Nathan Tutchton: Reality Check

“They were born just a couple of days ago,” Randy told the group as he hoisted a tiny goat into the air. Voicing himself over the bleating of a concerned mother, Randy went on to explain how the newborn kids would soon join his functional goat herd. For now, the younglings clustered together in the barn, looking content, lazy and adorable in the heat of the sun.

Randy Ramsley is not the type of farmer you’d expect to find in Southern Utah. Short, with a wild tangle of blonde hair flowing out under his green trucker hat (which ironically reads John Goat instead of John Deere), Randy operates a 100% organic farm (although not certified due to cost) and herds goats in an area dominated by cattle ranchers.But Randy has done more with his plot of land than anyone believed possible, and attributes his success to his atypical ethic. Local ranchers tell Randy to stop his crazy methods and start living in the real world. At least they used to, before they tasted his homemade bread.

As we continued our tour of the farm, I stopped to pick up a shining object that caught my eye: a small bullet casing. I’m not gun expert, but I’d have to guess it was a standard 9mm round. What was this doing here?

“Put a kid down yesterday,” Randy stated before I could voice my question. “It had struggling kid syndrome. Wasn’t going to make it,” he explained. “I’ll tell you one thing, if you can’t handle blood, guts, and death, stay out of this business.”

I nodded silently in understanding. The decision seemed simple enough. There’s no reason to waste time and money trying to keep a sick goat alive when it’s probably going to die anyway. In the real world, death happens.

For the last few weeks we’ve been backpacking in the real world. Not the ‘real world’ accountants and business executives talk about, with taxes and mortgages. We’ve been out in the real world, where good food is hard to carry, where there’s no toilet paper, and where it gets frigid at night.

We’ve scrambled up cliffs, forded rivers, and baked in the sun. We’ve seen art 10,000 years old, tracks from beasts long extinct, and slept in places no man will likely set eyes upon in the next hundred years. Yet through all this, Randy’s words have stuck with me.

Out in the real world, every plant and animal earns the right to see another sunrise. Junipers brave hostile cliff faces, cayotes endure the torment of the elements, and birds travel miles to find food when the pickings get slim. These beings deserve life because they fight for it, every day.

So was Randy – a brilliant and compassionate man – right to shoot the baby goat? His decision makes sense logically. The goat was a bad investment. Did Randy make the right decision, shooting a newborn that hasn’t learned to walk? Who knows? Maybe it would have died anyways. Maybe not.

Or maybe, it takes more than logic to make real world decisions. Maybe they take some heart.

All I know for certain is that the real world is not as simple as it seems. Out here, where life has fashioned itself to the very sands upon which we walk, every foottfall has an impact. The choices we make need to be as thoughtful and complex as the creatures they effect. No path is without fault. Sometimes the better trail ends in a cliff. Sometimes, coincidence leads you to an unexpected place to quench your thirst. When it rains, you get wet. And when the thunderclouds roll in in the real world, you can’t simply put a bullet in their head.

Colorado Plateau 2012 students at Randy's farm.

Colorado Plateau 2012 students at Randy’s farm.

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