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Irons in the fire: God’s tender mercies

Progressive Cattleman Staff Paul Marchant Published on 24 October 2012

Earlier this fall, we had an old cow in the corral that I’d been doctoring and needed to be turned back out. I’d been planning to load her in the trailer and haul her four miles to the lower gate of the forest allotment and turn her out.

My daughter was home from college over a long weekend. So, I changed my plans and asked her if she wanted to catch the horses and go for a ride and take the old girl up on the mountain.

Although her favorite dun horse was lame, she somewhat reluctantly agreed that she could put up with the little roan and her father for a couple of hours.

Besides, she reasoned, it would give her a chance to perhaps get her mind off of some of her current burdens.

We were able to get the cow delivered to our destination without any serious mishaps. Of course, being a slave to her nature, she had to check the gate into every pasture and hayfield along the way and hug the fence for the first mile, in search of any busted wires.

But, by and large, it was a pretty smooth trip, especially considering some of the wrecks I’ve initiated in the past while turning a two-hour job into an all-day nightmare.

We even had time enough to ride up the draw a little ways and push some of the bottom huggers off the creek and up the hill to some country that hadn’t seen cows yet this summer.

On the return ride back home, we could see several miles across the valley to the west as we watched the sun sink closer to the mountains on the horizon.

As the sun sank lower, its light reflected off of the dozens of center-pivot irrigation systems that spread across the valley that was checkerboarded with so many alternating fields of potatoes, corn and already-harvested wheat and barley.

I’m not the most sensitive, in-touch-with-nature guy in the world, but I can occasionally recognize God’s awe-inspiring handiwork when it slaps me in the face.

The beauty of the scene that was laid out in front of us, coupled with the simple honesty of the experience, got me in sort of a reflective and melancholy mood.

I don’t mean the sad melancholy. I mean the kind of introspective melancholy that makes you aware of things that you don’t recognize or appreciate under most day-to-day circumstances.

At such times, it’s easy to recognize and be thankful for the grand and marvelous things like the sunset and the panoramic vistas of the West by which I am surrounded every day.

But even more than that, I got to pondering on the smaller things – the things that I nearly always take for granted.

I’m talking about pushing a herd of cows up the road with your son and daughter riding next to you.

I’m talking about the privilege of tending to a heifer at 2:30 in the morning as she delivers her first calf or the smell of diesel exhaust as you start the tractor to feed on a 10-below-zero Christmas morning.

I’m talking about the creak of a new saddle as you climb on your favorite old horse or the thrill of the perfect heel loop and the accompanying zing and burn of a quick dally around mule hide.

I’m talking about teaching your son how to splice barbed wire or dig a posthole the right way. I’m talking about the smell of rain on sagebrush or fresh-cut meadow hay and the rhythmic sound of the baler from half a mile away.

I’m talking about the pickup actually starting when you have to jump it because your wife left the lights on, or the relief you feel when you realize that you do indeed have the spare for the trailer that’s sitting in the middle of a dirt road 20 miles from the ranch with a load of bawling calves.

I’m talking about a four-wheeler that runs and a kid horse that doesn’t. I’m talking about a 36-degree October night when you forgot to cover the tomatoes in the garden or a 28-degree March night that kept the ground frozen enough to drive the pickup across the field to check heifers.

I’m talking about a horseshoe that stayed on for one more mile and the half inch of rain that came last July.

I’m talking about the colt that bucked when you were 25 and the one that doesn’t when you’re 45. I’m talking about an auctioneer’s chant at a bull sale and the sound of a pen full of freshly weaned calves or the sight of a cow cleaning off her new set of twins.

I’m talking about your wife helping you up the porch steps after you sprained your ankle stepping off of the tractor or the kids actually doing the chores before breakfast.

I’m talking about things that most people in the world will never experience – things that we, as cattle people, should ever be thankful for.

These are the things that make our lives liveable – God’s tender mercies, given to us, no matter how undeserving we may be.  end mark