every which way the wind blows
I first learned how to raise cattle from a cattleman that learned how to farm from his cattleman father. Both of them farmed the same land, knew the same sky, winds and prairie grasslands. There was experience and knowledge of place shared between generations. He gave me a few seeds to take with me into my own life. I planted those seeds. Some grew, some didn’t. But I’m glad I tried planting them all.
A few years later, I was on a farm tour listening to a presentation by a farmer who was sharing his knowledge. He spoke of things I knew not to be true in my world, but they were most certainly true in his. He raised a large, continental beef breed that was sold into the ‘system’. These continental breeds are, by design, meant to grow big fast with large inputs of grain. He was right, raising his cattle on grass would mean huge losses for him and a “deconditioned” animal that wouldn’t fetch as much when it came time to get them to the feedlot.
But, see, he didn’t recognize the chinks in his story. To him, because his world was one of this breed in this system, he spoke as if his truth was the truth. He spoke what he knew to be true not understanding that there are worlds vastly different outside of the one he was operating in.
I have so many stories like this that I could share. A large Instagram farming account tells their “followers” that you have to feed a cow grain. Yes, this is true in their situation of milking throughout frigid winters. Is it true if you don’t? Or another account tells people that if you don’t breed your cow every year they will get fat and this can be very problematic for health and fertility. Yes, this is true if you’re grain feeding them. What if you’re not?
I’ll let you in on a conversation I recently had about meat rabbits. It could just as easily have been a conversation about what to feed my children, what to put into my body, or how I should cut my steak. No matter, same framework for it all. Okay, come on in, pull up a chair:
She: I raised meat rabbits without kibble once. I would never do that again. It’s a good way to kill them.
Me: They died?
She: All of them.
Me: How did they die? Did they starve?
She: They died from me feeding them grasses from around the house and not feeding them kibble.
Me: What kind of grasses? Just grasses? Did you give them other forages? What were they eating along with that? Is that all they ate? Did they get proper roughage as well like sticks and twigs? How long were they on kibble? Did you just stop feeding kibble suddenly? What were their living conditions like? What breed were they? How much were you feeding them? How often did you feed them? Did they just all die at once? Did they have any other symptoms? All of them died? How long were you raising rabbits? Did they die suddenly? Were they declining over time? Were they sick?
You get the idea. She didn’t have answers for most of my questions which made me wonder what it was that made her make such a certain declaration in the first place.
I’m talking about farming stuff here, but this isn’t just about farming stuff at all. We hear it everywhere. In nutrition circles, we are told we have to drink orange juice to heal or that we should eat everything to prove we are healthy. A healthy body need not limit anything after all. Never mind the fact that most of what’s on offer isn’t even food. We are told that we should exercise this way or approach our health decisions that way. We are told what a healthy relationship looks like. We are shown examples of success and told, “See there! They got it figured out. Now just do that.”
Context is everything. In not one of those above situations are you given your answer. You are shown a person who may have figured out an answer for themselves (or is pretending they have after reading what someone else is pretending to have figured out). But don’t confuse that with an answer. Not a real answer. Not answers for your specific issues or your specific life. None from me. None from her or him despite their amplified voice or how assured they come across.
I never take other people’s answers as solutions to my problems. I am grateful and respectful for their experience and wisdom, but I know that all of our situations are unique and nothing should be taken as a strict set of instructions to follow. Not a recipe. Not a practice. Not a kiss. All of those are uniquely yours to figure out. You are supposed to figure them out. You’re supposed to listen to that gnawing in your gut that says, “Hmmm… I’m not sure”.
For every solution offered, unleash a tsunami of questions. I do. What are the particular circumstances of that person’s situation? How are yours different? How is your body responding to the solution offered. Are you lit up? Does it feel good and exciting or do you have doubts? Is there some resistance somewhere in you?
I’ve noticed that when I share something on Instagram, I will often be asked, “Why don’t you do X instead”? Or, “I heard you have to do X or else (insert mega calamity here)”. We do things the way we do things because they work for us. It’s as simple as that. When I’m told that something can’t be done a certain way, I don’t think, “Awww shucks, there goes that plan.” My immediate reaction is “Why?” And I mean it. I want to know why and as people start explaining their rationale, I can start seeing where our circumstances diverge or areas that I had never considered.
I never take an answer as gospel. We are all limited beings with limited capacities. I will never experience or know all of the possibilities of what could be in this life. I only know my own. That’s why sharing with each other is such a profound gift to us all. But if I had listened to what I was told was possible when we started farming, I would have never solely grass fed our dairy cows. I would have never figured out how to grow fruit without sprays and can it without sugar. I would never have been able to raise our animals without drugs and then learned how to harvest and butcher them ourselves. I would have never tried to raise meat rabbits without kibble. In all of those circumstances, I knew of nobody doing that, only people who told me I couldn’t.
I deeply respect and have learned much from other’s generous sharing of their knowledge. But in the end, we make our decisions and that’s that. This is your confidence muscle, honed with determination and fortitude. Be gracious with the receiving of other’s experiences, but never mistake them for an answer. Your answers can only come through you. Through your mistakes. Through your determination. Through your perseverance.
There will always be people smarter than you. People that know more about any one thing. People that are specialists and authorities. No matter. It doesn’t mean that they know what your answers are. It just means they can offer you some crumbs to munch on. You’re the one that decides.
Courage and a good, strong sieve - better than what any expert anywhere can offer.
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