Outside, up out of our driveway next to the gravel county road, a couple pyramids of hay bales are stacked up nice and neat, waiting to be unrolled on the cold hard ground for the cows that we will be feeding this winter.
It's a ritual that goes along with keeping cows around here through the months of November (or October if winter comes early) and on into April or May or until the grass comes back. It's just one of the winter ranching chores that goes along with keeping the water open, the tractors running, the roads and trails clear of snow and mastering the art of doing it all while wearing 17 layers of winter clothing.
When I was growing up, we had cattle every winter. And every evening after my dad came home from his work in town, often after the sun had gone down, I would bundle up in my coveralls and beanie, and sit beside him in the feed pickup as he rolled out bales for the cows.
It was one of my favorite chores for a lot of reasons. The pickup had heat, so that was one of them. I got to sit bundled up and watch the cows come in from the hills in a nice straight, black line.
When we would feed cake or grain, I got to drive the pickup while Dad shoveled it out the back. He would put it in low and release the clutch and tell me to keep it out of the trees. My nose would barely reach over the steering wheel, but I felt helpful and I liked it.
And I liked the way the hay smelled when it unrolled from the back of the pickup, like it had kept some summer underneath its layers.
There's something about an everyday chore like this that is sort of comforting. Maybe it's the knowing that you're a necessary part of the order of things. Knowing that you're responsible.
It's the taking care, I think.
Last week we celebrated dad's retirement from 24 years as the county's economic development director. It was a job he was passionate about, one that had him helping to problem solve in the slow times when people were moving away from this community and troubleshooting during boom times when it seemed like the entire country was moving in and looking for their place here.
It was a stressful and rewarding career, one that he's not necessarily done with as he's moving on to similar work, but it's one that often kept him up at night or late in town at meetings.
For most of my life, he's had that job and the ranch as well as the work that needed to be done to keep things running, in different ways throughout the years, sometimes late in the evening, or in the early mornings and always on the weekends.
Since moving back to the ranch almost five years ago, my husband and I have been trying to learn as much as we can from him about what it looks like and how to function as full-time working people who also run cattle.
I told him I had no idea how hard it must have been for my mom and dad when I was growing up and riding along with him, often feeding cows in the cold and in the dark when he made it home from work. I never knew because he never made it look like work.
My parents didn't complain because this is the life they wanted and agreed on.
I get that, although I probably complain more.
Monday was Dad's official first day in 24 years that he didn't wake up as the county's economic development director. He has a month or so before he settles into his new professional role, so I was hoping he'd take a minute to relax and take a breath.
I pulled out of my driveway and up past the hay yard and down the county road, heading east for work.
There was dad, in the late morning chill of November, dressed in his wool cap and Carhart coat driving his feed pickup, unrolling a hay bale, spending the first day of retirement feeding cows.