Monday, September 10, 2012

Listen to the Land

Danish Cowboy and I have these rules.  We don't talk about politics or wolves and we respect each other's outlook on life.  We balance each other by trying to bind together the "cup half empty/cup half full" dichotomy.  We have insanely different talents and interests, each of us with an independent mind to focus on those things.  I tend to be silently jealous of one of his talents, though.
 Danish Cowboy is a farmer and rancher.  He grew up on this place and has the land memorized down to the rock outcrops that must be avoided and the tendency for some fields rather than others to grow a decent crop or sustain the cattle through a lengthy drought.  He doesn't get overly excited when a certain hilltop or saline bottom grows a terrible crop and he doesn't cheer loudly when a small sub-irrigated portion of a field averages an incredible amount of bushels to the acre.  He has read the land often enough to know that this is how it is to be and that nothing will ever change the fact that sand is sand or clay is clay.
I am not of this temperament or knowledge, though I struggle to attain it.  I can explain to you in some detail the nitrogen cycle and I can follow through a plant identification chart that uses fancy names for plant parts.  I could explain to you the theory behind watershed processes and why management is best focused on the sum of the parts, rather than the parts themselves.  But to look at land with which I have no past experience and describe what I see, explain how it works, and know what a reasonable expectation for its productivity is, I can't do it.
I'm not sure if these traits are born in to a person or if they come with time.  My hope is that the latter option has at least something to do with it though I've been in the natural resources field long enough to realize that at least a portion of knowing the land is born in to you. 
What I do know is that a connection with the land can not be taught in a classroom.  Professors can talk until they are blue in the face about land management, but if you're not actually on the land, of the land, you have no real practical knowledge.
While I'm waiting for the ability to read the land to once and for all enter my brain, I'll keep on gazing over the hills mindlessly, waiting for Danish Cowboy's half of the dichotomy to snap me back to reality.      

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