The easy part of ranching is taking care of cows. Really. If all there was to this gig was animal husbandry, it would be almost downright dull.
It’s the other 47,000 things that you have to be mildly proficient in to survive that make things squirrelly. Like today, we have had to be electricians, mechanics, exterminators, private investigators, foresters, vet techs, junkyard dealers and off-road truckers.
This ranching gig comes with the expectation that you are capable of doing just about anything, regardless of whether or not you feel competent. It requires having some degree of instinctive knowledge: like being able to predict the weather or being able to read broken gauges. (One must know if the diesel tank is dry before charting a course, even if there is no fuel measuring device. One must also remember to check the oil. Always check the oil!)
It requires being able to adjust in real time to the discovery that you have no power steering and no brakes. Cause Jesus isn’t taking the wheel when the trailer brakes don’t work. That’s between you and Satan today.
But it’s also being in that moment and hearing your grandfather tell you to slow down and think about what you are doing. Being able to remember him being at his best when something was going wrong. And with the door actually falling off of the driver’s side of the truck and the smell of engine oil burning and over the hum of the transmission screaming, being able to take a breath and adjust.
Not because you think you know what to do. Because no one specifically prepares for a calamity involving a Dodge pickup and a stock trailer down a dusty dirt road. Survival isn’t about what you think you know. This ranching thing is about being able to tap into what you don’t know that you know.
It’s about that muscle memory that takes over because you’ve seen someone else do it a thousand times. And for some reason, you just know how to do this thing too. So you do the thing without a Google search or phoning a friend.
And when it’s over, you find yourself laughing. Unsure if it is fear or joy, since a hot mix of adrenaline and pride flows through your veins. Mostly you celebrate because you aren’t dead. No one else has died either. Among the chaos, two things you can be real glad about.
But a little part of me wishes that the voice inside my head wasn’t just inside my head. I have missed my grandfather terribly throughout the years, but I felt him with me today in a way I have never felt before. I could actually hear him laughing in my mind. But I’d trade all the tea in China to have him see us here now.
But I know, don’t ask me how, but I know he is watching. And as sure as I am that he would not condone the beer I’m having for dinner or the thrashing I gave that transmission earlier, I know he would have been proud and amused to see how today unfolded.
Because he didn’t just teach us about ranching. Through the farm, what he taught us was so much bigger, so much more important than just taking care of cows and always checking the oil.
And that’s why we are here. We don’t do this because we like being outwitted by salty brindle heifers or particularly enjoy trying to find new ways to engineer questionable equipment (and if the equipment is still broken, somehow manage to turn it into water gap material). For us, it isn’t about the 47,001 things a person must know how to do to survive being a farmer or rancher.
For us, the 47,001 things all boil down to one very simple principle: home.
But if you are in the greater Nunley metroplex, and you run across a brindle heifer with a blue tag in her ear, it is a sign I have once again been bested. Please let me know where to find her.