Community Philosphy Blog and Library

HOMEGROWN Life: A Trip to Remember


Vacation is something that I have a hard time coming to terms with, something that creates a great deal of confusion.

I recently returned from a road and camping trip that began here in West Missouri and ended up visiting my wife’s sister’s family in the Puget Sound of Washington. It was in most ways awe-inspiring and life-changing. I suppose in some ways it was depressing. Whatever it was, in the end, I’m still working out. But let me say a few things regarding the perspective of a place-based farmer that cares about the complicated nature of balance between people trying to feed ourselves while leaving room for the non-human creatures with whom we share the surface of our ever-evolving home.


I haven’t had a bona fide vacation since the summer of 2011 (a trip with my family and parents to Yellowstone National Park), so this was a big deal. This is not really a complaint, more of a data point. My wife and two sons and I had been saving pennies and quarters and random dollars in a “trip jar” for about two years so we could make the trip happen. We pitched our tent and made most of our own food, traveling light though covering many miles.

As an overview, we saw the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Mesa Verde National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, Crater Lake National Park, the Oregon Dunes, and more. My wife, my hero, planned most of it and made the trip possible. If there’s an award out there for someone who inspires and takes care of what the family needs to ease tensions and feed the soul some nature-based nourishment, please let me know. I’d like to nominate her.

Anyway, back to the trip itself. Traveling through a dryer-than-seems-possible place to practice agriculture always provides interesting fodder for the farmer-minded. Colorado and Utah and Nevada, though mountainous, were full of agricultural activity. There were crops and cattle and sheep, seemingly larger than life attempts to make hay to last what have to be long and brutal mountain winters.

Mostly, I was shocked by Mesa Verde and the history of humans inhabiting and making a living in the cliff dwellings that dot the region. Before we visited, I had assumed wrongly that the agricultural practices would have occurred in the bottoms near creeks or streams. Instead, the farmers lived in the cliffs and climbed directly up to the blufftops (the “Mesa”) to tend their crops. They dryland farmed using innovative practices that certainly conserved water and directed it to the corn, beans, and squash the farm families depended on. This in an environment where trees can’t survive, other than some scrubby cedars and shrubs with limited height. To be honest, it was the desert. And while farming has long-occurred in the desert, it always boggles my Midwest/Upland Southern mind.


Couple that shock at lack of moisture with an “infrastructure” of vertical rock-climbing to go too and from the field, and it becomes obvious why we humans can collaborate and figure out how to occupy any ecological niche within the planet. We’ve got a toolbox, including farming, that helps us to engineer ways to make a living in almost any climate. While it might be a tenuous and fragile living (subject to changes in rainfall patterns and climate), we humans can figure out a diversity of strategies for hammering out communities. I say it again: Amazing, mind-blowing, inspiring, etc.

Now I’m back home, experiencing historical June/July rains and flooding. I’m still trying to sort out the details of how the travels have reinvigorated and changed me. Had to get back to work, write grants, sheer sheep, sort cattle. And all I can think about is how blessed we are to live in a society where we value special places enough to preserve them as shrines to visit.

So get out there, fellow citizens. Pitch your tents somewhere interesting. Look at the stars, smell the air somewhere. Watch the fireflies. Visit the places our ancestors have set aside for us to enjoy. We helped to invent the National Park system a few generations ago, and we need to keep them as sacred and protected places. They are our own domestic temples of inspiration. Farmer or non-farmer, country person or city person, get out there and see something new. It might change your life. If nothing else, it might confuse you in a very positive way.


HOMEGROWN-bryce-oates-150x150Bryce Oates is a farmer, a father, a writer, and a conservationist in western Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multi-generational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.


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