Day Writing by Heather Hamilton-Maude: A long, slow rumble
Fall’s coming on. With a long, slow rumble, echoing up tree lined valleys and across vast, open plains. A forewarning of the cattle pots that will soon arrive at remote corrals full of bawling cattle.
It may be hot, or already bitterly cold. Maybe a little of both, as each day goes on. There are cattle to move, to wean and to sort. Then to trail or load out for their winter home. Preg-checking, selling, and getting around that fall and winter fence. The list goes on and the calendar is a mess.
The culmination of years’ worth of work behind double chained gates in the corral, with fervent prayers that nothing makes them go berserk. One eye on if they’re walking, another on the markets. Gosh, lets hope nothing happens to make it crash.
Some years fall comes easy, slipping out of a summer full of rain and grass. Feed is abundant, and everyone is fat. Other years it’s a tough row to hoe, with drought and fire and pestilence.
For most folks we know, it’s been more of the latter this particular go.
We got our first round of calves, belonging to my parents, yesterday. They’re a few weeks early, after spending an exceptionally dry summer on the Wyoming/Montana border. It was hit and miss all season as to whether half their normal numbers were going to last until fall. But, they made it, and the calves look great and weighed up well. What a blessing!
We are weaning our own this weekend, also a few weeks early. They’re out of grass, and it’s time to go somewhere. We scrounged all summer to get enough feed put away for winter.
Perhaps you can relate this year. Perhaps this sounds plumb rosy compared to how your summer has gone.
On years like this I often think of a little deal I read somewhere. A young couple chose ranching over careers in town. The wife asked the husband one day why he had gone the route he did. He replied to the effect of, “You know in the spring, when those newborn calves throw their tails in the air and take off running and jumping. That’s why. There isn’t another job that has that – that makes me feel like that.”
I’ve always considered the morning of shipping home in the fall one of those moments. When those empty cattle pots top the horizon, often as the sun is just coming up.
We did everything as a family growing up, and still do today. As they would crest the hill and come into view, we would be either finishing stripping calves off cows, or, the adults would be visiting, drinking coffee, or getting the brand inspector what he needed while we kids asked our mothers if they remembered hot chocolate.
All bets were off regarding nutrition and sugar intake on shipping day. Something I have a whole new understanding of as I plan and prep to wean 30 miles from home this weekend.
Even though it’s been a bugger of a year that seemingly won’t quit – my husband is currently dealing with a broken solar panel the wind blew off its stand while we were out helping my parent’s precondition, in a pasture that’s lasted half the time we hoped it would – we are truly blessed to be among the few who get to live this life. It is not an easy occupation, but it is an unsurpassed lifestyle.
I pray both you and I can find those big, and little, moments of joy that are still to be found in this way of life. They might be a little harder to see through the dust and smoke, but they don’t cease to exist on the hard years. Take the time to search them out, and share them with your family. If they take this same path in life, they’ll need to know how to find God and all his handiwork on years like this. After all, this isn’t first nor will it be the last, bad year.
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