We had a nice Christmas, spending the afternoon and evening out at Andrea's place enjoying those grandkids, and feeling very blessed to still have our daughter, and to have those lovely children.
January 2005 started out cold. Even with our wood stoves going, it was often down to 55 degrees in my office in the early mornings when I was typing, so Lynn got me a tiny electric heater that sits by my desk. I was finishing a book on handy hints for horsemen (Stable Smarts), and working on the final stages of The Horse Conformation Handbook. My book Beyond the Flames had been published, and I was writing many letters, sending some of those books to friends who’d ordered them at Christmastime.
During January I was busy doing several writing projects--articles for horse and cattle magazines, and checking over the edited manuscript for my book on getting started with beef and dairy cattle. I hoped to get most of these projects done before we began calving. We calved in January for more than 30 years (to have the cows bred in April before they went to summer BLM range) but after we sold most of our cows to our son Michael (and he began using our range permit) our herd was small enough to stay home on our private pastures and we can calve whenever we want--so that year our cows were bred to calve in late March.
Granddaughter Emily had her 7th birthday in January and little Sammy turned 2 years old. Lynn and I planned to go out to Andrea’s place for a combined birthday party but we all had colds and decided to postpone.
In early January we helped Michael and Carolyn work their cows (giving the important vaccinations prior to calving) and they moved their cattle to our lower fields, in preparation for calving. They also brought a load of poles and several fence jacks to make portable jack fence panels. Young Heather and Nick spent a couple evenings after school helping them build the jack fence to create a wing out in the field, for getting the pregnant cows in through the corner gate whenever they needed to bring one to the calving barn. With the wing to funnel them toward the gate, they can't run off and get away so easily. The panels can later be picked up with a tractor and loader and removed from the field so they won't be in the way for haying. The kids helped hold up the long poles while Michael nailed them to the jacks.
Those kids were getting big enough to be a lot of help to their parents. They help on weekends, sorting out cows to put into the "maternity field", watering the cows and new calves in pens and barn, shuttling cows with new babies down to the lower field. I remember when our kids were that age; we made a good crew, and it looks like these guys are, too. That's the nice thing about being on a ranch--you get to do lots of things as a family. Even though it's "work", some of the projects can be pretty exciting (almost too exciting sometimes, with wild cows). That winter, they often ate dinner with us on Sunday nights after they got done with their chores. Since they were using our calving facilities and spent a lot of time here during calving, we got to interact with them quite a bit and that was fun too--sharing all our wild cow stories. And the grandkids got to hear some family history about all the crazy things their Dad and aunt Andrea did growing up.
The first new calves arrived in late January and by the first of February Michael and Carolyn had 21 new babies, including 3 born down in the lower field. Michael brought those babies up to the barn in a big plastic sled. They had several sets of twins. One pair was born down in the field and he put both calves in the sled to bring them to the barn, with mama following. Our own cows hadn’t started calving yet, so Lynn and I weren’t doing night shifts yet. On my birthday we drove out to Andrea’s place for a few hours and enjoyed seeing her kids, then that evening Michael and Carolyn and kids came for supper at our place after they finished their evening feeding.
By mid-February, 85 of their cows had calved, with about 160 more to calve. One cold night, another newborn calf had to be brought up from the field in a sled pulled behind a 4-wheeler, but that particular cow wouldn't follow her calf to the barn. Most cows are good mothers and follow along, staying right with the calf, but this cow (one they bought the year before) was wild and ran off, and they couldn't get her in from the field. She's the kind that would jump over a fence or crash over a stall partition in the barn, so they left her out in the field and brought the calf to their little trailer house to warm and dry, and fed it a bottle. When they took it back out to the cow, she didn't want it--kicking it viciously. They decided to give the calf to Swifty, a sweet little cow that lost her set of twins the night before. The wild, mean cow will become hamburger.
Swifty is much nicer and belongs to granddaughter Heather (age 13 at that time) and everyone was feeling badly that she'd lost her twins. Those calves were presented backward and all tangled together, and dead by the time Swifty’s labor was obvious and Michael brought her in from the field to put in the chute and check her and assist the birth. Swifty adopted the rejected calf; she still wanted a baby.
The 50 heifers Michael and Carolyn bought (to increase their herd numbers) were wild and flighty, so they were living in a corral near our other barn, which could provide shelter for those new babies. There's a lane between the corral and the barn, so it wasn’t too hard to get a wild heifer into the barn, especially since our dear old "Rhiney" (Rhinestone Rhonda) was living with the heifers. She was 15 years old that spring and we’d used her for many years to lead our heifers into the barn. We sold her to Michael and Carolyn in one of the batches of cows we sold to them, and they used her for the same purpose.
She would march into the barn, heifer following, then turn around and come back out, so you could slam the door on the heifer. If there were no other cows in the barn, we could leave Rhiney in there with the heifer, in an adjacent stall, to keep her company if the heifer was really wild and needed a buddy in the barn. So Rhiney was still earning her keep, and they were hoping she wouldn’t calve until late in the season, so she could continue to do her job. She worked for wages--we always had to give her a "cookie" after her job (a flake of alfalfa hay). Then she willingly marched to the barn whenever we called her name.
Andrea and kids were doing well that winter, and little Danielle was growing fast. At 3 1/2 months old she weighed more than 12 pounds--making up for being so tiny when she was born. Emily was enjoying 1st grade and learning to read. She often read her books to me over the phone and was quite proud of her accomplishments. She decided to sign up for wrestling (the grade school has a wrestling program) and she was excited about that. She was very sturdy and strong for her age, and was able to outwrestle most of the boys in first grade!
Andrea continued to recover from her burn injuries 5 summers earlier, but "recovery" is a forever thing. The doctors in Salt Lake wanted her to go back to the burn center that spring for a couple more surgeries, to correct some graft contractures (one in her armpit and upper arm, and one on the little finger of her right hand) where the contracting scar tissue was pulling on her joints. She didn't want any more surgeries, however, and kept putting it off.
Lynn and I were feeling our age that winter and started hiking every evening after chores, walk about a mile up our horse trail from the house. Some days we’d go farther, up a steep trail into a mountain pasture. With our smaller cow herd and fewer chores to take care of them, we realized we weren't getting the exercise we used to (and me not riding range every day in summer--now I just ride occasionally to help the kids move cattle). Sitting at a desk typing is not a good way to stay fit. My cholesterol levels had risen sharply after I became less active, and Lynn was overweight, so we made a commitment to hike every evening. I never thought I'd have to resort to "artificial exercise" but our lives changed drastically after the summer of 2000 when we started cutting down our cow herd (selling more to Michael and Carolyn) and doing less active things, like baby tending and helping Andrea, and typing articles full time instead of being outside working so much of each day. So... it was time to do something about it.
As we pondered the changes in our lives, we realized this journey has been amazing. These are definitely not the paths we would have chosen, but Lynn and I feel this trek has made us more "alive", more aware, and more able to love other people. We look back on that abrupt "detour" in July 2000 and now realize that it's the most wondrous (though definitely not the easiest!) route our lives could have taken--the most awesome trip. And it's on-going. Once we made that screeching turn off the main road, we entered an entirely different landscape. It took awhile to really see it and appreciate it, and the path is still opening up, but what a change it's been from that freeway we were whizzing along on so nonchalantly! So much more now, to see and feel, so much new stuff to try to soak in and assimilate, so many people crossing our path, and now we find we have the ability to see a kinship with them. We can really "see" people now, for who they really are, and know that we are kindred spirits under all the superficial layers we used to wrap ourselves in. The connectedness is awesome, and a lot of these people we meet, we end up sharing our journey with--we trudge along together and find joy and meaning in the travel, and we share a sense of wonder at the breathtaking glimpses of what life is really all about.
Yes, it's been an awesome detour and I can honestly say that now Lynn and I (and Andrea) are not sorry that it happened. We can look past the tragedy, and the changes we had to make, without bitterness or regret. The terrible pain, the uncertainty, the horrible fear and worry as we plunged into the dark unknown, have been mostly dissipated (or made endurable) and replaced by Love and peace, and a calm understanding that there is a hand that guides us. We can tackle the rest of the journey with more confidence, and even with joy, because now we know we are loved. Now we know we can trust. Before, these were intellectual concepts; though we had glimmers of "seeing", we were mostly enveloped in mundane stuff that stood in the way. Now, we know these things in our hearts and not just our minds, and the mundane stuff has been effectively ripped enough that we can step through it and beyond it, and sometimes be truly free of it--free to love, free to be, free to experience the joy of being loved for what we are, which includes a new commitment to be the best that we can be--in loving, in helping other people.
A friend that I came to know because of our mutual traumatic journeys told me she is grateful for the many gifts her accident (that left her partially paralyzed) afforded her. She feels connected now to the pain of other people, and to the possibilities of a heart change spawned by such pain. This is a metamorphosis that comes from entering into and passing through the dark unknown of a life-changing crisis. She said, "To those who walk in that darkness and all those beautiful people who have been changed because they stepped into it and through it with their faith intact, I feel connected. It's not a path I'd have chosen, had I been given a choice, but having come through it a better person, I can honestly say I COULD do it again. It's funny how people will say, 'I could never handle it like you have.' The truth is, they could."
She pointed to the story about a man who carried his cross to Jesus and said it was too heavy and he wanted another one. Jesus told him to put it in a certain room and go pick out another cross to bear. The man was overwhelmed when he saw how big the other crosses were and finally found one he thought he could handle. When he took it to Jesus and said he couldn't believe the size of those other crosses but had found one he was sure he could carry, Jesus said, "That's the one you brought in."
We think we've got it tough until we see someone struggling with a bigger cross, a harder one. Then we realize we can carry our own. It's all a matter of perspective. Each of us has a cross, but no matter what it is, our Lord helps us bear it--so our own is definitely the one we want.
So, I continue my own journey with joy, and a lot more faith. Even though worry and hurry still creep in, it doesn't take much to step out of that trap and shake it off and once again breath the clean, pure air and peace of this blessed detour. Though we shall always walk with a limp because of our encounter (a person never emerges unscathed through such a life-changing detour), we rejoice, for like Jacob wrestling with the angel, we did not let it go until it blessed us. We know we can manage now, in spite of our impairments and inadequacies, our loss, or our wound scars. We know we can manage because we have a wonderful Guide for the rest of our journey, and He will see us through the tough spots.