The Travels of Dr. Rebecca Harper
A Matter of Time

Graduation 1981—Oh my God, I’m a vet. A real vet. No more practicing writing my name as Rebecca Ann Harper, DVM—or better yet, Dr. Rebecca Harper—in the margins of my class notes.

No more calculating my GPA daily in my spiral notebook while Dr. Fitzgerald drones on about accreditation exams. Considering the last three years, this is a miracle. I have it all.

With my diploma in hand and Pomp and Circumstance droning from the loudspeaker, I rushed off the graduation stage. I walked past my beaming husband, Jeff. He had Lauren, our three-year-old daughter, in tow and intended to keep her from screaming as I walked past without a hug.

Jeff and I met when he started his residency in equine reproduction four years ago. A kinder man you will never meet. “He’s tall, muscular, sandy-haired, and the best husband and father you could ever ask for.

The cliché is gag-worthy, but it’s true.” He opted out of his theriogenology residency program for one year with only a few months to go, so I could continue my schooling …

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The Travels of Dr. Rebecca Harper - A Matter of Time

Dr. Rebecca Harper travels to Nevada following graduation from veterinary school. She leaves her husband and small daughter to interview at a veterinary clinic near Lake Tahoe.

Rebecca is introduced to an area where the mythical television series, Comstock, was filmed.

She is involved in an accident while riding in the Eastern Sierras. Injured and disoriented, Rebecca must fight to survive. She eventually walks out of the mountains and into the set where the television series was filmed.

There she meets actors who resemble the beloved 1950s characters of the canceled television series. It must be a revival. Or is it? Is she trapped in a time warp?

Are these real people? How can she return to her husband and daughter? Can she survive in the 1850s without the modern conveniences she is now accustomed to, such as radiographs, Oreos, and Tampons?

A Matter of Time is the first book about a young woman's life in the 1800s as she searches to find a way back to her time.

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A Matter of Time - The Travels of Dr. Rebecca Harper

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Graduation 1981—Oh my God, I’m a vet. A real vet. No more practicing writing my name as Rebecca Ann Harper, DVM—or better yet, Dr. Rebecca Harper—in the margins of my class notes. No more calculating my GPA daily in my spiral notebook while Dr. Fitzgerald drones on about accreditation exams. Considering the last three years, this is a miracle. I have it all.

With my diploma in hand and Pomp and Circumstance droning from the loudspeaker, I rushed off the graduation stage. I walked past my beaming husband, Jeff. He had Lauren, our three-year-old daughter, in tow and intended to keep her from screaming as I walked past without a hug.

Jeff and I met when he started his residency in equine reproduction four years ago. A kinder man you will never meet. “He’s tall, muscular, sandy-haired, and the best husband and father you could ever ask for. The cliché is gag-worthy, but it’s true.” He opted out of his theriogenology residency program for one year with only a few months to go, so I could continue my schooling.

He’d been in practice at a small, rural veterinary clinic when it dawned on him that his passion for all things repro needed to be satisfied. We met when he came to the vet school to complete his doctorate and residency in equine reproduction. Now, Jeff has only six months left to complete his studies, and then we are out of here. Well, I’m out of here next week.

Don’t get me wrong. Vet school has been the best part of my life so far. I’m a bit slow, so it took me longer than most to be accepted into vet school but, once that happened, I became a student with a passion. I graduated with honors and received plenty of job offers.

Like Jeff, horses are my passion.

I grew up on a horse ranch with my older sister, Sherry, and my parents. Well, up until I was fifteen, when my mom died. Septicemia from a ruptured appendix was the cause of her death, but she’d had problems for years. I just pray I haven’t inherited her gastric intolerances. Sherry went off the deep end after that, and we don’t even know where she is. In the end, it was Dad and me, and now just Dad.

Our ranch is in the high country of Montana, so I’m accustomed to rough winters and the hardships of rural life. We had cattle, but Dad’s primary income was from horses. We bred ranch stock. Most were quarter horses, but we had a bit of everything.

Dad had three stallions and about twenty mares. He had around fifteen foals every year. My father also accepted outside horses for breaking. Well-known for having a way with horses, he even did training for a few movies and one long-running T.V. show. It may have been Gunsmoke.

Dad was in the graduation audience, and I looked around to find him in the crowd. I waved at him, and he beamed back at me. I was the first college graduate in the family. When I married and became pregnant, I think he thought the gig was up.

I knew he loved me, but I could hear the yelling four states away when I hung up after telling him, “Dad, I’ll go back and finish. I promise.” He was not persuaded. I think he considered coming down to castrate Jeff. He performed all the colt castrations on our ranch where we lived. Thankfully for all concerned, we were going to come and assume that job.

Jeff loved the ranch and the streams. We both loved to fish. Up in that remote area of Montana, the fishing was easy. Jeff was a fly fisherman, and he was showing me how to cast a line the summer before I got pregnant.

Well, I did graduate on time, and because Jeff sacrificed his studies so I could finish mine, my dad put away the emasculators when he came to see our beautiful daughter. When he heard that we might be moving to Nevada, the fight was on again for one and all.

“I didn’t raise you and put you through college so you could run off and live a thousand miles away. I have a right to see my granddaughter at least once a month, and I’m not getting any younger. I’m gonna need help this spring, and I don’t mean a few days of vaccinating, castrating, and floating teeth.” If you don’t know about horses, floating teeth means filing down the sharp points on the molars.

“Dad, there isn’t enough work in Mountain Laurel to support a vet, and you know it. I’m going to pay you and the bank back. I have six months until the student loan payments start. Jeff is still receiving a pitiful salary as a resident. I’m trying. Please believe me. If we could find jobs closer to you, we would. Besides, we are even farther from Jeff’s family. Like it or not, I have two families now.”

A truce was declared. The plan was for me to visit a mixed practice with a significant horse component near Lake Tahoe. I would go the week after graduation and check out the Nevada veterinary practice. The owners were Mac and Julie Smyth.

They were both vets, but Julie had not worked as a vet in twenty years. She gave up practice when their kids were born. She ran the office and raised the kids while Mac did the rest.

An up-and-coming vet had planned to take over the veterinary practice in three years, but one kick to the shoulder and the young vet checked out of the clinic and never returned. Mac had a progressive neurological condition and was not going to be around much longer.

The practice was put on the market for a song. Mac and Julie had done well and had properties and investments all over the area. Selling the veterinary practice was not a retirement deal. They loved their staff and clients, and they wanted to make sure all their staff and clients were looked after.

Mac figured he had a year or two to do the things he’d never done. He was going to take Julie and the kids to ride the John Muir Trail. If that went well, he and Julie were doing the Pacific Crest Trail the following year.

The Smyths knew we couldn’t afford to buy anything. They just wanted out. They asked us to take over the practice this summer, so they could get the John Muir done. They would hire me and provide a nanny, and Jeff would join us in January. We would buy the practice, and they would finance it.

Mac was a well-respected vet. He was up-to-date and even knew the correct dosage for penicillin. Lots of vets were still using ten milliliters once a day. Try three times that dose twice daily.

It seemed like a dream come true. We would be close to big cities and yet still be in the mountains. Jeff loved to ski and hike and fish, and I just wanted to be a vet. A second child was in the short plan as Jeff was twelve years older than me. Yep, I go for the old geezers.

Jeff’s uncle was a famous horse vet in Vermont. His uncle advised him to find a practice where he could get away for a few hours and then get back to work. Jeff spent his summers and vacations with his uncle working long hours, and to Jeff, the Tahoe practice seemed ideal.

He could leave work and play with our kids and be just as happy. He was always putting a long stick in Lauren’s hand and pretending to cast a fly. I had no hope. She was Daddy’s girl. I was just the milk bar, and even that was long over.

Jeff still loved the reproduction side of things, but that was seasonal, and so he wanted to plan the next child for mid-to-late summer. He could be the stay-at-home dad, at least a few days a week. All systems go for launch. The only glitch in the system was a somewhat unplanned celebratory activity the night of the graduation.

Worst-case scenario, by the time I was six months preggers, Jeff would be with me to take over the dangerous stuff. The day I left for Nevada, my fears were allayed, and I was once again a free agent. Phew, close call.

After graduation, I prepared for the trip to Reno and then out to see the vet clinic. I was surprised at how dry the area was, but I saw several ranches on the way to the clinic. I drove up to the office, and a woman in a blue scrub top greeted me. She didn’t say much as she took me into the main office.

She barely acknowledged me. I thought I heard her mutter something about my being a girl. I knew I was breaking the stereotype for a rural veterinary practice. The vet they wanted was Jeff. I guessed the woman was expressing what she had heard from her bosses.

A plump woman with very unnatural blonde hair was barking orders on a two-way radio. “No, you idiot, it’s Box 218, not 128. Mac, it’s a good thing you’re retiring. You’re going to take us to rack and ruin with these sidetrack adventures. Hazel’s waiting at the gate if she hasn’t died of old age.”

“I’m going to leave you up on Mount Whitney if you don’t stop squawking, woman. I see her. Has the lass arrived?” Mac yelled back on the two-way.

“I think so. She looks green and eager. Doubt she’ll look this good next year,” Julie Smyth announced, looking over her shoulder at me and smiling.

So, this was ‘Mrs.’ Dr. Smyth, and obviously, ‘Mr.’ Dr. Smyth was on the other end of this conversation.

“Dr. Green, reporting for duty,” I joked. “Well, some folks call me Becky.” I extended my hand and introduced myself. The woman stood up and reached over the counter to shake my hand.

“Well, well. Aren’t you tiny? I hope you’ve got some muscles under that shirt.”

“Yes, ma’am, dozens of them.” I still hadn’t shed the baby fat after my daughter Lauren’s birth, so I was slightly bigger than usual. Even so, I was accustomed to people judging me for my short stature. In her day, to be a woman vet, she had to be tough and twice as bright as the guys in her class.

These days, it was not that difficult. I was in a class of seventy-eight, and thirty-five were women. It wasn’t easy, and, for sure, there was a two-tiered system. I’d worked at the school as a vet technician, so the faculty accepted me more than they did the other female students.

The scrub-topped greeter waited at the door. It was then I could see that she might be intellectually disabled. I suspected Down syndrome. She made no attempt to talk to me or even offer a small friendly gesture.

“Rosa, this is the new young vet, Becky.” Turning to me, Julie asked if I minded being called by my first name.

“No, of course not.” Well, the ‘Dr. Harper’ name didn’t last long.

“Don’t take any mind of Rosa. She’s the backbone of this practice, but she is the strong, silent type.” Rosa smiled at Julie while she emptied the wastebaskets. “Rosa is our firstborn.”

“Oh, got it.” I could see she was definitely challenged. Jeff and I were so lucky to have a healthy and bright child. I could not imagine the life of having a son or daughter with a disability. Julie could read my thoughts.

“Rosa is independent. She lives at the clinic, and she pays her way. You’ll be lucky if Rosa stays and helps you when we retire. She cleans the barn and the clinic and cares for our personal horses. She has a way with animals that I don’t understand.”

“That’s great. We’ll keep Rosa if we can afford her rates.”

“She’s also awesome with small children, and she practically raised our younger two.”

“Hired! A job for life.” I wasn’t going to let that go. Julie smiled, and I thought I’d just passed a test.

Mac arrived back at the clinic an hour later. He walked in, slapped Julie on the backside, and shouted for Rosa to restock his truck. Only a few things were missing, and she went to the storeroom to get more vaccines, Banamine, which is used for pain relief in horses, and syringes.

I observed her with her dad and could see they were devoted. Mac’s hand shook slightly. He had early Parkinson’s disease. He shook my hand with a firm grip and crushed it in the process.

“How’s the dean? You know, we used to call him Stinky.” I gave Mac a quizzical look.

“Oh, he fell in a hog pen in his second year of vet school, and he never lived it down. He’s a good guy, though. I hear he has big dollars coming into the school. Well, the football team’s record might have a hand in the donations too, but he is one smart man. Did he tell you we were in the same class? It was his recommendation that made us look at you and your husband as potential successors to our clinic.”

“Yes, sir. He mentioned that you even beat him in awards.”

“Oh, bullshit. Stinky was the top dog. I just got the one award he wanted for the best equine vet student. He won four others and was at the top of the class. Oh, and don’t call me sir. That was my grandfather, and he’s long gone. I’m Mac to everyone but my kids.”

I could see he was a man who was easy in his clothes. He and Julie had no pretensions. They were just folks, and I had a lot to learn from them in a short time. They planned to go in two weeks if we could come to terms, and Jeff and I agreed to start work for them. I would have to talk to Jeff about this plan. The feel of the practice was good, but six months on my own, just out of school, was daunting. Actually, it was frightening—Hershey swirls in the pants kind of scary.

While I was applying to vet schools nationwide, I worked at the college in the large animal clinic. I knew a bit more than the average new graduate, but that was a damned sight less than Julie and Mac. I was good at horse wrangling, and difficult horses were not intimidating. Thanks, Dad, I thought.

Happily, I spent a week riding in the vet truck with Mac. It was real vet work. We performed castrations, floated teeth, and fixed a hernia on a Belgium filly. He had me pick the anesthesia protocol and most of the fine work that was becoming difficult for him. I sutured a large shoulder laceration, and we saw two colics. Horses are prone to abdominal pain for various reasons which is commonly called colic.

At the end of the week, Julie told Mac she was stealing me for the afternoon. She wanted to take me on a ride up in the mountains and show me the backcountry. The horses needed to get fit for the first ride on the John Muir Trail.

It was a beautiful summer day. We took the horses a few miles in the trailer to the trailhead and saddled up. The pines and other conifers were tall and fresh and made the blue sky look even bluer. The smell of pines permeated the air. Julie could have stopped there. I loved the mountains.

“No smog or pollution up here, Becky,” she commented as she observed me inhaling the smell of pine. It was hot in the valley, but as we climbed out and up the well-worn trail lined with conifers, the temperature began to drop. I could feel how pleasant it was in the cool of the mountains.

After an hour’s climb, I could look back and see the valley and the small ranches and roads below. Julie pointed out some of their clients’ properties.

Pointing to an old house in what appeared to be a ghost town, she said, “They used to film a few of the Comstock episodes over there, but mostly it was a tourist attraction.”

“Really, were you around? Did you meet any of the actors? Did you take care of the horses?” I was fascinated. I watched Comstock every Sunday night. I remember visiting my grandmother when we came out of the mountains, and we saw it in color once.

My father was not impressed. He would say, “You know the saddles are all plastic, so they show up better on the screen, and the horses are all lame. I don’t know what you girls see in that program, anyway. You’ve got the real deal right out your back door.” Whether the rumor of the plastic gear was true, I don’t know. I have to say, Sherry and I looked hard to see if we could confirm the story.

Julie replied, “I met Colin Chandler in the pharmacy once. He seemed nice enough. We saw the paint horse that Danny rode for a foot abscess. Mostly, they had the studio people doing what they needed. When they closed down, it was a death sentence to our town, though. Who was your favorite, Bec?”

“Oh, that’s a hard one…Gee Ling.” We both laughed. “I know where my bread is buttered.”

“That Clint was a dreamboat. I was sure sad when he left the series,” answered Julie.

We climbed some steep embankments. We snaked along a granite ledge that had a long drop to the bottom and was just as far from the top. Below was a river or a creek. I could see the rock-lined pools, and I looked for signs of trout. We stopped for a minute so Julie could take a nature break.

I held her horse as she went around the bend for some privacy. Some rocks came down from above. I looked up and thought it looked rather precarious. I shouted to her that the side of the mountain looked dangerous.

She laughed and said that was what she had told Mac the first time they came up here. “This trail is more than one hundred years old, Becky.” She returned from around the corner. “A few small slides occur almost every year, but nothing really to worry about. I’ve been coming up here for thirty years, and the trail is rock solid.”

I was dubious, but the allure of the trout down below attracted my attention. Julie stood up on a large boulder and remounted. “Come on, slowpoke. I want to show you my favorite spot in the whole world.”

Since I had the baby, I was not used to riding, and my legs were getting a bit weak and sore. I gritted my teeth and rode on, following her buckskin gelding. My gelding was a smaller, gray Arabian.

I chose him as they said he was the best-footed horse they had. He was solid and never put a hoof out of place. The granite shelf was glaring, and I was glad to have a hat and dark glasses. The forest below was thick, and I could see bushes that might have blackberries. I was hungry.

We had almost reached the end of the trail along the rocky cliff when I heard a tremendous roar. My gelding swung his head and looked up above the track. I was grabbing for anything I could. Julie was ahead of me, and she yelled but was drowned out by the noise of a massive rockslide coming down between us.

I saw her horse bolt, and Julie fell to the ground. Large boulders started falling all around me, and the trail gave way. The whole mountainside was crumbling. The noise was deafening. My gelding buckled, went down on his knees, and came out from under me. I was thrown back, which was the last thing I remember.

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