As Malibu Burns

I’ve been following the latest round of Southern CA wildfires with particular interest, as they are burning areas where I spent a lot of time when in graduate school. The Santa Clarita/Canyon Country/Agua Dulce blaze is on the way from LA to where we lived before moving here. And the Malibu fires are raging across canyons where I spent many hours doing long distance cycling. It’s among the most beautiful territory in the country, and hard to describe what a thrill it is to climb those narrow switchbacks while all the time looking out on the Pacific Ocean. Watching the news this weekend, every time they’d mention a road or landmark, I would remember the many times I’d ridden on that road or past that landmark. And now, it was a wall of fire.

Did it make me glad to be out of there? Sure. But it also brought back a lot of memories from those days, when the biggest concern in my life was what time I could clock going up Tuna Canyon Road.

But there was one small detail, mentioned almost as an afterthought in one of the news stories, that has been most thought-provoking for me now:

Lisa Clunis, 17, was among dozens of volunteers who hauled horse trailers to Malibu and helped residents in canyons evacuate their horses and livestock.

Sheriff’s deputies summoned the volunteer crew at 6 a.m. Its first task was evacuating 60 horses from Sycamore Farms to a site farther from the fire’s reach.

A volunteer corps of livestock owners, standing by and ready to rush into the fire zone at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning…to help other livestock owners! The story said nothing more about Miss Clunis or her fellow volunteers, leaving us to use our imaginations to fill those details in. For me, it was a powerful affirmation of the universality of the “livestock fraternity.” Should some natural disaster strike our area in the heartland, I have no doubt that unaffected farmers in area would stop by and help us secure our sheep and goats; it’s just what people do around here. And when somebody’s cattle have escaped and are out on the road, you stop and help the rancher get them back in the pasture.

But what this story indicates is that such a spirit is not just an “Illinois thing,” or a “rural America thing.” I think it points to a deep spirit of fraternity among livestock owners, wherever they live. When you get up every morning and invest so much of your time and attention in husbanding an animal or group of animals, it really does change the way you think about livestock generally and the other people who raise them. You identify with their challenges and crises. You realize that you share something in common — and it’s not just a “hobby” or an “interest.” Not to make this too mystical, but it’s an investment of yourself that these animals require, and you know that the other farmer/rancher has made the same investment of self. It may be a different animal, or a different breed of animal, but it’s the same spirit and the same fraternity.

I have no doubt that even if the only vehicle available to me had been our minivan, I’d have been yanking the seats out and doing what I could to help transport some Malibu animal to safety. And I wouldn’t have thought twice. I’d just hope the grateful owner of that animal would help me clean the mess out of the back of the van before Mrs Yeoman Farmer discovered what I’d done.

One other quick thought: Miss Clunis is only seventeen years old —yet look at the maturity and sense of responsibility she has. Take a stroll through the typical urban or suburban high school, and how many of those kids do you think would be up at 6am on a Sunday morning, ready to help others? (I know I wouldn’t have been.) There are many ways to raise a child to be this responsible, in any sort of environment. But from what I’ve observed in the last six years, kids who’ve grown up in 4-H and have habitually shouldered the responsibility for nurturing livestock…tend to grow up into some of the most responsible and mature young adults we’ve known.

One thought on “As Malibu Burns

  1. Back in the 70s, before Dad built strong iron fences, the cows got out onto the road once in a while. It was a quiet road, so traffic wasn’t a big issue. Most people driving through were also farmers/ranchers/dairymen, so they’d stop and tell us, then stay and help round up the cows. But the neighbors at the end of the road were not farmers, and their tactic was to call the sheriff! Even though they KNEW whose cows were out. I think there’s something to your theory, YF.


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