A Simple Life
The wind was blowing hard and cutting through my clothes like a knife through butter. It was late December and Old Man winter was here, this day. The day had barely begun and I was already wishing it was over. Most people associate California with beaches, sunshine, wine and surfboards, but they have never spent a winter in the mountains of the San Joaquin. I tried thinking of warm beaches, but it hasn't helped, it is still cold.
We are moving the cattle from the high country today. They will need to forage in the lower valleys to make it through the winter. We had only been out for about an hour and already we are having difficulty getting the older cows to stay with the herd. These old mamas are wild and salty. Just when you think you have them controlled, they bust from the group and drag about 10 or 20 with them. It makes you feel like a yoyo on a string. You throw it out; bring it in and out it goes again. I remember my grandfather talking about the old days. Back when a dollar was worth a dollar and a cowboy worth his salt could have probably already had this herd to the bottom. Cowboys in those days didn't worry about the stock market or the price of fuel. Interest rate and the housing market was not a topic of conversation at breakfast. They talked about horses and cows and having enough feed for the winter. They talked about the weather and how old Deters horse had throwed him plum across the pond. They laughed and they smiled at how lucky they were to be living this life. You couldn't be a cowboy if you really cared about how much money you had in the bank.
Today we bank on line, send out emails and talk on cell phones for hours on end. We plot and strategize our business and hope the banker don't quit, get fired or die. I often wonder what it will be like when my grandkids are old enough to have a ranch, a herd of cattle, or even if there will be land available for ranching. These and other thoughts run through my head as we slowly move the cattle along. The wind has lain somewhat and it has made the chore much easier to bear. At least I can feel my fingers and toes again. I had about decided they had fallen off.
Dave has moved to the rear and taken off to bring back a set of pairs that broke away from the herd. The rest of us continue on down the mountain with the remaining cows. Just then that old one horned bitch broke away in a run. I thought we were going to make it all the way in with her, but she was off and at least 10 went with her. JJ broke his bay horse into a run and was closing in on her with a big loop built and enough open space to make the catch. I watched as he threw the loop and couldn't help but laugh a little when she ducked away at the last minute causing the loop to catch nothing but air. We left JJ to deal with the old cow and continued down with the remainder of the herd.
As we moved on down the canyon I can only imagine how we would have looked to any city folk with our drooping hats and bedraggled appearance. Our old clothes probably wouldn't have brought four dollars at a rummage sale, but our saddles were top notch, our lariats were new and our horses were freshly shod and dancing through the rocks like ballerinas on a stage. Any real cowboy takes pride in his tack and his gear. JJ probably only has a few pair of jeans that aren't torn, tattered, or covered in blood. Some his, some from brandings, some from a Saturday night brawl at the local tavern. Dave most likely washes his only nice shirt each Saturday, so he can look good for church on Sunday. Every young boy grows up wanting to be a cowboy, but few ever do. There is no real money in being a cowboy. It pays only enough to live a simple life. No fancy houses, no fancy cars, usually a second hand truck that someone else broke in. The work is hard every day. You get up before dawn; you eat breakfast while putting on your boots. You are a victim of the weather. It is hot in the summer, cold in the winter and the in-between, well it is usually wet or humid, but on rare occasion, it can be just plain perfect. There is nothing more beautiful than a sunrise on a summer day as it lights the sky and reveals a whisper of clouds, or a sunset slowly swallowing the sky as it sinks into darkness, but not before first lighting the stars to guide us home. You work till the work is done, or until dark. What you don't finish today, you pick up on the next day. You fight snakes, coyotes, drought, floods, and broken fences and provide care for your animals. Happiness comes from your work and a since of accomplishment. Your richness in life and your inspiration is Nature. I was born to be a cowboy. I will always be. For one to truly appreciate this life, he would have to live it.