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Girl in Urban L.A.
By Arizona Snedden
"My grandpa was raised on a farm in Iowa. He smiled pleasantly and I grinned back. Why even bother to explain that my upbringing on a central California cattle ranch was about a black and whites shade difference from a cornfield and a chicken in Iowa.
My school in downtown Azusa is full of nice people, city people.
I hesitate to bring up the circumstances of my upbringing unless
absolutely necessary. Its so unsatisfying. I can almost see the
pictures that my ranch life evokes: A Big Valley home and me
(and my female relatives) combed and immaculate, sipping wine
in the sunset, or inevitably the oppositeshoveling excrement
in a series of pens that look much like the dairies that they
smell along the highway. I dont even dare mention that we run
cattle on 19,000 acres, lest I sound like some kind of landed
baroness. In our country, were lucky to keep our herd alive on
such a spread. A luxurious six inches of moisture a year keeps
us praying that the grass will last through the summer. But how
can I explain that to people who hire professional landscapers
to groom their acre?
People with the kind of real estate we have must be wealthy. Should
have told that to my great-great-grandparents who settled in the
area with 20 head of cows so they could enjoy retirement by working
from dawn to dark trying to keep their critters alive. Not to
mention the succession of relatives since then, who have never
managed to attain the status of other ranchers who come to mind,
like Michael Jackson, Ronald Reagan, Ted Turneryou know, the
other ranchers that people in the city know of.
But does it hurt them?
Of course having your hide burnt black by a red-hot iron hurts,
and the other branding rituals arent all that soothing. This
question never ceases to amaze me. I have spent four years trying
to skirt the controversy.
Why are you going home?
Uh, just some cattle work.
I am faced with a blank stare once again. My freshman roommate
never failed to add the details of what I was going home to do,
much to the distaste of my audience. How strange that the concept
of working with ones family on the land has become such a rarity,
let alone the shock that accompanies the fact that live animals
actually are killed and eventually become hamburgers.
What do you mean you never had TV?
Yes, I say, we actually had to talk to each other and, what do
you mean bored? Any mention of bored in our family was an invitation
to weed the garden, paint the cattle guard, or you name it.
My sister Callie and I cruise around with our Beef is Whats
for Dinner bumper sticker doing our darndest to defend the rights
of food producers everywhere. If anything, we find that we value
hard work and simple living. Our intramural football teams appreciated
our toughness and teamworkId like to think we learned that out
on those long dusty summer days.
Oh, I love horses, people say.
I love horses too, but in a way that brings to mind the spills,
near catastrophes, and inevitable battle of wills that accompanies
every work venture. Theres no Black Beauty. Those calves are
sure cute, when you have to feed them in your church clothes on
the way out the door and theres that blasted kelpie pup that
put her muddy paws all over your boyfriends in their clean jeans.
But I dont leave out the romance. Few of my friends get to work
side-by-side with the best people in the world. What some wouldnt
give to ride a big red horse atop those hills in the early morning
sun. Theres nothing like riding home in the back of the truck
at the end of a long day, dusty and crammed in amongst the saddles
and tack. Of course I know that you have to be there to experience
it. I cant blame my poor suburbanite friends who could actually
walk to their friends houses. Our first swimming pool was a water
trough. No wonder Im amazed at how many times people wash their
hands in this city world. I cant believe Ive made it to this
ripe old age with that kind of hygiene.
Facing graduation, I find that after having had a dose of city
life, and facing a decision about my future, my heart longs for
the life I was raised with. Rural folks have a common sense and
earthy wisdom that is something to be reckoned with. Those who
have been classed as backward, uneducated, bigoted, and close-minded
have a grasp of life and liberty that has eluded the city-dwellers.
I have tasted life in this maze of streets and folks and it has
taught me much.
What is it that makes the lonely hills more charming than the
glitter all around me? Life on the ranch is a 24-hour grind with
only snatches of romance and glory. I try to present to the inquisitive,
the nature of modern day ranching, that is endless rounds of water-checking,
fence-building, road-mending, and those blasted trotty hags
as my dad fondly calls those high-headed south-of-the-border heifers.
But I cant fail to express the wondrous thing that happens when
people, animals, and land collide. No grind can seem to wipe away
the freedom of living and working your own land, and I pray to
be a part of such a life.
So, amongst all my teasing, I have sought to indoctrinate my friends,
classmates, and professors with my rural philosophies. My sister
and I proudly expound on the health benefits of beef to our speech
classes. We seriously try to counteract the many misconceptions
about people of our industry that have been spread by Green Peace
propagandists and our smooth talking media. We are facing the
ideas of all the world and keep on returning to the fact that
our family has preserved and respected the land for over 100 years
and found satisfaction in it.
So, do you go cow tipping every night or what?
I have yet to be able to sneak up on any of our cattle while they were sleeping.
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