9th Apr, 2009

Losing the bull

My mama cow and her little calf born her last summer.  Still awaiting news of this season's baby!

My mama cow and her little calf born here last summer. Still awaiting news of this season's baby!

Back in the day, I had a slightly larger herd of cattle.  At its prime I had 22 head.  Not pair, just total animals. Is that enough to qualify as a real herd?  Well, it sure beats three, right? And they still all had names, of course.

 

I lived and worked as a caretaker at a kids camp in the mountains, and although not quite as remote as where I live now, the road getting there was ten times worse.  I used to suggest to first time visitors to come in at night.  That way, they couldn’t see the drop off on the passenger side through the many miles of one lane road, twisting and snaking along with 5mph turns up to the ranch.   Although the kids were awesome, the camp scene was definitely not my thing. (It’s all those grown ups in camp still living out the dream of being a camper that had me worried most of the time.)  I took care of the gardens, the farm animals, the horses and riding program, and that was plenty to keep me out of trouble in the summer. The rest of the year, alone on the ranch with my little boy and a lot of animals, I felt like the ranch was mine, and for years, treated the land and animals with the love and pride and respect as if I owned it all. Best part was, I not only didn’t have flip the bills, I got paid for it.

 

When I first moved there, I had a boss who could sense my enthusiasm and genuine interest, and encouraged my every whim. I told him I wanted to try raising sheep, and next thing you knew, I had sheep.  I told him I want to have a real herd of cows, I wanted to reinstate our grazing permit on adjacent Forest Service lands, and I wanted to be allowed to play cowgirl. And the next thing you knew…

 

Thing is, I never moved a cow in my life, except dairy cows that come when you shake a bucket.  And I sure didn’t know these mountains  that were thick and heavy with timber and draws and cliffs and drainages.  None of the open parks where you can actually see your cows, or see where you’re going, like we have here in Colorado.  Its thick there.  I learned why those cowboys wore chaps.  Always wish I could figure out a way to rig up chaps for my cheeks, because I’d always come home from moving the cows with welts and lashes on my face.  I learned the hard way that cows like to hang out in the willows.  At least when we’d be trying to move them.

 

So, I’m getting better at this cowboy thing, and start increasing my heard from one, to 5, to 15, to 20… and every year to help increase that herd size, I would rent a bull.  I’m serious.  There was this wonderful man who hand raised his Black Angus and Poled Limousine bulls, and they were the sweetest and gentlest little things you ever did meet.  OK, well, maybe not little.  I guess they weigh in at a ton.  But sweet, they were.  So, the rent-a-bull guy would drive up that road to the ranch, that twisty winding narrow road with this big huge trailer, and drop me off a bull every year.  We’d let it run with our herd, and then he’d come collect his sweet bull in the fall when the cattle came off the grazing allotment.

 

Worked great!  Except for one slight problem.  One year I lost the bull.  No really.  I lost him.  In the mountains.  High in the mountains, in these thick steep mountains with the heavy black timber, where the roads close due to snow in October and don’t open up again until June.  Nice.

 

I found my cows, all 22 of them, no problem. See, I ran them with the old dairy cow.  Ingenious cowgirl thinking!  I could ride up in the woods and just call her name, and shake a can, and you know what?  She’d come running, and bring the rest of the herd with her.  Anyway, we’d been checking on them weekly, moving them along the mountain, and making special trips any time we got a report that they were hanging out in a camp ground.  But that bull, well, I guess he did his job and lost interest and wandered off.  I really lost him.

 

I called my boss in hysterics.  He just said, “oh well, these things happen.”  I called the rent-a-bull guy as well, and he pretty much just said the same thing.  But I felt so terrible!  (So stupid, too, of course.)  So I called the old cowboy. The best tracker on the mountain. The man who knew that mountain before there even was a road up there.  The man who had been chasing cattle around this high country for, well, by then, nearly 90 years.  I called Bud.

 

No doubt, I’ll have to tell you more about Bud later. One of the most wonderful people I’ve even had the honor to meet.  A man who, despite his age, or because of his age, was so open minded, so cared about people, that he truly believed this little former-city-girl really could grow into a cow girl.  He’d invite me over to his house with his wonderful wife and I’d be happy listening to his stories of chasing cattle in the old days, or tracking lion, or panning for gold. He’d teach me about his stallion, and share his enthusiasm for the Quarter Horse, and allowed me to breed one of my mares there. He’d even let me ride with them when they’d gather the herd and collect the strays.  Up there it was different, not the one big man owning a ton of cows like you got here, but a bunch of families each running a bunch of cows together, sometimes just one or two.  I think I had the biggest group in there with my 22.  Folks worked together, a real sense of community, just to survive and raise a little meat, and get out and ride together, work together, spend a day in the mountains together.  Tell you what, that’s a good thing.

 

But now it was late in the season.  We had gathered all the cows.  No one was left on the mountain, and winter was approaching.  And Bud says we better go one last time, scouring the mountain for tracks of the bull that got away… I just remember riding along in the old truck, squished on that bench seat between Bud and his wife, and Forrest in the back of the pick up. Bouncing along, listening to Bud’s wonderful tales and tracking tips, his voice loud and cheerful above the buzz of his hearing aid, forewarning us that his batteries were low, so no matter how loud we yelled, he could not hear us. But we all knew we had nothing to say in comparison with Bud and his stories… I could listen forever and never be bored.

 

Anyway, the snow came before we found the bull.  And that’s the end of that story.  I really did lose a bull.  But the bright side being, of course, having had the chance to spend time with Bud and his beautiful wife, to learn a little more about life, and have the chance to believe the world is a pretty good place because of folks like them passing in our lives. 

 

Responses

Oh come on Gin, you really lost a bull. Hum hard to believe. That must have been in the early days of your mountain career.
I really love your stories….they make me feel that I’m there…Please keep them coming, I share them.

Lisa from Waco

Gin, You have lived, and are still living, such an intriguing life. I’m sure I can speak for all your readers when I say thank you for sharing it all with us!

I’m sure to you, it’s just everyday life but to us it’s a story we love reading about all the time! (You should think about putting it all together in a book but knowing you, you have already thought about that!)

No, really, Lisa. I lost the bull. It’s sad, but true.

Karen, I was just looking at the card you sent with elk in the snow on the cover. Is that made by Cindy who works with Paws, too? I was wondering how she, and her husband are doing. Sincerely hoping for good news.

No, not the same Cindy. Those came from a little shop in Jackson Hole (where I’m sure my friend Cindy wouldn’t mind living at all!) Rich is recovering well after his liver transplant. I’ll let her know you asked about her.

Hi Gin! Thanks so much for asking about Rich and I. He is doing amazingly well. The transplant took 11 hours and 50 units of blood – he is a walking miracle! I must tell you that your blog has been a great escape for me during all of the hospital stays and wondering what life would bring next. I told Karen that sometimes when I was able to sneak a peak at your blog while I was at work, I would actually get so caught up in your stories that I forgot where I was. Can I say THANK YOU, GIN! But really, you write so beautifully and have so much to share, it’s just been a blessing to catch a glimpse of your world. My goal is to come up with Ron and Karen sometime and meet you in person! God willing I will make it there one of these days!

Oh, boy, Cindy… I hope I can say this all as well as I hope to here. First, I am so glad for Rich and so glad for you. I believe your journey has been one that makes mine looks so smooth and simple. How odd the paths we are given, the difficult task the strongest of us are thrown. To test our faith, to test our resolve, to test our love. There are none who are perfect, and I think it may be through our imperfections we can often best help and reach out to each other.
I promise you this, you’d be welcome here. If you can make it before our season gets underway and the cabins are booked, there would be a nice cabin for you to stay in. There is no cost, for it costs us nothing during our off season; we don’t count on an income then, so we are always so honored to be able to share the mountain when we can.
I can’t really say what your note meant to me, besides the happiness for the good news of you and your husband. I was just talking to Bob about so wanting and needing to do more good, to somehow reach out and help and do something positive for more people. I don’t know what or how, but I know it will come to me. Your note was the message I needed to hear. THANK YOU.

Gin, you have touched my heart in such an incredible way. Your offer is more than generous – thank you. You and Bob already do so much good. So many are blessed by your ranch and now by your blog. Your humility is astonishing in this day and age. So refreshing. Getting back to basics, keeping things simple is the way to live. Thank you for reminding us what that is all about. Keep up the great work, girl!

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” Cindy. Me, I am just learning. From people like you. I have a long way to go.

Now that you have confessed about the bull, how about sharing a story about chasing a bear with a pitchfork?

I don’t think anyone would believe me…

He probably made his way over to our ranch. We seem to pick up a lot of strays and no one ever claims them. The last big roundup we expected 22 mamas and 15 bebbies. We had something like 27 mamas and 20 calves….including a red one in our ALL BLACK herd.

There’s also rumors of a feral bull living out in the mountains by the ranch….so try to convince yourself that he managed to walk across Colorado without being seen and is happily living amongst our ladies over here.

And bear? Pitchfork? do tell.

[...] my story of losing the bull?  Well, I suppose I shouldn’t feel too bad after all.  Seems to be a regular thing.  Even the [...]

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