Upon my arrival to Cherry Gulch on the 24th of December, it was just past noon. Ms. Sue greeted me with a Merry Christmas hug as I walked through the door, staff were smiling and greeting one another. Some boys were busily painting, others writing cards or letters. Most the boys were gone on home visits or outings but the group that had stayed back awaiting the taxi to take them to the airport, or parent’s arrival to visit seemed to be making good use of their time making last minute gifts or playing a board game with a friend. It seems the wii is often a part of the activity for some.
I went out to check the animals at the barnyard and do some routine training with the horses. As I filled water tanks two mule deer grazed just outside the horse pasture fence. Both were bucks, one just with forked antlers and the other a small three point. Could they be Santa’s reindeer? No. Surely not! It wouldn’t surprise me one bit, if they are part of the Santa team, fully equipped with headset and two-way radio capable of directing Santa for a safe landing should Christmas turn out to be a foggy night.
In fact this Christmas eve, there was a light fog over parts of the Boy’s ranch--yet the sun shone through in other areas and there in those places, the snow came alive with sparkling, like snow diamonds all across the hills, arena, animal paddocks and on top the buildings. The horses, now fluffy in their winter coats, nickered and hung their heads over the gate as I worked. I tossed out straw in the shelter of each group of animals, the horses, the sheep and goats, the chickens, Patty dog’s house, and Shotgun the rabbit already had lots of fluffy straw in the rabbit hutch. Albert, one of the Cherry Gulch students made sure of that one of the days before he’d left for his home visit. Shotgun had since burrowed down making three nice little nests for himself in the straw and he was looking mighty satisfied as he lay there, peeking from his nest, hind legs sprawled out behind him. Christmas eve indeed!
The sheep and goats greeted me at the gate, expecting that the straw was to eat. (They like to eat!!) They all followed me back to the shelter where I fluffed up mounds of the yellow straw bedding. Sister Sue is our little white goat, looks like a pygmy but I’m told she’s something else. Very cute little thing, ever watchful. I told her as she gazed at me with head bent sideways that she was supposed to go lay down in that straw, not eat it. So, as if understanding, she walked over, fluffed it up a bit and lay down--a perfect example to the others who chewed the hollow stems of straw mindless of her cozy comfort.
I haltered up Lena, our newest addition to our tiny remuda (horse herd) and rode through the snow up into the hills. I go out alone sometimes, checking the terrain conditions for safety in case some boys should want to go for a Holiday trail ride. The ground was soft beneath the snow, Lena was getting quite a work out as she sank a bit through the snow and into the wet earth with each step. I find nothing so rejuvenating as riding across quiet hillsides, covered in glistening snow, on a warm wintery day with bright blue sky and a layer of clouds in the valley below. When I returned to Cherry Gulch I asked Lena to do some trotting and loping exercises. Together we made figure eight trails through the snowy arena. When all her responses met the standards I’d set for the day we found rest at the hitching rail. As I brushed her I thought of how unusual it was to have all the boys content indoors, since generally there would be two or three out working with me in the barnyard. My observation wasn’t in disappointment even though I love seeing the boys spend time with the animals. Instead on this Christmas eve day I felt gratitude for the wonderful staff we have at Cherry Gulch. Busily and cheerfully came the voices over the two way radio at my hip. Our activity director, the shift manager, the direct care, office personnel, and cooks. What a wonderful group of skilled, playful and loving people! The first person I saw as I walked down the driveway, was one of our teachers, with a spring in his step and all adorned with Santa hat pulled snuggly down over his head! His wife often comes up for occasions such as these to work with the boys on art projects. The staff work together like family--these people have never failed to bring to my face a smile or a laugh (sometimes a tear of gratitude)! And each and every person I know at Cherry Gulch loves the boys and their families as if an extension of their own. As I reflected on this, and listened appreciatively to my co-workers on the radio, I walked Lena to the paddock and scratched and massaged Fhusha, Cheyenne and DeeDee (our other three horses). When I made my rounds to the chicken coop, the roosters and hens scratched the straw and pecked at the ground. I turned back, heading for the lodge when I noticed something in the horse pen. At second glance, I stopped to admire Patty Dog (our big white, fluffy Great Pyrenees Sheep dog) diligently guarding the premises from the snowy center of the horse paddock, stoically looking out over the hills watching the neighboring cattle. I walked out there, and kneeled down beside her, looking out over the hills of Cherry Gulch mirroring her gaze. I know that for the Cherry Gulch boys, being away from home and family can be a tremendous challenge. (as can it be for the family who has placed their son, grandson or brother here). It must be a very difficult decision to make the commitment to bring a child to Cherry Gulch or any other therapeutic program. Nothing I say or do can diminish that fact. That being said- being a part of this Cherry Gulch family, I along with the other staff get to see this place from the inside out---I see that this is a fine place to be.
For boys that need to make changes, experience more, challenge themselves to deeper levels, develop better understanding of morals and discipline and family unity-Cherry Gulch is just IT. Being a part of something like this place, as staff caring for and teaching the young men here, in the full scale of things-this is really one of the best gifts a person could ask for. It was a beautiful day, on Christmas eve-up at the Cherry Gulch boy’s ranch. LORD I pray these boys and families receive a blessing such as this--as they come, or before they go--let them be witness to this beauty, peaceful re-charging, and gratitude. Amen.