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Out Our Way: Trail eyes - Isaiah 30:20-21

Out our way, I have to confess as a greenhorn cowhand, the grazing land all looks pretty much alike. I ride up over one ridge or cross one arroyo and it looks the same on the other side. No wonder I got lost so often - for I had not yet developed "trail eyes" - the ability to see the sign that pointed me in the direction I needed to go. 

One trick seasoned wranglers have sought to teach me in developing "trail eyes" was simply to look behind every few hundred yards and check your back trail. When you come back that way, you will recognize things that will guide you home.   

Now, the start of the day's festivities consisted of driving through the gate, across the cattle guard, parking the truck and trailer, unloading and saddling the horses, and then taking off. No need to check my "back trail" at first as Charlie's bright red trailer stood out in the yellowing buffalo grass like a beacon on a dark night. But after crossing the first ridge, it was a different story. 

As I noted before, for a greenhorn cowhand, all the land after that first ridge looked alike. This is when the "lessons" began. Charlie had me look back and seek out something that would guide me when I came back this way again. It might be the glimpse of some mountain in the neighboring Bear Paws that peaked out over the ridge - or a certain rock or boulder that stood up in the prairie grass. It might be what was left of a cattle trail not yet overgrown, or better yet, one that was fresh and still fragrant with fresh droppings.  

Sometimes these trail signs were obvious and easily spotted - but often they were obscure and you really had to look for them. But as Charlie pointed out, they were always there. I depended on Charlie to point them out for me in the beginning, but slowly I began to develop "trail eyes" on my own and could be trusted to chase a stray or check an obscure arroyo on my own and still eventually manage to find my way back. I never had 20/20 trail eyes like Charlie had developed over the years - but at least I was no longer blind. There is a reason Charlie is in the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame - and while I doubt this is why he was nominated and voted in, it certainly is one reason I would have voted for him. Taking care of greenhorns as well as strays is "the cowboy way." Charlie was originally from North Carolina, but he was a 100% pure Montana cowboy.

It seems to be God's way as well, for, according to the prophet Isaiah, God has a similar attitude toward greenhorn/tenderfeet pilgrims of all kinds. He allows us to experience hard times if only to wake us up - but He never quits on us. He exalts in His role as our guide (Teacher) to show us the way, determined that even the most moronic maverick can be restored to the heavenly herd - and the dumbest dogie can be found and reclaimed.

As we begin the journey home, we begin to develop "trail eyes" and see the signs that declare "THIS IS THE WAY! WALK IN IT!"

Be blessed and be a blessing!

Brother John 


The Rev. John Bruington is the retired pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Havre. He now lives in Colorado, but continues to write "Out Our Way." He can be reached for comment or dialogue at [email protected].


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