When I see my 10-year-old avoiding the food on dirty plates in the sink squeamishly or my 8-year-old cringing at the wet sand clinging to her hands, I’m reminded of a time when I was reluctant to get my hands a little dirty.
My parents owned a 500-acre ranch in Montana when I was young. I fondly recall summers running free across the expansive pastures on foot or atop my bony old gelding, and wildly sledding down the hills in winter.
It wasn’t all fun and games, of course. We had the usual menagerie of ranch animals to tend: cows, sheep, horses, chickens, dogs and barn cats. There were always fences to fix and things to plow, scoop or burn. I probably didn’t help as much as I should have, could have or would have if I’d been a little older.
[pullquote] Sometimes you need to get your hands a little dirty to experience something amazing and pure. [/pullquote]
Lambing and calving season was especially hard. Montana’s wintry spring weather kept my parents watching expectant mamas at all hours of the day and night. I’d often come home from school to find a newborn lamb warming up on the opened oven door, or a calf being bottle-fed in the basement.
It was during this time of new life—and tragic death—that my favorite childhood memory took place. One exceptionally cold day, I was checking on the sheep with my mother in the lower pasture when she spied a ewe in trouble. The poor thing was trying to deliver her breech lamb and needed our help. My mother calmly held the ewe’s head and instructed me to grab hold of two spindly, protruding legs.
I hesitated, and must have had quite a look of panic on my young face. The slimy little things were definitely not something I wanted to touch. But I worked up my courage and wrapped my fingers around them. I can still recall the feel of the unexpectedly delicate legs and their sharp little hooves as if it happened yesterday.
My heart pounded in fear and excitement as I pulled with all my adolescent might. The lamb was delivered with a gush, and I’d never seen anything so beautiful.
I was no stranger to seeing ranch animals being born, but to have a literal hand in it was something I cherished then and will cherish forever. I remember feeling giddy with delight to see “my lamb” being licked clean by her mother, and I’m sure everyone got very tired of hearing me tell and retell my heroic story.
Looking back, I’m so glad I didn’t refuse to get my hands a little dirty. If I had, a miraculous moment and endearing memory would have been lost.
These days, I try to instill that life lesson into my own children. Sometimes you need to get your hands a little dirty to experience something amazing and pure.