October 26, 2011



You know how things sometimes “don’t go the way you planned?” I mean, like, you’re preparing Thanksgiving dinner for 60 people and two hours before they show up, the sewer backs up. Or the well quits working. Or you plan on delivering calves on Thursday and you wake up to a heavy rain or snow and impassable roads.
Or maybe you’re leaving for work at just the right moment and you can’t be late. And as you drive out of the driveway you notice the fuel light is on and your spouse forgot to fill the car. And you’re worried about the fuel and a tire goes flat. And the wind is blowing and it is cold and you have never changed a tire. And there is no spare in the outfit. I hate days like that.
That is kind of the way our roundup went yesterday. Oh, it was going to be simple. We had fixed the water the day before. The cows would be on fresh pasture, wheat fields, and alfalfa for two weeks before weaning. All we had to do was drive down to the camp, trot around these cows, and trail them up the hill. Simple. A family picnic.
Sure, the kids could help. Evan and RJ are five and three. It would only be about five miles. Nothing could go wrong. I guess nobody told the cows that.
As we got them gathered and started up the road, a bunch of the wilder ones got in the lead. I mean they were at a trot. Not caring where they went, but in a hurry to get there. Being the oldest and wisest of the crew, I was up near the lead. A fat man on a fat horse. But making up for it with knowledge. I knew how a cow thinks.
Yee Haw! I put the spurs to Zippidy and followed the wild bunch up a draw. This was living! But the hill got steeper, and the cows didn’t weaken. I bent most of the herd back and followed the rest up a cliff. It got steep. I had to lead Zip the last little bit. I mounted up and loped over to the edge to check the rest of the herd. Shirley and the two boys were riding drag and looking like they had that end under control. The lead cows were turning up another draw and going the wrong way. I had no idea where the rest of the crew was. I had my own cows to follow.
I saw the tail of one as they dropped off the divide and headed for the road. They should be good. Not. They hit the road at a trot, and turned up the next draw heading north. We were trying to go east. Like the “Man from Snowy River,” I shot off that cliff. Only to get to the bottom as the last cow went by. Over the river and through the woods…Whoops, wrong song. Well, I followed those cows for an hour. I was not enjoying ranching as much as I had hoped. But at last I got them to the road. But no one was there to bend them. And they headed back down where we had started. I let out a Rebel yell…Actually I cursed. And hit a hard gallop to bend them. A fat man on a fat horse. By the time I quit, I had cows scattered in groups of one for eight miles. I was hot, my horse was played out, and the cows were done.
But I was back where I had started. So I jumped Zip in the trailer and headed for camp. Most of the crew was there. Dinner was on. The boys had made the longest trail drive of their young lives. They had gotten all the cattle except the ones Grandpa had lost.
But hot coffee and sandwiches made the deal alright. And then Sandy came down from the house. When we turned the water on for the cows, there was no water for the house.
“Kick ’em out boys, we’ll have to do it again another day?”