I was interviewed today on Trent Loos‘s radio program, “Loos Tales.” Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer with a passion for the rural lifestyle. “Loos Tales” is dedicated to exploring the interesting people and places of Rural America.
Listen to our discussion here:
Now onward! I have to tell you how I feel about roundup season!
There are some tell-tale signs that fall is in the air. The evenings are getting cooler as the sun sets a bit more quickly and I am thinking about canning tomatoes so we can have a piece of summer all year round.
Yes, I’ll try my hand again at preserving our garden vegetables, but haven’t yet found a way to capture the smell of the season changing and the color of the green and gold leaves against an overcast morning sky. This season is so unpredictable, sneaking up on us slowly in the middle of a hot summer day and leaving with a strong gust of wind.
But this year it seems to be settling in despite the heat. The trees that were first to display their leaves this spring are the first to display their colors this September and I’m reminded of roundup season and spitting plums at my little sister on her pony, Jerry, as we rode to the reservation to gather cattle.
Fall roundup has always been one of my favorite events of the season. My memories find me as a young girl bundled up in my wool cap and my dad’s old leather chaps braving the cool morning and a long ride through coulees, up hills, along fence lines and under a sky that warmed the earth a little more with each passing hour.
I would strip off my cap first, and then went my gloves and coat, piled on a rock or next to a fence post for easy retrieval when the work was done.
But moving cattle, even then, never felt like work to me. Perhaps because I was never the one responsible for anything but following directions and watching the gate–it was a task that provided me with the perfect amount of adventure, freedom and accountability.
It was during that long wait from when the crew located all the cattle in the pasture, grouped them together and moved them toward my post that I would make up the best songs, sing the loudest and find ticks for slingshots or the perfect feather for my hat.
Turns out today, as an adult woman, my role when working cattle with Pops and Husband hasn’t changed much. I am the peripheral watcher, the girl who makes sure the cattle don’t turn back or find their way into the brush or through the wrong gate.
I am given direction and then left to my own devices while the guys head for the hills and I wait to see if I will have to battle a horse who is whinnying and prancing and wishing he could go with them.
Sometimes I get lucky and he just stands still.
Sometimes I wait for what seems like hours for any sign of life coming from the trees–the best time still to make up a few melodies in my head and collect photo opportunities.
Because sometimes, most of the time, it’s just nice.
Nice and easy like it was on Monday morning when Pops showed up with our horses already caught and saddled and asked us to help him move the cows home from the west pasture.
Who could refuse that kind of valet service? So we pulled on our boots and obliged, sitting on the backs of our horses walking slowly, swatting the sticky flies with their tails and anticipating that the calm and sunny morning was sure to turn into a hot afternoon.
I could walk these trails on the back of a horse forever and not get tired of them. Because each month the pastures change–a new fence wire breaks, the creek floods and flows and dries up, the ground erodes and the cows cut new trails, reminding me that the landscape is a moving, breathing creature.
And I am the most alive when I’m out here. I think the guys are too, making conversation about the cattle industry as they make plans for the day. I follow behind like I always have and look around to notice the way the light bounces off of cowboy hats and trees slowly turning golden.
I wait for instruction and find my direction while Husband cuts a path through the trees to search for hidden cows and Pops lopes up to the hilltop to scan the countryside.
I move a small herd toward the gate and wake a bull from the tall grass at the edge of the pasture.
Pops comes up off the hill to join me, the cattle he’s found moving briskly in front of him toward the rest of the herd. We meet up and discuss where Husband might be and turn around to find him waiting at the gate with the rest of the cattle.
And that’s how it went on Monday, the three of us pushing the cows along, Pops at the back of the herd counting, taking note of brands and numbers,
Husband on the hillside making sure they turn the right way,
and me watching the brush.
We pushed the cattle slowly with the sun warming our backs and sweat beading on our foreheads as morning turned to a sweltering afternoon.
We headed toward home and talked about lunch and the fencing that needed to get done that day.
And cattle prices.
And the deer population.
And a pony for Little Man.
And the weather and the changing leaves and all of the things that need discussing when you’re on the back of a horse, on the edge of a season, on a piece of earth that’s constantly changing…
even though, year after year, up here…
I always feel the same.