Thursday, March 5, 2009

Genesis work

I don't know what your calendar says, but I was under the impression that this was supposed to be March.  However, here on the Palouse, you'd be forgiven for thinking it December. Yesterday we walked around without coats, today we were bundled up against a mighty wind and winter blast of snow.  But my brother-in-law, B was elated tonight with the snow.  He told me just yesterday that moisture is needed for field and pasture, and snow is preferable.  B knows these things, he spends his life paying attention to creation.  Doing the same kind of work as both of those first born children of our first parents.  See, B and his brothers farm like Cain, and raise animals for food, like Abel.  How many people you know actually live out Genesis in such a way?

Yesterday afternoon, my sister, nephew (and his girlfriend) and I drove down to the Snake River canyon where B and his family have over 400 head of cattle grazing on the steep slopes of the canyon.  I've been down to the Snake river many times in my 50+ years, but was ashamed to admit I'd never actually seen the family cattle operation.  So nephew M took me on a guided tour--past myB burning blackberry bushes (they gravitate toward water and choke out the supply for the cattle)--right through a gate where a dozen or more saddle and work horses wandered around, up to the big barn in a muddy lot, where a tractor sat, all in pieces. Recently, my brother-in-law had stepped off the tractor to close the gate to one of the pastures, and the tractor got away from him.  This is no little garden tractor, either, but one as tall as a house.  That tractor smashed through a fence, down a ravine past massive boulders, and lodged itself on the far side of the 'crick.'  It took several men, and two other large machines, to pull it back up to the road.

In the barn, I got out of our car and stood in the matted hay, watching the yearling cattle standing in a rocky hillside pen, with two-feet thick mud covering the ground (and those cows).  There isn't a stick of grass where they are kept, though they certainly have a lot of area to wander.  My brother-in-law was a little shocked to hear I'd never been down there before.  He spends half his life driving the hay wagon, or riding a horse, feeding those cows.  Yep, the only way to get to some of their land is by horse.  I looked far up the canyon walls to where some of the mother cows searched for fresh new shoots of grass.  The fields on top are greening up faster (by a country mile) than the yearling pen.  Crisscrossing the sides of the canyon were slender paths made by the herd.

Down the river highway a piece we came to the end of the family's land.  It was easy to spot because a huge mudslide, complete with enormous rocks, littered the hillside.  That was another long day for these cow-men.  They had to dig out, reroute a flooded creek, gerry-rig a culvert, and rescue the few cows who were stuck on the opposite side of the slide from their food or water.

It hit me all the jobs these farmer-ranchers have.  They have to be mechanics, heavy equipment operators, engineers, sales people, long-haul truckers (today B drove half way across the state to pick up a week's worth of yearling grain in their semi!), horse trainers (yesterday he began training a 3 year-old they just acquired), landscape designers, builders.  And that's just the ranching part.  They also have all that farming work, the most mysterious of which is simply watching the fields intently enough to know when to do whatever must be done next--plow, cultivate, harvest.

I have never wanted to be a farmer, or a rancher.  It's a long job for whom sun-up to sundown doesn't come close to all the hours they actually put in. I admit it, I'm too lazy for the pace, for the hard work, and uncertain rewards. But I hear the passion in B's voice.  The passion in M's.  And when I really look at the work they do, the land they love, I am envious.  One has to love such work to do it, year in and year out.  One has to care more about it than about getting ahead, because ahead is an iffy proposition.  Breaking even is often goal enough.

And it hits me that this drive, this passion, this full engagement with one's livelihood and place in this world, is exactly what God intended for us.  He created us with deep wells of passion, wants us as interested in His creation as He is in us.  And mostly, He wants us to love what He created us to be and do, to do our work heartily, as unto Him, rather than me.  These farmer/ranchers do exactly that.  Glorifying God by the hard, interesting, Genesis-like work of dominion over creation and animals.

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