Thursday, October 13, 2011

Giving and Receiving

Exchanging help is part of living in a farming or ranching community. In previous eras, putting up hay or building a barn were community efforts - they still are in Amish country.  Today's big jobs - branding calves or shearing sheep, for example - remain group efforts, for the most part.  Sharing work is part necessity and part enjoyment.  Farmers and ranchers can't afford to keep a large crew employed all year for the few times that extra hands are needed (nor are there enough skilled workers around, many times), so "volunteer" help is necessary for these big jobs.  Equally important, these big jobs provide an excuse for families and friends to gather to share in the annual mileposts that mark the farming year.  These days feature hard work, to be sure, but they also feature a great deal of fun!

Sometimes, we all need help in our more mundane tasks as well.  I find that it is much easier for me to offer help than it is for me to ask for it (and I suspect the same is true for many ranchers).  Part of this is because I know how busy my colleagues are - asking for help takes them away from their own work.  Part of this is because of my own work ethic - I should be able to do these day-to-day jobs by myself.  Sometimes, however, circumstances and physical limitations combine to make asking for help imperative.  This week has marked one of those times.

Wednesday morning as I was stooping to tie two sections of electro-net fencing together, my lower back seized up.  My back occasionally goes out, but this time it was especially debilitating - probably an accumulation of the physical work I've been doing lately.  Following my injury, I sorted and loaded 20 ewes to take to Reno for processing and then spent 5 of the next 6 hours sitting behind the wheel of my truck - my back got worse as the day progressed.  By the time I started home from Reno with 1500 pounds of beef and sausage, I realized that my body would not allow me to unload and store the meat.  I swallowed my pride and called my friend Paul for help.  He met me at Roseville Meat and proceeded to unload all 28 boxes of meat by himself.

The nature of my work is that I do some physical labor every day.  This weekend, we're hosting a sheep dog training clinic.  Today I had scheduled the set-up for the clinic - hauling and setting up a round pen and holding pens for the sheep.  After a trip to the chiropractor confirmed that my back was messed up (and with strict instructions not to lift anything), I called my friend Courtney to help with this project.  While I still have some set-up to complete, the heavy lifting is done, thanks to her help.

Despite my reluctance to ask for help, I find that my friends are nearly always able to provide assistance.  I hope that I am able to return the favor.  One of the best parts of living and working in a farming or ranching community is that this exchange of help proceeds without any accounting - Paul didn't keep track of his efforts so that he could ask for reciprocation.  He and I both know that I'll help him at some point in the future - same with Courtney.  Giving and, as importantly, receiving help graciously is integral to rural life.  The receiving part is something I'm still learning.

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