by Donald Hanna
I moved to an old family ranch in the mountains of Colorado from Minneapolis about two years ago. It has been quite an adventure being out here. The ranch is a shadow of what it used to be. When my granddad had the place it was thousands of acres. Now it is just forty. When my granddad was ranching he had something like 500 head of cattle. We mostly have some grass and few chickens.
But my family and I are working to try to make something of it again, and hopefully honor the all the work that my ancestors have put into the place over the last century and a half – a lot of elbow grease, time, and money and I’m sure we’ll get somewhere with it–eventually.
Yet this said, the two years we have put in have already been a wonderful education. And while this is very much true for me, I can’t help but think this is even more so for my kids, because they are at a stage that the things that they are learning will really affect how they see the world, and how they come to live in it.
Here are a few examples of the kinds of things that we are being schooled in:
—This place is not really ours… from the howling of coyotes in the night, to foxes chasing after mice in the snow, to the deer that wander across the field, to the raccoons that have tried to set up a home in our porch, we are learning that we are just one small part in this grand world that God has
—Life is a miracle and so is death… we have been blessed with so much life since coming here. We’ve watched about fifty chickens, ten ducks, and a dozen guinea fowl grow from day-old fluff balls to adult birds. We’ve had a handful of kittens come to the place, a young puppy, and most exciting the birth of our first granddaughter. Yet we’ve also experienced death and lots of it. I watched as a truck hit and kill one of our dogs. Another dog and a cat were killed by coyotes. We’ve seen at least half of our flocks killed by various predators. And with all this comes an understanding of how amazing life is, but also how fragile it is. As the old hymn goes, “we wither and perish like leaves on the tree…” You start to get a real visceral sense of that when you’re out digging graves every other week.
—Fire has magic… from clearing away mountains of felled willows, to burning patches of weeds in the field, to standing around staring at a bonfire and telling jokes, and stories, and singing songs, there is something truly magical about fire. I never knew how much this “element” was missing from my life until it became part of living.
This is just a small smattering of a very long list, but it gives some sense of the kinds of things that have been part of our country curriculum here. And what is striking is how deeply profound and spiritually filling each of these lessons feels, even as we are given reviews in them again and again.
I remember when I was nineteen working for my granddad on this ranch. One day, he brought me up to a mountaintop that overlooked the valley where the ranch lies. He didn’t really say much; just pointed down to all this that is now my life. Then it was just a cool view. Now I understand that there was a whole lot more to that mountaintop experience. Maybe he was saying in his own quiet way that this is where God holds class… I just may have to bring my kids up to that mountain.