…the stranger followed a roundabout path towards our farmer’s market booth.

People are shaped by their surroundings. In our high desert home, the seasons and weather patterns dovetail seamlessly with dry canyons, rimrock and juniper trees. Personal space begins at a fence line and neighbors are listed high on the ledger’s asset side.

We raise sheep and goats on a small and remote ranch. Years back, part of our living came from selling meat at farmer’s markets. Direct access to lots of customers is the best, and worst, part of selling our products that way.

On one hand, many people are sincerely interested. They asked tons of questions about how we raise our animals. On the other, we grew tired of folks like the woman who stood in front of our booth, loudly declaring: “I became a vegetarian because I couldn’t possibly eat anything I’ve read about in a nursery rhyme!”

While most folks are better grounded in their dietary decisions, we discovered an unintended consequence of the bi-weekly journey outside our comfort zone. We attracted other people who were also shaped by the land.

One time, we met a young cowboy from southern New Mexico. Whipcord lean and with a quiet manner, he’d traveled in search of work. At the time, he was framing houses around town.

He stopped by the market that summer with a good-looking stockdog and cut a rambling path through the crowd toward our booth. The dog was obviously more comfortable in a crowded livestock pen than surrounded by a hundred people with their excitable children.

We talked.

Our conversation gravitated to the open space of the desert and good stock dogs we’d known. A few weeks later, I ran into him again. He was training horses for a dude ranch.

“This job isn’t much,” he told me, “but it suits me better than construction.”

I smiled, wished him luck and haven’t seen him since.

That’s the way of the desert: Those who don’t own land drift like wind-driven tumbleweeds seeking their own peace in the huge spaces between people.

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

Stopping by our booth, he told us he’d been hired to work cattle on one of our local ranches. He was glad to return to what he knew. As we spoke, his smile lit our booth like a welcoming lantern on a dark night.

When we last met, he’d found a wife and the silly grin plastered across his face attested to his new-father status.

At another market, we spotted a fellow in the food court. Standing back and scanning the crowd with his eyes, his gaze kept returning to our booth. A circuitous route soon had him standing in front of us.

He was a teacher by trade and newly posted to 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 stock dogs, silly horses and slightly south-of-docile cattle.

After annoying the neighboring booths with our antics for the better part of an hour, we figured we’d better get back to earning a living. The teacher/cowboy walked out of the market, distance in his eyes. We’ve not seen him since.

Farmer’s markets are no longer a part of our income flow. We’ve found other ways to make a living and challenge our perspectives from outside our comfort zone. However, when we’re in that uncomfortable region, it’s a pleasure bumping into someone who’s been shaped by the land.

Sleep well, we’ll talk again…..

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