Friday, May 15, 2015



A rancher is a grass farmer. In this part of the country the grass farmer uses cattle to harvest the bounty of nature’s grass production. As the cattle eat the grass, they use its energy, protein and nutrients to grow and reproduce. Calves born to the cows are the grass farmer’s crop, which he trades for cash.

Most people see the cattle and ignore the grass, and tend to think that the cattle are the key. Without the grass, however, there can be no cattle, so that notion is exactly backwards. The grass is the key; the beginning, middle and end. And it supports more than cattle.

When you change your focus from cattle to grass, a whole different world opens up, and nature begins to reveal her symmetry and majesty.

So look at the grass. What do you see? Green stems and luscious green leaves, packed with everything cattle need to grow and reproduce. But look a little bit closer. The leaves and stems are more than cow food, they’re autonomous grass production machines. The green is the green of chlorophyll, the catalyst of photosynthesis, which transforms radiant sun energy into metabolic energy, combining carbon dioxide, water and nutrients to the carbohydrate of grass growth and production.

There’s more, though. Just as you can miss the grass by looking at the cows, so too can you miss the grass by looking only at the leaves and stems.

Beneath the surface of the soil, the grass roots extend down at least as far -- and usually much farther -- than the leaves and stems extend up. Leaves and stems need water and nutrients, after all, and those things live in the soil.

Without access to water and nutrients, and without a firm anchor to the earth, grass can’t begin to grow, let alone produce cow food. Strong, healthy roots are the key to the grass.

There are other kinds of roots.


As the sky lightens in the east, I’m sitting on soft, green, cool season grass, mostly green needle and western wheat grass. I lean back in comfort against a timeworn hump of siltstone. I’m nearly in the center of a pasture we call the North Googie. The air is cool still and fragrant with the smell of prairie-May and cattle.
My North Googie stopping place as range management classroom.
Around me I hear the quiet sound of cow-calf footfalls, the soft grinding of cow-calf chewing, the dim rumble of cow-calf rumination. The waning gibbous moon hangs fat and bright over my right shoulder, providing plenty of light to take in the scene. The pairs are grazing north-to-south, moving along the low ground at a steady pace, selectively grazing on nature’s tender springtime bounty. As sunrise nears, morning twilight fills the air and the still somewhat shadowy animals gain substance, dim shapes becoming distinct and shaped like what they are – cattle.

I’ve come to check these cattle, but I’ve come early enough to enjoy the transition from too-cool springtime night into the beauty of sunrise. Wrapped in cool beauty and surrounded by natural wonder, my mind dashes down thought-filled brain corridors as each sensation prompts staccato flood of thoughts.

The cattle grazing around me are in the midst of a remarkable transformation. The cows have only recently given birth and are heavily lactating. As if that isn’t enough, they are also cycling back toward reproduction. The calves are growing like weeds on a diet of rich milk and an increasing ration of grass. The grass combines water, nutrients and carbon with the power of the sun to make more grass. The cows and calves eat the grass and use it to make flesh and bone and sinew. In that sense the cattle are concentrated sunshine. Calves yet to be born will be made up, in part, by today's sunshine.

People will eat the beef these cattle produce. Hamburgers yet to be consumed will become flesh and bone and sinew. In that sense people are concentrated sunshine. Babies yet to be born will be made up, in part, by today's sunshine.

This springtime slice of the cycle of life is remarkable to me, but only because I pause to give it thought. Otherwise it is simply nature at work, and nature does her work whether I think about it or not. Although we spend lots of time and more than a little effort managing our ranching operation, nature is really in charge here, at least in charge of the important stuff.

I smile as the cattle graze on by. Just as it’s important to manage the ranch to the best of our abilities, so also is it important to understand the reality of one’s place in nature.

My thoughts shoot down another passageway, one echoing with voices from the past. How many times, I wonder, have people paused here to enjoy mid-spring coolness and the impending beauty of sunrise?

I have no way to know, of course. It seems a perfect pausing place, and I’d be unsurprised to find evidence of previous use. Yet the land is wide, with many possible paths, and people – compared to the vastness of the land – are few, even at their present six-billion-plus number.

I think about a letter penned by my maternal great-grandmother Oda and addressed in 1970 to my grandparents. The letter describes, in two pages of sparse but detail-packed paragraphs, Oda’s marriage to Sam in Kentucky, their subsequent migration to a homestead in New Mexico, and ultimately, back to a farm in Adams County, Neb.

“(We) were married Apr. 20, 1904 at a lumber camp in Lee Co., Ky. Pastor was an old man who came on a mule across the Mts. from Owsley Co., Ky. Mamma had dinner soon as the ceremony was over. They had a square dance at the house that night. There was no work at the mill that day…

“In summer of 1909, Sam went to New Mexico & took up a homestead. He paid $550…we picked up bag & baggage & got to Estancia, New Mexico. The shack was very small, 10 x 16 ft. It was fun at first, but money ran out & first crop burned up – so dry. Sam went to Albuquerque to look for work. The children & I stayed on the claim, as the family had to stay 7 months of the year. We had 2 horses & a neighbor worked them while Sam was gone. Every week the children and I went 11 miles to Estancia to get groceries and mail. Sam would send me a little money. We proved the claim in Dec. 1909. Sam came back to prove up & we went back to Belen with him. Dale was born 5 days after we got back…

“Dale left us 28 Sept. 1915, and it was a sad time. He was at a cute age, 2 years, 9 months. In August 1917, Sam decided he wanted to visit his brother in Nebraska so he got a pass on the railroad. He rented a farm and went back to New Mexico and disposed of the household goods. We got to Nebraska 2 August 1917…

“The first year, we got hailed out, but Sam had good luck with hogs and with chickens. By this time, both girls had to go to high school. Mae worked for her board and came home on week ends. She taught school at 17, Wilma at 16. They took Normal training at Kennesaw, Neb.”

Oda lived to be 99 years old. Sam died in 1973 at 94. They were never very successful at farming, but farming isn’t the yardstick to gauge a successful life. How many Americans could do today what Sam and Oda did a century ago?
Oda working hard at 95.
Oda, son in law Ed, 1975.
My grandparents came of age during the Great Depression, living a life I can only imagine, never understand. My grandmother Burback was born into an immigrant family of German-Russians.
German-Russian immigrants Henry and Anna Burback on their farm, 1950.
Consider this – consider hoeing beets every day from planting to harvest, starting in the fields as soon as you were able to pick up a hoe. All day, every day, except when school was in session, when you worked the fields before and after school. And except for a few hours on Sunday when you went to church.

Before heading to the fields in the morning there were chores to do – a cow or two to milk, horses to feed, hogs to slop, chickens to feed and eggs to gather. And the same chores in the evening, after a day in the fields and at school.

Consider living in a one-room shack with your parents and a dozen siblings. A home where German was the tongue, but where the children were expected to master flawless English.

Where there was no indoor plumbing, just a hand well and a privy. A single cast iron stove for warmth. Consider spending countless chill winter hours gathering coal along the railroad tracks, one lump at a time, to burn in that stove, to stave off the killing cold.

Consider the deep terror caused by a winter sniffle when there was no money for a doctor and the doctors had no antibiotics.

Consider living and working in those conditions and being expected to be neat, clean and polite, to show and live your family pride and thrift and honesty and integrity.

No computer. No I-Pod. No television. No Radio. No refrigerator, microwave, toaster, no range. Just a coal stove. No car. No bus to ride to school.

Yet they were clean and neat and polite and well fed and didn’t see the hardship of walking to school and to the fields.

Consider the courage and the deep and abiding love it took to get married and start a family in those hard times. Consider the scrimping and saving and the hard physical labor it took to acquire land and machinery and start to farm while raising a family. Consider the delight and the warm glow of success at being able to purchase your very own radio.

Consider building, with the labor of your family alone, a modest but successful farm and ranch. Building your own barn. Your own home. Hiring laborers. Putting in one of the first pivots in the county. Watching your daughters grow and marry and start families of their own.

Consider working hard and building every day throughout the long but oh-so-brief years. Feeding the county, and the state, and the nation, and the world. Building and keeping an honored and honorable name.

By the time I came on the scene killing labor was a thing of the past, the depression only a word. But the reality of those things remained in the weathered skin and strong, ropy muscles of those who had lived it. And in the stories they told of “hard times.” Stories told with honest laughter and verisimilitude only those who’ve lived it can bring.

I am blessed with countless sweet, loving memories of these people and the way they lived their lives, working hard and without complaint. Clean, neat, well dressed, honest, forthright, giving. Loving.

I think of my great-grandmother, Maude Evertson, who so often told me of her love for the prairie, and her contention that most of it should never have been plowed and farmed. I can’t help but wonder whether she’d ever beheld the beauty of a May sunrise from the North Googie. Perhaps yes, perhaps no. I think about the wonders she must have beheld back when the prairie was essentially undisturbed, when there were no county roads nor REA lines and fences were few and far between. When Indians still occasionally trotted across the landscape on short, colorful horses.
Maude Evertson, Helen Evertson, dogs and a child, Blizzard of '49.
Mickey Evertson, Evert Jay Evertson, 1945.
Maude Evertson, 1955.

Maude and her Mama, ca 1890.
These things are roots also.


America is an idea living in the hearts of a diverse people in a wide and varied place. E Pluribus Unum. These are, in part, our American roots:

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776. The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America...We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated...
No person shall be held to answer for a capital... crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury...; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury... be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

"I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military JusticeSo help me God."


  1. By far, your best post yet, Shaun. Well done.

  2. I will echo what Juvat said.

    Moving and profound...

    1. Thanks Sarge. Moving and profound...

      I once had a Chief who would listen politely to your story, then say, "That was moving and profound. However..." Then he'd proceed to go full Sgt. Snorkle. Your comment brought that back and gave me a chuckle!

  3. Rats, I was going to say what Juvat said. Very well said, sir!