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Irons in the Fire: All’s fair

Paul Marchant for Progressive Forage Published on 30 August 2016

In my world, early fall is usually a season full of optimism and hope. It’s a time when I find it easy to cast my gaze forward to a bright future on the near horizon.

Football season hasn’t quite started, so it’s easy to place my hopes and unrealistic expectations of eternal happiness and an undefeated season on the shoulders of a few egomaniacal coaches and oversized jocks. Optimism abounds when everybody is undefeated in August.

The days are still fairly long and sunny, and the nights are starting to cool off. Fresh sweet corn and new potatoes from the garden make a meal that can’t be topped. There is still good grass in the high country, and the calves look bigger and stouter each time you ride through them. The promise of weaning time is always much more pleasant than actual weaning time. And of course, the grandest of all early fall perks: It’s fair time.

At our place, the year pretty much revolves around fair time. The year doesn’t start in January; it starts in late fall when we gather the cows off the summer range. Every steer calf is viewed with a critical eye in an attempt to find the best show calves. We never found many champions, but the chase was always an adventure.

The year ends when teary-eyed kids, staring into the steely, unflinching eyes of reality, lead their steers up the chute and onto the truck for the last time.

Since my youngest son graduated from high school and showed his last steer, I’m able to relax a little bit and experience the fair through more objective eyes. Certainly, I miss some of the thrill of the competition and the fun and agonizing bonding moments with the kids, but it is nice to be relieved of the pressure of the preparation. No doubt, it’s now easier to take in the whole process from a more objective vantage point.

No matter the quality of calves my kids showed or how many times they lost eye contact with the judge during the showmanship contest, I couldn’t avoid the knot in my chest as I watched them in the show ring. It’s a feeling shared by thousands of parents at thousands of fairs, big and small, all across the heartland and beyond. As noble as that emotion may allow me to feel, its major byproduct is nothing more than severely clouded judgment.

As a parent of high school athletes and show ring kids, and a coach and judge of other people’s kids involved in the same activities – and now, as a casual observer – I’ve been able to observe how several people can see the same thing yet comprehend it so differently.

There could be some optic enzymatic explanation, but it seems that parents are completely unable to see anything but their own offspring when said offspring is involved in some form of competition. I know it must be so because I’ve experienced it myself.

I’ve also been on the receiving end of parents’ wrath when they simply can’t see that their daughter’s steer has the muscle definition of a Nubian goat or that their son couldn’t hit a foul shot if the line was right under the basket.

I’ve done some research and analysis on this phenomenon, which means I’ve spent an hour or two pondering on the subject as I was baling hay the other night. I’ve come to the conclusion that the proper dose of this mystery enzyme is a marvelous thing. It promotes loyalty and devotion and compels us to care and love and try and take risks and chances on the things and people that mean the most to us.

However, my findings in this highly scientific study also show that if the human brain experiences a slight overdose or double shot of this enzyme, the ability of the affected individual to think clearly or empathize or be anything less than stupid is greatly compromised.

You can see it at ringside of any 4-H livestock show or the sidelines of any high school football game.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that it could be more than a naturally occurring enzyme. It may be that it’s an airborne pathogen or virus that incubates over a period of time and manifests itself in its strongest and vilest form every four years or so. That could certainly explain the nonsense that we call election year.  end mark

Paul Marchant
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