There are days that are a struggle, nights it seems the sun will never rise. There is heat, cold, fire, and rain: all in quantity and intensity I never understood before I lived intimately with them. Mostly, however, living on a ranch, there is understanding.

I discovered I can do jobs of which I never thought I was capable. The work isn’t all hard, of course, but there are jobs that use all your muscle and create rivers of sweat. In testing my limits in them, I found new strength, a resolve that can see me through anything, and a joy in finishing that sets a bar of its own in personal satisfaction.

I discovered joy in dust and muck. Grinning from ear to ear, I realize I’ll be clean again later. Now, like a child, I can splash in the mud and feel sand in my mouth and not complain about my dirty face or feel somehow less vital than someone in a fine suit. The ranch taught me that work and lives of real importance can, and usually do, get lived out every day in the field and in the barn, in the tractor and surrounded by livestock. The shower that rinses away the grit and the soil don’t wash off a feeling of connection to the land, indeed, to the planet that getting them on there created in the first place.

On the ranch I discovered the exhilaration of sunrise; not just that deep orange glow and break of light that comes from watching the sun break over the horizon from a kitchen window but an full-on sunrise, from inky dark through rosy pink and, finally, sunlight streaming onto my face, all from the open field. It’s different than watching the final stages from a house, where it seems only like a light bulb taken from dim to full. No, it’s more like watching the world give birth to the day. It can lighten the load of a long night or even embolden a faint heart.

Mostly, however, what I learned on the ranch was that life is a series of chances to move forward, to find the opportunity in the problem, to push yourself as far as you want and find you can succeed where you never dreamed you could even survive. I learned on the ranch who I am.

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