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Irons in the fire: Stuck in regret

Paul Marchant for Progressive Forage Published on 02 October 2019

Bart has a lot going on. He grows barley, wheat, sugarbeets and hay on his southern Idaho farm. He’s got a little feedlot where he finishes a couple hundred head each year. He buys, sells and hauls about a gazillion loads of hay annually. He’s as conscientious a neighbor as you’ll ever find.

It seems he’s always on some errand or other to help someone in distress – often without being asked. He’s handy with a welder and a wrench, and has rescued me from several peculiar predicaments, most of them of my own making. His heart is as big as his shoulders are broad.

By his own admission, one of the most valuable assets in his character portfolio is also one that sometimes causes him the most distress. That is, when he knows something needs to be done, he tucks up his knees and cannonballs in, not always sure where the ensuing splash and waves may ultimately fall. From rearranging the dining room furniture to replacing half-a-mile of mainline or digging his neighbor’s beets, he’s always all-in with a full head of steam. All usually ends well – but not always without an unplanned detour and maybe a slight regret or two.

Last spring, he got a call from one of the third-generation straw bosses of the Winecup Ranch. They were running low on hay and needed a couple loads hauled up the creek to where the mother cows were wintered. The request was confirmed by upper-level management (young straw boss’s dad), so Bart prepared to make the 60-or-so-mile trip – most of it on dirt roads – to deliver the hay early the next morning. He was assured that, despite the wet spring, the notoriously bad road to the ranch was passable, even for a semi pulling doubles.

He was rounding Trout Creek just as the sun was transforming the dull gray dawn into a bright new day. He’d been positively impressed with the condition of the roads to that point. As he rounded the bend and hugged the left side of the road, he felt confident about how the trailer was tracking. He’d likely be unloaded within the hour. It was then that he felt a sudden sinking feeling – not in the pit of his stomach but a literal, physical sinking that brought the truck to a fairly abrupt stop as the wheels disappeared into two feet of soft, wet clay and dirt on a road completely devoid of any base. He took a look in his right rearview mirror and watched as the back trailer, almost in slow motion, tipped onto its side. Being fairly familiar with situations that don’t go as planned, he in short order determined he was stuck.

He crawled out of the cab, took a deep breath of the cold morning air and watched the steam as he slowly exhaled. Bart is nothing if not composed in the midst of a crisis. He wasn’t pleased with the situation, but he figured since the sun was up he was burning daylight. He trekked back up the road about a quarter-mile to climb to the top of a little hill where he could get a strong enough signal to call for reinforcements.

His first call was to another member of the Winecup’s upper-level management team, the uncle of the original requestor. He was none too pleased with the predicament and, in a five-minute-long dissertation which may or may not have included a profane word or two, gently explained that Bart should never have attempted the trip. In something that was less than a tirade but more than a gentle rebuke, he questioned the sanity of his brother and nephew in language that brought their parentage into question.

He calmed the savage hay buyer and within an hour had enough loaders and backhoes at the scene to extract his truck from the bottomless pit masquerading as a road. Most of the day was spent gathering the hay and carting it to the ranch, then rebuilding the road, such as it was. Fourteen hours after his four-hour project began, Bart safely returned home.

When he recounted the tale to his wife that night, he was struck by the absence of an all-too-familiar emotion that often accompanies mishaps, miscalculations and misfortune. He felt no regret. He knew he’d taken every precaution and done everything the right way. What an odd and welcome relief. Most train wrecks, he thought, are dripping with regret, feelings and thoughts about how and what you should have done. He chose at that moment to savor the experience of the lost day. He realized that regret is a sneaky little troll who’ll undoubtedly flaunt his presence in the coming days, weeks and years. But he knew he’d never allow regret to become any more than that. It may show up in the crowd, but it will never rule the day. end mark

Paul Marchant
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