That evening, getting ready to leave the farm, I noticed egrets flying up from the river. A few minutes later another herd of Angus was ambling up the lane for a snack. They must have hidden out in the mesquite or Verlin’s men had overlooked them among the scores they had to round up and haul away.
Once again I closed the gate. Once again I called Junior. An hour later, Verlin arrived, alone this time. It’s as if his cows knew we had unfinished business, but I still didn’t have it in me to ask for compensation. Silently, we worked side by side directing his cattle once again down to the river. Somewhere in the next bend I could hear his men in their trucks, calling them with the horn that conditioned them to chow time – fresh from Callahan’s mill.
“That was a nice write up in the paper,” I said, trying to put my anger aside.
“Thank you…Mike and them at the store say they know your wife. A pretty redhead, right?”
“Yes, thank you. Irish. You don’t want to get her mad.”
“You hear any horns yet?” Verlin asked. “My hearing is half gone.”
Small talk has a way of growing into the meaningful kind that makes you stop walking. Two busy men were now pausing in the woods to connect, as the conversation spanned the county’s history – from Josiah Wilbarger, who settled in this bend after his legendary scalping, to developer Jim Carpenter, who tried to build an airport across from Pope Bend.
Like North and South on a faded compass, Verlin’s references were the large yet aging landowners whose holdings were diminishing or changing hands. We spoke of Virgil Lawless to the South, a retired physician and cattle-breeder whose health had deteriorated since his wife passed away. Of James Barton, our neighbor to the North, who lost his pecan grove in the drought. And finally we spoke of Green Gate and our decision to settle here after intown wells went dry.
Something was happening between us – the building up of common ground.
Still, I could sense that Verlin was having trouble fitting me squarely into the Bastrop County he knows and loves. I was neither hippie nor homesteader. A non-native transplant, yes, but with only 35 acres, neither invasive nor threatening.
By the time we reached the river all the cattle were on the Callahan side. Except one. His prize bull. It stood mid-stream as if reluctant to leave these greener pastures.
“That’s a good sign,” Verlin said, admiring the black beast, which seemed to be admiring itself in the river’s reflection. “The bull always goes last.”
The hollering and horn-blowing from his men was close now. Verlin stepped forward into the poison ivy, put his hands on his hips, and called out.
“Whoooh!” and again, “Whooh!”
Slowly, the bull made his way home. And soon Verlin did, too.
With their departure an unexpected sadness followed me back to the barn. Yes, I had stood my ground and won this skirmish. Yet I sensed the end of an era, the end of free-ranging cattle and an unfenced river. And the stirrings of the much larger war that was certain to come, of developers and ranchers and farmers fighting over this diminished resources we all took for granted.
Editor’s note: NFI will be hosting an event this fall with Citizens Climate Lobby to continue the conversation begun by our CSA member Anna Graybeal: