Monday, February 7, 2011

Wild Eyed Creatures

You'd think they're wild things, untouched by human hands.

In a way, they are. We feed them in the winter, but don't get out of the truck. In the spring, when they are young, we traumatize them with branding. As they get older, they spend their summers getting roped and chased by men on horses, so maybe they are wild creatures.

They scatter like butterflies at the slightest disturbance at times, yet if you have something as simple as hay with you, they gravitate to you, eyes searching, tongues licking. They stand in front of the truck, staring at you, daring you to pull forward and hit them. And when you do, they still stare at you, and shake their horns if they've got them (yes, female cows can have horns in certain breeds,) and call to their babies to come and get the oh so delicious moldy hay that is coming down from the back of the truck--their favorite food.

As the snow starts to melt, the calves start to come. They're all legs and angles, wobbly knees and wide eyes. In the words of my father, "They're so damn cute when they're little." Course, then they grow up. By the time they're yearlings, they look like the rest of the herd, even if they still act like kids. They push at the fence and somehow manage to escape through holes that don't look near big enough for their heads. When that happens, they like to lead us on a merry romp: up and down the road, into the corridor by the freeway, and onto the abandoned railroad tracks backing the pasture. It's what we look forward to in the spring, when the snow melts and we discover just how far they've pushed the fence trying to get at the young grass.

Summers are colored by dust and noise and the smell of sweat and leather, not just for me, but for the steers as well. When they're old enough, we take them for our sport. They spend the summer running from people on horses who are hell-bent on catching them head and foot, and as fast as possible. It's fun to do, too. There is an adrenaline as you stand in the box, horse and rider quivering with anticipation as you nod and wait for the clash of the gate opening. Power beneath you as the horse collects himself to chase that critter that is heading out in front of him. Power releases as you catch up to your prey, nose to tail as you prepare for the throw. Course, I don't rope, myself. I just chase em down the arena for the fun of it.

Fall comes, and with it, the threat of winter. You'll go out to ride, and your horse has become the wild eyed creature, spouting twin jets of steam from his nose he watches you coming. The days are just right, though, for the pursuit of joy. Everything comes to life in the fall as the leaves change. The cooler air and colder nights quickly steal the laziness of summer heat, and things become more intense, more urgent, because we know that the time is drawing near for the end of a wonderful season. Once winter comes, the horn wraps are hung up for a while, and the cows go out to pasture again, becoming the wild creatures of yesteryear.

And us? We feed the cattle out of the truck in the winter, but they're free of us until the spring. The firey horse creatures that greet us in the morning ache to be ridden, but the cold, it is discouraging at times. So we, like them, wait for the spring, wait for the calves to be born again, and for the cycle to start anew.

Note: No animals are harmed in our pursuit of entertainment. Precautions are taken to ensure that the animals are unhurt during sport. The cows are athletes, just like the horses and riders. If they are injured or don't feel well, they don't perform, which means that we won't have as much fun. So, it's in our best interest to keep them healthy and happy. It's just like rodeo. If it was cruel, then the animals wouldn't look as good as they do, and they wouldn't do what they love to do.

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