Wednesday, June 20, 2012

more risks

Last week we talked about calculated risks and the potential injuries farmers and ranchers face when executing those risks.

But talking about risk without mentioning reward kind of skews the issue. I skirted around it last week – saving time and money are part of the reward farmers and ranchers receive when their calculated risks pay off.

But there are other rewards, too. Most folks in this country work directly for employers. We don’t. We set our own course. We are the epitome of the sovereign citizen. No one tells us when or how to do our work. We do our own quality control. In many ways, we are the freest of the free. And that’s a reward that only comes from daring to take calculated risks.

So there’s a big paradox. To be the freest of the free you have to risk it all – or at least a great portion of it. And if your risk doesn’t work out, even if you’ve done your best to manage it, even if you've done everything right, you can find yourself among the ranks of the former farmers and ranchers.

Risk and reward go hand in hand.

A top-of-the-head definition of risk might be ‘the potential for unintended foreseeable and non-foreseeable consequences to occur during the course of a particular action or inaction.

A similar definition for reward – so far as farmers and ranchers go – might be ‘the realization of great freedom and independence which comes only from having successfully executed equally great risks.

Hard work, solid planning and perseverance usually allow farmers and ranchers to survive unanticipated negative outcomes or events. But not always. Nature doesn’t deal in our conception of fairness. Successful farmers and ranchers understand this. Perhaps it’s why my Grandpa said “endure the bad years and enjoy the good years.”

I’ve been building fence around a quarter-section that recently came out of CRP. The quarter is adjacent to two sections which are already fenced, so I’ve really only been fencing the south and west sides.

The other day I marked and drilled post holes along the south side and started tamping in posts. But near the east end of the fenceline I got lazy and about a dozen of the post holes were off line. Only by about six inches, but it’s a property boundary, so the fence line needs to be straight and precise.

I initially decided to dig out the sides of the post holes with the old “Armstrong” post hole digger, but the dry soil was a lot tougher to dig than I expected, so I only repaired one hole the old-fashioned way. It was a lot of work. I used the skid-steer and auger to refine the other errant post holes.

I had thirty or forty posts tamped in when quitin’ time rolled around, so I called it a day and headed for the house, leaving the one hand-dug and tamped post isolated, a few hundred yards away from the others, like a soldier standing guard.

Sometime after midnight the wind shifted around to the south, wafting the scent of our cow herd, now congregated on summer pasture, toward our herd bulls, isolated in a pasture four miles away. They were behind a stout four-wire fence, as were the cows. There were two other stout fences in between, as well as my partially-completed fencing project.

But a four-wire fence won’t hold a bull that wants to go visiting. None of the four fences seemed to slow them down a whit. In the morning they were with the cows, 11 days early. Not a major problem. But there will be some early calves next spring.

During their nightime journey south, the bulls paused along my growing fenceline and milled around long enough to fill several open post holes. And they found my isolated fence post irresistible for rubbing. After all the effort I expended setting that post, they casually snapped it off right at ground level.

Experiences like these tend to keep a person centered. There’s a whole big universe out there, and it’s not really concerned about your plans.

As Stephen Crane put it:

A man said to the universe:
“Sir I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

We work with the bountiful tools nature provides. We also work with the roadblocks and setbacks she provides.

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