Sunday, October 25, 2015
We have been working two to three days a week for two months rebuilding an old set of pens.
Except for the fastener hardware, the rest of the building material has been salvaged and or recycled. It has been our typical exercise in austerity. The work represents a living history that reaches back at least 80 years.
The old gates were taken out of another unused corral and probably constructed on the ranch under its previous ownership. Their upset tubing frames and rebar cross members were built with heavy duty in mind. So were the pipe swings with their massive concrete footings. The morning we hooked 75’ of the crusher screen panels from the same old pens to each of three pickups and pulled them intact to the job site it reminded me of the class B westerns of yesteryear when the Indians towed burning brush to the encircled horse soldiers fighting for their lives.
We even have a snake story that came through the stretches of sweat.
On one of the first mornings of replacing loose or broken line posts, we had the little cowboy in digging a post hole and within the first two or three scoops we hit and broke a water line. We ran and shut the pump off and started figuring out what we needed to fix the break. With shovels, we first exposed the crimped break itself and I cut the old black poly line with my pocket knife. Trying to avoid getting dirt down into the line I asked Leonard if he had a rag we could stick in it and he said he had some rags in his pickup. He retrieved one and handed it to me down in the hole. I stuck it deep into the pipe and continued my excavation.
We now had Leonard back on the backhoe and extending the excavation of the line to the extent we could actually work on it. At the point I stepped backed down into the hole, I spied the rattles of a snake trying to back through the stuffed rag that I had stuck in the other exposed end. I came out of the hole with my departure exceeding the ground level by more than a foot!
“Snake!” was my response.
“Where is he?” was Leonard’s adrenaline laden remark.
“Right there trying to back out of that hole,” was my answer. “Come get him!”
“You get him yourself,” he came back.
Huddled together looking down into the hole, we could both clearly see and even count the rattles. Both of us came to the same conclusion at the same time.
“How can there be a snake in that pipe of water?” we looked at each other.
We quickly figured out what happened. Leonard had been collecting rattles of recent snake encounters and he tossed each in succession into the side pocket of his pickup door. When he reached in to get the rag to stuff into the exposed pipe, he unknowingly grabbed a set of those rattles, too. Without seeing anything, I stuck them and the rag into the pipe. It wasn’t a snake at all, but the effect was surely the same. We laughed and … the story has gotten better with practice from each rendition.
The whole job has been steeped in history.
From the cedar posts cut by gloveless hands of an unknown vaquero to the crafting of the steel gates of a cowboy who was taught to weld, past generations of cowboys sweated under the same afternoon sun we know so well. The configuration of the rebuilt corral retains the basic design of what one of the former owners, one of the Burris boys, conceptualized many years ago. They had handled enough cattle to know what worked better than what they had available elsewhere. Their ideas came from actual experience and hard work.
Similarly, the changes we made came from our own experience in the corral. The result is a stepwise process that blends old, new, and used materials with time polished techniques and modern approaches to make it easier and more humane on men and animals alike. It is cultural evolution that is made more efficient by experiencing first hand conditions of today with conditions of more than one hundred years ago. It is a generational process. It is hugely important and the practitioners are linked inexorably to their shared stewardship of this land
There is a kinship with those old time cowboys, and we feel the honor of its shared value.
Yesterday, we worked cattle in our upgraded pens for the first time after the modifications. Change the names and the makers of their saddles, but the cowboys of 100 years ago would have fit right in. We could have discussed why and what we modified and they would have learned as much from us as we did from them watching and mimicking their timeless skills.
At noon, we would have walked among dozing horses and checked out their gear as they did the same to ours. One difference we would have likely seen was their horses were, for the most part, left untied with their split reins dropped on the ground. They were “ground tied” and stood patiently where those reins were dropped while our horses were tied to gooseneck trailers. Those same trailers and pickups would have been utter fascination to the earlier year cowboys. While their horses stood ground tied like gentlemen, getting them loaded into our trailers would have been a different story. Ours would have loaded with ease, but a real wreck would have ensued with the first attempts to load what otherwise appeared to be their well behaved equine partners.
Brothers we are and will remain. We are indeed part of a ranching history value, and, to those who must understand, it remains in an unbroken chain of vital stewardship to our land yesterday, today and, hopefully … tomorrow.
History be damned, though, this country is being ravaged by rogue federalism that existed only to this extreme during the Civil War. Nothing is sacred.
This administration’s agencies are in full usurpation of their already extra constitutional boundaries of authority. Two major breaches have occurred in the last ten days. The first is the record of decision signed by the BLM director for the greater sage grouse management plan amendments and final environmental impact statements for the Great Basin and Rocky Mountain Regions and its parallel and outright rejection of recommendations by five western governors.
With his action, the director simply dismissed the governors’ final tool, their legislated Consistency Review, which allows 60 days for the agency to work out disagreement with the state for resolution of disputed conditions. In effect, the director told the governors to go pound dirt. Furthermore, if the governors had any questions they could call Brian Amme, Acting Division Chief for Decision Support, planning, and NEPA at 202-912-7289.
In other words, if the duly elected governors wanted to talk to someone about their state’s sovereign rights … they could talk to some mid level bureaucrat and not bother him with their gripes.
The second extra constitutional cram down came from director of US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). It was in the form of a letter to Alexandra Sandoval, New Mexico’s director of Game and Fish, rejecting New Mexico’s denial of FWS’ request for permits to release wolves from captivity into dens in the wilds. New Mexico had denied the requested wolf releases unless and until any management plan is updated and presented to the state for review and discussion. The state, like Arizona, is completely in the dark in regards to the extent of the FWS plans for wolf numbers and any substantive plan for a release program that has gone horribly wrong and culturally destructive.
The timbre of the letter reeks of arrogance and self importance.
“Exercising this authority (authority suggested by their legal council for wolf reintroduction into New Mexico) will allow the Service to import, export, hold and transfer Mexican wolves in the state of New Mexico, and to release Mexican wolves on federal lands in New Mexico without a State permit.”
In other words, nobody including the sovereign state of New Mexico has any authority to tell FWS what to do. The Service will do what it wants, when it wants, and with or without an irksome plan or permit. Like the BLM response in the case of the sage grouse, the state of New Mexico was told to call another midlevel bureaucrat for further information at 505-248-6282.
Wow … aren’t all appropriation measures initiated in the House? At some point, wouldn’t you think even a go-along-to-get along Republican would exhibit enough courage to start demanding the slashing of particular budgets?
Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “The autocratic, fourth branch of government is fully ensconced in Washington with colors of glory and …tyranny.”