by J.D. Moyer
Beef is dead. That much, I understand.
Sure, the Holstein mini-ranches up in Sonoma will be around until the tourists stop buying fancy cheese, but USDA Prime, real meat, is done. Gro-Meat won. I've kept this place going as long as I can. I like to think Grandpa Faley would be proud of his granddaughter, the way I’ve protected the family name.
I've adjusted, as times and tastes have changed: less grain and more pasture (no more feedlot finishing), later weaning, more inspections, free access and full transparency for Animal Wellness. The changes helped, for a time. The Faley Ranch brand, always known for quality and taste, also gained a reputation for treating our cattle humanely.
What's changed is the moral zeitgeist. People don't want to eat animals anymore – at least not animals like us (those that care for their young, comfort each other). They're too much like people. It's not enough that our animals live full lives, enjoying the fine outdoors and hot California sunshine, grazing on sweet clover and fresh grass. When they've put on enough muscle and fat, the steers are slaughtered, butchered, and turned into steaks. The old cows and bulls are sold as stew meat and high-end pet food. That's the reality of ranching. But it's no longer a reality that people will accept.
So what the hell am I supposed to do with my remaining nine-hundred head of Black Angus, Hereford, Ankole longhorns, and heritage breeds? I could halt the breeding, sell off what I have at a loss, and convert the grazing pastures to fields of broccoli, garlic, and pomegranate.
Or I could hear out Fleur-Moran. There's a proposal on the table. My initial impression is that the idea is insane. But it's a lot of money.
Today I met with the consultants from Corcoran-Lac Inc., a benefit corps that channels federal grants into rewilding the San Joaquin Valley. Some of the projects I knew about: dam removal, wetlands restoration, expanding the Chinook salmon run. But this is a new one.
The idea: a migrating herd, guided by drones, transforming a corridor of drought-ravaged, over-farmed lands into a lush, partially forested, thriving ecosystem, diversely populated with California natives and complementary guest species.
There were two of them. The suit, Fleur-Moran, did most of the talking. Matthews, a skinny ecologist, spent most of the meeting eyeing me suspiciously. Their main premise: dense trampling and manure from migrating herds will nourish and restore the damaged, depleted soil. Most vegetable production has moved to urban grow towers, leaving thousands of hectares slated for rewilding. The plan could work – I already practice the same method on my own pastures. I don't let the herds graze down to the base. After they've topped the grass and clover (and nourished the soil with their dung), I move them. My fields are green and lush for a good part of the year.
The skinny guy finally chimed in after about twenty minutes. “To be clear, reconditioning won't be enough to change their behavior. We're considering a retrovirus to modify epigenetic expression. We want to activate the latent migration impulse.”
The suit gave him a look which shut him up. But I was glad Matthews gave it to me straight. I told them I'd consider their proposal.
Still recovering from the July 4th Tricentennial. Great to see the kids – we're lucky neither of them moved too far away. We all met up in San Jose for the fireworks, ate barbecue from the food trucks. Gro-Meat, of course, but I have to admit I couldn't taste the difference. More tender than the real stuff, but good texture. You actually have to bite into it. I suppose that's because it is real meat – it just doesn't grow on an animal. Kind of horrifying when you think about it: cow muscles growing on the quasi-skeletal exercise mechanism, submerged in nutrient broth. But no head, no brain, no consciousness, and therefore no cruelty (I guess). Still seems wrong.
In other news, we took the money. Jeffries doesn't like it but it's my name on the ranch – we're going ahead with the project. We're on the hook for another year of work, co-managing the herd with Corcoran-Lac. I'll be working directly with Matthews. Phase I is the retroviral epigenetic treatment. Apparently they only need to modify the “herd leaders.” Among the Angus, that's Harriet, so I introduced them. Noticed Matthews kept his distance, which was wise. Some people think cows are docile. Well, they are, usually. But they're big enough to kill if they get riled up, especially if a calf is involved. A cow once butted Jeffries, knocked him down, kicked him. If he'd taken a hoof to the head ... I shudder to think.
Jeffries says he's worried about the retrovirus. I think he just doesn't like Matthews, doesn't want him hanging around. Truth is, myself and the kids excepted, Jeffries likes cattle and dogs more than people.
He'll get over it.
Phase I – the retroviral treatment – is complete. Harriet seemed unwell at first, glassy-eyed and moving slowly. Today she's better, but different. She spent most of the day by the eastern fence. Not unusual in itself, but there was something odd about the way she kept looking beyond, to the hills.
We keep the steers, cows, and calves together, with bulls at least two enclosures away. Mostly we let the different breeds mingle. Angus and Hereford enjoy each other's company, and while the longhorns mostly keep to themselves, they don't cause trouble. The one breed I keep completely isolated are the Heck – the Nazi cattle. Grandpa got interested in the auroch breed-back attempt just as the rewilding movement was starting. We've had them on the ranch every since. Matthews is particularly interested in the Heck, but I told him hands-off. Who knows what would happen if you started mucking about with methylation and gene expression in the uber-cattle. Didn't the Nazis do enough of that already?
The Third Reich didn't get very close to the ancestral auroch, but they did manage to create a tasty meat animal. Too bad the Heck are so mean.
Matthews introduced the drones today. The fliers will keep track of the herd. They'll fly high and quiet and shouldn't disturb the animals. In addition, there's a small pack of four-legged robots modeled after cattle dogs. I couldn't tell how smart they were, but they run nimbly, bark, and even nip. I had to keep Zippy and my other real heelers on leash while Matthews let the Angus and Herefords get used to the mech dogs. Zippy nearly choked herself trying to get at them, crazy barking with jealously until I took her back to the house. The mechs run on a micro-fusion core which lasts basically forever – they're programmed to keep the migrating herd inside the designated corridor. Harriet isn't bothered by Zippy or the other cattle dogs, but she showed the whites of her eyes and whisked her tail when one of the mechs got close. We'll see if this works. I'll ask Matthews to paint them black and gray like the real dogs – maybe that will help.
Matthews wants to expand the scope of the retroviral treatment. It's fine with me but I reiterated that the Heck are off limits. They're unpredictable enough without triggering latent ancestral impulses, migratory or otherwise. Harriet, ten days after treatment, is as healthy as ever, though she does seem uncannily aware of her environment. Today when I was walking the fence she gave me what I can only describe as a glare.
As I type this, Zippy is sleeping under the table. She hasn't looked at me all evening – I think she's sulking. The dogs are going to need a new job.
Phase II – aka “Open Run” – started today. Jeffries and I took down a twenty-meter section of the north-side fence. Harriet watched us do it, and sure enough took the others for a walk. After a two kilometer stroll over abandoned grape fields, she turned back and came home. Matthews says that's to be expected. We won't see any real migration impulse until the bulls are reunited with the rest of the herd.
I'm having maternal worries. Will they find enough to eat? Will they be hunted (not by people – we're all eating Gro-Meat – but by mountain lions or wolves)? Jeffries didn't believe me when I mentioned wolves. I had to check the state rewilding index and show him.
I've lived and worked around cattle my whole life. It's going to be strange to have them gone.
Disaster! Heidegger escaped and got in with the cows. I didn't see it myself but Jeffries said he mounted three cows in succession – two Angus and an Ankole heifer – and who knows how many others he got to before the dogs got him corralled. That damn Heck bull kicked Zippy – I think her leg is broken.
The Heck bulls are (or were) enclosed by a 6000 volt fence. Heidegger walked right through it. He knew it was electrified. They all know, after touching it once.
I don't have any evidence that Matthews treated the Heck with the retrovirus, but he wouldn't make eye contact with me today. He's living in his luxe trailer on the property – he could have snuck into the Heck pasture at night. Insanely stupid, but possible.
What should I do? Pull the plug on the whole thing? Get Heidegger tested somehow? I wouldn't even know what test to ask for.
What's done is done. The bulls and the cows were coming back together anyway – the free mating is just happening a little ahead of schedule. As for Matthews, I may have given my trust too early.
* * *
Jeffries just got back from the vet. Zippy has a hairline fracture and a cast, but she'll be fine. She cuddled with me on the couch after dinner. I think she's forgiven me for the moment. She must have been happy to get back to work. I feel bad – she has no idea her days as a working heeler are numbered. We're all going to need new jobs around here.
No I told you so's from Jeffries – that's not his style. But he was quiet, preoccupied.
“We'll have more time,” I said. “Won't it be nice not working from dawn to dusk for once?”
“I like working. It's what I do.”
“We'll still work. We'll grow food. Maybe we'll get some goats to keep the grass short, start a little dairy. Give those Sonoma outfits some competition on the organic chèvre front.”
“Maybe.” He scratched Zippy behind the ears. “I'm worried about the animals.”
Didn't know what to say to that. I'm worried too.
Bad to worse. One of the mech dogs nipped Harriet and wounded her. Zippy and the other dogs sometimes draw a little blood but they've never injured the cattle. Harriet is limping, but Jeffries can't get near her to give her a proper exam. The whole herd is skittish – even the animals in different pastures.
I let Matthews know my feelings. I've never seen a man go so pale. I got the impression he'd never been properly yelled at by a woman before. I just hope he passes a little bit of that emotion on to the engineers responsible for those metal monstrosities. No way are they getting near my animals again – at least not with biting as a feature. Matthews, after apologizing about a dozen times, said there were some possible alternative herding mechanisms. Fine. Get it right.
The Ankole heifer is pregnant, as are the two Angus cows that Heidegger got to. Well, it won't be the first Ankole-Heck hybrid. There was some early-century crossbreeding in Hungary – a wild herd in a national park. They're called Taurus cattle, and they're even closer to the semi-mythical auroch than the Heck (bigger horns, and more rugged). As far as I can tell the Hungarian herd is still growing, as is the national park. Nobody lives in Hungary anymore. Birthrates are especially low in Eastern Europe.
The allure of the auroch – I get it. The wild ox that roamed three continents, domesticated at least twice by Neolithic peoples, ancestor to both the taurine and zebu cattle lines – why wouldn't we want to bring them back? Especially now that our own numbers are falling (whether to sustainable levels, or extinction ... who knows). There is so much more wild space now.
I suppose Matthews's retrovirus could be considered part of it – the going back thing. He's trying to undomesticate (is that even a word?) a domesticated animal. Specifically he's trying to target the migration impulse. I don't think it's working, but more on that later.
The mech dogs are being repurposed to use sonic and electrical controls. I'm skeptical, especially considering the way Heidegger bulldozed the electric fence.
Zippy is back on all fours. We put her to work today with another open fence experiment. The dogs were confused at first – they're not used to letting the herd wander north – but Zippy caught on and the other heelers followed her lead.
Harriet led the cows and steers a little farther than last time – past Gupta's old abandoned grape fields and through what used to be an almond orchard but is now home to only weeds and a few stunted olive trees. I watched through a scope from the six-wheel ORV. The animals are more alert, more like wild ungulates of some kind. They kept looking around, like deer or horses. It didn't strike me as anti-predator behavior. More like they were curious. Like they were plotting something.
A trial with the revamped mechs. I left Zippy at home, crated her. Felt bad about it but better that than to see her go mad with jealousy.
The mech dogs still have jaws (but no head really, it's a creepy look). Matthews says the biting has been deactivated except for self-defense, and only then as a last resort – they're programmed to run away from viable threats. What exactly would constitute a viable threat I don't know – I'm not sure what kind of creature would have the balls to take one on. A coyote, mountain lion, or wolf would be too sensible to risk it. An eagle maybe – eagles are fearless. Eagles and dumb teenagers.
I'd assumed “sonics” meant some kind simulated barking, but apparently it's more like weaponized sound. It worked – the cattle went where the mechs wanted them to go – but the herd seemed riled up and resentful. Resentful – I really am anthropomorphizing.
Herd reunited! Finally, something went smoothly. I expected trouble from Heidegger and Fritz, but after some obligatory head-butting with the Angus bulls everyone went back to grazing. Nobody took on Java, the old Ankole. His horns could do real damage so I was glad of it.
Some mounting, but we didn't track it. What's the point? It's a free-for-all now. Let nature take its course. Within a few months every fertile cow and heifer will be pregnant. If the wild herd survives, I assume the distinct breeds will eventually converge into … into what? Something like the auroch? Matthews ran a simulation and showed me some pictures, an array arranged by probability. At the apex was a dark brown bull with a light brown stripe down its back, a high profile, and long forward-curving black-tipped horns.
Evolution ain't that fast. If that handsome beast ever walks the earth I'll be long gone.
Tomorrow is the big day! The migration begins. If this experiment works it could be a model for other ranches. I don't think raising cattle will ever completely end as a practice – I hope it doesn't – but big operations like Faley are on the way out.
Ranching has been demonized. Unfairly, if you consider that most of us went 100% grass, organic, drug-free. We still got dinged for water use and methane emissions. What's the saying? Lies, damned lies, and statistics. Are they really going to count water that falls from the sky onto the ground against us? That grass and clover is going to grow whether my animals eat it or not. And methane … what about the 60 million head of buffalo that once roamed our great nation? Think they didn't burp and fart?
Slaughter ops have officially ceased. Jeffries and I had pizza and a fat Napa cab to celebrate. It was a good night. Whatever doubts or misgivings Jeffries has, he's trying to get with the plan. I love that man.
Looking forward to tomorrow.
Well that was a bust. The herd made it as far as Gupta's grape fields, then turned around. They all followed Harriet – even the Heck. The mech dogs were in play but they didn't do anything; they're programmed to keep the herd within the corridor but none of the animals came near the designated borders. They took a stroll and came home. Matthews says not to worry, that the migration instinct will overcome their habits and conditioning.
I'm reminded of those stories – when they used to keep dolphins and orcas in captivity. Animal rights groups would sometimes steal the animals and free them. It never worked out well. The dolphins had never learned to hunt. They were used to getting fed. They didn't speak the local dialects, couldn't integrate with the wild pods. Some performed their amusement park routines at the regular feeding times. Those that weren't recaptured starved and died.
But cows don't hunt. There's abandoned farmland – essentially open pasture – from here to Stockton. There's nothing preventing this herd from becoming wild.
Some of the animals made a contract with human beings. The wolves were first, and got the best deal. Hunt with us, share your scraps, and we'll protect you. We'll lend you our sharp senses and fast running, you share your deft hands and keen minds.
Wolf became terrier, bulldog, chihuahua. We molded the wolf body to serve our needs and wants. Those wolves who didn't enter the contract were punished, hunted and driven back to harsh lands. We took the fat and easy for ourselves and our dog-servants.
Auroch signed the contract too, as did boar, ovis, and equus ferus. Feed me and protect me from wolf and lion, and you may ride me, wear me, eat me. Load my back with weight. Flog me, flay me, fillet me.
Now human beings are reneging. Go back to the wild, we say. Sprint, frolic, run free! We don't need you anymore.
No progress today.
Tried something new today. Matthews had been suggesting it for several days. I resisted but finally gave in. Should have trusted my gut.
As Harriet led the herd “home” the mechs blocked their way. I'd forbade any mech-to-cattle physical contact so the robo-heelers used cross-sprints, barking (which sounded recorded and unnatural), and air-nips. The clashing of metallic teeth is terrifying, even if they've been programmed not to bite.
The cattle became extremely agitated, with all manner of head-shaking, tail-swishing, eye-rolling, and aggressive profile displays from the bulls. Heidegger chased one of the mechs down, caught it in the undercarriage with a horn, and tossed it a good five meters. The sight of this thrilled me, for reasons I cannot explain. Do I want this project to fail? I don't think so. But I do dislike the mechs. Jeffries recorded the whole thing – maybe I'll play it back for Zippy!
I called it – we let the herd back onto the ranch. Hours later the animals were still snorting and shaking their heads, dumbfounded at the gravity of the insult. I brewed a pot of coffee, poured it into a thermos, and visited Matthews in his trailer. He opened his little door, gave me a resigned look, and gestured to two folding chairs beneath his canopy. I took a seat and watched the grass grow until he joined me with a pair of tin cups. After a brief rehash of the afternoon I got to the point. “The animals aren't showing any migration instinct. Is this a failed experiment?”
Matthews watched his cup while I poured from the thermos. “The cattle are exhibiting behavioral changes that are consistent with the targeted epigenetic switches.”
“They keep coming home.”
“It will take time for their latent instincts to override their habitual conditioning.”
“That's what you said last week.”
Matthews sipped, sighed, still didn't look at me. I wondered if he was depressed. “Habits can take a number of weeks to remodel. Consistent behavioral encouragement is essential to the process.”
“Like what? Locking them out? The bulls are strong enough to knock down the fences. Heidegger apparently thinks 6000 volts is a nice tickly feeling.”
“The persuasive powers of the mechanized cattle dogs have barely been tapped.”
“No biting,” I said, raising my voice.
He stayed calm. “The mechs have a diverse toolkit. None of the animals have been seriously injured.”
“Speaking of injuries, how 'bout the mech Heidegger tossed?”
“Beyond repair, I'm afraid,” he said, finally meeting my eye.
Had to hide a grin there, but overall the conversation left me feeling down. Matthews has good intentions but he doesn't understand cattle. The wanderlust left these beasts long ago. You can't just flip a switch and put it back in. They're homebodies. Like me. Faley Ranch is their place.
But what can I do? I took the money. Matthews is right – the experiment hasn't seriously hurt any of the animals. Harriet is all healed up from the mech nip. And what's the alternative? Sell them cheap for slaughter? They'd probably end up as pet food.
So we go with Matthews's plan.
Four mech heelers down. Jeffries has a fractured right clavicle, severe bruises on his left leg. He’s staying overnight at the hospital.
Too tired to write. I'm going to open a bottle of wine, watch TV, and cuddle with Zippy.
Just got back from a long meeting with Matthews and Fleur-Moran. Ostensibly it was a project update meeting, but the suit was mostly concerned with the question is Jeffries is going to sue. Jeffries probably should, but he won't. It wasn't Fleur-Moran who broke his clavicle.
I did express my grave concerns with the effects of the engineered retrovirus. While it has completely failed in terms of triggering any latest migration instinct, it has made the animals more alert, aggressive, and – speculation on my part – more intelligent. Matthews thinks we'll need more time to see if the herd will migrate, but he didn't fight me on the other points.
In light of what happened, we all agreed that the mechs should be completely and permanently retired from the project. Maybe they can sell them to private security companies.
Matthews seemed different around Fleur-Moran. I've gotten to know the guy a bit. He's good-hearted but not a great communicator. Today he seemed especially quiet. I think he's hiding something.
Off to pick up Jeffries, who sounded cheerful on the phone. Being charged and trampled by a longhorn bull isn't going to get my man down.
Or maybe he's happy because everything has gone off the rails?
Jeffries back home. On crutches, but in good spirits.
So here's what happened. Last week, we opened the gates and released the herd for what Matthews dubbed an “encouraged” migration event. At first we were hopeful; the herd wandered past Gupta's old grape fields and into the ground squirrel infested weed patch that was long ago home to almond trees. Fingers were crossed all around, but an hour before dusk Harriet led them home as usual. No migration.
The mechs behaved as programmed, intervening with “sonic inducements”: very loud 30khz pulses. The animals reacted poorly to the weaponized sound. Java – the big Ankole longhorn – took out the first mech, impaling it on his left horn. The robot dog tried to sprint away but the old bull triangulated its path in pursuit. That's a first – predator chase behavior from an herbivore. The Heck bulls took out two more. Harriet trampled the last one, stomping on it until its metal limbs stopped twitching.
That's when Jeffries made his mistake. He waded right in, calm and confident as usual. Heidegger charged him.
Jeffries dodged the first pass. That crazy Nazi bull came around again, hard and fast. He got under Jeffries, tossed him two meters into the air, trampled him when he came down. The remaining mech heelers managed to chase him off while Matthews and I dragged Jeffries away. Lucky he wasn't gored.
I brought out Zippy and her pack, not to run the herd but just hoping the presence of the real dogs would calm them down. It worked. Harriet led them back to Faley, we opened the gates, called it a night.
Taking a few days off to let things settle. Matthews has been taking single-drop blood samples from some of the cows and steers. Asked him what he was doing and he mumbled an answer, wouldn't look at me.
Nearly Halloween. Used to bring the kids into town for trick-or-treating. I wonder if they'll ever have kids of their own. It's been a long time since I carved a pumpkin, or held a baby.
Took a dusk walk with Zippy through the herd. They could tell Zippy was “off the clock” and were completely relaxed. Had a crazy thought that the herd might follow me, if I migrated. Maybe I'm their home, not this ranch. I could bring the dogs, a tent, the ORV-6, a bio-genny. Go fully mobile. Jeffries could drive out and visit once in awhile.
Harriet looked at me in a way that gave me chills. Felt like she was reading my soul with those big brown eyes. You are forgiven, I imagined she was thinking. But we will never forget. You sold our bodies for meat. You ate our flesh.
But I fed you, I thought back. I protected you, helped you birth, cared for you when you were sick.
We regret the contract. Her tail swished.
You're a cow. You're only five years old. You can't speak for the entire species, its evolutionary history. You can't speak at all.
You are forgiven. But we will never forget, in the time we have left.
So what now?
It's too late for us.
* * *
The imaginary conversation disturbed me. I found myself knocking on Matthews's trailer door. He opened it, stared at me a long time before stepping back and inviting me in. The place was a mess, smelled like ramen and stale man. The wallscreen was lit up with test results. I tried to make sense of them.
Matthews sighed, collapsed into a chair. “The retrovirus is contagious. It shouldn't be, but it is.”
He looked at me while I processed his statement.
“That means the herd can't migrate.”
“Too much of a chance of coming into contact with animals from other ranches.”
I felt a stab of relief. “So they live out their natural lives here, at Faley.”
He shook his head. “Too dangerous. There's a chance of escape.”
I refused to accept that we had no options. “The herd doesn't want to go anywhere. Isn't that what we've learned over the past weeks?”
“It's not up to me. CDC made the call.”
“Wait, what the fuck? What are you saying exactly?”
“You'll be compensated per head, well above market rate. That's in addition to your participation fee for the experiment, which you get to keep.”
“I don't care about the money.”
“The herd will be killed. Every animal. Killed and burned.”
I left his trailer without answering. I was shaking, trembling, not sure what I might say or do.
That's still the case, as I write this.
Slaughter operations are spun back up. It's the most humane way to get this done. It's too bad the meat will go to waste, but I understand the need for caution.
I was in denial for a few days. I cried, took long walks. I fantasized about setting the animals free, even if it meant I would end up in jail. But we already tried that. They didn't want to go anywhere. There are no choices here, no options. Jeffries has been stoic but I can tell he's upset. Zippy, always the empath, senses our distress and stays underfoot.
I've avoided the herd. There will be no walking amongst them to say goodbye. I've already done that. I'm worried what strange conversation my mind might invent if I look Harriet in the eye.
I told Jeffries we should move. Faley is over. We need to start fresh. Maybe to San Jose, to be closer to the kids? He tried to be supportive but the conversation made him uncomfortable. He hates city life.
“I'm like the cattle,” he said after a full minute of staring into his coffee. “I don't like change.”
I resisted the urge to reassure him. I wasn't even sure that I could.
The deed is done. The big fucking mess is cleaned up. Matthews slunk away in the middle of the night. There's an ugly brown patch where his trailer used to be.
Fleur-Moran stopped by with a phalanx of lawyers. In order to receive the per-head payment they're making us sign NDAs. Fine – let their rogue virus remain a secret. I don't care anymore. I just want to get out of here.
I stayed up late last night buying things: a new bio-genny, a self-erecting tent, a water purifier, a new cargo bike. Corcoran-Lac transferred the funds immediately after we signed. I guess the money is burning a hole in my pocket. I told Jeffries I need a few weeks on the road. He's fine with it, says he'll be busy cleaning up the ranch.
Early this morning, about an hour before dawn, I walked the pastures. I'm sad for Harriet, sad for Java. I even miss Heidegger. But it's for the best. We don't need to grow and slaughter living, feeling beings anymore. The rewilding project was a picturesque fantasy. Nature will take care of rewilding on her own, as we slowly depopulate the planet. Why don't people want to have as many children anymore? When did we turn that corner? It's been such a slow, gradual process. We worried about overpopulation for so many years.
I'll leave such problems to the scientists and philosophers. I'm just a ranch girl. For now I need the open road. Can't wait to get on the bike. Maybe I'll leave today.
May 1st is the 121st day of the year. 121 is 11 squared. 11 is my favorite number. I've been thinking in numbers more, ever since I started this trip a year-and-a-half ago. Not sure why.
Jeffries met me at my last campsite. He's stopped asking when I'm coming home, which I appreciate. Instead he bought a brand-new electric Airstream and tricked it out with amenities (we still have plenty of Corcoran-Lac hush money). It drives him and the dogs to wherever I happen to be.
I love life on the road. You'd think I would get lonely, but I don't. I'm not the only one out here, traveling the roads. There are dozens of us, exploring this new valley, witnessing the changes. The trees are coming back to the abandoned farmlands, slowly but surely, and with trees come shade, and wide roots, and more varied habitats. The wetlands creep ever inland, bringing birds, snakes, frogs, and critters that have been absent from this valley for millennia.
I look back on my ranch life as if another person lived it. I don't have regrets, but I do wonder about something.
Why did it take me so long to realize that life isn't meant to be lived in one place?
This story originally appeared in Strange Horizons.