Cat Urbigkit: From Spring’s Awe, to Summer’s Awful

in Cat Urbigkit/Column

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by Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist

I’ve spent the last month alternating shifts with other family members as we camped on the range with a sheep flock for lambing. The sagebrush rangeland was been blessed by frequent rain and snow this spring, and conditions were ideal for enjoying the splendors of this season of renewal.

Lambing season is the most beautiful time of year in our ranching enterprise, as we supervise our fine wooled Rambouillet ewes giving birth. The ewes rarely require assistance, and our job is to make sure everything stays quiet and calm so the ewes can tend to their newborns without disturbance. 

The livestock guardian dogs take the night shift, keeping predators at a distance. We human herders spend the daylight hours watching over the flock, and directing its movements to new grazing areas, to water, and to hilltops to bed for the night. Our herding dogs help us as we backtrack the flock, making sure no lambs have continued snoozing contentedly in the brush as the flock moves.

Our primary task is to keep watch, and there is much to see. Discovering horned toads provokes a child-like sense of wonder, as does encountering pronghorn antelope fawns secreted in the contours of the landscape. We see wildflowers springing forth in brilliant bloom from hardy cushion plants, catch glimpses of sage grouse hens escorting their broods through the sagebrush sea, and laugh when we catch burrowing owls scowling at us from their burrows. 

The overwhelming magnificence of a quiet, starlit night is both seen and felt, as is bearing witness to a dark wall engulfing the horizon as a snowstorm roars across the landscape. In this environment that inspires such awe, I understand the wisdom in Aristotle’s, “In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.”

As spring’s lambing season draws to a close, my reprieve from society concludes. As though summer sun glares seem to blind humanity of its sense of awe, at my return I find awfulness in abundance.

The news is awful, from the international arena to local. Russia continues its assault on Ukraine, targeting innocent civilians. Tens of thousands of Maasai pastoralists are being forcibly evicted from their ancestral lands by the Tanzania government so that a foreign company can use the land for a luxury game preserve. Mass shootings in communities, from New York to Texas. Dozens of people are found dead, locked in an abandoned tractor-trailer in Texas. Casting aside 49 years of precedent, our nation’s highest court eliminated a woman’s right to obtain an abortion – an action in which some rejoice, though I join others in mourning.

The Biden administration is busy rolling back policies of the Trump administration, which had rolled back Obama’s policies. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has proposed that it should be able to transplant endangered species outside their historic ranges – because it still hasn’t learned lessons from the past.

Wyoming PBS’s mission to provide service to Wyoming citizens which “helps them more fully understand and participate in local, national and global events that affect their lives,” is furthered by hosting a public debate for Republican candidates for U.S. House. After receiving pushback from its decision to exclude both the public and the media from attending the event, PBS will now allow some media to be present. That’s progress, but the nonprofit failed to invite even one of Wyoming’s female political reporters to participate as a panelist. Instead of selecting just one of these highly qualified, award-winning political reporters, in a nod to establishment, the public will be presented with a man panel that does not reflect the diversity of the candidates they will be questioning.

Our politics is polarized, our humanity lacking in humaneness. Plenty of hateful rhetoric but a drought of proposing solutions. Conspiracy theories instead of truth. Too much casting blame and too little consideration of merits of ideas. Awfulness.

After experiencing a springtime of renewal, perhaps it’s appropriate that this is the way of the world as we enter summer, the season of heat, with higher crime rates, accidents, and mosquitos. 

I’m not a summer creature. While some will bask in the heat, I’ll be seeking the shade in the high country alongside our flock, joining other creatures in the shadows while waiting for the harvest, the ripeness, maturity, and the refreshing cool that comes with the arrival of the fall.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

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