Published 8:48 am Wednesday, July 29, 2009

About the worst time to have your fences in disrepair is when bringing in that new load of cattle. Soon as they step off the trailer, like private investigators, they’re walking the fence line, checking it out, looking for that post I busted off with the mower last spring or those four strands of barbed wire flattened to the ground by a dead tree and a nor’easter.

The danger at this point is they have no sense of belonging, no concept of a familiar place. Having nowhere to go, they’ll go anywhere.

More than once those critters have busted through our fine 30-year-old fences and headed halfway ’cross the county. A month later, we’re still rounding them up or a neighbor is calling about spotting one in his cornfield.

But, fix your fences and keep those cattle in your pasture awhile, it’s a different story. By then they’ve developed a sense of home. A place to come back to. They learn where the grass tastes best and the water runs coolest or which trees give the best shade in mid-July. They settle down, chew their cud and watch their young’uns grow up. They become attached.

I’m suggesting it’s not a lot different with us. In some way, we’re hardwired for “place.” For connection to something that will not move. For permanence.

Those settlers that took Horace Greely’s advice (“Go West, young man”) ended up stopping somewhere. Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado or California, but they stopped someplace and said “Here we will stay.”

It is not uncommon for young people (myself included) to head off climbing a mountain of dreams in search of Utopia. Someplace that satisfies and fulfills and answers those unquenchable human longings. Someplace that, when found, its discoverer would pronounce, “Ah, this is what I’ve been looking for.” But often, having reached the supposed summit, the explorer gazes back down into the valley — the place at which he started — and it beckons him back. Back to roots and permanence.

And so we choose a place, the challenge being making such choice at the exclusion of all others. We say, “This is where I will be. Among this community and these people I will exist. It is here I will build and work and serve and love. Through those trees I will watch the sun go down and in that sky I will marvel at thunderclouds. These people that surround me will be my neighbors. I will make of this land what I can and trust to Providence what I cannot. And one day having spent myself to the last breath, my bones will be buried. In this place.”

So, my friend, I hope you’ve found yours. If not, consider someplace around here. Besides, I could always use some more help when the cows get out.