Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Days like this

Days like this remind me of riding the high country. Camping out by horseback, setting in front of a roaring camp fire. The aspens in all the golds, reds, and oranges. And a breeze with a bite that makes you scrunch down more into your coat. The beaver ponds have ice around the edges. And as you look up to the higher mountains and see a dusting of snow, you hear an elk bugle in the distance.

The sun is just starting its trek across the sky. It is time to finish that last cup of coffee and eat that last biscuit with bacon. The frosted grass crunches under your boots as you make your way over to the corral. Time to pick a mount and saddle up. You pick out a little paint, and watch as she tosses her head. You can see her breath on the wind. As you saddle up, a few others come to get their mounts also. These men that you ride with have had years of experience with cows and ranching. I, being the green horn, am teased and picked on a bit. But it is all in good fun.

As we mount up, the orders are given of who rides with who. I am to ride with one of the old hands from the ranch. The man I ride beside is so at ease in the saddle as we make our way through the trees. He rolls a smoke and lights up. As we wander along, he asks me how I like this job of playing cowboy. I try to not sound too excited as I answer, "I love it! It is something I have always dreamed of."

As we make our way along we spot a few cows and I am told to go around on the right side of the cows, but don't spook them. We circle the cows and turn them around to go back the way we came. This old cowboy tells me that I am doing fine, and might have a future as a cowboy. The sun is up higher now as we make our way back towards camp, when we come across five more cows. The old cowboy and I gather them up and keep on moving along. Along the way we run into a few of the other cowboys with cattle that they have found. We bunch them all up together, and push on towards camp.
A couple of the cowboys start to rib me again about being a greenhorn. I just smile and take it. The old cowboy tells them that I'm doing a whiz-bang job and that I am pulling my own weight. They all hush. It seems that the old cowboy has final say about things on this round up. As we round a bend, we see a few brook trout break and jump in a beaver pond. The old cowboy says that we will come back and catch a few for lunch, and looks at me with a wink.

We hit camp and push the cows to a holding pen. We can see several cow trucks setting with the motors running. One is already backed up to the cow shoot and is ready to be loaded. Along with the crisp air is now the smell of diesel fuel, cows, horses, and campfire. The loading does not take long. We are sent back out to get more cattle.

Now, this old cowboy has been around my uncle's ranch for many years. He seemed like he was old when I first met him years ago. He seems to be stuck at the same age as when I first saw him oh so many years ago when I was a little kid. He lived on the ranch in one of the old bunk houses next to the big house. He always had a smile on his face. And when he smiled it was with his whole face. Wrinkles that were always there just seemed to get deeper every time he would smile, and he had the brightest blue eyes I had ever seen. He wore an old cowboy hat that had seen better days and boots that had to be as old as he was, a faded green shirt with patches on the elbows. His Levi's were as faded as his shirt.

Sometimes I heard my uncle say that old Joe came with the ranch.

So, as we went back out to find some more cows, Joe started to talk to me. He told me about how he had worked on ranches all his life, and that there was no other thing that he would ever want to do. And how he had been married five times. Three of his wives had left him cause they could not handle ranch life, one had died, and the other ran off with some other cowboy. He didn't seem bitter or angry. He said, "it is what it is."

After a while we ran into about 20 head of cows eating grass and milling around a beaver pond. Joe got down off his horse, fumbled around in his saddle bag, and brought out a tin can with some fishing line wrapped around it.

Joe sat on the bank and rolled a smoke, unwound his fishing line, and tossed the line into the pond. It wasn't more than 30 seconds and he pulled out a nice brook trout. He caught seven nice trout. He told me that his fishing rig was something they use to use when he was a kid.

His fishing rig consisted of a soup can, fishing line wrapped around the can (it had about 25 feet of line on it), some hooks kept in a tobacco bag on some cardboard that he would stuff in the can. He used what ever he could find for bait, and today he used a gum wrapper. He would kind of jiggle it through the water. I tried years later to catch fish with a gum wrapper lure at the same beaver pond and had no luck. (But I have caught fish this way.)

He finished up with his fishing, put away his fishing rig, and climbed back up in the saddle. He handed me the willow stick that held the fish, and we picked our way around the cows and headed them towards the camp. When we arrived back at camp there were more trucks.

Joe took the fish from me and gave them to my aunt, who was being our cook and nursemaid if we needed one.

No one got hurt that day. It seemed that I spent a week in the saddle. I don't know how many cows were rounded up. My aunt made us some great meals. And the other cowboys finally accepted me like I was one of their own.

Who would have thought that a kid of ten would get to be a real cowboy on a real roundup.


I think of that four days now more than I used to. Old Joe is long gone. So is the horse that I rode. The ranch is gone also, but where it all took place it is still there. I have gone back countless times over the years. I have brought friends and loved ones there, and even buried a four legged friend by the name of Jessie there (who used to go with me whenever I went there).

The beaver ponds are still there, teeming with fish. And so are the memories. The trails are there and someone else runs cows on the land. The land has changed, but hasn't changed, if you know what I mean. I try to see things as I did back as a child. The wonder of the colors on the aspens, the sound of a creek. the sound and smell of an open fire. The creak of a saddle under you, the smell of the pines. And yes the smell of cows, horses, and frost on the wind.

Some things are meant to change. I just wish that I would have or could have changed things back then. When I was a child, all I ever wanted to be was a cowboy. A real cowboy. To be able to work on a ranch and live that style of life. But if I had, I would not know the people that I now know and love.

I think of those times on fall days like this. And I am glad that I have people that I can share it with today. I also thank my aunt, uncle, cousins, old Joe, and my parents for letting my dream be real, if only for a few summers all those years ago.

1 comment:

  1. That is so neat that you got to do that, especially since you were so little. Old Joe sounds like a very nice man.

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