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.)