Heroines for Our Times

On the Range

My, but we live in interesting times.

Because of the lead time in publishing I am writing this at the end of January. By the time you read this time certainly will have become more interesting still.

Winter in eastern Montana came hard and heavy this year. For weeks I avoided going to town because the highways were slick and snow packed, the fuel in my diesel one-ton had the consistency of Jello, and my old feed trucks couldn’t take any more exercise.

When I did make it to the big city (pop.9000) I went to Red Rock Sporting Goods to stock up on Winchester magnum primers and Berger VLDs with the gift certificate my wife had given me for Christmas. To my shock the shelves were practically bare. "We have lots of stuff on order, " one of the owners told me. "But we have no idea when we are going to get it. We’ve heard some companies are running 24/7 trying to meet demand."

So I tried Wally World. Same story. I crossed the street to Ace Hardware. They had a small quantity of CCI primers so I bought them. Then I realized my concealed carry permit had expired so I stopped to visit the county sheriff. "We’re processing a record number of CCW applications," he told me.

This story holds true across the nation. Guns, especially "black" rifles and handguns, are flying off the shelves. Ammunition is in short supply and many reloading components simply cannot be found. Thank you, Barak Obama and Joe Biden, for your stimulus package!

Time will tell if this rush on guns was simply a Y2K form of paranoia or actual foresight by a populace that still retains some common sense.

Common sense. Now there is an interesting term. Does anyone even know what "common sense" is anymore? It is the sad condition of humans that we do not handle prosperity well. Given too much money and idle time societies tend to lose core values. Like most Baby Boomers, my parents went through the Great Depression and the affects on both were great. When I asked for things as a child my mother usually responded: "Oh, you don’t need that!" Her values were based on need not desire. When I was in my early twenties the government had an ill-advised plan to put our ranch under 120 feet of muddy water. Some distant neighbors were envious, thinking we would get rich. Getting rich wasn’t important to my father. "Old blue jeans have always been good enough for me," I heard him say in a rare philosophical moment.

During the Thirties my dad rode for the CBC, a huge horse operation run by the Chappel Brothers of Rockford, Illinois. The work was difficult, dangerous, and dirty. From May to November the crew rode from daylight to dark gathering and working herds of wild horses. In the wintertime my father rode a two-day trap line, dragging a dead skunk behind him to attract coyotes and spending nights in a tarpaper shack with burlap bags stuffed in the cracks of the walls. I once heard a neighbor ask him: "Johnny, do you think the young guys today could do what you did?"

He shook his head. "No," he said simply. "They’re not hungry enough."

Hunger changes values. Notably, it can change what’s considered "cool."

Last summer controversy swirled around a flamboyant evangelist who seemed as passionate about collecting tattoos and body piercings as he was about preaching the Word. I asked the young people I work with why this fellow had to have so much "body art." (I’m old school. I call it "body vandalism.")

"Because it’s cool," they said.

"When your grandparents went through the Depression they never worried about ‘being cool,’" I told them. "’Cool’ is a luxury."

They didn’t believe me. "There had to be trends and fashions even then," they argued.

"When you’re standing in a bread line or riding a railroad car style isn’t on your mind," I countered. They didn’t get it, and I hate to say it, but America could probably use a dose of hard times. I was a child in the 1950s and early 60s, long after the Depression was over, yet I don’t remember any hunters coming to our ranch demanding trophy bucks. "You can’t eat the antlers," was the phrase I heard more than any other. The lessons of the Depression were still imprinted on people. Deer were hunted for the table, not for the wall.

I have some liberal friends who like to hang out in espresso shops and health food stores preaching about natural food. "If you want really pure food you should shoot a deer sometime," I tell them. "Especially a dry doe." Their eyes widen and their faces blanche. "I could never shoot a deer," they exclaim with a tone of moral superiority.

These people have never known a day of hunger. During the ‘Dirty Thirties’ venison was a rare delicacy. A lot of homesteaders lived on jackrabbit, horse, and prairie dog. The phrase "tougher than boiled owl" has its origin in reality.

A gnawing in the belly changes one’s perspectives. The whitetail deer, rabbits, and squirrels living in the backyard look less cute and fuzzy and more delicious and nutritious when hunger does the advising.

No one wants to see hard times come. I have four small grandchildren. The thought of them suffering because of another Depression is almost too much for me to consider. At the same time, ‘The Greatest Generation’ was forged in a furnace of intense fire and if we are to retain national standards of greatness we must quit craving the ‘cool’ and start desiring the ‘real.’

A return to common sense is not just about hunting. It’s also about homeland defense. Following World War II Japanese naval commanders were asked why the Japanese did not invade our west coast following the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is said that Japanese Admiral Yamoto responded: "We would never have invaded America. We knew there would be a rifle behind every blade of grass."

Yamoto went on to say: "We knew that probably every second home in your country contained firearms. We knew that your country actually had state championships for private citizens shooting military rifles."

Imagine foreign enemies plotting a Left Coast invasion today. "We don’t dare do it," they must be saying. "There are PlayStations in every home and every citizen, even the smallest children, are armed with an iPod or Blackberry."

And of course, if a nation were to invade us from the Pacific they would have to go through Hollywood. Certainly they would never dare do that. We can sleep well, America, knowing Sean Penn, Alec Baldwin, George Clooney and Matt Damon are guarding our coastlines. We know they’re heroic. We’ve seen them in the movies! Of course, we watched those movies on an iPhone and heroes are mighty small when you can hold them in the palm of one hand.

Yes, we certainly live in interesting times. And they are bound to get more interesting still.