I can’t claim to have the best job in the world.
I decided years ago that honor belonged to the late Harold Ensley, “The Sportsman’s Friend.”
As an Ozarks boy watching his TV show, I was sure hunting and fishing for a living had to be the best job possible. I wouldn’t have even called it work.
I count myself fortunate, though, to have been able to enjoy what I do almost as much as I once loved hunting and fishing. I’ve wanted to be a writer since my sophomore year of high school, and for most of the half-century since then, I’ve been working at it.
Contrary to the road I’ve taken, I never aspired to be a newspaperman. It just happened that journalism gave me an opportunity to write and be paid for it. I was never into the “starving artist” syndrome.
Newspaper reporting and writing has always been work. At times in the past, I would have argued that it was among the worst jobs a guy could have, not one of the best. Long hours and high stress can take the fun out of most any endeavor. I’m sure Harold Ensley had times when he would have as soon stayed home as go fishing, too.
Two things have kept me at it: writing and people.
No. 1, I realized at some point whatever talent I have as a writer is a God-given gift, and I have a responsibility to use it.
No. 2, I get to meet a lot of great people while gathering information and after my stories and columns are published.
For most of my career, though, the circumstances were not always pleasant. I’ve had to write too many stories about friends dying in car crashes, being hauled into court or losing their homes to wind or fire. I’ve also sat through more city council and school board meetings than most elected members of any of those boards. I’ve been both ecstatic and heartbroken at the performance of friends and neighbors in public office. Likewise, I’m sure I’ve both pleased and disappointed readers of my articles and columns.
Thankfully, I don’t cover the courthouse, city hall or schools today.
What I do today comes awfully close to hunting and fishing for a living. I mostly write columns and cover farm news. That puts me in contact with some of the best people in the world.
A few days back, for example, I visited with the new president of the Polk County Cattlemen’s Association and his wife. It was supposed to be an interview, but “visit” fits better when you have coffee with ‘em at their kitchen table.
Last week, then, I spent almost half a day with a Lowline Angus producer at Republic. He hauled me to five different pastures and we visited a lot — sometimes about his cattle.
That same day, I stopped by Pleasant Hope to snap a picture of a young couple with big plans to host weddings and such in a huge barn overlooking the Pomme de Terre. Real likable kids.
I visited earlier with a couple of dairy cattle traders at Elkland, a native of “Hogeye” and a Mennonite entrepreneur, as well as Century Farm honorees from Cedar, Polk and Dallas counties. Did I mention all the folks I see every month at cattlemen’s meetings?
I could backtrack for years over the country folks I’ve had the privilege to sit and visit with. Each has their own story, but all are much the same — salt-of-the-earth folks.
A steady diet of crime stories, scandals, politics and government can sour a writer’s perspective on the world. But, visits with folks I meet as a farm writer go far to restore my faith in the innate goodness of country people.
I don’t know what truly makes a job the best in the world, but I guess I have to concede mine comes pretty close — well, as close as any we’d still call “work.”
Jim Hamilton is a freelance writer in Buffalo. Contact him at email@example.com. A version of this column previously published in the Buffalo Reflex. ©️ James E. Hamilton 2019.