Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas in the Sandhills

We’ve had a lovely holiday. We even got snow on Christmas eve. Gotta love that.

The kids will soon spread out again, but they’ll leave with some pretty wonderful memories:  

Supping at Pickles in snow covered Arco, the large red “EAT” sign matching the Christmas lights strung around the cafĂ©. We even tried their fried pickles - yum!

Going around the table on Christmas Eve saying what we were thankful for: Callie, the grounding that happens when around a multi-generational family, so different from her world in Manhattan. Seth, being with people who “know my story.” Mark, living in a country where you’re rewarded for your own effort. Anna, “for Grandma Barb, who made killer muenster chicken that we’re enjoying tonight!”

Taking Dad along to feed the crew while moving cattle; him saying three times what a good bunch of heifers they were.

Gifts the kids collected from their travels - bright colored fabric and paintings from Africa, antique spoons from Berlin, peppermint tea from Manhattan, and a sweater from Boise!

A sleigh ride with their cousins, complete with jingle bells and steaming percherons.

Conversations about the qualities they will look for in a spouse, “calling” names for their kids, and exploring what this word “vulnerability” means.

. . . even fine memories of the funeral of a friend and fellow rancher, where honor to a family name, the ethics of hard work, forgiveness, humor, and community were celebrated. 

Callie and Seth moving heifers, cold and windy

Christmas in Wapello

Gary brought me the hornet's nest - the ranch provided the greens

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Liberian Education

We’ve been waiting for photos of Liberia from Seth’s teammate Jason. Three dvd’s arrived in the mail yesterday. Seth’s red-headed figure sticks out among the beautiful black faces of Africa.

Liberia is the second poorest nation in the world behind the Congo. They lost a generation of men during a civil war which raged for fourteen years ending in 2003. Every family has a grim story of loss. While working with Liberian youth, Seth’s team used an activity taught in FFA where students practice falling backwards into the arms of a peer, stretching their boundaries to truly trust one another. Not surprisingly, this activity was difficult for a culture where neighbor fought against neighbor.   

Seth’s task, along with his teammates Jason and Ken, was to help local leaders establish 4-H clubs in five schools and to further the school garden initiative. They helped clear and plant gardens, teaching them to use mulch and compost to return nutrients to the soil since they have no commercial fertilizer and don’t use animal manure to enrich previously farmed ground. They are typical slash and burn farmers, moving each year to a new plot, using a machete to clear the plants and then burning the refuse. This constant moving means farmers often walk over an hour each way to get to their fields.

Seth witnessed first-hand the problems of international aid. As help is provided, a culture of reliance follows. Seth saw a people that have become accustomed to asking for things. There are a few solid jobs, good pay can be had at the Firestone rubber plantation, but most people live a meager existence, growing some of their own food with a little income from selling charcoal.

A huge problem is transportation. Though they have vehicles and gas stations, the roads require a 4-wheel drive and even then it’s difficult. They have a little commerce within their own villages, but getting products to the city is nearly impossible. Heavy rains can stop all transportation and make walking to school a chore.  

He saw some hope during his stay. The kids elected officers in each of the 4-H programs. This was a fun activity for the kids and in each case the girls really stood out as leaders. Public speaking is highly valued in their culture so they were skilled at that. Local leaders are slowly learning to trust one another and take steps to surmount their many challenges.

Seth begrudgingly wrote me a Christmas list when he got home. He called it “my materialism list.”  

Monday, December 10, 2012

Home for Christmas

We got the cows home today. They were anxious to get on the road; all but a few head were waiting for us at the gate. They know within a few days of when we’ll show up. They gauge the amount of grass left and trust that we’ll arrive to take them to fresh feed. We still have to ride the ridges for the handful that are happy grazing the draws high above the creek. They’re our favorite cows. We wish we had to gather them all from way up high.

Yesterday was beautiful. The cows follow a gravel road that winds through the mountains above the Blackfoot River. Mark mostly drove the pickup, which he deserved after a long cold ride the day before. I was happy to walk along or let Kate do the work while we stayed in the warm. It was a sunny morning with a light snow covering. We listened to Christmas carols and watched the cows trail along single file. The radio program was “Sounds of Sunday” which meant lots of old time religious carols, my favorite. I called the morning poetic. Mark wasn’t sure about that.

Today was a different story – a “cold windy pig” as Mark called it. Everyone was chilled through by the time we finished. Anita had chili for us when we turned into the field and everyone was in good spirits despite the cold.

Seth arrived home from Liberia last night just in time to help us today. He went from 100+ heat index to this. He survived with long johns, wool bibs - the works. So good to have him home. So good to see the cows spread out grazing, trailing back and forth to the river. Now we just need to get our girls home!