When the world doesn’t end | TSLN.com

When the world doesn’t end

Flames dance around a grain elevator near Ashland, Kansas. Photo by Loree Krier
Flames dance around a grain elevator near Ashland, Kansas. Photo by Loree Krier

Fire and Ice

By Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

In 2013 for cattlemen on the northern plains, it felt like the world had ended in ice. In 70 mile an hour winds and blowing snow. In gunshots that meant the end of lives and livelihoods.

But it didn’t.

When the Atlas blizzard tore across the plains, leaving lines of cattle and horses dead and dying, cattlemen pulled their boots on every morning, went out and took care of the living, the dead and dying every day until dark, praying their dreams would be empty.

We gathered as neighbors, sharing coffee and stories, offering the use of a tractor, the tag numbers of drifted cattle, a handshake, a hug, a discretely averted gaze when the tears came too close. That’s what we do. We neighbor.

And thousands across the country neighbored with us. They offered words of encouragement, and what dollars they could spare. And those dollars added up—to $5.4 million. It didn’t end the heartache, but it gave the hand up that many needed to keep doing what they love, taking care of land and livestock.

For our neighbors to the south, today it feels like the world has ended in fire. Biblical images of lakes of fire aren’t far from the 70 mile an hour flames that seem like an evil live thing, gleefully consuming life to feed itself, knowing it will be dead within days.

Once the flames are left to smolder, the abundant grass that held such promise reduced to black, cattlemen pull their boots on and go out to care for the living, the dead and the dying every day until dark, praying their dreams will be empty.

As they face their own end-of-the-world days, as they contemplate rebuilding, as they walk among the ashes of their legacy, let’s offer them the same hand up, the same friendship, the same encouragement they offered us. Let’s dig a little deeper than is comfortable to make sure they have enough to keep breathing in this industry.

As they bury horses, cattle and friends, let’s remind them that as an industry we’re stronger than 70 mile an hour winds. That broken hearts can strengthen us, if we don’t let them break us.

Our lives are made up of billions of small, inconsequential seconds, forgotten once they’ve existed. The lilt of a meadowlark, the feel of spring sunshine, the smell of cottonwood leaves, the sight of a sunset gilding a pasture of healthy cattle.

Those seconds aren’t the ones that flash through our minds when we’re drifting off in mud-caked or smoke-filled exhaustion. But they are the seconds we get out of bed for, and they’ll come again.

For the stories of hope and help after the Atlas blizzard, read our 2014 Fall Cattle Journal.

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