Passion discovers “understanding the whole”

This past month my son John enlisted two high school boys as interns to work on our V6 Ranch, one is from Silicon Valley and the other from Monterey. Both have spent their entire lives in a suburban environment. But after spending just three days at one of John and wife Barbara’s Cowboy Academy weekends with their families they both told John that they would like to come back for a month when their summer vacation started with a willingness to do any kind of work that we were doing on the ranch. Their stay has just ended and I could sense their passion for a ranching way of life. For when I was a bit younger, 13 years old, I accepted a friends invitation to work on his mother’s ranch for my summer vacation before entering Palo Alto High School in September.

It was two days after school was out that I jumped into the back of a 1941 Chevrolet pickup with my friend Lincoln for a two hour trip from suburbs to wilderness. Linc’s mom was the driver with her two younger children seated beside her. On the east side of the Santa Clara Valley lies the Diablo mountains. We entered their foothills at the town of Milpitas where we turned east on Calaveras Boulevard which quickly turned into a dirt road, that was a first for me. We started a steady climb up one range of hills then down into the Arroyo Honda Creek and all signs of the life that I knew disappeared as we climbed another higher range then down again to Valpi Creek where the pickup splashed across water that would run several inches deep. By now I was beginning to feel somewhat isolated as several thousand acres of grazing land and not another sign of human life to be seen or heard all around me. “I’m stepping back in time to a land right out of the early 1900’s”. For this city kid there was a 60 year old house to live in. It was equipped with no electricity, no telephone, no television, no heat unless you built a fire in the fireplace or in the wood stove which I would learn to cook on real soon. Our meals were made of meat and potatoes cooked by Louie head Cowboy and my mentor and idol 'til I graduated from Cal Poly College. Then came the day as I arrived for my fourth summer after school was out, Louie said “I want you to meet my new wife Calli”. It would take but one of her meals for my taste buds to fall in love with Calli as Calli had spent much of her life cooking for Cowboy crews and was also quite a Cowgirl in her own right, who would help with a lot of the horseback work.

Heating water for a bath meant building a fire in the wood stove then waiting for an hour or so while the coils inside the fire box would heat enough water for a bath which made for a very cumbersome and time consuming process which became less and less important as I learned, that if I reached to the bottom of my dirty stack of clothes and pulled out a pair of pants and a shirt from the bottom and to my eye they looked freshly ironed making wash board and stove iron unnecessary and it fit my lifestyle to a tee as there was nobody to impress. But we did have the most important thing in a Cow Camp, as far as I was concerned a “Propane refrigerator”.

It was time to say goodbye to Linc’s mom, Jami Linc’s brother who would joins us for the summers in a couple of years and daughter Duchess who only appeared at the ranch when Flo Lee, Linc’s mom would bring us groceries and supplies once every two or three weeks This was a three man camp, Linc, me and Louie a sixty year old, California Indian Cowboy who would change the way I looked at life dramatically for the better.

My first exposure to real work I’m pretty sure didn’t happen my first summer but the passion bug had really bitten me as to how I wanted to spend the rest of my life. That first summer of getting my “feet on the ground”, learning to ride a horse for hours at a time where Louie without saying a word. I knew that complaining was not going to be acceptable behavior. I would spend the next eight summers honing my passion with every bit of knowledge that Louie gave out by watching him and most importantly how he always looked on the bright side of life. For Louie it was training and riding good horses that gave him great joy. Louie was a keen observer of his surroundings and when seeing a problem that needed fixing no time was lost fixing a broken fence wire or splinting a broken corral board to keep some cattle we had just gathered from escaping and was done most of the time using a fix all necessity called “bailing wire”, a pair of pliers and a smile for a temporary repair that might last several years.

I was fortunate to have been raised in a time when there was no minimum wage for if there was I would never have had the opportunity to discover my passion. My first three years I received no pay and when I reflect back on those summers, I wasn’t worth anything and probably should have paid my boss for the privilege of working on her ranch. By the ending years of my time at the ranch I was earning one hundred dollars a month, room and board, a typical Cowboy wage but most importantly, I believed that I had paid my dues and could now call myself a Cowboy.

Graduation from Cal Poly, I married my wife Zee of 63 years and by the time I was 30 years old Zee was 27 we had two girls and two boys I had sold our first ranch and bought our second ranch we call the “V6” that left me with $250,000 of debt and a passion for my job still burning brightly. WOW!

I spent the next 30 years waking every morning with thoughts of how I might buy the next piece of land that joined our ranch and whatever ranch might be available to lease in California or Nevada. With that attitude and an overblown ego, by the spring of 1979 I had ten thousand head of cattle on my two ranches that the bank and I owned and several leased ranches scattered around California and Nevada.

It’s now May of 1979 and I was showing all my cattle to a cattle buyer by the name of Phil Stadler who had the means to buy them all and if he met my asking price I would be able to pay off all my debts on on my two ranches and all my cattle and put one million dollars in the bank. Well I have a saying “ain’t greed wonderful”. For my next move was to turn down an offer to buy all my cattle for several cents per hundred weight less than I wanted, but would still yield a handsome profit . The next step toward oblivion was to turn down Phil’s offer and say to him in a very cavalier tone “I think the market will be getting better and next week your going to have to pay me more” .Step three, before I would flush myself down the toilet I called Phil back to tell him that I would accept his offer. Now it was his turn to tell me that “that train had left the station and wouldn’t be back.” For now the cattle market was in full retreat and every cattle buyer was running for cover waiting to see who would survive this mounting “blood bath”. Murphy’s law was about ready to take charge of my affairs which states “anything that can go wrong will go wrong”.

The California green grass season was ending and all my cattle were like ripe Tomatoes that had to move off the grass before it dried too much. Little did I know that Murphy’s law was still working very nicely when I made my next blunder as I announced to myself that “I would put all my cattle in a feedlot and feed them to slaughter weight”. Oh Jack, what a clever move that will surely heal all the “red ink” in your ledger. What! wrong again as the cattle market fell out of bed taking me with it.

Our new President Ronald Regan was busy putting out an inflation fire in the 1980’s to our U.S. Economy by raising interest rates to as high as 21%. He must not have heard my drowning plea “you're killing me”. My bank was Farm Credit, a farmer owned cooperative that was very much in trouble themselves, because a lot of their borrowers were bleeding red ink like me. As for my ledger, instead of now showing one million in my bank account and no debt it showed several million in debt. But I still had a fair amount of equity left in the two ranches I owned. But now I was beginning to feel a noose slowly tighten around my neck and I found myself uttering several times a day “Jack you can’t yell whoa in a bad place”. So to my banker I went. To see if he had enough imagination to fund an idea I had about how to develop a ranch and still keeping its agricultural value intact while developing 48 one acre lots on a 3,400 acre ranch that I owned that would have a gated entry complete with paved roads, telephone, electricity and water delivered to each lot and it was called “clustering”.

I’ve always felt that 5 or 10 or even 20 acre ranchettes were land wasteful and most of the time were more than the owner could take care of. But if you took the density the San Luis Obispo planning department would allow me and move my allowable lots to be clustered on one corner of the ranch and the rest left open to grazing farming and it’s scenic values, I would use only 2% of the ranch for improvements. There would be the 48 one acre lots and 20acres for roads, horse pastures, clubhouse and tennis courts etc. For my banker this was all new territory but he was a gamer who thought it was a good idea and said “I’ll loan you a million dollars which hopefully will be enough for the project”. I next had to get the board of supervisors to amend the counties general plan to allow this new way to divide a piece of land without destroying its agricultural and open space values. One member of the board who could visualize what I was trying to do helped me shepherd my project through the amending process that took almost most two years. I had to teach the board of supervisors and the county planning department the wisdom of this different approach to create living spaces for people who made their living in the city but wanted to be surrounded by guaranteed open space. By now the interest meter on my loan was clicking along at $2,000 per day when the whole farm credit system nationwide began to bleed from too many bad loans and our local farm credit board was dealing with their share of delinquent loans. They felt they needed a heavy to come aboard and clear the decks of their portfolio of troubled loans. So they fired my ally the bank manager and brought in Simon Legree to close me out. By now Murphy’s Law was running out of steam as I felt I was beginning to make more right decisions than wrong ones. But no, I’ve just had a meeting with Simon Legree and with a curl to his lip he said the bank is cutting you off, no more money as of right now! And I am going to recommend that the bank start collection proceedings which I believe will put you into bankruptcy. Well now that caused me to look at my hole card and with nothing to loose, I said “over my dead body you asshole”. To this day I never new who helped me on the farm credit board but they didn’t foreclose on me but neither did they restore my loan.

I was about halfway through the development phase when I ran out of money and it was time to look for more. It’s hard to believe the kind of people you talk to about a loan when your almost in bankruptcy, they certainly are a seedy lot. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind breaking all my fingers as a start and if that wasn’t enough how about an arm or two if I missed a payment. Fortunately I was able to get a group of friends together to co - sign with me for a line of credit for one million dollars and when the project was complete I would pay the group one million dollars.

The real estate market was beginning to heat up as I was ready to sell my first lot. I was amazed once the buying public could see with their eyes what I was doing three quarters of the lots sold almost overnight and I paid my co- signers their million dollars and soon there after Zee and I burned our bank note. WHAT A RIDE!

Also during the 1980’s I needed to find out more about myself and what made me tick. Some call this time “the midlife crazies” whatever you call this time of discovery. I knew that I had to explore all the nooks and crannies in my brain. I’m going to let each of your imaginations take you to wherever you think I might have journeyed to, both physically and mentally in the 80s as I was probably there. But what turned out to be the most helpful part of my journey in search of a satisfied mind (that would encourage me to write all these blog stories) and to give myself permission to reinvent myself whenever I felt the need to remain a player in the game of life, was a chance attendance at a gathering put on by Dr. Robert Simmons called Support Group Network where he taught a method of communication and self help that I found most intriguing. After several months of meeting once a week and training with a roomful of strangers. It was time to break into groups of 10 to 15 people, no man or wife in the same group. It seemed to me that my group was made from people standing in close proximity to each other. I counted 13 members all here in an effort to slew whatever demon was playing with their mind and body. These groups were encouraged to deal with whatever problem he or she wished to deal with except criminal behavior. I was among the last five that met at a different members house each Monday night for five years. For various reasons we lost eight in our group over several years. I don’t know if we five had a harder time trying to make sense of this zany world we live in. But as year five came to a close we five agreed to the person that it was time to strike out on our own, to experience a life with new ways to solve old problems while dealing fairly with our guilts and self worth and the rest of our shortcomings.

This leads me back to the reason for this blog when “passion discovers understanding the whole”. I could never have perceived this new way to understand the whole without first giving myself permission to constantly reinvent myself to consider what is true and makes sense. I now spend my days observing Mother Natures management style which never varies as she uses sunlight to create life (photosynthesis) and she always slows down rain upon the land. These two simple truths have allowed me to understand “the whole” and the infinite variations for me to steward my land using regenerative methods, which are many, in the quest to keep all living things healthy and happy here on the V6.

See Ya

Jack




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