I have been to some places or events where I feel a connection- to the surroundings, the people, perhaps to the occasion or even the time.
I can walk into any ice rink in probably any country and I am immediately at peace. Cold, perhaps, particularly if its Rossland, BC but I understand and appreciate where I am.
I can spot where the Zamboni comes out and where the dressing rooms are. I usually can tell right away what level of hockey is played there by scoping out the audience benches and by what type of heating system, if any, is in place.
I feel comfortable and at peace.
I feel that way in most veterinary clinics and with most animals. It was something I learned as an adult but I feel completely complete with something furry in my arms.
I am happy and able to connect with cats, dogs, ferrets, rats, guinea pigs, cows, horses and more. I can be a part of their community (which is basically how things run around the Fyfe Farm).
We all want to be accepted even if it is only by one person, or one dog. Its natural. Human beings are herd animals and even though there are many who seek out private existences in the hinterlands, most of us live within communities.
I have lived in large cities (Vancouver, Tokyo) and smaller ones (Bismarck, Chilliwack) and have always managed to find people or groups to connect and fit in with.
And then there are the tiny little rural towns or villages like Ovando, Montana, where you would think the only thing to do is make plans to get somewhere else so you could do something.
Ovando has more cows and dogs than it does human residents.
It is tucked back a little off of highway 200 so you have to make a point to come through town.
And why would you unless you didn’t plan your mileage out very well and you noted that the town sign said “Gas” on it?
There is no ice rink.
No high school.
No boutiques or spas or building supply stores. No fast food chains, no brand-name stores, no movie theatres and no mall. No medical clinic, no dentist, no dog grooming facilities. No cops, no realtors, no bank, no lawyers. No ski hill, tennis courts or football fields.
It has what appears to be an abundance of nothing.
And yet, this teensy blip that takes less than 30 seconds to fly past on the highway has something that reaches in and clutches your heart and squeezes in a way that love and community come tumbling out of your eyes when you least expect it.
Like at the school’s 8th grade graduation ceremony the other night.
My dear friend, Jessi, who used to be my veterinary assistant, is the mom to one of the graduates. She and Carson are part of a teensy, exclusive club of Fyfe Farm caretakers- they love our animals like their own and it was an honor to be invited to his graduation.
Where the 8th grade class consisted of 2 kids.
Like I said, Ovando is small.
Their 3-room school combines kindergarten through 8th grade. All of the kids, regardless of age, must choose to get along.
And that is a real skill these days that I know a lot of adults haven’t mastered.
So you would think the attendance for these 2 youngsters on the brim of adolescence would be pretty small.
Not so much.
The floor seats were almost all filled and the bleachers behind them were full.
Not with relatives, either.
These were the townsfolk and neighbors and café owner and servers and parents of other children who came to celebrate Carson’s and Madeline’s journeys.
They were the “summer people” who have just returned from Texas for their lovely season in Montana.
They were classmates of Carson’s parents, Jessi and Jake, who all had gone to school in Ovando years ago (Jessi and her sister each had one 8th grade classmate as well).
They were the new people who raise goats who have just moved to town whose children are all grown.
They come together every year to celebrate the kids who have learned how to get along with others, how to make the most of an education that must fit in math and science above and below their own learning, how to listen to the older kids and how to take care of and help along the younger ones.
They all play together on the playground because their community of companions is small.
And its actually a pretty special thing.
They have traditions at graduation that many in the crowd had participated in themselves.
Parents of the graduates read “prophecies” of what they believed their child will accomplish or do in life.
Jake wasn’t there.
He’s busy protecting our asses over in Iraq right now for his 6th or 7th tour as a US Marine.
So he wrote a letter that Jessi’s dad read to everyone.
And everyone in Ovando knows Jake because he and Jessi and half the audience went to school there and everyone knows the family’s sacrifices and everyone knows Howie because he also grew up in the area and used to run the one store/gas station/hotel in town and he’s arguably one of the most hilarious people in Ovando.
But not everyone expected to hear what Jake wrote.
How he doesn’t want his son to follow in his footsteps.
How he knows and loves and appreciates his son’s kindness and concern for others.
How he knows his son would never miss his own kid’s 8th grade graduation and that if more people around the world showed a bit of the passion, respect and love that Carson shows to others maybe Jake wouldn’t need to be where he is.
And how he wants his son to go and explore the heck out of the world and meet new people in far-off countries with different beliefs and cultural patterns and meet a girl and fall in love and bring her home to Ovando to raise a family.
So everyone cried and that was fine because everyone there is kind of like family.
We got to watch the power point photo production run by the 7th and 6th graders and then we saw diplomas handed out.
And we laughed and ate cake and wished the kids well (Madeline and her family always came to my vet clinic in nearby Seeley Lake and they bought my book so I know them, too).
The kids are venturing off to different high schools in different directions but they will always know about each other.
Its how Ovando works.
They hold each other up and watch out for everyone’s kids and have community Luaus and they all go to the Helmville rodeo and they collectively cheer the local kids on as they leave the nest and they wait for those adult children to experience the world and then return to raise their own families.
Because they know just how special they have it in their 3-room schoolhouse and that the kids learn more about life and fitting in there than anywhere else.
And I felt very comfortable there and very much at peace.