Life on the ranch is full of lessons. I learn one every day really, about the power of instinct or the resiliency of wild things, but mostly about how we need to spend more time fixing fences as we race to try to get ahead of cows who are running down the road to the neighbor’s alfalfa field.
Or how we can’t control the rainfall, no matter how much we talk about the weather with our neighbors at the small-town T-ball game.
Yes, because we are caregivers of so many animals and the land that keeps them, we’re reminded every day that nature’s in charge. A few weeks back, my dad came into the house with the "I don’t have good news" face. I stopped him in the entryway and sent the girls to play so he could tell me that their pony, Mac, had suddenly and unexpectedly died.
My heart sank for that pony and my kids, but their grandpa, a 64-year-old rancher who has about seen it all, was carrying his heart about as low as it could go. Because even though the circle of life has circled around him time and time again, it doesn’t make it any easier.
A few summers ago, when my youngest, Rosie, was just a baby, we lost our old dog. Hondo went to sleep in the yard, and didn’t wake up. Edie, my oldest, wasn’t quite 3 years old yet, but I felt compelled to tell her the truth about what happened. That he died. That animals and people get old, or sick, or hurt, and that there is life and then there is death, but those we love live on in our hearts and the stories and memories we have of them.
And I don’t know if this is the right or wrong way to handle this, but I think if we start early with the concept of loss, or help our young people face the tough stuff with truth and a willingness to help work through the hard questions with them, then we better prepare them for a life that will inevitably be full of beautiful and heart-wrenching things.
For me as a kid growing up on this ranch, it was the quiet observation of my grandma taking in an orphaned barn kitten, or my dad and grandpa working to warm a calf born in a winter storm and losing the fight. It was the hawk catching the mouse. The frog eating the dragonfly. Or a broken egg that fell from a nest that showed me nature has its own way.
And lesson by little lesson I grew to know it, because I was — I am — surrounded.
And as my daughters grow, I’m reminded that they are surrounded, too. They pick up a caterpillar and hold it close to their faces, run their fingers along the tiny fuzz on its back and wonder what kind of butterfly it will be.
They scoop up minnows from the fishing bucket, watch a bee buzz around our petunias, feed their new barn kittens milk and wrap them up in their blankies, engulfed in the moment, not understanding yet how truly lucky they are to witness these animals growing day by day.
And as my kids grow, their questions will get tougher to answer, not as easily explained by the concept of heaven or hope. And we could be scared of it, of all that we don’t know about the future. Some days, I admit, it threatens to swallow me up.
But then I look at how the branches of the oak trees bend and sway with the weight of their leaves, when just months ago those very branches were heavy with snow, and I remember that the promise of spring is right outside waiting, in case I should decide to look up.
And that’s what keeps my head up, looking forward now as I head to Rochester, Minn., this week for a surgery that will hopefully rid me of a cancerous tumor once and for all. But if it doesn’t, I know I can handle the next step, because that promise of spring hasn’t failed me yet.
Thank you for the prayers and the love. I keep it close.
Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at email@example.com.