We were out late last night working cattle.
And by late, I mean after dark.
And by after dark I mean, a sliver of a moon, a thousand stars, 50 head of black cattle, five people and one flashlight.
No, it’s not all raspberry picking, sunflowers and margaritas on the deck out here.
Sometimes we have to get Western.
And when all available cowboys and cowhands have jobs and responsibilities in the sweet and useful hours of the day, sometimes we find ourselves chasing the sun while we’re chasing the cows.
It’s difficult. Since moving back to the ranch two summers ago I’ve learned a lot of things. I’ve learned how to can a tomato, tile a shower, where to find a missing pug, how make a meal from what I have in my pantry because I’ve got no choice, I’m not driving to town, how to kill a burdock plant, what time of day makes the most magical photos and how long I can go without taking a shower before the neighbors start to complain…
But above all of that, mostly I’ve learned there aren’t enough hours in the day.
And I don’t know how Pops has done it all these years.
Ranching is a full time job. It’s not just about watching them graze in the pasture and riding through them like the Man from Snowy River every once in a while to get your cowboy fix. You have to feed them, move them, watch the water, watch for illness, doctor, move them again, find them when they’re out, fix the fence, move them, fix the fence, patch up corrals, bring them home, let the bulls out, get the bulls in, roundup, doctor, wean the babies, fix the fence, get a plan for hay, move the hay, feed the hay, break the ice on the stock dam and check them every day.
My dad has always had two full time jobs, one of them being ranching. His goal was to keep this place in the family and, during that time, that was the only choice. He would come home from work in the winter and I would bundle up in my Carharts and we would roll a bale out for the cattle in the freezing cold, nearly dark landscape. Sometimes I would drive the pickup while he scooped out cake or grain for a line of cattle trailing behind in the falling snow.
In the spring we would drive out and watch for calves being born. I would sit in the pickup as he braved the wrath of momma while he tagged and checked the baby.
There was more than one time that momma won the battle.
Summers were spent riding horses and moving pastures.
Fall was roundup and time spent in the pickup on the way to the sale barn.
And then he’d do it over again.
Every memory of being a side-kick ranch kid was one I hold close to me as part of my makeup, no matter the fact that I likely wasn’t one bit of help, except maybe that driving part.
And I like to think I’m good company.
I’ve been bucked off, had my fingers smashed, broken bones and cried out of frustration when facing a seemingly impossible task.
Ranching is not a job for the weak, and often I wondered (and I still wonder) if I’m made up of the things my father is made up of.
Why all of those years of long hours in town and late nights? Why not a house in town with a lawn, beer with the guys on Friday nights, golf on Saturday?
I never asked him because it’s a stupid question.
I’ve never asked him because I know the answer.
I’ll tell you here, but I have to do it quickly, because in an hour, we have to be home from town and saddled up. We have to bring more cows home and it’s gets dark earlier every night.
So here’s what he’d say:
This is it for me. Give me the beaches of the Caribbean, the steep mountains of Montana, give me perfect city streets laid out and predictable, give me the cactus and mysterious heat of the dessert, give me the shores of the mighty Missouri, the fjords of my grandparents’ homeland and I will say they are good.
I will tell you they’re beautiful.
I have seen them and I believe that’s true.
But I would not trade one day out in these pastures for a lifetime on those beaches, even if it means broken tractors and working until midnight with no light but the stars.
And I don’t know what else to say about it except this is my home and I will do what it takes to make sure that it stays the truth.
And that’s why I’m here.