Several of my childhood summers were spent on my grandparents’ ranch in the mountains of New Mexico near Cloudcroft. It was a working ranch, meaning they raised cattle, pigs, chickens, and most of their own feed. My granddad and uncles rounded up the cattle on horseback, and there were always one or two tame horses we grandchildren were allowed to ride. One huge old animal named Banjo was my favorite.
Fences were everywhere on the ranch. Made of barbed wire, they served not only to keep the domestic animals together and close by, but to keep marauding animals out. And every fence had at least one gate. In order to get out the front yard, we had to go through the gate in that fence. There was a gate in the fence around the corral, and a gate in the fence down the hill from the house to the field where the water tank was.
One of the all-time favorite fun things to do on the ranch was to put on old clothes and splash around in that water tank. But as is typical of city kids, one day on the way to the tank we left the gate open, and Banjo got out. By the time Granddad found him, his legs had been badly cut by barbed wire when he tried to jump back over the fence.
Watching Granddad put ointment on the open gashes made me feel like a chainsaw murderer. But it also taught me something about natural consequences that result from our behavior.
It taught me that the people who came before me had insights that I hadn’t yet lived long enough to learn. It taught me to pay more attention to my actions, and to sometimes ask what the end result of a behavior might be. It taught me that there are things in the world that might harm me, so I should be careful who and what I allow behind my fences. But most importantly, it taught me that as I move through life, there are relationships, failures, and even victories better left behind. And I learned to close the gate.