The Transfer Of Stewardship
What does a future rancher look like? You're lookin' at it.
Kids on ranches today are being raised with tried & true old-fashioned values passed down from one generation to the next. Ranching isn't just a healthy lifestyle, it is also provides many character building experiences which are so much a part of the maturing process. The end result serves the purpose for which this profession exists...providing top quality meat products for the American consumer. I hope the next generation can help the U.S.A. hold onto something we've long enjoyed...an abundance of homegrown food.
A ranch kid's life revolves around livestock. As they sit at the dinner table, they listen to their parents discuss the daily 'goings on'. Their first words may very likely be an answer to questions like, "What does the cow say, what does the horsey say?" Animal husbandry is an ancient vocation and although technology has changed much of how we do some things, those 'things' still need 'hands on' application. Children raised on farms and ranches begin their training very early. They may not grow up to work on a ranch or a farm, but they will take much of what they experienced with them and it will serve them well, no matter what profession they pursue.
One item 'grown' on ranches and farms that kids really benefit from is a hardy work ethic. On a family ranch, they see firsthand that there is no 'passing the buck'. If a job doesn't get done by you, it doesn't get done at all. And, if a job is done poorly, you pay the price and get to do the job twice. If you want a thing, you work for it - end of story. Sometimes failure happens, and here a child learns an invaluable coping skill: patient perseverance. There are so many random problem generators in rural work. Weather is a big one, but you accept the challenges...plain & simple. Learning to see yourself as a victor in problem solving is where confidence is born.
Freedom is necessary to develop depth of character, confident independence and a strong sense of self reliance. Kids are like carrots. They need deep, soft soil, plenty of water, sunshine and room to grow. Hovering over a carrot doesn't help a carrot grow. However, nurturing care surely does. The latter makes for a carrot that is deep in color, crisp and sweet !!
All this talk about "self" really isn't about self. What it is about, is becoming someone who matters richly in the lives of others, in the practical application sense. And, not just to those close to you, but on a larger scale. The rancher and the farmer put food on the tables of every man, woman and child in this country. You can't be much good for anyone else if you're not much good at being the best possible you.
Branding time on the ranch is as much a social event as it is a day of hard work. That is more true today than in times past. In the old days, ranches were bigger and farther apart. Ranch country was sparsely populated. While Wyoming is still a state where cattle far outnumber people, ranches are smaller and towns are more numerous. Ranch neighbors are closer and there is a strong sense of community. Brandings become a string of field trips that begin in May and continue into June. Friends and neighbors create a 'crew' that shows up ready to ride and work...and eat!! The meals prepared for the workers are outstanding.
Memories made during brandings, over time become a colorful tapestry that you hold dear all of your life. The people, the smells, the wrecks, the practical jokes, the camaraderie...all of it.
The contrast between my middle-aged self (assuming that I live to be 108) and all the youngsters of various ages that I saw this past branding season, reminded me that there is a continuous 'changing of the guard'. To make the description fit the ranching scene better, let's call it an ongoing transfer of stewardship. Thankfully, there isn't a sharp line between those who maintain and those who take over. The variety of ages makes the whole thing work like a well-oiled machine. As time moves on, some leave this life and others pick up the reins to take their place...quite literally. On the ranch, there is a place for everyone in the grand scheme of things. The elderly teach...and enjoy it, the young learn and feel very good about being important, being needed and quite capable.
There are times when the state of affairs in this old world can discourage and dishearten, even make you fearful about what the future holds. But, I've come to believe our times are not much different than other eras. We just have our own unique set of challenges and so will the next generation. Character qualities that help a person achieve a 'well lived' life remain the same. Being a good steward of all things in your charge is and always has been a key for successful living. I'm beginning to understand why many elderly people smile more than those of us in the middle. While they 'get it', we middle-agers can tend to be a little too caught up in being worryworts. Our elders know that one way or another, things will work out. So ... they smile.
During a seven year drought, my husband sort of jokingly asked an old rancher if he thought it would ever rain again. He never raised an eyebrow, looked straight ahead and flatly stated, "It always does."
Character...integrity, manners, compassion, patience, trustworthiness, courage, generosity, confidence, finesse. When you see these seeds growing, then all of it coming together in a young person, it really is a thing of beauty.
I'm watching the children in our circle of friends grow into 'contributing members of society'. How can it be that just a short time ago they were toddling around at brandings? Ahhhh, yes, 'loaded' diapers and sticky from end to other...having eaten a little of everything at lunch, watermelon, brownies and lemonade. Then, add an afternoon of playing in the dirt while the branding was going on. Years back, my husband pointed out a spectacularly filthy toddler. He laughed and commented, "I think it'd be easier to make another one than to bother cleaning that one up." Now, that boy is a man.
Our young friends are on their way. Let 'er rip taterchip!