The other side of nature

The other side of nature. A rather intense blizzard, Christmas time, Texas High Plains, 2009.

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.


Filed under Baird Hill Pond, Deer, Dogs, Life in Balance, Life Out of Balance

9 responses to “The other side of nature

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The other side of nature | Sage to Meadow --

  2. One of the first posts I read of yours over a year ago was also about cattle and harsh treatment received when they got through a loose fence line out onto the highway. Heard your good attention to beings in that one and hear it here. How you were brought up told you to keep on when suffering happened, but didn’t tell you not to notice it. Do you think some folks are taught that – not to notice?

    Gentle Buddha talks about that one given – suffering. I need to find out what he said about what to do when you see it in others … for I, too, curse deep down when the butterflies are killed by the speed I am driving. And you can’t always slow down or avoid.

    Thanks so much, Jack, and Brenda too.

    • I was taught, like you and Brenda and Caralee, to go on despite the pain and suffering I see. Ease it if we can. When Lilly has to go, I will be there with her because she will be scared and I will need to talk to her, stroke her mane and tell her that she was a fine horse and a good mother to her foals. I’ll be with her to help her. After that, I will ache the rest of my life. I’ll not let her suffer with strangers. I’ll make them turn the backhoe motors off while she goes. She will have me and Brenda and good vets about, but it’s going to be my voice and touch she will carry into the void. I believe it is our responsibility to lessen the suffering of all living things, however we can. Be catchers in rye fields and along the highway we travel.

  3. Caralee

    Like you, I’d rather not think about such things, but it’s at this time of year I see it the most. Unlike Texas, here in Utah we don’t routinely see possums and armadillos on the roadside (the old joke being “it’s not true that possums and ‘dillos are born dead at the side of the road”), or smell that burnt coffee smell of dead skunks all year long because they don’t live in the Utah desert. But it’s at this time of year–when the deer are migrating from the north to the south–that we have to witness far too many remains of bad accidents on the 15-mile drive from our land to town. It’s a joy when we see deer calmly watch us drive past them on our driveway (slowly this time of year) and see magnificent bucks with giant antlers grazing just a hundred yards or less from the highway. But we know that it’s not unlikely that same buck will be found the next day at the side of the highway.

    But it was in Texas that a most harrowing experience, one that haunts me to this day, happened. I was driving home from the Panhandle after a work week, and was between Vernon and Wichita Falls, really the middle of nowhere. There was a large German Shepherd-type dog, dead in the middle of the highway. For me, that was bad enough. But as I passed him, swerving a bit, this wretched dog raised his head to look–clearly using the only part of his body that could still move. It was one of the most moving, hurtful, and frightening things I’ve ever had happen to me.

    Are we supposed to look at these awful events, or look away as we pass them? I’ve never been sure. It seems to me that looking away is somehow dismissive, so I look, and send what sympathy and caring I can to that poor being who got in the way of what we call civilization.

    • Thank you, Caralee, for taking the time to write a moving comment. That German Shepherd…there is nothing I can write to make things better. Nada. I know that we attend so much that is good and so much that is bad. Those poor beings.

  4. I have nothing to add, except to say, Jack, that your response to C.C. is so moving… This is a tough subject, but no,we certainly cannot look away, attending what we can. I just went through deer hunting season here in Minnesota – a spiritual and emotional paradox for me.

  5. Good one Jack. Maybe not always pleasant to think about but definitely part of each of our lives. It’s how we react to the tough subjects that matters.

  6. Pingback: Sunset with monarch tree | Sage to Meadow

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