Coming out of the valley, I decided to stop for coffee in West Yellowstone, Montana. In the café, a man and his wife sat on one side of the booth; another man sat across the table from them. The second man complained, “I don’t see why one man can’t give another man a friendly hug without people making assumptions – trying to make it something more than it is. I don’t even care if it’s a complete stranger, I should be able to give him a hug without anyone leveling judgement.”
I turned to look at the man. He was probably ten years my senior. Even sitting down, I could tell he was tall. He wore jeans and a blue plaid flannel shirt under a sleeveless down-filled vest. His silvery hair was wavy and just a little longer than shoulder length. His strong hands showed he was a not afraid of work. From his soft brown eyes and demeanor, I could tell he was not only a man with opinions and strong values, he was a man of peace.
I walked over to their table with my arms stretched. He looked at me with a puzzled expression as if to ask what I wanted. “I came to give you a hug.” I announced.
His friend on the other side laughed, “Well there you go, Jim. Here’s the hug from a stranger you asked for.” Jim sat in his booth as I stood with my arms still open. “Well, don’t just sit there,” his friend encouraged him, “Are you going to give him a hug?”
Jim stood up saying, “You bet I will. I’ll give him a hug alright.” Jim was a lot taller than I thought he would be. I wondered what I got myself into. He reached for me, wrapping his arms around my shoulders, pulling me in. At five feet-nine inches tall, the top of my head barely reached his shoulders. I returned his hug.
This wasn’t a beauty queen hug either; the kind where the two women lean toward one another with arms reaching but not actually touching, while dainty taps on the back, using just fingertips, are exchanged. No, this was a full-on embrace, with meaningful thumps on the back, firm enough to dislodge a chicken bone caught in one’s throat. A sincere expression of love for our fellow man was evident.
After the hug, I took my coffee and joined them at their table for conversation. The couple told me they bought an RV and were traveling about the county. He was retired from the DNR, although I’m not sure I caught from what state. Noting the license plates on my van, he said, “We recently spent about four months exploring the arrowhead of Minnesota, especially the north shore of Lake Superior, all the way to Canada.” When I told him that I lived on the North Shore, our conversation became even more connected. It was a wonderful experience!
I continued my journey on US 20, near Island Park, Idaho, and on south. I was taking in the amazing scenery; the brilliant white snow weighed heavily, contrasting the deep green branches of the pine trees and the mountains. Fluffy clouds floating in the bright blue skies made a perfect backdrop for ravens dancing and making a playground in the air. Absolutely breathtaking!
Just that quick, I was out of the mountains and driving the high plains. Open meadows lined both sides of the road. Beyond the jackleg fences, prairie grass poked through the top of the deep snow.
In the Midwest, farmers work with tractors, combines and four-wheelers. Out west, ranchers still use horses for a lot of their work, especially when working with their livestock. Horses are great helpers for the ranch hands driving cattle. (Not to mention the companionship you get with a horse. You just can’t bond like that with a four-wheeler.)
In a field, I saw a herd of cattle with several horses mixed into the crowd. They were all sharing the large round bales of hay inside the rings. Others joined at the water trough, like cowboys who gather as friends at the bar in a saloon for a cool drink and fellowship after a long day of chores.
It was a beautiful scene that brought two things to mind:
1) Horses and cows certainly have their differences, and yet they gather together in peace to share their food and water. Why can’t people learn from the animals and get along just as well?
2) As a special note to the horses. If you see the rancher pull up, driving a large semi-truck with a vented trailer, get the heck away from those cows - and fast! Trust me, you don’t want to go where the cattle are going.
I smiled with an idea. This year I will make New Year’s Resolutions:
- I resolve to seek the common ground with those who may see things differently than me, just like horses and cows.
- I resolve to share more hugs with family, friends and strangers who will become friends.
- I will take time to warn others of impending dangers they may not foresee, like horses hanging out with cows at the wrong time.
Happy New Year to my family and all my friends, the ones I know and the friends I haven’t met just yet.