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Irons in the fire: Honestly compelling

Paul Marchant Published on 24 February 2013

Dennis runs a few yearlings and grows some hay a few miles south of town. He doesn’t claim to be a top hand, but he always likes to have a dog hanging around the place.

Several years ago, he adopted a mutt that had been dropped off, probably by some city dweller who didn’t have the guts to take care of his overpopulated personal kennel.

Dennis and the dog, which he named Andy, became quite fond of each other and were rarely seen apart. Andy even went to church every Sunday and waited by the church doors. One particular Sunday, Andy wasn’t waiting outside at the end of services.

After searching all of the familiar haunts to no avail, Dennis figured he’d try the pound in town on Monday morning, though he didn’t hold out much hope because he didn’t think the dogcatcher would have been trolling for strays on a Sunday.

However, when he arrived at the pound 15 minutes before it opened, he was pleasantly surprised to see Andy in a back kennel when he stole a peek through the window.

When the dogcatcher arrived, Dennis casually enquired about the duties of a county animal control officer. He learned that a $25 fine accompanied the retrieval of a dog that had been picked up.

There was, however, no fee to adopt a stray dog that had been captured. After dutifully inspecting several dogs, and vainly trying to send a subliminal message to Andy to play it cool, Dennis told the pound man that he wanted a dog to hang around the farm and thought the black shaggy dog in the corner pen would probably fit the bill.

The faithful county employee thanked Dennis for his willingness to take a chance on an abandoned pound dog and opened Andy’s pen. The grateful pooch immediately ran past the two men and several vehicles straight to Dennis’ pickup, where he jumped in, just like he belonged.

“I think you owe the county $25,” deadpanned the dogcatcher, to which Dennis sheepishly agreed. An honest mutt had compelled him to honesty.

My nephew’s wife, who is as sweet and honest as a farmer’s wife can be, confessed to her greatest misdeed one day after we finished up working some cows.

When she was in fourth grade, she found $3 lying on the playground one morning. She dutifully turned it in to the secretary at the school office.

That afternoon, after dumping most of her delicious school lunch in the trash, she started feeling hungry. At the afternoon recess, she went to the office, where she knew a substitute secretary would be on duty.

She told the new secretary that she’d lost $3 and asked if any money had been found. Not surprisingly, she was given the money that she had turned in earlier that day. She used the money to buy two Snickers bars, which sustained her for the rest of the day.

The next day at school, after a night spent fretting about her crime, she was called to the office. Scared to death, and certain that she’d been found out, she planned her confession as she made the long trek to the front office.

To her relief, she wasn’t met with a scolding but was, instead, rewarded with another candy bar and a commendation for her honesty in turning in the money she’d found on the playground. She never did confess and she still feels guilty, 20 years later.

These two stories, with their rather innocuous outcomes, portray opportunities for the subjects to rise to their better selves.

Ranching and tending cows offers a unique lifestyle, regardless of where the endeavor takes place. Each area of the country has its own flavor and brand of punching cows, and even within a state or specific geographic area, there are often subtle, if not stark, contrasts.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a pair of chinks or a slick fork saddle in Texas. At the same time, a kid growing up on a Nevada buckaroo outfit may never have seen a pair of batwings or ever thought of tying hard and fast.

I’ve spent pretty much most of my life, up to this point, in the mountains and high deserts of the Great Basin.

Agriculture in the arid American West offers some unique challenges and opportunities that many of our compatriots further to the east may not understand. (Can you say “irrigation”?)

When I’ve traveled through the Midwest, I’ve marveled at how perfect the corn and soybean fields look without a ditch or sprinkler in sight.

However, we Westerners know little of what it’s like to be completely at Ma Nature’s mercy when it comes to getting a drop of water to a thirsty crop.

Like public lands ranching, where several outfits may run in common on Forest Service or BLM rangelands, sharing irrigation water can test the character of any God-fearing farmer or cowpoke.

As I was growing up, my family’s piety and honesty was somewhat compelled because we were at the end of the ditch. We had our scheduled water turns, but it was entirely possible for an upstream neighbor to conveniently “borrow” our turn – in which case, we were out of luck.

Likewise, a slick-eared calf coming off the mountain in October can fit quite nicely into anybody’s herd. We don’t brand our calves just because we like the smell of burnt hair.

Thankfully, most of the rustling and water thievery I’ve witnessed has been from a distance. By and large, my neighbors have been like most salt-of-the-earth agriculturists.

Goodness is not only bred into them, but it’s been taught and learned and practiced for generations.

I, like most people, have made my share of poor choices. Everybody, no matter his occupation or station in life, is given ample opportunity to do the right thing or to make an effort to right a wrong.

It’s much easier to let the water run down the ditch than it is to put it back in after it’s soaked into your hayfield. In the end, you’ll be better off paying the dogcatcher.  end mark

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