Monday, December 29, 2014

Peace on Earth?

It’s been great having the kids home. They got in on vaccinating heifers one day and have been helping feed cows. The cattle are in several different groups so we load two trucks and divide and conquer each day. 

We made it to two Christmas productions at our lovely old theatre in Idaho Falls and we’ve had fun playing games and digging deep into conversations in the evening. Mark is working on a puzzle of the nativity and is finally getting down to the fun part. I wonder if he needs my help now? We hosted Christmas dinner with a giant 4-H ham, garlic mashed red spuds from the garden, Becky’s famous corn casserole, and six kinds of pie.  

Seth gave me a book called Beef, The Untold Story of How Milk, Meat, and Muscle Shaped the World (more on that later) and a writer’s dictionary of quotes. But one of the best gifts from him was an article he forwarded to my email on the state of violence on our planet entitled The World is Not Falling Apart by Steven Pinker and Andrew Mack. It’s on a site called for anyone interested in reading the entire essay. Pinker and Mack clearly make the case through various well documented graphs and charts that violent acts are far fewer today than in previous times. No matter how many “hell in a hand basket” discussions we hear around the dining table, it’s just not true.

And of course each life is precious and I would never mean to lessen the horror of any one beheading or senseless police officer homicide or school shooting, but here’s the truth:  

Homicide rates, even in countries such as Mexico and South Africa, are sharply down. Crimes against women and children are down. The adoption of benevolent governance continues a steady march across the globe with most nations now operating as democracies. Even Russia and China are notably “less repressive” than in earlier times. Genocide and other civilian killings “point sharply downward” and armed conflicts by major powers are non-existent.  

So why do we convince ourselves it’s so bad? Probably because news is largely made by bad news, and with social media it’s all at our fingertips. And clearly violence sucks people in. 

I even think it seems worse precisely because we have it so good. Any atrocity is hard to stomach when avoiding gluten or taking the stairs instead of the elevator are the challenges of the day. 

Heck, even climate change seems at bay since we got a solid snow covering and frigid temps. Gotta love a white Christmas! 

waiting for company to arrive

they make even loading trucks fun

nope, not a work day

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

An Unlikely Leader

What does it mean to be a leader? That you aspire to political office? Class president? The back-to-school chairman of the PTA?

I never thought of myself as a leader, but somehow, at what some misguided folks might call middle age (!), I find myself in the current year’s class of Leadership Idaho Agriculture. Thirty individuals from a diverse background, from farmers and ranchers and industry folks (grain elevator, cheese production, seed supplier) to resource managers from the BLM and NRCS, a nutrition professor and a homemaker/agriculture advocate, we come together four times, over four months, to learn a variety of skills to “lead.”

I’ve been giving that word lots of think time. I ran it by Mark in our winter-time routine of early morning discussions in the dark before we get out of bed. This morning I asked him how he defined a leader. As is usual, he mostly listened and I mostly talked. So here goes:

A leader can be anyone in any circumstance. It’s not only a calling for those with an outgoing personality or the gift of gab, the extroverts that are so highly celebrated in our western culture; it's a calling for us all.  

It’s the middle sister who always plans the annual family campout, making sure the details are covered, right down to the matches in the glove box. It’s grandma, who provides the calm voice of reason during family squabbles. Or the ranching son who returns from college to “lead” dad and grandpa to a new way of doing business.  It might even be a ranch wife who turns her love of the land into a blog about the ranching life. 

Think of those around you who don’t necessarily step into the spotlight, but inspire others. Their influence is sometimes felt rather than heard. They keep calm when others panic. When others slide into apathy, they stay engaged, no matter their age or persuasion.

It starts with the oft quoted belief, “if not me, then who?” It is sound judgment practiced from a base of knowledge and experience. It is bravado, the courage to speak your truth even when it’s risky to do so. It’s valuing that even though you’re not the one to lead the charge up the mountain, you might be the one who poses the question at a contentious water meeting that finally turns the conversation in a constructive direction.

In every lifetime we get plenty of chances to lead. Maybe boiled down to its very essence, it is our higher self leading our unconscious, rote self, every single day.

I say we can all work on improving our leadership skills, and be a force for good – in our careers, in our families and communities, and in our sometimes scary and fragmented, but increasingly “connected” world.

Who’s with me?

A big part of Leadership Idaho Agriculture is learning about various food industries in the state:

washing and sorting potatoes in Pingree
photo by Jen Root

Garrett and Jeremey pose by chick peas ready for shipment in Lewiston

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Laying Low

Oh, December, how beautiful you are. I’ve been fighting a headache today, lying around on the couch indoors. My fogginess lifted this afternoon, enough to get me outside, and what a perfect December day it is. Crisp and cool and still. And the colors are lovely, if you can call them colors, just shades of brown and slate. Have you ever thought how the colors of a season match the activities that we associate with that season? Reflection and cozying up in winter, and by spring we’re running here and there, as crazy as the riot of color all around us.   

We had a lovely Thanksgiving holiday with the kids. The November college break is especially fun because they’ll be home again in another three weeks for Christmas. No sad goodbyes this time around.

Callie is helping Mark sort yearlings today. I’m quite sure she’s the only yoga teacher that works cattle on her off-days. I am enjoying going to her classes. Such a change of pace from ranching activities (or not depending on how you look at it, but that’s another blog post). She’s a very gracious teacher. Isn’t grace a wonderful word? In all the vicissitudes of life we should pursue grace. It fits every situation I can think of.

If December is so great and the kids will be home soon and Callie is here for another month, why am I so melancholy? Is it okay to not analyze it and just lay low and know that I’ll feel better soon enough?

I went into Walmart yesterday and Christmas has absolutely exploded there. With - you know it’s true, every cheap thing you would ever want to give, display or eat. I walked around and repeated to myself how these folks, pouring over newly displayed goods, were spiritual beings just like me and didn’t need my poor attitude. I wasn't very successful at it, I’ll admit.

Then as I was leaving the store I saw a friend who put me right. She has a ton of stuff on her plate right now, way more than me. She explained her plight and assured me there wasn’t a thing I could do for her. We laughed together and exchanged a touch and a smile. I hope it gave her a lift, I know it did me. 

my girls, good walking companions