Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Being Pioneers In The Epic Of Our Own Lives

April 21, 2011

The men and women who settled our hinterlands were true pioneers. They left circumstances so dire and so dispiriting that they threw themselves gladly into the unknown in search of a better life. The frontiers of North America offered new hope, a new life, a chance to dream new dreams and to work toward their aspirations.

There were frontiers - frontiers of land, frontiers of opportunity, and frontiers of freedom. Through grit, sacrifice and hard work, the land and natural resources were tamed, harnessed and put to use. Behind every working farm and ranch are stories of how men and women acquitted themselves in that struggle.

Those who expected things to come easily, those who continually were looking over the horizon and those defeated by the adversity of weather or the perversity of hard luck moved on. Some of those who stayed did so because they had no where else to go. The gauntlet was thrown and the challenge was accepted.

Our pioneer heritage. Today, the descendants of those hardy souls are still on the land or, at most, one or two generations removed from their agricultural heritage. The accounts of courage, accomplishment, sacrifice and tragedy of the pioneering people are valued sources of spiritual and moral nourishment for new and rising generations. Their struggles and sacrifices are appreciated. Their lives serve as beacons and guideposts to point the way among the thickets and brambles of life.

That drama is still being relived in the lives of many smaller and mid-sized family farmers and ranchers. They choose to leave desperate situations that no longer work in the hope of finding better lives for themselves and their families. They are being true to their pioneering heritage by their courage and faith as they leave familiar surroundings and face daunting challenges in new places.

New frontiers in agriculture. But what of today? Where are our frontiers? The land is settled and fenced. The methods are tried and proven. The inventions have been invented. Where is the excitement? What can be tried that hasn't already been tried?

The frontiers are not gone; they are only different. Technology and the knowledge explosion have created whole new fields while rendering others as obsolete as the horse and buggy.

In farming and ranching, technological developments continue to revolutionize a producers’ capacity to produce food and fiber with great abundance. This, in turn, creates challenges in terms of knowledge, financing and marketing.

Computers, internet, telecommunications and computer-aided technology have accelerated this process exponentially. For policy makers, producers, scientists, and marketing specialists, modern agriculture has an abundance of challenging frontiers. There are new ideas and new applications.

Agriculture is not alone. Whatever the field of endeavor, new ground is being broken. In our daily

struggles with economic realities, rewards will go to those who are there first and stake their claim.

It is not as easy as loading up the wagon and moving on. To be there first requires preparation, dedication and a sense of what is needed - not only now, but in the future. To succeed is to find unique talents or ideas and dare to use them.

The frontier within. There also are frontiers of personal growth and change. It is sometimes easier to scale a mountain than climb the cliffs of our personal ruts. The greatest triumphs are not fought in the public glare but in the silent recesses of our heart. It is there that we find the bad habits we refuse to give up, self-imposed blinders that shield our view of ourselves, distractions we willingly substitute for important and enduring goals and the shackles that bind our imaginations.

For those who were bruised and broken by an early experience in homes where bad examples and human failure prevailed, there is a need for a heroic effort to break the chain of misery and incorporate new ways of doing things.

Here is a true pioneer - the person who cares enough about his or her children and their future children to make a break with the past and invent a life he or she has not seen. With that new ground broken, their descendants will be free to enrich it and build upon it without having to plow the old rocky ground over and over again. With only the faintest vision of where to go, brave people undertake the journey to leave the painful past behind.

Discovering the frontier of love. There also is another frontier too seldom crossed. It is the frontier of living a life based on love. To really love is to enter uncharted paths where self is forgotten and rewards visit those who do not expect them. We can be pioneers in parenting, marriage, friendships, community life, church fellowship and in serving others.

In a sense, each life is a pioneering epic, to be lived but once. Do we stand in one place or do we look for frontiers and horizons that lift us to greater heights? Do we break new ground for others to follow or do we limit ourselves old and familiar soil? Frontiers are still here. But are there enough pioneers?