I, on the other hand, have always tried to appreciate such jaunts through the West’s high-desert cow country. Is there a scene that gladdens the heart more than little bunches of cows scattered around the wide valley bottoms picking at the pockets of white sage and native bunch grasses? There may be, but it doesn’t suit my purposes, and it wouldn’t fit my story.

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

My last trip to Boise served me a new dose of perspective. It was two days before Christmas. I made the trip up in the early, dark hours of the morning. The purpose of my trip was to watch my youngest son be sworn into the U.S. Army.

It took me by surprise when he announced to us that he had plans to join the military. I knew he’d talked with the army recruiter when the recruiter had visited the high school, but I figured that was as much to get out of math class as it was to “be an army of one.”

I’ve never mistaken my teenage son for a deep thinker, and his answers to most questions usually include a shrug of the shoulders and a grunt that sometimes resembles “I dunno.” While we didn’t get a lengthy discourse on his decision, we were able to ascertain from him that the choice was made after some serious pondering and prayer.

A sense of duty, honor and respect for his country seemed to be the guiding force behind the decision. Sometimes parents will get validation that they’ve done something right. For me, those moments are extremely rare.


Too often, I realize that my kids have turned out OK in spite of me and not because of me. Like a diamond, sapphire, a perfect heel loop or a grand champion steer at the fair, the rarity of these moments is what gives them their value.

The swearing in ceremony itself was fairly unspectacular, as a handful of 17-year-old to 21-year-old Idaho kids in jeans and T-shirts raised their right arms and swore to defend the Constitution of the United States.

The drive home was mostly a silent one, as my son, worn out from the pressure of the experience, slept most of the way home. I, however, was fully awake and seemed to experience the drive with a different view – through camo-colored glasses, I guess.

As we drove up out of the Boise Valley and entered the wide expanse of the high desert country of Elmore County, I could see a couple little herds of antelope, not 100 yards off of the freeway.

I could look to the north and the south, and every few miles I could spot a little cloud of dust that followed a random group of white-faced or black cows trailing to water. I thought of the people I knew in that part of the state and wondered whose cows I could see.

The people who ranch in the unforgiving Owyhee country are tough, strong-willed salt-of-earth kind of people, the kind of people worth defending. It struck me that my son now had the calling to do just that – to defend this land and this people.

I-84 leads south and east past Glenns Ferry and into the Magic Valley, with its hayfields, gigantic dairies and thousands upon thousands of acres dedicated to growing Idaho’s famous potatoes. In the dull, brown dry cold of late December, this country never seemed prettier or more valuable, even precious, to me.

As different as the dairy and dirt farmers are from the buckaroos of the Owyhee, they all are part of perhaps the grandest experiment and success story in the history of human endeavors. I was overwhelmed that I get to play a part in that story.

Feeding the world from a place where I can succeed or fail as many times as I choose is indeed a grand privilege. I was overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude to those who choose to prepare themselves to possibly make the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that this can all continue. I know a lot of them.

My father and father-in-law served in the Army in the ’60s, my uncle in the ’50s. My grandfather served in France in WWI. My cousin was in Iraq. As a Marine, my soon-to-be son-in-law saw his good friends die in Afghanistan.

I thank the Lord that there are people willing to do these things so that so many of us don’t have to do them for ourselves. Our debt to them can really never be fully paid, but we can make regular installments toward that debt through any kind of service we can render.

Individual integrity and selfless service is the foundation of the American experiment. To quote Ralph Moody in his book Riders of the Pony Express, “One of America’s strengths is her ability to produce men capable of meeting every national emergency.”  

It doesn’t have to be in the trenches in France, the heat and terror of Iwo Jima or the deserts of the Middle East.  It can be in a PTA meeting or as secretary of the grazing committee.  

As long as good people do good things, we’ll be able to extend the legacy of goodness so we can continue to protest in New York and St. Louis, raise hogs and corn in Iowa or rodeo in Montana and Texas.   end mark