Jewish World Review Sept. 6, 2000 / 5 Elul 5760
Oh, give me a home,
where the megabytes
roam . . .
THIRTY SUMMERS AGO, just out of school, I
volunteered to help out on a cattle drive. It
started out in New Mexico, near a little town
called Grants; 700 head of Charolais cattle were
to be herded to market, more than 200 miles
over the desert, to Pagosa Springs, Colo.
I was terrible at the job, but the time on the
desert was wonderful beyond describing. I'd
never even ridden a horse before; I was just
getting into the business of going out and seeing
things and writing them down, and this seemed
to be an experience worth having. They gave me
the oldest and slowest horse, and we slept on
the desert floor, moving the cattle from dawn to
darkness. The cowboys -- Joe Tiedjen, Bert
Roundy, Doug Pettigrew, Al Clayton, Darrell
Fischer, Joe Henry, Tommy Ellis, Mark Seat --
would herd the cattle over the desert in heat that
exceeded 100 degrees; before the sun came up,
and then after darkness, we would gather around
a campfire and eat great, filling meals cooked by
a chuckwagon man named Diamond Smith.
Besides the beauty of the desert, and the
indelibility of the experience itself, the
overwhelming sensation was one of glorious and
complete isolation. We were as removed from
the rest of the world as men could be; no
telephones, no television, no sounds other than
that of our own voices, and the cattle, and the
animals in the hills around us. America was out
there somewhere, but we couldn't reach it, and it
couldn't reach us.
Which brings us to this summer. I signed onto
my computer one morning, and there was the
usual list of e-mails -- including one from one of
the cowboys from 1970. Darrell Fischer.
The e-mail was somewhat formal. It was from
Darrell and his wife, Teresa, and it said: "We
have thought about you numerous times over the
years. . . . I remember you being fresh out of
college. How time has flown. I understand, thru
conversations, that Mr. Bert Roundy (the trail
boss) passed away some five years or so ago.
We wish you the best."
As nice as the electronic letter was, and as
pleased as I was to hear from Darrell, I couldn't
get the two images out of my mind: Darrell out
there on the desert in 1970, on top of a horse,
wearing sun-bleached jeans and a cowboy hat,
being as cut off from the rest of civilization as a
man can possibly be . . . and Darrell now,
tapping away at e-mail, as connected as a
modern man can be.
I e-mailed him back and asked for a phone
number; soon enough I had one, along with the
news that he's now living in Yuma, Ariz.
I called him and he said he had found my e-mail
address on the Tribune's Internet site.
I asked him if he didn't think it was kind of weird
-- the world in which we had met each other,
and the world in which we both live now.
"I did like it out there on that desert," he said. "I
think we were out there 14 or 15 days, wasn't
He said he had been 35 during the cattle drive --
he'd seemed about 100 to me, at the time -- and
that he's 65 now. That desert isolation feels like
something from another century to him. The
onetime cowboy has a cell phone ("I carry it
wherever we go"), a computer with Internet
access and, as I already knew, e-mail capability,
and a satellite-television system that can pick up
200 channels ("I've got the big dish and the little
dish"). He's thinking about getting one of those
global positioning devices for his car -- the
electronic machines that can show, on a map,
exactly where you are in the world.
He and his wife first became aware of the power
of computer searches, he said, when a friend
showed them how he could type their name into
a search engine -- and within seconds find out
where they lived, their telephone number and
display a map showing their street in their town,
and how to get there.
When his wife saw that on the screen, he said,
"She like to went bonkers."
He's not certain that the world is any better this
way -- "I grew up on a small farm, and that's
what I was used to" -- but said that there's not
much use worrying about it, because the old way
is gone for good.
"They put me in charge of setting up the corrals
on that drive you were on," he said. "When we
got to the end of each day's drive, I was
supposed to have the corrals ready for the
I asked him if the remoteness -- the
unreachability -- is what he remembers most
about the drive.
"No," he said. "What I remember best is
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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