After many, many years of saying I would check out the National Western Stock Show but never really trying, I finally made it to Denver and spent the day wandering the grounds. For someone who grew up in a large East coast city, it was quite eye-opening. Even though I have lived in the West almost half my life, I still don’t feel like a “native.” And I haven’t lived in an agricultural community, so everything I encountered was new and interesting.
I saw more bulls, heifers, goats, and sheep than people. I sat through several bull and goat shows and didn’t understand what made one creature superior to another, even though the judges explained their reasoning and I tried to follow. Most of the attendees were deeply passionate about the animals, while I was a clueless spectator pretending to be in the know. I love the opportunity to observe a way of life vastly different from my own, and I’ve learned that my camera protects me from looking terribly uninformed. If I’m taking pictures, I must know something about what’s going on. At least this is what I tell myself.
One of these creatures is not like the others! (But they’re all cute!)
(This sheep was shorn moments before. It was not pleasant to watch, and I cringed quite a bit.)
I was surprised how much I enjoyed wandering the stockyards, amazed by the enormous bulls and the hard-working people caring for them. Controlled chaos: hay, manure, sunshine, boots, hooves. Lowing, mooing, laughing, yelling. Hellos, howdys, and handshakes. I got disoriented in the midst of it all, looked around, and regained my bearings thanks to the city and mountains.
I left filled with the same ambivalence I’ve always felt, and which contributed to my avoidance of this event for so long. Yes, I was sad for the animals; I know there’s hypocrisy in this since I am not vegetarian. I was glad to see these creatures up close, but part of me wishes they could be “free.” I hate rings in bulls’ noses, but I love hamburgers. I went shopping at a vegan market after the show, but didn’t have a meat-free dinner. I don’t know if today changed any of the choices I make, but it definitely made me aware that I am choosing.