How Animals Make Us Human; Field Work; Grassroots and Obama - Connecting the Dots

Dot #1. Last night, I went to hear Temple Grandin (university professor and autistic animal behavior guru) speak to a packed crowd at the Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver. She's on tour for her new book, Animals Make Us Human, just released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Dot #2. In response to a question from the audience about the meaning of "organic" meat, Dr. Grandin posed an interesting question: Should the designation "organic" take into consideration not only take what the animal eats, but also the animal's lifestyle? Grandin thinks it should. “It's not enough to say that beef cattle are on pasture, but 75% of that pasture must have a root system. The animal must be on that pasture at least from the last hard frost to the first hard frost."

Dot #3. Well, Grandin will tell you that's pretty much the way good ranchers have been doing it all along, taking care of the roots that literally feed the family. Not only are the cattle on "rooted" pasture 75 days out of a 100, but the rancher (and the kids) are out there too, kneeling to get a closer look at the gnawed grass, digging a finger into the soil to gage the moisture, riding through the herd, keeping an eye on the weather. Up close and personal.
 Dot #4. In response to a question from the audience about the time Dr. Grandin took a bunch of executives from McDonalds and Burger King out to actually see the slaughter plants where company burgers come from, she told us, “I call it opening the eyes of executives.” She went on to say, “We have people making policy in every area of our lives who don’t go out into the field. It’s a problem…extreme views tend to come from people who have no field experience. Views are usually more moderate coming from people who have had hands-on experience.”

Dot #5. A special section in yesterday’s Rocky Mountain News featured an article by reporter Lisa Ryckman about four high school kids from a tiny Colorado ranching town (pop 330) who are heading to the Presidential Inauguration in Washington, DC. Charlie’s parents talk politics a lot, except when there’s ranch work to be done, which is “16 hours a day, 7 days a week.” According to Ryckman, when Charlie, 18, invites his friends to come hang out with him for the day, they know they’ll probably be “helping me put up fence or vaccinate cows.”

Connecting the Dots. Developing a holistic view requires first looking at the parts, which for me means asking a lot of questions. What does a rancher out on the land doing “field work” have to do with the election of President Obama? How did Barrack inspire such an unprecedented grassroots movement? Is it surprising that a nation, fed up with politicians and CEOs who have no understanding of the average American’s lifestyle, find Obama’s thoughtful and intelligent demeanor appealing? Is it surprising that young people rallied around him in unprecedented numbers?

“We need to hear from the young people out there doing field work,” Temple Grandin told the audience.

When Charlie heads to DC for the inauguration, he’ll be taking with him a deeply rooted, organic understanding of the grassland-economy of eastern Colorado. He knows what it takes to keep a cow healthy, what it takes to keep the grass growing, and what it takes to put food on the table.

There isn’t much opportunity for young people raised in small towns to create careers at home. And that’s a shame, because with all the effort many of us expend to reconnect kids with nature, we aren’t spending much time figuring out how to keep those kids who are already on the land, on the land.

According to Ryckman's article, Charlie plans to attend the University of Colorado, where he’ll be studying aerospace engineering. He hopes to get a job which will make enough money that he can put some of his earnings back into the family ranch.

I hope he makes it. And I hope that when he gets to Washington he’ll share a little bit about his grassroots lifestyle with some of the city folk. Our nation needs to hear from young people like Charlie who were raised watching the sun rise and set on the far horizon. The future of the land may depend on it.

Page Lambert reared her son and daughter on a small family ranch in Wyoming and is a Senior Associate with the Children and Nature Network. More about the relationship between grazing animals and the land at Holistic Management. More about the movement to reconnect children with nature at Children and Nature. More about autism diagnosis at the National Autism Association.


I'm a fan of the big picture and of making connections, and I love the connections you've made here. This is lovely and thoughtful.

Grandin makes such an important point: "Extreme views tend to come from people who have no field experience." Seems like that's true of so many issues, from gay rights to abortion to race relations.

The metaphor works for ADD, the issue I blog about (at Seems like the less experience people have had with ADD, the more likely they are to take a polarized position. (Meds are always bad! Meds are the only modern treatment! ADD is purely a gift! ADD is purely a disability!) Once you're in the field, so to speak, these issues start looking a lot more complex.
Anonymous said…
Page, this is a wonderful, thoughtful piece. I am reading "Animals Make Us Human" right now, and have been inspired by Temple Grandin's very grounded wisdom. I love the way you have connected her perspective, Obama's world view, and our future in the form of a young man who knows about real roots.

Pennie (from BMW)
I'm familiar with Temple Grandin's work, although I have not yet read her book, and am impressed with her ideas. Loved the way you connected the dots to create a wholistic vision!
Cindy Morris said…
Thank for this beautiful reminder of our connections to all beings.
The good news is that when we make even a small healing anywhere in the energetic grid everything else is affected.
Sometimes we can get overwhelmed with the enormity of what needs to be fixed when really all we EACH need to do is fix our own little part.
And celebrate the victories.
Margaret said…
Lovely, I couldn't agree more.
Page Lambert said…
Kathleen, thanks for linking your experience with ADD to Grandin's comment about moderate views. Extremism, in my experience, only polarizes. Appreciate your thoughts!
Page Lambert said…
Dear Semi-Anonymous Penny - I'm just getting started with How Animals Make Us Human. And you're right, Grandin's wisdom is definitely, and literally, grounded. Thanks for visiting!
Page Lambert said…
Rosemary, nice to see you here! Glad you liked my "connect the dots" approach. I believe ideas, like events, are synchronistic. When we recognize this synchronism, the relationships emerge. It's the principle upon which Holistic Resource Management is founded.
Page Lambert said…
Cindy, I love your comment about small healings influencing the entire energy grid. Yes, we truly are part of the larger web of life.
Page Lambert said…
Margaret, thank you for taking time to visit Connecting People with Nature, and Writers with Words. Your words connect us, and for that I am grateful.
Petunia said…
Speaking of connecting the dots, on Monday I wrote a piece on my blog ( about the signs given to us by nature to help guide our lives. I could not have done that, or even recognized the signs as they appeared to me, if I had not gone through the animal totem exercise on your wonderful writing and rafting trip several summers ago with my mom Julie. And today I wrote a piece about Obama's inauguration ceremony right before reading the latest entry in your blog. So there you go. We are more connected than we all think :)
Page Lambert said…
Petunia, thank you for visiting - and for the reference to the wonderful time we shared on the river. I went to your blog and read your post about the Inauguration. I loved what you said about how moving it was to be in Sudan and watch "the peaceful transfer of power" as the Obamas said goodbye to the Bushes. Your piece should be read by a wider audience - it is such a good reminder.
That's interesting that you recently saw Temple Grandin. I have seen her speak a few times. I am really in awe of that woman. She knows the most amazing things about animals. And I think it's amazing that an autistic person can speak in front of a large crow. Very cool!
Julia said…
I just saw the HBO film Temple Grandin, and was very taken with this woman. I have blogged about her and her "Squeeze Machine" today. I am a pediatrician who is now practicing art (my medicine). I am taking you up on your invitation to leave a sign that I have visited here. I will visit again, for sure. Thank you.
Julia, thank you for leaving a sign! I haven't seen the HBO film yet, but am looking forward to it. Ms. Grandin was one of my daughters professors at CSU. Much appreciation to you for stopping by here to say hello.


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