Dust to Dust

Rufe Holland, giving me the deluxe drought tour, was clipping down a ranch road near Junction in his Ford pickup. In the bed were several fifty-pound sacks of government corn; at $100 a ton, it’s half the cost of store-bought feed. Ordinarily Holland’s stock would live off pasture grass, but thanks to the drought there is very little or none. So, like a lot of ranchers in the Hill Country, Holland has been feeding his livestock for more than a year, a proposition that can get feverishly expensive when you consider the appetities of a few thousand sheep and goats and a hundred or so cows. He was on his way to feed some sheep in one of his pastures - land that’s been in his family since the 1880s - talking, one hand on the wheel, the other pointing out the window at the land reeling by. “See those cow chips and rocks? When you get to where all you see is cow chips and rocks, that’s drought.” The cedar and scrub oak were green enough to deceive an outlander, but, like Rufe said, the ground was a different matter - it looked like the moon.

A day later and a little farther north, Bill Brown stopped his pickup in the middle of one of his pastures. He has leased land in the Hill Country near Fort McKavett and Menard for going on thirty years. Except for the scrub oak, prickly pear, and Brown’s drawl, it too could have been the moon. “To be perfectly honest with you, every hoof ought to be trucked off this place, but I’m sitting here waiting–waiting for it to rain.” It was hot and still. What little grass there was looking mangy. Over the bluff lay Brown’s failed hay crop, sizzled by the sun; he had planned to feed it to his cattle this coming winter. While he talked, I stared out the window at his rocks and cow chips.

The great middle of Texas is in a drought. While our extremities - East Texas and even the deserty Trans-Pecos - have had average or above average rainfall, most everything in between is parched and dusty. Stock tanks are dry or else what whater they do hold looks like the rheumy aperture of an old elephant’s eye. The land looks tired out. The drought runs roughly from Childress east to Sherman, south through Dallas to Corpus Christi, then into McAllen in South Texas, and northwest to Del Rio and San Angelo. Down in

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