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Buffalo for the Broken Heart: Restoring Life to a Black Hills Ranch [Format Kindle]

Dan O'Brien
5.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (3 commentaires client)

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Descriptions du produit



I’ve heard that when people in cities have a tough week at work—when it looks like they might lose their jobs or they’ve made some decision that threatens to ruin their lives—they sometimes wander the city. I’ve heard they sit in movie theaters all afternoon, watching the same movie over and over. They walk the open parks or stand on the wharves, staring at ships moving out to sea. The closest movie theater to me is forty miles away, and the ocean is another eighteen hundred miles east. But I’m surrounded by a million acres of open country, and when my world seems to be coming apart, I climb into my pickup and drive.

Trying to make a life as a cattle rancher in the economy of the Great Plains makes for a lot of driving, and one late afternoon a dozen Septembers ago it led me to a remote dirt road along the southern boundary of Badlands National Monument. I was thinking about the mortgage payment that would be coming due in October, and the recent, inexplicable dip in cattle prices that would cut my income in half. I drove too fast, and when I came over a dusty rise I nearly ran into an enormous bull buffalo.

He reclined luxuriously in the center of the dirt road, stretched out in the sun like a two-thousand-pound tomcat. With the exception of a whale I’d once caught a glimpse of, this was the biggest living thing I had ever seen. By the time I’d braked, I’d gotten way too close and was struggling to get the gear shift into reverse when he raised his head and looked straight into my eyes. I was close enough to see the grill of my pickup reflected in his round, dark eyes under a mop of dark, curly hair. His head was the size of a dishwasher.

I managed to get the pickup into reverse but, like the wedding guest caught in the stare of the Ancient Mariner, I was frozen in place. We stared at each other for perhaps a minute, and for that minute all my business worries were dwarfed by this dose of reality lying in the road ahead. I focused on one of his eyelashes, long and expressive, as it batted away a yellow butterfly. Leisurely, the head dipped and the legs pulled under the great beast. The short, paintbrush tail whipped in the dust and the bull rocked once, twice, and up onto his feet. He shook like a dog, creating a cloud of dry South Dakota soil that drifted away on the cooling evening breeze. Then he slowly raised the tiny, black hoof of his left rear foot, stretched his head out, and, as if the hoof were a ballet slipper, scratched his neck below the long woolly goatee. He took one last look at me before he moved off the road, into a nearby draw and out of sight.

Even then I sensed that that buffalo signalled something profound, but like the harried city-dweller drawn to ships moving on the ocean, I shook my head, unable to find the link between that dusty old bull and myself. I slipped the transmission into gear and immediately found myself back in the complexities of life. My anxiety had to do with trying to sustain myself in the unpredictable meteorological and economic climate of the northern plains that I am cursed to love.

On the Great Plains the business of sustaining oneself usually ends up having something to do with agriculture, and agriculture usually means cattle grazing. The problem is that cattle grazing is not subject to generally accepted business practices. For example: once every year or so I used to get into a cattle deal together with my neighbor to the south. We’d buy some yearlings and try to put some weight on them for resale, or we’d get some old cows that were about ready to give birth and try to make a buck on the calves. Like everyone, we’d do our best to buy when the market was low and sell when it was high, and give the cattle good care that would turn our expenses into profit. But our plans almost never worked out and we resigned ourselves to the fact that capitalist enterprise on the Great Plains has its own set of rules. After a while, when we made a decision to try one of these schemes, my neighbor would sigh and say, “I sure hope we break even on this deal. I need the money.”

In the mid-1980s the cost of fuel, interest rates, and cattle prices all soared. The economy was racing along a rosy highway until, for no apparent reason, cattle prices suddenly stalled, then fell. Everyone who owned a cow hit the windshield of that speeding economy, and the result was damage to the land, our dreams, and our self- esteem. The money we were certain we’d make on the cows—money that was to go to make the mortgage payments—vaporized. To paraphrase a popular joke: What’s the last thing that goes through a cowboy’s mind when he hits the windshield of a speeding economy? His ass.

In some ways, I was luckier than most. Being in good health, and educated to make a living with books, I didn’t have to settle for a job in a gas station or a bar. The catch is that there are no jobs for people like me on the Great Plains, so I had to put the ranch in the care of a neighbor while I “worked out,” chasing jobs as an endangered-species biologist, or as an English teacher on the West Coast and in Colorado. I hated leaving the ranch, because by then, at thirty-nine, I had become addicted to watching the cycles of life on that certain little patch of prairie. But even if I had wanted to get away, I am a middle-class, middle-American kid, and I thought I had to find some way to make the land payments. It never occurred to me to tell the bank to stick the mortgage in their ear and, following in the footsteps of Dust Bowl refugees, go to California and “work out” for the rest of my life.

Walking away from the mortgage would have been tough for me, but walking away from the land was impossible. Ever since a 1950s family trip to the West, crammed between two brothers in the backseat of a ’55 Chevy station wagon dragging a fold-up camper, I had dreamed of living on the edge of the Black Hills. When we wound our way down from the tourist town of Deadwood and found the prairie stretching north for a thousand miles into Canada, I turned to my mother and said, “There. Right there, where the land begins to flatten out and the trees disappear. That’s where I want to live.”

It was a landscape so different from the tire factories, hardwood forests, and deep, black-soil farms of northwestern Ohio, where I was growing up, that my mother laughed. She reached over the back of the seat and patted my shoulder. “Don’t be silly,” she said, “it’s just a big, empty land”—a tiny condescension I have received from outsiders a thousand times since.

My first vision of the northern Great Plains was a romantic little kid’s dream of cowboys, horses, and big sunsets. But it stuck with me. Now, no matter where I am, I can still close my eyes and see that sight from the north slope of the Black Hills: grass swaying in the wind to infinity and a sky that takes up half the world. It is the vision that has set the direction for my life.

It’s taken me a long time to come to grips with the reality of life on the Great Plains, though it shouldn’t have. Twenty years after that first look, I took over one of the little ranches north of the Black Hills, and even before I signed the papers that gave me the right to start making payments on the place, I was aware that a previous owner had hung himself in the barn.

I don’t know why this suicide happened, but I can imagine. I assumed a bad government-guaranteed Farmers Home Administration loan from the dead man’s son. He’d never made a payment but had repaired some fence and tried to remodel the house. The main building had been a grain bin for a generation and I’m sure he had a dream of making it the headquarters for a solid life on the land. He got as far into the dream as cheap window frames and rubber-backed carpet before his marriage blew up. He and his wife only lasted a couple years on the place before she filed for divorce and he developed a terrible thirst.

I had very little money for a down payment and little experience as a rancher. But I had good credit and the government was in trouble on the loan. They were glad to get a new name on the note— another chance that the United States taxpayers wouldn’t end up writing the whole loan off. The Farmers Home Administration was foreclosing to satisfy a lien of $1,750 in back child-support payments. I found the horse barn half-filled with empty wine bottles. On the bank of each of the seven stock dams that water the place, I found Budweiser cans. On some dams they were scattered carelessly. On others they were piled, sometimes even stacked, like a monument created by someone deep in thought. I hauled three pickup loads of cans and bottles to the dump in the first week of my tenure as squire of the Broken Heart Ranch.

The name is derived from my cattle brand, the unique arrangement of letters, numbers, or symbols that, according to state brand law, only I can burn into the hides of cattle. My brand is actually a lazy 3-V. Now, a lazy 3 is a 3 laid on its face, and if you place it just above a V, leaving a little bit of space between them, the brand becomes, unmistakably, a heart—rent in half. And that’s the brand that every cow that walks the place wears on its right shoulder. I never thought of the brand as a curse until 1998 when I went through my own divorce. My wife, Kris, and I had been married for ten years, and even though I had owned the ranch for years before we even met, she was never able to live there. Kris was a doctor with a high-pressure job at the regional hospital in Rapid City. We had a house in Rapid City and I drove back and forth. Some weekends she would come out, but it was always more like a visit. Eventually she moved to an even better job in Denver. She rightfully took the mutual fund and left me with the mortgaged ranch.

The reasons for our breakup were complicated, but let it suffice to say that the fault was mostly mine. The pressure of owning up to my responsibility for that failed marriage did not, however, manifest itself in the same way as it did in my predecessors. I didn’t consider suicide or take to drinking alone on the banks of the stock dams. But I suffered a lot of guilt for my inability to give the marriage my best effort. Perhaps I was too involved with the land; too preoccupied with drought, high interest rates, low cattle prices; too concerned about the degraded pastures. All this settled on me in the form of stress. Stress, I found out from the doctors at the Mayo Clinic, can cause strange physical problems. In my case, I lost all my hair.

It took months, but one morning I looked in the bathroom mirror and found what looked like a chemotherapy patient staring back at me. For a long time I retained eyebrows, and I tried to calm myself to save them. But every time I saw those cows walking around with broken hearts burned into their hides, I felt my eyebrows thinning.

I came to hate cattle. They were not the reason I had come to this place, anyway. They were just the only way anyone out here had ever thought to try to pay the bills. Since I was a little boy I’d been attracted to wildness. It was for that reason I came to western South Dakota in the first place. It was the grouse, ducks, deer, antelope, hawks, rabbits, songbirds, shorebirds, fox, and coyotes that had lured me.

From the Hardcover edition.

Revue de presse

“[Dan O’Brien] by God can tell a story....This is the book you need to read next.”
—Bill McKibben, The Boston Globe

“A deeply felt story of life on the Great Plains that strays through time and history, touching again and again on the two great themes of the place—rapture and ruin—and finds its way finally to Dan O’Brien’s patient heart.”
—Pete Dexter

“This is a bold, brave, and beautifully written book that should be required reading for every cattleman and beef eater in America.”

“Dan O’Brien’s memoir is a poignant portrayal of our link to the land, and to each other. As personal as a confession and as sweeping as the South Dakota sky, Buffalo for the Broken Heart will leave you entertained, moved, and changed.”
—Tom Daschle, majority leader, United States Senate

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 652 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 274 pages
  • Editeur : Random House; Édition : Reprint (18 décembre 2007)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B000XU4UCG
  • Synthèse vocale : Activée
  • X-Ray :
  • Word Wise: Non activé
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 5.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (3 commentaires client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: n°251.017 dans la Boutique Kindle (Voir le Top 100 dans la Boutique Kindle)
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Commentaires en ligne

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Commentaires client les plus utiles
1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 largement autobiographique 24 octobre 2002
Par DenisN
Largement autobiographique comme équinox, Dan O'brien nous raconte en toute simplicité son amour de la nature, sa passion pour son ranch. Ceux qui ont découvert sa passion pour les faucons et son style narratif tout de simplicité ne seront pas déçus de découvrir ce nouvel épisode autobiographique.
Epuisé par ses difficultés financières, et l'échec de sa vie sentimentale, ce livre est le récit d'un sauvetage, sauvetage de soi-même, sauvetage de son ranch grace aux bisons. Ecrit comme un roman naturaliste, animalier et tout à la fois introspectif, on attend avec impatience un nouveau morceau de son autobiographie
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Sacrément érudit 16 février 2012
Par MM
Bravo a Dan O'brien qui a écrit là un livre qui semble tout simple mais qui est rempli de savoirs et de travail, et surtout d'abnégation. Certainement, cet auteur non seulement ressent l'éthique environnemental mais aussi arrive à la retranscrire au mieux à son milieu (ces prairies à bisons, ses voisins et amis, ses oiseaux...)! Et aussi à travers ce livre à nous lecteurs.
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Belle histoire 3 avril 2013
Par Melimelo
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
Réservé aux contemplatifs. Une belle histoire (vraie) d'un homme qui décide d'elever des bisons. On se prend d'amitié pour ces majestueuses bestioles et on vit le roman au rythme des saisons décrites. Très touchant et relaxant.
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 4.9 étoiles sur 5  61 commentaires
18 internautes sur 18 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 I read this book in two days and found it to be inspiring! 6 décembre 2001
Par Un client - Publié sur
Never having heard of Dan O'Brien before, I picked this book up because of the author recommendations of the back cover. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and could hardly put it down.
It is sad what we've done to America with all the overgrazing of cattle, especially in the Great Plains. This book gave me a glimmer of hope to see how one man tries to make a difference. I believe anyone who reads this book will feel inspired by Dan O'Brien's gifted writing and his honesty. I don't consider myself an environmentalist, but even I began to realize how badly we've mistreated our natural resources and especially the Great Plains. It's a great story!
Dan O'Brien is a gifted writer and I'm so glad that I "found" him! I already know of three people who will be thrilled to receive this book on Christmas! :-) I highly recommend it.
24 internautes sur 26 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 For one bison runner to another 9 novembre 2001
Par B. A. Moseley - Publié sur
As a bison rancher myself, I think Dan O'brien does an excellent job of seeing the buffalo through the eyes of both a cattle rancher and a wildlife expert while tying it all together with the social life of the small ranch owner on the edge of a bigger town in Northern Plains. He observantly notes some things about bison that make them stand out from cattle - like their herding instinct, the willingness of young bulls to take on older bulls no matter the odds, how a bison never gives up, and how protective the herd is during calving season. This is an excellent book for the layman and the experienced rancher. Dan himself is a fascinating person as well as shown by his bringing in his Falconry skills and some of the politics of endangered species recovery.
14 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The "Noble Life" O'Brien-Style 8 février 2002
Par Jena Ball - Publié sur
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
O'Brien's quest for meaning in life, as defined by his relationship with the land and the animals that call it home, continues here. In his previous novel, Equinox, he explored the dichotomy in his life between the pull of the wild, and the demands of a stable relationship that required more than he was able to give. In Buffalo for the Broken Heart, we find him feeling lost and ruddlerless, both in his personal and financial life, as he struggles to get past a failed marriage and looming financial disaster.
As O'Brien gradually comes to the conclusion that buffalo are the logical answer to his dilemma, it becomes clear that they are stand for a balance and wholeness he has been trying to restore to his land and his inner landscape as well. The story, as it unfolds, is full of the personal details of Great Plains life, and the honest self-exploration that make O'Brien's books a pleasure to read. As so often happens, his inner doubts and fears are reflected in the events and lives around him. The weather is unpredictable, farm costs rise, friends go bankrupt, he is beset by worries over the buffalos he has purchased, the list goes on and on until by the end of the novel, O'Brien comes to tenuous terms with his land and his new means of making a living. The buffalo are not the final answer, but it is clear that they have helped him find another piece of the puzzle he is working so hard to solve.
7 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Making it right 7 septembre 2005
Par Elizabeth Flint - Publié sur
This book is full of thrilling ideas - that the grass and the prairie birds and insects remember and revert to the way they lived together when bison shaped the land; that individual humans can really help heal the land. This story was riveting and that is unusual for me to say about non-fiction. The science was good and the personal drama seemed genuine. This is my favorite book of the year so far.
6 internautes sur 6 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Talented writer shares his life with readers 13 octobre 2002
Par Rita C. Berman - Publié sur
In his latest book, "Buffalo for the Broken Heart," Dan O'Brien lets the reader accompany him as he switches from raising cattle to raising buffalo. In spite of worrying about how to pay for the stock, getting along with neighbors, the weather and other trials, O'Brien radiates confidence. His descriptions of the buffalo are authentic. I, too, have been captivated by these huge creatures having seen them closeup at the Custer State Park Roundup. O'Brien's prose is a joy to read. And educational too, whether he is describing how he built a fence on his property, survived a severe winter, or provides insight about his Great Plains neighbors and their emotional attachment to land and livestock. A biologist and English teacher, he writes from the heart.
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