Earring Cattle: And the Sin of This Generation(s)?

15.11.15aa

November 15, 2015

The calves were weaned two three months ago. Standing on a fence rail, looking at calves, I know weaning is never an easy time—for anyone. The calf is on the teat and the next day not. That makes for an upset mama and calf, which can lead to steady bawling for a day or two. When you have fifty cows and fifty calves in the corrals and those corrals are located next to home, like our closest neighbor, no one sleeps well for those couple of days. No, weaning is not easy for anyone. Standing on the rail, I know another stressful event for these calves lies ahead.

Yellowing leaves of autumn trees is the signage of fall roundups and selling of spring calves. Leaves falling from trees mean it is time for me to buy spring calves. Calves will spend twelve to fourteen months on the farm, so I look for weaned calves weighing between 400 and 550 pounds. Weaned because calves gain little, maybe lose, weight during those first days after separation from mama. After weaning though, they come into their own teenage identity and become capable of dealing with the stress that comes with a change of place. (Isn’t moving hard on all of us? Little matter if it is for a great job or family, moving to a new place—even a few blocks away—always gives us apprehension and stress).

The perfect change of place for calves means I choose them from the rail, load them at the neighbor’s ranch, trailer them to JustLiving Farm, and unloading into the corral. Seldom is that the case. More often than not, the calves are trailered from the ranch to the auction barn where I bid and buy. They are then loaded and trailered to the farm. Because life is seldom perfect, we do what we can to minimize stress. Therefore, we make sure the feeder is full of hay and the trough full of water when they unload off the trailer. Once calves make their way around the corral once, and know where the food and water are, we walk away. Belinda and I figure, at that moment, they are not looking favorably upon the two-legged animals who have taken them away from the landscape of birth to who knows where—best to let them alone.

Over the next two weeks calves will eat, drink, chew cud, and sleep in the corral. I move in and out during that time filling the feeder with hay, filling the water trough, and having short conversations. My work during those weeks is to watch their movement, their noses and eyes, and anything else that might indicate a need for doctoring or special care. Mid-way during their corral stay, their right ear gets a numbered JLF ear tag—Some folk wonder about piercing the ear with a tag, but if ear piercings and earrings are good enough for all the women in my life and many of my male friends, they are good enough for cattle. Finally, after the stress of moving has resided and everyone is healthy, physically and emotionally, they are turned out with the other cattle wandering the farm.

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I have morning coffee a day or two each week at the Cougar Den in White Swan. I arrive around 6am, settle into a corner booth to read and write. School begins at 8am, so about an hour later, students arrive, shoot the bull, and walk across the street around five till.

Not long after I sit, a young man often arrives. He takes the booth directly across from me, places his backpack against the wall, and goes to sleep until five till or a friend wakes him. Two and a half months have pass since school began and I have yet to know his story.

While there is a story to learn, the broad brushstroke is likely not unique. Like the ten year-old who sleeps with her head on table, and the twelve-year-old who mothers her three younger siblings waiting for the elementary school bus, he is one of many whose young life is unreasonably complicated and stressful. On any one morning, sitting comfortably in the corner booth of this rural town, it is clear too many have their head on a table, sleeping. Too many are hungry. Too many have a twelve-year-old sister as parent. I find many folk prefer to think this is simply rural reservation life. However, a friend who lives in Oakland, another in south-central Los Angeles, one in Louisville, and another still in Flint, Michigan, tell the same story.

15.11.15a

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I am nearly upside down as the dental hygienist talks to me. Over the years we have mutually learned our two brands of Christianity are different, but she asks questions just the same. “My daughter (she is 30-years-old) is living with her boyfriend. My husband and I are upset because they are living in sin. What do you think?” She has packed a lot into that question, so I figured to take on the obvious when her hand gets out of my mouth. Once out, we had three or four minutes before she was back in there working with some utensil handed down from the Middle Ages. (Dental appointment conversations, a little weird, one-sided, disjointed, and often last for years.) “We use that word sin too freely.” I said. “Sin matters, but two adults living with one another without the benefit of marriage is not sin, for me. Rather, putting our energy into how our and our neighbor’s adult children—who are happy—live their lives takes our attention away from true sin. And maybe that is sin itself? For me, we can reserve that word, sin, for acts that matter, that hurt and damage creation.” No solutions that day, but maybe the hand in mouth conversation continue during the visit.

****

Christianity gets played out in a number of ways and we all need to find a little more slack for those who do it different than ourselves. Yet, I tire of preachers who promote theology that has made little sense for a number of generations and strives to damage the lives of healthy consenting adults. Such sin theology, which is more about them than I, is easy on the congregants and safe for the preacher. Good sin theology is not easy and calls everyone to know, own, and act against the hurt and damage inflected in our generation(s), and learn sin is not theirs but mine.

Sin, for me, is when cattle on the Farm have better housing, food, water, and rest than reservation and inner-city children and youth. Sin is when I worry more about middle-class adults living together outside of marriage, who folk have sex with, and if someone fits the legal framework of US residency, than I do about the anxiety that is the norm for poor and abused children. Sin is when I do not provide all of the resources needed for better parenting, better housing, and better health. Sin is when my neighbor’s child goes to sleep without a kiss and a full belly. Sin is when I, personally, do not know one child who lives a worrisome life and have made their life my own.

Elk Parts

15.10.04

October 4, 2015

Elk parts. They come once a year. Archery season opened a few weeks ago and rifle season follows it up. My bow hunting friends are saying this is a season unlike any other. The elk are not traveling normal trails or hanging in their normal high country valleys. Maybe there will be few elk parts this year.

I never imagined elk parts growing up in the rural canyons of southern California. Our deer are small in stature and when it comes to meat, they are little more than a big rabbit compared to an elk. Though small is size, being of a landscape of canyon sage, the flavor of their meat rivaled any Cascade elk. The black-tailed deer of sage country may not be the biggest of deer, but they are right up there with the smartest of deer—and a hair coat the blends beautifully with the sage landscape. The cageyness of these deer meant many hunters spent their time enjoying the landscape and returning home to eat beef. That might be why I never saw another hunter in the ridges and canyons around home, and why “I’m going up north to hunt, these deer are to small and not worth the time,” was often heard leading up to hunting season.

I knew I was not in the landscape of my youth when hunting season rolled around my first fall in White Swan. Growing up rural, forty minutes from town is one thing, living in a rural town is something different. The proximity of folk to one another in town (even a town of 500) leads to a different way of thinking than the open country. The old adage that everyone knows everyone in a small town carries a bit of truth. One of those truths is folk have a very good idea of which neighbor struggles economically and who does not—including their dogs.

When the first elk came out of the hills, that first fall, and after they were quartered and cut into steaks, roasts, and jerky, many hunters went about town giving their meat to the elderly and families who struggled. The knowledge being, the hunter is capable of hunting again and many others are not.

Two events made me notice how this new place was different from back home. One, two hunters showed up at the parsonage and offered us meat for no other reason than placing value on the community’s spiritual leaders. Place matters. When two elk roasts were lifted out of the back of the pickup, there was more meat than any one deer I hunted as a youth. My place was no longer the landscape of canyons and sage. Continue reading “Elk Parts”

Considering the Purple Cow Pill

15.08.09b

August 09, 2015

Soon there may be a new solution for problematic burping. A Purple Pill, of sorts, except for cows rather than humans. Folk might have heard it said that cow farting contributes to high methane levels, which depletes ozone. However, the cow methane problem comes from cow belching rather than their farting.

Being a ruminate, cows have a four stomach digestive system (actually a four compartment stomach). Ideally suited to grazers (cows) and browsers (goats), the rumen (the first stomach) allows cows to eat a lot of grass at once, not chew it, and store it. Later, when they are relaxing, they cough/burp up a cud (a mouthful of that non-chewed stomach stuff) and properly chew it. Thus, a cow does a lot of cud chewing and burping.

Figuring the United States alone has roughly 40 million cows, about 30 million beef cattle and 10 million dairy cows; there is a whole lot of burping going on. Like humans, cows digestive system have a complex community of microbes in their stomach helping break down food. One of those beneficial microbes creates methane in the process. To counter this methane development, some folk are proposing an additive to cattle feed to reduce the microbe’s ability to produce methane.

Hmm, it isn’t enough that pharmaceutical companies have convinced us humans to take a pill so we can ignore our bodies normal warning sign of when to lay off some foods. Now we are going to give cattle a little purple pill as well.

Contrary the popular stance, the methane burping problem is not a cattle digestive problem, but a human digestive problem. Consider the 30 million beef cattle. The 30 MILLION CATTLE who exist on American soil exist because the U.S. population is having a problem eating meat sensibly. All it takes to eliminate the methane problem is for U.S. folk to eat less beef. An easy solution if it were not centered on changing people’s gastronomic normal.

Life is much easier for humans if they place blame on creation other than themselves. Cattle, after all, are doing no more than being cattle. Humans, though, have to go a long way to justify eating double and triple decker hamburgers rather than single patty burgers or eating16-ounce steaks rather than 4-ounce steaks. The production of 30 million cattle is not a cattle problem, but one of human over consumption. Continue reading “Considering the Purple Cow Pill”

When Cows Garden

15.07.05a

July 5, 2015

We rotate cattle from pasture to pasture. As long as their numbers are balanced to land, rotational pasturing allows for healthier pasture, abundant grass, and more cattle per acre.

After five weeks, we began our second pass through the pastures a week ago. A week later we moved the cattle to the next pasture. With the grass and weeds eaten down, we found a zucchini squash plant blossoming in the middle of the eaten pasture. Standing by itself, green leaves, yellow flowers, and a couple zucchini, the cattle had eaten around the plant without a bite taken. Given who cows are and given the zucchini plant’s poky nature, perhaps it isn’t too surprising the cows left it alone.

My reaction to finding the zucchini in the middle of the pasture was one of surprise. When I told Belinda later she thought I was trying to get something past her. But there the plant grows, out of place, a good eighth mile from our garden.

Each summer, we cut up leftover squash and throw it out to the chickens. They do a fair job of eating all the meat, leaving only the skins on the ground. I imagine a chicken walked out into the pasture last summer and while turning over cow pies looking for bugs pooped out a seed or two. With water, a bit of soil, and natural fertilizer, the seed obviously found a home suited to its growth.

The unrelenting need to reproduce is amazing. Whether it humans, animals, or plants, life does not give up until it recreates itself.

The cattle may have left the zucchini plant alone because of the sticker-ness of the plant. It just might be though, they too are amazed to find a zucchini plant in the middle of their pasture. Or maybe they also find it a simple gift to have yellow flowers in their midst. Perhaps I give the cattle too much credit, yet I’d rather than not live with the idea the world is better off believing cattle are as wanting as ourselves to have a bit of unusual beauty in their midst.

 

Forever Learning, Forever Teaching

15.06.21

June 21, 2015

[Post By Selys Rivera: Yakama Christian Mission Intern 2015]

There it sat, promising it could get me to where I needed to go if I only had the patience – a 1986 Nissan pickup truck.

The yellow paint was faded with age. The trunk suffered from something similar to tendinitis. The steering wheel sometimes took a bit of muscle, frustration, light perspiration, and mumbled swear words to turn. The driver’s side door was temperamental, refusing to lock from the inside and only locking from the outside when it felt like it. Despite all of this, though, the old King Cab had some fight left in it yet.

There was only one inconvenience keeping me from eagerly taking it for an exploratory ride around Yakima County. The little yellow intern truck David and Belinda Bell had lent me for the summer had a manual transmission. Since I only knew how to drive automatic, I knew I had some learning to do if I was going to be a productive intern for the Yakama Christian Mission.

I was suddenly sixteen again. Every driving skill I mastered in the last five years was set back to a beginner level. It was more than the difficult aspects too, such as driving in reverse or doing a three-point turn. I couldn’t even press the gas without making the truck jerk, sometimes stalling in traffic. My face would turn the same shade of red as whatever stop sign or light I had jerked to a standstill in front of that day. Each time, I felt like the truck was taking me by the shoulders and shaking me in frustration. My goodness! Get your act together. What an embarrassment.

The truck wasn’t the only one frustrated. I wanted to shake the truck back. “Don’t you think I’m trying?” I mentally retaliated. “Give me a break! This isn’t as easy as it looks.” Then my left foot would prematurely depart from the clutch and the truck would stall again. I smacked my forehead against the stubborn steering wheel several times. Continue reading “Forever Learning, Forever Teaching”

A Kitchen of Culture, Life, And Conversation

15.05.10

May 10, 2015

The kitchen is a favorite room of mine. Hard to imagine it isn’t everyone’s. Good food, good company, and good talk roll over the counter top and fill the house. Not a big room, but open with movement between kitchen and dining is hardly noticeable.

Our home is a back door home. That is, it is one of those homes that a knock on the front door means someone has arrived who has not visited before. After the first visit folk come to the back door. The back door leads straight into the kitchen, so it naturally the homes main room. Which suits us just fine. Folk soon learn that when we are expecting them to give a quick knock, walk in and walk in and grab a cup of coffee or tea—if we’re out in the pasture we’ll show up before too long. The kitchen/dining space is space where friends and neighbors sit laugh, argue, converse, and eat good food.

Spring break groups often have a stint or two in the kitchen. Spring means March, which means wind that blows so hard an outside conversation is next to impossible. During the summer, groups hang out in the barn and converse, but the barn is full of hay and equipment in the spring. So the kitchen fills up with thirty folk and we talk about justice in the landscape.

Every once in a while a group leader contacts me and together we will work to develop a unique spring break. A few years ago a pastor in Watsonville, California called and we developed a spring break where the kitchen stimulated the weeks conversation.

Each day the community baked or fried a cultural bread. Each bread: Wheat bread, fry bread, tortillas, etcetera promoted conversations on culture and we folk carry have different worldviews. The type of bread, its ingredients, and its making helped folk to think about how bread is reflective of a people’s poverty and prosperity. Continue reading “A Kitchen of Culture, Life, And Conversation”

Mystery In the Nooks and Crannies Of Garages and the Everyday

15.03.15

April 19, 2015

There was always a bit of mystery in Daddy’s garage. Having free range, we kids were in it most every day for one thing or another. It was a normal place with a bit of an edge.

Daddy fought in WWII as a young man. For him, as a parent, that meant more untold stories than told. Directly after the war he spent a few years in the States. But being single and of sound mind and a carpenter he headed to the middle-east. Like much of the world, the area was ramping up since the war had destroyed much of the infrastructure. He ran construction projects ranging from pipelines to housing for the better part of a decade. When he came home he brought carvings, rugs, old (at least old to us kids) films, and intricately made boxes. Time to time daddy might tell a story, but like the war stories, he kept Arabia pretty much to himself. Which made the garage all the more interesting.

We kids always had our own agenda. The garage was our first stop for whatever tools we needed to fix a bike, work on the treehouse, or build another live-trap to haul into the hills. It was in the midst of our stuff that we came across his stuff. Though it didn’t happen often, it was also not unusual to be looking for a drill bit in the drawer of a handmade toolbox and come across medals from the war, or looking for a handsaw and find a carving wrapped in a small Persian rug.

Age didn’t matter when you came across a medal or a carving for the first or umpteenth time. The imagination wandered. Because a story was seldom available, these items from times past and landscapes unknown brought mystery into the moment. The bike or treehouse was forgotten and the mysterious led the imagination to that place of wonderment and questioning. Funny, isn’t it, how the non-story can bring about intricate and surprising stories? Continue reading “Mystery In the Nooks and Crannies Of Garages and the Everyday”

Kneading—A Contemplative Practice—Bread

15.04.12

April 12, 2015

The other day I read an article talking about 10 foods everyone should make at home. Bread was one of the ten. I gotta say I like it when someone says, “everyone should be doing this…” and I am doing it.

Growing up, mother made bread. It was the sixties and early seventies and there was an onslaught of commercials enticing folk to buy easy no work food. Our family, like most, bought and ate plenty enough of this no work food, including bread. So, homemade bread was not a stable during the week, but instead was relegated to weekend food. More like pie.

When we were young adults Belinda and I began making bread. It was a once-in-a-while effort. Encouraged by Belinda’s father and mother, bead made in the home slowly became a norm. If nothing else, Belinda’s father was an opinionated man. A gadget like a bread machines was okay if it were the only way you would make bread. But if you are really going to make bread, you had better get your hands in the middle of the work. He opinionated that if you had time to eat well, you had time to make bread, and everyone has the time to eat well. Any surprise our bread machine has sat on the top shelf in the pantry for a long time?

If there was one thing that kept my bread making practice a once-in-a-while affair it was kneading, particularly the first. Then one day the folks gave us a Kitchen Aid. Now, the Kitchen Aid is just this side of a bread machine, but we choose to think not and in favor of weekly bread, Belinda’s daddy affirmed our thinking. And, after all, it doesn’t do all the kneading. But it does handle the first one and that was enough to get my hands into dough most every week. Continue reading “Kneading—A Contemplative Practice—Bread”

The Richness of Suicide, The Lack of Sin, and Robin Williams

15.03.29

March 29, 2015

(The media is deliberating if this weeks tragedy of Germanwings Flight 9525 is a suicide. Having written prior to the crash, I don’t deal with the tragedy. However, I will say at this early moment after the crash, I believe when one takes the lives of others along with their own, it is not an act of suicide, but something very different. What that difference is, I don’t know.)

A friend of mine, Daniel, sent me a note soon after Robin Williams’ suicide last August. The note has nagged me ever since. He gave a few of his thoughts on Williams and suicide and asked if I might have a few of my own. Schooled in a Catholic high school, Daniel received an earful on the sin of suicide from a particular perspective. Gaining the wisdom that comes with living life, he is now a young adult who has allowed the idea of suicide as a Cardinal sin barring one from heaven to go by the wayside. As he puts it, “how can a truly all loving God turn his back on someone who is filled with so much dread, torment, and affliction that in their greatest time of need his love would not be shared?” Fleshing out his thoughts, he answered his own nagging questions. Good for him, but that did not get me off the hook.

When it comes to suicide, there is little difference between my protestant upbringing and my friend’s Catholic high school. The elders and pastors of the Christian church of my youth were clear suicide is a sin and if you choose such you’re going to hell. No much slack on this one.

Suicide didn’t come up much in my young life. Once, in the preteen years, a friend headed home from a day of hiking Iron Canyon and came across a pickup truck parked at the end of road that was hardly more than a trail. Continue reading “The Richness of Suicide, The Lack of Sin, and Robin Williams”

Coffee and the Art of Inattentiveness

14.12.28

December 28, 2014

5:15am, the morning after Christmas, and I am standing outside a McDonalds. Waking this morning in a home away from home, I negotiated pass bodies scattered on the couches and floor finding my way to the kitchen. I figured I would have a cup of coffee and write for a while. Looking at the coffee grinder though and glancing into the family room, I thought some of those scattered bodies might not think too highly of my grinding a pot of coffee at this hour. Then it came to me, I’m in the city! I’m not thirty or forty minutes from a coffee shop. I should be able to jump in the truck and have a cup of coffee in less than five minutes! I sneak out of the house, stepping on remarkably few bodies, start the truck, and head down a Christmas light lite road.

The off-the-beaten-track local bakery is only two minutes away, but it is closed. As they well should be—after all, should anyone really be out this morning away from family…can’t coffee be given up until a bit later, just once? The question comes and goes from my coffee deprived noggin; I’m not to be deterred. Two choices remain, Starbucks and McDonalds. I don’t like the thought of either, but my high minded virtues slipped away when I slipped out of the house. With sorry justification, I choose the closer of the two and turn into the McDonalds parking lot.

Some guy stands just outside and to the right of the entrance doors. Near him is the only car in the parking lot and I assume it is his. Shutting the truck door behind me, I quickly judge the scene. Continue reading “Coffee and the Art of Inattentiveness”