That’s become Beau’s new slogan as he delves ever deeper into the echelons of corporate ranch management: you just can’t make this stuff up.
The funny thing about a ranch is that the cows generally behave themselves. It’s when you’re dealing with humans every day that things get tricky. Below, just a few of the tight spots we’ve found ourselves in lately in the HR realm:
First, there’s the 6-year-old son who lives to ride with the crew, who thinks he’s the top hand around here, and who tearfully stared his daddy down as the crew rode off to do a (very adult) job without him.
Then there’s the issue of when to remind a current employee of his past problem with alcoholism.
Next, the dilemma over when it’s time to pull the plug on a chronically sick bum calf… knowing full well the ladies are gonna shed some tears over it.
And the hunting buddy who thinks property rights are no big deal on this outfit… in opposition to the employee/friend who thinks property rights ARE a very big deal — all of it calling in to question the value of privacy and exclusive-land-access benefits for ranch employees who receive few other benefits.
There exists a drunk of a neighbor who successfully picked a fight over a fence.
Next, the employee dumb and/or sneaky enough to get himself tangled up in a horse theft case… complete with State Brand Inspectors on the sniff.
There is a dear lady who lives on this place who can barely operate a telephone, much less a computer, and who needs my help in order to accomplish legal transactions with her wealthy gay son who lives on a tropical island. I’m not even kidding.
Also, the giant tractor that breathed its last in the middle of a feedlot pen last week and had to be pulled out the narrow gate into a narrow alley. On this ranch we’re down to one big loader, one small loader, one road grader, one skid loader, one backhoe, and one bulldozer that hasn’t started for years. Seems like a lot of equipment unless you consider the miles we have to cover… and also that most every piece is older than I am. Frustrations mount regularly over our super-wealthy owner’s disinterest in providing us with quality equipment with which to accomplish our work.
One camp man seems to have come down with a rare tick-borne illness. Not the worst kind one can get, but still… he was darn sick there for a while.
There was the yearling-working that went awry and which ended with four injured animals. (You know what they say: the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.) That’s the kind of day that ends with your heart feeling like it’s pinched in a giant pair of needle-nose pliers.
One long-time employee here ponders the decision of whether or not to put her aging mom, with whom she lives, into a nursing home.
My own dad hasn’t been able to ride for a few months now due to leg pain. Riding has been his life, and it’s hard to see him aging. Beau, in the meantime, works daily to balance his own type-A agenda and vision with Dad’s agenda and vision… but as per human error, our every day is susceptible to gaps in communication, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings. If you think two generations working together in a business is easy, think again.
Sadly, my mom finds “retirement” from the ranch much less satisfactory than she’d hoped it would be. I am heartbroken over her disappointment with Life and her disapproval of this new chapter here at the PV… but I, as ever, am powerless to fix it.
Two Saturdays ago we attended a wedding which our kids had been anticipating for about six months. Our little family was on its way out the door when Verg called from Butte Camp — there was a heifer bogged in the creek and he couldn’t get her out alone. Duty called, so Beau sent me and the kids to the wedding without him. (Two etiquette questions: Is it appropriate to wrap a wedding gift in Sesame Street paper? and… Is it appropriate to wear black tights and black dress shoes in April?) Anyhow, back to the story: I know Beau hustled to catch up with us, and he did get to the wedding celebration, after rescuing the heifer, just as the dancing was getting underway. Unfortunately dancing has always been a bone of contention in our marriage, and the music-playing-three-ship-horns-louder-than-necessary didn’t help our communication any… so we came home, at 11 p.m., a discouraged pair in separate vehicles. Thankfully we were just too tired to fight… so we patched things before we both fell into coma-like sleep.
This is why I don’t always have the most recent updates on my husband these days: our time together is precious. I keep lists of things I want to be sure to talk to him about, knowing it will have to be at the end of another long day, and over the roar of our three kids tearing the house down in the background… and then, because our wakeful minutes together are limited, we have to prioritize our topics and usually cover only the most essential of bases.
Lots of people need my husband now. His phone rings often, all hours of the day it seems, and clicks and buzzes with text messages when it’s not ringing. There’s a lot of crazy going on out there in the world! As for me, I try to be good. I try not to point out the fact that the yard gate has been hanging on half a hinge for 7 months now. Or that the big cupboard in the kitchen has been without its drawer for 3 months now. Or that I haven’t ridden a horse since Thanksgiving week. Or that I — yes, I, here at 34 years of age — am in the middle of yet another I-don’t-have-any-friends crisis. Or that I, as a stay-at-home mom realistically consumed with the daily keeping-alive of the Blake children, just. Am not (sniff!) sure. Where I. Fit in right now. On this (sniff!) ranch where. I grew up!
I want to be a rock for him, I really do. I want our home to be a haven of peace and relaxation for him. I want to be a blessing to my husband. Yet, sometimes, I just can’t help myself: I want to be a little crazy too. Because it’s a good way to get his attention!
So many personalities at play here. So much peace to keep. So much try demanded of us every day… though we know full well that, in the end, some people will never be satisfied. It all adds to the overall impression that two giant hands are continually wringing out my body. It’s the sort of pressure that ages your eyes and grays your hair.
As Beau said recently, “You have to be thick-skinned about some things and open-minded about other things… and it’s so hard to know which is which.” Though I am well-acquainted with the job — I grew up doing it alongside my parents, remember, and have seen lots and lots of hired folks, and every sort of bizarre personality, come and go — the weight of wishing things were better than they are is still very real for me.
It makes me want to sit down and eat an entire half gallon of ice cream some days.
And other days I figure my blood pressure must be astronomical and I ought to just race to the top of the nearest hill and blow out my arteries.
The need to escape is real in both Beau and me. We’ve done it many times — escaped, I mean, as evidenced by the many houses we’ve lived in. This time, for instance, we’ve been jokingly recalling the friend who tried to talk us into going to Australia a few years ago; he claimed that giant stations are cheap there and that the country welcomes able young agriculturalists like us. We would need only our saddles if we went.
Just packing up the essentials and putting an ocean between ourselves and the troubles back home… it has an allure, doesn’t it? We have always been eager to assume that the grass must be greener on the other side of the fence. That life isn’t supposed to be this difficult.
But really… nobody ever promised that life isn’t supposed to be difficult. Right? Say we escaped this time. Would we ever entirely get away from trouble? Nope. Because here, there, and everywhere, we and our fellow humans are all just sinful creatures living in a fallen world.
Things are gonna be yucky here on earth.
At the end of the day one can do nothing more than weigh the good and the bad and realize that things could be a whole lot worse. Yes, we’re going to make mistakes. And others are going to mistakes. No, things will never be perfect. But we can still appreciate all the good, little things that happen here every day. We’re raising our kids with a ranch out the window, for goodness sakes. A corral full of magnificent and fireproof ranch horses abides 10 yards from the front door. We enjoy phenomenal land access through this job. We work with and for good folks, quirks and all (we may, in fact, be the quirkiest ones here), who by and large try to play along when our 4-year-old tells knock-knock jokes in the “Spanish” she learned from Dora the Explorer. We — yes, we — have the opportunity to uphold the Eastern Montana ranching traditions our family holds so dear (we’re trying, Mom).
It looks like it’s time for us Blakes to be the grown-ups. Time to dig in. To tighten our cinches and tuck our chins. To persevere. To endure. Whatever you want to call it, we’ve decided not to run off and hide this time. We can always hope that things will get better here. But more likely, our big reward will not be of this earth.
Our reward… our hope… has to be in heaven. I hear they have brand-new tractors there. And that loops are always true. And that communication is perfect every time.
What we’re doing here is bigger than a ranch.
Sigh. It’s not easy making the choice every day to act like a grownup.
© Tami Blake