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“Are you still shooting rattlesnakes?” an old friend inquired on Facebook. Having moved to the Western Slope of Colorado so many years earlier, I’d forgotten my long letters to friends and family regaling them with all of my the zany adventures I’d coined it back-east meets out-west.
That first year I was included in an afternoon of varmint shooting. The way one of the hunting party described it, we were going to pop as many pesky prairie dogs as possible. The rancher’s cattle kept getting stuck in the holes all over the ranch, so the friends had been enlisted to try and get rid of as many of the pests as possible. The only creature who met his demise was a rattlesnake. I’d forgotten that I’d written about the experience as if it were a golf-get-together with friends. No more invitations ensued, as I assume the rancher was not too pleased with an unsuccessful outing.
That seemed to be the best way to describe the culture clash of those early years, as most of my new neighbors greeted me with the question of my origin, “Aren’t you from back east?” Any location from the middle of the map of the United States qualified. I would defensively proclaim my roots were still buried deep in the flatlands of Ohio, which made me a Midwesterner, not an Easterner, if one was going to nit-pick.
The greatest disconnect between us was their careful maintenance of their country image. One of my oldest and dearest friends said that her father would have been none too pleased with the friendship, if we had met two decades earlier, as stalwart rancher and country boy, he didn’t raise her to be friends with “townies.” Then there was that uncomfortable silence that settled over a room when our dinner hosts proudly pointed out their newest wall decoration — the head of an unlucky critter. The only gun-owner in my immediate family was my grandfather, who reportedly got a weapon after someone broke into the house in the middle of the night.
In addition to my non-hunting background, I never was one for picking out my dinner on the hoof. The only people I knew who hunted were friends who grew up on the farms surrounding our little town. They were bird and rabbit hunters, with an occasional deer hunter among them. No one I knew had a freezer full of wild meat, ready to get them through the winter.
They fed their families with the kind of meat one could find at the local supermarket, wrapped in cellophane. They were not only preferable to hair and hide, it was all I’d known. Growing up in a small college town, I could no more imagine raising a cow or a pig to sell than I could imagine eating a parakeet or goldfish. My turtle continued to rest peacefully under its plastic palm tree. Animals and pets were words that were interchangeable in my household.
Reading “Charlotte’s Web” aloud in my elementary school was an eye-opener, yet I remained clueless about the direct relationship between my friend’s 4-H projects and the ground beef patties my mother brought home each week form the grocery store. I continued to think of our regular Sunday dinner entrees as divorced from the frolicking creatures I watched each spring on the farms of northern Ohio. It wasn’t that I couldn’t make the connection. I just didn’t.
The county fair held a few miles from my home was an end-of-the summer tradition; and although the animal barns and educational exhibits held some appeal, the cotton candy, candy apples and plethora of carnival booths were the main event. It was enough to follow my horse-loving friends from stall to stall for an hour or two and feel as if I had experienced a little bit of the country experience.
Experiencing my first Rio Blanco County Fair years ago was an eye-opener. The exhibit halls and the livestock auction were the main reason for the fair. It was serious business, no carnival, no purveyors of such things as cotton candy. A popular country tune that most people remember by the refrain, a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll didn’t come close to describing me or my friends. There was not a smidgen of country in us, only rock and roll.