Earlier this month I had the opportunity to travel to Elko, Nevada to take part in the 33rd annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. For those of you who know me, it will not come as a surprise to find out that my participation in the Gathering was not of the poetic or musical variety, though at one point in my life I was an aspiring fiddler. Unfortunately, any talent that I had in that area has long since faded. My participation at the Gathering was as part of a four person panel to discuss conservation in the West and strategies for keeping “working lands in working hands.” In preparing for the trip to Elko and my presentation I did not really know what to expect other than that the trip would be a unique experience.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to take part in many unique experiences over my life. Each of these experiences has helped to shape who I am and how I approach my life. They have taught me valuable lessons, introduced me to several interesting characters and in many instances pushed me beyond my comfort zone. In reflecting on my experience in Elko, I realized that all of my experiences are intrinsically tied together by one commonality and that is culture. Cultural variances enrich our experiences and if we let them, they can often help us find solutions to issues with which we are struggling. The Savory grazing methods are an example of this. This is not meant in any way to be an endorsement of Savory’s teachings but instead an example of how cultural differences can bring forward new technologies, methods, approaches and solutions. Unfortunately, in our increasingly polarized society instead of taking the time to find commonalities amongst divergent cultures and finding ways to learn from them we choose to either dismiss them or define them as adversarial.
For those of you who are still reading, you may be wondering what all of this has to do with the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and a presentation on conservation. I think the answer to that question is quite simple. The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is a celebration of western and cowboy culture and conservation is about preserving something that is worth preserving. This year the Western Folklife Center – the entity that organizes the Gathering – partnered with National Public Radio to share the stories and the richness of western culture with new audiences. They did this largely through the most common aspect of any culture – story telling. In my opinion, we need to do more to share our western culture and values with others and we also need to be willing to work to find commonalities that can bridge cultural gaps and break down barriers to collaboration. Story telling – through poetry, music or any other form – is a great medium to communicate with others (especially those with which you have very little in common) in a way that can overcome misperceptions. Upon returning from this experience, I realized that like the Western Folklife Center, CCALT is working hard to bridge cultural gaps, break down barriers and celebrate our western heritage.
CCALT was likely the first land conservation organization ever created with the purpose of conserving land by focusing on the people who manage the land. Since our founding we have been working to bridge cultural gaps and break down barriers that have long existed between the conservation community and the agricultural community. The success of our conservation philosophy and bridge building efforts has led to the creation of five other conservation organizations and helped other conservation organizations understand that our nation’s farming and ranching families are truly our country’s greatest conservationists. Our authenticity in conveying the stories of our farming and ranching families is our greatest asset and we are grateful for the opportunity to share these stories with others and do our part to carry on our great western heritage and culture.