Community, Ranch Life

When the Sun Just Keeps Shining

I didn’t physically grow up on a farm or ranch but I wasn’t too far removed from the life. We are still very rural where small talk centers on the weather and cattle or wheat prices. So now I am a rancher’s wife and the world I thought I knew is the world I am learning.


Haying season is in full swing and it very much a goldilocks situation of too much…too little…and always hoping for just right. This year the July air is dry and hot, with record-setting heat in the triple digits this last week. The evening thunderstorms roll in bringing noise and lightening but no rain will let loose from the darkened clouds. We are in a drought.

The grass in the hay fields that was once green and lush, set to grow and be harvested for cattle feed when the winter snow fell, is brown and dormant. Crops that were meant to be harvested have just failed and instead are being hayed and salvaged for cattle feed. The pastures that were meant to last the season are dry and barren and producers are creatively scrambling to find feed and grass for the cattle. Many cattle been taken down the road to the sale barn with producers hoping to make due with a smaller herd forced by this new reality. The dry and crisp grass remaining on the prairies have served as kindle to area fires.


The work still needs done… even though the grass is 1/2 to a 1/3 of the what a normal year brings it still needs to be cut, raked, and baled. The equipment still costs what it costs, the fuel to run it no less, and the breakdowns no less infrequent. My husband sleeps in the tractor waiting for the heat of the day to subside and the nightly dew to come and condition the hay. While the yield is low, there is still a need to produce the best that can be made. Too dry and the hay shatters, too wet and it molds.


I get frustrated with his long hours, inconsistencies, and no guarantee of a paycheck let alone a break even. Though hard work has its place, some days it seems you are just about as guaranteed to become bankrupt as you are to become rich at this gig. Sometimes it just comes down to the goldilocks situation…just enough demand for the product produced ensuring a strong market… good weather….no major breakdowns or expenses…and a blessing from above.


In a world we try to control, farmers and ranchers are the ultimate believers…believers in a merciful God that provides, in neighbors to help, and that their hard work will be enough. I see my husband’s heart and soul poured into a career with no guarantee, no median annual salary, no paid vacation days all with the belief that his hard work will be enough to “make it”.

When training dogs they call it “jackpotting”. The idea of giving a large amount of a reward when the desired response is done…but not every time. There has to be anticipation for that jackpot. The theory is much the same for gamblers. They sit and wait for that one “hit” of the machine. Maybe farmers and ranchers are the same. I sit and worry, ponder a future I can’t predict while the older generation talks of the good years and the not-so-great years. They all talk of the great year…the market high, when there was “just enough” of all the resources they needed. That one great year carries them thru the not so great. They ride out the bad in the hopes of averages…that when it is all said and done and the book cover closes that they will be ahead.

I know it is just part of the cycle…these farmers and ranchers are very in tune to cycles…hopeful and optimistic for the ups and patient and tolerant of the downs. I have a lot to learn from this group of folks…to look at seasons and cycles and take it as a whole not a day. These ranchers gather, arms crossed and leaning around the back of a pickup box to shoot the breeze and discuss how to make it all work when the world seems against success. Yet there is a perpettual optimism. As humans, we all want control…to make our own decisions…be in control of our own destiny…yet here is this group of farmers and ranchers so OK to accept their fate, their hand dealt.


We can’t control the weather. I can’t make those ominious clouds that come and go finally let go of any moisture. But I can live and learn, take pride in the work my family has choosen to do. I can’t speak for my husband but I know he isn’t motivated by a paycheck or pride, but with the quiet purpose of a life well lived, enjoying and sharing a legacy, with reverence for the land and its history.

 

Community, Motherhood

Parade Time

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There was no raining on this parade. Though with our recent drought conditions a downpour would have likely been more celebratory than the parade itself. Yesterday we partook in our annual RoughRider Days Parade. Small town life is friendly waves and an enjoyment of days much the same as the last. But every year 4th of July brought a big celebration with rodeos, street dance, 4-H activities, fireworks, and parade.

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As was tradition, every year on that designated Saturday morning in July, we sat street side to see the local businesses parade down Villard, with hopes of filling our pockets with candy. Now I share that same tradition with my own kiddos.

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My sister and nephew. His 1st parade of many.

 

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Aunt Stephie time

 

 

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There is an excitement and nostalgia. No float is really that extravagant. The only requirement it seems is a business banner and maybe some streamers or balloons. If you have a unicycle, old car, or vintage tractor your are welcome too.

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Suckers were his favorite! He picked up each and every one!

 

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Look, more candy!

 

 

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It was quickly overflowing and they moved on to the next container.

 

For years I carried flags horse back in the parade and my sister painted her face and placed on her clown nose to take her part in the parade.  Those traditions continue.

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DSC_3939pIn the past, there was more of a celebration of our agriculture and western edge heritage. With the resurgence of oil in the area, the companies have brought prosperity and wealth to many in the area and they sponsor many local happenings. There addition to the parade demonstrates a changing time.

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It was a great Saturday enjoying our local community and celebrating with family! Happy 4th of July everyone! Anyone else take in a parade this year?

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Community, Life as a Veterinarian, Veterinary Health Topics

The Narrative of Veterinary Medicine

*Disclosure- I wrote this months ago and it sat…I was not quite ready for the world to read my thoughts. But I keep coming back to the purpose of story-telling in veterinary medicine. In our work, we gather and share hundreds of stories of our days working with patients and clients. *

Don’t we all just want to be heard?  I recently stumbled upon the topic of “Narrative Medicine”. It is a topic well recognized in human medicine and makings it entry into veterinary medicine. Narrative Medicine seeks to honor patient stories from a literary persepective. It goes beyond the medical interview and seeks to understand the psychosocial and spiritual perspective. In reviewing the whats and whys of Narrative Medicine I think it boils down to learning to listen…Doctor to Patient and Patient to Doctor.  In veterinary medicine it may be complicated by having a sentinent being with feelings of fear, pain, and happiness but no way to communicate in our language. So we rely on the stories of their caretakers.

Do you still remember the veterinarian you took your childhood pets to? You might still picture the waiting room or the smell of cleaning chemicals or pet odors. If you lived in a small town you likely had a relationship with your veterinary, pediatrician, and veterinarian. They knew our story and we knew theirs, for good or for bad. I still enjoy a small town feel and generally tight-knit community but veterinary medicine is changing as it evolves with increasing services and specialization. That connection and relationship has changed. The friendly, all knowing veterinarian down the street has changed.

Narrative medicine seeks to change that connection to a time of yesteryear where we knew each other beyond the exam room walls. So it goes that in our profession we complain about the numbness of repetition of vaccination after vaccination or the pain of compassion fatigue, the giving of yourself without thought for self-care and restoration. On an average full day I may talk to 20-30+ people in a day and some days I feel completely depleted and mentally gone.  My sanctuary is my home and my family and on those days of sanctuary I  prefer my days filled with casual togetherness and laughter, not words and demands. Those I converse with are carefully selected and the only outsider is the FedEx delivery man, delivering my mail order packages. The energy of the crowded stores, booming music, and bright lights can just be too much after a day of boisterous greetings, goodbyes, and the emotions of helping client’s pet thru disease and death. There is this balance of connection and relationship while maintaining a distance safe enough to prevent injury from the pains of the profession.


In our lives, we all seek meaning and to find our purpose. A wooden plaque with the words “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life” sits on my shelf as a reminder of finding passion and purpose. But some days are hard…it is hard to give another round of bad news, to share textbook of knowledge regarding a diagnosis starting slow then gaining momentum as the words spill out of my mouth. I see the facial expressions, some empty, sad, upset, angry, or just plain empty as the news hits their minds.

We celebrate the human-animal bond but what a gradient of affections. For some this pet right here, right now is all they have, their companion in life and for others it is as replaceable as the tires on their car and they grumble about the expense of doing so. For me to find purpose and enjoyment in this profession, I find myself needing to look past the signalment. Buddy is more than just a 2 year old neutered male, Golden Retriever. Buddy may well be the best friend to a 4 year old autistic boy and the one to whom it speaks. We celebrate that bond, the specialness of animals in our lives.


With narrative medicine, they look for words or phrases and don’t start with the checklist but ask the question “Why are you here today?”. It is a request to be invited into our patients or clients stories. For some clients I know the story of their pet followed over years, with chapters read here or there. The time they ate the garbage and had explosive diarrhea, the adjustment to the family when the new baby came. Each chapter strengthens the bond of the family and the pet. The most intimate invitation is often at the end of life.

At the end of life there is no longer a race against death, a need to win but an acceptance. For some it is just a dog or just a cat but for others I am one of the few that has read the story of this pet’s life, to understand its meaning and the bond that was shared. In that story, I have seen men fold over weeping for a pet when they didn’t shed a tear for a parent or the woman that holds her beloved pet lost to cancer and in that moment a flood of memories of the loss of her own mother too lost to cancer. I hold that invitation with great reverence.

So when you think of your childhood vet what do you remember? I sometimes ask myself how I want to be remembered. I can give a vaccine, diagnosis diabetes, or spay a cat but there is this deeper psychosocial aspect of veterinary medicine; that call to narrative medicine, where we understand the story behind the medicine.

As a helper and caretaker it can bring great frustration and even anger when I perceive I care more than the actual owner of a pet. In these moments narrative medicine calls for a more mindful detached compassion. One can quickly drown under the tidal waves of poor life choices, painful lives, or just plain indifference that some bring to the exam room.

So I ask “What brings you in today?” and realize mankind is this diverse, never fully understood complexity. We all bring our stories of youth, growth, adversity, sadness or joy when we meet in that exam room.

Narrative, story-telling…we are all connected by our stories. Story-telling and narrative has survived the centuries and though our world has changed, it all comes back to the connection and sharing of our stories.