As I wandered the prairie grassland surrounding our friend Brad’s ranch, I felt at home walking through the tall grasses, and exploring the area beyond the house. The area reminded me of my many treks to the river near our home. The daytime temperatures had been cool and bearable recently, but strong, gusty winds kept it a little too chilly for my tolerance. I wished I had brought my ear flap cap or at least some type of head covering, as my parka hood flopped uselessly over my head, sometimes obstructing my view. This was a new coat that I found to be nice and warm, but the hood was ridiculously big. And I could have used a pair of gloves too, but I hadn’t planned on being outdoors all day when I came out here. I was here to meet BioSheen, a cleaning and restoration services company.
It was a shock for us to learn that Brad had passed away just before the holidays. His death was unattended, meaning he had passed alone in the days prior to his family attempting to contact him about his arrival to their annual Christmas get-together. All of his siblings live more than three hours from this area, in the northeastern part of the state so, to assist them, I offered to be present at his house for any work or issues that needed attention so that they did not have to keep making trips back. Brad’s ranch is just twelve miles from our home, and this time of year I had little to do that was pressing anyway.
It did not surprise me that Brad slipped out of this world quietly, as Brad was a bit of a loner and quite independent as it was. I always thought Brad ended up in the wrong era, or perhaps in a previous life he was a cowboy of the great North American western cattle drives. Over the years, he had been on several horseback trips to the Canadian Rockies with like-minded friends, going on pack trips deep in the back country of Banff National Park. Back in Oklahoma, he enjoyed riding his horse Trigger. Brad was most comfortable in threads of blue jeans and western shirts. He would rather sit in the comfort of a saddle than any recliner or easy chair. I imagine sleeping under the stars and propping his head up with a rolled up saddle blanket would be his choice of bed.
As I walked the perimeter of Brad’s ranch, memories came flooding back of good times and laughter we shared with him. Brad and FD had been friends and co-workers for many years before Brad retired from a senior engineering position with the local electrical cooperative where they both worked. Brad was more than an implementer and problem solver. His intellect went far and above to push for progressive innovation in the electrical generation and distribution industry.
Brad and I shared a kinship too, though not on the intellectual level by any means! Our friendship was borne of our backgrounds – both of us grew up on farms in Nebraska. Over the years, the three of us got together on many occasions. Sometimes FD and I just stopped on our way home to crack open a beer and shoot the bull with Brad. We took turns inviting each other to our homes to watch the bedlam games, with Brad rooting for OSU and FD rallying for OU. Once or twice a year, the three of us gathered with other friends for dinner out at a nice restaurant. And there were times too when we helped each other with projects.
There was the day Brad asked for our help erecting a twenty-five foot, steel flag pole that I thought would kill us all. It was difficult work, and perilous, but we managed it, just the three of us. On countless occasions, FD and I asked Brad for an opinion about an electronics purchase, or help with some type of engineering feat. In fact, it was Brad who programmed an application on our iPads so that they could be used as remotes for our televisions and our music system. With our technical guru now in a better, but distant place, FD would have to figure out on his own how to make any changes to the app programming.
On many occasions, Brad invited us out to his home on the hill for a night under the stars. Being an amateur astronomer, he owned a large, portable telescope with which he orchestrated a show that began at dark, and often went until 3:00 in the morning or later. Oh how I will miss those nights of laughter and learning, with conversation about so many mysteries of life…
Brad’s greatest gift to me personally, was that of compassion when I was at a low point just a couple of years ago while caring for our two elderly dogs, Zoe and Bear. Brad had cared for two border collies for many years, and one suffered with grand mal seizures all of its life. Brad’s life was quite limited as a result, having to administer drugs to Rowdy every three hours. He never asked anyone to help him with this commitment. He cleaned up endless messes, and made numerous trips to his veterinarian’s office, at all hours of the day and night.
One day, I poured out my frustrations to Brad. I was tired and weary. How had he managed the care and devotion it took to keep Rowdy going all of these years? Brad’s reply of understanding and compassion was just what I needed. He was encouraging and bolstered my confidence. He spoke the words that I needed to hear, “Just do the best you can. You already are giving Bear a quality of life that few people would go to the trouble for. It just seems so unfair that these innocent, loving creatures have to go through this. And lastly, just hang in there the best you can! There have been some pretty dark times when I just broke down over this dog I paid $100 for. And of course, feel free to vent any time with me. I’ve been there, done that!”
In the weeks following Brad’s death, I made my usual winter hikes to the river and spent more time checking on things around the orchard. There was little work that could be done in the cold temperatures, and with dry conditions most of the state was under a burn ban. As a result, my work cleaning up downed wood in the pecan orchard had been on hold for more than two months. On these hikes, it seemed I found evidence of loss of life every where I roamed.
Winter seemed to be the hardest time for wildlife to survive. Many birds appeared to have just fallen from the sky or from roosts in the bitter cold. Some animals had been taken by predators. I suspected the perpetrators were coyotes, since I seemed to find their scat next to discarded remains I discovered on my walks. Ducks and geese appeared to have been taken from near the slough in the night hours, as I found their feathers scattered about in the orchard many mornings. Fawn legs, spines, and shoulders lay askew in the grasses. Closer to the river, I found a few remains of a wild hog and the skull of a young white-tail buck. I imagined the life spirit of these living beings had slipped quietly away, and all that was left were the remnants of bodies that once flew and roamed freely on this earth.
I still think of our friend Brad many days. Not just because I make occasional trips to check on his place, but because I carry the gifts he bestowed on those of us who knew him. I hold the same kind of appreciation and love for the gifts of nature and the wild things who live and die here. And maybe I think a little bit more about my own walk on this earth – what will my gift to others be? Life for all of us should be beautiful and free, with our final parting a quiet, fleeting moment. And I hope that when my time comes to move on, like so many of natures creatures and our dear friend Brad, I too will disappear as quietly as a whisper of wind through the tall prairie grasses…
© 2018 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…