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The lion in winter

“The lion in winter” is a little-used but wonderful phrase, a real compliment. It refers to a proud, competent man who’s aging (in the winter of life) but remains active and vital.

I thought of that phrase when I interviewed retired veterinarian Vernon Knudson for the May 7 Agweek cover print story and the AgweekTV show. This photo, by Agweek photographer Nick Nelson, helps get across what I mean. Yes, it was shot on a beautiful spring afternoon, not a winter day, but it shows a proud, competent 84-year-old man who, despite age and the physical wear-and-tear from decades of working with large animals, remains active and vital.

Here’s the print story. Here’s the TV story.

When I write a news story or opinion piece that mentions the physical demands of ranching, I sometimes get an email or phone call from an irritated reader who complains that ranchers don’t deserve sympathy, that they knew what they were getting into it.

Well, yes, Vernon and others involved with cattle and ranching understood going in that their occupation is physically demanding. But knowing in advance doesn’t alter the physical toll it takes. I’ve seen that in many older ranchers, including my own now-retired father. (And I stress that Vernon, my father and the others don't want sympathy.)

Vernon has been kicked and stepped on thousands of times by cattle. He’s bent down, or gotten on his knees, tens of thousands of times to work on animals. He’s used his hands, arms and shoulders countless times to work on them.

Combine all that with being 84 years old, and Vernon is doing remarkably well. He’s a lion in winter.

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