There’s an old joke about a Congressman trying to reduce the budget,
It has come to my attention that there are thousands of cattle guards in the West. I propose that these people be retrained for more productive professions.
If you are reading this somewhere outside of the American West you may not understand why the Congressman’s comment was funny.
This is a cattle guard.
Not the boy, that’s my son. What he’s standing on is a cattle guard. A cattle guard is designed to stop cows from escaping a location by walking down the road. It’s common in the West for cattle to be allowed to graze on an open range. Last weekend I was at The Valley of the Goblins in Southern Utah.
The state park sells grazing rights to local ranchers. We ended up driving through an area where we might come around a corner to find a cow in the road. If a 2000 lbs cow wants to stand in the road there is very little you can do to move her. It would be prohibitively expensive to fence along each side of all the roads through the park, so they fence the exterior. But, how do you allow the cars to go in and out without also allowing the cows to escape? You could put in a gate, but that requires people to stop, get out of the car open the gate, drive through, stop, get out and close the gate. And if they don’t close the gate, your cattle get out. The solution?
Using a cattle guard, you can fence the exterior of the field and allow cars to freely drive in and out.
The science behind this simple solution relies on the fact that a cow cannot walk across this grate. What my son is doing so effortlessly is impossible for a cow. The cows will not even attempt it. What is surprising is that you don’t even need a real cattle guard to keep cows in. You can create a fake one with a little paint and it works just as well as a real one.
This is exactly what it appears to be, a painted cattle guard. The road is completely unbroken. Anyone or anything could walk across this with ease. That includes the cows. So, why is this just as effective as the large grate?
The cow cannot tell the difference between the actual grate and the painted one. Why not paint all the guards? Why bother with a physical guard at all?
Because it snows here. While it’s unlikely that ranchers will graze this as winter range, they might. Snow will hide the marks on the road. The large metal guard is at the perimeter of the park, the painted version is located by the ranger station for the campground, inside the park.
The cows physically cannot walk across the first cattle guard pictured, but it’s only their imagination that keeps them from walking across the painted version. It’s not a true impediment. It’s only the cows’ imagination, if cows can be thought to have imaginations, that keeps the cow bound by the second guard.
I’m sure you saw where I was going with this several paragraphs ago. We are like the cow. Occasionally there are true impediments to our success. I read a story on Reddit today about a guy who woke up at 46 years old and realized that he had wasted his life. He talked about the dreams he had at 20 of traveling the world and writing a novel. Now at 46 he hadn’t accomplished anything toward those goals in 20 years.
We all have goals from our youth that are unaccomplished, and some that could have never been accomplished. But, as I read the story of how this man had allowed his dreams to whither, I thought, “Why?”
Not, “Why did you let them whither,” but rather, “Why, now that you’ve recognized your life is not the life you wanted, aren’t you changing it?” Life goes on and drags us along for the ride. Will this man wake up at 72 and realize that he’s accomplished no more toward his goal in his 70’s than he had at 46?
But, we have true impediments. It’s unlikely that at 49 I’m going to become a professional musician, or a full time novelist. There is not enough time for me to put in the thousands of hours of practice to become a professional musician. I’m not sure the percentage of people who publish their first work of fiction after age 50 that go on to become full time novelists, but I’m guessing it’s pretty small.
However, that doesn’t mean that I need to be blocked by a painted cattle guard. I can write music. I can plink at the piano, as I’ve done. If I choose to devote time to it, I can take lessons that will help me get better. It’s not the destination that defines our lives, it’s the journey.
I can write. The odds of me becoming a full time novelist is low, but the odds of me writing a novel are only limited by my own restrictions. Am I afraid to step out on that cattle guard because it will actually stop me, or simply because I’m afraid it will?
My son is smarter than a cow. . . am I? Are you?
Over the coming weeks, you will see my attempts to cross that painted cattle guard. We all have limited time, and we each have all the time in the world. My dad used to tell me that I could do anything, but I couldn’t do everything.
Watch this space for more of anything.
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.
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