Every year right around Christmas my Dad and I bring cattle home.
We don’t have enough pasture for all the cows to graze throughout the summer, so they need to be sent out and around to different parts of the farm, and to another farm that we use. They get there during the spring, calve, fatten up during the summer and fall, then we bring them home when snow makes it impossible to graze.
When I was young I hated this time of the year. My Dad tended to get really stressed out, moving cattle at the time was not an easy task. It was cold, and lot of plans that had to be made were based on circumstance and chance. It was miserable. Working outside in the cold, if we were particularly unlucky- a blizzard- was not fun. It was tough to stay warm because herding cattle involved a lot of standing and waiting. My hands and feet would get useless with pain from the cold. The cold also froze things, it made doors hard to close, head gates impossible to lock and hands unable to do urgent nimble tasks. From what I can remember, back then more things went wrong than right, and although I was probably a big help, I always knew my age and size at the time had its shortcomings.
This Christmas Eve my Dad came into the kitchen with the same urgent face, albeit slightly less stressed out, and asked me to help him move cattle. Since I moved to Montreal, for seven years now, I’ve missed working on the farm and doing these things, so I obliged with a smile. I knew the drill. I needed lots of layers and long-johns everywhere, thick socks, a warm hat, something around my neck, and the heaviest work coat I could find. Moving cattle means something different to me now. Its time with my Dad, time outside, time spent accomplishing concrete things. Now, everything is a game to me. We have our own truck and cattle trailer now, so I get to swing that sucker around and eyeball where I’m loading animals. Over the years I’ve become a surgeon backing vehicles up. Catching and loading cattle now is like a complicated game of traffic. Now that I’m bigger I’m a lot less worried about getting killed and a lot more useful separating and pinpointing specific animals.
We ended up moving all the animals, plus some my Dad didn’t think we could catch, and we did it in record time, with minimal standing and waiting in the cold. We even got some ear tagging done, which identifies the animals. The equipment we use has changed. Trial and error has sharpened my Dad’s ingenuity. I’m just the other end of a well oiled cow wrangling team with 15 years of experience.
Today I’ve entered Transit. I’ve left home. Tears and fears have been exchanged. I’m on my way to London to spend some time with my special someone before I leave for Kenya. Its fitting that herding cattle came to my mind as I’ve taken my first steps towards my trip. Working with cattle happens to be one of the few tasks I enjoy complete focus. I don’t think about anything else when I’m doing it. Its the type of focus I exercise when I run, and its the type of focus I hope to tap into when I’m training in the ‘holy’ land of running.
One of the things I’m most worried about is doing something wrong and not knowing it, or doing something that I’m used to here, that is in fact dangerous or unacceptable there. What I’m hoping for is an adventure, which is inevitable, and a jump in fitness, also inevitable.
I feel quite naive, and overwhelmingly unprepared. But that’s just how I roll in everything but running.