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The Time It Never Rained

Man’s biggest enemy is one he cannot control.


Ft Davis fire with McDonald Observatory in foreground - April 2011


I loaded up the Kindle 3G with plenty of reading material when we headed out on the West Texas Ramble  last month. One of the books was The Time It Never Rainedby Elmer Kelton.  It is a pseudo-factual retelling of the several years drought that decimated Texas back in the early part of the 1950’s.   I enjoyed the insight into West Texas ranch life back in the day even if the  agonies of the drought 60 years ago were a bit too fresh and close to the bone.

It is 5am here.   When daylight breaks over the Water Oaks that line the dry creek behind the Old Girl, the wind will pick up.  It always does.  The soft beginning of day light will bathe a parched landscape.  The dry grass and weeds rustle crackle dry in the wind.  Nothing is green except the trees.   The range grass is brown, the weeds are brown and the Cottonwood trees let go their leaves months ago as they are wont to do at the first sign of drought.

Wildfire near Bastrop - 9/5/2011

Any spark would set it off.  Heat lightning, an errant spark from a welder, a carelessly tossed cigarette,  a hot catalytic converter on a vehicle parked over the grass and weeds as dry as flowers pressed between the pages of a bible decades ago.  It don’t take but the smallest bit of spark and the wind whips it up and the hungry flames race away.  With a good wind pushing, the flames advance quicker than you can walk or run or drive a pickup down a caliche road.  Quicker than you can cut the barbed wire fences to let the cattle out that are trapped in the corner, quicker than the neighbors can get extra trailers to you to get the horses out of the barn, quicker than that young mother and little baby could get out of that trailer house over by Gladewater yesterday.

The wildfires in Texas over Labor Day are the lead story on the National News as well they should be; not the first time in 2011 either.  Over 21,00 fires have burned close to 3.5 million acres  in Texas this year and the media attempts to convey the scope of the fires to people that simply can’t grasp the scale. It makes for an attention getting sound bite and the media likes that stuff.   Statements like ‘the fire covers an area the size of Rhode Island’ or ‘the fire burned an area as big as the state of Connecticut’ .  People just can’t wrap their mind around how big they can get and why they can’t be controlled.  Folks just don’t realize a fast moving fire can burn 5000 acres with a 20mph wind behind it in 24 hours over terrain that a goat couldn’t travel. How ya gonna fight that?  Christ.

68 days this summer our daily temperatures have gone over 100 degrees here in North Texas,  it was worse down in Central Texas.  I can count the days since April that we got the rain on one hand.  The fires will eventually be contained or just burn themselves out in rough country.  The temperatures will abate and the Fall rains will come;  soon brilliant green grass sprigs will look alien in the black ashes.

The long term effects of the drought and the summer infernos will take longer to realize.  Ranchers cull their herds when the grass gets short. They hang on to the mama cows and the good bulls over the years to build up the herd good.  They feed ’em hay if they have to even if money is tight.  Not this year.  Many of the ranchers have spent their last dollar on feed and lost last hope of any light at the end of the tunnel. So the herd goes to auction; down to the last mama cow or they watch them die in the pastures.  Texas is/was the largest beef producer in the nation.

Miss K and I saw first hand the crop devastation when we bisected the state on the way to Terlingua during the August road trip. So bad you didn’t want to look.  Corn stunted knee high and dead, dessicated fields planted in June that were still bare and cotton fields with tufts of green looking like the head of hair on a chemo patient.  Sad, bad stuff.

The ranchers will take a generation to build back what they lost if  they can hang on.  The farmers most likely have crop insurance to alleviate the financial loss; I guess that is common practice these days.  Guarantee ya that some of these farms and ranches will vanish forever more.  Gobbled up by conglomerate corporate giants or with foreclosure for sale signs on the gate.


End Note:  American Dream by Lucinda Williams from the World Without Tears cd.   Nothing upbeat or inspirational in this one.  Nothing to see here.  Move along please. Just move along……

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1 comment to The Time It Never Rained

  • Sailbad

    The drought and fires in Texas are huge. But Texas is not alone. Here in New Mexico and also southern Oklahoma, we are having the same problems. I am currently parked on a plateau at 5,000ft. This is range land. Normally the grass is 6″ or 7″ high. In a really good year it can be knee high. Right now, it’s not as tall as the toe of your shoe. Normally there are around 300 cattle grazing on several thousand acres. They aren’t here this summer. Someone has about 30 head turned loose out here. They are the most scrawney, moth eaten critters you’ve ever seen. There isn’t enough grass to support a goat!

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