Thursday, February 10, 2011
When I was a little girl, my family and I lived on an island in Puget Sound, about a 15 minute ferry boat ride from Seattle. My father was born and raised there (I was a fourth generation Islander) and my mom had spent a good part of her youth on The Island. When my dad was growing up The Island was rural. He spent his youth exploring the coves and forests and anxiously anticipating his first hunting trip. Although rural, The Island was small and charming and soon began attracting a rather affluent city population. Little by little the woods gave way to housing developments and farms were demolished in favor of ostentatious show homes. The strawberry fields that bordered our country acreage were swept away by progress and fences cropped up on our favorite riding trails.
My folks, in search of true country living, moved our family to the outback of Idaho. We weren't city folks by any means. We had lived on a couple of acres, grown a huge garden, had horses and even a cow. But, as we quickly learned, we were ill equipped for true country life.
The property that my parents bought was beautiful, unspoiled and completely unimproved. One of the first orders of business was fencing. Our remote homestead was smack dab in the middle of open range country. For those of you uninitiated with real rural living, open range is an area selected for local cattle ranchers to turn their cattle loose to graze during the summer months. They bring huge cattle trailers (or more often stock trailers) full of cattle, stop in the middle of the road and open the chute. Bawling cattle push their way out of the trailers and head for the hills - literally. While open range is wonderful for the cattle ranchers, it is somewhat bothersome to the property owners. Rather than fencing your property to keep your critters in, you fence your property to keep the range cattle out. And that, my friend, is no small task!
As I said, when we moved, we were no city slickers, but we did have a lot to learn. One day, as my parents were busy fencing, my brother and I were off exploring with our faithful pet dog. We had a wonderful creek that was full of Rainbow trout and crawdads, and brother and I were knee deep, trying catch crawdads to show off to mom and dad. Our dog, Rachel, ever the faithful companion, was splashing in the creek alongside us (making crawdad catching impossible) until she spotted a herd of range cattle. As she ran off to make the cattles' acquaintance, my brother and I headed up the hill to join our dad and mom, who were setting fence posts into freshly dug holes. Suddenly, we heard a thunder of hooves behind us. We looked around in time to see our beloved pet dog running toward us full speed, with 40 head of cattle hot on her heals. We started running and our dog ran faster. The ground shook as the cattle charged. Our little legs carried us as fast as they could, but the cows were gaining on us. Suddenly, an old, leathered hand reached out and grabbed the back of my shirt. I was flung through the air and landed in a hay filled wagon. My brother was next. He was catapulted into the wagon with what seemed to be super-human strength. Red faced, with tears streaming down our cheeks, we were transported to our stunned parents by our weathered, elderly, but somehow ageless neighbor, King. King had been working on his side of the creek, watching my brother and I play. He saw our dog, who was a pet, but in no way a cow dog, take out after those range cows. King, having homesteaded the very property we now owned, knew what was about to happen. As my brother and I happily skipped up the hill toward our parents, King jumped onto his tractor and put the peddle to the floor. As those cattle made a beeline for our dog, King made a beeline for us. He literally plucked us from certain death. King had country wisdom. He knew that a dog was either a working dog or he was a pet. Pets were all good and fine, but you never took them into the cow pasture. Cows are either herded by dogs, or in the case of a pet, they chase dogs. Being rural dwellers, but not true country folk, we had made an almost lethal mistake.
My parents endured a rather stern talking to that day, but they learned a basketful of country wisdom. They learned that King, having lived a lifetime on the land had more to teach than they could ever possibly learn. He taught them how to identify trees ready to be cut for firewood (not the ones that exploded into sawdust when they hit the ground). He taught them how to snowshoe (even if he did take great joy in having my mom put her snowshoes on backwards the first time and watching her hit the deck!). He taught them that cabin fever was real but very easily remedied by evenings spent with dear neighbors. He taught them about real country living.
As the signs of the times become increasingly alarming, more and more people are seeking refuge in the country. As we learned, the country is a refuge, but it can also be a stern schoolmaster. Our family thrived because we listened to the country wisdom of those who had been there for generations. We learned that everyone has something to teach. We learned to listen, and we became the wiser for it.