People are masters at drawing lines, sometimes in sand, and sometimes in dirt. We go to great lengths to avoid crossing these lines, just as this cowboy won't let his horse walk across the line defined by the gate in the above picture.
Finding shared understanding among people with conflicting values is not an easy task. I'm not suggesting people need to agree, but simply taking time to listen and a hold a sincere desire to understand each other's perspective matters. It's unrealistic to expect warring sides of any issue to simply cross over, particularly when an issue embodies deeply held values. Issues embedded in culture or tradition, or an interpretation of a religious belief, will cause most of us to dig in our heels - even if we don't want to argue. Principles are weighty when embedded in personal values. That's how most conflicts between people who live or work on the land are internalized and categorized too.
While working on an upcoming gathering, I found myself jotting down a quick Haiku remembering the threat ranchers often faced of losing their grazing leases on public land - when their livestock don't perform perfectly. If their cows don't bite off the right amount of grass, they fail meeting compliance on their public lands permit. Compliance, in this case, is not an easy task - we all know what it's like when we want a larger helping - or the difficulty in explaining just one bite to a cow - or a kid. It was hard for them to take regulations that seemed ridiculous, from their perspective, in stride.
Hadley and his wife Susie, were our hired "men". Over time, Hadley became a treasured friend too. He was the only person in those parts that truly understood me, as much as we could understand each other that is. When we didn't, we'd just laugh off our cultural differences, and turn on anything by Jimmy Buffett as loud as it would go, and sing our hearts out. It was a great friendship - and relief, in an otherwise, foreign-feeling place where I sometimes felt like the other.
One day, waiting for everyone to get saddled up for the day's ride, Hadley took his turn as Cowboy Buddha. He held a stick in his hand, then squatted down towards the ground, and drew a line in the sand. For a moment there, he reminded me of Jesus in the story of the woman who committed adultery... but it passed quickly. Although, Hadley and Jesus did have some things in common - most didn't know the real Hadley and his crusty cowboy exterior camouflaged them. Or Jesus, for that matter. Hadley stood back up, pointed the toe of his boot at the line he'd just drawn and said, "This is a line in the dirt" "Profound" I said, sarcastically, "And?"
"We need to get rid of the lines we draw in the dirt. They are everywhere, and we're letting them destroy everything we work so hard for. In the end we sabotage our own future. We need to step over, or erase, these lines in the dirt."
"Amen," I said, unconsciously. Before I married a pastor, amen was not a common word, although looking back, it was one of the best prayers I've been witness to.
Hadley had once been Idaho's best professional bronc rider once upon a time, and it showed. He'd a lot of practice holding on with one hand to the saddle to avoid getting bucked off while his horse's butt and legs were thrown in mid-air; and waving his other arm in the air to maintain his balance and hold him center. In some ways, this was what ranchers were doing. Holding on to what they believed was important to hold on to with one hand, while trying to find the balance in the midst of the drama and chaos of change with the other.
In considering the simple structure of Haiku, my thoughts meandered over to the simplicity of those who work the land, and was struck by the irony around the extreme complexity involved in all they manage. The complexity that's involved in managing biological diversity, like land, crops, animals, people, and climate is staggering -- particularly when compared to manufacturing or another, more common, entrepreneurial endeavor managed in a more linear, or controlled manner. Perhaps this is why farmers, ranchers, or others who collaborate with nature for a living; seem to get to the point with less words. They keep their messaging simple. That's my experience anyway. These few words, however, often contain deep wisdom - so deep, in fact, that I've called some of them, "Cowboy Buddhas."
The issues, people who have traditionally worked the land for generations, run far deeper than a simple lease or biological monitoring form that's not completed correctly. Yet, the very story that holds their history is often hidden from us because their geographic and social isolation does not result in boasting or, find it natural to use their individual voice to promote or defend themselves. They are not accustomed to being heard, or seen. Usually they just show up in hopes of a miracle, or ready for a fight, but are well aware there is little they can do to defend themselves against educated environmentalists, empowered bureacrats, or the wealthy man's lawyers in the face of a voting public that doesn't get them.
These simple words speak to those who fear the sweat, toil, and dreams of generations before them will have all been in vain; or the sadness that those who come after them will not know the smell of freshly turned dirt and being midwife to the land. They've learned from their Native American neighbors that their fears are real and deep, even if the world finds them hard to understand.
This little Haiku is for them, and a brave man and mentor, Allan Savory.
Let the Story Speak
Drop your folded arms.
Rest your guns on this bare ground.
Blow soft on dirt lines.
Let your stories speak
of land, sky, hooves, blood, and wind,
to hearts unaware.
You hold hope in hand,
Guarding from sudden gusts
for sons and elders.
Hear the ancestors
in this circle we sit round.
Wisdom wins they say.
Time will heal the wounds
and the light will guide your way.
The earth has spoken.
Nature finds its song,
Gusts of wind now silenced.
Lines drawn in dirt gone
Sand has turned to soil
Life teems where there once was none
The circle goes on.