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Risk in the Rockies

In Colorado, the sure-footed bighorn sheep is admired and respected. Though its numbers have dwindled over the years, its eminence within the Rocky Mountains has not.

photo of a Bighorn Sheep lambOn a craggy hillside, not far from the village of Avon, a small heard of bighorn was grazing on spring grass. The new lambs were cavorting about, testing their limits and discovering their potential. Their parents, as good parents do, had drawn limits for them, issuing the harshest of warnings about a particularly precarious rock formation that jutted out from the mountainside. The youngsters, as all offspring do, had begun to believe that they were invincible and that the forbidden rock posed no real threat. Though a drop from it was almost surely fatal, their confidence in their surefootedness prevailed.

It was not long before Buster, the largest of the young sheep, began to brag that he would soon challenge the rock.

"It's nothing," said he. "I will climb it, stand on the edge, stamp my foot and be back before the head ram-rod even knows I'm gone."

Brendan, a smaller, but no less strong, lamb asked, "But why do you want to climb the rock?"

Buster replied, "Because it's there!"

photo of Bighorn SheepAnd so the next day, with the entire new generation of the herd watching, Buster climbed up the rock, stomped his hoof, and returned to the cheers of his peers.

Noting the positive response that Buster received, a very cavalier sheep named Rameo decided he would also like to take a try at the rock.

Again, Brendan asked, "But why do you want to climb the rock?"

"Because it will prove that I am a brave and a good choice to be the leader of the herd one day," came the reply. "And," he added, "all the ewes will admire me too."

" So, is that how leaders are chosen?" asked Brendan.

"But of course." said the ram.

And on the second day, Rameo climbed the rock, stomped his foot two times and was also given a riotous greeting upon his return. He was strutting and enjoying his new status when another lamb named Emily passed nearby.

"So, did you see me climb ze rock?" he asked.

"I did," said she, "and I've decided I'll climb it myself tomorrow."

Brendan came upon the pair just in time to hear Emily's declaration.

"Girl, why do you want to climb the rock?" he asked.

"Because then, I can show that I'm as strong as any male." she said. "It will be a small step for me, but a large step for ewemanity."

photo of Bighorn Sheep climbing rocksAnd on the third day, with the females bleating loudly, Emily climbed the rock, stamped her tiny foot three times and returned. Buster sulked because his feat had been diminished by the ability of others to also perform it. Rameo felt his masculinity had been undermined. The herd began to separate into factions, each supporting one of the three bighorns as candidate for youth leader.

Late one night, an elderly ewe named Belle, unable to sleep went for a walk and became disoriented. She accidentally stumbled out onto the rock. Paralyzed by fear as her aged hooves felt and recognized the sharp rock, her brittle legs began to quiver and she bleated pitifully.

Brendan, who had been strolling in the moonlight while considering his choice among the candidates for youth leader, looked up and saw the terrified Belle on the rock. Without pause, he scampered up the mountainside and out onto the overhang. He told the elder ewe to lean against him as his young eyes and strong legs guided her to safety. Once they were again on terra firma he wished her good night.

"Oh, how can I ever thank you?" Belle asked.

"Belle, your well-being is reward enough." Brendan replied as he turned toward home.

photo of a Bighorn SheepThe next day the elders came and declared that a leader had been chosen for the younger generation. "But," Buster complained, "we haven't voted yet."

Rameo and Emily were equally upset because they had invested a great deal of time in their campaigns. The leader of the herd spoke, "You are too young to vote. In your formative years, you make choices for frivolous, superficial reasons. Brendan will be your leader because he, and only he, has demonstrated true bravery. Without audience or acclaim, he climbed the treacherous rock in the night and saved the life of the precious matriarch of our herd. If he can do that, he will certainly be able to lead you through adolescence. Follow him and learn."

It Follows:

Risk for the sake of risk is folly.

Risk for fame is vanity.

Risk for supremacy is arrogance.

Risk for a noble and selfless cause is heroism.

Risk in the Rockies was written and narrated by Julie Reder Fairley. Character voices were provided by Matthew Linden, Anthony Reece and Evelyn O'Dwyer. This parable is dedicated to Julie's grandson, Brendan.


Guiding Questions for "Risk in the Rockies"


It is important for leaders to think about why they lead. How can we keep our mission at the forefront of our thinking?

2. Those who lead generally have a certain amount of status associated with their position. How can we continue to have humble motives in the midst of the attention and deference that comes with power?
3. Sometimes the greatest acts of heroism go unnoticed and unheralded. Can we feel adequately gratified in silence or do we need to be recognized? Is virtue its own reward?
4. For every person who secures a position of leadership, there are others who aspired to that position but did not attain it. How can we enlist the assistance and support of those who were our competitors?

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