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Battling the realist with the optimist

Erica Louder for Progressive Cattleman Published on 15 March 2018
cow and calf at sunset

Atop his bay gelding, the cowboy rides through the undulating hills one last time in search of the missing calf. He is rather certain he knows the calf’s location, but the sheer pleasure of such a ride, in such a place, is worthy of the excuse.

Ahead of him his young daughter joyfully trots her pony, aptly named Trixie. At early summer he is pleased with how lush the pasture is, despite the blemish of Scotch thistle plaguing his fields. As they ride east, he can hear the irrigation sprinklers with their familiar tsk-tsk on his hay field. He pulls back on the reins and calls to his daughter. Her childish prattle silences as she looks in the direction of his pointing. The western sky is a fire of pink, and orange and purple. The clouds dapple the sunset and form a halo around the golden light, shining its last ray. With the calf found and the sun set, the cowboy and daughter slowly walk their ponies back home.

The scene just described is one not uncommon on our ranch, and I bet it’s one you’ve seen on yours too. It is a fitting description when taken from one perspective, that of the cowboy. In this instance, the cowboy is my husband and the daughter – well, of course, she is my daughter too. Those two share an optimism for our lifestyle and the ranch we call home. But, they are both guilty of romanticizing the life, a failing that is rarely heralded as a fault.

It’s odd, really, that a 5-year-old feels this way. I too grew up with such surroundings, but our ranch cannot often usher that kind of emotion from me. To me, the grass is always more “lush” on the other side. I cannot always appreciate the beauty nor can I always recall the love of living in the countryside. To me, we are too far from town or we seem to grow nothing but thistles, despite the cowboy’s dismissal of the “plague.” I assure you, it’s a correct description – they are everywhere. It’s not the pleasant tsk-tsk I hear from the sprinklers, it’s the cost of the pump just replaced that I recall. Even the sunset is underappreciated as I am reminded of just how late it really is and the child that should be in bed.

Both homes that I have lived in as an adult have had large picture windows facing the south. When I have relatives or city friends come by, they often remark at my beautiful view. Now, when I think of a beautiful view, I see a mountain peak, or the ocean, or maybe even a lakeside. Both homes have had pretty much the same view, a pasture with a cornfield in the distance or a cornfield with the highway in the distance. I always found the remark of the view an odd one as neither is precisely picturesque.

However, I hadn’t given the remark much thought until I accused my husband, the cowboy, of romanticizing our operation. He countered back that if he romanticizes the lifestyle, I have the opposite problem – of being too realistic.

He is not wrong. The blatant realities of the farm are all too apparent to me. It’s not about the view. It’s the reality that you can lose the view if calf prices don’t recover. It’s the reality of a calf that cannot nurse because of the frostbite from being born in a blizzard. It’s the reality that despite working 12-hour days, you cannot justifiably make a living without working off the ranch. However, amid all of these realities, I try to remember that my view isn’t my neighbor’s yard or the street or the stoplight. That cornfield and that pasture and even the highway in the distance represent a lifestyle that I truly do love. Sometimes I need to take a minute and remember the grass is sometimes greener and it’s generally greener on my side of the hill.

You know, though, I am not wrong, but neither is the cowboy. The realist and the optimist both have a part to play in our ranch and in our industry. Both would cease to function if those parts weren’t played in equal measure. One keeps us grounded and the other reminds us to dream. It’s probably best that there are both on my ranch. What about yours? Are you the realist or the optimist?  end mark

Erica Louder is a freelance writer based in Idaho.

PHOTO: A sunset for the optimist … and his cows. Photo by Craig Louder.