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Irons in the fire: Keep your hands full

Paul Marchant for Progressive Forage Published on 29 May 2022

Mother’s Day didn’t quite feel like Mother’s Day. The day actually felt a lot more like February than May. It was cold with not a blossom in sight.

This was particularly problematic for me because, as a serial procrastinator and perhaps the world’s sorriest gift giver, I couldn’t do much to redeem myself with an early morning harvest of the rare spring blossoms scattered around the ranch to cobble together a homemade Mother’s Day bouquet for my wife. Although my annual homemade bouquet is probably as much a product of my absentmindedness as my thoughtfulness, I think over the years it has sort of endeared me to my wife, as she’s silently come to expect it.

The fragrant white and lavender lilacs at the side of the house, which make for a beautiful and easy way to start an amateur bouquet, were probably two weeks from making an appearance, if they didn’t freeze before then. The wild yellow roses? Not even close. Sometimes I can add just a sprig of a nasty Russian olive tree to enhance the fragrance, but even the Russian olives were still in hibernation. About the only plant life that could offer its normal contribution was the hardy and ever-abundant sagebrush. But as any trifling, part-time florist knows, a slab of sagebrush hardly makes for the centerpiece of a quality Mother’s Day floral arrangement. It’s more of a role-playing garnishment. So this was going to have to be a bye year for the bouquet. I didn’t fail completely. I stopped at the C-A-L Ranch store on my way through town on Saturday and got a sweet deal on a nice leather purse. It’s a more useful and practical gift, but it certainly lacked the sentimentality.

To add to my woes, a full-blown blizzard was raging as I was making my rounds of the cows after church. With the old flatbed creeping along in granny gear as I kicked off a bale of hay, I caught a glimpse of a couple of buzzards sitting on what was undoubtedly a bovine corpse at the far end of the Zollinger piece. When I traipsed down to verify the diagnosis, I found the lifeless body of the biggest calf in the bunch. I don’t know what caused his demise, but I recognized him right away because I’d made special note of him and how nice he looked when I rode through the cows earlier that morning. I unsuccessfully tried to stifle the profane oath that escaped from my thoughts out of my mouth. At least it was only my dogs who were witness to this version of my Sunday cussing.

I tried to finish up the chores and feeding a little earlier than normal so I could offer to make some out-of-the-box Mother’s Day brownies before the day ended. Before I could go in, however, I had to grab a ladder and climb up on the roof and gingerly climb through three inches of snow to find the origin of the small but steady drip of water slinking down the wall in the back hall. A quick examination and a piece of black silage bag plastic temporarily dried up the leak.

When I finally made it back in the house, I was grateful – though it was gratitude coupled with a twinge of guilt – that my wife, in recognition of my culinary limitations, had already stuck my brownies in the oven. Still, she gave me credit for the win, just because I thought about doing it myself. Despite the aromatic confection in the kitchen, the tough news kept piling in. When my wife made her Mother’s Day call to her parents in Arizona, we discovered that my ailing 86-year-old father-in-law would most likely be placed on hospice within the next couple of days. We were hoping to get him back home to northern Idaho before his condition reached that point, but it now appeared that would be impossible. Happy Mother’s Day, dear.

Especially on this day, with all its apparent misfortunes, my wife – despite her best efforts at matronly strength – needed some consoling, a task for which I’ve always felt ill-suited. I fought my natural inclination to try to ignore the sadness of the situation, but I obviously couldn’t escape my responsibilities.

We made it through that day, and through the days since, probably much the same way most anyone else in our situation would: one task and one day at a time. Despite everything, I’ve learned over time that the people who seem to be most at peace with their lives are the ones who simply do what they have to do. Even at that, it’s easier said than done – and I’ve noticed a common thread among those who seem most able to cope with life’s calamities, large and small.

Despite life’s infuriating and inevitable unfairness, I’ve discovered that joy and grief are not mutually exclusive. It’s possible to have a firm grip on grief in one hand while, at the same time, hold joy in the other. With that seemingly complex, yet marvelously simple understanding, I’ve found that coping with grief and sorrow is more than just merely hanging on to the knot at the end of the rope and enduring through bitterness. The light of joy will always win out over despair, as long as we realize that it can always be there, even in the darkest of times.  end mark

Paul Marchant is a cowboy and part-time freelance writer based in southern Idaho. Follow him on Twitter, or email Paul Marchant.


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