In one of the areas where I hike, in the spring, ranchers bring their cattle to graze on the grasses of the Foothills. There are cattle guards along the road to prevent the cows from leaving the area. However, the area is vast, and over the five or six months they are out there, the cows can wander quite a distance. Brenda and I have seen several cows while out hiking. A month ago, I actually had to stand my ground and wave one off as it charged toward us. I laughed, recalling how I had done this as a young girl.
Usually around the end of October, or earlier if the snow arrives before it’s welcome, the farmers organize cattle drives and herd the cows back to the lower land, to the ranches where they will winter.
This year was no different. One Tuesday, toward the end of October, as we drove out to start our hike we commented on the absence of the cows. We knew the cattle drives had happened; a sure sign winter was soon approaching.
Two weeks ago, both Brenda and I were nervous as we hiked along. We had seen a black bear the previous week, so every sound made us a bit jumpy. A trail runner came up behind us at one point and almost scared us off the path. The fright from the runner, and all the other little sounds, were short lived and replaced with us laughing at our own jumpiness. As we made the descent from Powderface mountain however, we stopped in our tracks when we heard an ominous roar. We looked at each other and paused for a minute, listening.
I’ve heard a lot of cows mooing in my life, and I knew without a doubt, this was most definitely a cow. In fact, it had not roared so much as bellowed. As we stood there wondering why we had been fooled, we realized it was because there should not have been any cows in the area. They should have all been rounded up.
We never did see the cow that made such a noise, and other than commenting that we wished we knew how to let a rancher know there was still one cow out there, we didn’t give it much more thought until this past week. This week we hiked up a wonderful trail called the Race of Spades. In the spring and summer, it is used by mountain bikers. A group of bikers maintain this trail and build complex jumps out of the natural logs in the area. They name each jump, or obstacle, and someone has used their creativity to make colourful signs denoting the name of each. It feels so uplifting to see each of them.
The Race of Spades opens up to a road at the top end of the trail. We planned to cross the road to see the incredible view, and then make our way back down a different, non biking, trail. As we approached the road, we heard the sound of a vehicle. Just as we were about to step up onto the road we saw a mini, modern, cattle drive headed down the road. I say mini because while a ‘real’ cattle drive might have over a hundred head of cattle, this one had six. I say modern because while a ‘real’ cattle drive involves horses and dogs, this one used two pick up trucks and a quad to keep the cows in line.
We waited just off the road as they passed so as not to scare the cows into the woods. Horses could easily have followed them and ushered them back, but trucks? Not so much. Once the trucks were past us, the quad pulled up and we chatted with the driver, Corbin. He told us they were still missing a few cows. Suddenly a light went on for us. We told him about the cow we had heard the week prior and were able to give him an exact location. He was very pleased and planned to take a helicopter up looking for it, and the others the next day.
A couple of days later, forgetting all about the cows, I was at my desk, conducting phone interviews regarding a leadership review I am facilitating. One of the people I spoke to, told me of the bravery of this leader. They said when they think of her, they think of the statue found in New York City, outside of the Stock Exchange. It is of a little girl, standing face to face with a bull. Fierce, is the word that was used to describe this leader, this leader advocating for the safety of women who have faced violence against them. ‘She is fierce’, they said. ‘She will face anyone with the truth. It takes courage to do what she does.’
I remember as a young girl, having cows on our farm. Sometimes they would charge (I think it was more like running) toward us. When we would tell our Dad, he told us to face them, to stand our ground. He told us not to run away. I have no idea if this is good advice about cows, but it served us well then, and it was one of those things that I knew, even then, was a bigger lesson than it appeared on the surface. Dad was teaching us how to deal with things that we feared.
Stand your ground, he would say. Face them. Let them know you mean business. They’ll turn away. And they always did.
I’ve been feeling grateful for my dad’s advice this week. Even though Brenda and I didn’t exactly have to stand our ground when we heard the cow, and even though we didn’t really have to be fierce even when we saw the bear, it reminded me I can stand my ground, and face my fears, and even be fierce when I choose to be.
Fierce doesn’t mean angry. Fierce doesn’t mean rude. Fierce means showing a heartfelt and powerful intensity. Ferocity, fierceness, allows me to stand up for myself, to stand up for what is right, and to stand up for others who may not have such a strong voice or who were not lucky enough to have a father who taught them to fiercely face cows.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘Where do I need to be more fierce?’
Elizabeth is a certified professional Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with individuals, corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership coaching. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. She has expertise in facilitating Strategic Plans for organizations and in conducting Leadership Reviews. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to become fierce.