Coffe Shop Moments: Shaped by the land

Bing Bingham


For the Capital Press

My wife and I live on a remote high desert ranch.

Our closest neighbor is a mile away. There are three houses on this dirt road; none of us can see the other. Shopping involves a 50-mile round trip and, sometimes, the quiet at home is so deafening we can hear a train 15 miles distant.

We enjoy the land on which we live; we're not completely at home elsewhere.

Part of our living is made selling our meat at farmers' markets in the city.

Sometimes we spot other people who feel as out-of-place in town as we do.

Frequently, these are folks who have been shaped by the land.

One telltale clue is when a person has the dazed look of a coyote that has wandered too far into the suburbs in search of a meal.

Rarely does that person approach our market booth directly. Rather, they come in a roundabout fashion -- checking the scent, so to speak -- of the situation.

Years ago, we met a young cowboy from the flat land of southern New Mexico. He was whipcord lean and had a quiet manner.

He'd traveled in search of work. At the time, he was framing houses around town.

He stopped by the market a couple times that summer with a good-looking stockdog that he paraded through the crowd. He made a point of swinging by our booth.

Each time, the conversation gravitated to the open space of the desert and good stock dogs we'd known.

When I last saw him, he was training horses for a dude ranch. It wasn't much, he said, but it suited him better than construction.

I smiled and wished him luck.

Another time, we spoke with a cowboy who'd sought a regular paycheck doing construction work in the city.

He'd injured himself and decided he'd better get back to what he loves on the land before his hard-working days are done.

He came by our booth to tell us he'd been hired to work for a cattle and sheep ranch.

His smile lit up our booth like a campfire on a chilly desert night.

Last Christmas, we were at a holiday bazaar. I spotted a fellow in the food court. He was scanning the crowd; his eyes kept returning to our booth. A short time later, he was in front of us.

It turns out he was teacher by trade and newly posted in our area.

However, he was born and raised by sheep and cattle people deep in the Great Basin. We laughed and joked about people and places we'd known. We cussed and discussed good dogs, silly horses and slightly south-of-docile cattle.

We annoyed the people in the neighboring booths for an hour.

Soon, we realized we'd better keep earning a living while we could.

He went on his way; my wife and I returned to selling meat.

My wife and I don't mind providing a little respite for folks who are out of their element -- it's a good break for us.

We look forward to crossing paths with people who have been shaped by the land.

Bing Bingham is a writer, rancher and storyteller. He gets that same dazed look in town. If you have a story to pass along, contact him at

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