Friday, May 29, 2009

A Harrowing Experience


Harrowing or raking the meadows in the springtime is one of the priorities on a ranch. Stirring up the meadow grass, spreading the manure, and scratching at surface of the ground beneath helps the hay ground begin its growing season. The hard earth is disturbed enough to open up to the rains and the dead grass is also disturbed enough to let go of its hold on what’s beneath, the smallest of grass shoots just looking for the light and warmth of the sun.

Our renter and ranch hand, Dawn, first tried her hand at harrowing last year. She found that running the 16 foot-wide harrow around and through the meadows wasn’t hard. The difficult part was transporting the harrow to another pasture, through a gate, or perhaps down the county road. In order to do so, she had to detach the harrow from the tractor and turn the tractor around and pick up the harrow with the front-end loader. As she lifted the harrow up off the ground, it would immediately begin to swing side to side and front to back. She quickly realized that the slower she performed this operation, the slower the swing and the slower the swing the less likelihood she would crash into the gate or fence.

I asked Dawn recently, what worried her most about the balancing act of moving the harrow through the gate. She said, “It’s that phone call to Pete. Kiddingly she gives life to the imaginary call, ‘Hey, Pete, are you busy?’” She laughs in a way that it’s funny but downright serious at the same time; something to be avoided at all costs. And then Dawn revisits a similar scene from her childhood when she had to tell her father she’d broken something. She said, “It’s one thing when it’s your father, it’s another when it’s the boss.”

Listening to her talk about learning how to do so many new things on a ranch in the West, I wondered out loud where she got her “can-do spirit.” “So, Dawn, not a lot of women in their forties would take on learning how to drive a tractor, fix fence, or help with regular ranch work. How is it that you’re not worried about learning new things?”

“Well, you know Mary, I lived on my own for a year (in Michigan) when Robert was in Colorado. And when something had to be done, I did it. Just like last winter here on the ranch. When it snowed like crazy, I had to plow when you were gone and Robert was working. It had to be done, so I did it.”

Still curious, I asked, “But you had some confidence in your abilities. Where did that come from?”

“You know, I competed in gymnastics, baton, and shooting sports as a kid and I always wanted to win and I always wanted to give a 110%. I also know other women do ranch work. So, why not me?”

There was my answer. Dawn, although anxious when she works to master the skill of moving the harrow through a gate, continues to believe that she could master whatever task was put before her. She was willing to live through the “harrowing experience," tolerating the worry of making a mistake in order to accomplish the task.

Dawn has embraced not only her work on the ranch, but the spirit of the West. From her independent mindedness that moves her to find what needs to be done, to taking a risk and tolerating a “harrowing experience” in order to get the work done, she doesn’t let fear pull her away from the opportunity that awaits any of us if we remain open to the world each day.

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