Our eight month old daughter isn’t concerned with learning to crawl. She is busy sorting last year’s dry brown grass and this spring’s tender green growth between her fingers. She passes handfuls of this mix from one hand to another, stopping every few moments to pull at and examine individual blades. Her precision and her patience during these explorations makes me pause and evaluate my own movements. I imagine every parent has relished these moments where the world’s layers have unfolded for them again as adults, as they imagine their child forming their own understanding of the world around them.
While I strive, in my first chapter of parenthood, to relinquish my own projections and simply try to observe our daughter build her relationship with the world around her, I can’t help but wonder how she is being shaped by her surroundings. She sees more cows than people on a daily basis. She hears wind and rain and birds and the river. She hears the engines of the tractor, the 4 wheeler, the chainsaw. She spends a good portion of the day strapped on my back, building fence, and then taking down that same fence. Who does she think this is for? The cows, us, our dogs? Does she even think that way yet? As she explores the top layer of the ground, pulling back the grass, moving rocks and bits of moss to the side, unearthing a small amount of soil with her soft fingers, does she think about the ground she is sitting on? Can she feel the depth and mass of the earth beneath her?
Some day soon we will talk about how the daily chores we do together as a family are because we love dirt. Because we love life and all the things that that dirt gives life to. We will explain that we raise cattle the way we do because we are trying to build soil. We will talk about biodiversity and ecosystem dynamics. Does she already feel on some level that the cows we tend to every day are our partners in this journey?
Of course what we will really be talking about is relationships. The webs of networks that are the building blocks of life. The relationships that are being built all around us, in every moment, with every act we do - whether we are aware of them or not. I don’t know how growing up on a ranch will ultimately shape her. From where I sit right now, it seems to be effortlessly teaching her that humans are a part of nature too -- illuminating relationships that are inextricably woven together. And for that I am grateful.