The Intervention Interval

A few weeks back I was talking to my friend Jason at a biological monitoring workshop. Jason is a rare breed: a SoCal surfer turned first-gen rancher, and a seemingly pretty successful one at that. In any given year, he's is buying, grazing, and selling thousands of head. He's found his niche, and is expanding it. But after learning what a lean operation he runs, I assumed he was chasing his own tail to keep up with everything. 

"So you must be stretched pretty thin, huh? How much do you work?"

"Nah - I take time off." Jason went on to explain that when emergencies arise, and it seems like he needs to be in a dozen places at once (those of you who have run stockers know how fast shit can hit the fan), he just turns off his phone for a couple of hours, hangs out with his wife, and tunes back in to find that a lot of the time, most of the problems have solved themselves. That which remains a real problem will persist, and he can address it free and clear.

Jason has learned to be a good judge of the intervention interval. Involving himself in a situation too soon and creates a dependency on his involvement that's tough to break: staff will look to him for answers instead of hashing through problems on their own. Animals that would have found their way back to the herd after an afternoon of adventuring are apprehended while they're still in hungry wander-mode. 

There is an arc to problems: often, what goes up must come down. I'll never forget a moment a few years back when I accidentally chased a calf into a canyon, stranding it irretrievably as I moved the rest of the herd far away. Had I slowed my tempo, moved less and observed more, perhaps I would have noticed the physics of the situation: the calf would have dawdled towards mom eventually, and she too would have gone looking for her offspring after filling her belly of fresh grass. Instead, I assigned that calf to be coyote or mountain lion dinner, at best. A rookie mistake--and one that comes, again, from having no sense of the right intervention interval.

The longer I work in touchable living systems, the more I understand that good judgement about when to intervene comes is rooted in physically representing the world beyond view within my own body. I just get a sense when something is wrong.

I think this is because my line of work is relatively similar to how humans evolved: in close relationship with herds of prey, whose behaviors are subject to many of the same factors we can physically experience--variations in temperature, wind, rain; the changing of the seasons set a mood in us, and so too with our animals.