Day 154-55: Western OK, talking complexities with our own real rancher…

The drive from NM to OK brought us our first real taste of cold weather so far on the trip and, since we didn’t prepare well on this trip for cold weather, I spent the entire drive knitting a hat. (which is now on the head of a homeless person in Kansas City but that is another happy story.)
Weirdly, Ben and I happen to own a tiny piece of land in Oklahoma. It’s maybe 1/3 acre in the middle of 4900 acres of cattle ranch near Woodward. Which is kind of in the middle of nowhere. Good for cows.
Dick Hamilton is a salty old cowboy who has been working the land for many decades. Owned some, and as people moved on or finally tired of land he was working for them and they were never going to use, Dick bought it, little by little, until he now has a beautiful ranch of almost 5000 acres. Ben’s family are some of the last few holdouts. When Ben and I visited Dick just before we were married, he drove us around in his truck to show us the land and the cattle, encouraging us to shoot cowpies with his pistol -“Ben, don’t let nobody tell you you can’t shoot shit.” – He showed us the pen where his knee got kicked in from a scared cow and ended his horseman career herding cattle. We still have one of his original lassos which he gave us when we left him last. Someday it’ll hang from the wall of our own house, but for now..Every once in awhile I’ll get a phone call from Dick “just wondering how you’re doin…” so we couldn’t hit Oklahoma without checking in on the Hamilton Ranch.

This time, when we arrived at Dick’s cabin (his “bachelor pad,” as he calls it, for after his current wife leaves him) after driving across the Texas panhandle, we heard his deep bass voice seasoned from years of cigarettes and whiskey boom from the porch, “Well, I just don’t believe it.” Though he was expecting us. After some hugs, we came inside and played the Good Guest Trump. (The Good Guest Rule, in case I haven’t mentioned it before, is: We eat what we are served, out of respect, to honor our hosts. In this case, Dick was excited for our visit and excited to make for us the only thing he knows: Beef Stew. I’d like to say that we really suffered our way through but, carnivores at heart, we three did just fine. And Dick seemed very happy as well.

Our time with Dick and his son, Marty (raised as a rancher to take over when his dad leaves off), was rich with the complexities of traditional ranching culture…These are thoughtful people, who care about the land and their beasts, and take good care of them. They do not know from organic and they believe that things are the way they are (ie: pesticides on industrial farms) because that is how they have to be in order for us to feed the growing population that is America. They do not believe that there is any other way. They do the best they can. They do not see any danger in pesticides or herbicides but they also don’t use them on the ranch if they can help it. They don’t see any problem with feedlots where cows eat food that they were never designed to eat, and yet their cows are free to roam, happy eating only grass and hay on hundreds of acres until the day they are trucked off to the feedlot to get marbled… These are hardworking people, who want to do the right thing – which I suspect is like a whole lot of other Americans who aren’t quite sure what environmentalism is really all about. One thing we all agreed on: Americans waste a whole heck of a lot of just about everything, and something oughtta be done about it. When we left, we assured Dick we’d be in touch…and hoped that we’d planted a tiny seed in his great big heart for the possibility that we could do even more to leave the place better for our grandchildren and everybody coming after us…

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