What's Tony Thinking

A Ranch Rodeo and Trump’s 4th


Last weekend we went to the Ranch Rodeo in Joseph. Teams of ranch hands from thirteen area ranches competed. 

Later this month, the town will host a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) Rodeo for the annual “Chief Joseph Days.” What’s the difference between the two?

The Ranch Rodeo is working cowboys and cowgirls (10 of the 39 contestants were women, one in the photo to the right) from working ranches. The ranch hands were doing what they do on the job. Cutting cattle (separating from the herd). Roping and tying down animals for “doctoring” and branding. 

The PRCA Chief Joseph Days Rodeo is a big, booming noisy affair. It is akin to other professional sports these days in weaving together themes of masculinity, the military and nationalism. The constant thumping background music is cranked up another notch or two for the big one, the bull riding competition. A big screen alternates between re-playing highlights and videos celebrating the U.S. military. 

By comparison, the Ranch Rodeo is a quiet affair. Occasionally you would hear one of the ranch hands making a staccato (hep-hep-hep) sound at a cow. Every now and then an unhappy calf bleats or a horse whinnys. 

The horses are the real stars. After a calf is roped, a roping horse slowly backs up to maintain the tension on the rope, keeping the calf in place. Meanwhile, the cowboy dismounts and moves to tie down the calf. Other times the horses, working with their riders, execute wheeling or feinting moves to cut off a steer or move one along. 

The contrast between the Rodeo Circuit (PRCA) Rodeo and the local Ranch Rodeo is telling. Simply seeing skilled athletes compete is no longer enough. Audio and video act as steroids and mix the brew of sport with militarism, nationalism.  

Like President Trump’s 4th of July affair.

Trump’s July 4th event (“We’ll have tanks!” “Military jets will fly over!”) is more fantasy than reality — not to mention its disturbing resemblance to similar displays put on by autocratic regimes across the globe.

We don’t seem be much interested in reality these days. Which is what made the Ranch Rodeo refreshing and absorbing. Un-hyped actual reality not “reality TV.” What the preference for hype and fantasy over more unpretentious, human-scale reality tells us about our country is as worrisome as it is revealing.

In other local news, there’s a good project going on at the headwaters of the Wallowa River. 

The east and west forks of the Wallowa combine about a mile (south of) above Wallowa Lake. Over the last 50 years the river has been channelized for flood control and development. But that (and a dam at the foot of the Lake) meant an end to what had been a prolific salmon run and major food source of the Nez Perce.

Now the State of Oregon and Nez Perce Fisheries are undertaking an ambitious project to re-braid and spread the river out, as it was in earlier times. The single flow will be distributed in multiple woven channels. The new braided river will restore salmon spawning habitat with quieter waters and gravel runs. When the dam at the other end of Wallowa Lake is rebuilt fish ladders will be added to it for the first time.

So, in theory, sockeye and chinook salmon will return to Wallowa River and Lake as to other parts of the Grande Ronde/ Snake system. But those fish will still have to overcome the four dams on the Lower Snake as well as the many on the Columbia.

Still, it is a step — and not a small one — in the right direction.  

While we’re on the good news, let me report on the barrels at the bottom of Wallowa Lake mentioned in an earlier post. While labeled as containing toxic weed killer, the barrels held only lake water. Nothing toxic.

A happy, not-Trumped-up but truly patriotic Fourth to you!

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