The crispness and freshness of the mountain air was in serious danger of being replaced by the warmth of the morning sun. Soon, that golden orb would become white-hot and push the temperature up to, and then over what the makers of AC equipment have labeled our “comfort zone”. It was already high in the sky over our mountains but had just barely peeked over the eastern ridge of the canyon as Highway 7 wound me down along the Powder River. It was that most pleasant time of the early July day when a rancher could comfortably be about the labor of his seasonally busy life-style.
A few days ago, I had noticed that the hay in the 5-acre field between the highway and the river had been freshly cut. My next trip to town a couple of days later found it strewn with square bales ready for the backbreaking task of loading and hauling. In proper sequence, the field was now empty and all ready to begin producing its next crop for the cutting/raking/baling/loading/hauling/stacking in preparation for the day when this lovely vale would be buried in snow. Then this crop would be returned to its place of origin, scattered across the field to nourish hungry cows thru a long winter.
As I rounded the curve, I noticed the old rancher on the just as antiquated Ford tractor, up in the end of the fresh cut pasture. The field narrowed almost to a point and was bordered with the fence and highway on one side and the thick tangle of young willows of the riverbank on the other. He climbed down from the low-slung gray machine but not quite as agilely as he and done for obviously many seasons past. As he worked to hook the hay rake to pull it back to the barn, his labor was unhurried but deliberate. The rake would be called back into service again in a few weeks to repeat its part in the cycle of producing ‘burgers and steaks for the homes and restaurants of America.
It was not an unfamiliar scene nor a rare sight this part of the season here in cattle country. So it was neither the old tractor nor the old rancher that grabbed my attention this morning. It was the one solitary bale of hay right in the middle of the field. Across one end of the bale was the rancher’s jacket and on the other end sat a woman. She still wore her jacket and had her big cap pulled down with her back soaking up the warming sun. She had what was apparently one of those big insulated mugs of coffee. The way she had to tilt it so high indicated that she was nearing the end of her supply. Good thing. Old Rancher was just about ready to leave the field with his load up to the barn, close enough the to the house for a welcome refill of hot caffeine.
Now, I don’t know those folks. And I don’t know what was going on this morning. But as a veteran people-watcher I couldn’t help but imagine – or speculate. Mama had gotten to the age that Old Rancher didn’t feel good leaving her back in the house alone. He had brought her with him so she could sit close to his work. She’d be able to call or wave to him if she needed him. “You just sit here, Honey, while I go around the fence line fix a couple of spots and then on down to get that rake.” Was that what brought this couple to share the morning chore?
Or was it the other way? “The stubborn old boy just won’t admit he ain’t as spry as he used to be. If he’s determined to get out on that tractor again, I’m going to have to go watch him!” Which, of course, she did not HAVE to do any more than he HAD to do the work. Their son or grandson would be along after breakfast to finish what they had been helping the old man do all along.
And as I pondered this while hurrying on down stream and into town, I couldn’t help but conclude that whether he was lovingly caring for her or she for him, there was a loud and strong message in their presence there this morning. And as a fairly recently re-married old man, my attention lingered on him.
What kind of man was he that he would still pay such attention to his wife of many years? And what kind of man was he that she would demonstrate such loving care and devotion to a man who obviously did not think that he needed such watching? What was he like that she so desired to be with him, even when he had work that took him from their home? What does a man have to do to earn the companionship of a good woman, enough to rise in the early morning?
I really don’t know. But I do know that he is the kind of man that I earnestly desire to be in my love and devotion to the sweetheart I chose to be my companion for the remaining years of our lives!