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by Amy Zaranek

     A double gate led to the bison pastures on the south side of the ranch. The gate hung crookedly, held together by a chain and lock, the combinations symbolic of the old six-guns: their calibers or years of production. The two pieces of the gate swung in opposite directions. Eventually, I learned to position my horse to block the gate swinging in, to hook my long leg around the one that swung out. It didn’t matter how I closed it, as long as it locked.

         All of these precautions protected the bison. We never saw them, but we knew they were there, ghosts on the land they once reigned. We knew they saw us as we passed by, like numbers spinning around a lock, like the years since they’d had freedom to roam without fences.

Author's Note

This piece was inspired by the Laramie Valley in northern Colorado. I worked on a ranch there for several seasons, and though I have since moved back home to the Midwest, the valley and the time I spent there still greatly influence my writing. “Ghosts” is an excerpt from my MFA thesis, To Thrive in Harsh Lands.

Amy Zaranek is an MFA candidate at Ashland University. She is also the assistant managing editor and lead creative nonfiction editor for the Black Fork Review. Her writing attempts to examine issues of sustainability and agriculture in contemporary America. You can find more of her work at, and follow her on Twitter @amyzaranekwrite.

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