Ranching in Florida; We Are All Chasing the Same Thing
- October 31, 2023
- Marisol Tarango
When I was in elementary school, I had an aunt who was still in college. She was more of a big sister to me than an aunt. Every summer while she was in college she would travel, and when she got back, she would tell me about all her adventures. When I was older, I would spend parts of the summer with this aunt and her husband where I was well supplied with National Geographic Magazines, travel guides left over from their college adventures, and patient adults who would answer all of my obscure questions and requests for stories. I never cared much for the travel guides unless I needed a map to look at, but the National Geographic Magazines and the stories of my aunt and uncle’s experiences somewhat satisfied my middle school hunger for other places and cultures. There isn’t an incredible variety of that in rural Florida unless you go to the library and check out a book. As an adult, however, I discovered that just as I was fascinated with other people’s lives and environments, other people were fascinated with mine. Some even looked at my way of life as a remnant of a dying culture swallowed by the dragon of industrialization and corporations. But we are still here year after year.
One of the biggest things that I have learned in my exploration of other cultures and environments is that the shared human experience is the same at its core, it just comes in different flavors.
In Florida the ranchers make their homes among the woods and the swamps, sometimes in a dry area and sometimes carving out a dry area for their home and barn. We may not have mountains for views, but we have oceans to watch the sunset in. We don’t have buttes to work our way around, but we have swamps that we have to skirt around. We don’t have draws that our cattle hide out in, but we have cypress domes that the wily cattle run to at the first sight of a human on a horse.
In the rainy season, we work around the rain, but being in Florida sometimes we end up just having to work in it anyways, no matter how well we have consulted the almanac and radar. The rain is inconvenient and when we get a lot of rain, it fills the ditches and makes everything muddy. When that happens, I remind myself that at least it’s not snow that mounds up for weeks. We have hurricanes that can wreak devastation in just a couple of hours, but if you stay away from the water, you more than likely will be ok. But there is no way to stay away from the snow of a blizzard, you just have to deal with it. When I was little, I was never terribly worried about hurricanes, I was more afraid of the hypothetical situation of me getting lost on the prairie in the middle of a blizzard like people in Little House on the Prairie.
When we gather our cattle out of the swaps and pine flats, we ride our short horses and use our gritty dogs to bay them up. We don’t have to worry about our horses tripping in a prairie dog hole, but they can trip in a gopher turtle hole. When a dog doesn’t make it back to the trailer, we don’t worry that a mountain lion got it, but we do get a little concerned that a gator may have snagged it.
We don’t hunker down in the house in the middle of the day because everything is frozen and it is too cold to get anything done, but we do hide inside because it is too hot to get anything done without a heat stroke or it is storming so bad the house is shaking. But everyone goes stir crazy for whatever reason they are stuck feeling unproductive in the house.
I have never felt that my life was super special or interesting. I know that it is different and plays an important role in our society and that less and less people choose to live it each generation. But it’s hard to feel like a part of a unique culture and way of life that National Geographic would highlight in an article when you are trudging through the mud just trying to feed the cows so you can go back inside where it is warm and dry. If I was 12 again and could meet the girls my age that I saw in the pictures of National Geographic, I think that we would find out that we were more alike than we were different. With ranchers and cowboys from around America, I think it’s the same story, all they really want to do is ride their horses and chase cattle.
About Marisol Tarango
Marisol lives on her family’s ranch in Central Florida where she grew up working cattle and horses with her dad and four siblings, while being homeschooled by her mom. Today she balances her life between working on the ranch, working as a church secretary in...