LUSK – On a chilly October evening a bearded, aging, cowboy sat scrawling his name inside books at the Niobrara County Library. Those who came to obtain his signature came just as much in hopes of hearing him repeat some of his oft-quoted wisdom, jokes, or humorous observations.
Larid Johnson fits into that category of men many refer to as “they don’t make ‘em like him any more.” He has done and seen so much, good and bad in his lifetime that his books almost read like an adventure series one finds printed from the 40’s and 50’s.
Raised in Vernal, Utah Johnson spent his childhood outdoors in the mountains and streams near his hometown. After joining the military and receiving an honorable discharge, he attended Utah State University and received his Bachelor of Science degree in wildlife management. Shortly after obtaining his degree, Johnson was offered a position in the Wyoming Animal Damage Control Division of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Casper.
As Johnson himself writes in his first book, Yellow Dog Eight, “When I got my job with the Fish and Wildlife, I was paid for doing what I already loved to do.”
So in 1963 Johnson embarked on his decades-long journey working predator control helping ranchers and farmers protect their livestock and livelihood. Johnson’s adventures and career ups and downs are chronicled in his first book, Yellow Dog Eight.
Full of literal high-flying (and low-flying) adventures Johnson’s stories about three decades of predator control and how what he did was affected by the changes in U.S. culture and Wyoming laws from 1963 to 1994 is both entertaining and educational.
Subsequent titles he published are The Thinking Rock and The Tiger and the Strawberry Queen. The Thinking Rock is a collection of anecdotes tempered with wisdom and humor that anyone who has spent time with Johnson would recognize as his signature style.
It includes the profound and somewhat melancholy observation that, “The time in our lives is like gold. We should spend our treasure wisely. Many times we squander our attention on our wants and entertainment. The demands of routine tasks often dull our appreciation for doing good things. It’s not that we don’t use our heads to think about family, we just think about things that don’t matter.”
The Thinking Rock includes observations from Johnson regarding the success of individuals and families including grave concerns about the future of our society. These observations are paired with humorous observations about his own family. Underlying all of the narrative is the deep sense of love Johnson has for both those who came before and the generations that have come after him.
His children and grandchildren join in the narrative with their own essays and observations cementing Johnson’s thoughts when he says, “We need more love in our families…We need to give serious thought to family…Humor is needed in a successful family.”
It is in Johnson’s third book that those three elements really shine through. The Tiger and the Strawberry Queen is a brief and heartbreaking story about losing the love of your life too soon from disease and dementia. It is an ultimate love story that looks back on hardship through the lens of love, humor and time to see it for what those hardships really were, opportunities for love and a marriage to grow stronger.
As Johnson watched his Queen of sixty-plus years succumb in her prolonged battle with sepsis-induced dementia and physical ailments, it seems to crystalize his faith, his love and his perspective on life. Johnson knows that he will see his Judith again and that “Life often seems to be a big test with happiness sprinkled on when needed.”