A Wyoming author discusses ranching, family, and wisdom in his new book

Bob Budd has held a lot of jobs in Wyoming. A former director of the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association, he was a manager of Red Canyon Ranch, and director of land management for the nature reserve. He is currently director of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust where he works to improve wildlife habitats. He’s also very funny and a great writer. He wrote a book about Wyoming, its people, and its homeland called “The Otter Dance: A Rancher’s Journey to Enlightenment and Oversight. It’s available October 4th through Amazon and all the usual places. It joins Bob Beck.

Bob Beck: It’s already been a while since we’ve talked about one of your books, when was the last time you wrote something?

bob pod: Well, the last time I posted anything was in the early 90’s. We did “Send Fresh Horses” and then “Wide Spot in the Road,” which are very different types of books than this book. Then I started Little League coaching, had kids and other things, and I haven’t been back in a while.

Beck: But you were writing all the way. I understand that this is where a lot of the stories come from. Tell us about it.

BUDD: Well, all the stories are Wyoming stories, and they all come from the things we’ve experienced collectively and individually in our lives in this state. They came from…maybe someone would ask me if I could come and talk to a group, or, there were two of these edited books, which were multiple articles, that kind of thing. And some of them just came out, you know, late labor and you’re just sitting there and you’re not watching TV anymore, and you’re going to get inspired and kind of write it, but then later on, you kind of have to look at it and say, “Well, you know, that’s not bad.” And I just kept them.

Then I got coaching and encouragement from different quarters, friends who said, “You really need to do something with them.” And I said, “Okay, well, neat pants, what do you want me to do with them?” “Okay, I’ll call someone,” Rick Knight said at CSU. Then they said, “Well, actually, we love them.” Which surprised me a little bit, and then we went from there.

Beck: I think people will enjoy it. There are a number of short stories and articles, if you will, here about a number of things. So much about your father, about farm life, your upbringing in the environment. You may have experienced Wyoming a little differently than a lot of people, as you’ve worn a lot of hats in your career. Can you see in your writing how your thinking might have changed over time?

BUDD: Oh, yeah, it just doesn’t change your thinking. It’s your experiences that lead you in different directions. I hope you get a little smarter as you get a little bit older and start saying, “Maybe not everything is absolutely.” And certainly when you work in the natural resources, which I have owned all my life, you regularly feel humbled. I mean, you can be an enemy of anyone trying to act on the arrogance of natural resources. And when you start to think that you are stronger than nature, or that you are smarter than the system, then everything is revealed in front of you. If there is anything I truly celebrate in doing so, it is the tribute I can give to the people who have been my guides over the years. And I was very fortunate that they were there first. They showed up when I needed them, and second, that I was smart enough to listen to them sometimes. There are a lot of stories about that.

Beck: Your dad gives you a huge amount of advice and it seems like you should have a notebook every time you have a conversation with him about things. I noticed in your writing that he has a lot of interesting ideas. This seems to have affected you in life. Can you talk about that and tell us a little bit about it and how it has affected you over the years?

BUDD: He had so many little jokes that I don’t know where those guys got them from. He told me when you went to work at The Nature Conservancy, when everyone was like… “Oh, my God, how do you work with an environmental group?” I said, “Well, I don’t know, I’ve never done that.” And he said, “Yeah, it’s kind of hard to stand with your feet in two boats.” Where did you get that from?

Yes, my dad is a great guy and he grew up in a completely different era and world. I sometimes wonder about people like my grandfather, who, when he was born, didn’t even have cars. And then it passes by, presumably there are people walking on the moon. How does your brain process that? How do you go through with this? I mean, I don’t know how. It’s baffling to me that someone could actually understand it. Then I think that’s where another piece is in the book. There are a lot of things to do with faith, there are a lot of things to do with trusting others, and trusting things like the ones you face. And that’s because I think if you don’t, you’re going to lose your mind.

Beck: “Bobcats in willows are welcome, bobcats in barns are not.” I loved this line.

BUDD: That was my great grandmother. Oh man, she was going to go after those dang bobcats because they come in and get her chickens, which I was all for because I never liked cleaning a dang chicken house. But she was not as welcoming of bobcats.

Beck: Another line you have in the book that I also liked, I think you’re at Red Canyon Ranch at this time, and you’re writing about birds, and how birds give us feedback and insight into natural resources and their management of natural resources. Tell us about it.

BUDD: Yes, that was an early lesson. And that was again, listening to people who knew these things. And I was curious about what they needed? I asked one of them, “What do birds need?” And the answer came, “Well, that’s where they like to nest, that’s what they need, that’s what they need at this time of year.” Then one bird blew me up… and I think it’s in the book. It was a small flycatcher or yellow flycatcher that was caught in Red Canyon, like 10 years before that. And you think this bird made it to Central America and back to Wyoming 10 times, and it weighed less than your little finger. And this is just one of them. The wonderful things that I think I tried to get into in the book are just pure wonder of things that happen. And so it goes, well, what can I do next to make this creature’s life easier? And the answer is simply, well, if you can provide thick willow forests, if you can do these things that they need in order to reproduce and survive, you would do whatever you can to help them and why not? Yeah, I think there’s a certain amount of curiosity that, if we bring it back into our lives, makes things work a lot better. We are not responsible, and we are not the ones who should make all the decisions. What we have to do is think about, you know, what’s good for Willow Flycatchers, and how can I save that? Because the truth is that the cost of doing so is really nothing. It’s just management and thinking, well, if I nurtured them at a slightly different time, I might give them an edge. If I did it a little differently… and here I think a lot of this wonder came from

Beck: You’re suggesting that people who live in this environment every day, especially on farms and out of the wilderness areas of the state, care deeply about their surroundings. So let them try to solve the problem. Is that correct? Am I reading what you say there correctly?

BUDD: You are, but I think solving the problem is probably not the right word, they should just be involved. And that’s something we’ve been trying with the current administration, the previous administration, trying to convey that we have people who care, we have people who have deep knowledge and a deep, deep personal commitment to the landscape. If you try to do all the things you want to do without it, chances are you will fail. If you include them in the solutions, if they become a part of this process, you will surely succeed. Just letting go of control, letting go of some of these things, and getting the right people at the table when you’re having a conversation is crucial.

And it’s hard to do that because they are so busy. There’s a chapter talking about when they finally gather all the men in the creek and find out they all agree… that happens a lot. But you have to be patient. And you have to mean it when you say we want their opinion and then get them involved. And I think that’s something in my career that has been very rewarding. Wyoming has been a pioneer in this regard. We meant it when we said, “We need you at the table” when we started developing sage grouse plans. When we started managing immigration, we did all these kinds of things. The people on the floor, the ones most affected, were at the table and they were bringing wisdom, they were giving advice, and they were saying, ‘This is what I see happening in my backyard’. This was the kind that everyone could feel. They can go around it, stand behind it, and say, “Okay, so how do we do the right thing?” And we’ve been in Wyoming fortunate to have the right kind of people to do that, and I think we’ve been able to set the tone in a way that others can learn from and do that in natural resource decisions across the place.

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