We turn our heads, even raise our hand to eye so as to blind us to the other side of nature — fierce cold.
Winter storms force cattle to turn their backsides to the wind and drift — drift until warm temperatures encounter their travel. But during the worst of blizzards, cattle bunch into box canyons, fences and fast-flowing streams that terminate their travel, even their lives. The worst of western blizzards came in 1888, destroying like a monster from Hades the free range of the American West that never arose again.
The photograph inserted shows the blizzard of 2009 that stranded motorists and brought out the National Guard to the Texas High Plains. Brenda and I drove through the storm. Livestock perished, not like 1888, but many perished despite the efforts of cattlemen and helicopters dropping hay from the heavens, manna for cattle. We put chains on the pickup in Roscoe and took them off in Slaton, slowly making our way to Lubbock, then Santa Fe.
I drive at least two times, sometimes four times a week, between Mingus, Texas, and Abilene, a journey of 87.2 miles from my ranch house to Cisco College. As I travel, I see good and warm things, but I also see a tableau of death, regardless of cold Winter or warm Spring. I do not write about the tooth and claw — only one post in a year have I written about the other side of nature — because it is most unpleasant and I have been taught by my family to look the other way, grit my teeth, bow my back and work on, carry on, even pick up sticks and rocks from the corral to forget and cover the other side of nature, raising a hand to the eye.
I was taught by my family to keep death and blood away, the least semblance of pain is to be endured against happiness and pleasure receding too quickly in our lives. I learned in college that my family’s philosophy was stoicism, remembering vaguely the word, but daily that conduct. I write this blog about nature and how she covers us second by second, year by year, like a quilt on a cold winter’s night, a softness and heaviness at the same time, installing comfort into our harried house. The warmth erases pain and anguish. But, there is another side that we all must endure.
There is an extraction, a debt, that inevitably must be paid. As I drive the 87.2 miles to Abilene and back to Mingus, I see, even hear the debt being paid in blood and tissue. How many deer, raccoons, skunks, possums, coyotes, dogs, cats, field mice, ravens, hawks, snakes, fox, moths and monarch butterflies can I continue to see killed along the roads? I see the remains; I am even a part of making the remains. The only debt I hear paid is the lovely monarch butterfly that hits my windshield, leaving a yellow stain that I cannot wash off until the day ends. The monarch strikes my windshield and I cringe. I think, quite often, that my salary, forcing my travel to Abilene, is not worth the agony and groans that I feel and emit as I see and hear the other side of nature.
I write of horses prancing, birds singing, dogs playing and armadillos browsing with slow gait, rooting and eating contentedly. Then, why write this post, why bring up the other side of nature? Death and blood and stench of flesh? I’m not sure, but to bring up the other side of nature seems to balance my exuberance downward. Downward to the way-things-are and away from illusion, closer to truth. My work is affected. As I drive the interstate to Abilene I see the panic of deer running across the road, jumping the fence to safety, to daily heaven. I walk into class to lecture and the gravitas of it all weighs me down to essentials: why are we here, what are we doing, what are the models we want to imitate, what are the models we wish to avoid? I don’t waste time for I am doing my best to answer those questions for that day.
As I come back home to Mingus, I think: I am here to groom my horse, play with my dog, feed my cats, tend my pastures, grow plants for monarchs to feed upon, protect the deer in my domain and love my life and wife. Taking my hand from my eyes, I see life as gift once more as it is balanced against the other side.
I often have Brenda read my stuff before I publish it. She read this and said, “Very good, but very heavy. They’re going to say you haven’t had your anti-depressant.” We laughed. She understood what I was trying to say in the post. I told her that I have been wanting to write this post for a long time. One of the reasons I support wildlife corridors is the death I see on my travels to Abilene. There’s a place along Baird Hill that needs protection. I see drivers trying to avoid the wildlife. Many succeed in avoiding the critters. Drivers aren’t all talking on the cell phone.
- Monarch Butterfly Roost at Flying Hat Ranch (swamericana.wordpress.com)