Some of you know that I recently went on a solitude retreat; five days by myself to read, ride and write. I have been encouraged to do so for years, not because anything is wrong, but simply to allow time to find the essence of the soul and develop clarity of purpose. While there in the hills and meadows of the Meramec River, I came away with some important insights about what it takes to live a meaningful life. For the next five blogs I will share excerpts from my journal. What follows is what I discovered, and I urge you to take a similar journey. Until you do, maybe some of my learning will help. Happy Trails!
PART IV: The Amazing Gift of Relationships
In our everyday lives we move swiftly. We struggle to keep up with our to-do lists. Between business commitments, family plans and personal interests, there is always more to do than we have time for. So in our rush, we often fail to understand the story behind each person we meet.
This week I have tried to remain in solitude. I was supposed to shun contact with people. Yet here I am on a small farm with 2 cabins and a house. How do I act indifferent to those I see every day? I don’t. Instead, because there is so few, I take the time to learn their stories. They are fascinating. I will likely never see these people again but they have left an imprint on my life, and possibly I have left one on theirs.
There are two cabins on this farm. The first day it is just me. Then two people move into the other cabin—Wes and Teresa—who are returning to Michigan from Oklahoma where they traveled to collect some family mementos from a deceased family member. It is Wes’ birthday so they stop at this remote place to enjoy a few days of tranquility. They are rabbit farmers and comfortable on a farm. But not so comfortable with a call from their 18 year-old son who has dropped out his senior year to work. They are understanding but so disappointed. They have such high hopes as we all do. Yet they offer alternatives not ultimatums. We talk. I pass along a book for their son with an offer to chat if he wants someone to talk to. We connect as parents. I pray for them and wish them a safe journey back to Michigan and through life.
Then Lynn moves in. She is a yoga instructor that has lived at a yoga ashram and has a shaved head. She volunteers at the Federal Prison in Potosi, teaching yoga to inmates. She has been coming to this farm for 25 years and fills me in on its history. She is here to meet a friend and do some bird watching. I can tell by meeting her she has inner peace and is likely a healer. I look forward to getting to ask her.
Carol runs the place. She inherited these 500 hundred acres from her grandparents. She opened a bed and breakfast and runs cattle. Years ago she followed her passion and acquired 27 head of gaited horses so she can offer trail rides daily. She also sells real estate. She no longer has a B&B and instead has built two cabins on the property that she rents. Her help comes from all over the world as she participates in a program called Work Away. Every month she gets someone from a different country. This month it is Thierry from France who struggles to figure out how to use his mechanical engineering background when loading two bales of hay on a dolly. Carol works hard but you can tell she loves what she does. And she juggles a lot of balls to make it all work! I admire her.
After a long summer of draught, Carol has lost cattle, and even had to chase them from across the river back to her land (because the river got so shallow it no longer served as a natural fence). She even had her son sleeping in his truck to babysit the cattle and keep them from crossing. On my fourth afternoon around 3pm, high winds were blowing, around 60mph. It looked like a micro burst and I knew my sweet little cabin wasn’t up to it. I ran to the main house to check the weather report (I had no internet) and while it reported severe storms—no tornadoes. I returned to my little cabin. It rained, lightning, even hailed, off and on that afternoon.
In the meantime, Carol’s son and the French farm hand, Theirry, had gone back to finish putting up barb wired fence to keep the cows on their side of the river. It requires unrolling the barbed wire with a steel rod. It was sprinkling a bit but they wanted to get it done. Imagine Carol’s surprise when they burst back in the house to announce they had been hit by lightning. They had both felt it surge through their bodies. Oh my goodness!! They are so fortunate not to be severely injured!! Something to tell their grandchildren!!
The next morning, Carol was giddy with excitement. We had over 3 inches of desperately needed rain!! She had taken heifers to the market recently and there were over 2,000 cattle for sale in their county in one week alone!! No one has enough vegetation to feed them. So they’re selling them. According to Carol, stockpile your freezer this year. Selling heifers means selling mamas so there will be far fewer cattle next year!! The life of a farmer isn’t easy, but if you watch Carol she seems genuinely happy.
What if I hadn’t been here this week and met these people? I feel so enriched by knowing them yet they existed before and will move on after this week and who knows if we will have further contact. My new commitment is not to take people that I come into contact with as faceless, nameless souls just performing a task. Rather, I will do my best to get to know something about each one, and somehow connect as human beings, as we are far more alike than different.