Pondering Abby’s Walk

Just for fun, 4-year-old Abby and I took a walk the other day. This is a simple activity, but somehow one that we don’t make time to enjoy frequently.

Abby is about 3 feet tall, and she notices things that disappear in that zone between the top of her head and the bottom of my eyes. Her world looks and feels different from mine.

When I’m focused on a job to do, I usually step across the clods and rocks at my feet, but Abby and I picked up pretty rocks until her hands were full. As she dumped them into my pants pocket, we talked about the glaciers that left these pink, purple, green and striped rocks scattered across our field.

She noticed the larger rocks that formed a circle so we talked about the people who used to live in teepees on this land. We calculated how far they must have walked to bring water back to their campfire and guessed at the roots and berries they might have cooked for food.

Abby picked up ribbons and stakes left by the seismic crew that spent a month here. I viewed those as trash, but not Abby. The stakes with long ribbons became girls and the stakes with short ribbons were boys. Next, they became crutches that “helped” her walk. Then they turned into spears that could protect our sheep from coyotes.

The grass crunched under our feet. As our steps laid the leaves on the soil, we talked about how the grass would turn into dirt so more grass could grow. We remembered last winter when we tried to walk through this pasture, and how hard we struggled to step through the ice-caked snow that kept collapsing. Abby shivered.

Grasshoppers jumped, landing on our arms and clothes when the dogs trotted around us. I brushed them off of me, but Abby caught one in both hands, curious and creeped out at the same time.

We talked about how grasshoppers might startle us, but we were fortunate that no one had ever seen a rattlesnake on the Graham Ranch, as far as the old-timers could remember.

Rattlesnakes were at the forefront Abby’s mind. Earlier that day, Abby, 13-year-old Will and I had picnicked with friends on a butte that, it turns out, had plenty of rattlesnakes. As soon as we arrived, the kids ran to play on the sandstone rocks, only to be startled by that distinctive rattle. No problem, though. The snake gave them plenty of warning.

The next one seemed as surprised as we were. Four of us strolled through the calf-high grass, chatting and teasing, when the grass began to slither. That green grass morphed into a 3-foot long serpent with a body as big as my fist. The rattles hissed. We jumped and screamed. Loudly. No doubt, someone standing in a backyard 30 miles away looked up at that very moment, wondering who just shouted.

We decided we had enough exploring and hot dogs sounded good. S’mores were even better. Will and Abby ended up with so much sugar coursing through their bodies that I sent them down the dirt road while the rest of us waited for the coals to burn out. On their way, a third rattlesnake crossed the road ahead of them.

By the time we made it home, we all were glad to return to those terrifying grasshoppers.

The warm sun began to set as Abby and I reached the east end of the ranch. The air cooled and the sky turned orange, crimson and purple. The deer watched us from afar and waited — intending to spend the night in the protected green bottom near the creek. We kept the dogs nearby.

We slipped on our sweaters and turned north to bushwack our way through the bottom and the creek. Then we heard the welcome purr of the Jeep. Abby’s dad had come to pick us up. Abby related all she had seen to Poor Dad, who had missed her adventure, and then sleepily snuggled into my lap. Her pocketful of rocks pressed into my thigh.

We need to take a walk more often. Maybe I can bring back more souvenirs from her world.

Lisa Schmidt and her husband, Steve Hutton, raise natural, grassfed beef and lamb at the Graham Ranch near Conrad.

Lisa Schmidt