Thankfulness for the Giving

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Kansas wildfire hay relief

Ahead of our upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings, Granny will ring a cowbell before we dine on a mouthwatering potluck of family favorites. Her dinner bell triggers silence for a prayer of appreciation for our blessings.

I never spoke with anyone more appreciative this year than the folks impacted by the Kansas wildfires last March. One rancher, in particular, fought wildfires at his home and ranch for 24 hours. He still lost his home, all of his family’s 6,800 round bales of hay and 265 miles of fence. Even more heartbreaking, fire caused the death of 600 cattle on his ranch alone (most of them were pregnant with calves). That measures a small percentage on his family’s successful ranch and a fraction of the 6,000 cows lost in his home county. But 600. The population of my hometown.

Despite the devastation, the rancher and local Kansas veterinarian with whom I spoke expressed thankfulness with immediacy: gratitude that the fire spared their lives, and sincere, genuine appreciation for the people – including Illinois farmers – who gave hay, fencing supplies and more to support the county’s ranchers. They didn’t dwell on the loss nor lament over the work to rebuild. My goodness, this ranch family alone needs to repair or replace enough length of fence to connect the suburbs of Chicago and St. Louis. And the rancher lost the refuge to sleep in his own familiar bed at night after working at that task all day.

I cannot remember ending a phone interview that left me so emotionally impacted. For days, the story and the conversations hovered like smoke: the overwhelming work to recover on top of routine farm chores. How to cope with dead or injured cattle. Three young ranchers who died in nearby Texas trying to save their herd in this multistate fire.

This fourth-generation rancher chose to see opportunity through the tragedy. The opportunity to understand the true goodness of people “has been very touching, very hard to comprehend,” he says.

Within 24 hours, relief arrived, and Illinois farmers helped. They donated hay from their own farms to replace lost forage, milk replacer for orphaned calves, and supplies to replace and mend fence. Some even made the lengthy trip to get it there.

During the summer, the sight of fresh fences and cattle returning to greening pastures showed that Kansans will recover, driven not only by their will. They indicate feeling accountable to rural America, including the Illinois farmers who guided them onto the road to recovery. I can only imagine the context of grace at their homes during this season’s holiday dinners.

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