Monthly Archives: April 2018

Dread of Drought

I peer into the northwest sky from where the elusive rain is said to come. The grass beneath my feet crunches as if walking on popcorn. The leaves on trees sag like the craggy faces of older people. Despite a  brave and collective denial of reality, an early drought has set in. The weatherman maintains hope by elevating rain predictions only at the last minute to reduce our chances.

Several years ago Central Texas suffered a drought of historical proportion. Our fields browned out, crops withered, and dust rode the winds like powder before a fan. Ranchers lost crops and failed to produce hay. Stocks of expensive hay had to be trucked in to maintain herds of cattle, sheep, and goats. Some ranchers along with their crops withered under the assault.

This year I maintain two barns full of hay, enough easily to tide me through an average winter. I am capable of one trial learning. Yesterday during one of our typically wettest months, I had to put out hay for my cows. I fear what lays ahead.

Creeks flow slowly or not at all. Stock tanks recede and algae spreads like kudzu. Bluebonnets appear slaked. Our hopeful Spring has given way to a dusty desperation.  We’ve taken to shaking rain sticks, a Caribbean superstition thought to summon rain. Why not engage in superstitions when all else has failed?

The rains may still come and rescue our land from early drought. I obsessively check weather reports. How fickle and cruel is Mother Nature. We remain hopeful as time exists for the skies to open forth with crop restoring, creek flushing, and pond filling rains. Time will tell. We wait.


One Day Later: It rained! Just after writing the piece above, the skies opened and half an inch of rain fell- hardly enough to break our drought but might it be the beginning of a much needed rainy season.

Already the fields have begun to green up. Amazing how fast the turnaround can be and how quickly the spirits of ranchers can improve.

Buddy’s Retirement- April 20, 2018

Buddy as a younger dog

It was inevitable, I suppose. Retirement is part of life isn’t it, that is if we live long enough. Buddy about whom you’ve heard much lately (Buddy- The Slacker) retired from his life’s work today. His retirement from herding came suddenly or at least it surprised me.

On request Buddy declined to jump out of the bed of the pickup to help herd the mama cow about which I recently wrote (A Sad Day On The Ranch). This job in the past would have been an easy one for Buddy, merely moving one cow through a couple of gates and into an adjoining pasture where the remainder of the herd grazed.

When I called to Buddy, he merely stared back at me. Has he suddenly gone deaf? What’s wrong with that dog!

After a few moments of reflection on the statue-like, immobile Buddy, I thought perhaps his bad back might be hurting him or else he had judged after twelve and a half years he’d accomplished his limit of herding cattle. Nevertheless, pushing one cow through a couple of gates and into another pasture has previously hardly been work for our Buddy who has lived to herd. But I know twelve and a half years makes for an old dog, especially for a Border collie.

He’s been the best herder I’ve ever had on the ranch. His exploits are legion, as I tried to indicate in the Slacker piece, his first herding experience. Nevertheless, lately he has been less invested and less enthusiastic about this effort. I maintain that in his place today he urged the younger Bella to help me. Surprisingly Bella did a fairly good job but not up to the standards set earlier by Buddy.

Buddy on left and Bella on right. Photo by Ramsey

Buddy has lately spent more time napping on one of his four beds (yes, can you believe it- four beds) that are scattered strategically around our house. He never has to take more than a few steps to find a doggie bed. If a bed is not immediately available, a low chair will do just fine.

While he still enjoys riding around in the pickup, he now seems anxious to return to the house and resume his doggie slumbers.

Perhaps his life’s arc from superb and indefatigable herding dog to his current “just don’t bother me” attitude is an expected part of normal aging thatis sure to affect us all. I’ll admit since retiring, I enjoy naps more.

Years ago when I asked my grandmother Hutton when she was quite elderly what it was like to get old, she replied, “Tom, you just slow up.” This observation must be as true for Border collies as it is for humans.

I hope Buddy reneges on his retirement for at least a brief period of time. What gives me hope is that Francisco, our ranch hand of seventy-five years old has retired at least five times. Each time after his announced retirement he came back to the ranch after having become thoroughly bored with watching TV and missing “his” ranch.

The animals, the beauty of nature, and the opportunity to make the ranch better proves for Francisco an incredibly strong draw. Might Buddy one day feel a spurt of new resolve along with a strong desire to herd- just one more cow? Time will tell.

By the way, what does one give a Border collie as a retirement gift? He has no use for a watch. Your thoughts?

Buddy, the retiree, taking one of his frequent naps

A Sad Day On The Ranch

We are well into Spring calving season but today unfortunately we lost a calf. One of our mama cows was found agitated and having great difficulty delivering a calf. The calf was large and although the cow had previously calved without difficulty, she couldn’t deliver this calf.   We were to learn the calf was hung up at the shoulder (referred to as shoulder dystocia) and was clearly dead when we found the distressed mama.

The vet and her assistant came in an emergency call. We pulled the calf, using what is a essentially a “come along”. Following this the mama was able to get to her feet although clearly exhausted from a night of labor. Currently she’s in the pen where I will be giving her, if needed, shots of oxytocin to assist her in pushing out the placenta.

I’m sad over the loss of the little bull calf. I suppose for me this is therapy via my keyboard. I know occasionally we’ll lose a calf and, rarely, even a mama cow, but it still bothers me greatly. The sensation recalls how i felt during my practice when I would lose a patient to death. While inevitable, it still hurts. I never got used to it while practicing and suspect I will never get used to it ranching.

Ironically I was about to pick up a spreader full of fertilizer (8000 pounds) and begin treating our hay fields. Instead of fertilizer bringing forth new life, we instead lost life in a birthing process. Such is ranch life, I suppose, and tomorrow I’ll return to fertilizing. Meanwhile I will ponder the life that wasn’t. Such is life on the ranch. Happier days will follow.

The Tragic Irony of Roger Bannister’s Death

Roger Bannister

Last month I posted a piece on the death of the great Sir Roger Bannister. I also shared some personal observations regarding how his example affected my life. His athletic accomplishments and lifelong efforts to cure chronic neurological diseases ended with the tragic irony of his own death due to one of those, Parkinson’s disease.

In his youth he broke the four minute mile- a feat previously thought impossible. Bannister had great flexibility of his arms and legs, possessed a long and graceful stride, and demonstrated amazing endurance. He also displayed profound determination. Despite these youthful gifts he ultimately died of a disease that stiffens the muscles, reduces the speed of movement, creates noxious tremor, and gives rise to balance and walking problems. Such a sad travesty to bear for a world class athlete.

The irony is doubly so when we consider how he spent his professional lifetime researching, writing, and lecturing on the nature of neurological disorders, among which was Parkinson’s disease.

Knowledge that Bannister suffered Parkinson’s disease came to me only after posting my earlier piece. This added dimension on his death required this additional retrospective.

One suspects Bannister recognized early on that he suffered Parkinson’s disease. Whether it began with the telltale slow hand tremor, lack of arm swing when walking, or some other feature of Parkinson’s disease, we may never know. Familiar as he was with the disorder, he almost certainly recognized not only what was insidiously happening to him, but also what was sure to come.

Sketch of a man with PD with the typical features

None of us can predict the future. Because of this we need live each day to its fullest, as we never know whether a serious disease or even death may overtake us and minimize or negate our previous skills.

Sir Roger we bid you a fond adieu for the way you lived your life, for your athletic prowess that showed us to never accept current accepted limitations, and for the grace with which you dealt with your terminal illness.

Depictions at the various stages of life


Are Race Relations a Verbal Agnosia?

The celebration of Martin Luther King Day along with several reader posts on my earlier blog piece, Greenville, Texas: The Blackest Land and the Whitest People, have made me think more deeply about race relations. Let me share a definition and then coin a new term that hopefully will contribute to racial understanding.

Agnosia: Loosely defined, it’s a perceptual state of looking but not seeing, or hearing the sounds but not hearing the meaning.

   Prosopagnosia, for example, is a neurological condition in which a person looks at a face but is unable to recognize the person, even when it is a close friend or relative.

Let me introduce a new phrase, verbal agnosia.

(What did you expect with a neurologist writing this blog. Hang in there, I’ll get around to making my point.)

From comments made regarding my earlier blog piece, the same word “whitest” from the famous sign in Greenville has different perceived meanings from either black or some white commentators.

Now, I realize some folks are unalterably racist and beyond redemption.  Some other folks, no matter how much progress toward racial harmony has been made, will always feel aggrieved. These are not the people about whom I use my recently minted term, verbal agnosia.

I instead refer to people who are simply unable to perceive the term “whitest” has any racial overtones whatsoever and who fail to see how it might offend others black members of their community. Alternatively others are unable to appreciate that some folks use the term in a non-racial, highly regional form. I know some who are not racist but merely verbally agnostic to the negative perception of this term. I suspect the black residents of Greenville have all heard the benign interpretation of the sign but may remain unconvinced. Might honest communication fix this state of affairs and enhance understanding?

A number of comments from white Greenville residents exist on my blog. I believe they honestly believe “whitest” refers to honest, true, or best. Indeed, growing up in Texas, I heard this word used in this very way. But one only has to research the development of the usage of “whitest” before coming across its origin in a very racist society where white clad Ku Klux Klan rode unhindered and lynchings of black men occurred.

Outside of Greenville, Texas my brother-in-law, a native to Greenville, discovered he could not find a person of either race who thought the term anything but offensive. So too thought the then Governor of Texas, John Connally, when he asked the City Fathers of Greenville to remove the famous (infamous) banner that hung across Main Street. It was taken down “for repair” and never put back up. This “for repairs”, I suppose, was a necessary euphemism as many white Greenville citizens were verbally agnostic to the offensive way the sign was perceived by many others.

Only through communication can we become aware of the verbal sensitivities of others. We simply may not recognize what we say or how we say it, may be offensive to others.

Simply waiting and hoping that things will eventually get better, merely delays the understanding necessary to reduce racial prejudices and delays getting over our miscommunications. I have been criticized for writing about the banner, an old and negative aspect of Greenville (an adopted city I love), that some would choose to keep buried. The Chamber of Commerce undoubtedly would not be keen on resurrecting remembrance of the banner., yet it needs the sanitizing effect of daylight.

Good folks who hold different perspectives on this famous sign or on other flashpoints of race relations need to communicate in calm, rational voices. Might discussions over civil war statues fall into this category? Let’s have interracial discussions. Hopefully my blog pieces on this topic have offered an opportunity to do just this.

Through our improved understanding we can begin to make the progress called for by the great Martin Luther King, Jr. I remain inspired by so many of his appeals to our better natures including the following which is one of my personal favorites:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character– Martin Luther King, Jr.