Speaking Personally

Don’t Know What you Have Till It’s Gone
Amanda Mendez is the publisher and editor-in-chief at Howell County News. She and her husband, Ron, have owned the newspaper since 2019. She is an enthusiast of all things Ozarks and old-fashioned. 
Facebook friends of mine will recognize the first part of this story. At the risk of stirring up controversy, I must begin by saying that Ron and I are not dog people. We are, however, chicken people, and in the wilds of Mark Twain National Forest where we make our home, being chicken people means we have a lot of encounters with wildlife who also appreciate our chickens. 
Enter: our livestock guardian puppy, Panda. Panda is high strung for her breed. Though she has never had a cross encounter with the birds, she makes a nuisance of herself with her puppy behaviors. We were barely tolerating her presence until Tuesday night.
At about 11:00 p.m., Ron and I were startled by the sounds of coyotes howling and yipping. The sound cut right through the walls, as if they were on the front porch. In reality, they were about four feet inside the treeline that circles our house, garden, and livestock pens. And they were hunting. 
Ron stepped outside with a firearm, and without prompting, six-month-old Panda bounded to his side, spoiling for a fight. She led Ron in the direction of the nearest coyotes before sprinting away into battle. From the sounds of her growling, barking, and lunging in the darkness, the contest was fierce. She bounded back with some minor wounds and a gigantic grin. She proceeded to circle the chicken yards the rest of the night, effectively saving our flock from a grisly end. She received a bowl of milk and lots of praise for a job well done. 
Two days later, our toddler startled poor Panda so badly that she ran off into the woods dragging her lead. She was gone all day and all the stormy night. With sinking stomachs, we saw she had not returned the next morning either. 
It was a blow. We had just started to appreciate her and the role she had earned on our place, and in a flash, she was gone. 
In my sadness, I reflected on the universal human experience of our seeming inability to appreciate what we have until it’s gone. We had just learned Panda’s value, and then she ran away.
It put me in mind of our culture’s casual claiming and (sometimes) dismissal of our American rights. People of my generation have only ever known an America characterized by power, prosperity, and peace. We are proverbially fat and happy with our freedoms. Sure, we can talk about recessions and social injustices, but America is still the world’s flagship of progress and plenty. We vote, protest, yell at elected officials, go where we please, and do what we want. Except for one September day in 2001, foreign violence has never touched our soil in the last 70 years. I look at the rise in popularity of socialism and its tenets among my contemporaries, and I’m afraid we are valuing our comfort over our freedoms. I’m more afraid of what it will look like if we lose those freedoms without ever fully appreciating their value, even if they’re not perfect. 
Ron found Panda tangled up on a stump on our property on Friday morning, healthy and unharmed. As of this writing, she’s back at her post next to the birds, and we have learned a lesson about appreciating and protecting what you have while you have it. 

Howell County News

110 W. Main St.,
Willow Springs, MO 65793

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