A while back, about the time winter was thinking about getting serious, I did something I’d never done before: I got a flu shot. Up to that point, my arrogance and my disdain for (fear of) shots had combined forces to help me justify never getting a flu shot. I know. It’s monumentally stupid on so many levels.

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Freelance Writer
Paul Marchant is a rancher and freelance writer in southern Idaho. Follow Paul Marchant on X (@pm...

First, the actual shot doesn’t really hurt in the least. It’s nowhere close to anything like the zap of a hotwire or the bite of the barb on the fence that reaches out and grabs my hand every time I open the gate of the heifer pasture. Yet I still have a serious aversion to someone sticking a needle in me.

Second, my false belief that I needed no help in the form of an influenza inoculation was really nothing more than smug hubris. Pretty much without fail, I go through a stretch every winter where I battle some sort of malady, usually of the respiratory variety which, though never too serious, manifests itself in the form of something like a head cold and nasal congestion.

You know what I’m talking about. I mean the crud that wakes you up at 2:30 in the morning because you can’t breathe, that kind of misery. It’s why, over the years, I’ve developed the habit of keeping an old bandana, affectionately known in these parts as a snot rag, in every coat pocket and on the nightstand next to the bed.

This past winter, however, especially with the little Covid-19 pandemic and all, I figured if there wasn’t a long wait, I’d make a stop at the grocery store pharmacy when I was in town and let the pharmacist on duty take a stab at vaccinating me. Heck, I needed to grab a jug or two of milk, anyway. And I’ll be darned if it didn’t seem to do the trick. Whether it was the shot or not, I can’t be certain. But I am certain I was healthier this winter than I’ve been in probably 10 years. Even with a good share of the people I hang around falling victim to Covid-19, I barely had a sniffle.


So really, in finding enough humility to allow myself to be vaccinated, I actually became even more cocky – so much so that my old, diehard snot rag habits became altered. I no longer felt compelled, every night, to stash a bandana on the nightstand. Now let me tell you, that’s a big pile of confidence. But as you might have guessed, my honeymoon with a healthy winter couldn’t be perfect.

When that stretch of the year came when it wasn’t quite the end of winter and it wasn’t quite the first of spring, and I was just starting to spend a good share of my nights in the calving pasture, I felt the first signs of a cold trying to sneak up on me. It only lasted three or four days, and it didn’t knock me out of the game. It was more like a bunt for a single than a double or a triple. But since I was having such a good year, my defense wasn’t up to par – and the little rascal did indeed end up scoring a run on me.

One moonless night, in the midst of my relatively insignificant contest with a rookie-league cold, as I stumbled out of bed to go check heifers, I instinctively reached out in the darkness and grabbed what I figured to be a trusty old snot rag. I semi-marveled at how soft and clean it felt, no doubt a result of the absence of any use or abuse it had received the past few weeks. I went about my day and the next few days, giving no further thought to my encounter with the feathery soft snot rag. I had no reason to give it any thought because, as we’ve already established, I was the model of health. I gave it no thought until several days later.

We were still weeks away from decent enough weather that would allow leaving the house without a good supply of warm clothes. At the top of my list of necessary winter accessories to cope with the cold southern Idaho zephyrs that frequent my home country is a good silk wild rag. It’s a working cowman’s ascot, I suppose. A nice wild rag around your neck is worth more than an $8,000 Russian sable hat when it comes to doing battle with a cowboy winter.

Since I knew I’d just stuck a couple of my old reliable wild rags in the wash, I set out in search of the new one my twin sister had gifted me on our shared birthday anniversary a few weeks earlier. (I’m not sure if I gave her anything, but that’s a story for another day.)

I didn’t have to look very far. I found it wadded up next to the clock on the nightstand, all soft and silky save one spot that was, by now, just a bit crunchy. Yes, it’s true. Days earlier, I’d mistaken my beautiful, bright new silk wild rag for his nasty, inbred hillbilly cousin, the snot rag.

What redeeming qualities, you may ask, could this disgusting tale possibly have? After all, isn’t it best to air dirty laundry behind closed doors – or at least behind a tall wooden fence? Let me tell you what I came up with.

As I watch the annual transformation of kids as they advance from one grade level or life phase to the next, I marvel at not only their singular and collective remarkable potential but at their naïve pessimism in what and who they truly are. And while my snot rag/wild rag analogy may not ring quite as noble as say a buzzard/eagle comparison, I think it can strike a more practical note to anyone who’ll heed the message. And there may even be more than one message.

Certainly, any of us can easily get by in life by doing nothing more than accepting ourselves as an old snot rag, never aspiring to what we can truly become. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with doing the dirty work, but it’s foolishness to keep yourself stuffed in a grimy old coat pocket when you’re meant for so much more. So don’t settle for snot rag status. Spread your wings and face the wind like the colorful wild rag you really are.