The Honorable Judge Cowgirl ; Justice Sandra Day O'Connor Started off Down on the Farm

Article excerpt

Would you like to read a book in which, to quote the publisher, "The first female justice of the US Supreme Court describes her experiences growing up on a cattle ranch in the American Southwest, and how the land, people, and values shaped her"? I would, too.

"Lazy B" is about that cattle ranch, but its revelations about "how the land, people and values shaped" Sandra Day O'Connor are as skimpy as the region's rainfall.

Readers who may enjoy "Lazy B" will be people who pick it up with the full understanding that is not O'Connor's autobiography, nor a literary memoir. It's a memory book about ranch life and cowpoking. And although everybody in "Lazy B" rides a horse well, the telling of their tales is invariably pedestrian.

It's no pleasure to report this. The authors, Sandra and her decade-younger brother, Alan, seem like very nice people: whip- smart, respectful of others, fun-loving, and passionate about the landscape of their youth. They honor the grandparents and parents who built the Lazy B, which at one point supported some 2,000 cows and their calves on 160,000 acres. They are scrupulous about details (explaining how 8,560 of those acres were owned by the Day family and the rest were leased for grazing from state or federal agencies), and in this fashion explicate the complicated economics of ranching. They appreciate animals - horses, most obviously, and cattle, but also the javelinas, bobcats, snakes, and other wild things of the Gila River region. They don't brag about their accomplishments: neither Sandra's, which are extraordinary; nor Alan's, which are considerable.

As would be expected of ranch kids, they have some good stories: the one about the grandparent who unwittingly extended hospitality to a pair of robbers bound for Mexico; the one about the bootlegging neighbor who tried to shoot a gallon of evidence out of a revenuer's hand; the time Sandra's father lassoed her and a cousin to get them to vacate a water tank where the girls were swimming; the time that, in the heat of a chase, Alan and an eager-to-please horse slid sideways under a barbed-wire fence; the tragic times when Alan, the only son and youngest child of a perfectionistic father in a macho environment, bites off more than he can chew - and causes the deaths of two magnificent animals. …