A couple weeks ago, I penned a blog about one of the small ranches close to where we’d hunkered down in the hill country west of the old city of San Miguel (The Rancher's Backstop). We’d been there for a few weeks while I worked away at the last chapters in the fifth book in The Border Series. I took pictures and wrote what little I knew of Antonio, his brothers, and their small agricultural property. It doesn’t come close to supporting their family, which means that every year, at least some of the brothers must find outside income. Antonio and his brother Jaime are skilled tradesmen. They create beautiful and functional stonework. Currently, they are building a wall for a wealthy businessman from Monterrey. They work hard. Their wage for the day is about twenty bucks, a hundred a week. Several times, they’ve made the trek north to work in the more lucrative U.S. market as gardeners, fruit pickers, and fishermen. The wage north of the border is about five times what it is here. For picking oranges in Florida, they made over a hundred dollars a day.
Bringing home the herd at the end of the day.
Today, we head out of the hills to pick up another large bottle of drinking water, as well as enough tomatoes, onions, and peppers to cook up a good feed of fajitas. Though she’s definitely paler than the local folks here, Pat still makes the best fajitas ever, a welcome reprieve from the barbequed goat we were served at Antonio and Jaime’s family home yesterday. The taste challenged our North American palates. I swallowed twice to get each bite down and prayed to God that I would not do anything to offend these wonderful people. And we made it, though I can still taste and smell every bite.
“Here,” Antonio says, “there is no money.” He points to Jaime’s tattered jeans to make his point. “It is hard to even make enough to buy clothes and food.” They, along with thousands of others depend on American cash to keep their families alive. No matter how good the market for corn, cattle, and squash, they will never make enough money to survive, and so they find other work, much of it across the border.
Though our costs and income levels may be different, there are striking similarities between Antonio’s situation and ours. Whether in Texas, Montana, or British Columbia, we all face hard times, and with the current upheaval in the world, the days ahead may be especially difficult. Coronavirus, unmanageable debt at every level, input costs that outstrip the price of the commodities we sell. But you know what? We’re ranchers, and somehow, we’ll find a way to survive!
Reminds me of a poem I wrote a few years ago about ranching. With tongue firmly in cheek, there may be some things we’d rather not do.
I was settin’ down and lookin’
At the books the other day.
The ranch just wasn’t doin’
Like I’d told the bank last May.
The one and only enterprise,
Had always been just fine.
But now the red was risin’
We’d touched the bottom line.
T’was time for help or baler twine,
To keep this ranch afloat.
An accountant’s what I need, I thought,
To float this leaky boat.
So I went for my first visit,
To a three piece suited guy.
Didn’t take him long to find a plan,
Didn’t really seem the answer,
As I started my old truck.
A cowboy’s made for cows you fool,
So much for that dumb cluck.
I’ll go and see the banker,
He might extend my note.
He said, “Bud, you’re dreamin’,
As he grabbed his keys and coat.
You need some extra income,
The writing’s plain to see.
And Bud, they will foreclose on you,
It won’t be up to me.
The boys in the head office,
Are scared and running blind.
Your cows are on the table,
The ranch is right behind.
What does he know of ranching
Or running cows and such.
I’ll get advice some other place,
And cheaper, thank you much.
So off to see my trusted pards,
At the local watering hole.
They’ll have the answer you can bet,
Some salve for my worried soul.
They juggled all the numbers,
Sure made my head spin ‘round.
And at the sad conclusion,
Said Bud, “the answer’s found.”
But the moment turned quite nasty,
When I leaped up from my chair.
The coffee spilled into my lap,
And burned me—you know where.
I staggered back and ordered,
A bracer ‘fore my reply.
My pointed finger shook with rage,
As I yelled, “I can’t comply!”
Those traitor friends I thought were mine,
Spewed judgment I abhor.
To those of us raised on the pap,
Of writer Lou L’Amour.
Their answer was a heresy,
Inconceivable! Can’t you see?
For I’m a cowboy to the core,
And broke I’d rather be.
Now pards you’ve crossed a solid line,
You price is way too steep.
‘Cause boys, I’d rather lose the ranch,
Than buy a herd of sheep.