Michael White photo

Michael White photo

Column: fall, rush or reflection?

Columnist David Zirnhelt muses the changing seasons and the power of observation

In preparing for this week’s column, I enjoyed the change of colours and I spoke with my helpers and my granchildren about observing.

I am downtown Vancouver writing in a coffee shop, waiting for someone.

If I were home, I would be be reasonably full out trying to do the fall list of “want-tos and “have-tos”. But to be sure I would be outside for the most of the day, enjoying where I was and noticing subtle changes around me as fall advances.

One can look into the virtual world to a different reality. Some visitors to the ranch do that. Checking messages and emails, maybe researching a word or an idea or a machine or how something on the ranch works, e.g. a tractor, an electric fence.

The virtual world does not, as far as I know, give real-time information about the recent cattle coming home or the fall regrowth on fields and pastures. One has to look up to get that information.

As we travel through this big piece of landscape we call a ranch, we need to look through the trees so we can see if the cow herd is where they are supposed to be. In our case, there are only a few places on the road where we can see the pasture.

Most passengers in vehicles I am driving who are not familiar with ranch or country life will watch the road. As driver, I am also doing this. They could instead be scanning the sides of the road. They just might see a bear, moose, or a cow coming home.

A good observer will know which neighbour’s vehicle crossed our tracks from earlier that day. One might just need to know if they are home before we drive miles to see them!

Or we might want to know if a moose or bear has passed this way, or a wolf, or a big cat. Any of these observations might clue us into the behaviour of the cattle. The tracks should make us aware of their presence.

Someone a few years ago wrote that modern life has reduced our capacity to observe what is going on in nature; response to weather, human presence or climate might just be critical information for a successful ranching operation.

Technology (weather records, pictures, growth measurements) can spread information and enhance it, but the human mind is still the best “computer” of data bits. Human eyes and ears can gather information efficiently. But we have to develop that observation capacity and not dull it with excessive information extraneous to the tasks at hand.

If the cows are out of their pasture, how did they get out and which way did they go? This seems basic enough, but still not the practice of the young or those raised elsewhere, particularly in the concrete jungle.

I am guilty of doing so much that I don’t always see what is going on around me.

Granted, focus is a necessary for getting things done. However, we (I!) need to keep the lateral vision scanning what is going on around us.

Enjoying the changes of the seasons can be a necessaary upside of the workload: getting the cows home, getting the soil and feed samples done, fixing fence in areas you can’t get to in winter or spring, checking water sources for livestock, checking fall pasture for returning cows, attending fall meetings and sourcing feed supplements.

Then there are the many “away” conferences and learning opportunites that are part of farming today. Did I say tax planning before the fiscal year end? What about a break after a long summer of haying and fall roundup?

I am on break waiting to get home to do all the things I want to and watch the colours heighten, fade and fall as we dig and dry the garden’s root crops. Freeze up is coming; get the boats out of the water and the shoes off the horses.

Go on I could, but won’t. I am enjoying some of the time away. This is life on the land, in a beautiful land.

David Zirnhelt is a rancher in the Cariboo and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake Campus.

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