Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fall 2005

Summer 2005 finished with getting the rest of our hay baled and hauled, and rounding up the cows off the range. Young Heather and Nick took their horses (Chance and Mr. Kay) to the 4-H horse show at the Fair, bringing home 8 trophies between them. They also did very well in the 4-H working ranch classes—ranch roping, cattle sorting and team penning.

It was a very dry year and we had more forest fires that fall, some of which were out of control for several weeks, filling our valley with smoke. It was a huge reminder of the devastating summer 5 years earlier. Then in mid-September we had a sudden change in the weather, and some long-awaited rain, with snow on the mountains.
I helped Michael and Carolyn round up cattle, bringing them down to our own mountain pasture

We spent several days finding and gathering some that had strayed to the neighbor’s range—cattle that had gone through several gates left open by hunters. On one ride we found one pair and a bull, sorted them out from the neighbor’s cattle, and brought them down to where we used to have a gate between the Forest Service and BLM allotment. But when we got there we found that the Forest Service crew who rebuilt the boundary fence earlier in the summer (after it was all burned up in the fire 2 years before) had eliminated that gate.
We started taking our little group on down the fence, but the bull charged back through our horses. Michael rode after him, and Carolyn and I took the cow and calf along the fence to another gate. Then we rode through more of the burned area trying to find the other strays.
After several long days of riding and sorting cattle, we found nearly all of them, and went out again to search for the rest. We split up to search more country. Carolyn and I found no cows on our side of the mountain and headed back to Baker Creek to pick up a few pairs we’d gathered in that area. As we started back that direction, we saw Michael in the distance, leading his horse down off a ridge. The fact he was leading the horse and not riding, we realized something was wrong. Carolyn rode back to check on him while I gathered another little group of cows we’d found in the timber.
Michael’s horse, Classy, had gotten her hind leg caught between two logs, while scrambling through some down timber on the other side of the mountain. She’d ripped her leg open, exposing the back tendon. The wound was spurting blood when Michael dismounted to examine it, and the tired mare was trembling and glassy-eyed, going into shock from the pain and sudden blood loss following the day’s exertion. Michael took off his heavy flannel shirt and ripped the back out of it, tearing that big piece into 4 strips. He wrapped the biggest strip tightly around her lower leg to cover the wound, and tied it on tightly with the other strips. This pressure, and the thickness of the layers, slowed the blood flow—which had already formed a large pool on the ground.
Classy held her leg up the whole time he was bandaging it, but she did not try to kick. After he got it wrapped, she relaxed and put her foot back down on the ground, and within a few minutes she was not so shaky. Michael was able to lead her out of the timber and over the hill to Baker Creek to join us.
After we brought the gathered cattle out of Baker Creek and around the mountain toward our upper pasture, Michael and Carolyn traded horses. Carolyn led Classy down the steep mountain, following the cows down to the gate, while Michael and I rode on around toward the rough cliffs above Withington Creek and found a few more pairs. We got all the cattle down into our upper pasture and Michael then led Classy down to the road, where he redid the makeshift bandage, which was starting to slip. We met a hunter driving down the road, and he gave Michael a ride 3 miles down to their house, so Michael could get their pickup and horse trailer--so he could haul Classy to town to the vet.
The makeshift bandage had kept the wound clean, and even though the tendon was nicked, it was not completely cut and would heal. The vet was able to staple the skin back into place over most of torn area. Michael kept the wound bandaged several weeks (changing the bandage daily) and gave Classy penicillin shots for a couple weeks, and it eventually healed very nicely.

We had good weather for a while in October, and young Emily spent several days with us that fall (on a couple weekends and school vacations), and she had several riding sessions on one of my old horses (Khamahn--nickname "Veggie"--a 19 year old grandson of old Khamette, the mare my own kids learned to ride on, 35-plus years ago). Veggie had never had a kid on him before and was a little nervous the first time, but he soon got used to Emily and they got along great. At first I led "Veggie" around while Em got used to how she should handle the reins.

Then she progressed to riding him solo around the barnyard in familiar surroundings where he felt at ease. Then I took her on longer rides, leading Veggie from my own horse, traveling several miles over our low range and back.
We have to go a little ways along the country road before we can get to the range pasture, and I didn't want to take a chance on Em not being able to get the old horse off the road in time when traffic (including logging trucks) came along; it was safer leading him from my horse. But she did very well (using the same little child's saddle my kids learned to ride on) and was soon able to ride Veggie without being led from another horse. She was a little older and stronger than my kids were when they learned to ride.

When my kids were little and just learning to ride, their legs were still too short to reach below the saddle pad, and old Khamette couldn't feel them kicking to try to make her go. I led her from another horse, and we'd ride all day checking cattle and gates, or moving cattle. In summer, Lynn was busy haying and I'd take the kids with me to ride range all day, as soon as they were big enough to sit on a horse that long. By the time Michael graduated to a horse he could ride solo, Andrea (2 years younger) was ready to start riding Khamette. I could lead her alongside me as we trotted or galloped—while chasing a cow--or let her drop behind on a narrow single-file trail through the trees. The kid gained confidence and riding ability but I had the horse in tow so the old mare couldn't just stop and eat grass. .
One afternoon while Em was at the ranch, she hiked with Lynn and me to check on the cows in the pasture above our house and was delighted that Buffalo Girl (a big yearling) remembered her. They hadn’t seen each other since Buffalo Girl was a bottle-fed orphan the year before. The heifer walked right up to Emily to be petted and tried to lick her face. On another hike she and I collected leaves for her school project, and put together her leaf collection.

We weaned our calves in October and hauled the steers to a sale. We kept the heifers, and put them in the little pasture above our house. We worried that they might get sick because the weather turned suddenly cold and wet, with several inches of new snow. But they stayed healthy, thanks to their pre-weaning vaccinations.
That fall we received a newly published book, written by one of our friends—a young woman who lost her husband in a freak accident. Lynn and I appreciated Julie’s very clear way of expressing her faith and her feelings. We got several copies of her book (You Only Think God Is Silent) to give to other people, knowing it could be an inspiration and encouragement to others going through soul-wrenching trauma and loss.
Tragedy does indeed thrust us onto a wondrous detour that opens up new territory--and places us on a pilgrimage from which there's no turning back. It can bring us grace and compassion and open us up to the love of God in a way we could never fully experience nor comprehend before. We might think we understand God's love with our minds, but until we experience and feel it in our hearts--after we've completely run out of self-sufficiency and can only depend on Him--we really don't "get it". How wondrous are the gifts He gives us.
We wanted to share Julie’s book with several friends, including some who had lost spouses to cancer. We were glad she was able to write it, and share her story. This kind of life-changing experience (coming through tragedy and having it mold and hone us) sets some of us on a mission, to spend the rest of our lives trying to help and encourage others.
Another book we often share is called The Last Dance But Not the Last Song, written by Renee Bondi, a young woman who has also created several music CDs. Her story is a fantastic, awesome example of spiritual triumph over tragedy, and her music is wonderful.
We stumbled onto her story by accident, or actually by "God incidence" as she puts it. Renee feels there are no "coincidences". The summer after Andrea was burned (2001), Lynn was on our upper place irrigating, and ran across a young man who was here working for the summer for a company doing contract work for the BLM. Mike was hiking through our range, doing "fuel mapping" for the BLM (evaluating the amount of dry grass, dead timber, etc. for future fire danger). After Lynn found out what his job was, Lynn told Mike about Andrea's burn accident in the terrible fire at 12 Mile the year before (a fire that got quickly out of control because of the horrendous amount of dry grass in that area). That side of the mountain, all along the Salmon River, had not been adequately grazed for several decades. The BLM and Forest Service had reduced or eliminated the grazing rights of those little ranches along the river.
Lynn told Mike about Andrea's burns and her progress in recovery (one year out from the accident) and mentioned that I had started writing a book about this experience. So Mike told him that his wife Linda's cousin (Renee Bondi) had just published a book about her own accident (which left her paralyzed) and her spiritual journey. The book had just come out and Renee had sent Linda a copy. We wanted to read it, so Mike called his wife, Linda, and she sent Mike the book to loan to us, before she herself had even had a chance to read it!
Thus began a wonderful friendship with Mike and Linda, and after reading Renee's book we ordered a copy for ourselves, and all of her music CDs. We found her music so inspiring (especially since she overcame great odds to eventually sing again) that we got more of her music to give to friends who might be helped and inspired by it. We also keep ordering more of her books, to give away. Her story is one of hope, courage and triumph (and surrender to God's love), and her music is filled with the joy of that God-centered life.
I still like to listen to Renee's music when I get "down" or out of focus, getting too caught up in trivial things or feeling low or sorry for myself, or small and petty or not being open to love and joy and thankfulness for my many blessings. Her music gets me back on track again. I have a special connection to it because it's all tied up together with the trauma our family went through, and the unexpected, long journey we were launched into.
Knowing how much Renee has come through, and how much we are all loved, and guided, and blessed by the One who loves us most, her music wipes away my doubts, my fears, my pettiness, and helps me reconnect with what I am supposed to be. Why walk, when you can fly! Why burrow inward when you can help someone else and try to be an instrument of God's love.
I sent Renee’s book and music to my cousin’s wife Leanne, who was diagnosed that summer with a serious form of breast cancer. She had surgery and then was on chemo for several months. She was scheduled to have more surgery the day after Christmas, and then radiation. She was feeling badly that she didn’t have the energy to do the things for Christmas she wanted to do for her kids and grandkids. But she had already given them the most special gift, of love--and I admired her calm faith and serenity in handling her fight against the cancer. She is still fighting it, 5 years later, and has dealt with it matter-of-factly, and with great trust.
Her battle has been truly a marathon (sort of like a cross country run through all kinds of terrain), with some hard climbs and slow spots. I keep praying that her body and spirit and determination carry through for the journey and that when she gets to the finish she will have "won"! A long marathon like this is taken one day at a time (sometimes one hour, one moment, one step at a time), but I am confident that her faith and trust in the One who cares most will carry her through.
The "NOW" is what's important, living in the NOW and accepting the love and strength that God gives us, moment by moment. That's the only place peace can really wrap round us. I think we all tend to live too much in the future and trying to deal with the "what ifs", and we forget to live in the NOW. But things like cancer or any serious life crisis can help us focus on the NOW and on reaching out to God (who is always reaching for us) to carry us through this moment. True peace is only achieved in the now.
Leanne was such a help to me and to little Emily (cheering us on, steadfastly) during our traumatic summer in 2000, with Andrea’s injuries. Leanne and her daughter Karen and little granddaughter Sarah wrote to me and called frequently on the phone, and sent care packages for helping entertain 2 ½ year old Emily. Sometimes Sarah would talk to Emily on the phone

These past several years, in humble gratitude for their prayers and care during my time of need, I have tried to take my turn to be supportive to Leanne. She is in my thoughts and prayers every day, as she still continues to battle her cancer. It's been my turn to be part of her "support" crew, to "be there" for her however I can. Life has an amazing way of bringing us round to the fact that we do not make this journey alone... we are meant to help one another.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Late Summer 2005

Summer on our ranch is usually a mad scramble as we try to get the irrigation and haying done and take care of the cattle. The summer of 2005 I was also working on a book manuscript. Lynn got our old swather going and put new tires on it, and cut our hay and some of Michael’s hay on his leased place. Michael had been too busy doing custom cutting to get any of his own hay cut yet.

We had a long stretch of hot weather and no rain. Some of the springs and water troughs on our range were not working very well, so Carolyn and kids rode out there several times to check the troughs and work on some of the springboxes. Michael and Carolyn’s kids were really good help with the riding, moving cattle and irrigating, but were also gone awhile to basketball camps.
Andrea was driving to town nearly every day from 12-mile, taking her young kids to swimming lessons. She rarely had time to come out to the ranch.
Our two cats were getting old (age 13 and 14) so Lynn brought home a couple of kittens a friend was giving away. They adapted quickly to their new home, but had a bad habit of climbing up under vehicles in our driveway. After Michael and Carolyn were here at our house one day, we noticed the kittens were gone. They probably crawled up onto the motor of their Ford Explorer. But they didn’t show up at Michael’s house (2 miles up the creek from our place) so we figured they jumped off or fell off somewhere along the way. We looked along the road but didn’t see them. They were gone for a week so we assumed they didn’t survive.
Then one evening when Lynn and I were hiking along the cow trail above our house for our daily walk, we heard a meow. The yellow kitten, hungry and skinny, crawled out from some big rocks along the road bank. We called and called, but the other kitten wasn’t there. We carried the yellow one home, and it ravenously gorged on milk and cat food. Three days later the little black kitten came meowing out of the field near that same place on the trail as we hiked by. We don’t know how far up the creek the kittens rode under the Explorer before jumping or falling out, but it took them a week to wander back toward home.

That summer I continued to write letters to Laurel, whose daughter perished from burn injuries the same summer that Andrea was burned. As I mentioned to Laurel in one letter, “I wish you still had Sara. I wish you had never had to endure such terrible loss and pain. I can never fully feel the depth of your pain because I haven't walked in your shoes. I still have my daughter, even though the life we knew before (her ability to help me on the ranch, to help with the cattle and horses, and ride range with me) is gone and changed forever. That's a tiny thing, compared to how your life changed.”
Andrea’s accident, however, did set my priorities straight and I realized I could endure the detour our lives had taken, I could live without the things I thought were so defining of my life; I could actually live without my cattle and horses. For so many years we all struggled so hard to survive in ranching and pay for our place and our cattle. As I mentioned to Laurel, “It's a good life, living on the land, and a wonderful place to raise children, but I realize that all too often the drive to survive here--to take perfect care of the cows and not lose any calves--came first, taking the most demands of my time, energy and passion.

Through Andrea's accident and fight for life, my focus changed. I was being reminded that my focus needed to change. I needed to focus on the love of family, the connectedness with other people, and learn to trust a bit more in the fact that God will help us survive financially, one way or another, and that I don't have to be so single-minded about thrusting so much of my energies into the ranch and cattle.”
I learned (not an easy lesson for me) to be more relaxed about a lot of things, and not be so intense or worried about the little things. I learned that I CAN live without the single-minded focus on my cattle and horses. Andrea's accident and her long, difficult road back to life led me through a new door and I found I could leave much of the old "me" behind. It is this "awakening" that I am grateful for.
I am not glad that the experiences dear to my heart that Andrea and I always shared (the wonderful companionship working daily with the cattle and horses) are no longer there, but I can accept it, and let that life go. Yes, we still have the ranch and a few cattle, but we've now sold most of the cows to our son and are letting him use most of our ranch--and I no longer ride as much--maybe a couple dozen times a summer instead of nearly every day.

I am at peace with this change, however (something I would not have been able to think possible, before the summer of 2000), because God has opened up a greater window in my life--for helping other people--and also enabling me to make up the difference in our income with my writing, relying more on it and less on the cows.
I wrote to Laurel, saying our experiences are all different. “I am not sure I could have endured the loss of my daughter; you have the greater challenge and I am in awe of your progress in your journey. But you are very right in saying that it is through the suffering and trauma (the "human condition" as some might call it...the consequences of living in the real world where accident and tragedy can happen) that we gain understanding of our connectedness and kinship that can give us strength and love and compassion. The connectedness, the empathy, can lend us strength. I know how much the caring of other people helped me (and still does!) when struggling through the dark hours.”
In late July Lynn and I received a message from a good friend in Canada, and a copy of the Eulogy he gave at his wife’s memorial service. It was a touching tribute to her life. We’d gotten acquainted with Dan and Margo (ranchers in Manitoba) about 25 years earlier. They’d been reading my monthly column in Grainews (a Canadian farm newspaper) from the time I started writing it in the early 1970’s, and Dan called me on the phone one day to ask a question about treating a sick calf. A few more phone calls over the years, then a few letters. After Andrea’s burn injury they were very supportive and became good friends. Then Margo was diagnosed with breast cancer and it was our turn to be supportive, as she bravely fought, and finally lost, her battle.
As Margo slipped into the final weeks, Dan kept us updated on all the details, including his thoughts and feelings, and his reminiscences about their life together. In spite of Margo’s pain, their last weeks together were a beautiful time of sharing. Dan’s e-mail updates to friends became the nucleus of a book he wanted to write—as an inspiration to other people who are traveling through the devastating landscape of cancer. That book, by the way, is now published (November 2010) and is called Hitchhike to Heaven.
When I wrote to Dan after he lost Margo, I thanked him for sharing their lives with us. This kind of "connectedness" makes all of us stronger, yet gentler, more appreciative of life and the gifts God has given us, and the Love he has for us. Again and again--after our own dunking into the depths of tragedy—we’ve been reminded of how much God loves us, and how much He wants us to love one another.
The repercussions of love go far, like little ripples from the pebble you throw into the water of a quiet lake--they go out and out and out and you never know how many lives they may touch. I am convinced that Good, that Love, that God's plan for all of us (to find peace, joy, comfort, our purpose in life, contentment, fulfillment by loving others...etc.) is so much stronger than all the bad things in this world. Sometimes the epiphany, the light bulb that goes on in our soul, the sudden awareness of his Love is like a lightning strike, but so often it's more like the quiet workings of sourdough, gently stirring in the depths of our soul and softly but gently changing us little by little. And all those ripples that touch us, from the pebbles cast forth by other people, these things ultimately change us and help us become more receptive to loving God (and letting Him into our lives) and loving others.
I thanked Dan for sharing his feelings about losing Margo. I told him, “We rejoice with you both--with the peace and joy she must be experiencing now, free of pain, and in the loving arms of her Creator. We share your joy and peace of mind that she is indeed, "home" at last. And I know that her love for you, her earthly lover, friend and soul-mate, transcends time and space and her spirit will still be with you until you rejoin her. It is so wonderful that we can know these things in our hearts, even though sometimes it is hard to fathom them with our minds. It's great that God made us emotional as well as calculating, made us creatures of heart and feeling as well as logic, with an instinct for worshiping that which is greater than we are. We have an inner drive to recognize that we are the creation (a child of God), as well as our instinct for self-determination and self-preservation. It all comes together in the miracle of life and the paradox of our earthly existence, as we at some point in our lives reach out (often when we are hurting, or at the end of our own rope in terms of our own abilities to cope with whatever pain, tragedy, challenges that happen to us). And then we discover that He was reaching for us, all along, and we find our "salvation" (our at-oneness, our peace and purpose) in Him.”
“Enjoy and cherish your family... the wonderful legacy that you and Margo were instrumental in creating. It never ceases to amaze me how tragedy can jerk us around to Reality, to set our priorities straight and make us realize how very, very blessed we are, and that the love of family is precious, that no little trivial things (that so often mess up families and get in the way of what's really important) should ever come between you and the ones you love. I guess that's one of the beautiful, wonderful, positive things about tragedy--it brings us together. It smoothes out the differences and puts us all on the same page, and we can appreciate and love one another, deeply and unconditionally, in spite of the little things that tend to separate and alienate us. It sounds like Margo's passing (her going ahead of all of you to the next chapter) brought you all together in love, and deepened the love you had for one another. It is so wonderful that you made her passing/celebration of life a time of joy and fun for the grandkids. They will always remember Grandma with good feelings and a special place in their young hearts rather than remembering this as a time of somberness and stoic grief of their parents. What a wonderful thing you accomplished for those grandkids!”
“We shall keep you in our thoughts and prayers as you drift back into the mundane routine of your life (though ranching is never mundane, thank God), while retaining the afterglow of all that has occurred these past few months, as you went through the marathon of human endurance (so draining, physically!) and emotional/spiritual "overdrive". We shall also be cheering you on as you work on your book... a wonderful project that will help guide you/sustain you through this transitional time without Margo as you miss and grieve for her, and a project that will bring you joy because it will be a great help to others.”