Branding season. Spring time west of the Mississippi. Long days in the saddle. Sitting on a horse miles from nowhere, it seems, trying to spot cows on the gather, silence except for the thud of your horses’ hooves.
You might as well be on a fishing boat in the middle of nowhere watching the waves.
The more I work with real cowboys, the more I realize how little I know.
This means no disrespect for those cowboys who achieve fame as our rodeo heroes, or noted horse clinicians, trick riders, ropers and movie stars. They have chosen one specialty from the many skills that everyday real cowboys use daily, and then become an authority on that facet of cowboyosity.
I’m riding along, not writing poetry to the “drum beat of the horses’ hooves”, or “humming a western tune”, I’m checking for sign. Cow tracks, are they going to water or coming away? Is that cow plop fresh? Do I take that calf without his mama? Does that cow got a tight bag? Should I take another hour and check that corner? Checking cows is not a timed event!
I talk to my horse when we’re checking cows. They are always giving you some information. They have their own radar. They can see or hear or smell each other a lot further away than I can! If they whinny, you can almost guarantee there’s another horse on the horizon. If they stop, ears up, and point like a bird dog into the mesquite, you can bet something’s over there. Many of these traits I have ascribed to horses, also fit a good cowboy. Out in the middle of what most people consider nowhere, they seem to have a sense of place. At that moment in time 2011 AD, at that place on earth, N31 53’ 43.3” x W110 18’ 46.3”, they are in harmony with the pulse of life.
I can put you in their saddle but I can’t give you their eyes, ears, scents, touch and connection to the horse, the terrain, the flora and the air. They innately know exactly where they are in relationship to the world spinning around them. They have that in common with sea captains, woodsmen, airline pilots and the original American Indians.
Much of a cowboy’s life is spent hunting for, or observing cows. A much smaller part of his life is what defines them to urban people. Paintings you see on the walls of western museums. Stories you hear at poetry gatherings or around the campfire. All depicting the excitement of getting bucked off, or roping a doggie, hog-tying a bull to tree, chasing wild cattle or gathering the remuda.
And all of that happens, even to someone who is supposed to be in tune with all his surroundings, because sometimes the horse or cow comes untuned and the cowboy has to ride it out! But they come to an understanding and the sea grows calm again. They are back in tune.
I thank’em for helping me pay more attention to the world they rule and the one I abide in. It would be nice to be one of them but I fear, I have spent too long in school and not enough time in the middle of nowhere, and it has inhibited my ability to learn the simple things.