walk was fluid or appeared to be comfortable. Joe is a real-life cowboy. He runs cattle. He doesn’t go to an office, he goes to 7000 acres of land. He doesn’t have a desk, he has a horse. In fact, he has more than one because his days are so demanding that he needs to give them a break – to keep them healthy. There’s no Wi-Fi or cell service – there’s just acres of land and nature. He’s been bitten by snakes and fought a mountain lion to save a calf. He’s been in deep ravines to get cows to move to safer ground. He works in 100-degree weather and below-freezing temps. Pouring rain and driving winds. And he’s been gored so bad that months later a heavy limp was a significant improvement. As I listened to the two friends talk it was then that I noticed Joe’s hands. And I started to understand a little bit more. There was a softness to them – hands that held reins all day, every day. Humble hands, just like the man, yet thick, muscular and permanently curled from holding reins and rope without watching a clock – watching only his herd. The Rein Man. Year after year of working cattle, roping and clinching – his hands told a story. I doubt he could flatten them on a surface. They were permanently curled and clinched as if he had the rope in his hands right then. I was just beginning my journey in west Texas but something told me that night as I sat and shared a real conversation with my new friend that I was about to venture further and farther than I had ever been. My intuition was spot on. It was all of those things and more. Bigger, darker, brighter, steeper, quieter, louder. After I returned home a friend texted to say he hoped I had recovered from the Wild West. I replied that I hoped not. I want that experience to forever live in my heart. My new friend was right – he told me the night we met that I would be back. And he was right. And I can’t wait. Thanks for reading, ~ Haven