It was an odd, if not downright goofy fall in south-central Idaho. Until winter hit the first week in November, we didn’t truly realize that summer had left. The farmers in our country have rarely been so cheerful and congenial at the end of harvest season, which arrived quite a bit earlier than normal this year. Mother Nature was incredibly cooperative. We had a few light rains but the temperatures, for the most part, stayed in the high 60s to mid-70s, only dropping into the mid-40s at night. The potato and beet diggers never really stopped for a weather break, and even those with the most miserable jobs, like the clod pickers at the spud cellars, maintained unseasonably cheerful dispositions.

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Freelance Writer
Paul Marchant is a rancher and freelance writer in southern Idaho. Follow Paul Marchant on Twitt...

For some of us cow folk, the balmy weather threw a few kinks into the normal routine, as the cows were loath to head down to the lower country as long as the snow and colder temperatures stayed away. That being the case, a good share of the regularly scheduled activities had to be pushed back to later dates.

At the Marchant outfit, most of the major projects, like weaning and preg checking, are dependent upon the availability of a cheap and willing workforce. All three of my sons now live within a three-hour drive of the home place, so ideally I’d love to have all of them available to help when a big cowboy project shows up on the calendar, but honestly, I’m happy with 33%.

This year, none of the family, including old Ma Nature, seemed to be able to cooperate with my preferred schedule. On the weekend, I’d planned to wean the lion’s share of the calves, even though I still didn’t have them all gathered out of the foothills; none of my boys were available to help. My youngest son, who hadn’t had a day off from work in ages, was heading east with his schoolteacher wife for an end-of-semester weekend in Jackson Hole. Son number two was on weekend call with his paying job, and the oldest had planned to go south for a weekend birthday trip with his wife to Salt Lake to see what the city had to offer. He even stole my wife for a babysitter. She was happy to do some grandma duties, but that left just me to help myself, and I’m just mediocre help, at best.

On the night before my wife left, as I was lamenting my plight, it struck me that, in our younger days, we were never able to take a couple of days to just get away. At least we never did. We were always out on some far-flung outfit in the middle of ranch country somewhere, and I always felt that I couldn’t get away. Well, that and I never could muster the chutzpah to ask for the time off. As hard as it is to spend time away from your own place, it may be harder when you're in charge of somebody else’s outfit. 

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My superficial self-pity eventually led my thoughts down a more worthwhile path. First off, it forced me to look at my life’s choices. I have to admit, in these times of self-reflection, I sometimes find myself stepping in the puddle of regret as I realize that maybe, or probably, I should have sometimes done things differently. No doubt my marriage and family life could have benefited from some more time and effort given to just us. But, since I’ve learned over the years that too much time spent in regret only leads to more regret, I figured out how to find the good in some of the choices, if not the mistakes. It’s not always a bad thing to just duck your head and tap the pony with the spurs and charge through the tangle of oak brush and mahogany on the sidehill. Going around, in the end, may not always be the best choice, even if it isn’t necessarily a wrong choice. The hard times, the screwups and the tears, as often as not, build fortitude if we allow it. I think, or at least I hope, my wife and kids can look back and find gratitude in the rough trails we’ve traveled. It may have changed us, but what’s the point of living if we don’t allow life to change us?

As I think about that at this time of year, I can appreciate the parallels I see in our nation’s struggles. I’m grateful for the promise of, not the right to happiness itself but the right to pursue happiness, the privilege to exhaust our potential in that pursuit. What a grand opportunity. What a grand responsibility.