Sometimes I worry about the life my grandchildren will face on our West River ranch.
I know the land will still be there. Water may be scarce at times, but water will be available somehow.
Cattle will still be around, and probably more productive than ever if breeds continue to improve.
Grazing will still be allowed on private lands, even if cows do turn grass into fertilizer and gases. Even without the cows, grass will still turn into those things (just more slowly).
Will there still be enough people for a rural community? I don't know.
Some people think I favor bigger farms and ranches just because I don't oppose people who want to farm or ranch that way. It is their legal right. I support that freedom.
However, that does not make me a proponent of "bigger is always better," nor does it make me opposed to the alternatives when those work. I worry as much as others do about rural consolidation trends.
The quality of our rural life depends upon having a community. I see it all the time, whether it is at the funeral of an old friend, or the local graduation of his grandchild, or at a gathering for spring branding.
Spring branding is not really about that macho cowboy stuff you see on TV. It is really about a community of people sharing experiences, activities, food and life.
Having a sense of community requires people who live near enough to feel "together" at significant times. I don't know why we need it. Maybe it is a remnant of our tribal nature.
Whatever its origin may be, there is nothing quite like knowing that each member of the community will show up, shake your hand, and offer aid or condolences for each loss and congratulations for each success. Sharing is what rural life is really all about.
We may lose more rural communities if people do not begin to think about the future generations when selling land to a distant investor, a foreign trust, or the best offer. If we consider future generations at such times, land consolidation sales should decline.
The most precious item of the rural experience is the shared living with the fellow members of my community. That is the one important thing I fear my grandchildren may not have if they stay on the ranch.
Each time I see another empty rural home, the loss worries me a little, but not enough to give up.
Solutions will be found. We will search for them together.