It's just a piece of dirt, and other lies I tell myself
March 20, 2019
*Inspired by a true friend, her bottle of wine, and my bottle of whiskey.
Growing up in the middle of nowhere watching my parents squeeze a living out of the Missouri Breaks Gumbo, I heard them exclaim in frustration many times, "It's just a piece of dirt!" Looking back, I cannot imagine life without that piece of dirt, that place where my heart goes to grow and heal, and the only place that will ever be my home.
When I was small there wasn't anything I wasn't a part of on the farm. Cleaning and filling drills in the spring, haying, fencing, and branding in the summer, harvest in the fall, shipping calves and preg-testing, followed closely by calving/sorting pairs, repeat. Every day was an adventure. Some of my best memories were waiting for mom to pick us up from the one room school in the grain truck to go to the fields until the day was done. How I was raised was truly a blessing.
Growing up I can remember sitting on the brand-new-to-us air drills, looking around as far as my 10-year old eyes could see, and just SMELLING spring. Watching the calves buck around the yard and feeling the promise of the year to come. I would get mad if mom and dad put a cow in during the night without me, and my favorite activity was being in charge of holding the rope, wrapped to a pole, lassoed around a cow's head (also known lovingly as the snub-and-beat method) while dad would coax a calf grafting, or encourage a cow whose motherhood skills were sub-par. Life was good.
I remember days horseback, getting caught in a rainstorm and the water filling our boots. Getting into more than we bargained for and drinking water out of reservoirs straining the pond scum out with our hats. Having my horse slip and stumble on frozen roads with miles stretching ahead of us before the day was done. The adventures I had! The tears I cried! Like when I got brushed off in the trees and my ribs stepped on by my faithful steed, or that whole getting bucked off and getting back on thing. Some of the hardest and most rewarding days were spent on horses with my dad getting the job done, and I wouldn't trade that for anything this worldly plane has to offer.
I learned I was wrong a lot. For example, the time dad chased my brother and I home on horse, and the many encounters my backside had with wooden spoons, cattle sorting sticks, or whatever was handy. It turns out you CANNOT leave the water running in the corral to make an ice skating rink, or tell your dad to "get lost".
I also learned about trust. Trust between an animal and its caretaker, and trust between people. One of the truest tests I encountered when we were pulling bulls one year and my dad pulled his rope to deal with a honky one. Dad said, "If I get in trouble save me." And I told him, "You know I can't rope." He told me to run my horse into the bull if things went south. I would have too, no questions asked. I also remember the same day my dad roped a bull and tied it to an H-brace... My dad is kind of hard-core.
I learned about responsibility when my dad had me put down the horse I learned to ride on. "We have a responsibility to end his suffering, that's part of taking care of our animals Amanda." Or when we had to put down a calf born with a birth defect, "These are hard on me," my dad would say pulling out his pistol. "All that animal wants to do is live, but it can't." I also learned about compassion, when the neighbors would come over to put down our dog so we didn't have to. Death teaches many lessons.
I learned about patience, watching my dad repeatedly rope a stump and drag it around the yard on his Appaloosa which was aptly named "Riot". Or him riding his first, last, and best mare that had a dent in her nose from being pulled back. Helping my mom pull weeds in our two gardens, what she called playing "Amish Peasants" and what the neighbor girl called "Amish Pheasants". And literally everything else on the farm involved patience or going in actual circles most of your waking hours.
I learned humility. Falling off my horse when he turned sharply to avoid a washout I did not see, or riding the whole day with pants I ripped the crotch out of first thing in the morning. I was never the best, but I was always there, crotch less Wranglers and all.
I enjoyed freedom that most will never know. The smell of hot summer sun on sagebrush, Bear Paw shale, and cedar. The look you get when your brother wants to race horses and you're pretty sure you can win this time... Your first beer which is usually closely followed by your first whiskey, which you swear will be your last but never actually is. Endless summer skies, shiny slicked-off Black Angus cattle, dirt, green grass, and forever chasing the horizon.
I experienced true love. The love my mom had for us kids, driving us to swimming lessons in Winifred every day during the summer. The care my parents took to make sure I had a childhood worth bragging about. I will have you know we had our OWN above ground stock-tank swimming pool and we went to the water-slides in Lewistown at least twice a summer. I got to see the love my parents had for the life they were blessed to lead, the lifestyle they fought every day for, and the relationships they were blessed to have with their neighbors. I also got my first real kiss at the Cleveland Bar, so if that's not love, I don't know what is!
It is not just a piece of dirt. The ranch my parents have bled, cried, and worked for is the best part of my life. A blessed place where I was never treated as anything less than important, where I learned anything worth learning, and where my heart is fullest.
To those who did not grow up on a farm, I am sorry you will never understand. And to those who did, look around, take a breath, and remember this blessed feeling. Not everyone gets this, this makes you special. Appreciate the times you were blessed to have, be grateful for the trials and tribulations you are experiencing, and think of the electrifying future you will have... Because after all, this is next year country, and the last best place.