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  • I wake up early, before 5 a.m., drawn from sleep by the start of birdsong out the window. I’m in the desert. You might expect a stillness, a silence from this landscape. But where there is water, there are trees. And where there are trees, there are birds. It’s something I realized quickly about this area. A strip of green in the desert indicates a little stream or creek or spring. It’s like a demarcation point in the expanse of dry. Cottonwood trees pointing you towards water.
  • Slipping outside at 5 a.m. to record those birds, my eye is drawn to the horizon. The land is so open here, I can see for dozens, if not hundreds of miles. And I see a single, straight vertical line of rainbow coming down over a far mountain. I think: a rainbow means rain. Rain is a perennial subject, when you spend time in this part of Arizona. As those rare strips of green tell you, water is scarce. And rain only comes two times a year, for a stretch of weeks in July and August, and even more briefly in the winter. If your living depends on grass for your cows to eat, you care a lot about the weather. Every conversation between ranchers starts with how much rain you’ve gotten. You either swap commiseration or celebration.

    The ranch I’m staying on belongs to Warner and Wendy Glenn.
  • Before I meet Warner, I’m told by several people that he’s like a cowboy straight out of a John Wayne western, but it’s actually true. He’s well over six feet tall, skinny as a pole, wearing what I soon learn is the rancher uniform of blue jeans, pointy-toed cowboy boots, and a white cowboy hat. Warner has bright blue eyes and a complete lack of self consciousness. When he’s concentrating on something, his mouth falls open a little bit, in this very endearing way.

    Wendy’s an interesting contrast to Warner; small in stature, but with a fierceness of energy that makes her a big presence. Wendy's grey hair is cropped short, and matches her no nonsense attitude. She makes everything work in this house—but lest you think by the quality of the breakfasts she cooks before dawn each morning that she’s just a homemaker, you have another thing coming. Wendy can round up cattle on horseback with the best of them, as can her daughter, Kelly.
  • When I ask Warner how long his family has been in this part of Arizona, he says “since ’96.” And it takes me a second to realize: he means 1896. Not 1996, 1896. Their house is like a western house of wonders: hallways lined with photos of family members roping cattle, a huge poster of the Duke on one door. In nearly every room there are bones and old pottery in glass cases—but all of that reaches its pinnacle in the room Wendy calls the “museum.” It’s spilling over with artifacts and Native American pottery dating back 700 and 800 years. There are guns and eyeglasses and antique bottles. Skulls of animals Warner found or shot himself (he’s a licensed mountain lion hunter and guide). It’s a lifetime worth of collecting—but more than that, it’s a testament to the Glenns utter dedication to this place, its history and culture.
  • Standing on their porch, looking at that rainbow over the far mountain, I think: this is Wendy and Warner’s everyday. They wake up in the morning, go out to feed the mules, and look over an expanse of wilderness that is arrestingly beautiful. Ranching is not a money-making endeavor these days. The weather and the price of beef are too fickle, the cost of production too consistently high. But, looking out over a desert sunrise, I can see how this land inspires people to choose a profession that is not profitable. It allows for a closeness to this land, and intimacy with its rhythms that is unparalleled in any other work. It supplies many mornings just like this.
  • For more about ranching in the rural Southwest, listen to State of the Re:Union's episode, which is here.
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