Saturday, August 11, 2007


We go to the fair...

Spent the afternoon over at the Crook County Fair in Prineville. No admission, no charge for parking: imagine that. Mostly we sat in one of the big sheds and watching the FFA-4-H auctions of lambs and hogs.

The Oregon Farm Bureau supplied free pints of bottled water to everyone. We appreciated it: the shed was warm, dry and dusty. Imagine, the Farm Bureau. Thank you, folks!

Crook County still has a lot of agriculture, so there was a lot of young people's stock. Pretty small midway, a half-dozen rides, so you know it isn't a big-time production. That suits me just fine. Lots of farm and ranch families—most of the ranching is small scale, anymore, and part-time. Small ranchers just can't make it; the cost of land, too, means high payments, and it's harder and harder to get a place going. I don't think very many people can do it. I see big new homes on maybe forty acres with fancy horse barns and a covered arena, a few cows and some nice-looking horses...and there's not way a place like that can ever be self-sustaining. Hobby ranching. There was be a fortune in horses in this part of the state.

One hundred years ago, sheep were brought into central Oregon in huge numbers. Up until then it was all horses and cows. Prineville was home to a group known as the Central Oregon Sheep Shooters Association. There was a lot of hostility between sheep ranchers and the cattle and horse people. Competition for grazing. Thousands of sheep were killed by night riders, sheep-herders were intimidated and beaten.

The land still hasn't recovered from over-grazing. It maybe never will. Over east of Prineville. on one of the tributaries of the Crooked River is a stream named Camp Creek: it's been studied and parts of it have been rehabilitated, and it's famous in books on range management, conservation, resource stability, and greedy ranching. The photos on the web site are graphic. Still, the ranchers promote themselves as the real guardians of the open spaces of the west. Go over toward the town of John Day, along the south fork of the John Day river and the river-banks are naked and muddy, cows standing in the water, not a willow in sight, and god help any fish in there. I've been on the middle fork of the John Day, too, and it's the same scene. Nobody fences cattle out of the creeks and so the water is warm, muddy and fouled. Stewards of the land, uh-huh, guardians of nature...

But. The ranchers and farmers at the fair were happy and out-going. They treated us like one of their own. Nobody looked at my clothes or the way I am, or anything; they were open and friendly. That's the way it is: we're all in this together, but we're as often standing on opposite sides of a line as we are standing on the same side.

Is that or is it not a life lesson?

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