We ran to hook up the trailer after receiving the call. They didn’t have enough transportation, and desperately needed help evacuating. In the chaos of the last few days created by the raging flames consuming hundreds of acres by the day – the need to get people evacuated and livestock out of the area was immediate.
The truck crawled up the steep grade, towards Triangle Road – where the fire was reportedly heading. We passed the fairgrounds, a riot of red engines, and green wildland vehicles, with first responders amidst them in organized urgency. Continuing out of town the road was dotted with increasingly more fire engines, and sheriff’s deputies.
I brushed aside the lack of smoke on the horizon. Only yesterday, we had watched an ominous plume of dark grey smoke billow towards the sky, appearing to be just over the hill from our house. I’d seen photos from friends’ homes, where visible flames licked up everything in its path. The presence of Dad’s fire gear, and emergency bag in the backseat, remnants of his 25 year career as a firefighter, did nothing to calm the knot in my stomach. I wanted to help. I wanted to do something tangible amidst all the fear, and nerves that permeated the Mariposa air. The frantic call had come from an elderly couple. An elderly couple that had purchased my first FFA project steer back when I was in High School. The thought of them being scared, incapable of evacuating their livestock, heightened the urgency to get there.
We bounced down gravel roads, pulling over to let trailers pass the other way every once in a while. We pulled off on the corner where the red barn stood. The sky was a light blue, the breeze faint, and the ranch perfectly still. Had there not been sheriff’s deputies blocking the road, you would have thought it a lovely summer day in a mountain valley where pine met oak and manzanita.
Another trailer parked, another car, and the men coordinated our plan of action. The update was an adrenaline kill. The ranch hadn’t been instructed to even take pre-evacuation precautions. The fire was burning the other way. The elderly couple hadn’t lived there in years, but had heard about the fire and were worried. SPCA had warned the trust that the cattle needed to be tagged in case the fire changed direction and started towards them.
I looked at the sky as they talked; the air lacked the smell of smoke, a haze yet to be seen over the pines.
We’d get the cattle tagged, and keep them penned in case the situation changed.
Another bit of information was shared with us. The herd of cattle had never been touched: no ear tags, no branding, no castration, no handling of any sort. And they were loose on a three hundred acre parcel.
Our crew was a less than experienced group of well-intended people. Dad and I had not brought horses, due to the fact that our instructions were to transport – not gather, tag and then transport. That put three of us on foot, and two in the saddle. One mount was a mule, and the other a dressage horse. Neither animal had any experience with cattle and their riders could boast little more.
The day was downhill from there. And uphill. And through brush. And through fence lines that lay down in submission to the years they had endured of disrepair and brazen cattle.
The cattle were repeatedly gathered, and scattered by panicked horses. They were gathered again, only to charge a mule that found a trot more of an intimidation than the bull.
After a few hours, my thoughts wandered to a phrase joked about in our home at times. “No good deed goes unpunished.” I was ready to go home. The mumbled comments, dripping in resentment, grew more frequent among the group as the day wore on. And what were we accomplishing out here anyway? Chasing cattle that in fact did not need to be evacuated?
How do you distinguish between the foolish and the worthwhile? In the wake of high emotion, there is a sense of disappointment. Disappointment born of foolishness.
In a culture that places emotions over logic, we are told that our feelings trump everything. Feelings which are undoubtedly fleeting, undoubtedly fickle – on these we are to base our decisions. And if this is the case, we sacrifice longevity in all areas of our lives. Friendships dropped, marriages torn apart, jobs quit, projects abandoned, passions turned into “that thing I tried once.” Because no matter how much love we feel, how much adrenaline is pumping through our veins, how much passion is propelling us forward – if that is all that is sustaining us, what happens when it wanes? What happens when you find that there’s no immediate danger from a wildfire?
There’s a dire need for commitment to keeping moving even when we don’t feel like it. To keep loving even when the object of our love isn’t compelling us to love them. It’s not romantic, it’s not immediately rewarding and it’s not fun. We’ve heard a million times over, nothing worth having is ever easy to have. Because at the end of the day a glorification of our feelings – is a glorification of ourselves at the expense of those around us.
Not everyone had a mother to voice quiet words of wisdom in times of high emotions. “Don’t make important decisions when you are upset. “ Don’t glorify emotions; don’t be ruled by your emotions. God designed us to be equally emotional and logical people. Logic being the less attractive of the two often becomes forgotten. C.S Lewis challenged us to disregard emotion when he said- “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”
There’s gratefulness, and there is grace in knowing God uses us in spite of us. He uses our lack of substantial, and our overabundance of emotion. But what are we accomplishing? And who wins when we base everything on shifting sand dunes? Today, yes and tomorrow? We’ll see how we feel.
We need to show up for the people in our lives, but so much more important is the staying even when it isn’t what we anticipated, even when our passion for the project wanes. Showing up is the first step, seeing it through is when lives are changed. Seeing it through is when we are steadily shaped into the Christ we desire to exemplify.