Spotlight on: Larry Cochran

  • Mon Nov 11th, 2019 1:30am
  • Life
Larry at the 4-H livestock auction. (Contributed photo)

Larry at the 4-H livestock auction. (Contributed photo)

When Larry Cochran was an adolescent, daydreaming in math class, his teacher barked, “Cochran—outside.” Then in the hallway, “You’re half asleep, what’re you thinking about?” Larry’s response: “Cows.”

“It’s kind of like a love affair with cows,” Larry says now. He raised his first calf at age three, became a 4H kid who loved to draw cows, and went on to own and milk and care for them his entire life. His affection extends further, though: “I love my family. I like kids; I like music; I like animals; I like Lopez.”

Kids? Larry has four, and a grandson. Music? We’ll get to that. Animals? Larry showed his first lamb at age 10, and started shearing at 17, “earning twice as much as my dad,” he says. His best: 142 sheep in one nine-hour day. He still enjoys shearing a dozen here and there. Horses also played a big part of Larry’s life, from buying, working and re-selling them as a teen, to riding with his own teenage boys and his wife Diana. These days, he’s given up riding because “I don’t bounce good.”

Larry was born on Lopez into a family who’d been here since 1883. His grandparents had a Guernsey dairy and thousands of chickens. And while his dad, “Captain Johnny,” turned to fishing and logging, Larry made the opposite pivot, back to the demanding life of farming. “Never had a paid vacation in my life,” he says—something many long-time Lopezians can relate to.

“Farming has never been economically viable for me,” Larry acknowledges, describing the difficulty of trying to run the island’s last dairy farm back in the ‘70s when Lopez had no farmers market, and north-enders weren’t willing to drive halfway down the island to buy milk. “I went broke two or three times, farming.” But you stick with what you love.

Not that Larry has done nothing but farm all these years. He fished too, with his dad and brothers. In his later fishing days, Captain Johnny was legally deaf and blind, and Larry describes his father navigating through fog using his sons’ senses. “Dad says, ‘Can you see any lights?’ ‘No, can’t see anything.’ That boat pulled badly, you had to struggle with it. ‘Hear anything, see anything?’ ‘No, can’t hardly see the bow, Dad…’” until the Cochrans suddenly found themselves in the kelp right next to Iceberg light. “If we’d just trusted his instincts, we would’ve done much better,” Larry says. That was Captain Johnny’s last trip, and though Larry continued seining with another captain, he never pursued fishing as a career.

Larry first married at age 20, a marriage which lasted five years, and gave him his first two sons, Todd and Thad, and his first grandson. Being a custodial dad was hard but rewarding. In the early 80s, Larry met Diana Huckin, visiting from Seattle. They stayed up all night playing cards on her friend’s boat, then Larry went home at dawn to relieve his mom of baby-sitting, take care of his cows and grab a couple of hours’ sleep before heading out fishing. Hurrying back to the harbor, he found Diana’s boat departed. “Oh, well,” he thought, “another summer girl gone.”

But the following February, a mutual friend reconnected them. It was lambing season, and Larry invited Diana to go check lambs with him. Next day: adorable piglets—and by then the flame was lit. After a series of weekend visits, Diana moved to Lopez. They’ve been together now for over 35 years, with two children, Sara and Tyler.

Now, back to Larry’s other abiding love, music. He started playing guitar at 16, and always sang to the cows while milking: “They’re not big critics.” Enrolled at Skagit Valley College, Larry started playing rock ‘n’ roll. A couple of times a year, he and his buddies put on shows on Lopez. This pattern continued as Larry played with Stanley Greenthal and Greg Blomberg, later forming a country band to play at the fair. His longest-running band, “Cheap Friends,” included Bosko and his wife Shelly, Bruce Gregg and Doc Holt. They played for 15 years, locally and off-island. Now, Larry still enjoys playing bass with friends and the praise team at church.

Except for college and a few months in California, Larry has spent his life here. He’s headed construction crews on Blakely and flown all over to shear, but Lopez is home. He’s unsure about reaching his goal of farming till age 75, but he and Diana still own a few cows and sheep.

Larry stays involved with 4-H, but he has more time now for art now, mostly pastels. “Art,” Larry says, “is about using your eyes.” And Lopez offers all his eyes need. “My wife says, ‘When we get on the ferry, you’re already asking, which boat are we coming home on?’” Larry muses. “She’s pretty much right.”

 

Contributed photos
                                Right: Larry at the 4-H livestock auction. Left: Larry playing bass 30 years ago.

Contributed photos Right: Larry at the 4-H livestock auction. Left: Larry playing bass 30 years ago.