Some things we do because we love them and can't imagine life any other way (writing, backpacking, music, running); other things we do to develop particular skills (cycling, shooting); some because we were told they were good for us (weight lifting, taking vitamins); and then, finally, there are things we do for the person we love (yoga, branding cattle). Cyndi and I spent last weekend with lots of family, branding calves. We were near Des Moines, New Mexico, firmly in the Great Plains, in the shadow of two ancient volcanos, Sierra Grande and Capulin.

It's stunning country. The dominant view is infinite grassland and open skies. Looking north you see nothing standing between you and the Arctic Circle except the curvature of the earth. This is country where all things are open and laid bare, where you can critique a misplaced fence line for miles while standing in one place.

Cyndi and her three cousins started this cattle raising venture and have referred to it as the Four Chicks Ranch. Since one cousin doesn't want anyone calling her a chick, I suggested Three Chicks and a Hen. She didn't like that name, either.

BrandingDuring the branding operation it was my job to pin the calf down from the front by pushing on its neck with my right knee and pulling up on the top front leg, while my cousin-in-law Bob grabbed both rear legs and pulled outward. We held the calf on the ground while it was tagged, vaccinated, branded, and castrated, hoping no one got kicked in the process. It was my first time to use these new knees for something besides walking, hiking, or cycling, and it all went better than I expected. I could even walk normally the next morning.

Maybe the reason my knees performed so well was I didn't have to think about it. Once a calf was roped everything occurred too fast. There was no time to consider whether I should jump up or down. No time for trepidation. Is it possible I've babied them too much?

I assumed they gave me the head of the calf because the job depended more on body mass than skill level. I changed my mind after watching the real cowboys. Even Ginger, Cyndi's cousin, a young mother of two, flipped calves better than me, and I outweigh her by 100 pounds.

I told Cyndi I would add branding to my bucket list so I could check it off. Was it on your list before today? Oh no, of course not, I never considered it, but I'm taking credit for it now. Maybe I'll also make a life goal to learn a new skill every year since 2016 is accomplished.

Bill Farrel writes “It's a sign of maturity when you admit you're not good at some things.” I would add it's also a sign of stupidity to claim you know more than you do - about anything.

I learned early, when I first joined this family, not to pretend I knew anything about ranching life. Now, after 37 years, I've at least acquired enough terminology to hold a conversation, not that these cowboys talk much. Unfortunately, I've learned few skills. However, I doubt any of them can wrangle a spreadsheet like I can, so I can be proud of that.

I wonder what's next. We hiked Guadalupe Peak one weekend, and then branded calves two weekends later. My knees appear ready for anything. It makes me happy to have so many options open I once considered closed.

I'm not sure where learning to flank calves fits into my life plan and 100 Life Goals and all that, other than I want to say Yes more often than I say No. But I’m certain all of life matters every day. Everything we do, tells the story God has put into our hearts. We have to embrace the adventures God puts in front of us so that his message spills out of us as we engage in life.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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