Throwing My Loop…
By: Michael Johnson
The Time It
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
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
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
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
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.”
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.