I look out the window and the sky is sparkling blue, the trees are green and the sun is bearing down with unusual warmth for early October. When, I ask, will winter finally come?
My guess is that, probably just a week or two ago, a rancher in western South Dakota or nearby Nebraska or Wyoming may have done the same thing. That question was answered swiftly and brutally when Atlas loosed its fury on the region last weekend.
I try to think of a different way to tell the tale of those affected than what we’ve already done, but I can’t. There are probably no better reports than those filed by Heather Hamilton-Maude and Amanda Radke. They captured the devastation of the storm and the grit and resilience of those affected better than I‘ve ever seen.
In the more than 30 years I’ve been observing and writing about beef business happenings, it’s been my duty to report on any number of natural disasters and, in one case, help coordinate disaster relief in the aftermath. When you live close to the land, when your prosperity depends on the land’s prosperity, the pleasure is greater and the pain is deeper as you live through the best and worst that nature can deal out.
I was talking with Mom and Dad shortly after the blizzard and they were concerned about how folks had fared in the storm. At that time, I didn’t know. But my thoughts went to another natural disaster and a conversation I had with a good friend who was grateful simply to be alive.
A massive wildfire, the largest in the state’s history, roared across the Texas Panhandle in March 2006. As it headed toward his ranch with a 60 mph tailwind, he and his son rushed to open gates and cut fences so his cattle might escape. But the fire was too massive and moving too quickly. He and his son jumped in the pickup and tried to outrun the flames, but the fire overtook them. He praises God that they’re both alive.
Many of his cattle, however, didn’t survive. And many that did were so badly burned that euthanization was the only humane option. As we sat in his kitchen more than a year later, the pain and emotion were just as raw as they were the day he euthanized cattle until he ran out of ammo. He tried to finish the story but couldn’t. He stopped in mid-sentence and turned his head to hide the tears.
He knows the pain the ranchers in South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming are feeling now. It’s a pain that will never go away because his memories, like those being earned now, are seared into the consciousness.
Cheyenne Wilson of Chadron, NE, sent BEEF a poem she wrote. We’d like to share it with you:
The Storm Atlas
By Cheyenne Glade Wilson®
The storm came in hard and fast,
Like nothing anyone remembers from the past.
First came the rain, so cold and wet,
At this point, nobody would fret.
Then came lots of snow,
And the wind began to blow.
The rancher began to pace,
A look of worry crept to his face.
“How are my animals out in this mess?”
It was his only concern that he cared to confess.
Those animals help to pay the bills,
They are fending for themselves out in those hills.
But his concern was far more than for money or such,
He cared for those critters so very, very much.
He shed blood, sweat and tears,
For them over the years.
They were all partners and relied on that trust,
They needed each other, which is why he cussed.
“Damn you, Mother Nature, and the fits that you throw,
The hand that you’ve dealt us is a might low blow!”
As the storm passed, the rancher did look,
At what he saw, oh, how he shook.
The dead and the dying were all that was seen,
The few survivors were gaunt and lean.
The losses were huge, far above his worst fears,
Soon began more discovery and then came the tears.
Sorrow came next and soon disbelief,
Followed by regret and undeniable grief.
How will they recover many do ask,
It’s what ranchers do, they tend to their task.
They work hard day and night,
And no matter what, they don’t give up the fight.
But the good times outweigh the bad,
So we keep that in mind for better times had.
Things like this are very hard to take,
So many lives lost are hard to forsake.
Just know that this too shall soon be in the past,
Ranchers are a tough bunch, which is why they last.
Prayers are free; there is no cost,
So let’s bow our heads and remember all that's been lost.
Let's pray for better days and for the heaviness of heart,
Let's pray for strength and for another start.
It’s easy, I told my mother, to simply shrug and say this is just another blizzard. There have been hurricanes and fires, floods and blizzards before, and we will be slammed by them again. But we cannot give in to complacency. Ours is a culture of neighbor helping neighbor and we must hold to that tightly.
So keep the affected ranchers in your thoughts and prayers. But also save a few thoughts and prayers for all the others who survived similar disasters and will deal with the pain and emotions that the stories and images from South Dakota dredge up.
Think of them, pray for them and do what your heart moves you to do. It’s the least, and the best, that we can do.
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