So my neighbor finally got a ranchette. Whether it’s five acres or 40, the next step is apparently the perfect entrance gate. Rancheteers have made these huge gates the latest symbol of affluence in the West.
uprights bigger than my house, flanked by imported decorative
boulders. The crossbar seems sometimes to be a whole tree. The
majestic sign in the middle often perpetuates some notion of
Western myth: "Misty Mustang Meadow Ranch," or the place is named
for the wildlife driven out by building: "Dancing Deer
Development." Honesty would call it "Gone Grizzly" or "Elk
Eradication Estates." Some folks try to be clever: "Poverty
The last time I looked, the sign across from
my ranch read: "Everything is Everything." Maybe that’s this
owner’s philosophy of life, a scary concept in gate slogans.
What if he really thinks that’s everything? One of the most
pretentious gates I’ve seen straddled a dusty road leading to
a scabby-looking trailer backed up against a bare hill. An economy
car and a poodle stood in front, both looking confused.
An immodest rancher might reveal his first name on his belt, but
not in letters a foot high. We prove our financial worth by
supporting our community directly — no billboard boasts.
Antique machinery sometimes gets piled next to these
self-important gates, turning tools into décor or even worse,
planters for geraniums. This array is exhibitionism, a thug
flaunting victory over the vanquished. You might as well decorate a
driveway with the tombstones of neighborhood ranchers, or hang
their heads in your den.
Once the gate’s up, some
landowners turn five horses to "graze" on five acres of dirt. In
this drought, with no supplemental feed, horses have starved to
death because their owners didn’t bother to learn the facts
behind the fantasy. Many newcomers, for example, plant trees that
won’t survive without irrigation — wasting the entire
community’s groundwater. The National Arbor Day Foundation
misleads us all by giving away Colorado blue spruce, alien to the
High Plains. By contrast, my junipers survive on natural water
after 10 years of drought, while the lone spruce someone gave me
died two years ago. There’s a reason we choose to grow
scraggly trees and bushes: We’ve learned from experience
which trees will grow into a windbreak in our lifetimes.
Remember the wind. Building on a hilltop only shows old-timers that
you can pay higher heating bills and that you’d rather wreck
the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge than conserve. When fuel runs
short, you’ll need more firewood than we’ll burn in our
little houses in the gullies.
Amazingly, some folks build
a log house on a prairie where the tallest plant is a sagebrush.
After a few more years of drought, those logs will be so dry they
might as well be living in a full matchbox.
And what do
newcomers do when their Western estate is complete, when they have
created a dream ranch? They buy the perfect finishing touch.
Picture it: Embellished by the hat, the Hummer, the horse, they
look out on rolling acres of subtle, tawny grassland beauty.
They’ve got every Western dream money can buy. And to protect
all that’s held dear, they surround it with — a white
Kinda like duct-taping pink flamingos onto
Vatican marble. Putting red noses on Mount Rushmore’s
presidents. A mustache on Mona. OK, I’m a grouch. Moreover, I
shouldn’t blame uninformed folks who fantasize about having
Bonanza’s Hoss as a saddle pard. Greedy developers who sell
land without educating buyers are mostly responsible. They are,
however, ably assisted by city and county officials too
shortsighted to accept responsibility for warning newcomers about
the semi-arid West.
We ranchers are also responsible.
We’re apparently too spineless to use zoning laws to protect
our agricultural livelihoods. We’d rather just wail bad
cowboy songs about loss. We’re all afraid that if we tell the
truth about the West — about the persistence of drought and
fire and fencing laws here, not to mention depression and the
scourge of methamphetamines and other drugs — no one will buy
real estate at inflated prices.
Here’s the truth:
There isn’t enough water and oil on earth to make viable
communities out of most subdivisions in the West. But if
you’re tough enough for the honest West, and you really want
to be part of a community, come on out and get acquainted. I might
introduce you to Hoss.