Celtic Solidarity?

Preamble: I am struggling to get this post written and posted. I started it and almost finished it a week ago, so the contents might seem odd, timewise. I am sitting in a waiting room now, Russ is getting his eyes tested and new glasses ordered. Here is what I have ……

After Hurricane Fiona left Nova Scotia we had lots of messages go back and forth with our friends and family there.   Our hearts were so heavy for them.    I had the cell number for one of the family that I only just met for the first time in our recent trip.  Despite not feeling super connected I wanted to check in.  I knew that Gary was a very busy man with lots on his plate but I risked bugging him.   It turned out that Gary is very generous with words and stories and we have been texting back and forth almost every day.  His messages have given me goose bumps as he has detailed how the neighbors are looking out for each other.  His family seems to have an especially tender spot for the widows who need help with generators and dealing with their isolation.  It has inspired me and warmed my heart.  He has also sent me many photos, including this picture of one of the blueberry fields in autumn. I find it so gorgeous.

I find one of the hard parts of having my people going through hard things is the powerless feeling I often have as they struggle. Especially when the distance between us means we can be of no practical assistance.  We simply sit here and wonder and imagine what it’s like.  We pray too, for their strength and their peace amid everything. In some situations, like this one, that seems to be the extent of what we can do.

I think this is why a few days ago I got a somewhat silly notion in my head.  I looked at the earrings I was wearing, I had put them on the last full day we were in Nova Scotia. Russ had bought them for me at the Halifax Citadel gift shop.   As I looked in the mirror I thought to myself, “its time to change your earrings Kathy!” But even as I considered that something in me was already resisting it.  I got thinking, “I am not taking these off until our people all have their power back on.”  Well, Monday morning the message finally came in from Gary, a New Brunswick power man had come in their yard and said, “you can turn your generator off.”  (Can you just imagine how momentous those words would sound after 9+ days without power?) The washing machine was put to use almost immediately Gary told me.  Later that day standing in front of the mirror I contemplated that with the Fentons, the Mannings, and all 3 Brown homes now back on it was time to change my earrings.  But then figured, “no, I am not ready, not yet, my people have power but many still do not.”  I decided then that I would keep them on until every person in Nova Scotia has their power back.  The first thing Gary told me yesterday morning is that 8000 homes in Pictou and Colchester counties are still without.    I will be wearing my Celtic knot earrings for a while yet it seems.

This is all stupid, in a way.  Maybe quite boring as the main subject of a blog post.  But something tells me there is something here.

Do my actions illumine just how very uncomfortable I am when I feel powerless to make a difference?  Yes. Absolutely true about me. Is this common for humans?  I think so.

Do my actions make any difference? No. There is no way my earring choice shifts anything for anyone.

But maybe it’s an act of solidarity. Maybe, when I really analyze the crap out of this, it says “I can’t help you, but if you are dealing with limits I can too.”

Maybe by wearing the earrings bought in Nova Scotia, representing a piece of their Celtic heritage, I am carrying a piece of them on me at all times, maybe thats a tiny form of solidarity.

Maybe it’s a reflection of the wisdom that actions speak louder than words. Maybe the wearing of the earrings and the pondering that goes with that is a form of prayer. I think about the Holy Spirit quite a bit lately. I think about how the Spirit might serve as a courier, taking the love and courage and peace I have to share, from me to those I pray for. (I then trust that God is refilling me so that I have enough for myself and more to share with others.)

That’s all I got written until today….a week later. If my understanding of the Nova Scotia Power Map is correct there are still some without power. I am still wearing the earrings.

If you look it up on Google you will find that the Celtic knot (the symbol used for my earrings) takes on many forms. It has various meanings.

One of its characteristics is that while a Celtic knot may look like it has distinct sections or parts, in fact it is made with one single strand that weaves back through itself and is not tightened, or in other words, is held loosely, it has no beginning and no end.

I really love the symbolism of this. It is a visual reminder of the connection that exists between us and the unique forms our friend and family groups take. The reality of knots that are not tight says something important too I think. Obviously sometimes tight knots are important, I am a rancher, I see this regularly. But the tie that binds friends and family together, across vast distances and through hard times can be held gently, can be a means for our prayers of love, mercy, courage and strength to flow freely.

As I wear these earrings in the days and years ahead they will be a reminder of our trip. They have become more. I am so grateful for our Nova Scotia history, our Brown family there, our Fenton and Manning friends, and the invisible and gently woven strand that connects us to them. In these post hurricane days my earrings have become a testament to love and a reminder to pray.

Moments With Us

This morning I was drinking coffee and scrolling Facebook. We were up a bit early so that Russ could get some chores done before we headed to Estevan. Russ, Morgan and I were registered to attend a Beef Summit hosted by Co-op Agro. We were heading in to learn more about forage, about what we grow to feed our cows. But first, I had a warm cup of coffee to sip, a creamy one with a whipped up surface, thanks to Russ and his special recipe. He makes me a coffee and delivers it to our room every morning and it allows me a very gentle start to the day. I appreciate it alot. While sipping away I read a story that came across my newsfeed, posted in a group I belong to, there are 324,000 members of this group and on its pages I found a story featuring my home city and a man I had gone to school with. It was quite the thing to stumble across. My newsfeed also alerted me to the invasion of the Ukraine and very quickly the morning felt far beyond the ordinary.

We were late leaving after chores didn’t go perfectly, (I mean they rarely do when its -30 out), we had a good visit in the car. We talked about things we had seen on Facebook in the last day or so. Russell had seen a post by a friend defending the use of picture filters that allow us to look different than we are in person. He asked me what I think. That was an interesting conversation. The thing about the filters is that they allow a more polished or perfect image, but in the end you still have to go out in the world as you are. I have never really understood it. They make me kind’ve sad, because while I celebrate the chance for people to play with their image and perk up their look, I think the absolute ideal scenario would be to experience self acceptance and have peace with where you are at. If you use filters to make yourself more acceptable to yourself, don’t you deep down know that it isn’t the truth? Doesn’t that just give the voices in our heads fuel to say “you aren’t really pretty.” I find the self critical voice in my head needs no extra ammunition. The comments I made reminded Russell of a movie he loves. He said, “Kathy, you need to watch a movie for the ultimate monologue that sounds like what you just said. Kevin Costner, in The Guardian, is a coast guard rescue guy and he goes into a bar and the woman bartending is awesome, she tells him about how she got all her wrinkles, you gotta hear it.” Then he pulled off the highway for a minute, before he got out I picked up my phone. He could tell what I was up to. “Don’t start playing the clip if you find it before I get back,” he said. I couldn’t find the clip but I found the quote and here it goes

“Hell, I’ve always been old, Ben. You know what though? I don’t mind. I mean, if my muscles ache it’s cause I’ve used ’em. It’s hard for me to walk up them steps now cause I walked up ’em every night to lay next to a man who loved me. I got a few wrinkles here and there, but I’ve laid under a thousand skies on sunny days. I look and feel this way, well, cause I drank and I smoked, I lived and I loved, danced, sang, sweat and screwed my way through a pretty damn good life. Gettin old ain’t bad man; gettting old – that’s earned”

The conversation made me feel a little bit better. I posted a picture of Morgan and I earlier this week, when he was a baby, it was so obvious that I have aged in the fifteen years since it was taken. After this conversation with Russ I had a fresh take on how to feel about the difference the years have brought. I thought to myself, if this is the price I pay for the experience of raising these kids and living my unique life, I will pay it. We are here to live, not play a game about tricking time.

We kept rolling down the highway. I got to tell Russ about the post I had discovered earlier in the morning. How it led me to look up the profile of the woman who wrote the story, how I had read another story on her post that I found touching. A woman teaching at a school in the far north received terrible news moments before her students arrived for the day. When they arrived they surrounded her in a circle as she told of her loss. The cultural differences, the fact of suicide, the fact she was still a new teacher to them did not deter them from drawing near. Their culture and their values meant a response of care and compassion. Russ fought back his tears as we approached our turn off to get to our seminars. We needed to hear about cultural divides being bridged for the sake of compassion. We needed to hear about solidarity in the face of suffering.

We found our way to the conference room at the Days Inn where we would spend the day. We were late and that meant the only empty table was front and center. The presenters could see every line on my face! Not that the lines mattered, just drawing the earlier story into the current one! The distance mattered. I was not super keen about attending the event, they can get boring and often there is much discussed that I just can’t get a hold on. My background in agriculture is very sketchy and that means a million facts swim around and I get overwhelmed. So in my head I was thinking, “when it gets to be too much I can zone out, I will work on the sermon for Sunday.” However, when you are 12 feet from the presenter zoning out is not an option. I felt guilty for answering text messages let alone writing a sermon, in my head or otherwise. I was on. I was listening. I took notes to keep myself engaged. And I learned! I learned fact stuff like our next planting of forage seed might best be accompanied by a rye grass called “Big Bang” versus the oats we have planted for cover crop before. Exciting right!?!? But I also learned in a bigger way that alot of the professionals working in the industry really want to help us producers. Russ and I both went away saying, “we will call that guy Ken anytime, he was so approachable.”

At one point I caught myself being a big faker. A man from Brett Young Forage was speaking, he was really easy to listen to and follow along with and I was with him. He made comment about clover that went something like this, “you want to be really careful, sweet clover and white clover are different” and he looked to us listeners to affirm that with him, or so it seemed to me. There I was, wanting to give the message that I was following, and I found myself nodding my head like a true believer. That was immediately followed by a sharp awareness that I was faking it and I am not sure why. I don’t know a ding dang thing about clover, I had no business nodding about anything. I caught myself with a question I will never know the answer to, “who would I be if I actually knew this?” Who are the women that sit around conference tables well versed in the details of forage? What impression was I giving this man about who I am and what my story might hold? Why is it so hard to let yourself be known as a beginner?

At some point in the day I noted how natural it felt for the three of us to roll into the seminar. In fact, it was a first. Russ loves going to education events and has taken me to many, so truly, I am less of a beginner than I used to be. But this was the first time that Morgan joined us. With school on break for a week it was an option that he seemed happy to agree to. So the number of brains mulling over the details of ranching at the Bar MW is definitely expanding. Today was a first.

Morgan drove us home from Estevan, this was my view from the backseat.

As the day winds down, with knowledge that so much is wrong in the Ukraine and that could spread, I find myself thinking about what I know and what I don’t know. I told the family at supper, I think I maybe know about .4% of the situation in Ukraine, if that. I don’t know about clover. I do know that I am loved even though my hair is more grey every day and my wrinkles very real. I know that listening is powerful and it may be one of my superpowers. I don’t know how to stop a war, but I think listening would help. I know it can be scary to be in the backseat going 100km/hr down a winter highway. I know it feels scary to not be in control. I know we all have felt out of control for almost two years. I know I need alot more courage. I know I need to pray. I don’t know how to pray, or that is how it feels. I know that the Bible says that when we don’t have the words to pray, the spirit helps us, and can translate our groans, our sighs and our weeping into prayers. I know I am going to be counting on that. After texts and calls with friends today I know that what makes us rich and powerful is not dollars and force but relationship and wisdom. I know its bedtime and this is enough.

Praying Games

We had a few more of the first calf heifers give birth today.  This time it was Pray, Cuddle and Value.   This post arises from the cow named Pray and how she shaped my day today.  

First a bit about the name.  Although I am a minister and Russell is a bible school graduate, we don’t prioritize time to pray together.  We never have.  We have tried at times, but it hasn’t stuck.   Still we put the word “pray” in our list of words that reflect strength for our marriage. The bigger story is that prayer is a part of our life.  On any given day either we do it silently and individually and/or we struggle with it and we talk about that struggle (more me than Russell) and we do it, out loud, gathered together, regularly and with heart, at the meal table.   This seems to work for us.  The truth is I am a minister and I have struggled for my whole adult faith life with prayer.  Too many unanswered prayers is the crux of the problem for me and too much injustice for some in this world.  This could get super serious and some day maybe it will be good to talk about all this, but for today, just know that we have a Heifer named Pray because we know that prayer is about relationship with God and we know we need that to carry out our lives and our marriage with wholehearted strength and purpose.

So what happened today?  Pray had her calf at the far corner of the heifer pasture, in short grass with no bedding near. Russ found her licking off her calf. However by the time his heifer check was done it seemed as though Pray had abandoned her calf.  What the heck?!?!?  Surprisingly despite a cold early morning and neglect it was not too bad off. Russ got some hay from a nearby feeder, loaded it onto the hood of the jeep and took it over and made a bit of wind shelter/bedding with a good clump of it.  Then his morning had challenges and he never got back to check the status of the calf and its relationship with its Mom.  He called at 11:30, would I go and have a tour of the heifers and see what was up?  Yes.  I found that calf right where he told me he had first seen it.  Pray was nowhere in sight.

  As I checked the rest of the herd I kept a special eye out for Pray.  I found her mingling in the midst of a whole group who were grazing and hanging out like teenagers at recess.   She looked unconcerned.  I said to her, with a sense of double entendre “Pray I expected more of you.”  Unsurprisingly this rebuke did not phase her one bit.  

After my tour I called Russ and reported in.  He asked if I would make a bottle and return to the calf he would dub “little prayer”.  I was a bit ticked by this, lunch would be late and I would get nothing else done for the morning, but of course I wasn’t going to say no.  When I returned with the bottle I was fortunate to be able to get milk into her, with only a little resistance. 

 I had never fed a calf a bottle on the open range before, so I could chalk that up as a first.  Ideally Pray would have caught wind that I was meddling with her baby and come stampeding over with motherly love flooding her, but nothing like that happened.  What did happen is that after only about 1/8th of a bottle Little Prayer responded to the nourishment and worked at getting up.   I witnessed her first faltering steps.  

Once up she got tooling around.  Her instincts were amazing.  She nuzzled up to our Expedition as if it was her Mama.  She nuzzled into me, I was sitting on the ground on my knees and my armpit seemed to her like something she should know about.  From that vantage point I got more of that bottle into her.  It was fun.  Still no Pray in sight.  I went home and lunch was served only 15 minutes late.  

After lunch I was totally enjoying watching a youtube video about how to start seedling plants when Russ called.  He needed my help.  He was trying to sort out the issue with Pray.  I won’t try and explain all the stages of this because honestly I am not totally clear on everything myself.  What I do know best I understand after the fact, the initial hurried phone calls did little for me. When Russ called me he was on foot, playing a game with cow and calf which was a combination of tag and follow the leader. He was trying to get them together. I came along just about the time Pray had a change of heart and decided she owned that calf. She did not have a gentle touch. She bellered and danced around that calf and pushed at it, I feared she would hurt it. Russ sat in the jeep with me as this unfolded. I saw raw power in that Mama and it scared me. Pray definitely seemed to be scaring Little Prayer too.  Meanwhile, the calf had maybe bonded with Russell and I.  In Russell’s words, “I put her to bed for the first time and you fed her for the first time, she feels best with us.”  It seemed to be the case.

Russ was using his shepherd hook here, to snag the calf before she hid herself within this group, he marked her back with a cattle marker.

  In the dance around the pasture that took place over about 45 minutes, the calf went through the fence to the neighboring pasture 4 times working to escape its overwrought Mother.  As Russ went through too, working to get it back in the proper pasture he said, “if that cow comes for me you drive through the fence and get me.”  “Like…. drive throououough the fence Russell?”  Yes, right through it was the prescription for salvation.    That was the first of four times this happened at three difference fence lines and by the fourth I was definitely overwrought too.  It was only in the post game analysis that I really understood that for the most part the calf was the one that Russ was trying to disappear from, it just wanted Russ.  The cow seemed to mean no harm to him.  But I didn’t know that so my stress levels were just crazy by the time I got the phone call with these words, “turn around and go hide behind that hill!”   As I got in place the last I saw of Russ he was running through this rounded and somewhat deep large indent in the prairie, with dirt hills on the north side. I was hiding in the jeep behind those hills, Russ appeared, jumped in with me and said “back up, just back up”.  He knew the game of tag and follow the leader had become hide and seek with the calf, I didn’t.  When we stopped the jeep and watched from a distance there was a bit of hope in the air.  I wasn’t doing so well though.  I let myself acknowledge that I have post traumatic shock after the year of so many things going wrong and quite simply if Russ got hurt I would be wrecked.  So after Russ said, “back up, just back up” and we had come to a stop, I said, “Russ, I am not doing so good,” not entirely holding back my tears.    Russ offered to take me back to my truck, I could go home.  I didn’t want to abandon him though.  Mercifully that was when it seemed like we could let these two figure it out.  We had drawn them out to the centre of the pasture, away from fence lines, maybe with some time for the brain to make some connections both of them would realize that they need each other.  

I found it ironic that all this happened with our cow named Pray, because in the midst of all these shenanigans my best possibility for help was God.  The thing is after seeing some of the big problems in my life not fixed by prayer I come to moments like this so confused, so needful but so confused.  What I am working from right now is that prayer is about relationship with God, investing myself in my friendship with God, letting God in and drawing the strength that my friend has to share with me, its not about telling God what to do, but sharing myself.  So observing the action at the third fence line, watching the dance with baited breath, I just repeated over and over again what I wanted, letting my friend know what my end goal was, what the need of my heart was, but trying not to be bossy about how it would happen.  I want my husband to be safe.  I want my animals to be safe.  After repeating that several times I got a bit practical.  If this circus was going to end it would be because that cow settled into her maternal identity and allowed her calf to feel safe.  So I told God how I wanted that for her.  This point in my prayer/conversation is about the time I got the call to go hide behind the hill.  And then it seemed, that at least for then, things were moving in the right direction.  I was so thankful.  Sitting here now, its 5:45pm and I have no idea what has happened since.  Perhaps no news is good news. 

I didn’t mean for this to be so long.  Thanks for sticking it out with me.  Lets hope the rest of the heifers offer a slightly more straight forward experience.  You probably don’t want to read this kind of a exposé arising from the names of some of the heifers yet to calve🙄😬😉.