Teamwork


I don't often tell Danish Cowboy when there are upcoming Federal Reserve holidays because he is an opportunist and I always have big dreams for my days off. Driving the countryside taking pictures, crafting of one variety or another, organizing farm and ranch documents in to binders or a documentary movie afternoon fill the few days that I get at home. Or at least that's what I imagine I will do with my free time. Eventually, he notices that I have not gone to work and reminds me that our Mexican hired man is not currently with us, having gone back home for a well-deserved respite.


This week, he remembered ahead of time that a holiday was coming, checked the weather, and reassured me that the "high and low temperatures, added together, totaled 26 degrees." Fahrenheit. How could I not resist this convincing plea for help?


The prairie winds blow strong year round in eastern Montana. They dry out our already arid land, they frostbite skin within minutes in the depths of February, they will blow snow over newborn livestock that have sheltered in an unfortunate place, and in many years they cause catastrophic damage to property. This year was no exception. One of our neighbors lost their entire home and another lost several outbuildings; the destruction and heartache that the winds left behind numbed us. At our home, we were fortunate to have lost only windbreaks and calf shelters, but with winter coming, it was time to replace them.


While I'm sure this is a task that could be completed individually if one had to, like so many things in life, it's one that is easier done with several pairs of hands. The kids had already helped their Dad to set posts and rails to hold the windbreak boards, the precision work being done without my presence. To my mind, a post set in the ground is in the ground even it is a few degrees off of center. It's artistic license, but apparently not very good for structural integrity.


The windbreak boards had largely been salvaged earlier this fall and we set to work re-attaching them to the rails. I leveled and spaced (kind of) and he used the drill to make quick work of the process. As we moved along, the work got faster, but the cold got more biting. We managed to get a good start on the windbreak, promising ourselves we would return on the weekend when the weather had improved slightly. We are a small team, but a mighty one, mostly encouraging of one another, but you better believe I shamed him well when he complained about getting cold and I reminded him that a native Montanan really should be more adept at choosing his winter attire.


The cattle will use the windbreak over the next several months, huddling in the protection of it, working as a team themselves by cycling in and out of the depths of the herd, each one earning some warmth on the coldest of nights when the temperatures dip well below zero and the prairie winds howl. They will slowly emerge from the windbreak like clockwork in the morning, peering over the fence in to our yard, waiting for the hay and cake to arrive like magic to help burn the frost off of their steaming backs.


It's weird how these seemingly mundane situations can set my mind adrift, especially thinking about teamwork. But that is what life is on so many levels. It's about working with other people who have fantastic knowledge about how to best get things done (they can set the posts straight) but recognizing that some of their ideas aren't as superior (they didn't choose the right gloves). But beyond a little jest, there's no place on a team for shaming or degrading or ceaseless arguments. It doesn't accomplish anything. Families, sports, work, marriages, societies, cattle-handling: at some point the greatest benefit comes from simply trying to comprehend what the other person is saying and the perspective they are coming from, then moving on from there. There is always a way forward.


With a little bit of really great teamwork at all levels of your life, you might end up with a functional windbreak that protects the ones you love. What does your windbreak look like and what good does it accomplish? The possibilities are endless.


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