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In Solidarity With Parkland, Florida

Like a lot of Americans, I have been paying close attention to the kids who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It’s very unlikely that I will ever experience anything like what those kids have gone through. But when I watch their faces as they stand up and speak truth to the legislators who hold the power and responsibility for seeing that our schools are safe, and contemplate the need for society to do something to protect them, I see something in their postures and in their eyes that is vaguely familiar. Of course there is great emotion in what they are saying. They are courageous but, if you look closer, you can see a tiny shift in their eyes, an involuntary tilt of their heads, a little change in their balance, as if they are listening to the sound of a faint audible bell sounding in their heads.  

Though it is barely comparable, I have had a glimpse of that look. Six weeks ago I returned home from a short, few hour trip into Rapid City. We live in a remote area at the end of miles of gravel roads and at the dead end of a two-mile-long driveway. We go weeks without seeing a car. When I came home that day, I expected to see my dog, Shiner, tearing around the corner of the horse barn to greet me. He’s usually excited to go inside with me but, that day I saw no sign of him. It was cold and getting dark so I figured he’d weaseled his way into Erney’s cabin, who is our old friend and dog caretaker. I really didn’t think much about it, just parked the car and walked past the horse barn to Erney’s to collect him. When I asked Erney, he just shrugged. “Haven’t seen him. Haven’t seen anything, all day.”

English Setter

We agreed that he was probably somewhere in the trees, exercising the rabbits. We talked for a few minutes and I made my way back to the house. By now it was almost dark and the light had become eerie. When I got to the house I found the front door wide open. I wasn’t sure what to think. I could only believe that I had inadvertently left the door open when I’d left a few hours before. I stepped in and flipped on the light that illuminated the broken glass of picture frames that were scattered across the floor. I heard Shiner coming from the back bedroom. I initially went for the easy explanation: I left the door open, Shiner found it, came inside, and had a dog party in our house. But Shiner is not that kind of dog, he is not a Rottweiler or Doberman Pincher, he is a small, gentle, white English Setter, with a black patch around one eye. By then he was standing in the hallway, looking ashamed and as bewildered as I felt. A few more feet in and I noticed that the computer I’d been on just a few hours before was gone. Drawers were gaped open and I walked to one of the open drawers and saw that my Colt revolver was gone. My walk down the hall showed more open drawers and missing electronics.

I had called Colton and went to the window when I heard him pull up to the shop (which he was going to check out when he arrived), and I stared out in disbelief, the ranch pick-up truck was gone. We had been robbed. Our wall of security had been breached. Our little Camelot had been violated. What had Shiner seen? His tail wagged in slow confusion. Thump, thump, thump against the wall. 

In twenty years we had never locked a door, never taken the keys out of the ranch trucks. When Jill and Jilian showed up they stood staring at the damage gasping, that is when I first saw the troubled look that I’ve been seeing on the faces of kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School. That faint bell was sounding, inside Jill and Jilian’s heads. It was fear, a loss of innocence, a recalculation of the order of our lives. Who did this? Meth heads? Crazies? Would they come back? It’s a bell that could never be un-rung.

We’d lost the pickup, the computer, stereo speakers, my kindle, cell phone, some jewelry, and the old Colt revolver that I had kept near me for forty years. Our family photos could be reframed and our photographed faces would again smile out into the room, but those faces would never be the same – they had now been changed.  

It was clear that the greatest loss was something that could not be calculated. From the material realm, the insurance did not cover the pickup and after the deductible and depreciation values, the check was incredibly small. There was enough to cover all new door locks and a now needed security system, what was left over I reserved to buy a new pistol. Because I didn’t know what else to do, I walked over to the cabinet where the old Colt had always been, and put it in the drawer. It was a hollow gesture.

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76 comments

  • I am SO sorry that happened Dan. It’s beyond imagination who would wander so far to then do such a thing! I’ve experienced this form of violation ,as well. It’s disconcerting effect is felt for months! I pray it wasn’t someone that already knew what you had and knew when you’d be gone! Too bad your friend/hand didn’t see anything strange.

    Karen Filter
  • So glad Shiner and everyone is ok. We are locking up too now although theives will still enter. Thanks for the work you do and the modeling respectful ranching. And thanks buffaloes.

    Kally G
  • Home is the sanctuary basis for all beings, human and bison. to violate it means the safety, the well being of that entity, the family and extended family is at risk. so much so that sometimes new homes .. and the hope of security … becomes no. 1 on that families needs. Such as it was … and will forever be …. that bison (extended) families mirrored (or is it the other way around) human families in their need for a comforting home. The "original Plains Indian tribes knew that to hunt the matriarchal component during calving and nursery times meant that family would not be back the next year. They hunted the young bull groups during this time. But those tribes new to the Plains did not know this. They hunted without knowledge and therefore the more the hunters (Indians & Whites) … and the more the bison families displaced, the more chaos on those Plains. Until it got so bad, so many bison extended families, unable to find and keep secure homes, became the huge numbers of bison families on the move … the refugee camps of bison forever. The wise Plains Indians knew it all was the same, the structure of functional bison was the same as any hunter-gatherer tribe. Thus when there were social problems in that tribe, problems they had difficulty solving, they had several experts go into the field and find out how the bison extended families, the clans making up the herd, addressed it. If folks think it was a bit extreme for bison families to vamoose with danger then think of a human family, one with all their needs met, a nice house on the golf course, good schools for the kids, good professional jobs…but then someone, or ones, start walking through your house at different times of the day or night. And no way to stop it, not even knowing what time that individual is coming through, she no recourse but to move that family pronto. Thus it was on the Plains. All those bison had homes. all those elk had homes. same as the antelope. We just didn’t see the invisible fences of that families territory. Every family, human or bison, has public as well as private needs. In Yellowstone the bison could follow along the roads with little ones, the public space, but they always had private homes, the isolated back of places like Hayden Valley and the Mirror Plateau. Then Day Use outfitters started taking clients each day to those recesses “to see wildlife undisturbed”. Yes, soon those Hayden matriarchal component herds started running with the sight of any horse party…even a mile away. Along the road, OK, but in the inner home, they couldn’t tolerate it. And the males, those parts of each extended family that always formed protective rings around those female components, had no means to stop the human interlopers. Thus over a decade or more in Yellowstone, due to reductions with management based only on herds thought only in terms of “herd density” or multiples of one, Hayden and Lamar now have huge refuge camps of bison … all eating out winter range in the summer. YES HOME is not a place to be violated. It affects all of us, whether the O’Brien’s or those functional bison herd mothers of old.

    bob jackson
  • I am beyond sorry for this happening to you and your family. And shocked: not only your isolation, but the fact that you and your family are all known to be armed makes this a stunning occurrence in this rural area. I have always locked doors here, since we are closer to the highway and have been here for unwanted visitors many times, but I have believed that being rural was a kind of protection. As you say, this requires a reassessment of so many of our assumptions. I’m so glad the dog was not hurt; reading your lead, I was expecting even worse.

    Linda M. Hasselstrom
  • I’m so very sorry to hear of this violation of your sanctuary – your home – but so very grateful to hear that your beloved dog is unharmed. Thank you for sharing this painful episode with your usual eloquence. I hope these kind words of strangers provide some comfort. Sadly, many of us have been in your shoes. My work in law enforcement has put me in contact with many burglars and thieves. Most don’t want confrontation, but most are also desperate drug users, so it’s impossible to tell if they’ll come back. Your remote home is no easy target, so I question why they would’ve bothered traveling out that far. They must’ve expected that the effort would be worth the risk. Get a lock box for your gun for when you leave the house, as guns are valuable items to sell in the street, and check pawn shops in town for your valuables. Some new cameras – and prominent signs announcing their presence – might deter a future visit. Yes, our world has changed, but there are still many more good than bad. Focus on the good, and continue to work for positive change – as you have been with your buffalo. It/they will restore your spirit.
    Jo Schaller
  • Very sad to hear that your ranch was vandalized. Our UIAD group from Grenoble (France) visited you at the end of june 2017.
    Your welcome was so warm.
    The place seemed beyond the reach of the folly of mankind that we can’t hardly belive such a malicious act.
    I wish you to have the will to continue this beautiful activity.

    Robert JACQUEMOUD
  • First and foremost I am so sorry you and your family having suffered this type of violation on your home and being. We in rural America are subjected to the realm of “bad guys” but for whatever reason it is a truly “different” feeling than what occurs in the urban areas. Yes I have witnessed it for a brief time in an urban area and that is why I’m back home where I belong! Keeping you and yours in my thoughts and prayers. We Rural Folk are a resilient breed,,,,keep the faith Dan!

    Nancy
  • I Hope Ol Shiner’s cousin the pit bull is out for a visit should the dirt balls come back again. “every dog has his day”..

    Glad everybody is ok.

    Bill Hager
  • Is there no safe place anymore? It is hard to conceive that something like that could happen out there. Having had a car vandalized and valuables stolen from it, and an attempted theft of my current van, I know all too well what you are feeling. But I live in a city where these things are, sadly, common occurrences. It makes me sad to hear that it has happened on your beautiful ranch. Some things can be replaced, you can even buy another gun, but your Colt can’t be replaced. And neither can your trust. I’m so sorry, Dan.

    Diane Thill
  • Dan,

    Material things can be replaced. Thankfully, Shiner was ok. But the violation, the intrusion into your home, your sanctuary, your safe haven can never be undone. The uncertainty of whether it can happen again will always linger. The uncertainty and the feeling of insecurity are the real damages. Just like the students in Parkland, the uncertainty of whether school will ever be safe again will never leave them.

    God bless you and your family! I am sorry you experienced that ordeal.

    TIMOTHY A HART
  • Having visited your beautiful home, it is so hard to believe some could be so stupid as to rob when there is no where to run except on your ranch with all roads so visible for miles! Sorry for your loss of safe feelings, but so glad no one was home and Shiner was not harmed.

    Florence Briggs
  • This personal story puts words to the heavy dark cloak I feel myself involuntarily wearing these days. I am most saddened by hearing of your violation. May all beings be at peace.

    Cynthia Eddings
  • Dan, I’m so sorry this happened. I sympathize. When my husband and I were young and living in high-crime areas, we were robbed — not just once, but several times. As you’ve surmised, most robberies like this are associated with drug addicts in need of cash to support their habits. It’s a complicated set of issues. We’ve probably made the problem worse by criminalizing drugs, rather than treating users for mental health troubles. (You don’t see alcoholics or nicotine addicts robbing houses to support their habits.) Be that as it may, take heart from the fact of human resilience. You will learn ways to feel safe again, and be happy. BTW, you are one heck of a good writer!

    Nancy Etchemendy
  • Dan and Jill, Jilian and Colton: We’re so sorry this has happened—I awoke in the night tossing and turning and thinking about it. Kay had two similar incidents elsewhere before we met—it certainly leaves a horrible feeling knowing that a family’s Home and Refuge have been violated.

    We also send our respects to Shiner, a sweet soul who did all that his gentle temperament would allow.

    And please remember that there are many people in this world who love you and appreciate all that you do for nature, humanity, and the planet. We need you. Is there a way that we can make a cash donation to help replace those items so essential to the Wild Idea?

    Sincerely, Keith and Kay

    Keith and Kay Lewis
  • When I was a small child growing up on a fsrm in NW Perkins County, SD, one of our female neighbors was kidnapped and tied to a windmill several miles from her home. Her car was driven into Shadehill Lake. I am almost 70 years old and I still remember how fearful we all were. To this day I am very cautious in everything I do.

    Joan Edwards

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