January 29, 2017

IRC 2016 Inspirational Thoughts

One thing is for sure: Our grasslands need more than just scientific studies and more information to the value they have for society and us as a people, but rather a source of emotional attachment so that we as grassland advocates can connect positively and effectively with the general public. Don Gayton has written some books on the subject--or similar--about the cultural and spiritual and emotional values that so few of us have attached to the grasslands and rangelands but even fewer can put down on paper for others to understand. This hit home for me. I personally have a personal connection, an emotional one, to the vast grasslands of Southern Alberta and have yet to put any sort of emotional connectivity to it down for others unlike me to understand. It's more difficult than it seems; easier said than done. A creative mindset and a writer's hand needs to be had in order for this to happen. Do I have it? Well I can draw, for starters. I can write, sorta. So maybe. Maybe.

We grassland enthusiasts are so full of statistical and scientific information that, as Don had stated, that it causes a literal shutdown of the general public when we try to spell it all out. It's completely understandable. With all the papers and studies going on with everything from greenhouse gas studies to advances in technology and everything in between, even I reach a point where my eyes start to glaze over and I can't read anymore. That shit is deep, deep reading and takes a lot of brain power to process. If a person doesn't have the brain power to process all that data and statistical analyses and understand the scientific jargon that's being thrown around, then what use is that information to them? My answer is that it's of no use at all. Other than to say some scientists found out some things that are associated with a rangeland, it's better off being used as lining for the cat litter tray. My apologies for being offensive, but let's be real here. If we are to come together to come up with some means of highlighting the importance of our rangelands, we all need to dig, and deep, and I ain't talking about digging a soil pit!

Books are awesome. I love them, collect them like stamps. The good ones form words like water laughing and chuckling in a creek you love to listen to on a peaceful Sunday afternoon. (See what I did there?) The bad ones are, well, worse than nails on a chalkboard, and believe me there are some doozies. Good books are the ones that tell a story and put you in the scene so fast you don't realize your ass is still stuck to the sofa. They keep you turning the page to see what happens next, to see what sort of torment the author put the main character through this time. You know what I mean.

The good books tell multiple stories in many pages and yet teach as well. The facts laid out, are laid out in a way them at the Average Jane (let's say me) can understand. Like surviving on Mars, all alone, or using the philosophy of Aikido and Kenjutsu to work with and gentle horses. Or Karate to kick some royal ass on the street. Those books, one based on fiction and the others not, are good, they teach and hit home with the humanity and fallibility we can all relate to. Can we tell the many stories of rangelands and grasslands the same way? Can we put people far beyond the seemingly empty landscape of the West and launch them into a world that would simply blow their minds with the amazing story that encapsulates the people, the animals, the plants and the soil of the grasslands? Figuratively speaking of course.

It has to be far more than bringing back the legend and mystique of the enigmatic cowboy. Smokey the Cowhorse is old, but certainly not gone. And the great Hopalong Cassidy still lives on in the hearts and minds of those still pouring over the Clarence Mulford and Louis L'Amour books. But like us range nerds, those who know and love these characters are few and far between. Just like those of us who know and love the grasslands.

Those of us who know and love the grasslands have the awesome power to tell its story. We can tell it like its full of life, conflict, drama, hilarity, pain, sadness, and just how human it makes us. I can tell the story of how some researchers doing a range health assessment study learned a hard lesson of keeping our data sheets firmly clipped to the clipboard lest a massive dust devil stir up all those papers and take the most important one away to never, ever, be seen again. If you want to know, it kept floating up and up and up into the great blue prairie sky and never came back down. And never say never you say!

I can also tell the horror and sadness I could only imagine with the residents of High River and the massive flooding that came through. The pain and sadness of losing everything you know and love is tremendous. And yet the community coming together shows us that home is not just a place, it's where the heart is.

And the conflict! Rangelands can beget conflict, from cyberspace discussions to a "discussion" with a rancher's .30-30 and a rogue wolf or two. Or bear. Or gopher. Even the grass, masochists they may be, are in conflict with grazing animals, not just cattle. It can get to the point where it can be quite comical. If you think blowing a gopher to bits is funny...

And what about the more romantic side of it all? More than just a girl swooning for a tall, dark and handsome cowboy, oh, far more than that. But rather how I or Don Gayton or anyone else with as creative a mind and word-ful as a well-read author and habitual ink shedder can begin to describe the love, respect and amazement we have for these lands on that long walk; not to mention the power the grasslands have on us to render us completely speechless--with only the ability to utter a "wow!" every so often. We can paint a picture with words; but even that doesn't seem enough. Instead I have to start by describing the smallness and humbling feeling I get walking on the trail in the Waldron. The vast greening hills on my left, outcrops of rocks jutting out into the clear blue with a few spruce trees hanging on, half on rock and half in the thin soil of the towering hill. To my right, the deep dark green of tall spruce trees and poplars at the edge, their leaves a thin, light green and edging closer to the chuckling creek below. I cannot see the creek from here, but I can see the grasses along what I guess is the edge, and if I stop, I can hear it; crisp, clean and clear, flowing free. Afterwards I can see just how beautiful it truly is. But the ever threat of bear keeps me moving on.

And all of a sudden the grasslands don't seem so empty anymore.

And all of a sudden a connection is established. Not a connection that Scottie can beam me up to the USS Enterprise, but an emotional one that can bring up those misty eyes, makes you stop and take a deep breath, and brings a huge grin to your face that your glad you're quite far from the highway so that those rubber-necking tourists aren't wondering if you just escaped from the psyche ward. I get like that when I'm out walking in the rangelands, believe me. But I don't care. The rangelands are like home to me: a place where I can actually find peace and tranquility and real happiness that I couldn't get from almost anything else. It's a place where I can get away from the mildly claustrophobic feeling I tend to get from being around people for a little too long. It's especially best when barely anyone is around, and ironically I don't feel I'm alone. Mostly because I'm not there to survive.

And it's that connection that is very spiritual and important to me. I have that connection even when I'm simply hanging out with the cattle int pasture, or bending down to look at a tiny purple flower that caught my eye. I simply love the rangelands, and for me, it's as close to the Good Lord as I can get.


-Karin
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