Some times you have to run with the big dogs... or the medium ones, anyway. In Spalding, Nebraska. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

SPALDING, Neb. — On a ranch near the tiny town of Spalding, we crashed a cookout being held to thank state senator Ken Haar for his help in getting the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline changed. The pipeline originally was going to run across 92 miles of the ecologically sensitive Sand Hills, including a stretch about two miles west of Bob Burnt’s ranch where the cookout was held. The new route would take the oil pipeline over only about 10 miles of sensitive area well to the east.

So there was pulled pork, a beef dish, corn, lemonade and ice tea. And there was a lot of talk about the pipeline perils avoided and pipeline perils remaining among a group that included mostly Republicans. There was also a lot of talk about how citizen activism can bring about change. “It was really a citizen uprising,” Haar said. “As a group we made a big difference.”

The talk wasn’t all serious though. Afternoon activities included “tanking” down a nearby river. This is a popular pastime in this stretch of Nebraska. You float down a river in a large round metal or plastic tub normally used to provide feed or water to cattle. Because the tank is round, if you paddle it just turns in circles.

And before Haar spoke, a cowboy poet, R.P. Smith, told humorous stories and recited bits of his own poetry. He said, “I live in a culturally diverse community; we have farmers and ranchers.” He expressed puzzlement that people tried to make the late day meal, dinner, the main meal instead of lunch, which here is the main meal and is called supper. “There is no reference in the Bible to the Last Dinner,” he said.

He told of spending a few days at a Bible camp trying to get kids interested in religion. He said if you tie a 12-year-old to the back of a steer and stick it in a sluice gate at rodeo and ask him “If you die do you know where you will be spending eternity, you have his full attention.” It was, he said, “a teachable moment.”

Which is what Haar said the pipeline fight had been, too.