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Colorado voices: Living in the real world

(Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Kathleen Sullivan Kelley commentary in The Denver Post via The Agribusiness Examiner:

I thought I was alive and well in the real world --- until one day my nephew set me straight.

We were bouncing around the ranch in the pickup truck, occasionally dropping a wheel down invisible badger holes, learning new cuss words and taking notes on soon-to-calve cows when we came across Vinegar in a lazy labor.

I thought, whoa, cool, man --- Jason the teenager is going to get to see the birth of a calf! I expected an excited response from him.

Jason instead gave a bored sigh and rolled his eyes.

Mother cow's labor was too lazy, with the emerging calf's tongue blue and swollen. The calf was going to die if I didn't pull it. I grabbed a calving chain and told Jason to stay a safe distance away in case Vinegar got on the fight. Not to worry. He was content to stay slouched in the pickup, grunting out a series of pathetic moans, sounding as if he were in a much more strenuous labor than the cow.

I found a soft spot on the ground behind the cow, sat down so I could brace my feet against her hips and slipped the chain over the calf's fluid-slick front legs. I patiently waited for the next heave of ribs from the cow and tugged gently, easing one shoulder through the pelvis. I waited for the cow to strain again and then eased the second leg forward. As soon as its chest was free, the calf slid easily from the birth canal. He shook his head, wrinkled his nose and blew fluid from his lungs in a spray of warm, slick glop.

Meanwhile, Jason had melted into what appeared to be terminal boredom, sinking down so low in the truck that his eyes were barely high enough to peer out the passenger window.

Baby J. was up and tottering, making a couple attempts at a first meal. I smiled at the success of it all, quite proud of myself and Baby J. Vinegar, however, was almost as lethargic as Jason, showing as much interest in her calf as Jason was showing in her.

"Aunt Kathleen?" Jason asked. "Is this all you ever do? Drive around and look at cows?"

Well, kind of. Build fence. Pay bills. Watch cows crawl through fence. Chase them back. Fix fence. Buy lots of expensive hay in bad drought years, of which there have been a lot of lately. Haul hay. Feed hay. Bottle-feed orphaned calves. Run out of water. Doctor a wire-cut filly. Pay bills. Whine about cattle prices. Cuss the wind. Fix fence. Pray for rain. Will even take snow.

Life on the ranch in a nutshell.

"Yup. Pretty much. That's all I do."

"You don't have cable television," he complained, "and you don't have Internet access."

"Nope." (Not then, we didn't.)

"Aunt Kathleen!" he exclaimed, rising up out of his slouch to spew a froth of disgust in my direction. "You have got to get into the real world! This is not the real world."

Whoa. This world of dust and heat, volatile cattle markets, dried-up wells, high fuel prices and calves finding their legs is, ahem, not the real world?

Jason's right. It's not.

The real world is a place where key interpersonal relationships are often formed on television, cellphones, inside chat rooms and over e-mail. Online commerce is rendering irrelevant the last remnants of small-town business that Monopo-Marts haven't destroyed. We can go to church without having human contact, attend political rallies through the Web, research without a library, and go to college on the Net. Bill paying can be done without touching cash or seeing the bill.

Are we forming in this new, real world such an enormous disconnect from each other that we will lose our ability to care about each other? Such a thing is fatal in my real world.

Kathleen Sullivan Kelley (barsn@amigo.net) ranches southwest of Meeker, Colorado.