KIMBALL – As I go about my daily chores I tend to focus on tasks at hand. In doing so I’m mostly looking at problems and trying to figure out solutions. When I do this, it’s easy to see my existence as being filled with problems and not much else. If I’m not careful, I become over-focused on this or that difficulty and forget to take note of non-problems, many of which are quite wonderful things to behold and enjoy.
Some schools of thought in ranching hold that you should stock your land right up to the limit of the grassland ecosystem’s ability to produce forage without sustaining damage. This is actually not a terrible idea, particularly where rainfall and grass production are abundant and reliable.
In our part of the world, where drought is part of the natural cycle of things, it’s generally better to under-stock if you can and to try very hard to keep some grass ungrazed in reserve.
That probably sounds like it makes good sense. Indeed, my experience supports the notion. But not everyone runs on the same business model, nor does everyone have the luxury of idling grass above and beyond that which is rotationally rested as part of a long term grazing plan.
The point is, there’s nothing wrong with stocking right up to capacity. Good grassland managers can squeeze every nickel out of their grass asset while completely supporting ecosystem health and biodiversity.
I’m fortunate in not having to do so. That’s a luxury I often take for granted. When dry weather arrives, as it always does, I’ve usually got enough reserve grazing to buy some time.
That’s not all I take for granted.
I’ve been slower than I like in rebuilding my physical strength and endurance following my seven-month-plus battle with a bone infection. I took on a major fence rebuilding project in mid-June and have been feeling rather sorry for myself for not being able to work as hard and as easily as I once could.
How quickly I forget that I could hardly walk between October and March. Skilled physicians and my immune system vanquished the infection and I regained my health. Astonishingly, I took that near-miracle for granted. In the dark days of November and December it appeared more than a bit likely that I’d end up losing the foot. Now the foot is fixed and pain-free and better than before, yet I’m whining about not being as fit as I was in my youth.
The other morning, after I finished dealing with the half-dozen unexpected problems that had cropped up overnight, I developed a strong desire to do some hiking. I really enjoy getting out and walking through the prairie, it gives me a chance to closely inspect the health of our grassland ecosystem.
It’s also a great way to both stay fit and measure my own relative fitness. I was feeling great and feeling strong. The summer heat was palpable and building but not yet overwhelming. The air was close and hot and mostly still, filled with the sound of buzzing insects and the smell of July. It was perfect hiking weather.
I wasn’t really prepared to hike. I was wearing fencing clothes and work boots, neither of which is optimized for hiking. The work boots in particular would make a long hike rather painful. So I decided to make a short, high intensity hike. I was in a good location, a place with a lot of up and down and very little flat.
“Let’s see,” I thought, “how close I can come to exhaustion in 45 minutes.”
So I set out and really put the hammer down, hiking as hard as I could. Hiking is not running. There’s really no way that a person can run when navigating prairie terrain without sustaining injury. I doubt many professional runners could do so, particularly if shod and dressed as I was.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t move quickly and give the old cardiovascular system a jolly good workout.
As I hammered along I was trying to think about how to describe the experience in written words. It’s one of those things that are difficult.
I was overjoyed to find that I had a lot more gas in the tank than I thought I’d have, and that moving along hard and fast was less taxing and less painful than I’d expected. I knew I’d been making good physical progress over the last 3-4 weeks but I’d been more focused on my shortfalls than on my gains. It really felt good to have a robust throttle response.
My heart rate quickly shot up, as did my respiratory rate, but I never seemed to be able to max out, which was a fantastic thing. My legs stayed strong and my muscles seemed to relish the work without complaining. It was very hard work, mind you. My heart pounded and the air roared in and out of my lungs while sweat ran in rivulets, stinging my eyes and the barbed wire scratches on my arms. The steep uphill pitches took a great deal of effort, but there was clearly more throttle available. As it turned out, I really needed longer, steeper pitches to push toward exhaustion.
At the end of 45 minutes I’d done 3.59 miles with an average pace of 12.5 minutes to the mile. I was tired but not overly tired and there was still plenty of gas in the tank. I swallowed a half-gallon of water and washed the sweat out of my eyes and looked around.
The prairie was awash in July beauty. It was hot, well over 90 degrees. I was soaked in sweat and seeing a few stars, but already my heart rate was coming down to normal as my breathing eased. My legs felt solid rather than rubbery, and my muscles felt warm and primed for more use.
What a blessing. I’m no longer a young fellow, and my younger self would have been able to run circles around me, laughing at my infirmity all the while. But the physical stuff is coming back nicely, and more quickly than I’d properly realized. There’s plenty of room for improvement and I’ll keep working on that. But compared to a couple of months ago? Wow.