As a new intern, the past few weeks have involved learning how to check the cattle, fix fences, move mineral tubs, herd cattle, participate in pregnancy checks, and the various other daily chores involved in keeping the ranch moving. In this unfamiliar day-to-day, there are moments when I find my mind wandering back to where I was about a year ago. I was finishing up my degree in Environmental Studies at Whitman College and focusing my thesis on western land management. I was attempting to understand the world that surrounds ranching in the West and how an identity can be tied to a landscape. By the time I graduated and left the academic world behind, I felt as though had I gained little ground in the reality of what I had spent so much time trying to understand. I left wanting to work on a ranch. Move away from books and put my feet on the ground.
In all honesty, I’m not sure if I’ve ever been grounded since I got here. Without immediately realizing it, I’ve started to shed the preconceived notions I developed in college of what it means to work on a ranch. On my first cattle move–one we participated in while on Chico Basin Ranch–we started out towards the pasture and I tried to keep up with the trotting. I was uncomfortably bumping behind the others who all possessed the ability to actually sit a trot. By the time we made it to the water near the end of the pasture, my entire body felt tight and compressed by both the physical and mental results of an inexperienced rider. The group split up–the majority moving to the fence lines along the sides of the pasture while the other three stayed to gather the cattle in the back. In the expansive pasture, the talk of the fence lines all seemed somewhat intangible to me as the edges were cut off by the horizon rather than the visibility of the barbed wire. I smiled when I realized that was the only thing that felt theoretical in the situation.
On my first morning of work for McAuliffe Ranch, about a month ago, we went out to check cattle. I stood in the pasture and watched the cattle begin to appear as silhouettes in the sunrise. Moving up and over a small slope in the pasture, the cattle seemed to be coming out of nowhere, rising with the day, moving across the snow lingering on the ground from a few days back. It felt incomparable. I left behind the limits I set in my college studies. Sure, I once wrote a paper about ranching and land management, but today I’m ranching and seeing the ways in which Ranchlands approaches land management. It’s an entirely new world on the ground.
By McAuliffe Ranch intern Morgan Atkinson.