More Dogs on Main
July 6, 2012
Through the years, the 4th of July holiday has delivered just about anything imaginable. There have been years when I was awakened by the sound of snow sliding off the roof. On other years we’ve had perfect summer weather, or we’ve had swarms of grasshoppers right out of the Bible. This year, of course, the distinguishing feature was the drought. Weather always forces some compromises in what we do, and the drought set the rules.
Because we have limited irrigation water available, the pastures are dried out and crispy. We made the decision to let the lawn around the houses go. It’s been watered enough to provide something of a greenbelt, in hopes that it might slow a fire slightly. It seems to stay greener if left unmowed and a little shaggy. But it was getting a little too shaggy. So for the holiday, while there were a lot of people around to keep an eye on them, the horses got turned out to graze the front yard.
Horses seem so docile, but deep in those little walnut-sized brains they are always scheming. They knew that they were on the "wrong" side of the fence, and a jailbreak mentality set in. They’d quietly munch down the lawn for a while and then, for no reason at all, take off on a dead run and do a couple of laps around the house, kicking and farting all the way. That would wake up the pack of dogs sleeping on the porch, and they’d join in. The circus would last a couple of minutes, and then abruptly stop. The horses would go back to grazing and the dogs would return to the porch as if nothing had happened.
The centerpiece of the holiday is always a big barbecue with the whole family. The bonfire is the main event. This year there was no fire. The circle of chairs got pulled off to the side in the shade at first, clustered around and a table with the chips and salsa (and nothing says 4th of July like salsa). It seemed wrong. I was about to go get a wadded-up string of Christmas lights out of the garage to make a substitute fire, but instead we stuck a flower pot with a citronella candle in it in the center of the bonfire pit and gathered around it. The citronella candle was a pretty acceptable substitute for the bonfire. We didn’t need the heat, and there was no shortage of smoke in the air. I have to admit that I didn’t miss the little kids running amok with flaming marshmallows on the end of sharp sticks.
The horses were still at large in the yard and decided to join the party. One of them took a strange liking to a nephew-in-law and spent the evening sneaking up on him and gently resting its lower lip on top of his head. He’s a city kid, and not all that sure about life on the ranch in general. He wasn’t sure what to do about a horse nibbling on his ears. Somebody would push the horse away, but it just kept coming back. At one point it made a grab at his plate of potato salad.
Earlier in the day, we drove up the canyon and went for a hike to the location of a cabin my grandparents had built on one of their sheep-grazing permits about a hundred years ago. There’s really not much left to see, but the outing is a tradition you don’t mess with. On the ridge high above it, there was a little bit of snowdrift left. So we climbed up and made a snowman, just because you can’t often make a snowman on the 4th of July.
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Fireworks displays were canceled around the state because of the dry conditions. We managed to get through the holiday without burning the place down. There’s a spot near my farm where people enthusiastically pursue the national sport of binge drinking/target shooting. Some weekends there are more rounds fired there than there are in a month in Afghanistan. But in a rare showing of common sense, there were no shots fired. None. It’s actually pretty hard to start a fire by shooting, but it is possible, and certainly not worth the risk.
Faced with pretty dire conditions, people collectively made small sacrifices and adjustments to the way they usually celebrate the holiday. It took a little leadership from our otherwise innocuous governor. With an understanding of the risks (and object lessons in the form of smoke plumes on every horizon), people did an amazing thing. We didn’t set the state on fire.
Watching that, you have to wonder if maybe, armed with honest information, and with a little leadership, the American people might make some sacrifices and adjustments to how we do things concerning the country’s other problems. That would be cause for a fireworks celebration.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.