Drought impacts more than just soil

"This is dust storm country. It is the saddest land I've ever seen."

Washington Daily News reporter and columnist Ernie Pyle wrote those words in 1936 after a trip across the drought-ravaged Midwest. They could sum up where we're at in eastern New Mexico in 2013.

I knew things were not good on our land in eastern New Mexico and it hadn't been for a long time. A daytrip shocked me as to just how bad the drought has become.

Even the hardy buffalo grass has dried to the point of near desiccation. As you step on a clump it crunches and crumbles underfoot like dry cereal. One area of range is blown out to dry pan and then the next fence line is drifted up with sand.

The areas where taller grasses were sewn for CRP land are either burned-over and sandy or the grass is dead and waiting for the next lightning storm to ignite it. The only good thing about this sorry rangeland condition is that the fire danger has to be lower because there is little or no fuel for a prairie fire.

One place I stopped had a working windmill and a full stock tank of water but from the signs it had been months since the last bovine watered there. There were birds utilizing the tank but the mud around the tank held few tracks. No deer, no antelope, one rabbit track and one coyote track was the extent of the mammal sign. The coyote was the only thing that had anything to eat out there and he was soon to be out of business.

It's eerie not to see cattle on the rangeland of the High Plains. I've never known a time when they were just absent from the landscape.

We finally noticed a few herds, mostly mother cows in home corrals no doubt eating the last of some rancher's feed bill. The rancher's best, last hope, now waiting for the cattle truck to arrive.

The news this past week told of one large herd in the region seized by authorities because of the starvation state in which they were found. We don't know that full story yet but it appears it could be a sad one on lots of levels.

Even as I got ready to write about this damn drought I was slapped in the face with one more reminder of just how heartbreaking it really has become. A friend reported on Facebook that her husband had finally parted with his mother cows after trying desperately to hang on to a few. They're just animals but they get to mean so much to those who choose to make their life from a calf crop.

Those of us in town see the clouds of dust starting to rise with the unrelenting wind and we cuss the sand. We don't see the hearts and wills of our neighbors slowly breaking as their way of life slips through their fingers like red blow sand.

Karl Terry writes for Clovis Media Inc. Contact him at: karlterry@yucca.net

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