Tuesday, June 5, 2012


If you’ve read this blog for more than a few years you’ve probably come across my all-time favorite movie line before.

In Lonesome Dove, cattleman and former Texas Ranger Agustus McCrae has gangrene in his leg, “…from them arra’s them Indians shot in ‘im.” The town drunk and doctor (same man, of course) has already amputated one of Gus’s legs and wants to amputate the other to save his life.

Gus’s lifelong friend Woodrow Call tries to talk him into accepting the amputation to save his life.

“It ain’t dyin’ I’m talkin’ about,” said Gus, “It’s livin’!”

I’ve also noted on these pages that those of us in production agriculture live a little closer to nature than the rest of our fellows in America. I like to think of it as living at the intersection of reality and fantasy. We exist at the meeting place of nature’s reality and the fantasy world we modern folks inhabit.

Our fantasy world is a wonderful place. We built it, and we share it with an amazingly diverse population. It’s home. So far as we know, none other of nature’s manifold creatures have ever built anything like it.

I visit nature every day, but I don’t live there. I live in our shared home. I come to nature with pockets stuffed to overflowing with home-built conveniences, driving a modern pickup, with light and power and factory-made tools at my beck and call. Those things make me feel strong and smart and nearly invincible.

Nature visits me anytime she wants to. Sometimes she bears priceless gifts, like colorful sunrises and starry skies and new baby calves. Sometimes the gifts she bears are painful to receive, like hailstorms and drought and dead heifers. There’s no difference in nature’s mind (if I may be so bold); it’s all the same to her.

We all, city folk and country folk alike, get reminded of this from time to time.

Nature visited last night and ripped a friend away, away from his mortal existence, away from the warm embrace of those who loved him, away from our shared home. It’s springtime and we’re surrounded by new life. Nature’s new life. But she gives and takes as she chooses. She always has. She always will.

At a time like this, it’s easy to say that nature is indifferent, or cruel, or uncaring. But those words don’t apply to nature.

As my heart was breaking and as I struggled to hold firm in the face of disaster, I got a big assist from an unexpected source.

Ricki came to our ranch again last week, the guest of a niece. She’s a pretty little girl, with hazel eyes and a heart-shaped face and a scattering of freckles across her nose. She’s just now crossing the divide between tomboy coltishness and young womanhood, though she probably hasn’t realized that fact just yet.

Ricki lives life at full speed. She’s always in motion; ready to fill every momentary silence with a question, an observation, or grand, unified statement. Some grownups, averse to new experience or perhaps simply filled a bit too tightly with grownupness, opine that Ricki is too loud, too talkative, too restless, and too busy to suit their notion of how a 12 year-old should behave.

I find Ricki’s traits not only endearing, but promising. Ricki doesn’t wait for life to happen, she grabs life by the heart and causes it to happen.

As she and I and her friend (my niece) were checking cows this morning, looking for a heifer with a new calf, Ricki spotted the pair only a moment later than I, a fact she chose to keep to herself. My plan was to let the girls search and search in futility, then point out the clues they’d overlooked, clues a keen observer could use to locate the pair.
Ricki and Gracie in the back of the Gator with a new cow-calf pair in the background on the EJE Ranch Sunday.

But Ricki, already a keen observer, spoiled that grownup plan, and in doing so, brought me down to size with a big grin on my face.

As we motored toward the new pair, we passed the long-bleached bones of a cow that died years before Ricki was born. She looked at the bones, then looked over at the cow and new calf, then looked at me and flashed a brilliant smile. “Circle of life,” she said.

Later, as they loaded up to head home, Ricki took one last look around, reached out, and touched my arm lightly. “I wish I could stay here forever,” she said.

She can't, of course, and she knows it.

But Ricki, you will always be a welcome and honored guest on our ranch.

And Drew, you made our shared world a better place, man. I miss you.

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