By Troy Bishopp
French writer, Antoine Rivarol said, “Heavy hearts, like heavy clouds in the sky, are best relieved by the letting of a little water.” I have seen plenty of this human rain in the most telling and unexpected places. I’m also not ashamed to have contributed to the water table. Frankly, I don’t know how you can suppress this pressure of emotion. My wife says it best, “Sometimes you just need a good cry.” A good cry? Well, the tear ducts must be pretty well cleaned out after a year like this one.
I’m not too particular or cognizant about what sets me off into the land of weepiness. I cried in a dairy crisis meeting, I shed tears when my daughter graduated from Elmira College, I wept at a Memorial Day service, I caved from emotion after helping a cow with a difficult calving and sobbed during a speech at Toastmasters. I can even snivel when I’m spitting mad. I don’t remember being in this watershed capacity when I was younger, so what has happened to me? Is it my age, gene makeup, daughter’s influence, experience or is it my own agricultural Green Mile and the helplessness I feel from time to time? There’s probably a government study on this somewhere.
My speech coach, Fred, encouraged me to find a way to show emotion and passion. “No better way to impact a story or inspire a group than to make people cry by crying yourself,” says Mr. Orator. Boy did that statement bring back a stark memory. There I was on stage, a total greenhorn, at the Great Lakes Grazing Network Conference in Shipshewana, Indiana sharing the spotlight with Dr. David Zartman, Janet McNally, Ben Bartlett and sitting next to me was the famous Bob Evans. What a moment for an unknown grazier from New York until I happened to look out over the crowd of some 600 people packed into the auction facility. About that time, Mr. Bartlett took me aside and said, “Give the audience something to think about instead of the normal nuts and bolts grazing message.” Ok, I have just the quote for making farmers reflect on a different future.
I stepped up to the mike and read from a 3×5 card with this quote scribbled on it: “My father walked an empty, desolate barnyard, listening for the long – ago songs of life. He heard only a loose sheet of tin roofing curled over, scratching itself distractedly in the wind. He cried. He cried because he no longer had the energy to keep the barn full of life himself. He cried because none of his children were willing to fill it full of life again. He cried because he could not die here on the farm amidst life, as his forbearers had been able to do,” by Gene Logsdon.
As soon as I uttered the words, “my father” I felt sick. I stuttered, choked and my eyes went blurry as I tried to press on knowing I was citing my own worst agricultural nightmare. I stood there at that podium weeping for what seemed like hours. Some kind soul handed me a tissue and in that moment of grief I glanced at the front row to see all the ladies crying and even saw Mr. Evans with his handkerchief. I don’t remember much of my speech after that but when an Amish pastor came up to me and said, “Your exhibition of emotion was a powerful force, you should be proud.” Wow, all that blubbering and I made a difference. I don’t want to go through that again!
Well, the eyes welled up unexpectedly again last week in front of a small group of conservation folks, educators and farmers. We were summing up our experiences of a week long holistic grazing training together. That rainy morning before the meeting I was slogging around my pasture setting up temporary paddocks when it happened, I had a big picture moment and boy did it hit me hard. As I opened the gate at the very top of the farm and let the steers happily charge into the lush grass, I had an epiphany of conscience about my role as a farmer and conservation professional. I grabbed my scratch pad out of the truck and began writing profusely about things I wanted to share with my new found friends. Little did I know the effect of such thoughts.
I started out by saying how much I appreciated the group for pushing me to become a better manager by thinking outside the box and not working in vain for advocating on behalf of grass-based agriculture. It seemed painless enough, until I painted the scene of moving those cows. I absolutely crumbled thinking about my grandfather toiling over this land three generations ago, as I asked, “Does the public realize and appreciate what we farmers go through to feed this nation?” I wiped the tears and fired again, “Standing on my hill overlooking the Hudson Mohawk Watershed, I wonder if you folks realize the sheer responsibility and power you have in protecting our natural resources for the next generation?”
This simple question brought Stacy, Jess, Jim and others to tears. Maybe it was the validation and gratitude for a life long passion that hardly gets noticed in conservation program bean counting or simply a deep appreciation of nature and life. I said I was sorry for making them cry but in that moment of awkwardness from blowing noses and wiping eyes, I realized what my wife was saying about the good cry analogy and relieving the burden penned up inside all of us. I’m reminded of Charles Dicken’s quote, “Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts.” Can you pass the Kleenex please?
Troy Bishopp, aka “The Grass Whisperer” is a grass farmer and grazing specialist for the Madison Co. Soil and Water Conservation District and the Upper Susquehanna Coalition in central New York. To read more of Troy’s essays, visit http://www.thegrasswhisperer.com/
The above article was first published in Lancaster Farming on November 7, 2009 and is reprinted with permission.