On the Road Out West

July 22, 2008 by archiesmith

On the Road out West


Well, here I am on my way to the first of three shows “Out West.” The first is in Bellevue, WA, July 25- July 27.  The next weekend is in Park City, UT., and the next weekend – my last for this trip – is in Sun Valley, ID.

On my way from NC to WA, I made better time that I had expected so I took some scenic roads in Wyoming and Idaho, including Yellowstone.  I was driving through Yellowstone when, all of a sudden, the traffic just stopped.  I was left in a long line of traffic, so, considering the cost of diesel, I just cut the engine and waited.  A car came by from the other direction and the driver, responding to my quizzical look, shouted “ELK!”  I thought, so what is the big deal – I have seen elk before.  When the traffic finally “oozed” forward and I got a glimpse of the elk, I realized, at once, that this was, indeed, a big deal.  Standing there nonchalantly munching grass were two huge bull elk with antlers so wide across that I could have reached out with both of my arms as far as I could and would not have been able to touch the edges.  This was the kind of scene that you would expect to see in travel posters.  The thought struck me – here those two elk were, munching grass as always, totally unaware that they were the subject of literally hundreds of photographs, and completely unaware of the tremendous thrill that their mere presence gave to hundreds of humans and especially the wide-eyed children.  Their presence created memories for hundreds of humans that will not soon be forgotten.  “Mother Nature” is truly astounding and wondrous.

From Yellowstone I headed west into Idaho and took a scenic route back up to Montana.  (To understand what happens next you must realize that I grew up on a small farm in NC and swore to my father that if I ever got off of that farm, I would never come back.  – so much for that oath – I am living on that farm today although I am not actually farming.)  The farms “out west” are so very different in some ways from those in the east. The two major differences seem to be, (1) size and, (2) dryness.  I was astounded to see great stacks of baled alfalfa hay (very valuable as those of you who have horses know) just sitting out in the open with no cover.  You would never see this in the east because the rain and humidity would quickly cause the hay to rot and be worthless.  Not so in the west – there is very little humidity.  If it rains, the hay will get wet, but will quickly dry out before decay can set in.  In the arid areas of the west irrigation is an absolute necessity.  Hugh irrigation rigs swing 360 degrees around creating a “many acre” circle of lush green vegetation against a backdrop of brown arid land inhabited primarily by sage brush.  The contrast is striking.  In eastern Washington State I encountered HUGH fields of wheat covering thousands of acres.  This is truly a mind blowing view for a farm boy from NC who rarely sees fields of one hundred acres.  These huge fields give true meaning to the words, “amber waves of grain.”

As much as I wanted to get away from the farm “back in the day,” I see these huge fields and find myself thinking how much I would LOVE to drive a combine and help to harvest these huge fields.  My father is having, no doubt, a good chuckle from the great beyond.  I wish that I could have taken him on a trip “out west” and shown him these huge fields of wheat and alfalfa.  He truly loved farming and the soil – it really was “in his blood.”   As he was recovering from his last heart attack and before his last stroke, he was out on the tractor working in the field.  He was in such bad shape that my brother-in-law had to help him off of the tractor and get him into the house.  I talked to him that night on the phone and he told me how good it felt to get dirt on his feet again.  That was the last thing that he ever said to me.  He passed away the next day.

It is a most sobering thought to realize that when the first census of the United States was taken in 1790, if memory serves (I was very young then – just kidding!), 90+% of the population were farmers.  In other words, it took 90+% of the population to feed the 100%.  What percentage of the US population today are farmers?  Certainly less than 10% and yet those 10-% of the population supply enough food for WELL over 100% of the US population.  I stand in awe, wonderment, appreciation and thankfulness at the ingenuity, tenacity, determination, and just plain HARD WORK of the entire agricultural community.  (Those who have never been involved in agriculture have no idea how much HARD WORK is absolutely necessary while being at the total mercy of the whims of nature.)  Give this a thought the next time that you sit down at the dinner table.


Driving through this beautiful countryside and seeing the wondrous, awe-inspiring, snow capped mountains, the flora and fauna of all types and the beautiful farms – it simply feeds the spirit and the soul.

As always I welcome your comments.  Just e-mail me.

More later!

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