Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Cold Blast

I got up this morning and climbed into my boots and blue jeans. As I headed out to catch my horse in the cold and drizzly morning, I saw a rainbow that extended from the mountain, to the barn ahead of me. I thought about how truly blessed we are, to live at the end of the rainbow.

I watched their breath rise, as the horses ate their grain, waiting to be saddled. The warm and familiar smells of the barn comforted me, as I pulled my gloves on. We loaded 8 horses in the trailer, and set off for the corner of the ranch, to bring in a pasture full of weanlings to be processed again.

We unloaded and stepped astride, while the boss took the truck and trailer to the corrals, where we would all meet up.

We split up into pairs and spread out across the massive pasture, looking for calves. The grass, and sagebrush was belly deep and more in some places. I spotted a couple of calves to the west of me, and Wimpy and I headed that way to bump them down to the main herd. I spotted a large group of about 60 or so in the sage brush, so we trotted across a couple of irrigation ditches and up above and beyond them to push them down. After awhile, another rider met up with me, and eventually all the calves were together in one group. I looked up and saw it storming on the snow-covered peaks above us, as a cold brisk wind bit at my ears. Pulling my silk scarf up around my face, we fell into an easy gait beside the herd. Coaxing, and pushing and bumping and guiding, we finally brought about 850 head into the corrals.

One calf was badly bloated, his stomach distended on both sides until he looked like a balloon in the cartoon, Shrek. We left him behind and two of the cowboys went back with the horse trailer and picked him up. A sharp knife was plunged behind his ribs to relieve the build up of gas, and you could see his visible relief. A drastic measure, to be sure, as there is always a danger of infection, but without the treatment, death is certain, as the heart and lungs are increasingly compressed. The body is truly an amazing thing, and it is certain that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. The fact that living creatures can recover from such drastic insult to their body, is nothing short of miraculous to me, and it happens every day.

The morning went quickly, as we ran calves thru the chute, separating those who might be getting sick, or weak, to bring back and place in the pasture behind our house, where they can be kept under closer supervision.

Two cowboys ran the hydraulic headgate, giving vaccines, and antibiotics when needed, two more worked the chute pushing calves forward and another worked the alley and brought ten at a time to push through the chutes. I worked the corral, bringing 40-50 head at a time to keep the alley full. During the slow moments, I drank in the beauty around me. The valley we live in is large, and is surrounded by mountains. To the west is the 10,000 ft fault block, whose peaks are covered with snow year round. To the south, looms a range only slightly smaller, and to the east are the windswept and barren hills that connect to the Sheephead Range. The cloud formations here are unique, as are our weather patterns. Unlike the rest of Oregon, we get little annual rainfall. Most of our water comes from the snow runoff on the mountains above, and springs below. The water here never leaves the valley.

Heavy dark clouds covered most of the sky and bright shafts of light broke through here and there like windows to heaven. When the sun hit us, we could immediately feel its warmth, but the moments were brief and we relied on our heavy gloves and jackets to keep us warm. Tipping our heads to allow the brims of our hats to keep the worst of the bitter wind off of our faces, the crew kept up the rhythm of the work, with professionalism, competency, and the easy going camaraderie that are characteristic of the American Cowboy.

What a privilege to live among them.


  1. Catching up on your posts over the past few days - it is certainly easy to understand why you are a "Deliriously happy housewife". Your pictures are a great part of your entries, thoroughly enjoy them and your writing. Keep up the great work!