As the farmer’s children gathered around, the youngest gripped his dad’s legs and peered up at me with big brown eyes. I was on assignment at a multi-generational farm in the driftless region of Minnesota where green grass grew on hillocks and flowers marched forth from spring, starting with purple blooms. While I probably misremember which spring flowers came first or which farmer pointed out the phenomenon, I recall the moment that shy boy took charge of the family’s piglets.
His brothers and sisters ran or rode bikes as the parents walked me through the farm that first earned its organic label in 1974. The couple had been kids themselves at the time. The boy’s mother grew up on this farm, and she recalled her father’s insistence to preserve their land for the future. That day I strode with them through the first spring flowers and greening pastures, I understood that I was witnessing that future when the youngest finally let go of his father’s hand and ran to the barn where the piglets snuffled the straw.
The boy could herd pigs. He climbed up and over the railing, hopping to the mass of bedding straw. These were the young weaned piglets of many colors and patterns. A few oinked, and several nuzzled the boy. He grinned broadly like a circus ring showman and got them all wheeling a huge circle around him. His shyness fled, and he took charge of the oinksters. His parents smiled and continued to tell me about their operation, but the boy had me mesmerized.
I don’t know why that memory came back to me on a day I’m confined to my house. Perhaps quarantine prods the mind to wander. The boy would be a young adult by now, and I wonder if he can use his skill in other capacities? Taking charge can be a leadership attribute. But it requires supporting traits, as well, including compassion. The boy had that, too, and you can see it in his face and the way the pigs ran, delighting in the game, ready to follow their little leader.
When you ride a horse, you have to take charge because the massive animal can easily frighten. I’ve nearly been thrown from the saddle when a horse spooked. It’s a jolting experience, almost comical the exaggerated stance a horse lunges into upon sighting something unusual. Often they’ll snort, flaring nostrils. You can’t relax too deeply on horseback, nor can you ride too rigid. A horse can feel your tension. A true buckaroo is someone who can be one with a horse. I once had a bay gelding, and we were one. I never did anything fancy or spectacular with him, but the rides we had taught me to be aware of him, me, and our surroundings. Maybe he made me the writer I am from the rider I was.
If you are looking for good movies to watch, I recommend both The Horse Whisperer with Robert Redford and a documentary on the man who inspired the story, Buck:
It’s a story about overcoming adversity and fear. If you get the chance to brush a horse or ride one, do it. It will be a life-changer. Ultimately, we can learn to take charge of ourselves. We can’t change the world or get it to wheel circles around us like a kid in a pigpen, but we can make our moments count for something. We can breathe deep until calm settles over. We can love and express it, letting others hear it. We can encourage and be encouraged.
At the end of the movie, Buck, the credits roll to Pearl Jam’s Just Breathe. Willie Nelson and his son Lucas covered the song as one between father and son. It can be between any relationship, and to me, it’s an artistic expression of the preciousness of life.
Stay with me, Ranchers, and let’s write our stories.
March 26, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story in which a character takes charge. Who is this character, and what situation calls for their action? It can be playful or serious, fantastical, or realistic. Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by March 31, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Submissions closed. Find our most current weekly Flash Fiction Challenge to enter.
Saving Lives by Charli Mills
Rhonda didn’t bother with her boots. She’d wait for calving season to end before cleaning the floor. When the National Guard recalled Jess, she took charge of their small spread. A neighbor came over to help. News of the virus dominated the stations, and Rhonda couldn’t get a weather report. She ate a bowl of Spagettios, then returned outside to relieve Tony. Around midnight the last calf arrived with a spring blizzard. While Jess saved lives as a medic in a makeshift hospital 300 miles away, Rhonda snuggled a calf all night in the kitchen with the wood-stove blazing.