Stripping Us from the Land

A sunset from Claycomb’s ranch

Rolando Claycomb was one of the last big ranchers left in the county, which was surrendering to development. My client, Yale, lived in a tiny, battered old Airstream up on blocks on Mr. Claycomb’s section of land. Yale served as a hand to help Mr. Claycomb run the place. Claycomb was a  decorated war vet who’d lost his wife years ago. And he was an alcoholic.

Rolando Claycomb represented the West’s past, and therefore its passing. Gone were most of the old ranches. This land was hard and dry and when the snowstorms blew over from the La Plata Mountains to the east, the winters could be just as cruel as the drought-strick summers. People got tired of running cattle from summer pasture up in the high country down to browned-out winter pasture. They tired of fighting over water. And Mr. Claycomb, he tired of fighting the waves of ‘progress’ which swarmed in from the coasts and big cities, the great interior migration filling in the intermountain West. It made him grieve. Grieving made him drink. Out here, whiskey was for drinking and water was for fighting.

Me, a big city refugee who rode out here on one of those immigrant waves. I tired of the development along with him, but I brought the droves along with me. Mr. Claycomb was important on my landscape. He stood for more than just the passing of the West. Without his section of land, how would my client, Yale, support himself? The State was seeking to declare itself guardian over Yale’s person and property. Yale had a below average IQ. He depended on the sustenance Mr. Claycomb’s land provided. He grew corn and beans and squash in the red soil of Claycomb’s tract. He cut and sold cords of wood from Claycomb’s P-J forests. He helped keep Claycomb’s spread free of hound’s tongue and thistle, and he kept feeders for the horses full in December,broke up the skim of ice that formed on the troughs in January.

They needed each other. Claycomb and Yale depended on each other, kept each other going in different ways. Yale, not a social sort, didn’t really act as Claycomb’s halfward son in a filial sense, but he acted as the inheritor of the land in an agrarian way. Without Yale and a few other hands that Claymconb kept on part-time, Claycomb would’ve long ago had to sell to those developers he detested so much. More important from my point of view, Yale would have had nowhere to go, no food to eat. He even drove Claycomb’s truck (unlicensed) when he had to go to town to fetch supplies. Yeah, they needed each other, relied on each other.

Neither man had any friends or a partner to shinny up next to in bed on those cold, late May mornings when sometimes fell the snow. Each held the world at a distance for reasons of his own. Claycomb had five grown children, but none of them held any interest in the old man, much less working the land. They’d each moved far away to one of the cities. Some had inherited his intemperance and drank. They’d only circle and land after he died, to divide up the bones.

Yale held humanity in abeyance for a different set of reasons. It wasn’t misanthropy like it was in Claymcomb’s case. No, for Yale, it was because of the way he’d come up: abused by his birth parents, relegated to the realms of Foster Fear until he aged out of the system. He was such an odd one, Yale was. Eccentric atop all those diagnoses the psychologists and shrinks had leveled him with since he’d been a boy incapable of using words in the way the common of humanity did. His main diagnosis was eccentricity, and people saw him as a little odd, a little off because of ths language disorder that made him talk ‘funny.’ He’d use one word when he meant something completely different. He couldn’t help it. It was the brain his brain worked, the manner in which his neurology circuited differently than the rest of ours did. His dazzling azure eyes held the world at a distance. They gazed into the distance most of the time. Yet it wasn’t the same kind of distance you could see in Mr. Claycomb’s jaundiced eyes. It wasn’t the distance gained by age or fatigue or the emptying lassitude of grief. Yale’s eyes focused far off, seeing over the horizon, over all horizons. They held the distance. They held it within them. You could look into his eyes and see that the distance was something internal just as much as it was external spacetime. That’s what I saw in Yale’s brilliant sky eyes. They were the windows to what Yale might call internity.

Yet without the landedness of Rolando Claycomb, all of Yale’s supernal wisdom counted for nothing in this world. The experts concluded that he lacked ‘functional capacity.’ That’s what the State psychiatrist, Dr. Showalter’s Neuropsychiatric Assessment opined. And all those diagnoses and deficits aimed and flung like knives against Yale since his boyhood reduced him down to one ‘grave disability.’ That was the statutory conclusion. It all meant that, once Claycomb had slipped over the teetering edge of this world, Yale would end up in a nursing home.

I’d do anything to prevent that, even if it meant my own ruin. And Yale’s.

The Dirt, The Journey of a Cowboy Mystic, is due out on May 30th.

This post regards a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incident are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons or events is purely coincidental.