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Reanna and Kennedy Schlecht take a break from helping build fence with their parents. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)

Finding fulfillment 'beneath these western skies'

As I was roaming the countryside for a story a few weeks ago, I was listening to music from the late Chris Ledoux, a legendary rodeo star turned western musician from Wyoming. I've heard his song, "Western Skies," probably thousands of times, but this time it made me stop and think.

Ledoux sang that his "Nashville friends think I'm strange to make my home out on the range, think it's nothing but a Godforsaken land." It made me think of all my former coworkers who have taken bigger and better jobs in cities across the country. Early in my career, I aspired to follow the same path. Instead, I now work and live in a place many of my old coworkers would consider "Godforsaken land."

Almost every line in the song made me think of my life and smile. As Ledoux sang of "peace of mind and elbow room," I thought about how our closest neighbors, other than my in-laws, are about a mile away. I've never once been annoyed by a siren or loud music since I've lived out here. My dog tends to be my only noise complaint, and I can't stay mad at her for long.

A line about "county fairs and rodeos and a better place for my kids to grow" brought to mind my 7-year-old, who has been raising and training a bottle calf for the second year in a row to go to the county fair. I thought about how the kids play in the yard, wrestling their ever-growing herd of cats and finding all sorts of things to make believe on their swingset. I thought of the softball tournament I took a team of girls to, where we lost three games in a row but you wouldn't have known it by their smiles and giggles.

The imagery in the song called to mind the afternoon my daughters and I spent in the pasture with my husband, the deep grass tickling at my 3-year-old's chin. We all had our jobs, working together for a common goal. When the girls could, they explored nearby, gathering and gawking at the wildflowers blooming in vibrant purples and oranges through the pasture and watching storm clouds in the distance.

Rural life isn't easy, nor is it for everyone. We still contend with bad weather and money problems, to say nothing of the troubles brewed up by politicians who've almost certainly never put in as hard of a day's work as my two little girls already have.

But there's a fullness to our lives here that I don't know I'd have found living any other way. Maybe in a city we'd have more structure. Maybe I'd go to a gym once in awhile or find more activities and enrichment for my children. But as I watch their delight at the ways of a new kitten or at finding a prairie flower among the grass, I can't imagine wanting anything else for them.

I don't know if my career ever will reach the heights I once dreamed of. There is a place, of course, for rural and agricultural reporting, now more than ever. It isn't necessarily the vision of success I once had, but I'm quite certain my life is more full and fun and interesting than it would have been had I followed a different path.

Like Ledoux, "I guess I'll stay right where I'm at, wear my boots and my cowboy hat." For me, life "beneath these western skies" beats anything I could have had anywhere else.