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Breaking Clean by Judy Blunt

Judy Blunt is the humanities lecturer at the upcoming Poetry Gathering in Elko, January 27-February 3. When I read this in the program brochure I had just finished her book Breaking Clean .

In the beginning I wondered why Blunt called the book Breaking Clean instead of Clean Break. After contemplating, breaking clean is a longer more painful and messy process than making a clean break. The image of a jagged-edged piece of broken glass, compared to a scored edge of cut glass came to mind. The jagged edge has the potential to inflict more damage, but if held up to the light the edges reflect more colors.

My experience marrying into another ranching family has been a much more positive one than that described in Breaking Clean. But one point that really struck home was the articulation that our generation of women are caught in a world of corporate ownership versus the partnership model of our parents. In contrast, we watched our parents participate as partners on the ranch, even if there were gender issues within that relationship.

For my generation and Blunts, this is not the case. We are just one of many shareholders. We may enter with a lack of business skills and understanding of how the corporate structure has changed the dynamics of a family operation. Many do not grow up with a corporate background of boardrooms and shareholders. Many families have not cultivated the skills to negotiate the new terrain of an inclusive family corporation.

While reading Blunt’s book I realized that the issue of ownership paralleled another experience. Early on in life, I had the opportunity to learn that owning something did not necessarily mean a greater appreciation of the object of ownership, perhaps just the opposite. I don’t have to own a great work of art to appreciate and love it.

This led me to realize that this might be likened to the relationship the “interested public” has with federal lands of the West. This sense of communal ownership is evidenced by the growth of NGO’s like the Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club etc. and the demand for growing participation in public policy governing federal lands.

Understanding that sense of love and appreciation without ownership could get us a long way in understanding the motivation of the public. Many friends who have been shut out of the family circle on the family ranch can perhaps take some comfort in knowing that to cultivate that caring beyond ownership is perhaps a higher calling. It presents an opportunity for great personal growth, and perhaps an understanding that leads to a better future for all in the western agricultural industry.

Breaking Clean helped to clarify an issue that I could never quite identify in my life and the lives of friends who struggle traversing the minefield of business and family. I am also grateful for identifying with all those strangers who appreciate western lands. Despite the controversy that so often consumes us, we have a common ingredient in loving the land, whether we want to admit it or not.


This was a great point you made Robin...to love something without ownership is a great struggle and a great gift. It is the American way to possess all that we love so that we can maintain complete control. To love the land but never have control leaves it's well being up to who? Government? Families? NGO's? the Public? Since we all rely on healthy landscapes, we can only hope that we get better at working with each other to protect the "commons" and appreciating the families who are lucky enough to "own" and "love" these landscapes. I look forward to listening to Judy Blunt. Best wishes for the gathering.

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About Robin Boies

Robin Boies
Robin Boies is the product of a northern Texas cattleman and a city-bred girl from Boulder, Colorado. As a child Boies remembers Sunday's marked by church school and the weekly sermon, followed by an afternoon of Pitch or Twenty-one with red, white, and blue poker chips stacked neatly in front of her. When it came to culture it was sublime opera in the house and Hank Williams in the green Chevy pick-up truck. Boies found herself in Steptoe Valley north of Ely, Nevada, at age seventeen. For the past 28 years Boies has lived 45 miles north of Wells, Nevada, at the Vineyard Unit of Boies Ranches with her husband Steve. There they raised three children, Teema, Nathan, and Samuel. Teema enters Gonzaga University this fall to pursue a graduate degree. Nathan is back in college when not at the ranch after a service engagement in the 101st Airborne, and Samuel graduated from high school last year and has been in New Zealand since September 2005. While tending to the needs of the ranch Boise works to understand and tell the stories of contemporary ranching culture through writing and videography.
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