The dust of drought permeates my novel Pilot Point. For drought permeated my life during the time I wrote it.
For the twelve of so years I lived near Pilot Point, I experienced at least two or three bad North Texas droughts. I can testify they can drag a man down. To see once green land turning to desert, to see your ponds turned to cracked, hard ground, and that with no relief in sight – that wears on a man, and it did on me. And the times showers tease by coming near, but only raining on other people, makes it that much harder to endure.
It’s not for nothing that a frequent judgment in the Bible on fallen, sinful man is drought. In fact, the drought of 2000 was one factor nudging this fallen sinner to move much closer to the Gulf.
Drought is an almost perfect metaphor for personal droughts in our lives, droughts of companionship, droughts of accomplishment, droughts of meaning. When I wrote the first draft of Pilot Point, I was experiencing such a time in my personal life as I was struggling with being very single for years on end.
But God’s providence is always good. I doubt I could have written Pilot Point well or at all without going through drought in North Texas and in my life.
In the following excerpt from Pilot Point, we see the boy Storm James and the old cowboy Bowie Smith work a cattle auction in the midst of a severe drought.
But the rains never came.
The showers were few and far apart. They came close enough only to torment. Or if one did hit, it gave so brief a rain, the ground was dry again in a day.
The grass sprouted up, only to become a dull yellow. The trees budded, only to begin losing dry leaves once they were all out. Green faded to yellow. Yellow faded to brown.
Spring, the promise of life, became death.
Storm was walking up the highway to the sale barn. He wiped sweat from his brow and took a big breath. “It’s gonna be a hot one,” he said to himself. It was the first Saturday in June, and the early summer was already so hot, he didn’t bother even to stuff a shirt into his jeans when he left the house.
Saturday mornings at the sale barn had became dustier again, and the cattle kept looking poorer. More of the cattle were a problem to move. But he looked forward to getting to the barn anyway, to end the long hot walk, but also to work the cow pens with Bowie as he always did.
“Hey, Bowie,” he greeted when he finally got to the barn.
Storm looked up and down the cow pens. “Dang. They’re all full. We have plenty of work to do out here today.”
“That’s okay with me though. It beats working the alleys, especially with all the cattle that’ve been laying down in them.”
“Is ever-body ready?” the megaphone sounded.
“You were nearly late,” Bowie pointed out.
“Yeah, well, I overslept.”
“And I’m sure that has nothing to do with those girls that have begun liking you.”
“That’s right, nothing at all.” The kid smirked.
“Uh-huh. Well, watch out. They can get you into a lot of trouble, if you’re late to a sale, not to mention other kinds of trouble.”
“I hear you.” Storm looked over at Bowie. He seemed different this morning. The old man was giving him a hard time as always, but not with his usual relish. He seemed a little subdued. He was not as both friendly and ornery as he always was.
“Well, let’s move ‘em out.”
After they moved out a pen and were waiting for the chutes to clear some, Bowie looked at him and chided, “Did those girls cause you to grow last night?”
“Shush.” He was going through a growth spurt. His worn jeans were getting too short for him, no matter how low he wore them. His boots and shoes were always too tight. And life and the sale barn were maturing him as well. So now he seemed only a year or two short of the sixteen he claimed to be—although Bowie never let on to that in front of him.
“Then your jeans must have shrunk since last week.”
“Shut up.” Maybe he is himself today, Storm thought.
But he wasn’t. Before long, Bowie became quiet again, downcast even, as they moved the cows out. Storm peered at him from time to time. His lined face was passionless; his eyes were distant. This was different than the Bowie he was used to.
Storm decided to make some small talk to help him snap out of it. “Whew! Is it hot enough for you today?”
“It sure is for me. Although I imagine we’ve seen worse.”
Bowie didn’t respond. Storm tried to make more conversation.
“What do you think is worse—hot like this or cold like we worked in winter?”
“Don’t make much difference to me. I’m pretty used to both.”
“I guess with your cowboying, you’ve pretty much seen it all.”
Storm tried to keep the conversation going. “What do you think is the worst weather you’ve seen?”
“Hell, I don’t know. This drought ranks right up there. Why don’t you quit yakking and open up that pen gate,” Bowie groused. So much for that idea, Storm thought as he ran to the gate.
He gave up on cheering up Bowie. Neither of them said much the rest of the morning and noontime. They weren’t mad at each other. There just wasn’t much to say.
Eventually, they got to the last pen.
“This is different, having a pen full of longhorns.”
“And they act different, too. They’re a little more ornery and a lot less fearful than other cattle. And they do have horns, so watch what you’re doing.”
“I hear you.”
“Plus there’s a bull in there.”
Storm nodded. “Looks like someone’s selling off his whole longhorn herd.”
“Looks like it. You open up the gate and let me do most of the moving.”
So Storm opened the pen gate and watched as Bowie went in and moved them around and out. He knew longhorns were Bowie’s favorite breed, and he noticed that he moved them a little differently from other cattle. He always had a skilled hand, but he moved these with a more gentle and knowledgeable skill. He knew just the right amount of prodding to move the herd and exactly how each of them would react. And, their thicket of horns didn’t faze him at all.
As Bowie was moving them, Storm thought he heard him quietly call a couple of them cow names. He sure does love longhorns, Storm smiled inwardly. In no time, the herd was down the alley, and he followed them and Bowie toward the chutes.
Bowie just as skillfully moved them into the chutes. All Storm had to do was watch. Bowie closed the gate behind them and, still leaning on the gate, looked in at the longhorns. Storm walked up and leaned on the gate beside him. “Those longhorns sure are something, aren’t they?”
“Yep,” Bowie said, staring into the chutes.
“You sure do work ‘em good. I’d always be wondering if one of those horns was going to get me.” Bowie was quiet. A little uncomfortable, Storm added, “But I guess if you’re easy on them like you are, they’re pretty careful with their horns.”
Bowie nodded weakly, but didn’t say anything. He just kept staring after the longhorns.
Perplexed that Bowie was acting so strange, Storm looked at him. He just kept staring at the longhorns as they began to be moved into the sale arena. His expression was distant and mournful. Storm had never seen him like this.
And at that moment, he understood.
Looking steadily at Bowie, Storm said, “Those are your longhorns, aren’t they.”
Storm kept looking at him a moment. He didn’t know what to say. So he said, “I’m sorry.”
Bowie kept staring distantly down the emptying chutes. “There’s nothing you or anybody could have done.” He added, “If there was, I would’ve done it.” And, with that, he was silent again.
Although Storm and Bowie worked together the rest of the sale, neither said much after the longhorns were gone.
If you would like to read more, there are less then 60 hours left in the 100 Hour Kindle Countdown deal for Pilot Point. You can get the Kindle version of my novel for only $1.99. But the price goes back up after the countdown goes to 0.
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