Monday, September 27, 2010

September, a time to enjoy

Today was just a day of perfection, great weather, good times and I spent some time "stopping and smelling the sagebrush". I have decided that tonight I am going to share something from a few years ago that still affects me to this day. I will certainly admit that as the years go by the depth of the emotions related to this event wanes but I am mostly certain that the memory will always be clear and profound. I am also very lucky to have the life I am able to live to help me through the memories of this event.

In September of the year 2000 I was flying higher and faster than a hyper active child with a Curious George lunchbox filled with empty Hershey bar wrappers. I had a job I mostly enjoyed managing a 270 acre apple orchard as well as around 250 momma cows in partnership with a friend. I had a great wife, three wonderful daughters, and a decent bank account and was 33 years old. A 16 hour day of work between the orchard and cows was an “easy” day and a 20 hour day was not something that I shied away from. As long as I was able to get enough sleep to tackle the next day I had no worries. If that meant missing kids sports or other school related events or skipping some quality time with my wife that was just part of life. In my mind life was good and in many ways it was, the quality of that life was suffering though and I was the last to notice. It took a tragic event to set me straight and although I still sometimes suffer mentally from the event, it made me see life in a much different way.

The morning of September 16th, 2000 was going to be a welcome break from an apple harvest that had been anything but easy. The company I was working for had been dealing with labor unrest since early August. The “strike” was mostly over but there were still fringe elements trying to revive the stresses of the previous 4 weeks. I had requested and been granted a rare harvest time day off to attend a wedding of a cousin in Vancouver Washington. Early that morning I told Chris to be ready to hit the road at 8 a.m. and I would be back soon but had to check on one cattle issue. I had a fall calving cow that had delivered twins the evening before and I wanted to make sure she was caring for both of her calves. I had put her in a corral the night before and felt it would be fine but just wanted to make sure.

I left the house early in the black Dodge which at that time still had a regular bed and not the aftermarket front bumper it has today. It was much like today as it was a beautiful early fall morning as the sun rose in the eastern sky. I was traveling east on highway 12 and sipping on coffee and hoping the cow and her calves would be fine and not take up much of my time. As I approached “A” street which intersects with the highway I let off the throttle as a car shot across in front of me. My thought was “wow that is a pretty daring soul.”

The next events will take longer to type and read than they happened in real time. It only took a matter of seconds but it seemed like it was almost in slow motion. I had just started to push on the throttle again when another car ran the stop sign and started to cross. The first car was stopped in the median and the second car had no where to go. It was too late to swerve so I slammed on my brakes and remember thinking “oh man, this is going to hurt” and braced my legs and my arms for the unavoidable impact. The other vehicle was a Geo metro and even though I had the brakes locked there was a collision that sent me hurtling backwards as the seatbelt and (unexpected) air bag deployed. After the initial collision my pickup lurched into the median and stopped running. I opened and stumbled out the door to my knees in shock. In a matter of minutes two young men that were on their way to work were at my side. They were asking me if I was ok and that they had seen the whole thing and it was not my fault. I had probably the scariest moment of my life right then. I was trying to stand up but because of the shock and impact my legs were not working. Not only that but they were having a burning sensation that I had not experienced before. OMG, I am going to be paralyzed was my thought. I could never relate the fear and sickness that I felt that day, or the rapid thoughts of how I wished I had lived life differently. Just when I was sure I had blown my chance at living life correctly the two young men dragged me backwards. I was kneeling right in the middle of a fire ant hill and that was the cause of the stinging sensation in my legs.

I eventually was able to stand and as the scream of sirens filled the air I started to shake off the effects of the collision. I saw a state trooper drape a blanket over the drivers’ side door of the Geo Metro. The moment of the impact I knew inside what the fate of the driver would likely be but as the fear of being paralyzed subsided, the feeling of guilt overtook me. The accident was in no way my fault but to this day I still think about it from time to time. The driver of the Geo was a 27 year old woman and mother of two children but was traveling alone in the car that day. She was following the first car and had not even looked as she ran through the stop sign. Physically I had suffered nothing more than a dislocated finger and some bumps and bruises, but inside I was a total wreck.

All manner of things went through my head. What if I had left home 30 seconds sooner or later that morning? What if she had left her home at a different time? What if she or I had been driving a bit faster or slower that morning? Even though the accident was not my fault I really struggled and sometimes even to this day I have difficulty with it. I think the fact that 2 kids were left motherless is the thing that I will never quite get over. Still today but with less frequency now I still bolt upright in the middle of the night with my legs stiff, soaked in sweat as I see that young lady and her car at the end of the hood of my pickup.

As tragic and painful as all that was even in a difficult time there was a life lesson and a positive outcome for me. That winter I sold a large part of my cowherd. I quit fretting so much about the almighty dollar and started to appreciate my wife, kids, family and life in a way that has been so much more fulfilling. I am someone that really does not like when someone gets too “preachy” about anything. Because of that I really try to not be too “preachy” myself. I will however tell you that today and everyday is a gift. It will not always be easy to embrace and appreciate that gift. I can promise you with certainty though, when you narrow your focus to the things that really are important in life, your life will be so much more enjoyable to live. These days I really try and take a second to think about what really matters in life when I have to choose between work and play. Having the desire to work hard is not a bad thing; just make sure that if you work really hard, you play even harder!

Today’s real environmentalist species found on the ranch is diffuse knapweed aka Centaurea diffusa.

Today’s picture is of two calves that are untagged at this point. These calves are the son and daughter of two spring yearling heifers that calved early. Even though I had a million other things to do today I just watched these calves play and be curious for quite some time. The reason I did was because I could.