Sunday, August 17, 2014

Looking Back At Montana

There was not a wrinkle in my face, nor crow's feet around my eyes and not a single grey hair to be found.  That day and time is past, but the memories remain, fresh and lively as the days they were lived.

Looking younger than I remember being. I still have the Stetson, but it is in sorry shape.  Yep, those are hiking boots, I hate cowboy boots and only wear them when I ride.

The ranch headquarters sat in a bowl surrounded by low hills, green and smooth, split by rock outcrops that buzzed with rattlesnakes on sunny days.  The red earth turned purple after days of rain in the high desert, and although the soil is thin, there is enough mud to pull the boots from a cowboy's foot and a shoe or two from a horse's hooves.

In the nearby distance, a mountaintop in the Pryor Mountains wore a shroud of newly fallen snow on July 4th.  I wrapped my cold hands around a marbled tin cup of hot coffee for its warmth and drew deeply on a first cigarette.  And I watched frothy water splash down from the hills in torrents, music to sleep by and awaken to.  From splintered steps in need of paint I watched horses, bays, sorrels and a palomino, graze in the yard, grass sticking to dew wet noses.

Some of the ranch horses and some of the mud.

Prayers before breakfast whether or not you wanted or believed in them.  That's just the way it was.  There was much quiet talk and more hot coffee and the Englishman who had never before had maple syrup and the arched eyebrows as he licked his plate clean - literally.

My jingle-horse mornings at a trot that I could never post or ride very well.  Still there was nowhere else I wanted to be.  Twenty or thirty horses pound into an old corral where the tack room, worn leather, and their capture waited in the whisper of a braided loop around the neck.

Selected and ready to work.  I love this picture.

To the day's work of sorting, driving parts of the herd and watching the mud and green feces-covered backsides of hundreds of Black Angus.  A surly bull, weighing close to a ton, is peeled from a fence line and gingerly encouraged to follow the herd with a rhythmic slapping of a coiled rope against my knee.  The bellowing of cows separated from their babies by thin strands of barbed wire, calling them to join up on the other side, and a bull in a bush that drove a top hand to distraction.

Spring calves roped and their brands rolled on, one after another after another.  Care must be taken not to burn through the hide.  The perfect brand looks a bit like well cooked bacon. I can still see the hair smoldering and the acrid scent lingers near the back of my throat,  Young bulls are castrated and turned out none the worse for wear,  Some stagger and shake the fear and shock from their heads and trot off to their mothers.  And for the hearty appetite there are mountain oysters cooked over the branding iron fire.  I never had the stomach for them.

A hail storm, the day's last act of defiance, rolls down out of the hills and overtakes the horses just turned out for the night.  They run for the willows along the creek, pushing their heads into the green cover.  None are injured badly, a few knots here and there, but none have to be put down as sometimes must be.

More hot coffee, quiet talk, glasses of iced tea, more prayers and a bitter, tough steak from the grill.  I remember it all so well.

My wife, Carol, reapplies the brand.

Copyright, August 17, 2014 by Loren R. Schumacher
All photos, Copyright, August 17, 2014 by Carol A. Lang

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