Tank, when referring to either ranching or the land, tends to be a shortened version of stocktank, as used in Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses: “The water they found was at a stocktank and they dismounted and drank from the standpipe and watered the horses and sat in the bands of shade from the dead and twisted oaks at the tank and watched the open country below them.” The aboveground type of tank McCarthy is talking about is man-made—stone here, though they’re also formed from concrete or galvanized steel and fed by either a windmill or waterline. A second type of tank is simply a pond that livestock drink from. While the latter tend to be natural—as in a depression where water stands and has been standing—they can also be man-made, such as the one Lonnie stands at in Larry McMurtry’s Horseman, Pass By, waiting for horses: “They weren’t at the tank, but I stood on the dam and watched them coming out of the brush to the north.” Aside from watering cattle, a tank is also a good place to beat the heat: just jump in. Although the water in aboveground tanks tends to be cooler (they’re fed from underground) and cleaner (cattle can’t stand in them) they’re not as deep. Also, they’re stringy with moss and rarely stocked with fish, as the one in McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show was: “The corks bobbed undisturbed in the brown water of a large stock tank.” That it’s “the worst stocked fishing tank” in the whole county doesn’t deter characters Sonny and Sam and Billy, as fishing a tank is less about the catch and more about “watching the rings in the water, the dragonflies skimming along the surface.”

Stephen Graham Jones