AoR 26: Paul Starrs, Far Beyond Maps--Rangeland Geography

Lands are tied to people, and any changes in land use necessarily involve people. Understanding people and land together is the work of cultural and landscape geography. Paul Starrs is a geographer who has written some of the more interesting literature on the lifeways of range people. Tip and Paul discuss the culture of the West and challenges to ranching in a wide-ranging interview centered on Paul's opening chapter in the book "Ranching West of the 100th Meridian". 


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>> Welcome to the Art of Range, a podcast focused on rangelands and the people who manage them. I'm your host, Tip Hudson, range and livestock specialist with Washington State University Extension. The goal of this podcast is education and conservation through conversation. Find us online at

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My guest today on the Art of Range is Paul Starrs. Following my interviews with Richard Knight, I was reading Ranching West of the 100th Meridian because I had ordered it earlier, but it did not arrive in time for me to pull from it directly in talking with Dr. Knight. But the book is a collection of chapters that were written by others, other than Richard Knight. The first chapter is titled An Old Way of Life in the New West, written by Paul Starrs. I enjoyed the content, but I enjoyed the writing more. Unfortunately, this is unusual in the world of biological sciences, even in some of the applied sciences, like rangeland ecology. So, I decided to look Paul up and discovered that he was the husband of Lynn Huntsinger, another of my recent favorite range people. Paul, welcome to the show.

>> Why, thank you so much, Tip. It's great to be here.

>> I'm finding that I particularly enjoy reading geographers. Maybe I just enjoy reading geographers who are good writers. But I have especially enjoyed, for years, reading Nathan Sayre, because one that intersects quite a bit with the world of rangeland ecology. If you disagree about Nathan's writing quality, maybe we can have that out on a different day. But how did you end up becoming a geographer?

>> Well, this is an interesting question, Tip, and it's a bit of a saga. I went to high school just outside of Washington, D.C., in McLean, Virginia. And when I was nearing the point of graduation from high school, I began investigating places that might be appropriate college venues or university venues. And so, I applied to several places, one of which was a tiny little school in Easternmost California, about two miles from the Nevada border, in a completely isolated valley, a little place called Deep Springs College. And Deep Springs College, which has just completed its first 100 years, and as part of that celebration and part of the sort of social justice and equality movement, went from being all male, which is was for its first 100 years, to becoming co-educational. And Deep Springs is actually on a working cattle ranch, with about 3,000 deeded acres, but one of the things that intrigued me when I applied to go to Deep Springs is that Deep Springs is also -- has a very substantial BLM allotment, actually several of them at this point. And they also graze livestock, cattle, in this case, up to 12,000 feet in the White Mountains on the California-Nevada border. And I was -- all the students that go to Deep Springs work. It's not to pay back our full tuition, room and board scholarships. It's actually because taking reasonably bright young people, bringing them out to an isolated environment and basically, having them work a minimum of 20 hours a week, is quite a source of education. And the founder of the college, back in 1917, believed that there were plenty of bright people in the world, but very many people who could be both bright and resourceful, hardworking, able to deal with the sorts of disasters or at least inconveniences that are part of ranch life, was a really important part of their upbringing. And so, I actually was a ranch hand at Deep Springs College for two years, and then I worked for another four years after that, during summers, when I was finishing up my undergraduate education, working for ranches in Western Nevada. And so, this was my education. I went off to UC San Diego, finished my undergraduate degree, and as I was getting toward finishing up, I went to my two favorite professors there, and I said, "Gentlemen, do you have any ideas for what I could do or where I could go?" And they had -- although one was from history, and the other was from English, exactly the same response. And their response was, "You know, Paul, somebody with your kinds of interests should look into going into geography, and it should be at UC Berkeley." And I thought, "Oh my goodness, I thought these guys liked me." Because in my world, when I went to high school -- and this is no knock on basketball coaches -- the person that taught the geography classes at McLean High School was the only person that taught a geography course, because they figured that was the only thing he could handle without boogering it up. So, I thought, "Well, that's good advice." Lynn and I spent six months living in Taiwan, working on -- she was working on her Chinese, and I was trying to get started with Chinese. And then I went off to graduate school, as did she, at UC Berkeley, in Geography. I was Geography. She was Range Management and Resources. So, you know, this is a long way of getting to -- a kind of exotic background. I kept ranching, kept working as a ranch hand, actually, even when I was in graduate school and enjoyed it very much. And this convinced me that there was some really interesting things about ranching and ranchers that I should continue to follow up on.

>> I think that begs the next question, which is what is geography? I would guess that most people have the idea that geography is that subject taught by that guy at the high school who can't do anything else.

>> That's always a fear. It's got to be a fear.

>> Which is not exactly complimentary, to geography. But maybe, for example, how is anthropology different from geography?

>> Well, that's a good question. You know, Nathan Sayre, who is a good friend of mine, and actually somebody that -- whose book -- book manuscript I recommended for publication at the University of Arizona Press. But his first book, Species of Capital. But, you know, Nathan's a cultural anthropologist. I'm a cultural historical geographer, very much interested in how things evolved. The difference is that anthropologists -- and this is a generalization -- but most anthropologists, certainly most cultural anthropologists, are very much tied in to people and family structure and like ways, as their sort of basic source and trade. Geographers, many of them, look at very broadly conceived phenomena that we refer to, and people in general refer to, as landscape. And so, we are landscape watchers, landscape observers, and we go out into the landscape and deal with trying to figure out what produced the look and the lay of the land. And that's actually -- that's a pretty intriguing process. That takes in, of course, the built environment. It takes in houses. It takes in ranch barns. It takes in outhouses. It takes in sewage systems. It takes in food paths and food ways. And geographers work on all these and many other things, including social justice, environmental racism, economic geography in its many facets, urban and agricultural geography. And so, it's an incredibly broad field. In essence, people oftentimes confuse geographers with geologists, also. And they go, "Oh, so you study rocks." And I point out to them, gently, that well indeed, some geographers do study rocks and land forms, but the best geographers, in my view, are much more interested in trying to understand the phenomena that are essentially above the land. And if geologists get things that are subservice, geographers get everything that is above the ground. It's all fair game for us. And probably the crucial thing that goes along with geography, particularly right now, as we approach the second decade of the 21st century, is that we're particularly interested in phenomena that can be mapped. And so, livestock, driveways. We look at roads and transportation systems. We look at traditional paths. We look at movement. We look at immigration. And all these things are immanently geographical, but they can also be put down on paper in a map. And that's one of the ways in which we begin to understand the world around us. And the really hot topic now for geographers, particularly at the undergraduate and graduate school level, is a phenomena that your audience probably knows about, which is geographic information systems or GI Science, as its sometimes called, which takes all this mapping procedure and basically, turns it around and uses computers to bring up the datasets, to bring up the coverages, and allows us to look at and analyze and compare and get actually sometimes quantitative, sometimes qualitative information about the places that we're looking at.

>> Yeah, that sounds to me like connecting -- oh, I don't know. It seems the hard sciences are trying to deal with everything in the abstract, and remove people from the equation. It sound like geography is connecting the abstract to the specific. In the beginning of your -- in the beginning of your essay, Region, Reveries, and Reverence, you quote Geertz. I really like the quote. "For it is still the case that no one lives in the world in general. Everybody, even the exile, the drifting, the diasporic, or the perpetually moving, lives in some confined and limited stretch of it, the world around here. You know, everybody lives somewhere, not somewhere in general. But we're always trying to generalize." Is that an accurate characterization of what geography's trying to do in part? I mean, I think even maps do that, connect the general to the specific, the abstract, the specific.

>> Oh, absolutely. There's no doubt about it. And what geographers oftentimes do -- some geographers turn the funnel around and look through the wide end and try to peer at what's coming out the other end. In this case, literally so, because several of my colleagues at the University of Nevada in Reno, where I teach, actually spend a lot of time looking through binocular microscopes at pollen, for example. And so, they're literally looking at the real super detailed. Other geographers are more interested in the sort of the broader picture, at what social scientists would call the normative, which is to say just what many people do. And so, dealing with those sorts of contrasts is -- and figuring out where our place is in this geographical universe -- is a really important part of the story. And I might also add that whereas I, for example, when I'm working with my PhD or my Master's students remind them that they don't want to get an incredibly broad topic, because it will take them forever to try to get their arms and brains around it. It's -- as they evolve as geographers and as scientists, they'll discover that they can take in more and more and more and tell a broader story about people in a landscape.

>> One question. Maybe I'll let you be a critic of rangeland science here. I feel like that there has been an effort to distance rangeland science from the people of the range, namely ranchers, but maybe even -- maybe even Native people that lived in landscapes that were mostly rangelands. And I think the idea was to escape the accusation that rangeland scientists were just a pawn of the livestock industry and to try to prove range science as a pure hard science, and I think the results of that are maybe not all good. It seems like there's a movement toward bringing people back into the equation, I think for a variety of reasons. One is, I think, an increasing respect for some of the qualitative sciences. I heard a talk by Maria Fernandez-Gimenez last year, at the SRM, and she was criticizing quantitative researchers, for not identifying their personal biases when they violate research. And her point was, that in qualitative research, you're obligated to document your own bias, because everything that you say downstream from that is affected by it. And she was making the case that the same is true in quantitative research, but there's no such standard of practice in quantitative research. We tend to think that we're, you know, robots interpreting hard, objectively verifiable data that looks no different, no matter which angle you look at it from. But I think that's not the case. That's a long way around to asking the question, do you think that there's a positive trend? I realize that's a value-laden statement, but do you think that there's a move back toward bringing people back into rangeland science, recognizing that all that is a single hole?

>> You know what? That is -- it's an amazingly great opening. And Nathan Sayre is one of the people that's done a lovely job of going back and looking at rangeland history and the history of range science, or range management. But I just remind -- well, you know this already, Tip. But a lot of people have forgotten -- even people who are actively working in rangeland or resource management or range cons or whatever -- that back in, I think it was 1906, but I could be off by a year or two, the U.S. Forest Service published the Green Book. And which was for people who were working out on the range, particularly Forest Service employees, was kind of the Bible, and it's possible -- one of the things that was really emphasized there is that, for people who were range management or range conservation people, the expectation was that they would go to a community. They would live in that community. They would become a part of that community. I know it sounds like heresy in the 21st century, but they were supposed to basically become part of local society, and their responsibility was to make sure that not only was the range resource maintained in good condition or brought up to good condition, they were also very much encouraged to make sure that the local community was in good shape. And so, this kind of adversarial relationship, if that isn't an unkind word, but this adversarial relationship that exists sometimes now between range managers at the BLM or Forest Service level, and the permittees, is really a relatively modern phenomena. And it's hard to date it exactly, but I'd say a lot of the antipathy really got going in the 30s and 40s. There was a kind of an anti-range movement, an argument that ranchers who were, at some point, running a bit roughshod over some of the Western range, were outstepping their boundaries. But by the time we get to the 1970s with FLPMA, the Forest and Land Management Policy Act, people were at loggerheads. It was range cons versus permittees, and that became a pretty difficult state of affairs. And that traditional relationship, that sort of amicable relationship between the range management officers and the local communities, had pretty much disappeared. Lest you think I'm just making this up, you can go back and read, for example, the first four novels written by Ivan Doig, who grew up in Northern Montana, and his father was actually a range cons, and a lot of the stories in his books are very much about this rancher/community/federal resource officer relationship and how that worked and how that played out. It's an important part of Western life. Now, you know, that, for all intents and purposes, disappeared somewhere between 80 and 100 years ago, the amicable relationship. But that's where range management, as a field, really got going. And then the science came in, and an awful lot of professors of range or resource management or practitioners, people who were range cons, for example, have sort of tiptoed around that sometimes contentious relationship over the last 80 or 100 years.

>> In one of your essays, you say that geography will die if geographers don't start writing for an able and willing audience. What exactly did you mean there? Is that an exhortation to geographers, or a complaint about the audience?

>> It's an exhortation to geographers, to get off the stick and get going, because there are plenty of geographers who write deeply learned and fundamentally indigestible scientific pieces. And of course, the same thing exists in rangeland science is, you know, there's a world -- not to speak ill of range managers -- range scientists, anyway, but as you know, Tip, there's a world of range science publications that basically, say, "Yes, if you add 30 pounds per acre of nitrogen, phosphate fertilizer, you can increase the growth rate of grass on your pasture by 15 percent." And, you know -- and you read this, and you just go -- you know, this is what my dear sister once introduced me to. She goes, "That's a BGO." And I'm like, "Claire, what does BGO mean?" And she goes, "A blinding glimpse of the obvious." And so, this is one of the tricks, is that I would be much heartened if my geographical colleagues and actually, some of my range management colleagues, and of course, Maria Fernandez-Gimenez is one the really accomplished ones, and I dare say, my good wife is, also. They are both range scientists who can also write a really accomplished narrative, and that really makes a difference. And, you know, geographers do eventually -- some of us -- eventually get tired of writing learned pieces that are read by our mothers, if they're still with us, and about 11 other people. You just sort of go, "Oh, for crying out loud." How about something that is a little bit more inclusive, a little bit more generous, finds a larger audience. Some of the best geographers -- Tip, this is slightly embarrassing -- but some of the best geographers are in fact, journalists or journalists-scientists, if I may use that term. I think I have a certain bias, which is that my family, I think, has subscribed -- this goes all the way back to my late parents -- I think they subscribed to The New Yorker from about 1945 onward, and I maintain a subscription as well. But if you read the essays by people like Jill Lepore at Harvard or -- oh hell, there's dozens of incredibly smart people who are writing about hazards about climate change, about hazards about seismic issues, about all these sorts of things, and of course, I don't know exactly what the subscription base of The New Yorker is now, but for a long time, it was two or three million copies were going out. And so, that's a really different world, and I do actually know a few geographers who have written for that kind of audience, and as I approach retirement and in a foreseeable window, you know, that's one of the things I'd really like to do, is write for a more popular audience and see if I can change a few minds along the way. I'm probably not going to change the minds of my colleagues who work on livestock ranching and property and land ownership and geography, but for the general public, there's a lot of difference that we can make, and I hope we do.

>> I do think that's how big ideas get into the mainstream, The New Yorker, rather than your book of the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers.

>> You got it.

>> And I think that -- I think that journalism only recently has a bad name. That historically was a more honored profession. I would also argue though, that the challenge of writing to an audience has gotten more difficult, because of the audience. There's a -- I read a couple years ago, the book by Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death.

>> What?

>> And he says -- I'm quoting now, "The reader must come armed in a serious state of intellectual readiness. This is not easy, because he comes to the text alone. In reading, one's responses are isolated, one's intellect thrown back on its own resources. To be confronted by the cold abstractions of printed sentences and to look upon language bare without the assistance of either beauty or community, thus reading is by its nature a serious business. It is also, of course, an essentially rational activity. But to engage the written word means to follow a line of thought, which requires considerable powers of classifying, inference making, and reasoning. It means to uncover lies, confusions, and over-generalizations, to detect abuses of logic and common sense, that also means to weigh ideas, to compare and contrast assertions, to connect one generalization to another. To accomplish this, one must achieve a certain distance from the words themselves, which is in fact encouraged by the isolated and impersonal text. This is why a good reader does not cheer an apt sentence or pause to applaud, even an inspired paragraph. Analytic thought is too busy for that and too detached. The modern idea of testing a reader's comprehension, as distinct from something else a reader may be doing, would have seemed an absurdity in 1790 or 1830 or 1860. What else was reading but comprehension?" I think there's -- I've read some research not too long ago in doing some literature review on an article that I was working on about podcasting as an educational medium, and more on conversation as an educational medium, and the research was documenting the change in reading behavior over time, among, you know, top tier scientists. Whereas, say 25 years ago, they would have read linearly and followed -- read all of the text down through the better part of an article, the research was showing that the reading behavior of these researchers was jumping over the page, with their eyes scanning for words or phrases that they thought were relevant to what they were looking for.

>> Skimming.

>> And they weren't actually -- yeah, they were skimming, rather than, you know, submitting themselves to the text and essentially, putting themselves in the hands of the author and following where it went. So, I think the writing has become more difficult because of readers, as well.

>> I think that's part of it. I think our -- it's often commented that we grow impatient, and that we get to the point where people want to rush through various sorts of things and get to the meat of the matter. My counter to that would be that I think it's incredibly important for people to really look at -- to look at and enjoy and get the flavor -- not just of words, but also of the field of landscapes of what's out there. And if -- you had the Neil Postman quotation. If I can give you a quick one, as well, I'd like to do that. It's very short. This actually is from Don Quixote, believe it or not. And that sort of -- that absolute classic, that almost everybody has heard of and relatively few people have read, but I'll give you the Spanish version first, and then I'll give you the English version, because they're both incredibly elegant and quite wonderful, and it's the same text, but just in two different languages. So, the Spanish version goes --

[ Speaking Foreign Language ]

-- which translates as, "That I can well believe," said the village priest, "for I know now from experience, that the backwoods gives rise to the eloquent, and the herdman's hovel shelters philosophers." "At the very least, sir," retorted the goat herd, "they sheltered those chastened by life." And that whole phrase, "chastened by life," is very much about what livestock ranching, whether it's cattle, sheep, goats, horses, alpacas, [inaudible], yaks, that for me, is one of the sort of object lessons that livestock ranching can bring back to us, is an awareness of how people fit into the landscape. And that is really -- as I said earlier, the key concept of geography is how people create life ways in different environments. And I guess I would also disagree with you, though. I think some of us read and look for wonderful quotations all the time, and I have -- the quote from Don Quixote actually came from something I -- well, I -- from a file that I keep that's simply titled Quotables. And so, I, when I write things, oftentimes will use epigraphs at the beginning of a paragraph or even several pages, because it seems to me that they capture an essence that I then want to reflect on. And I think that's one of the things that we as scholars can do.

>> That's an ancient practice.

>> Introduce other people to the ideas, to diverse sources, and maybe get them back to reading, and reading a little bit more carefully and a little bit harder than they have, if they're just skimming an article in The New York Times or in The Wall Street Journal or in the Denver Post, wherever.

>> I would -- yeah, I would agree with you in your criticism of bad readers. I guess I would argue that readers would perform better if they encountered something worth reading.

>> Yeah, yeah.

>> I think I mentioned to you in our phone call that I picked the Yearbook of Agriculture from 1938. It's a big book, titled Soils and Men, and it's meant to be just a report, but the report is written in such a way that it's readable, and once you start into it, the text grabs your attention and hangs onto you and causes you to continue with it. My initial thought, when you were talking about being at Deep Springs College and the kind of work and immersion in the landscape, my immediate thought was that would stimulate what I call higher order thinking, where your brain is free to work on something for a period of time, and those of us, at least today, who work in -- who are what would be called the knowledge workers, somebody who's doing a desk job, don't have much time to do that. And personally, I found that the only times that I write anything worthwhile is when I've removed myself from that constant stream of information and allowed my brain to take a string of thought and work on it for awhile. In fact, if I need to write anything important, I almost always do it longhand, away from the computer. Maybe this is my own weakness, but that's the only way that I can stay in it.

>> You know, I'm a chronic reviser. It's just -- Tip, it's one of those things that I try to write it, and the paragraphs get moved around or the sentences get moved around or -- I just published a piece, my presidential address to the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers, and my goodness, I think I went back and forth with the editor with about 15 corrections, even after we'd gotten to the typeset stage. And I'm sure I just drove the compositor, the production person, almost completely crazy. But you know what? That's one of the things that we do, and we try to dive in and find the right words and the right images, and that's what makes, in my view, writing successful and gets the story across. And geography, like range management, like anthropology, is very much about generating stories. Historians have had a great upper hand on this, for decades, maybe even centuries, because they basically, look at their audience, or they look at their subjects, and think of them as sources of stories. Geographers are still struggling to get there, but I think many people have, and they figure out how to get their narrative across in such a way that it demonstrates relevance. It demonstrates how they do things and why they do them that way, all of which is important, an important part of the process.

>> And I think there's probably some things that we can -- I don't know, probably -- there are things that we can learn from those people who don't have a long background in academic training and scientific knowledge, but who have lived, you know, connected to the land.

>> Oh, absolutely.

>> For a long period of time.

>> Absolutely, no question about that. And yeah, it's -- you know, I wrote about this, Tip, a little bit in a piece from almost 20 years ago, which is the piece that you mentioned, right at the top, Old Way of Life in the New West. And would you like me to read a little bit of that? I think it actually is pretty engaging.

>> Please do.

>> So, this is a clip, about a couple of paragraphs long, from Ranching West of the 100th Meridian. The title of the chapter, which is the one that opens everything up, is Ranching: An Old Way of Life in the New West. So it goes: Ranch fits and starts. Ranching in the United States is a singular mix of the resolutely practical and time-honored, as well as features that are dream-like and elusive, feats of imagery and the fantastic and the romantic. The product is a distinctive landscape, extensive in its territory, yet often subtle, or at least remote, in its humanized features. The ranching landscape is a subject of almost infinite complexity, about which much has already been written. But the essence of 21st century ranching, and the cowboy and the ranch economy and the landscape of the ranch, is complicated adaptation. And that is nothing new. It's been so for a century and a half, maybe even 500 years, since cattle and the elements of ranching were brought to the new world in Columbus' second expedition in 1493. That's a long tradition in which change is about the only expected and standard rule. With challenge a close second to change, as agent and force. It's odd that a life way whose supporters are so given to espousing tradition is, in fact, completely dependent on packing before countervailing political, ecological, and economic wins. Ranchers tend, pretty much of necessity, to be ultimate pragmatists. It is their supports who wear the big hats, never having [inaudible] a cow, and it is often rancher want-to-be's who prove notoriously inflexible, hide-bound in doctrinaire. Because ranching requires access to so much land, and because its incomes are at best small, ranching has rarely had a strong built-in economic constituency in places of power. Instead, ranchers have, through the years, had to make cultural converts, and they continue having to do so, with surprising and ongoing success. And it goes on from there, to discuss the history of ranching, but I think that's enough. I don't want to bore people with long recited items. But, you know, I think that gets to this point, which is something that I've been writing about for 35 or 40 years, which is that livestock ranchers, in particularly West of the 100th meridian and really now, from the Rockies to the West, have had to adapt. And that is really their great skill set, is being willing to change with the times. They do believe in tradition. They do believe in what they're doing. They do believe in a variety of -- everything from the kinds of saddles that they wear, to the chaps that they doff to, you know, everything that goes along with that. But lo and behold, ultimately, something comes around. The economy goes down. You know, if she is the rancher, and he goes into town to work, or the other way around, they have to adapt to the times and find a way to keep the outfit going. Because that really is -- the kind of supreme quantity in a ranch is the kind of composite that keeps people on the land, and they like that, and they believe in that. And if there's any doubt about that, one of the things that's really interesting is the ways in which conservation easements, for example, have become a late 20th century and certainly 21st century phenomena, that people will -- that ranchers will use to allow them to be able to afford to stay on their properties. Or if they're passing something down to their children, to keep a ranch as a ranch, rather than as someplace that is going to go to some wealthy Hollywood grantee who wants to keep her or his grip on the land, and they've made enough money that they can go out and buy a $13 million ranch outside of Cody, Wyoming or some place along those lines. It's one of the ways in which people adapt to these things.

>> Yeah, when you ask ranchers why they're doing what they're doing, it's not because it's especially economically profitable -- not that it's necessarily unprofitable over the long term if you do it well, but it certainly is not -- you know, the numbers that I've seen from economists, that the rate of return on investment on most ranches is two to three, four percent, which means that if they could -- if they were to liquidate all of those, you know, tangible assets and put it on the stock market, they would have done better than if they had just continued ranching. But there's something intangible that's valuable. They value the culture and not just, you know, the -- not just the work. Not just whether it makes money or not.

>> They see it as a way of life with innate value. And, you know, long ago, I wrote a -- I wrote a book review, I think it was, of a nice piece that was done by -- nice book that was done by Gary Nabhan and Stephen Trimble. And one of the things that I singled out about that book -- it's actually -- oh, what's the title of the book? It's Why Childhood Matters or something along those lines. And the interesting thing about that is that they really emphasize how important it is for people, if they can, to live in relatively close proximity to domesticated animals. And the argument goes one of the most amazing things that humans have done over the last 20,000 years, maybe 40,000 years, it depends. The archeological evidence goes back and forth -- is to adopt animals into our lives. And initially, it was a dog. And a lot of archeologists and ethnographers now think that the second animal that was domesticated was the goat. And I raised -- Lynn and I raised two daughters who, when they were 10 and 8, I guess, we came back from a sabbatical, and they wanted a goat, each. And so, for 15 years, we had goats living alongside our house. In a pen at night, but they would go out long lines and graze the hillside and do a little bit of grass and shrub eradication. And, you know, the girls loved those goats, and I think it's safe to say we did, too. They were quite wonderful, and they were great company. And we had a dog and a cat before that, but domesticated animals are an amazing companion to human society, and keeping them around us makes us, I believe, better and more interesting people. Now granted, maybe PETA wouldn't agree with me, or the Center for Biological Diversity, but when I look at people who have grown up with cows or pigs or sheep, they have an appreciation for life and for the land and for stewardship that is not something that's that common, for people who grow up in urban environments. And that's one of the reasons why I think that 4H is oftentimes a kind of heroic entity, because 4H and people who work in cooperative extension have done an amazing job of helping, even city people, to keep animals. And more and more towns, more and more cities, including the little one that we live in, are stepping in and trying to create various sorts of provisions for people to be able to keep chickens, for example, or -- not many have backyard pigs or goats or something along those lines. It changes us, and I think, makes us better people, better humans, better community members.

>> I read somebody recently who was saying that humans are not primarily thinking things as Descartes thought. We're primarily lovers. We're always moving toward some [inaudible], some, you know, some -- our own version of the good life, which reminds me of a quote by C.S. Lewis, actually. He says, "As long as we're thinking of natural values, we must say that the sun looks down on nothing half so good as a household laughing together over a meal or two friends talking over a pint of beer or a man alone, reading a book that interests him, and that all economies, politics, laws, armies, and institutions, save insofar as they prolong and multiply such scenes, are a mere ploughing the sand and sowing the ocean, a meaningless vanity and vexation of the spirit. Collective activities are, of course, necessary, but this is the end to which they are necessary."

>> Beautiful, beautiful and totally apt quotation, I have to say. That's absolutely on the money. Let me do one more, one more quotation reading, if I may. This is actually from --

>> Absolutely.

>> -- a book I wrote, called Let the Cowboy Ride: Cattle Ranching in the American West. Out of print now, from Johns Hopkins University Press, but still available online, and you can track it down with a little bit of work in Alibris or AbeBooks, something like that. I think Amazon works as well, sometimes. And this is sort of toward the end of the book. And so, here, here we go: I've offered an essay on how Western land, livelihood, and ideology are blended, roughly, in constant compromise, in ranching. A living economy, ranching is also a way of life, more than an abstract saunter into historical geography, this essay into ranch life might also, I hope, pose a series of questions about community sustenance, about policy making and applied geography, joining new institutional economics with contingent valuation, and look closely at the relationship of geography to environment and to history. The data to address these questions are there. How do we grapple with essential questions about people and their wants, and how they act to fulfil basic needs. Henry Glassie, in a study of a substantially different area, sums up with a credo that many of us, with varying success, pursue. This is from Glassie: Our study must push beyond things to meaning and grope through meaning to values. We study others so their humanity will bring our own into awareness, so the future will be better off than the past." And I think, Tip, what you just said, what you just read, is absolutely on point, the C.S. Lewis quotation. You know, our study must push beyond things to meaning and grope through meanings to values. That is where practice does meet philosophy, and I think that's one of the really crucial things that range resource managers, that geographers, cultural, historical, urban, whatever, can bring to the table and make work.

>> I think that's an excellent conclusion, and Paul, I really thank you for your time. This has been a great conversation.

>> Thank you so much, Tip. A pleasure.

>> Thank you for listening to the Art of Range podcast. You can subscribe to and review the show through iTunes or your favorite podcasting app, so you never miss an episode. Just search for Art of Range. If you have questions or comments for us to address in a future episode, send an email to For articles and links to resources mentioned in the podcast, please see the show notes at Listener feedback is important to the success of our mission, empowering rangeland managers. Please take a moment to fill out a brief survey at This podcast is produced by Conners Communications in the College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. The project is supported by the University of Arizona and funded by the Western Center for Risk Management Education, through the U.S.D.A. National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Mentioned Resources

Many of Paul Starrs's publications are available at his ResearchGate page,

A brief biography and contact information can be found at his faculty page,

The 1998 book "Ranching West of the 100th Meridian" is available for purchase at most online stores or by special order from your local bookstore. His book Let the Cowboy Ride is a more robust treatment of ranching in the American West than the title would suggest. This is a readable, scholarly exploration of "the peculiar conditions that created an abiding tension between ranchers and government in the western reaches of the United States, and to understand this tumult in the context of its time then and our time now" (from the author's introduction in the book). The book is available to order through various outlets.

For those who are interested in Deep Springs College, their excellent website is

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