A Ranchers Day
I pulled hard on the reins as we neared the river. I could hear the roar of the water as we came sliding to a stop only feet from the raging flood waters. It has been raining for 3 days now and the old river banks could not hold the deluge of additional water falling hard from the heavens. Gus' breathing was as labored as an old road lizard out on a dirt road in West Texas. We have been chasing waspy old mother cows all day and most were flighty and damn hard to manage.. The pouring rain just added to our misery. I stepped from the saddle and loosened the cinch on Gus. He took in a deep breath and seemed to relax as we nestled under the old Oak tree. I reached in my pocket and took out a cigarette and leaned back against the tree. I watched the smoke rings disappear as I thought about all the near disasters we escaped today. This country is rough enough without adding all the water soaked terrain. Hills we climb in usual ease were testing Gus and me to our full abilities and luck today. We slid, slipped, stumbled and on occasion fell as we rode in search of these cranky old mama cows. We were both cussing. I was cussing the weather, the mud, the rain, these damn cows and even an occasional ground squirrel. I think Gus was cussing me...
I glance at my watch and guessed I had another hour, or so, before complete darkness set in. It will take us half that time to get back to the truck, so I gathered Gus back from his grazing and cinched the saddle tight before stepping into the saddle. All in all this has been a good day. We moved 50 strays from the brush and had them moving slowly down to the flat and a field of plush grass. The rain has let up and I think I see a break in the clouds. I begin to smile as we maneuvered through the trees dodging low hanging limbs, gofer holes and fallen branches lying all over the ground. I am completely drenched and probably resemble a wet rat, but what a great life I have. I ride good horses, I get up to the sound of roosters crowing in the early dawn and I sleep to the sound of lonesome coyotes howling in the night. I can hear the ring of my spurs as I nudge Gus on through the brush. The only sounds, other than my occasional whistling, are pure nature. A mother cow bellowing for her calf, a grunt or two from Gus and the barking of squirrels jumping from tree to tree. I recall my Saturday mornings watching Roy Rogers, Gene Autrey, and John Wayne movies and how all I ever wanted was to be a cowboy.. I lift my head toward the sky and watch as the clouds move in and out of the sunlight as evening quickly approaches. The overwhelming beauty is breathtaking. The rain has stopped completely and there is a freshness in the air that fills my senses and lifts my spirit. I feel refreshed and the fatigue I felt earlier has all but passed. Gus is loaded in the trailer and busy working on the hay I placed in his feed bag. The cattle have moved out onto the flat and are grazing quietly as the sun disappears in the sky. I lean against the truck, sip on a cold beer and watch as the smoke rings disappear in the dark.
The bacon was sizzling in the skillet and the eggs were ready to eat. I sat down at the table and gazed out the window watching the sun as it began to peak above the hills. The rain has left and the sky is a beautiful blue. Only a few clouds remain and they are but whispers compared to the ones that had filled the sky the past few days. The morning pastures glisten like diamonds as the sun throws its rays upon the moisture laden fields of grass. The century old trees appear to be crying as they release the moisture they had gathered and an abundance of life began claiming the precious drops of water as they fall gently to the ground below. I see that my old tom cat has left the safety of the barn to share in the welcomed and so desperately needed water, as he drinks from a puddle near the shed. He is a large old cat and his coat is rough and tattered from the years of scrambling through the rafters in search of his next meal. I tried to pet him once, but the scratches he left on my arm serve as a reminder that he desires no human companionship, so I respect his freedom and leave him to his life of solitude.
I see the old rooster is pushing the hens toward the hen house. I took my coffee and stepped out onto the back deck. The pinewood flooring feels cool on my feet. I watch as a group of sparrows fly from tree to tree landing only moments on a branch before moving quickly to another, then another. I poured a little dry cereal out on the deck floor and stood there a short while as the sun began warming the deck and turning the pinewood a dark yellow like a field of sunflowers.
It takes a few minutes to get the tarp off the tractor and all the junk pilled up against it, moved out of the way so I can back it out of the barn. The old tractor sputtered, coughed and backfired a couple of times before it started, but soon sounded like a fine sewing machine as it set in the early morning dawn. I have put off hanging that new gate, but now I am going to take advantage of the wet ground and set the posts. The horses made a mess of the rope gate I had been using and with winter coming on, I need to secure the pasture. Old Deter remarked that most likely the horses would spend the winter running amuck in the fields, but I assured him that wouldn't happen. But honestly, if it hadn't rained the past few days I probably would have just kept putting off this work and he might have been right. That would have made for a long winter listening to Deter harass me constantly about the horses.
Off in the distant, I saw the outline of two familiar shadows moving silently across the face of a grass covered hill. The eagles flew over and landed on the cropping of rocks jutting out from the hillside. A beautiful pair of golden eagles whose nest I only recently discovered high up in the trees in bowl canyon. I sat quietly on the tractor and just watched them for a spell. I can't tell which is the male, or female, or even know that much about eagles, but they are quite a sight. It is one thing to see pictures and imagine how they would look flying across the sky, but to see them in real life soaring so majestically from hillside to hillside, makes you envy their freedom to fly.
The horses are grazing out in the flat and moving methodically toward the cool water trough and the shade of the oak trees. The gate is up and I can secure the horses in the pasture at my leisure. I tossed my hat on a post, splashed water from the horse trough on my face, and wiped down with the wild rag I was wearing around my neck. I combed my hair back with my fingers and set my Stetson back on square. That would do for now. I decided to ride the west pasture in search of any late summer calves and figured Little Joe could use some exercise. I caught him when he reached the water and saddled up for a late afternoon ride. The elongated shadow cast by horse and rider seemed to dance across the long grass, an eerie caricature stretched by the setting sun. My weary gaze twitched from its impossible shape to the ridges on either side of the valley, searching for any sign of cattle. The day's peachy glow warmed my back as I rode through the valley floor. My aching muscles soaked in the warmth, protesting the long ride a little less as I stretched in the saddle. This was a fine ending to a good day.