Another ranch bites the dust
The ranch is gone and it’s hard to describe how the soul gets sucked out of something, but if you’re not careful, a part of yours can disappear, too, if you’re standing too close. I’d been feeding these cows and calves fairly regularly for the last couple of months and had grown to know them in that way one gets attached to animals. There was the flat-backed, brindle-faced momma we called “Hippo” after a big-chested girl somewhere; there were the sporadic black steers, with just enough nuance between them to make identification possible; also #0224, a heifer with a blue tag in her left ear who every morning gave me a look of curiosity as though there might be something between us. I’ll never forget the two “dinks,” a couple of wasted two-year-olds who had lived through diphtheria, pneumonia, harsh winters and should have died or been put down, but through the miracle of antibiotics and a kindhearted owner, they were still treading the earth, minding their own business. Yesterday, we loaded four silver livestock trailers, pulled by gleaming red Peterbilt trucks, with cows and sent them either to the sale yard or the new ranch down in southern Colorado. None of the cows had been in a trailer before and weren’t too keen on the idea of taking a seemingly impromptu ride. Born on the ranch, they had done their jobs well by throwing good calves, and were more than a little recalcitrant to load, knowing that boarding the glossy aluminum “pots” meant trouble, somehow. In the long shadows of the fading afternoon, a last glance revealed the feeding ground to be a wasteland, empty of life and striated by cold, windblown snow that only added to the loneliness of the flat agriculture land. Today, my friend Sara and I got to the corral feed mangers just before daylight, ready to throw hay for the last of the herd, around 100 head of calves, and get them ready for their first ride as well, in a sleek truck. It was about zero degrees and my well gloved fingers, wrapped around the wood of a pitchfork handle, were soon numb. Deep inside, there was an ache, knowing that once the corrals were cleared, the cattle ranch, like a puff of smoke, would no longer exist. There might be new cows and calves someday, but they won’t have the genealogical history of this last bunch, nor will they add the dynamic personality these cows and their owners have laid down over the last 45 years. The heart of the place left with the cows, and the soul was hanging by a thread, held by the munching of the calves, heads buried deep in the hay bunks. When my family sold our last ranch out on Woody Creek, a variable couple of individuals took over the reins, soon giving up the cows for being too much work. A cerebral decision, as was the one to clean out the generations-old cow camp, erroneously thinking they owned the cattlemen’s association accumulation of over 100 years of cowboying. But, in the tradition of greenhorns trying to be “one of the boys,” by using their heads instead of their hearts, they overlooked the “cow camp diaries,” stashed in a hollowed log in one of the walls. In their greed to round up the wash basins, steel cabinets and various knives and lanterns, they failed to see, or even dream that there could be a true heart to the operation. And so, after the last load of calves pulled out, Ed, Dick, Brad and I turned to catch a glimpse of the empty corrals, and the change was as sudden as the fall of a black curtain across the stage whose best has already been played. The feeling, the myth, the very soul was gone, and we worked as fast as possible to get the last details picked up and begin our healing. The previous owners will live a part of each day here, if only in their minds.Tony Vagneur doffs his hat to the Fenders and the Sopris Creek Hereford Ranch. He writes here on Saturdays and welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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