Time was when I felt vaguely sorry for ranchers—you know, those guys who wear big hats, ride horses and wrangle livestock in order to put food on the table and gas in the tanks of their Silverados. The hours are long, paydays irregular, and you’re obliged to contend with hungry predators and ornerous government bureaucrats.
But then along came Cliven Bundy, waving an American flag in one hand and a pocket-sized copy of the U.S. Constitution in the other. Soon he was joined by none other than Sean Hannity and an armed militia that is anything but well-regulated. In order to avoid bloodshed, the BLM backed off and Bundy’s scrawny cows were once again free to roam the barren hills in search of something to eat.
Emboldened, the Bundy Gang then took over a wildlife refuge in Oregon—and again, the feds were forced to back off in order to avoid bloodshed. However, today—thanks largely to the fact jetliners, unlike pickup trucks, don’t have gun racks—Cliven and his merry band of insurrectionists are all behind bars. No longer riding the range but still, same as always, wards of the state.
As a freelance writer, I used to think I had a lot in common with those guys. I, too, prefer the wide open spaces. I enjoy being my own boss, because that means I can spend the greater part of my work week just goofing off. Sure, there’s no security and the pay sucks, but who cares? I always told myself, “It’s not a living; it’s a lifestyle.”
But here’s the big difference between me and the sagebrush rebels: When The New Yorker rejected my article, I didn’t stage an occupation of their editorial offices. I have never filed for an interest-free government “loan.” I don’t expect the government will start buying up all my unsold manuscripts and store them in silos for later distribution to poor people in desperate need of editorial content. Instead, I write blog posts—like this one—for free.
Happily, my son has chosen not to follow in his father’s footsteps. He majored in computer science, not English. He lives and works in California, not Utah. He does not drive a monster truck. We did not name him Stetson. Whenever I speak of the time I used to rope mountain lions in Huntington Canyon with Martin Ballard, he looks at me as if I’m crazy. Which, in fact, I was.