It's been a long week at the ranch, and the sounds of the prairie fill my head as I nurture the land around me. Not far from the horizon stands the silhouette of the herd, which I'm responsible for shepherding with love and care. But these cows are special. Some of the individuals have a variety of impairments, ranging from blindness to hearing loss to learning disabilities.
Though the impairments are quite different from cow to cow, the same guiding principle applies – to provide a loving, supportive environment for them all.
At first, it seemed overwhelming how to even begin caring for such a herd. But with time, I began to understand and recognize each cow's individual needs, and how to meet them. I felt a sense of responsibility for these animals, and an ever-increasing bond as I saw them prefer my presence over any other in the fields.
It was with a mixture of anxiety and curiosity that I anticipated the next morning, dawning with newfound insight into the dynamics of my herd. But there was also some opportunity in the newness of my understanding, the chance to discover something unexpected about every single one of my cows.
And so, I ventured forth, searching for ways to make the prairie a better and safer home for my impaired herd. I taught them how to walk in a single line and band together to protect each other. I gave them a companion, a blind bull who could lead them through unfamiliar pastures with a level of grace only possible by the blind. I even adjusted my cattle driving techniques, releasing my loudest cowbells at the safest points in the pasture.
The days of my newfound insight brought revelations both small and large, from a blind calf's remarkable ability to hear its mother's call from a distance, to a bull with hearing loss leading the herd with pure intuition. But most rewarding of all was the camaraderie I built with each of my cows, a hard-won bond that I will carry with me throughout my life.
It may be hard to imagine, but my impaired herd taught me things I never thought possible. Things about life and love, about challenges and triumphs, about reaching beyond what I think I can do. Not only did I learn to take care of my very special herd, but I also learned to accept and nurture my own impairments.
So, when I ride off into the sunset this week, I'll carry with me a newfound understanding of myself and of the miracle of nature. My hope is that I can share my story, but that it doesn't end here. I pray that, with each passing sunrise, I can continue to shepherd my beautiful, impaired herd into a better tomorrow.