Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Open Spaces

(9:33 PM) Okay, I know the cowcasting meme is pretty much dead, but it's my turn to post, and this is the only thing that I've got done--and honestly, I'm rather tired and would like to go to bed, so enjoy.

Open Spaces

Grass as far as the eye can see.
Blue shimmer of a lake in the distance.
Brown cattle softly grazing.
Feel of a horse beneath you.

The cattle drive is another one of those things that Hollywood and Westerns have idealized. They always show the cattle walking across grassy pastures up in British Columbia, everyone ending the day looking about as clean as they started (though they don't always start out too clean,) and there being no fences to get in the way of the herd.

They don't get it quite right. At least in my part of the west, we don't have large grassy plains, unbroken by roads or desert. We've got patches. The winter pastures, they're beautiful--an oasis after long days of travel. Our summer pasture is high in the mountains, rugged and beautiful, and you can see why the cows don't want to leave in the fall. That paradise of cool mountain air, shade under scrubby cedars, and ice cold streams? Why give it up for a few days of walking along hot asphalt, the dusty dusty desert, slickrock where the mirage shimmers in the distance, water that is muddy and lukewarm at the best? It's for that winter pasture. Rolling green hills, fewer rocks than the rest of it, and a big blue lake full of clear water. Not to mention getting fed all winter, guaranteed food and bedding when the snow gets high. That's why they do it.

Why do we do it? I can tell you from experience that it isn't for the fun of it. Yeah, I'll admit, riding point or swing (front and side of the herd, respectively) is okay, but if you get stuck riding drag? You'll be blowing dirt out of your nose for a week. See, drag's the back of the herd. You follow along, keep everything moving. Unfortunately, in the high desert, you're riding on sand most of the time. The slightest breeze is enough to send it into your face once the cattle get it stirred up. It's enough to make you want rain, if only because it'd keep the dust down somewhat. Course, there are other things rain also does. It runs down the back of your neck, into the gap between the collar of your slicker and skin. While you're riding, mud somehow manages to find its way into all manner of places, from your ears to your boots. And if you're riding in a canyon, rain can spell disaster. Out in the high desert, flash floods are something you're always away of, even if they probably won't happen--wouldn't want to be caught unprepared.

But at the same time, there is something intensely romantic about the experience. While you're riding, you're doing what's been done for a long time--moving stock form one place to another. For a kid like me who grew up reading Louis L'Amour novels and watching Lonesome Dove, I was living the dream. Fort hose two days in the fall, I wasn't a scientist or a student. I was a cowgirl. Not just playing cowgirl at the pasture down home. I was living it. Even down to having to buck my horse out the entire first day because he got it into his head that he was a youngun and should act like an idiot around cows. The words that came out of my mouth weren't the most ah... polite, but they made the experience real.  I know it wouldn't have been quite so memorable without that.

I'll be honest with you. It's a bloody amazing thing to do. There are ups and downs and stuff that kinda sucks, but it's amazing. The cows aren't the only ones that long for the green pasture. For us, it means air conditioned trucks and cold drinks and dinner. It means you have a story to tell when you go back to real life on Monday, one that very few people could ever hope to top.

I'm a lucky kid.


  1. But you still sit around the fire after dinner - something with beans in it that Cookie whipped up for you - and play a little something on the harmonica, right?

  2. I play the harmonica, but no one really listens... and instead of beans, we have ribs. Back on our own land, rather than Indian land. It's awesome. Then you go to sleep under millions of stars you never see in the city and to the sound of silence that you forget exists.