Monday, August 5, 2013

Double Down

Double down: (idiomatic, by extension) To double or significantly increase a risk, investment, or other commitment.  [quotations ▼]

In Breckenridge, Colorado tonight.  We handed over our tickets and bought a Coors and a Fat Tire under the big tent.  The air was fragrant with horse and leather and the gal handing us the beer was freckled and wind burnt.  Rain fell like a veil over the high altitudes but down in the valley, we huddled on the bleachers against a stiff north breeze more reminiscent of football season than the hey day of dog days.

 But shivering is involuntary. Inside, my heart melts like a Snickers in the sun as the Stars and Stripes unfurls behind a young woman in red, white, and blue and a high crowned hat putting her heels to a bay with two white feet.  His mane and her ponytail stand as stiff and straight as the flag as the crowd rises and hats are shed.  Its John Wayne coming back from the dead to praise our country before the National Anthem is sung in barbershop harmony, pitched low enough that no one has an excuse to refrain from joining in.  Under purple mountains majesty,  we applaud bull riders from Hawaii to New Zealand, two generation team calf ropers, and mutton busters exhibiting true grit. (Are you having fun? Do you love your mom and dad? Do they cheat on their taxes? Queries for cowboys/girls too young to count candles.)

This evening man and beast bat .500: half the time the cowboy scores against the bull, half the time the roper catches the hind hooves.  'Nobody love, Nobody get hurt,' as Suzy Bogguss sings, and we put our hands together for the riders' daring, their willingness to defy danger in homage to custom and tradition and ritual and the past and all those other words so seldom spoken without a shrug, a wink, or undisguised irony.

Scene change.
No drama here, no romance, no high peaks, no hats with high crowns and wide brims.  Just aluminum bleachers pulled close to a sales ring of sand and wood chips.  The stands are full though, of grandmas and grandpas, cousins, aunties, uncles, and other graying well wishers who haven't missed an Atchison County Fair the thirty eight years or so I've been around.  The moms and dads aren't sitting at all; some are playing hog jockey and directing traffic back in the barn....others are pointing smart phones and cameras and simultaneously shouting advice to the newest generation of their families to don t-shirt, boots and jeans and wield a hand brush and show stick.

 I'm one of the crowd recording yet another year of the unpredictable but perennial partnership of child and beast; the children of children unto the fourth generation or so  Biblically; the names change but the pedigree is plain as day to those whose charge and duty it is to carry the torch and make sure the rest of us do the same.  They mispronounce Aaron's last name: Schlooter, instead of far has our Germanic heritage declined, but they'll learn, they'll know better by the time Joshua is chasing a hog around the ring in a half dozen years or so.  The world outside will alter in ways we cannot imagine, but, unless the LORD calls us for the Second Coming, there will be Schlueters, Harms, Hursts etc. showing some critters at the Atchison County Fair in August years hence. This brings tears to my eyes at the same time it comforts me, not because agriculture is a fetter to our imagination and our spirit, but because it takes imagination, ingenuity, flexibility, and spirit to remain in this place and to nurture these roots.  To hold onto tradition and keep the door cracked open to opportunity requires sacrifice, will, flexibility and leaps of faith worthy of our pioneer forebears.  Here there is no standing pat or waiting for a gift horse to sit down on one's lap.  

So.... so why are we in such a defensive posture? Emotion is our offensive tool too, not just ammo for our adversaries.  Time is on our side; ancient time, historic time, family tree time.  If the flag waving equestrienne in her tricolor shirt is as shameless and bulletproof as Kevlar, why not those of us with the foundation, (not burden!) of generations of roots, ties, experience to our communities, counties, farms, churches, 4H clubs, and even cemeteries, for goodness sake?   

This rootedness is our shield against those who accuse us of expediency, of being creatures of 'the man', of selling our souls for the moment.  Wendell Berry may believe that success equals sellout, but the cemeteries of Atchison county bear the stones of the families of the current phonebook and school yearbook.  I'm not going out on a limb when I predict the same outcome for Page county, Iowa or Nemaha county, Nebraska or even Brown county, Kansas.  We farmers have a myriad of faults, but being flying by night operators isn't one of them.

So, agriculture my calling, farming my profession, why should we not 'double down' on this tradition: our community, our religion, our patriotism, our reluctance to be dislodged from all that we value, no matter how stodgy and uninteresting, uninspired, out of date, rigid, pedestrian and bourgeois we may appear.Why, in the name of all that is green, should we cede the home field advantage we have earned with our blood, sweat, and tears?  It is, after all, a tiny step from 'natural' to 'traditional', a distinction with no difference, from 'traditional' to 'family' , that term overflowing with positive implications. Ya want emotion?  Three, four, five generations watching the youngest scion swat a 220 pound pig with a little flap of leather as if said swine could sense that the weight of the entire family tree was behind the switch?  That same scenario played out in more counties than one can name in states all across our union?  Our agriculture is not a glossy veneer of smart phones and self steering harvesters cruising the contours laid out by GPS.  No, like the third generation mutton busters in their monster belt buckles and rattlesnake boots, farmers like us are bound by ties much deeper than technology.  Technology is only our tool, our means to accomplish that which lies lies beneath the topsoil: our bedrock, our bonds to family, to community, to nation, to land, to our calling to be stewards of the majestic bounty we care for, only briefly, before we pass it on to the next generation.

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