I think it’s time I address some things that have been making an appearance in my stories, walking past my camera lens, stomping at the pug, pooping in my yard, leaning up against the house and looking in my windows…
Yes, it’s time I explain…these guys.
There are five of them out here on this landscape. And they are the only cattle we have on this place through the winter until springtime when a whole mess of angus beef cattle arrive. Pops purchased these misfits from a neighbor who runs a herd for roping practice and rodeo events in the area. Before they stepped off the trailer and into the buttes of the ranch, they had spent their lives in arenas being chased by cowboys and cowgirls and moved around from pen to pen.
They are “the steers,” and they are here “for fun.”
See, we’ve always talked about having a small herd of cattle out here that look like the old west, and these “longhorns” fit the bill. Each day they are on the wild grass and alfalfa hay they grow a few inches…both their bodies and their horns. I have enjoyed taking their pictures and meeting them on the trail on a walk or a ride through the pastures, but that’s about as far as their worth goes…unless we, ahem…decide one of them might make a good cheeseburger….
Because, well, they are “steers” and “steers” lack the adequate parts necessary for, ummmm, shall we say, “growing a herd.”
But up until this week that was all we really needed from them: to look pretty, munch on grass and stay home. Once the other 100+ cattle arrive at our place in a few weeks it will be no big deal to have them run with the ladies. We were looking forward to it. But it turns out the steers couldn’t wait for the women to come to them. So they huddled up behind some bullberry bushes and made a plan to casually meander up the road and cross the cattlegard that has been filled in by the dust of the traffic to hook up with the hot momma’s grazing in our neighbor’s pasture on the highway. They all agreed that not only was the grass greener on the other side of the fence, but their chances of getting lucky increased by like 1,000%.
I mean, I can’t blame them. The only creature that has shown any interest in them in the past six months has been the pug, and, well, we can all agree that he’s generally confused…
what with the thinking he’s a momma cat thing and all…
Anyway, it turns out that just because a bovine is missing necessary reproductive parts does not mean his is missing any, uh…urges. And when Pops and I saddled our horses on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon to go retrieve them, we were sorely, sorely mistaken in our anticipation for a casual, laid-back ride. So much so that I let my stirrups hang a little long and my reigns a little too slack. By the time Pops and I made it to the cattlegard that was responsible for the possibility of an escape, we had settled into a comfortable ease, and so had our horses.
On the other side of the fence, just across the highway we spotted our white steer staring back at us from a black sea of cattle.He was nuzzling and sniffing and grazing close to his new-found lady friends. About 200 yards to the south one of the red guys was showing off, chasing a couple mommas around the pasture.
Figuring the other three couldn’t have strayed to far from the herd, we left White and Red to hang there while we searched for their brothers. The plan is always to get who you want together and then move them toward your destination. So we rode south around the tree row, down through our neighbor’s barnyard, in the creek bed, and back north across the highway again. We saw black cows and calves, a hawk, some oil-trucks, a few hundred birds…and no steers. Not too pleased with the outcome of our short hunt, we decided to chase the two located steers north toward home. Pops had me convinced it would be pretty easy, that they knew their way and we would just follow them up the road and put them in the corrals until we found the others.
We didn’t give much thought to the possibility that this plan had potential to turn into a shit-show. Because when two steers find themselves surrounded by 100 eligible and voluptuous women, they aren’t about to go home without a fight.
And fight they did.
The entire three miles.
After a strategic and high-speed move that separated the two steers from their girlfriends and sent them flying across the highway with Pops at their tails, I held my breath and prayed for a reprieve in traffic as Whitey veered back toward the road and toward his women before Pops cut him off from his plan and sent him through the gate of our pasture. I stayed back to close the gate as Pops continued following them toward the barnyard. I was thinking we were out of the woods, that they had been defeated and would get the hint to head toward home…pretty easy Tuesday afternoon ride. Just the right amount of excitement…
But as soon as I my head popped over the hill to discover Pops riding his sorrel at speeds we hadn’t yet hit on horses this spring to cut Whitey off as he escaped from the thick brush of the coulee and veered back toward the cattlegard of destiny, I regretted not shortening my stirrups and my reigns. This wasn’t going to be easy.
Now I’m not an expert in cattle maneuvering, and I sure as shit am not a cow-whisperer like my father, but from my experience once a couple stubborn cattle hit the brush in the middle of a roundup, you’d better cowboy-up. Because hitting the brush is a bovine’s way of giving you the middle finger. And I’ll tell you, the bovine middle finger was flying last Tuesday…
And this wouldn’t have been such a harrowing move on the steers’ part if the three miles that separates our barnyard from the neighbor’s wasn’t filled with some of the most gnarly, thick, bur infested, boggy, fallen-log-ridden brush in the county. It wouldn’t have been a big deal if the steers just walked through it and came out on the right side eventually. But that was not their plan.
Their plan involved an escape back to the south. Camouflaged by the now-budding trees and scrubby underbrush they figured they would get in the thick of it, and then when the cowboy on their trail was crossing a creek or leaning over to keep from being decapitated by a low-hanging branch they would turn on their heels and high-tail it towards the neighbor’s.
As for the girl on the paint? I guess I didn’t look too intimidating bouncing along after my Pops at high-speeds on the back of a horse that had different ideas about the situation. Ideas that included a fast trot through the trees regardless of whether there was a trail, a high jump across the creek and ignoring any signals received from her rider to stop.
Damn the stirrups.
Damn the reigns.
And this is the way it went as I struggled and failed to keep up with Pops as he and those rebel steers weaved back and forth across 1,000 acres of land.
In one patch of brush and out the other, they zig-zagged their way toward the barnyard, the steers stopping only to hold still and try their luck at out-smarting the cowboy. But Pops is stubborn and those steers, those worthless runaways, weren’t about to get the best of him. Between tree branches snapping and black mud sloshing, I think I might have heard him wonder out loud whose idea it was to buy these damn things.
And from a quarter of a mile away I might have wondered out loud if Whitey would look good on the living room floor of the new house.
An hour and a half and seventeen brush patches later, the steers found themselves in front of the barn where Pops latched the gate and I dismounted to pick my wedgie. His horse was lathered and sweaty and I was questioning my cowgirl skills and wondering if I would get bypassed in the plan to go with him to find the rest of the small herd.We locked the steers in the corrals in front of the barn until we could get a handle on the cattlegard situation and go back for the others later on.
But it turned out that during the night those rebel steers put their heads together and conjured up another successful escape route. And when Pops got to the barnyard yesterday to saddle his horse and finish his roundup, he discovered that although those two steers lost the battle on Tuesday…
they sure as shit won the war.
Love. Lust. Romance. It always wins in the end.