As a kid, I used to spend a couple of weeks each summer at “The Ranch,” a magical oasis in California’s arid San Joaquin Valley. The family-owned property contained a eucalyptus grove, lily pond, reservoir and hundreds of steers, horses, chickens and pigs, all bound by fields of alfalfa and barley. Beyond, thousands of acres of tumbleweed desert radiated toward distant mountain ranges to the east, south and west. To the north, the land stretched forever, proof enough to an emerging consciousness that the world, despite Columbus, was really flat.

My dad and his brother ran the cattle business from a nearby small town, Wasco. Each year in sweltering July, my brother, cousins and I descended upon the oasis. I was the youngest, always lagging as we made our barefoot rounds from the mud-molded reservoir banks past the smelly chicken coops, grunting pigs and flyswatting horses to the main corral where the steers panted in the sun. Although captivated by the real-life spectacle of the ranch, I lived in fear of almost anything that moved. The chickens w