As my granddaughter Hadley and I stopped our kayaks on a tiny island on Lake Eaton in the Adirondacks for a morning rest, a majestic loon in the distance started its signature call. I grabbed my phone out of the life jacket and started recording.

Not long after, a second loon responded in their signature vocalization, and the two soulmates swam to meet each other, reminiscent of a cinematic reunion, right in front of our eyes. When you’re a Pop-Pop, a granddaughter saying “Wow” and “I’m so glad to be part of this” warms the heart and makes the grazing planning devoted to carving out camping days worthwhile. I abide by the grazing chart when it calls for us to take a break from farming because I’ve humbly found “If you don’t plan for fun, you won’t have any.”

As the mid-afternoon swimming and sandcastle-making transitioned to four o’clock, it was a natural progression to try our hand at fishing. Fishing from her pink kayak would be Hadley’s first experience in navigation and multi-tasking with a fishing pole. We found a quiet cove perfect for a beginning angler. Tying her kayak to mine, I handed her a perfectly sized Zebco® three-foot pole with spin cast reel, rigged with a 2.5-inch, yellow-tipped and black plastic P-wee® worm.

As she practiced casting from her sitting position, the reel’s drag mechanism signaled “Fish on!” At first, she was reeling in copious amounts of sunfish, perch and small bass, testing her rig’s capabilities and her mojo on the water. She was doing so well, I felt comfortable enough to video her sick new skills.

With the camera rolling, her next cast dropped next to a partially submerged tree. I thought, “That was a great cast.” About four turns of the reel, and BAM! This was no ordinary panfish. With the little red 6-lb. test reel laboring its drag, Hadley had hooked herself a big bass, worthy of a fishing show. She kept exclaiming, “It’s gonna tip my boat over, it’s gonna tip my boat over!” My excited banter told her to keep her reeling (hoping all the while this big fish wouldn’t break the line). She landed her first “water heifer,” forever memorialized on camera and alongside 6,000 Instagram fans.

A good day on the water is only enhanced by the nighttime ritual of s’mores over a roaring campfire. This is where the unexpected epiphany happened for me – an immediate tie-in back to our farm, context and a good grazing plan.

What’s the next right thing?

Hadley with her bass – and my inspiration for “why.” Photo by Troy Bishopp

As my granddaughter cuddled with her Pop-Pop surrounded by our family, she whispered the immortal words in my ears: “Thank you, Pop-Pop, for making the best day ever.” With tears welling up in my eyes, I had an immediate flashback to the steps that got me to this magical moment in time as I hugged her deeply and said thank you.

It was a lightbulb moment that solidified what our true incentive for farming, grazing or living really is. It isn’t about the money or the production strategies. It has nothing to do with carbon credit markets or the public’s view of burping, farting cows. It was this unforgettable moment that reiterated the reason we get up every day and manage how we manage.

It’s for our next generations that we do what we do. It’s our why!

It’s the most powerful tool or incentive for the future we have – if we choose to use it!

The idea or concept of “why” and making goals has been elusive to me, if I’m completely honest, as something more “hypothetical” than practical. I can’t tell you how many “talking circles” have instilled the notion but few of the “teachers” have been able to lead by example.

My context of why completely changed when my brother Scott died suddenly on the North Carolina shore in 2017 during a family vacation. This tremendous grief followed me to the church where I accepted the gift of delivering my brother’s eulogy and found an essay he wrote in college titled “What Is Really Important,” summarizing Henry David Thoreau’s book, “Walden.”

In it, Scott wrote, “True values come into existence when we realize how well our parents have raised us, and we pray that we can instill in our children the values that were instilled in us. I think there is only one value that is universal; that is happiness. All other values are a product of our desire to achieve that one elusive value.”

Scott continued, “I believe in Thoreau’s statement: ‘That if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.’”

Hadley had no idea of the emotional baggage I was carrying at the fire – an extension of my brother’s spirit and my own internal grief. But she was my guiding light around that soothing campfire as she drifted off to sleep.

A song from “Frozen 2” played in my head: “The only star that guided me was you/How to rise from the floor/When it’s not you I’m rising for?/Just do the next right thing/Take a step, step again/It is all that I came to do/The next right thing.”

This was a moment that solidified our goal: “To properly pay homage to my brother, our ancestors, our family and our future generations, we must plan and implement (grazing term) for more quality time together.” The incentive? Memories, lots of memories – especially with those closest around us. Just like this one.

You may ponder, “Is creating memories with the next generations really a farming tool or decision?” I’ll go out on a limb and say yes, an empathic yes.

The glorious news on our pasture-based farm dotted with trees planted by all the generations is when we home in on our “why,” decisions make more sense. Whether it’s looking at life goals, financial planning or, in our case, planning recovery times that yield the most forage per acre possible for ecosystem health and extra camping days, the “why” quotient is 100%.

During the new year, remind yourself of the planning and actions it will take to mimic a tale like mine. The sooner we all figure it out, the better off we will be.

Words may inspire but only action creates change.” – Simon Sinek

by “Pop-Pop” Troy Bishopp