BACK AT THE RANCH
It’s a dreary February day, cold and overcast but not raining.
It’s taken weeks, but Buddy has been able to get in touch
with Woody and Travis Larson, the new owners of the old
home place at Cow Creek, and Travis agrees to let us come
out for a visit.
I meet Deroy at the entrance gate at Okeechobee Road —
it’s a couple of miles west of the old entrance gate, which
now goes into the Wynne Ranch — and we wait for Buddy to
arrive. When Buddy pulls up in his pickup, I load up and we
head to the main ranch road, with Deroy and Alfred following
behind in Deroy’s truck.
I hadn’t set foot on the ranch since the Sloans sold it in 1976
and Buddy had not been out there in almost as long. Deroy
and Alfred had been out there about 20 years before working
cattle for previous owner Vernon Smith.
We get to the main ranch road, which once was four miles
long. It’s familiar and we stop by Sandy Lane, the big ranch
thoroughfare where you could see pastures for miles and
flush out wildlife.
We pass by “the county line oak,” the milestone for the
separation between Okeechobee and St. Lucie county lines.
As we drive a little more, Buddy and I start talking about
the small citrus grove we remembered on the south side of
the ranch road. I don’t know whether it was true, but my
dad used to say it was planted by Seminoles. Whenever we’d
pass by it and fruit was in season, my dad would turn in to
find some towering and ancient moss-draped trees that produced
some of the sweetest tangerines I ever tasted.
Without a hint of what was happening, both trucks stop in
unison, and Buddy, Deroy and I get out and walk south in
Cow Creek Chronicles writer Gregory Enns, center, reunites at Cow Creek
with Deroy Arnold and Buddy Mills after nearly 50 years.
search of the old grove to find out whether the old trees still
were there or had rotted or been bulldozed.
After several minutes of foraging through the woods we
found no evidence of the grove — our search literally turned
up fruitless — but I discovered something else. I realized how
connected I was to Buddy and Deroy through our love of Cow
Creek and the mutual respect our fathers had for one another.
Though I was only acquaintances with Buddy and Deroy
growing up — people I’d see and interact with when we vis-
Woody Larson, left, and his son, Travis Larson, and their wives are the principals in a corporation that now owns Cow Creek.