Sunday, January 12, 2020

It’s Hard to Know

To the Cemetery
It’s Hard to Know
To the Ranches
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

            The road from the front porch to the church at Springer, New Mexico is right at 430 miles.
            It had been 8° the morning of the drive. It warmed to all of 14 the morning of the service. It was warmer in every direction of travel from that point of assembly, but the temperature only stood in juxtaposition to the reason to be there. The event was Catherine’s funeral, and it seemed too important to miss.
So, we went.
She came into our family and into our lives sometime after she had come into Frank’s, and her arrival was welcomed from the start. Never did she fail to bring a bright light to everything she graced. She was witty. She was common. She was sophisticated. She was pretty. She was genuine. She was Catherine. We always looked forward to her/their visits. Her presence alone was akin to a beautiful golden that came into our lives once upon a time. His was an air of royalty that was gifted into our midst for too short a time. He left us through the very disease that takes nearly all his kind without a clear reason why. Catherine, too, left us through the very disease that is increasingly takes too many of our kind similarly without a clear reason why.
In the end, she knew no one by name. Yes, there were moments that her expression seemed to suggest she knew him by sight, but they were less frequent and ever more fleeting. The disease with the inevitable process was overwhelmingly cruel and endless.
It is hard to know which way to pray.
To the Cemetery
The mourners came from near and far.
A short list of who’s who of northeastern New Mexico cow country they were who, increasingly, share the fate of silver hair and a declining slate of long-range plans. Certainly, the normal cycle of life is fully in play and reward is beyond and forward, but there was something very striking.
Youth was limited and largely absent.
Those that were there, those who have been taught and exposed to this way of life and finding themselves wanting to fill empty spaces left by a departing generation, are evermore dear and few. Too many will find ever stronger headwinds in the form of barriers of entry and or the brighter allure of the expanding foreign and secular world.
Those of us who have found it so terribly difficult to find labor for our industry know full well the scarcity of not just skilled, but foundationally interested replacements. We are pricing ourselves out of opportunities for traditional replacements for what Dobie referred to as the old rock.
It is hard to know which way to pray.
To the Ranches
There are two western ranches being offered for sale that are best examples of the upside and the downside of our way of life.
Near Battle Mountain, Nevada, the historic 25 Ranch includes 126,000 deeded acres and enough private leases and or lands held by the crown to span parts of four counties and 1000 sections.
From the land of sage brush flats where rough stock strings are still roped behind single rope barriers by the jigger boss with a hoolihan to be saddled with slick fork saddles with long tapaderos hanging down both sides of old Visalia trees, it’s a buckaroo outfit. Started by W.T. Jenkins in the last quarter of the 19th Century, the torch was picked up by Louise Marvel in 1918 who grew the ranch and the family enterprise into one of the big outfits in a state renowned for big spreads (she also gave rise to bucking horse riding grand scions that grace memories and halls of fame).
If you are interested in the ranch represented to run 6500 head, you’d better pack big check book. It is listed for $30.525M by Sierra Sothebys Realty. That is the same thing as saying mere Cowboys are not welcome.
Perhaps a yet more intriguing ranch for a family operation is the N3 square dab in the middle of American Camelot. For 85 years it’s been in the Vickers/Naftzger family, a clan who are hoping the eventual buyer will keep it a cow outfit and not develop its 80 sections of California coastal paradise into yet another asphalt jungle of electrical grids, untended fire traps, and groomed hedges.
Running only 650 head of cows year-round and 3200 head of stockers seasonally, that hope is in grave jeopardy being that the ranch is only an hour north of San Francisco and sporting a price tag of $72M. Put into another context there ain’t no way Cowboys are welcome when wine is served on its inspection tour.
Of course, the sad commentary is that cowboys crafted both ranches and thousands just like them into the true living and sustainable symbols of the American West, a symbol that has distinct indications of dying as we watch. What the trendy, secular observer has no clue of is these outfits are predicated on permanent open space and the nuances of their characters could never have taken place with group think and elitist committee action. The very essence of their creation is the eventual control of their administrative boundaries and the perfection of the individual relative advantages they reveal.
Their success equates to permanent open space, but there is no way to stem the tide of attrition through the very industry these places serve.
So, we will attempt to travel to be with our family, friends and colleagues at times of spiritual need. We will stand with our hats removed when the words are recited, and the songs are sung. We will also realize the reason for our loyalty to our way of life is inadequately revealed in both our words and our actions.
It is hard to know which way to pray.

            Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico.

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