*Warning* This post contains an image that some may find disturbing.
First, let me say, that I really do not know very much at all about ranching. I know little of the trials and tribulations which people who choose that lifestyle may or may not endure. I know that, once upon a time as popular culture still tells us, ranching required cowboys, that half-baked American West mythology, which was rather swiftly ground into relative obsolescence by industrial manufacturing in the guise of barbed wire.
Second, let me say, this is not really about ranchers nor ranching. Nor cowboys for that matter. Rather it is a follow up to the thought process which spawned the previous three posts. It is about, first and foremost, my reaction to something that I saw today… but more on that later.
I used to be a vegetarian, was for many years. I have known, and still know, many vegetarians and vegans for that matter. At some point I started eating meat again, and even took up hunting. I have raised and butchered animals for food. While living in Alaska, I more or less, came to terms with trapping. I do not condone it necessarily, but I understand that it is a lifestyle for some… as is ranching, or being a vegetarian.
My point in all of this is that whatever one may think, there is no singular right way. There are too many different people, from too many different backgrounds, living too many different lifestyles, for any one of us to be absolutely right. The closest one can get to that, from my perspective, is to do what is right for one’s self; be true to your own nature, of yourself and for yourself. However, there is a caveat, and a very large and important caveat. Whatever you choose to do or believe, however you choose to think, act, or live, you must respect that everyone else has those same choices. The golden f&%#ing rule, right?
My problem (one of them anyway) is that I believe that respect must also be extended to the world around us. Living in this world, for very many people, is complicated. And I am not talking first world complications of not having the newest, best whatever the hell. No, I am talking about making a living and having to make choices and decisions that will inexorably have some effect on someone or something else as a result. Being a creature of this world requires that one find a balance, somehow.
Consider the rancher, especially since I do not know much about ranching. I can deduce that ranching, let’s say of beef cattle, takes a lot of open space; hence rangeland. I can also deduce that unless one were the only rancher, one would need to delineate the ends/edges of the rangeland which one is responsible for/allowed to use; hence fencelines, previously cowboys. It would furthermore seem that said delineation would thus serve a dual purpose; keep the cows in and other things out. Of course it is not so simple. Fences need continual tending, upkeep and repair. Also, there are plenty of other things out on the landscape for which fences mean little.
Presumably, for a rancher, each “cow” has a particular monetary value. Should one wander off, say through a failed fence, or get stolen perhaps, though I expect cattle rustling is not quite as common as it used to be, or end up dead from some means or other, this would represent a loss to the rancher; financially at the least, but given the benefit of the doubt, also to one’s sense of responsibility. I get that. It is all part of that complicated balance thing.
You find the flaw in the fence and repair it, with any luck the “rustler”, is caught and brought to justice, but the dead cow, well, that is that. Except, there are things on the landscape for which fences mean little. Things that have been known to kill livestock, among other things. The predators of the natural world. And here the balance thing gets even more complicated because of all that stuff I was rambling on about in my previous posts. Let’s say a rancher, back in the day, cowboys and all, finds a chunk of land that looks a good spot to raise cattle; wide open grassland, close to the mountains and a good water source, seemingly uninhabited (I will avoid that morass for the moment…), and decides to set up shop. Just like that the “natural” balance is immediately upset. The introduction of an entirely new population, human and otherwise.
The “locals”, as it were, tend to get run out, in one way or another; hunted, persecuted, destruction of the natural habitat… etc. Deer, elk, antelope, all hunted for food, or simply pushed out to another area. The predators that have relied on those inhabitants for survival are similarly thus effected, particularly if the populations are reduced rather than just displaced. Funny thing though, the removal of those indigenous prey species was of course brought on by the introduction of a different prey species; one that is less agile and consistently constrained. Problem created, problem solved, problem created.
Wolves, coyotes, lions; these individuals are native to this land (bears too, but that is another story). They are meant to be a part of the balance. But I guess it depends on one’s understanding and opinion of balance. If, as previously postulated, one is apart from and seeking control of, the natural world, one desires a new balance; one that favors the cattle. Thus, the predators have no place and so are hunted, to protect the human interest. The balance, sorted out over time by the natural world, is irrelevant.
Now, it gets even more complicated. Looking through the lens that I just presented, it is easy to blame the rancher, for all sorts of things, given one’s inclination. Or, conversely to blame me, for all sorts of things, ignorance and bias not the least. I am not proposing that the above description is any more than my telling of a tale, based (as noted repeatedly) on insufficient knowledge. I am neither rancher, nor ecologist, but rather a thinker of thoughts and to complicate things, a wanna-be writer.
Anyway, taking this a step further, say you are out camping, if you are that sort of person, or perhaps just out having a picnic. Nature can be pesky, no? Flies, ants, mosquitos… to name a few. Most kill them mercilessly because, well, such “pests”, by their nature upset the artificial balance we desire for our given “nature” experience. How about roaches, or mice, or spiders in our homes? Sure, some take the extra steps to follow “humane, integrated pest management”, but most, well, you know how it goes. Hell, weeds in the garden hey?
Nature has this annoying way of disturbing the human sense of balance, whether on our terms or not. The strictest definition of “wilderness” does not permit the building of trails. In some places, that is not a big deal for the casual hiker. Others, well, they don’t call it wilderness for nothing. Point being, a common human perception of nature, is that is can be… irritating. To put it lightly.
So, back to the rancher… or not. Honestly I have no way of knowing who was responsible, nor why. That said, given where I was/am and given the nature of the scene, I presume that someone decided that a certain aspect of nature was an irritant and needed to be dealt with. I understand that, really I do. I may not agree, but it is not really my place to agree or not in this case.
But I do disagree with one thing, and as I stated earlier, to me it is a big thing. Respect. I respect that someone felt the need to kill two coyotes, at some point. I do not respect the, likely, un-instigated slaughter of them, but that is me, and as I said, I do not know the situation that preceded the killing. I do know that they were killed and tossed, like so much trash, on the side of the road. I disagree with the blatant lack of respect for another living creature. Two in fact.
But then, what does one do with two dead coyote? When I first saw them, I was angry. After all this I am sad and confused, because, when it comes down to it, I do not understand my place in this world. As I stated previously, I have killed other creatures for my own purposes. I would like to say that I have always done so with respect, but that would not be wholly true would it? How many mosquitos have I crushed or put to death with store bought neurotoxin? How many carpenter ants decreed to die the slow death of diatomaceous earth? How many unceremoniously trod upon other insects? Voles with broken necks or backs? Squirrels?
Respect and balance. It is f&@%ing hard to be a human in the natural world. Hard enough in the human world, but those are all our problems. Problems we made for ourselves, problems that mimic our disregard for the natural world. We could fix those, but too often we treat each other even worse. We hold ourselves in such high regard, and while I do not mean to suggest that the human race is a vile, despicable species as a whole, I do wish that we would, as a whole, stop thinking so highly of ourselves and look around at the legacy we are creating. We are not the most important, nor most special or privileged, characters in this silly play; this tragedy of our quest to tame the world. We are our own false idols. We deserve no worship. None given, none received. Our science and politics and religion and societies and history, are all in our heads. They only have meaning for us, but alas, consequence for our surroundings. We are not above, nor have any claim to, this world, nor whatever may be beyond it, if anything. We are a part of this world, why do we have such a hard time respecting it, respecting each other?