In all likelihood, most of the good habits and traits my kids acquired in their youth, and subsequently developed in their adult lives, most likely came from the bottom side of their pedigree.
Take reading, for instance. Unless you count the headlines, box scores and daily live cattle updates, I’m not really much of a reader. The number of actual books I’ve read over the last few decades barely reaches double digits. Each of my direct progeny on the other hand, like their mother, is a voracious reader. My wife has no trouble reading a novel or two per week, often simultaneously. My two youngest sons, who were not exactly dedicated to any sort of schoolwork during their high school years, will read a series of several books, each with 1,600 pages. I don’t even dare look at the cover of a book that size. To me, the thought of such an undertaking is humbling, if not terrifying.
As you might guess, my kids and their mother are Tolkien nerds. I’ve watched the Lord of the Rings movies and can honestly appreciate the message of the stories. Plus, I’m a collector of profound quotes, a plethora of which can be mined from the cinematic adaptations of the books written by the guy with three initials for a first name. I, unlike some of the literary purists in my family, however, couldn’t care less if the good-looking elf queen was blonde instead of gray-haired and depicted in the wrong aeon.
“Despise not the labor that humbles the heart.”
—Galadriel (good-looking elf warrior queen), The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power
See what I mean? I caught that little gem while watching some new Lord of the Rings series on whatever streaming service we’re hooked up with. Who among us, who may at times struggle as a steward of God’s land and creatures, can’t appreciate the grand simplicity of such a statement? I stopped the show so I could write it down, sure I’d find some use for it later on. By that, I mean I figured it would come in handy to fit into some story I may write. Hence, you’re reading it right now. But as is often the case in life, I found that the journey became more profound than the destination.
I have a pair of nephews, in their teens, who spent a week with my octogenarian parents this fall while their school was out of session. Though they’re not far removed from ranch life, generationally speaking, they haven’t had much opportunity to be exposed to, much less immersed in, “the cowboy life.” Since the two lads were here anyway – and it was the time of year when, out of necessity, there was some cowboy work to be done – Grandpa was determined to give his two youngest grandsons some experience.
Despite the abundance of good late-summer and fall feed in the foothills and high country this year, a good share of the cows, with the diminishing daylight hours and the oddly accurate innate timing mechanisms in their heads, felt the need to drift off the mountain toward home. Since we still had nearly two weeks before the cows needed to be gathered, it became a daily ritual to load up the horses and redirect and rescatter the bottom-hugging cows to the draws and hillsides where the grass, though dry, was still available and plentiful.
Despite their obvious apprehension, coupled with their serious self-doubt and inexperience, my nephews semi-willingly climbed aboard the horses I’d saddled for them and started up the hill with us to push a hundred head of equally reluctant cows to somewhere none of the participants really wanted to be. Even though I’d mounted them on some bombproof ponies, I’m sure my nephews were facing a little fear as we set out. The whole concept was completely foreign to them, and they had zero comprehension of the tendencies of either the beasts they were riding or the ones they were following. Consequently, they had to be instructed on every little move, and my horse and dogs were carrying way more than their share of the workload.
Though the going was slow, we got the cattle pushed off the creek bottom and headed up the north fork. I took the dogs up the east slope to hoorah some pairs out of the brush. When I descended off the hill and crossed the bottom of the draw, I found only Grandpa with the main bunch of cows. The boys were apparently AWOL. We let the cows settle before we headed back down, not sure of where my reluctant cowboy crew was. As I crested a little knoll, I could see to the bottom of the canyon. To my great surprise, the two begrudging buckaroos were riding up the creek bottom, pushing a dozen cows that had somehow escaped all the way back down to the bottom fence. And better yet, they seemed to be getting along just fine.
We made our way back down the rocky hillside and helped coax the stragglers up the bottom of the draw and up the hill to their herdmates. It had only been about three hours, but that was probably about two-and-a-half hours longer than my help would have preferred the job to be. They were in uncomfortable and unwanted circumstances. (Much like reading a thousand-page book would be to me.) I’m fairly certain each of them would have preferred a three-hour trigonometry test to the test they’d just endured. Nevertheless, they bore it well and without complaint.
The same cannot always be said of my reaction to tough or mundane tasks. But even with my sometimes impatient and irascible nature, I’ve come to appreciate much of what makes this lifestyle unsavory to what often seems like a vast majority of the world’s population. With hindsight, I can even be grateful for the hard times, as well as the good times. A grateful heart is a humble heart, and I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.