Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson  


The Time It Rained

     In 1973 Elmer Kelton wrote “The Time It Never Rained.”  Far from a Western shoot-em up, the book is a gripping account of those who lived through a crushing drought in West Texas spanning real events from 1950 to 1957.  Tornadoes destroy, hurricanes blow, lightning makes a big show, and thunderstorms flood – but at least, it’s all over fairly quickly.  Drought on the other hand, doesn’t even announce its arrival.  It just comes in quietly, sits down…and stays.  And stays and stays – and slowly tightens it’s fingers around the throat of every living thing.
     West Texans are accustomed to dry spells.  It’s part of life in that country, but the thing that came in the early fifties was like nothing before.  Rivers, lakes, ponds, streams and creeks disappeared.  The birds flew away.  Even the ticks left.  Only the ranchers remained.  “It will rain,” they said.  “It will rain.”  But it didn’t rain.
     Mort Hertz has been in the ranching business since 1954.  He’s 88 now and still lives in San Angelo.  “I’ve been in business all these years,” he said, “and I can say anything that can happen has happened to me.  I’ve had hailstorms that killed three hundred lambs.  Lightning that killed seventy sheep.  Lightning has killed my saddle horses, my cows, and bad fires that burned up all my fences.  The drought was a hundred times worse.”
     Last year, we had a taste – a small taste – of what that 50’s drought must have been like.  After 70 days of temperatures above 100 degrees and no rain for months, I learned things about drought that I never wanted to know.  I knew about watering the foundation of your home, but watering a fence?  Did you know a drought can knock down a fence?  No wildlife, no birds, just silence.  The horses staring.  More of our beautiful lake disappeared every day.  Later came fear.  “Should we move?  Pack up all our belongings and head north?”  A deep and profound sense of dread came on me.  I certainly would not have admitted to anyone what I was feeling.  Didn’t even want to admit it to my self…I was afraid.  That was when I went to see Mrs. Ray.
     Chrystell Ray is almost ninety years of age now.  Still active, sharp mind intact, and even though she has been on that farm for most of her life, one of the most well-read human beings I have known.
     “I’m worried about this,” I began.
     “Um-hmm,” she answered.
     “Have you ever seen anything like this?” I asked.
     “Yes,” she said.
     “Was it this bad?”
     “Well, what do you think?”
     She looked out her old farmhouse kitchen window, and I knew she was remembering.  Silence.  Then she turned to look directly at me, and with just a hint of a smile at the corners of her lips, she looked at me for quite some time, and then she said, “This too will pass.”
     No psychiatrist could have helped me more.  This little ninety-year-old woman stood up to the fear in me.  I felt the fear leaving.
     “Yes,” I thought to myself.  “This is just like other things in life that make us afraid.  Don’t run.  Stand and wait.  Be strong.  This too will pass.”
And Mrs. Ray was right.  In about a month, the rain came.  Not in torrents, but enough to breathe again.  Enough to settle the dust, and to notice the pond rose just a bit.  That was a year ago.
     Now the summer is here again, and we are in that time of heat.  The time all of us who are still in farm life look to the sky whenever we see the smallest cloud, and feel the thing called hope.  Hasn’t been nearly as bad this year, but for the last month… nothing.  Cracks were coming in the ground now.  Grass withering and dying.  Ranchers and farmers avoiding talking about hay dreading what might come…or not come.  Rowdy and I were outside working near the barn when we both saw it. Felt it would be a better phrase. 
     Bent over working on some task I forget, a breeze touched my neck.  I looked at the dog and he was looking at me.  We both turned to look.  On the horizon to the far north, there it sat…a blue thunderhead.
     “Come on,” I said to this beautiful thing – and it came.  In just minutes, thirty- mile an hour gusts were tearing at my clothes.  Rowdy’s fur stood straight out from his body, his eyes squinting into the wind.  The horses, heads held high, faced directly into the coming storm, their eyes slitted just like Rowdy’s – but they couldn’t look away…and it came.
     Sheets, torrents, wind, leaves, and water, and water, and more water.  I stood with my arms spread wide with that glorious summer thunderstorm stinging me right in the face.  My clothes were soaked instantly and water ran from my boot tops.  In July!  Arms still wide, getting wetter and wetter, laughing like some fourth-grader playing in the rain, over and over, I shouted, “Thank you, Lord.  Thank you!”  I was actually cold – shaking from cold…in July!  Rowdy ran in circles barking, the horses ran and bucked and snorted just like Rowdy.  And the martins peeked from their boxes – and I could see them smiling.  For a full hour, I stood and watched the rain gauge fill.  Two and one-half inches!  In my life, I have never enjoyed any single hour more.
     In that hour, I knew how those people in West Texas must have felt when the rain came.  I was reminded again how we should be grateful for the gifts we constantly receive.  And that when bad times come – when our life is dry for the longest time – we should remember, “This too will pass.”


                                                                                               --Michael Johnson

 Ed. Note:  In January of 2012, RFD-TV’s All Around Performance Horse TV, and Roping and Riding with Tyler Magnus, will broadcast the first embedded segment of The Advice Barn, a viewer call-in show hosted by Dr. Harry Anderson, with featured guests, Dr. Michael Johnson, and Dr. J. D. Norris.
The Advice Barn is sponsored by Total Feeds, Inc. maker of Total Equine, Dr. Harry Anderson’s creation of an all-purpose feed designed for the horse.  Total Feeds, Inc. sold thousands of tons of Total Equine last year.




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