Elaine Gay to speak at Circle of Wisdom

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— Elaine Gay is known for two things in Routt County -- her pie and her love of the valley.

Now in her mid-80s, Gay has been sharing her story at elementary schools for years. She will tell it again this weekend as the Circle of Wisdom series continues.

It's an important story for women to hear, a story of self-sufficiency and interdependency told by a community matriarch.

Gay could not be reached for comment, but in an interview conducted last year, she explained what it was like to live on a ranch with three young children in the dead of winter. Trips to town were largely limited to saddling a horse and riding in to buy groceries.

"You couldn't get out, you couldn't get to town, you couldn't get away, so you just stayed," she said at the time. To survive, Gay milked cows, churned butter, canned fruit and cooked for the hired help.

"But you had to," she said. "Nearly every ranch woman had to do this at that time, so I wasn't that exceptional at all.

"Today, people don't know what winter is like because they have all kinds of stuff that comes right to your door. In those days, you had to pick your days because of the weather."

Because of Gay's experience living and working the land on Pleasant Valley Ranch, she thought nothing of fighting for decades against the development of the land surrounding her ranch.

Her life and her fight were the reasons Sherry Benson and Sally Breedlove, partners in Windhorse of the Rockies, invited her to speak this weekend.

"We had asked folks who came to the first Circles of Wisdom for suggestions on who to invite, and her name kept coming up," Benson said. "She's been such an integral part of the valley and everybody seems to love her.

"She is partly responsible for preserving the beauty of the valley and we want her to pass on that connection to the land. We need to understand what we are doing now and how we can participate in the preservation of the valley."

Gay will be the fourth woman to speak in the Circles of Wisdom series.

"This vision of the series, started when I worked for hospice," Benson said. "I would go to these women's memorials and listen to the stories of their lives, and they were remarkable. They had such independent spirits. Why wait until they're dead to hear about it?"

Benson and Breedlove shared the same vision, Benson said, and decided to use the series as a launching activity for their business, Windhorse of the Rockies, with the ultimate goal of opening a healing retreat center in Steamboat.

"Why not start with empowering the women of the valley and by building a bridge between the generations?" Benson said. "(Women like Gay) have been through so much and have paved the way for us to have our lives a lot easier. Younger women need to understand what they did and to understand how they have benefited."

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