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CATTLE TODAY

IT'S THE PITTS -- SIGHT UNSEEN

by: Lee Pitts

As a writer, I collect turns of the tongue like some people collect salt and pepper shakers. I have dozens of folders of fancy phrases other people uttered that I've been jotting down since I was back in high school. Sometimes I think those files will be the only thing of value I leave behind when I check out. Or maybe my files will just be thrown out by some unknowing relative along with my motel stationery collection.

The funny thing is, I never even thought of ever making my living as a writer so I don't know what I was collecting jokes and quotes for. But I must admit they've come in handy. In looking through my collection, about the biggest file I have deals with the subject of drouths, which have been wrecking people's lives ever since our most recent rain storm around these parts which last occurred when Noah loaded up his ark. Some of you are old enough to remember that it rained for forty days and forty nights. Well, I think our county got about two inches of rain out of that storm.

That old joke is an example of the kind of humor I collect.

Few things are worse than a drouth and farmers, ranchers and journalists have come up with all sorts of interesting ways to describe the horrors of one.

It's been so dry around here that the ducks forgot how to swim, the trout are leaving dust trails behind them, the carp are sunburned and waterfalls don't.

Around our house the tap water is 54 percent moisture. When samples of our well water were analyzed they tested out at about 40 percent solids.

One farmer had to combine a whole week to get a decent load of wheat and grasshoppers are riding on tractor exhausts to cool off. It's so dry that the cows are giving evaporated milk, you can buy beef jerky on the hoof, cowboys are wearing Bermuda shorts and have discovered that seat belts make a pretty good branding iron.

Housewives can sauté onions on the hood of the truck, scramble eggs on the sidewalk and fold clothes right out of the washing machine.

While some of these exaggerations may be slightly amusing I have always found that the best descriptions and stories are the true ones. There's no exaggerating or storytelling necessary when you are stuck in the middle of a drouth, as my friend Jack is discovering. He owns the sale barn in Crawford, Nebraska, and ranches, thus managing to be in two of the least promising careers at the same time.

It's been dry around Jack's house and because water is so precious Jack and his grandson Tristan, who is all of five years old, have been patching water lines to their stock tanks all summer. It's not like Jack and his grandson have to use fancy equipment or be especially vigilant to find the leaks in the waterlines: anywhere there's green grass they know there's a leak. And you can rest assured that's the only green grass on the place!

The other day Jack and his right hand man, Tristan, were taking a gooseneck load of cows to the other end of the county, south of Chadron. Another strange thing about a drouth is that you can be right in the middle of one and somebody thirty miles away might be having their best year in decades. Drouths are cruel like that. Well anyway, as Jack and Tristan were driving along Tristan suddenly spotted a large green field of millet. His eyes got bigger than saucers and the little cowpoke said to Jack, “Grandpa, they must have one heckuva leak!”

Jack told me it was the first green field the poor kid had ever seen, and please keep in mind that Tristan is five years old.

If you are one of the unfortunate folks suffering from a drouth I'd advise that you explain the concept of rain to your children so that they won't be frightened IF they ever see it.

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