There is something soul- satisfying about getting firewood when you are in the midst of a real winter…

Libby supervises Tyler Scartaccini and Tom Rupenacht’s delivery of a good load of what we call “cedar”. It is actually a juniper but locally the common name is reserved for alligator juniper. This is the species with red heartwood– some, not me, say it is “too pretty to burn.”

The 94 Winchester “Modern” Sporting Rifle has no connection to anything– we just brought it out  to show Ty.

We got it just in time…

Clarissa Dixon Wright R. I. P.

John Hill, (in the middle above), better known here as “Johnny UK”, sent us a note saying that Clarissa Dixon Wright (right above) had died. The surviving member of the “Two Fat Ladies” cooking duo, champions of real food and best known in this household for the multi- species, multi -organ meat loaf known as the “hedgehog”, she was so ardent a defender of field sports that she was arrested for the terrible crime of chasing hares with greyhounds.

She was also variously a writer, the youngest barrister to qualify in England, a cricket umpire, one of two women to become a Guild butcher,  a reformed drunk, a millionaire heiress who descended into poverty and homelessness and came back again, a lifelong Catholic (who allegedly believed in reincarnation), and a TV personality who once discussed eating badgers on the tube. Not only does the world not produce such personalities these days, it no longer produces such names: she was christened “Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmerelda Dickson Wright.”

John wrote: “Just heard that Clarissa is no more…..June and I once met her and Johnny (Scott, left above) at a book signing , and I, fortunately,  met her again at a Gamefair and had a long , interesting, animated conversation.

“She was  a remarkable , individual, feisty woman, with a  huge sense of humour ( and presence !) and was passionate about all  “Country Matters”,  that are  being constantly eroded in UK by unknowing urbanites.

“Clarissa was as large in life as on  TV, no different, a real character, the like of whom we shall not see again I am afraid. June and I feel quite sad…  I am sure she ( mainly )  enjoyed every minute of her life, which is a comfort !

“I will raise a glass to her memory!”

Blizzard Whiteout

Eastern Montana writer John Moore alerted me to the great October blizzard in South Dakota a few days ago. I told him I would blog on it, but assumed something of such magnitude would soon get out. But nooo… apparently the actions of petty bureaucrats top any need to report the effects of the greatest storm disaster in “Flyover Country” in decades– or ever. Do the coasts really want ignore, to write off the vital rural heart? Does Congress give a damn? Do suburbanites think they can prosper without some relation to the land? Food comes from someplace other than the market;  even urban locavores seem to be getting that much. Why haven’t our so- called serious news organs reported this situation?

Annie D , who is not western but is awake and aware of many things, read and mailed me this heartbreaking link. A quote will start you off:

“The worst blizzard in recorded history of
South Dakota just swept through the state. Tens of thousands of cattle
are predicted dead and the much of the state is still without power. The
Rapid City Journal reports, ”Tens of thousands of cattle lie dead
across South Dakota on Monday following a blizzard that could become one
of the most costly in the history of the state’s agriculture industry.”

“The only reason I know this is because my parent’s ranch, the setting for Meadowlark,
lies in the storm’s epicenter. Mom texted me after the storm. “No
electricity. Saving power on phone. It’s really, really bad….” She
turned on her phone to call me later that day. “There are no words to
describe the devastation and loss. Everywhere we look there are dead
cattle. I’ve never seen so many dead cattle. Nobody can remember
anything like this.” Author of several books and infinite numbers of
articles, Mom said, “I can’t imagine writing about this. I’m not going
to take photos. These deaths are too gruesome. Nobody wants to see

“I searched the national news for more
information. Nothing. Not a single report on any of major news sources
that I found. Not CNN, not the NY Times, not MSNBC. I thought, Well, it is early and the state remains without power and encased in snow, perhaps tomorrow. So I checked again the next day. Nothing. It has now been four days and no national news coverage… Meanwhile, ranchers on the plains have been dealt a crippling blow the likes that has not been experienced in living memory.”

Read The Whole Thing. 

Update: Big Media begins to react, in brief bland paragraphs that do not suggest that they find it necessary to send a live reporter to such a place (if they think like some of the commenters John mentions below, why would they bother?) It was a week ago, folks– is that all you can do? Or is it more important for us to know every nuance of the latest pearls of wisdom from Harry Reid and John Boehner?

John Moore writes: “One local young rancher has started a campaign to collect heifers to send to South Dakota ranchers. So far he has pledges for over 100, yet the local paper hasn’t even covered his efforts yet. I’ve never seen a situation like this. It just boggles my imagination. The worst part has been the web attacks by some urbanites on the whole situation, some calling it fabricated and others saying who cares? the ranchers are all rich and will get reimbursed by the government anyway. Some going so far as to say the ranchers should be punished for letting their livestock die… “

The disconnect between rural and urban may be greater than any time I can remember.

Quick Update re Water

Going to Albuquerque for the second time in three days, trying to get Passenger pigeons up and flying, and generally overcommitted. But the water news has been ludicrously inadequate. We should never have lost water, and should have it back in a week; the situation only has a tenuous connection with drought.

Everything I see on the news is off.  The marshall  is being diplomatic but it is ludicrous to blame the guy who has been trying to warn everybody for years, or to equate him with the mayor he has been opposing that long. The mayor and some other officials made real life mistakes and bad decisions, turning down plans to put in backup pumps and dig, losing and misfiling documents and not getting in applications on time. The guy who says they are all to blame is running against the mayor but why he is equating the  mayor and the marshall is beyond me. In fact the real drought barely has anything to do with the situation– we should have faced it with a new pump & well, a backup, and three full auxiliary tanks.

Also we are NOT “absolutely without water”, and NOT restricted to two bottles a day. Every private well including one or two in town is delivering normal amounts, as are all on ranches. I have lived through two other water- restricted droughts here as has anyone who has been here any length of time. We don’t have more “seniors” than any normal town, and they tend to be more tough and philosophical than newcomers. The whole thing makes me realize just how incompetent today’s reporters are. Virtually everyone in town knows all of the above!

Breaking News

Magdalena has gone national and may be on your evening news, but for an infuriating reason: our little town has just lost all its water in a well collapse, and though ranches with their own wells are all right, there is no water available for our village– around a thousand residents– and therefore none in a  60 mile stretch of Route 60 between Socorro and Datil. Of course ranchers still have wells (though the drought has lowered levels in many) but driving 12 miles on rough roads to take a shower is not an attractive option.

Our crisis may symbolize the emerging conditions in the New West. Everybody concerned kicked the problem down the road. The state dragged its collective feet on the necessary permits, then piled on rather than helping. State inspectors actually came in and tried to shut down all our businesses and the gas stations because they had no potable water. Bar owner Darrell Pettis and Bob Winston of Winston’s garage resisted, and so far everything is open. Darrell and filmmaker Matt Middleton got a few minutes on Albuquerque TV explaining the difficulty of life here and the political indifference of the state to the fate of tiny old remote towns. Do the idiots sent to inspect us and shut down our only social links and sources for food and drink realize what stress that would add to an already angry populace?

This is just a rushed beginning for what will doubtless be continuing coverage of the crisis. Estimates of the time needed to fix the well range from a couple of days to a MONTH. And yes, there are important connections to our ongoing water hijacking crisis– hit the search box with the words”water” or Plains of San Augustin, or go to the site for the Golden Spur for more news…

UPDATE: For now at least, a video from KOB TV here, featuring Marshall Larry Cearley, filmmaker and water activist Matt Middleton, and Spur owner Darrell Pettis, all of whom have been working on the problem.

Tumbling Tumbleweeds

What drought and an invasive Asian exotic can do in a hard winter– all this and zero at night, at Lee Henderson’s where we chase things- photos from Lee. That is his house on the right in the third pic; in the first, that fencerow is likely higher than your head. Ranching for a living, like old age, is not for sissies.

A Young Farmer’s Perspective

NC sent us a link to a fascinating Op- Ed in the Denver Post by an intelligent and analytical young farmer. She says: “People all say words like “farm fresh,” “sustainability,” but they don’t want to actually pay for what it actually costs me to make it. Almost everyone tries to talk me into lowering my price or asks me to give my eggs away for free.” Also: “… If I have customers coming over when I am gathering eggs, I put my hair in pigtails, and I use a small straw basket and make lots of trips. People like to buy eggs from little kids skipping through the pasture with a basket of eggs.” !!

Among other lessons that can be drawn is the indubitable fact that many of the rich are inveterate cheapskates (“How do you think they got that way?” I can hear my old Dad mutter)– and that the average postmodern urban dweller has no idea where anything comes from.

NC has more to say: “That’s the heart of the story. Is it any wonder that the likes of Monsanto dominate food production when the deck is so stacked against small producers? Is it any wonder that local and organic food is so hard to sell when the customers are so clueless that they think it could somehow be given to them for free?

“That was the part of the story that had me in stitches; these people who go to farmer’s markets and think that small-scale local farming exists in this magical bubble that makes it immune to economic reality. Of course they would think that! I bet Marie Antoinette thought that animal husbandry was all carefree giggles when she went off to play milkmaid!

“Inasmuch as any of us have a technophile streak, I think it’s substantially rooted in the desire to understand the human economics of it all. I won’t say I understand computers, but thanks to a high school physics teacher who worked in the semiconducter industry, I at least have some idea of the long hours engineers spend poring over circuit diagrams, of the super-sterile factories filled with unbelievably nasty chemicals for etching silicon, all so we can have magical electronic gadgets. I’m definitely not an electrical engineer, but I watch the trucks carrying wind turbine blades up and down I25, and I can do basic math so when someone says we ought to switch to wind energy, I have some notion of how many more trucks carrying how many more of those blades such a task would entail.

“The goal here isn’t necessarily to understand all aspects of technology or production or economy perfectly. It’s to have some idea of all the sorts of things that people around the world are doing to keep civilization going. The goal is to be able to see some pale reflection of the sweat of other people’s brows in modern conveniences; not necessarily to extol or deplore them. Just to understand them.

“Because the alternative is to go through life thinking that meat just magically pops into existence on supermarket shelves, that alternating current and wall sockets just sprout from the ground, that cars just go and gas stations are sitting above natural deposits of gasoline. In short, to believe that the world is built around oneself for one’s own comfort.”