Sunday, April 15, 2018


The 80-Year Waltz
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

            I watched The Last Cowboy at Pine Creek Ranch this morning.
Wayne, Jr. and his sister, Margaret (with whom I have worked), certainly share mannerisms as well as that distinct Hage look. They both have such nice ways of presenting themselves. I knew neither their father or their mother although I have come to know a fair amount about their story. I am sure they look fondly down from a heavenly perch at all three of their children, true Westerners, that they are.
            And, there should be no question of their spiritual journey. Nobody can live, work, and give of yourself on a family ranch without being impacted by the magnitude of its influence on your being. In her snippet of commentary, CJ Hadley suggested it was a bit of John Wayne syndrome. Certainly, a manifestation, but the unfolding of the layers will inevitably reveal the real lesson.
            The creation holds no balance with … the Creator.
            The 80-Year Waltz
            The wind has been blowing.
            We have started the annual war against African rue. If we are going to subdue this unwanted invader from lands far from our shores, we must fight it relentlessly. So, April has become the start of our spring campaign.
            Spraying in 40 mph winds, however, is impossible so Friday became a day of wishing an old friend adieu. The Dodge and I pointed into a cold headwind toward Silver City for a date in loving memory to Henry Torres.
            Henry would have appreciated the music played in the protected cab. Most of it was Willy’s Roadhouse except for each tedious departure from twin fiddles and something you can dance to. Then it became a constant reconnoitering of passable alternatives with the button under the left side of the steering wheel.
            Arrival at the Civic Center entrance was met with a cacophony of pickup trucks and gooseneck trailers. The hats were there as they normally arrive at such events, and, that, of course, is on time.
            It was good to see old friends.
            We stood in the hallways and talked. The wind got most of the initial play. That was followed by assessment of the worsening drought. In each case, it was concluded with the only thing that was for sure. It is springtime in New Mexico.
            The service was reassuring. Deacon Holguin did a good job of balancing the compassion for the family and the Gospel. His words reminded us that the two are indistinguishable. Cowboy poetry, music, and the reading of the eulogy were all extensions and impressions of what we knew in Henry. We could have toasted (as his eulogist did!), and we certainly would have danced.
            After all, it was the conclusion of an 80-year waltz. It started in 1937 at Faywood where he was born and ended April 6 at Rio Rancho. It included family, lasting love, service to our country and Veteran Honors, cow pens, silver belly hats, friendships that are colorblind, and, of course, New Mexico spring winds.
            Indeed, nobody can work and live under those influences without being impacted by the magnitude of its influence on your entire being.
            Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
            Fellow rancher, Joan Miller, and I sat at the end of a row of chairs not taken by the time the service started. We laughed as we whispered about how everybody looked so old except for us, of course, but we knew the hard truth and we were no different. We had looked into our own mirrors earlier in the morning.
            The realization of our own 80-Year Waltz was fully in play.
            We are here for such a short time. We were young yesterday, but the morning mirrors are constantly reminding us time does change everything in our internal journey. We don’t win this one. We suffer the effects of time. It is the wind and the land that don’t change. Oh, sure, there are seasonal changes and their times of relative abundance followed by scarcity, but those are things that can be managed better by time spent dealing with them. There is not a rancher worth his salt that doesn’t realize there are many things that can be accomplished if there was just more time.
            Henry certainly and long ago realized the same thing. It is witnessed in the poetry that he likely chose. Miss me for a while, but not too long
            So, we are back to the wind, and its partner, our land. It is the next generation that we must address. As Westerners, and that means federal lands ranchers, we are truly the most endangered species on our nearby horizons.
            What do we do?
            I’m going to spray African rue. I am going to kill every one I can find. There are pipelines to install. There is a big water storage that has a staked location of Sumann Ridge that needs building. Its service pipeline will be connected to a new well and the combination starts providing redundancy and security to the entire ranch. There are internal fences to build or rebuild. There are wire gates to replace with hard counterparts. Drought resistant cattle are on the way, too. We have largely licked the ability of the herd to calve without assistance. Now it is time to become more drought tolerant.  If we can build a herd that converts at 5.7 to one on a dry matter basis rather than 8:1 just consider the feed extension we can impact. We need effective external biosecurity fencing, too. I am weary of worrying and losing sleep to Trichomonas bovine.
            And, there are more horses to ride. There are red Angus bulls to select, and young cowboys to nurture. We are also going to honor old friends. We are going to shake hands and dance at every opportunity.
Yes sir, this is one waltz we are going to dance to the grand finale.

Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “Andele!”

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