Happenstance Events Cause Major Lifestyle Shifts:

By Dave Hanks

I heard a speaker once tell about an important railway shipment that was intended for the Great Lakes region. An error in track switching, of just a few inches, got that shipment taken all the way into the Deep South – the exact opposite of where it was supposed to go.

As I reflect upon my life, a few happenstance occurrences here and there have caused totally different sets of circumstances for me - and sent my life in a very different direction from what might have been.

I was engaged once. I even came within 10 days of marriage. She had sent out invitations, but then she “dumped” me. That required non-invitations to be mailed to counter the original invitation. I was “broken-up” at the time and to say that a change occurred that sent my life in a different direction would be a very inadequate description. I often muse about the words of the Dalai Lama when he said, “Sometimes when you don’t get what you want, that can be an incredible piece of luck”. My eventual wife (the first week of summer school) did not want to go to a dance. These dances were held each Friday evening in the bottom of one of the dorms. She was goaded into going, and that’s how I met her. What if she hadn’t gone? I have often thought about how drastically the person you marry affects the pattern of your life.

Another major life altering event came my senior year in college. I was working on a teaching certificate. It required a preliminary teaching experience before you were assigned as a student teacher. I taught one unit of Social Studies in a Junior High School 8th grade class. I worked hard at it and my cooperating teacher gave me an “A”. However, the professor in charge did not like me. In fact, I believe she hated all athletes. Anyway, she gave me an “F” to be averaged with the “A” and, low and behold, she averaged that out to be a “D”. A “C” was required to move to the last step in the student teaching process. She told me that I was unfit to be a teacher and being young and naïve, I believed her. I had an offer to coach and teach at Ogden High School but had to turn it down because I wasn’t certified. If I could have taken that job, we would probably have become “city folks”. Not knowing any alternative, we returned to Idaho and my Dad’s farm. We definitely would not have had our Montana experiences and that would have been a tremendous loss!

Carolyn and I worked for wages at various menial jobs for four years: she in an office supply store – me at a potato factory, a beet dump, as a flunky at a veterinary hospital cleaning out dog and cat cages and aiding the veterinaries, and finally at a large hog farm as a manager. We decided that we were going no where. Carolyn suggested that we get in our pickup truck and investigate the country to the north of us – in hopes of finding a ranch that we might acquire. As we drove over Monida pass into Montana, our hearts soared. It was May and everything was green, expansive, and there were Angus cattle all over the hillsides. This was the place! It was to become home. We had acquired 12 Registered Angus cows and had a dream of owning a ranch. We had very little money, but a banker and a ranch owner in Dillon, Montana took a liking to us. They backed us, and we became owners of a small 160 acre ranch. I had previously applied for a position in the FHA (Farm Home Administration) and had given up on it – having not heard from them for a long time. Then my acceptance came through a couple of weeks after we had made the move to Montana. Had I taken that job, we would have become urbanites and our life-style would have been quite different.

Not being economically sound on the ranch, forced another change of direction. I decided to try once again to get a teaching certificate and thus eventually became a teacher - my life’s work. The seven years in Montana was a tremendous growing experience for us.

Now in our late years, wildlife photography and writing have become the determinate events of our lives. These two facts are also the result of happenstance events. I would never have started photographing nature except for a class at Utah State University. It was called, “How to use Animals in the Classroom”. One morning the teacher took us bird watching. There just happened to be a Snipe on a post by the roadside. That was such an emotionally stirring experience, that it started the evolution into our wildlife pursuits of today.

My start in writing began in an Ecology class - of all places! I knew I couldn’t write, but a class assignment was to write and present two nature poems to the class. No way was I going to do it! I even considered going home early, but “gutted” it out. Much to my surprise, I found that I could write. The trip home from McCall, Idaho was devoted to making up poems as fast as my wife could write them down. They poured from me in a steady stream. I was “hooked”!

It is truly amazing how the seemingly small events in one’s life (like the switching of the train, previously mentioned) turn out to be such important events. Events that change the direction of the path one proceeds down in life.

(Two life changes: Cattle ranching and then after school teaching/coaching to photography)