Truth found in the smells from a live auction

“All animals auctioned by 100 pound weight except goats or as announced.” (Notice at Northern Michigan Livestock Auction)

This notice reminds me of the one posted by The Hat Creek Cattle Company in the novel, Lonesome Dove:

“For sale — Cattle and Horses.

For rent — Horses and Rigs.

Goats and Donkeys neither bought nor sold.

We don’t rent Pigs!”

In Lonesome Dove donkeys and goats were neither bought nor sold. At Northern Michigan Livestock in Gaylord they sell both but like Hat Creek Cattle they don’t rent pigs.

But it wasn’t goats, donkeys, or pigs that lead me to a livestock auction; it was the smell, one I hadn’t experienced in a while. Without the smell my memories wouldn’t come clear and present day impressions could not attain the accuracy I sought.

I wanted more than a glimpse of the smells’ origin grazing on a summer pasture. I wanted to get to a sale barn up next to the auction ring there to consider the actual facts; observe how things appear as they move in all directions not just in “presentation”; know how much money was changing hands between whom; and experience the unfiltered, unperfumed smell of the way things really are.

If, like me, you want to avoid those fancy distractions on the internet’s web – visit a place where you can gain a clear perspective. If you want to feel a rhythm; observe objects deserving the eloquence of an auctioneer’s unique vocal attention and not have to worry about where you step – get yourself over to Gaylord to the livestock auction. There’s a sale every Wednesday.

I used to buy and sell cattle at the auction in Emerson but it’s been closed for years. Livestock auctions have consolidated. Consolidation started down on the farm.

In the May 1, 1947 edition of The Alpena News, James Male had a one horse Oliver plow for sale. Assuming that plow had a 12″ bottom, James would have to walk 8.25 miles to plow an acre. If his horse pulled the plow at 1 MPH it would take him 8 1/4 hours.

Using modern equipment, a man can now plow an acre in 8 minutes. It should come as no surprise that fewer and fewer farmers are farming larger and larger farms – that’s consolidation. This consolidation idea worked so well down on the farm they couldn’t keep it there. As so often happens when a thing leaves the farm and goes off to the city – it tends to get out of hand.

For example, no longer do people get their gossip off multi-party telephone lines. Now, there’s more gossip than ever but it’s all consolidated into a single phone that, paradoxically, provides less privacy. Google, Facebook, twitter, and others now share your information with far more people than ever listened in on your party line. Then, they leave you messages; a few are from your neighbors, but some of the others — are lies.

Numerous old country stores lost their merchandising rivalry to larger stores downtown. Today, those larger stores fight to exist in a web of consolidating dimensions.

Though there are benefits to these consolidations: fields of communication and merchandising are plowed more quickly – it has gone beyond the consolidation of hardware, dry goods, and gossip.

Now, there are consolidations of extremes that combine with consolidations of political and financial power. These noxious weeds are capable of germinating in both cultivated and uncultivated fields. Spreading over unbalanced terrain they promote misinformation that can choke out an auction.

If that happens there will be no bidding; only limited views of actual facts; no smells of unfiltered, unperfumed odors revealing the way things really are. We’ll have to keep an eye out.

We knew there’d be trouble when consolidation left the farm but we didn’t anticipate having to watch where we step.

Doug Pugh’s Vignettes run bi-weekly on Tuesdays. He can be reached via email at