Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Backyard Roundup

Last week when I came home from work late, I got to watch Cowboy V round up the cattle. A man, a horse and a dog. That's all it takes to move 80 head of cattle to a corral 2 miles away and load up a trailer a few times. 'Course, it's got to be the right man, a good horse and Zip the cowdog. I think sometimes a rope is involved.

I could watch it all from my backyard at twilight. Here's the view from my lawn chair as the roundup trio pushed the herd from Pasture 1 to Pasture 2.

Once the herd was heading down the road, Cowboy V led Zip over to the fenceline where four cows were trying to slip away.

I don't know what Cowboy V said, but in a few moments, Zip had those stragglers moving, turned, and following the rest of the herd.

Wow, and that dog has licked me.

I am not a cowgirl. I am a biologist whose new assignment, among too many others, is to monitor cattle grazing on conservation land that I have the good fortune to live on. Sometimes I try to do cow things. A few weeks ago, a neighbor called to say that some of the cows were standing over his pool. I went up, found the cows, opened a nearby gate, walked behind them, did the chicken dance and those cows went through the gate as proper as parochial schoolchildren. It kinda went to my head.

No photos available of the chicken dance, but here's a later view from my lawn chair last week:

And as the last cow goes around the dusty bend, just before the sun settles into the the Pacific Ocean, a few rays slip through a gap in the mountain range to light up a single tree on the Dipper Ranch:

Last night, I was finally getting over a sore throat and fever, so I decided to walk up the drive to get Sunday's newspaper. It was nice to be outside and the air smelled different. Kinda in between sage, dry grass and bananas. I was pulling yellow starthistle plants on my way when I saw a big grey object move along the treeline of the lowest pasture. Was it a deer? No, I could clearly make out a doe and two fawns browsing on the other side of the same meadow and they were small and brown. Was it a cow that Cowboy V missed last week? I wasn't sure. No way I was gonna tell a cowboy he missed one of his cows unless I was sure. Maybe it was a ghost cow and I was still feeling feverish.

I ran back to the house and got the binocs. Nah, couldn't see anything. Must be a ghost cow. I headed back up the drive to get the newspaper. While tugging another handful of yellow starthistles, sure enough, I saw a big grey rock on the edge of the oaks. Except this rock had a swishing tail. Binoculars up - for sure it's a cow.

I left Cowboy V a message that I found another cow and it wasn't mine, so it must be his. That was supposed to be a joke. Remember, I am a biologist, not a cowgirl. I may have froglets in my kitchen, but there are no Cindy cows. Then I decided I could steer that steer up to the corral by my house. I opened the corral gate and picked up a big stick while hustling down to the bottom pasture. That steer led me all over. I even discovered an ancient cow skull in the coyote boneyard that I had never seen before. But I could not get that steer to go through the corral gate. A few hours later, after losing and finding the steer several times, I had him pinned in a pasture next to another corral but I couldn't get him in that gate either. By this time, the owls were perched on the wires watching the show. I decided this was a job best left for the professionals and headed home smelling like sage bananas. Running after that steer is still the best thing I've done all week.

Tonight, I came home from work late again but this time it was dark. I could tell by the way the gate was locked that the roundup trio had been on the property. Looks like they got their steer.

At the end of each summer, we let the ranch grasslands rest for a few months. That means I won't see any more cattle or try any more cow tricks for awhile. I will practice my chicken dance and anticipate another cowdog kiss from Zip.

A friend shared Rodney Crowell's song Earthbound today and I'm entranced by the line:
"50 years of livin' and your worst mistake's forgiven, just take time time time"

I am still trying to figure out the wisdom and humor these cowboys have from their many years of living. There are times when I can't understand what Cowboy V is saying between his chew, his accent, and his mumbling, and my city ears, my bad hearing, and my poor attention span. I still listen hard in hopes that I will pick up part of it.

The cowboy turns for one last look at the end of the trail:

Maybe he meant to leave the ghost cow for my 50th year of livin'

"My life's been so sweet, I just can't stand it,
I must admit I've made out like a bandit.
I'm Earthbound." - Rodney Crowell, Earthbound, 2003 Sony BMH

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful! Two comments.

    1 - here are my rules of spotting animals (having been fooled many times by likely-looking rocks)
    a. If you think it might not be an animal, it's probably not.
    b. If you think it might be a human, it probably is.
    c. Cows are exceptions to both rules.

    2. We had goats on Arastra a while back, and I enjoyed chatting with the Peruvian sheperds about their cattle dogs (one of whom I unfortunately shocked after an awful rear-end collision with an electric fence while I was petting her). They said the dogs needed little-to-no training, 'que salen de la mama ya sabiendo que hacer' (that they come out of the mother already knowing what to do). SO COOL!


Comments let me know to keep on sharing what's happening at the Dipper Ranch. You can either use an existing account or choose "Anonymous" by clicking the arrow after the "Comment As" box. Your comment will appear after a delay to allow screening of spam.