For Laurie Lauer, becoming the Office Manager at A Bar A was not a straight path. Instead, her journey from her South Dakota hometown to the ranch has included traveling around the world, numerous job titles, and building her home with her own hands.
“When I was 20, I worked in mental health in Oregon at the place where they filmed One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Laurie explained. “I was fresh out of South Dakota–I didn’t even know anyone whose parents were divorced. Now I was working with the 20 most dangerous kids in the state.” The teens with whom Laurie worked had committed crimes like murder and prostitution. “It really broadened my world. I was able to find something in the kids that I could connect to. That experience allowed me to learn that I could find the good in anybody.”
After four years of emotionally draining work, Laurie decided to go a different direction. “I’d never been on the ocean before, but I did a six-month kayaking trip with a friend,” she said. The 1600 mile trip brought them all the way through the Inside Passage, the distance from Seattle, Washington to Glacier Bay, Alaska. “It was beautiful country and I saw a ton of wildlife like whales, orcas, and sea lions,” Laurie recalled. “One day, we hit currents and winds that were pulling us into the cliffs. They were 17-foot kayaks and stable, but you’re still in a little boat on a huge ocean.”
With the time at sea behind her, Laurie headed to Mount Hood to work for the winters. During the summer, she worked with logistics for Outward Bound. One winter, Laurie bought a Round the World ticket through Pan-Am and packed her bags. “I hadn’t been out of the country before and at that time, communicating was only through letters and scratchy phone calls,” she explained. “I spent time in Europe and it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. When I crossed into Yugoslavia, I thought, ‘This is why I’m traveling.’ It was totally different.”
Laurie then spent nine weeks in Turkey, where she grew to love the culture and history. Next stop: Africa. “I was in Kenya for three weeks doing a safari on a shoestring budget. Then to India for three weeks, then to Nepal and Thailand. By that time I was running short on time and money,” she said. “I headed to Hong Kong and connected back to San Francisco, then home to see my family.”
Laurie returned to Outward Bound to lead trips into the mountains or desert with youth-at-risk, corporate, and women’s groups. Her job included instructing sea kayaking trips in Baja. In the fall of 1994, her daughter Kyla was born. “The next ten years were spent homesteading in Colorado. We had 35 acres and a straw bale house with a mud floor and mud plaster walls,” she said. “We lived off the grid, had animals, and grew our own food. It was a fun experience.”
However, both Laurie’s and Kyla’s social groups were in a co-housing community near Durango. “The basis for the community is to create opportunities for spontaneous interaction and to engage with each other. There are no attached garages, there are chances to share meals, and all mail comes to a common house.” Laurie’s home is built with trees she helped cut down. It is a timber frame straw bale house with adobe block walls and almost no hardware in the frame.
Though Laurie had been all around the world, it was her new home that connected her with A Bar A. Lissa’s sister was a neighbor. “I was a massage therapist at the time and doing extra jobs on the side when I heard that Lissa was looking for an Office Manager. Kyla had just decided to go to school in Durango, where the A Bar A winter office is. It was all about timing falling into place.”
Through her time at A Bar A, Laurie has learned the joys of working in such a powerful landscape. “I love supporting people in connecting with the land,” she explained. On a personal level, the ranch has opened her eyes to new experiences. “I’m much more comfortable around horses now and try to ride at least once a week,” she said. “I love getting out to hike and am learning how to fly fish. The huge part for me is being able to be here with Kyla [who is a wrangler at the ranch]. It’s been a really good match and it’s been so rewarding to be able to have connections with guests who return year after year.”
However, Laurie’s itch to travel hasn’t disappeared. She is currently investigating completing the sacred treks of ancient cultures. “It’s a way to see the world at a different place and have a purpose in traveling,” she said. “I have a strong draw to that.”
Wherever Laurie’s next step takes her, it’s bound to be interesting. “It never ends,” she laughed.
By Cassidy Duckett