The Cattle Guard

During my fall road trip in the west, I got to spend some time at the first ranch I worked for, in northern Colorado. I love the ranch, I love the valley, and I love the people it’s brought into my life. Normally, when I’m there, whether for work or just for a visit, I reflect on all the good times it’s brought me. Magically, each visit makes those good times multiply.

The literal memory lane begins in town, and as the houses decrease, the reminiscing increases. There’s the hotel where I was picked up for my first summer of work. There’s my church. There’s my favorite store in town. There’s my go-to gas station. The beef unit sign. The big buckskin horse I always liked. The pond where you lose cell service. The best cowboy bar in the world. Then ranch by ranch, until you get home. Because since I first experienced it, this valley has been a home to me.

There’s a cattle guard across the road, right as you pass from pavement to dirt. It marks 5 more miles to the ranch, as well as serving as the county line, and the Wyoming-Colorado state line. It marks a transition. In the past, that cattle guard has been a symbol of excitement. Crossing it, and hearing it rumble under the tires, signals a turning point. I didn’t realize how great of a turning point it really is, until my last visit in the fall.

As I crossed the cattle guard in darkness, and the ground beneath my wheels changed from a whir to a crunch, I found myself thinking back to the very first time I crossed it. It was a sunny day in the middle of May. Three of us wranglers were crammed into the front bench seat of a Toyota pickup, having met not even an hour ago. But we were singing along to country radio, and talking about Carhartt kids’ clothes, and how it felt like we were going north instead of south. I now consider those two girls to be two of my best friends, but none of us knew each other then. We didn’t know anyone at the ranch, either. We were just travelling on faith, full of hope for what the summer would bring.

Last fall, driving into the valley again, I wished I was back in that Toyota. I got caught in such a deep flashback to that moment, and I started thinking about how much has changed since then. In my life. In their lives. In our friendships. I was so nervous when we crossed that cattle guard for the first time. We probably all were. It was a transition period. We were leaving our comfort zones in each of our respective home states, and setting out into the unknown. Literally. Of course, we were excited, but the nerves were there, because it was a transition. I remembered that in the fall, because the nerves were back. In a way, I was back in that Toyota, only this time, it was a GMC, and I was alone. I was in yet another transition period. That cattle guard helped me realize it, yet again.

Today, the adventures and the newness and the thrill of that first summer overpower the nervousness that was so real in that first cattle guard crossing. The positives outweigh the negatives so much, it’s hard to remember that there even were negatives. But when you’re right in the midst of a transition, it can be hard to see all the ways things can go right. I’ve seen enough transitions in the past few years to know that by now. I’m right in the middle of another one, again. It’s a part of life.

Unlike the drive from town to the ranch, there is no road map for life. Honestly, as cliché as it sounds, life is a highway and all that, there are all sorts of metaphors in mountain roads. There are twists and turns, up and downs, and bumps along the way. Sometimes there are other obstacles that force you to slow down for a while – on these roads, they’re usually livestock or wildlife. But in life, they’re often unforeseen. Unpredicted.

And of course, there are cattle guards. Ever since I came upon this metaphor for cattle guards as transitions, I can’t get it out of my head. They usually mark pasture or property boundaries, so crossing them signifies a change of sorts. They’re often flanked by potholes, making for a rough ride, and they make a lot of noise. And if you try to make things easier on your truck by slowing down, lingering, it often makes for a bumpier crossing. You just have to take them as they come to you. Yet, cattle guards are not only necessary, they are valuable. They keep cows where they need to be, and they keep you going where you need to go. The momentary discomfort they create serves a greater purpose.

Just like transitions in life.

 

“I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.” – Theodore Roosevelt

The entire Jekyll + Hyde album by Zac Brown Band

Country Roads by John Denver (…duh.)

New Leaves & Auld Lang Syne

I think it’s funny how we choose to turn over a new leaf at a time of year when all the past year’s leaves have fallen. The old leaves have been raked, composted, or burned. And it’s not like the new leaves will be coming in anytime soon. Often, we have to wait at least 4 months to see any hint of life from those tired branches, looking like skeletons scratching the sky. Yet, nature teaches quite a bit. It’s where I’ve learned some of my most valuable lessons. So I think there’s a lot of symbolism packed into the “new leaf” metaphor for resolutions.

There was a while that I refused to make a New Year’s resolution. I thought, if you want to make a change, why not just do it? Why wait until the New Year? Part of this stemmed from my irritation with the hordes of people flooding into my gym every January, when I was there every day, every week, every month. I think the bigger part of my aversion to resolutions came from disappointment, after seeing so many new gym-goers give up after a few weeks. It made me feel disheartened, and my outlook on resolutions became jaded for several years.

In 2015, I decided to try making a resolution again. My resolution? Give up multitasking. What?!! That’s a pretty crazy thought in a society driven by the concept of “more”. But I realized that whenever I tried to multitask, I just did two things halfway. It took me longer to do them both at the same time, and I was never happy with the results of either task. At the end of the day, my to-do list was checked off, but I felt unfulfilled. I hadn’t poured my heart into anything I’d done. Making this resolution forced me to focus on doing one thing at a time. I found that each task was done faster, better, and I was happier with the end results. I still catch myself trying to multitask from time to time, but overall, giving up multitasking has brought me greater quality of life.

Last year, I tried to tackle another habit of mine: apologizing for everything. Living as close to Canada as I do, I frequently find myself saying sorry. (Sorry, Canada.) Of course, there’s a time and place for apologies, and they are certainly very necessary. But I found myself taking blame and apologizing to avoid conflict, or to ease my own unnecessary guilt. So, instead of apologizing, I aimed to say thank you. For example, “I’m sorry I’m late” turned into, “Thank you for being patient with me.” This new leaf was not so easy for me to turn over. I wouldn’t say it was a success, but I do still think about it from time to time. And I try.

I’m still thinking about what I’ll resolve to do this year. Maybe something with time management. Maybe something to give up. Maybe trying to get a little less heated and a little more patient. There’s a whole year ahead of me, and now is the time to do things differently.

You see, I’ve come to realize that January 1 is the perfect time to make a change. First of all, you have an entire empty calendar spread out before you. You can do with it whatever you’d like. Second, don’t we instinctually follow the patterns of nature?

I think we turn over new leaves in the dead of winter, not only because an arbitrary New Year begins, but also because of what’s going on outside. The world is grey. It’s cold. It’s dark. There are no signs of life. Yet under the surface, things are happening. The leaves will grow, and spring and summer will be filled with life. Then in the fall, the leaves will change color, rewarding us with the beauty of the efforts of growth. That reward becomes a part of the year, something that lasts for a short time before it’s time to prepare for more new leaves.

So don’t give up on your resolutions, just because you don’t see the results right away. It may just take a couple of months for the new leaves to grow. And those leaves will bless you with the beauty of the reward.

 

It’s Dark, It’s Cold, It’s Winter – Sleepmakeswaves

“Don’t let me into this year with an empty heart.” – Empty Hearts, Josh Ritter

“I love the past so much because I love the present. I know I have to go into the world and become shaped, altered, bent, myself – individuated – and that there will be pain and joy in the process. I am not the land itself, neither am I a clone of my family. But the magnitude of my attachment to these things – and the stability it affords – staggers me. What strengthens or protects these things strengthens and protects me; that which harms them, harms me. There is still a connection to these things.” – The Sky, The Stars, The Wilderness by Rick Bass