Sunday, October 23, 2011


We had a neighbor show up at our doorstep the other day – afoot!  He had gotten his pickup stuck in a surprise mudhole while out checking cattle.
It was a long walk for him – more than a mile for a 70-year-old-man– and we were the closest neighbor.  And of course I dropped what I was doing to give him a ride back to his outfit and pull him out.  And of course we were both equipped for such an event:  he had a chain and I had a tow-strap.

The neighbor was apologetic about bothering me, but I was glad to be of assistance, because I know that my turn will come!  In fact, this same neighbor had helped me get my pickup back on the road after I slid off in deep snow last winter, and had helped me with a stuck tractor the winter before.

A neighbor called from a different direction last week.  This one had one of our heifers in his corral.  Our Red Angus yearling was obvious when he gathered his black pairs, and he had put her in the corral for us until we could come by with a trailer and haul her home. 

And  this neighbor was lamenting that he was short 25 pairs from his fall gather.  But he was confident that they were mixed in with the cattle of another neighbor, who would call him as soon as he gathered.

Neighboring covers lots of miles in Montana, where ranches are well scattered.  I spoke last night to another neighbor, whose husband suffered a subdural hematoma when his horse fell, and assured her that I would help with pregnancy testing.  And this evening we will attend a benefit supper and pie auction for a neighbor whose family was involved in a horrible automobile accident.

The radio commentator Paul Harvey had once explained that in most places the word “neighbor” was a no­un used to describe a person who lived nearby – but in the rural west it is a verb: as in “to neighbor”.  For as independent as a western rancher is seen to be, he knows that he can’t always do it alone, and that neighbors are essential to his survival.

Most people in the West don’t keep track of who owes a favor to whom.  And in fact, I’d much rather die having  a lot more favors done for neighbors than done by neighbors, because you never know when your turn will come.

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