“I had become incapable of reflection; my mind had suddenly transformed itself from a thinking machine into a machine for some unknown purpose. To think was like setting in motion a noisy engine in my brain; and there was something there which bade me still, and I was forced to obey. My state was one of suspense and watchfulness: yet I had no expectation of meeting with an adventure, and felt as free from apprehension as I feel now when sitting in a room in London… I was powerless to wonder at or speculate about it; the state seemed familiar rather than strange, and although accompanied by a strong feeling of elation, I did not know it – did not know that something had come between me and my intellect – until I lost it and returned to my former self – to thinking, and the old insipid existence.” W.H. Hudson, famous naturalist
I have always loved the life on a ranch. I have always felt connected to Life, and its cycle. You wake up in the morning and from the moment you open you eyes, you follow Nature’s rhythm, until you retire at night, having participated once again in a ritual several thousands of years old. You learn to understand the value of what the Earth gives you. The relationship between you, the animals, the plants, the insects, and the land could not be stronger – everyone and everything is interconnected, intertwined in a deep network of independencies. You need the land and the land needs you. You need the animals and the animals need you. It is a symphony orchestrated by nature, and I, am only one of the participants. Everything I need is given to me through a complex yet simple and delicate ecosystem. The bees, the cattle, the horses, the pigs, the chickens, the flies, the trees, the sheep, the wind, the sun, the frost, the pond, the fish, the river, the frogs, the birds, the rabbits, the wolves, the ducks, and me, we all play a role and our survival is tied to one another. It is a ritual that I have always felt honored and proud of taking part in.
Unfortunately, in our industrialized society, ranching and farming have become anything but“connected to the Land”. Independently if you are a gaucho (cowboy), a rancher, or an owner, the fact that one spends his or her days working the land has no indication whatsoever of his or her relationship to Nature. A fact that even surprised me when meeting several wildlife photographers, filmmakers, scientists, and biologists – it is not because one works in or with nature that necessarily he or she is close or connected to it. The last week has only reinforced this reality.
What we used to see as a privilege – believing it was a gift from the universe to allow us to harvest the earth, we now see as a given and a due. The land is a resource to be exploited and so are the animals. And if one species is an obstacle, or a burden to our means, then we eliminate it. The more you can yield out of an acre, the better. No matter the consequences, we bully ourselves through life, thinking that it is our destiny to plow the Earth as if it was our personal galley.
Not only have we transformed our fertile lands into monoculture deserts, but we also have turned our society into a monoculture landscape. We live in a world where individuals are asked to grow up specializing in one particular thing and forget about general knowledge. As early as thirteen years old, a teen is asked what he or she wants to focus on, undermining the idea to acquire a broad foundation before deciding what to become. Every time I think of this issue, I think back of Theodore Roosevelt, perhaps one of the finest politicians in the world, in the last 200 years. A naturalist, a hunter, a rancher, a military man, a scientist, a writer, an explorer and a politician, he was solid in geography and well-read in history, strong in biology, French, and German, but interestingly enough, deficient in mathematics, Latin and Greek. What can be said of today’s political or business elite, bred to excel in one thing only.
I have never been afraid of death or killing. I have always understood the dynamics of life and the ramifications of its complexity. The idea that death is bad is only a modern invention. Nature not only does not value one over the other, but each is a necessity to the universal equilibrium. The death or destruction of one, is the birth and proliferation of another. When working on a farm, or a ranch, death is just part of life. In fact, the farmed animals have evolved into trading the assurance of their survival for the price of their death. For me, to respect and honor the food on my plate, I need to understand and fully participate in what it takes to get there. I completely understand when hunters and fishermen claim to be more in touch with nature that the city dwellers. I have had on my hands the blood of fish, game and farm animals, and each time I have felt more connected to Earth than going to the supermarket. Every time I have honored the moment, the animal and thanked the universe for its grace. It was obviously with great enthusiasm that I agreed to tag along to lasso a cow that had a broken leg and needed to be put down. It was my understanding that I was going to participate in a dignified ritual. Here I was, in an estancia (ranch) surrounded by mountains and lakes, where cattle still roam free and horses are the main means of transportation. I wanted to respect what the cow had lived for. I wanted to be there and honor her death and the legacy she would leave behind. Instead, what I witnessed, was a brutal and perverted act of barbary. From the kill to the skinning, everything was done with disdain. I found myself sad, not for her death, but for us, humans and how, even in the most remote places imaginable, where one would expect the deepest communion with nature, we have become disconnected.
And then I was reminded of the passage on W.H.Hudson in Chris Moss’s “Patagonia: A Cultural History”, when he went to London, leaving Patagonia behind, “He was outraged at the way industry and its processes had usurped nature in his ancestral homeland, and would later describe his adopted England a glorified poultry farm … Somehow, while swatting away troublesome thoughts, the idler had reached a firm conclusion, that the biblically sanctioned notion of a natural world created for man to conquer and dispose of at will was simply unsustainable. To Hudson, the natural world, the environment, was sacred and not there solely be exploited. He contrasted nature’s richness with the artificial pleasures that most men valued – newspapers, finances, current affairs, city life – and which he despised. He viewed nature as a way out of the tiresome, very English town-and-country dichotomy, and as a means to finding health as well as moral well-being.”