Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
September 30, 2011
Autumn hangs in the air like the last full globe of seasonal sunlight before it slinks into its own splendid setting. Gorgeous days soothe our souls while our breaths are held in anticipation of the first stinging snow. The crisp, falling leaves, dead to another year, fill the irregularities of the earth beneath us.
Overhead, a gaggle of Canada geese, coal black against a steel-gray sky, sway and honk their way across the valley, looking for the perfect refuge from falling darkness just as they’ve done for thousands of years.
Behind my house, green, lush grass awaits the arrival of my horses, coming home from their summer pasture. The change of the seasons is upon them, too, and a mouthful of hay seems more enticing at this stage of the game. Through my office window, I spy rows of hay bales, stacked with finesse and covered with a billowing tarp, ready for the taking; but all good things in time.
Still in their summer home, these equine beauties are far more interested in me now than earlier in the year, when succulent spring grass provided them the punch of a nutrient high and they raced and bucked their way around the perimeter, oblivious of my desire to catch them.
The corral, nuanced under huge cottonwoods along a live stream, provides welcome shade in the summer, but by this time of year has become more of a habitual place for the horses to gather and patiently pass the time, rather than a necessity. Their winter coats are beginning to show, ever so minutely, and they look to me with interest in their eyes, knowing I hold the secret to how we’ll treat the change in seasons. Hearing the clang of the metal gate, they run to the corral to wait for me, as though they don’t want to miss anything.
The high country becomes colder at night and the cattle, used to living without fences, turn their thoughts more toward home than climbing higher, and through some primordial link, seem to gather in hard to find locations. Ranchers spend more of these days in the hills, gauging the location of the cows and preparing for the fall roundup.
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It all moves with a beat of steady syncopation, man and animal alike, clearly in tune with Mother Nature, for it cannot be any other way and remain successful. By now, the cow dogs, like professional athletes, are in top shape and can go, and go, all day without a backwards glance. They know which direction the cattle need to move and require little guidance from the cowboys.
The dogs, the horses, the cattle, the people, are all aware that the high-primed glory of summer is heading toward short, cold days under a fast-moving sun. Dusk becomes a time to hurry up rather than a time to bask in a days’ work well done.
Like the wildlife that must depend on its own wits to survive, the domestic world gently prepares itself for the inevitable change, relying on a hard-wired instinct of the ages that strives to protect them from foolhardy paroxysms that may spell disaster.
And although it may be anathema for a writer to say so, the changes come and go without the need of verbal support or human philosophizing. The thread of life, of which we have so little understanding, continues its inexorable march toward the infinity of tomorrow.
Soon the chill winds of winter will succor at the stark, silent bleakness of the mountainsides, warming us from the inside and without being told to do so, we’ll feed our horses and cattle, protect our dogs and begin rummaging around for our skis and boots.