It’s the third straight week of snow. The road is either drifted or an ice patch. A trip to town resembles a bumper car ride at an amusement park. Every living thing on your place is struggling, including yourself.

Freelance Writer
Gus Brackett lives and works on his family ranch in Three Creek, Idaho, where they raise cattle, ...

The only solace I find in this winter landscape is commiserating with a truck driver who slid off the highway. With some tire chains and a little tug, we got him out of his predicament. Soaked through and shivering, the trucker thanks me and says, “We sure need the moisture.”

I clench my fist and square my jaw. I take a deep breath to subside my rage. “We need the moisture?”

I understand the “we need the moisture” sentiment. We live in the desert and every drop of water is a precious, life-giving blessing ... but we aren’t growing anything in January. And yes, all that grass will be great, but my livestock must survive the winter. And do you know what else grows grass? Spring rains.

“We need the moisture,” is a lie we tell ourselves. Usually, it is a mantra to get us through a trying time, but it is a lie just the same. At the start of a new year, these lies we tell ourselves proliferate.


In agriculture, honesty is a valued ethic. But every community will define the specifics of that ethic differently. Take a horse trader, for instance. “I only sell sound horses,” or “That horse is broke,” or “My kid can ride every horse on the place.” Are those lies that a horse trader tells his customers? Yes, but the man is trying to make a living, and do you know how hard it is to sell a horse with an inflamed navicular that bucks when you first get on? Especially when his kid needs money to enter the saddle bronc riding at the junior rodeo.

Perhaps we should explore some of the lies we tell ourselves.

“I’m gonna lose some weight.” At our place, we have a spring that waters the whole ranch. The spring is developed with a 4-foot- diameter concrete pipe covered by a concrete lid. The cover has a 2-foot square access panel. An old man must get a ladder and climb down the hole to maintain the spring. A young man can hang upside down from the access and still clamber back out when done. As a young man, I didn’t bother with the ladder. However, the last time I hung down there, I got stuck. I had two employees pull me out ... but first, we negotiated a pay raise and new carpet in the bunkhouse. As I tried to shake the blood out of my head, I said, “I’m gonna lose some weight.”

This is a lie we tell ourselves this time of year. “I’m gonna lose some weight,” is something that feels really good to say. But with an inordinate amount of self-discipline and about two months of effort, you can finally button your pants without an elaborate routine. And then peach pie happens and you’re back to square one ... and sometimes back to square zero or negative one. It’s a good idea and in most cases medically necessary, but a lie we tell ourselves just the same.

“Things will slow down in the next couple of weeks.” This lie is the cousin of, “If we can just get through branding, weaning, calving, planting, harvest, etc. then things will slow down.” The “getting through” part is not the lie, it’s the “slowing down.” I have heard that life is telling yourself, “Things will slow down in the next couple of weeks,” over and over again until you die.

This seems spot on. Farming and ranching is the art of selective neglect. If by some miracle you get caught up, there will always be another project. If you’re engaged in an agricultural pursuit, you know the truth in this. You will never end a day, a week, a season or even a lifetime knowing that you accomplished everything on your to-do list. The most idiotic thing a ranch kid can say is, “I’m bored.” That is certainly an invitation to participate in a parent’s unfinished to-do list.

There are times when these lies we tell ourselves are justifications to avoid self-care. When things never slow down, we tell these lies. “That skin blemish will go away on its own,” or “I’ll learn that bookkeeping software next winter,” or “My chest pain always goes away after the harvest,” or “I don’t have time for that cattlemen’s meeting, it’s just a social, we never get anything done.” These may not be your lies specifically, but you surely have your own. These lies are procrastination techniques we use, but I think it’s time to make our physical and mental health a priority.

Perhaps we should make this new year a time for honesty. I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, but I resolve to be more honest with myself this year. An honest assessment of our priorities and making time for self-care is the most honest thing we can do ... and save the lies for the weather.