Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Rancher's Signs of Spring

Spring has sprung, that thought crossed my mind as I typed April on this week’s column. Wow, we are finally loosening winter’s cold grip and walking into the warm sunlight of spring. The world is aglow in the green carpet covering the hills, flowers are starting to emerge from the soil and the trees are full of blossoms. All is new and good.
For several weeks I have watched for the signs of spring and finally I have started to see them. Was it the return of the robins that told me spring was near? No, not really. How about the buds on the fruit trees? No, in fact, I am pretty sure that brings on a freeze. Maybe it was the geese flying south. Wrong again, I live by a lake and they fly back and forth all the time. OK, what about the greening of the grass? Nope, but it is a reminder that I need to get my lawn mower fixed.
I know all of those are classical signs that spring has sprung, but the signs I am looking for are much closer to home. For instance, I know that spring is in the air when I drive by a neighbor’s house and I see their chore clothes hung out on the line to dry. No self-respecting livestock owner would dare wash their chore clothes until winter and calving season are truly over. What would happen if you washed your coveralls, they had not dried and say a winter storm blew in while a heifer was calving? Coveralls on the clothes line is the most solid sign of spring one can find in rural America.
Another sure sign of springtime in cattle country is the absence of shaving cream on grocery store shelves. Yes, warmer weather means itchy calving season beards. Haircuts and shaving is now again in vogue. As the teens would say, the shaggy, haggard, disheveled look of calving season is so last winter. This also coincides with clogged sink drains, hair on the counter and dirty looks from your wife. Shaving a beard off is tough and there is collateral damage.
Finally, the best indicator of spring in the Flint Hills is the orange glow in the evening sky and the faint (or more than faint) smell of smoke on the evening air. Nothing says spring like a good pasture burning. Evidence of this can be seen in the black landscape or the sooty four wheeler with a water tank in the back of any rancher’s pickup on main street. Seeing big cedar trees going up in flames like giant torches is one of the best signs of spring I know.
So let’s say you are in a small town in the Flint Hills and you are talking to a passing traveler at the local cafĂ©. You make mention that all the signs point to the fact that winter is finally behind us and spring is surely here. They will probably guess that your statement was made because of your keen awareness of the natural world around you and the observations you have made came while communing with nature each day.
They will wonder if it is the distant gobble of the turkey, the daffodils peaking through the warm, moist soil or the robin hunting for a meal of earth worms. They might even suspect that you know this because of the sun’s position in the sky or the length of sunlight during the day. The unsuspecting city slicker might even say it is just a feeling that every farmer and rancher gets deep down in their bones and is passed along generation to generation.
Just smile and look at them sagely with a nod and a wink. After all, you know something they don’t; you are one step ahead of the game. We all know that country folks don’t rely on birds, plants or even the sun to announce the changing of the seasons. We are much savvier than that.  Little do they know that the surest sign of spring is closer than they might think.
The sign that the long cold winter is finally past and spring has arrived is closer than they might think. The surest sign of spring is a mere two tables down. It would be the farmer or rancher enjoying his ice tea, eating lunch sporting clean chore clothes, a fresh shave, and a new haircut and smelling faintly of smoke. That, is the best sign of spring I know.

Friday, April 3, 2015

In Search of the Lost Civility

I have to admit that I really don’t spend that much time watching TV. Sure it is on but usually it is just background noise while I am doing other things. I know, that is a horrible waste of electricity and I can just hear my mother reminding me to shut it off if I am not watching it. She probably would be telling me to go outside too.
I have pondered turning off the cable and trying to save some money. I would bet that after a short, painful adjustment period we would really not miss it and we probably would be more productive. There would be a couple of things I would miss and they are the reason I keep the cable on. I really enjoy old TV shows, Andy Griffith, I Love Lucy, Gunsmoke; The Honeymooners even The Three Stooges. All of these shows take me back to a time when we were more civil and compassionate. All things I dearly miss today.
My main problem with the cable is also some of the programming available. I watch series after series where confrontation and getting what is coming to me are the themes of the day. It seems as though if you are not in someone’s face, screaming at them and trying to get your way no matter what is the thing to do. I am not sure if this is entertainment mirroring life or life mirroring entertainment. In any case it seems as though we have lost our civility and compassion and I believe it is getting worse.
Every part of our everyday life has to be contentious. It seems as though every opinion that does not agree with ours is a reason to cry foul. We seem to think the only way to get our ideas across is to our yell the other person. This way of thinking has permeated every part of our lives from schools to youth activities to even our own churches.
We have lost our sense of civility when it comes to discussing and debating issues. If someone’s opinion differs from our own we must shout them down. Calm reasoning and discussion are rare and I suspect viewed as a sign of weakness. We see this at every level from our national politics to school activities, I am right and if you don’t agree I will impose my ideas on you. This loss of civility is troubling and I think it is a by-product of communicating via e-mail or text. You cannot hear or see the other person or their reaction and it deadens our ability to be civil.
While the loss of civility is troubling I am even more concerned over the loss of compassion in our everyday lives. We have become a society of me-first. Instead of putting the greater good of society and our fellow man first, we only worry about how it affects us directly and lobby accordingly. If there is a problem it is someone else’s problem. We blame the coach, the teacher and even our own pastors when most of the time we should look inward.
We rarely worry about the other person and ask about what is going on in their lives. Failure to perform at the level we demand is grounds for immediate termination. In some cases we might have been wronged, our sandwich might have taken too long to get to our table or the teacher might have made a mistake. Those things happen, mistakes are made. It might have been a bad day or there might be a bigger underlying reason. Seldom do we take time to ask if there is a bigger more serious reason that is the compassion I think society is missing.
I know, I am being a downer, a grump and a pessimist and don’t think I am exempting myself from this at all. I may be one of the worst offenders. However, I do think we can change the course of society and it comes back to each of us individually. Each of us can choose to live our lives and conduct ourselves with compassion and civility. We can make that choice to accentuate the positive and try to lift up those around us.
We all know people who live their lives this way. I would bet they are the type of people you want to be around. Those are the role models we need to hold up and model our lives after.  Just like the main characters in many of my favorite old TV series. Maybe this world would be a better place if we would all spend just a little more time watching TV in black and white.