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Git Home!


The Plight of a Ranch
Girl in Urban L.A.
By Arizona Snedden
The Snedden youth, from left, Arizona, 21, Callie, 19, Austin, 17.

"My grandpa was raised on a farm in Iowa.” He smiled pleasantly and I grinned back. Why even bother to explain that my upbringing on a central California cattle ranch was about a black and white’s shade difference from a cornfield and a chicken in Iowa.

My school in downtown Azusa is full of nice people, city people. I hesitate to bring up the circumstances of my upbringing unless absolutely necessary. It’s so unsatisfying. I can almost see the pictures that my “ranch” life evokes: A Big Valley home and me (and my female relatives) combed and immaculate, sipping wine in the sunset, or inevitably the opposite–shoveling excrement in a series of pens that look much like the dairies that they smell along the highway. I don’t even dare mention that we run cattle on 19,000 acres, lest I sound like some kind of landed baroness. In our country, we’re lucky to keep our herd alive on such a spread. A luxurious six inches of moisture a year keeps us praying that the grass will last through the summer. But how can I explain that to people who hire professional landscapers to groom their acre?

People with the kind of real estate we have must be wealthy. Should have told that to my great-great-grandparents who settled in the area with 20 head of cows so they could enjoy retirement by working from dawn to dark trying to keep their critters alive. Not to mention the succession of relatives since then, who have never managed to attain the status of other ranchers who come to mind, like Michael Jackson, Ronald Reagan, Ted Turner–you know, the other ranchers that people in the city know of.

“But does it hurt them?”

Of course having your hide burnt black by a red-hot iron hurts, and the other branding rituals aren’t all that soothing. This question never ceases to amaze me. I have spent four years trying to skirt the controversy.

“Why are you going home?”

“Uh, just some cattle work.”

I am faced with a blank stare once again. My freshman roommate never failed to add the details of what I was going home to do, much to the distaste of my audience. How strange that the concept of working with one’s family on the land has become such a rarity, let alone the shock that accompanies the fact that live animals actually are killed and eventually become hamburgers.

“What do you mean you never had TV?”

Yes, I say, we actually had to talk to each other and, what do you mean bored? Any mention of bored in our family was an invitation to weed the garden, paint the cattle guard, or you name it.

My sister Callie and I cruise around with our “Beef is What’s for Dinner” bumper sticker doing our darndest to defend the rights of food producers everywhere. If anything, we find that we value hard work and simple living. Our intramural football teams appreciated our toughness and teamwork–I’d like to think we learned that out on those long dusty summer days.

“Oh, I love horses,” people say.

I love horses too, but in a way that brings to mind the spills, near catastrophes, and inevitable battle of wills that accompanies every work venture. There’s no Black Beauty. Those calves are sure cute, when you have to feed them in your church clothes on the way out the door and there’s that blasted kelpie pup that put her muddy paws all over your boyfriends in their clean jeans. But I don’t leave out the romance. Few of my friends get to work side-by-side with the best people in the world. What some wouldn’t give to ride a big red horse atop those hills in the early morning sun. There’s nothing like riding home in the back of the truck at the end of a long day, dusty and crammed in amongst the saddles and tack. Of course I know that you have to be there to experience it. I can’t blame my poor suburbanite friends who could actually walk to their friends’ houses. Our first swimming pool was a water trough. No wonder I’m amazed at how many times people wash their hands in this city world. I can’t believe I’ve made it to this ripe old age with that kind of hygiene.

Facing graduation, I find that after having had a dose of city life, and facing a decision about my future, my heart longs for the life I was raised with. Rural folks have a common sense and earthy wisdom that is something to be reckoned with. Those who have been classed as backward, uneducated, bigoted, and close-minded have a grasp of life and liberty that has eluded the city-dwellers. I have tasted life in this maze of streets and folks and it has taught me much.

What is it that makes the lonely hills more charming than the glitter all around me? Life on the ranch is a 24-hour grind with only snatches of romance and glory. I try to present to the inquisitive, the nature of modern day ranching, that is endless rounds of water-checking, fence-building, road-mending, and those blasted “trotty hags” as my dad fondly calls those high-headed south-of-the-border heifers. But I can’t fail to express the wondrous thing that happens when people, animals, and land collide. No grind can seem to wipe away the freedom of living and working your own land, and I pray to be a part of such a life.

So, amongst all my teasing, I have sought to indoctrinate my friends, classmates, and professors with my rural philosophies. My sister and I proudly expound on the health benefits of beef to our speech classes. We seriously try to counteract the many misconceptions about people of our industry that have been spread by Green Peace propagandists and our smooth talking media. We are facing the ideas of all the world and keep on returning to the fact that our family has preserved and respected the land for over 100 years and found satisfaction in it.

“So, do you go cow tipping every night or what?”

I have yet to be able to sneak up on any of our cattle while they were sleeping.

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last page update: 04.03.05